I have felt somewhat jaded this past week. Not because of the lockdown and the battle businesses are dealing with at present - those are just givens.
Actually, in all my interactions with my colleagues in the business world, I have found new heroes and heroines who have risen to the challenge of
digging deep, innovating under pressure and generally speaking, demonstrating great leadership even while facing their own personal concerns and worries about what the future holds for them and their families.
No, I am disappointed, because after having penned several articles over several weeks of lockdown that espoused the possibilities this pause could bring to the betterment of society and economies, I have landed back in reality with a bump. As discouraging as this is, it is also a good thing.
Level 4 lockdown arrived on May 1 and while greeted with much jubilation, also sadly demonstrated just how much homo sapiens residing in South Africa have not changed at their core.
I am referring here to the thousands of people who selfishly threw caution to the wind, and thronged the roads, parks and public spaces across the land. Images show countless numbers ignoring the regulations for masks or social distancing, thus recklessly endangering those around them.
They clearly missed the requirement to adjust their attitudes and approach to life, brought about by the history making and future changing event that has enveloped the world.
It was a sad reflection of just how entrenched in self, the human race has become. However, despite what some of my learned colleagues have written this week, I do not believe this is a race issue. It is instead, a fundamental flaw in our human condition that is programmed for the fittest to survive, as with that drive to succeed there is also a certain amount of insouciance. But, that is what needs to be tempered now and it is what I was hoping
That said, the healthy dose of reality I experienced, coupled with my exposure to some of the great efforts people are doing to keep business afloat, as well as creating new opportunities, solutions and inventions, has given me a fresh perspective, for which I am grateful. Like in any business or personal growth strategy, there are checkpoints along the road. This was one for me.
South Africa is still at the beginning of its Covid-19 journey, another fact that seems to have escaped those who continue to permeate the frosty morning air around them as they run without their masks. I’ve heard that some refuse to wear masks while exercising because they find it difficult to breathe.
They should ask someone who has contracted Covid-19 how it feels to breathe while drowning in their own body to understand just why it is that governments around the world are enforcing the use of masks.
The wearing of masks is all the more important considering that scientists have now discovered that Covid-19 has been detected on particles of air pollution. As a further appeal to encourage people to wear masks, remember that when the aircraft is going down you are asked to put on your own mask before helping others? Then put on your own mask now, so that you can help yourself and those around you.
This approach can be adopted in business too. South Africa could not actually have afforded any form of economic shutdown. This we have spoken about before. The relaxing of regulations has therefore been most welcomed and goes without saying. However, we are not out of the woods by a long shot and it will get worse before it gets better.
Just in the media industry alone in the last couple of weeks, household publishing names and print titles have ceased to exist. Food stores have empty shelves because of interrupted supply and crops laying fallow. How long before this normalises no-one really knows. That people are going to need to grow their own food, is a given, and it took a petition for the government to allow nurseries to trade and sell seeds again.
There are, however, healthy indicators that new businesses are being formed as a result of the lockdown. New opportunities present themselves in times of crisis. All are welcome signs that the world will go on, and business with it, although, hopefully, same, same, but different.
While we attend to the running of our businesses and to safeguard our people and their income as much as possible, a sobering quote from Jack Ma, founder and chief execuitive of Alibaba, sums up what we are facing - whether in business or not. He says: “for people in business, 2020 is really a year for just staying alive. Don’t even talk about your dreams or plans. Just make sure you stay alive. If you can stay alive, then you would have made a profit already.”
So, stay alive South Africa so that we can collectively profit from our survival.
* Dr Iqbal Survé is a South African physician, philanthropist and entrepreneur. He is the chairperson of Sekunjalo Investment Holdings, and executive chairperson of Independent Media