Dr Iqbal Survé is a member of the board of Sekunjalo Philanthropies, and the chairperson of Sekunjalo Investment Holdings.
Dr Iqbal Survé is a member of the board of Sekunjalo Philanthropies, and the chairperson of Sekunjalo Investment Holdings.

Covid-19: containment and providing a pause for reflection on equality in SA

By Dr Iqbal Survé Time of article published Apr 23, 2020

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CAPE TOWN - The contrast between those that have and those that do not, was apparent even before the institution of the lockdowns - all over the world. Here in South Africa, already judged the most unequal society in the world, that divide has been well and truly deepened.

Yet, it is not all doom and gloom.

Whether a wholesale economic lockdown is warranted or not, the pause we find ourselves in at present, is a priceless opportunity to take stock, not only of the fragility of our economy or the interconnectedness and interdependence of the world markets on one another, but on our own personal situations, philosophies and outlook. How we, as individuals, fit into the world and what we could be doing to assist one another to level the playing fields once and for all.

In my own reflective moments, I cannot help but be drawn to the natural system of order and nature’s intrinsic symbiotic relationships.

I am no naturalist, but it strikes me that animals look after their own, and while there is a hierarchy everyone has a seat at the table. Nature does the same, but in general, what does man bring to the natural world other than his own greed and desire for dominion over others and nature?

Now, we have the chance to equalise and build our own human symbiotic relationship with each other, and with the natural world around us - something we should never take for granted again. We can do this by truly embracing social enterprise, stakeholder value and conscious capitalism.

In South Africa, we are in the midst of one of the world’s strictest sets of lockdown regulations. This seems to have had the desired effect of flattening the spread of Covid-19. Certainly, our trajectory is very different from that of other countries who either imposed lockdowns later into the process or did so with some leniency. For this we should indeed be grateful.

Whether it is the potential of death from an invisible enemy, the realisation of our own mortality and vulnerability or the prospect of limited access to resources and economic meltdown, multitudes of eyes and minds previously concerned with their own importance, have been forced open to consider what really matters to them in the here and now, their place in the world and think of others less fortunate.

The internet and WhatsApp groups are awash with messages of encouragement, support and appreciation for the millions of acts of kindness now happening around the world. And while our news channels are reporting on the devastation of the disease, they are also shining a light on the good news.

Sharing these uplifting stories of human triumph serves to spur others to do the same, resulting in a chain reaction of caring, outreach, awareness and fulfilling the needs of others.

There is a resurgence in the understanding of community, with everyday citizens who typically would have been focused on getting through their own ordinary day, now reaching out to help those with less.

Gratitude is abounding for the basics, for a kind word, a smile, a call, any act of recognition that we are not alone in this unusual situation. There is also a growing comprehension and appreciation that a minimalistic life has many benefits - financial and space saving being two of them.

Things many took for granted and that were of importance then, are no longer, now.

I wholeheartedly support the outpouring of human kindness, along with a rationalisation of what materially matters. We need more of it, along with a push to ensure that, that which has been surrendered finds its way into the hands of those who need it (a possible business opportunity for some).

But, every coin has two sides though. The digital airwaves are also filled with posts from the less enlightened not in touch with the real world, who are sharing their annoyance and frustrations on how their freedoms have been restricted.

These include the government’s decision to ban the sale of alcohol and tobacco, boredom, the lack of patience and irritation to do with educating their children at home, and the mess they are making, complaints about spending time with their families, and so on.

This is all done while in the comfort of their home, that is not a tin shack, a cardboard box, under a bridge or at a refugee centre

There is also a plethora of well-heeled, well-meaning “futurists” predicting how economies will shift post-Covid-19.

While I agree with some of their thinking, it is the continued lack of thinking about the have-nots - mostly labour - that concerns me, and makes we wonder whether there will actually be an even greater divide.

Moving to a more digital-centric economy mooted by the majority of trend forecasters, when we still do not have ubiquitous connectivity will further entrench inequality unless education and the mass roll-out of affordable digital inclusivity happens.

On the plus side, the lockdown has catalysed the government into speeding up reforms, long overdue in the first place.

However, a caveat if I may, while diverting our budget and relief funds to increase health-care provision is necessary, I would also argue that it should not come at the cost of not educating our people.

In the president’s three-phase economy rescue plan, I hope this has been taken into account for to halt progress in education, especially for the already most marginalised, will set us as a country even further back, and no amount of billions borrowed from the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund will assuage the gap.

In an ideal world of course, we would wake up the day after the lockdown is lifted, and the last case of Covid-19 has recovered or a vaccine or cure has been found, and there would be a new world order - one that is, in fact, ordered and balanced.

While it may not be immediate, this balance is possible, particularly if we, as the people, continue to hold our leaders (government and business) to account.

They have shown that in a crisis they can act, and we have shown that by and large, we have resilience.

Looking back from the future, what would we tell the next generation about this seminal moment in world history? You decide

Dr Iqbal Survé is a member of the board of Sekunjalo Philanthropies, and the chairperson of Sekunjalo Investment Holdings.

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