Ignorance of defiant may be our undoing

29 March 2020

Spain a cautionary tale of what we could face if we don’t take lockdown seriously

“My people perish for a lack of knowledge,” reads The Word from the book of life. On the steps of St Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis spoke alone on Friday, as fear gripped the Vatican and Roman police ensured a lockdown.

The Word further says: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” Yet, fear has gripped the entire globe – bar some idi­ots. Well, for today, we will call the im­beciles by their real names.

Around the world, fellow human be­ings have started to die like flies suffo­cated by pesticide. In Spain, the military has turned to Palacio de Hielo or Ice Pal­ace, using its ice rink as an emergency morgue as the country has run out of space to store dead bodies. The hospi­tals can’t cope. Mortuaries are full. Coro­navirus is not just a flu.

A week ago, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte publicly shed tears, not­ing: “We have lost control, can’t under­stand what more we can do, all solutions are exhausted on the ground. Our only hope remains up in the sky – God rescue your people.”

Even the people some thought are in charge are, in fact, not in charge. The so-called commanders in chief are in tears, looking up the sky for help. These are no ordinary times. Spain has the fourth-highest number of confirmed Cov­id-19 cases after the US, Italy and China. For me, it is how we mirror their experi­ence that is frightening.

The UK’s Guardian reports how a de­cision to close “universities and schools earlier that week, provok[ed] a holiday at­mosphere in which bars and parks were full and many families left for their beach homes”. In South Africa, our schools and universities closed ahead of the lock­down.

While the socialist government of Pe­dro Sanchez reacted late and clumsily, our government did not. But like Spain, our country lacks sufficient essential equipment like ventilators and protec­tive clothing. Unemployment in Spain rose to 27% in the aftermath of the 2008 economic meltdown, mirroring ours.

While Sanchez gave the Spaniards 24 hours to prepare for an emergency lock­down, we had 72 hours to prepare for a lockdown. We behaved just like the Span­ish, not only relishing the “holiday atmos­phere in which bars and parks were full”, but by dispersing across the country.

Our taxi ranks became scenes of roll­ing television coverage, showing us how people chose to spend the “holidays” away from work with family, like the Spanish, “across the country”. Many stockpiled on alcohol, the holiday atmosphere in the air. Road trips. Music playlists. It’s some type of fun.

Some thought if they were to die, it was better that they die in their villages and townships rather than in the flats around Gauteng. Limpopo health MEC Poppy Ramathuba has been a lone voice of reason, urging people not to travel back home during the lockdown. If we really loved our grannies and families, she said, it would be best that we did not, like the Spanish, carry the virus across the land.

Yet, Gauteng, our country’s epicentre of the virus, has now emptied.

In our love for family, we have taken the virus to the remote villages of our country. These sparsely populated spaces rely on very fragile healthcare. Its trans­port system is unreliable, sometimes de­pendent on whether it has rained or not.

My heart is heavy. We are yet to appre­ciate the havoc this thing we casually call a flu has done to Spain and other coun­tries. We reported here last week that funerals and weddings were, in some re­spects, not adhering to regulations limit­ing attendance to 100. When soldiers, for example, drive around in Alex, children come out to chase after the funny-look­ing military vehicles.

It’s innocent fun – until people start dying. The past two days of a lockdown have seen many arrested and sjamboked for defiance. Remember that idiot of a cy­clist? It’s a pity. It’s a pity that we share a country with such imbeciles.

Thomas Hobbes, a philosopher king, said politics is premised on the power of some to tell others what to do. What they do with what they’re told is another story. Principally, ever since the start of the lockdown in South Africa, we have seen open defiance and dimwitted enti­tlement to personal rights of those who do not want to be told what to do.

Wait until the hospitals tell you there are no beds. Wait until you have no space to store dead bodies of your loved ones. Wait until you’re told there will be no funerals, only mass burials. Wait until Ramaphosa uses Conte’s words – “we have lost control, we don’t know what to do, God rescue your people”.

Then you will know that these regu­lations are not about, as Hobbes states, telling people what to do for its sake. The regulations are not about Police Minis­ter Bheki Cele. They are about saving us from lying on the ice rink in Northgate. They are about saving humanity from an invisible, yet devastating enemy.

While our government has tried not to behave like Sanchez, we, the people, are failing every test. Perhaps it’s time Ramaphosa took out more stringent reg­ulations to force the idiots endangering all of us, the idiots who believe this is a school holiday, idiots who believe it’s time to drink and be merry, the idiots who are jogging, cycling, walking the dogs and endangering all of us. Dear Lord, may we not perish because of idiots among us.

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