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#changethestory: Don't be stupid, wear a mask

Lorenzo A Davids writes that anyone in SA who still thinks that the pandemic ’is over’ or ’is just a bad flu’, they’re part of the reason why we have had to enter a new lockdown phase. Picture:Brendan Magaar/African News Agency (ANA)

Lorenzo A Davids writes that anyone in SA who still thinks that the pandemic ’is over’ or ’is just a bad flu’, they’re part of the reason why we have had to enter a new lockdown phase. Picture:Brendan Magaar/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Dec 8, 2020


by Lorenzo A Davids

On Wednesday, December 2, South Africa's Covid-19 infection rate soared to 4 400 infections for that day. For anyone in this country who still thinks that the pandemic “is over” or “it's just a bad flu”, you are part of the reason why we have had to enter a new lockdown phase.

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There are two non-negotiable rules to defeat this virus. Firstly, wear a mask. It does not matter where you are going or who you are. Wear your mask. That is the gold standard to stop the spread of the virus.

I often walk the Alphen trail and the Promenade, and the numbers of people of all cultures and colours who do not wear a mask astounds me. They jog past you, and they engage in loud conversation, all mask-less. Such unpatriotic and idiotic behaviour from what appears to be a fairly educated lot, is a core contributor to the rise in infection levels.

Secondly, while wearing a mask, stay 2m away from anyone in public. It is frustrating to be in situations where the physical distancing rules are not observed. At the start of the pandemic, I coined the phrase, “Let's practise physical distancing with social solidarity".

Social distancing, with its sociological implications, meant that an important aspect of the collective consciousness – to stand in solidarity to defeat this pandemic – was being sacrificed. Social distancing, with apartheid-construct connotations, does present South Africa’s racially divided society with a challenge. The pandemic, while requiring physical distancing, also requires social solidarity to defeat it.

This collective social solidarity is what is most ignored globally. In the US and other right-wings societies, the anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers and pandemic deniallists have made it their business to undermine the messages from healthcare professionals – and have indirectly contributed to the deaths of thousands of people.

They spread their divisive messages to destroy the one great potential outcome of this pandemic: an old-world standing in social solidarity against a virus and its destructive economic implications to build a new world. Their brand of social distancing suits a broader economic and political agenda as they advocate to preserve the current economic and social inequalities.

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This pandemic presents South Africa with a profound opportunity to build a new society, a new economy and a new consciousness. It is a moment to raise the standard of conversation to issues such as: what must social solidarity, a new consciousness, a new society, and a new economy look like post the pandemic? What kind of society do we want to be after this?

From the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa, the amount of social short-sightedness and deliberate protection of the old economic and political order of privilege and power is destroying all the opportunities afforded us to build a new society. There is a total absence of radical political, economic and social courage to declare a new consciousness. As I listen to talk shows and read reams of newspapers copy, it all shows a rising populist disbelief that this pandemic is serious.

What will happen if we don't heed the call to stand in social solidarity? In that scenario, this will all end with even more drastic poverty data across all classes, unmanageable unemployment, a thrashed economy and a militarised political leadership. And we will only have ourselves to blame. So few are seeing this moment that the universe is presenting us with to radically renew this exploitative global system. We only see a mask. And the inconvenience of long queues. How tragic a generation we are.

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I salute leaders like Dr Zwele Mhkize, Premier Alan Winde, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman and others who have all held the required progressive views to build a society that wears masks and stands appropriately physically distanced to defeat this virus. At the same time, they all work hard to build a nation which stands together in social solidarity. A radically renewed world is knocking.

* Lorenzo A Davids is chief executive of the Community Chest.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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