A 2018 file picture of Andrew Mlangeni Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency (ANA)
A 2018 file picture of Andrew Mlangeni Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency (ANA)

Hope fuels the flame, as world awaits its Covid-19 victory

By Opinion Time of article published Jul 27, 2020

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By Yasushi Naito

I have been serving in South Africa as a Japanese diplomat since 1987 intermittently. I have spent more than 20 years in this country and I continue to enjoy learning every day in the midst of the unprecedented challenge of this pandemic.

Last week, I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Mr Andrew Mlangeni and I extend my sincere sympathy and condolence to his family and his colleagues.

I had the honour of interacting with Mr Mlangeni since the time of his release in 1989. I remember the release of Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Wilton Mkwayi and Elias Motsoaledi on October 15 1989 was a considerable victory also for the international community who had joined the voice of appealing for the release of political prisoners. On that day, we could never imagine the imminent release of Nelson Mandela in February 1990.

The meeting with Mr Andrew Mlangeni and other Rivonia Trialists in Soweto was of deep inspiration. “What is your first impression after the release?” The answer to my question was “children must go back to schools. They must learn for the future of our country.” They were all amazingly humble, honest and the natural words came from thinking over the years.

I attended Codesa and multi-party negotiations daily as an observer. There were a number of deadlocks; the assassination of Chris Hani, the Boipatong massacre, violence at hostels, and attacks by armed vehicles on the World Trade Centre. Many observers seriously thought a civil war was inevitable.

However, South Africans never gave up. With wisdom and thorough engagements, they miraculously transformed the anger and grievances into tremendous energy to advance negotiation, transform fears into hope and achieve the impossible. The whole process was led by Nelson Mandela but was never a one-man show. It was a collective effort of remarkably different talents.

We were amazed with the strength of goodwill that could unite the country at a time of deep crisis and adversity. History has proven that South Africa is a resilient nation.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a crisis of a lifetime. The future that we had all taken for granted transformed, overnight, into something completely different. Many people in the world were impressed with the very swift and resolute leadership of South Africa with the measures to save lives based on scientific advice as well as with constant and persistent communication and engagement effort.

In the face of the pandemic, the lives of the Japanese community in Cape Town have also changed. Some, not many, have left for Japan.

I wish to express my sincere appreciation to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation as well as the Western Cape government for their professional and warm-hearted support in repatriating foreign nationals, including Japanese.

It was only nine months ago when South Africa inspired the whole world by winning the Rugby World Cup in Japan. It was a proud moment for all Japanese in South Africa. The world has so drastically changed since then.

But we never forget the inspiration that unity accompanied with a positive spirit and extensive effort can make you stronger and achieve almost anything. On Nelson Mandela Day, captain Siya Kolisi reminded the people fighting against this pandemic of of this message.

This month, some international media reported on the “Japan Factors”, unique elements in Japan in keeping the infection and fatality rate relatively low so far, in spite of its most aged population, high density, without mass testing and hard lockdowns. Herewith some of the Japan Factors :

* Pinpointing clusters, retrospective tracing and isolating infection chains.

* Role of Public Health Centres “Hokenjo” in alleviating burdens of medical institutions.

* Universal Health Coverage with NHI and quality health service for all.

* Accustomed to wearing masks to prevent allergies caused by pollen every year.

* Strong obedience to social norms and strong peer pressure.

* Clear and effective messaging of avoiding 3-Cs (3-Mitsu): closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowded places, and close-contact settings.

* Resilience of people against natural disaster emergencies.

* Effective timing of the State of Emergency, a non-mandatory lockdown.

* Bowing tradition to show respect instead of shaking hands, hugging or kissing. These factors may not be new, drastic or innovative. Nonetheless, knowing every social situation and a set of counter-measures are different, this is the point of sharing experiences to fight against the common challenge.

However, as major cities including Tokyo are faced with signs of new increases, government and people are becoming cautious again.

Japanese companies in South Africa, including automotive, energy and mineral sectors have commenced slowly toward full production.

Many recognise themselves as an essential force in the economy. While gearing up toward the increasing demand, they also support technical assistance to local ventilator manufacture (Toyota), donated more than 100 000 face shields to hospitals (Toyota), vehicles to medical institutions (Isuzu), invented the INTUbox, transparent vessel-box device to protect frontline medical professionals in collaboration with Pretoria University (Nissan), to name but a few.

Kenki Fukuoka, one of the Japanese wingers at the Rugby World Cup, has announced that he is not available for the Tokyo Olympics. He has decided to continue his studies to become a medical doctor. He said the pandemic sharpened his focus on becoming a doctor.

“Health care is always needed and I feel my desire to be needed has only grown stronger.” The pandemic has changed the lives of so many people. In the case of Kenki, he will go on his way and score his try in his new field.

On July 24, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was originally set to open. It is now planned for July 23 to August 8 2021. Imagine one year from now. How wonderful it would be to have the world where the curtain is set to rise on the Olympic and Paralympic Games. It is my sincere hope that the world overcomes the common challenge and declares victory.

While our hope fuels the flame, Japan will continue its utmost preparation.

* Naito is the Consul of Japan in Cape Town

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