We shut the country down to protect lives and then the moment we re-open the economy to save livelihoods, load shedding kicks in with a vengeance, says the writer. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
We shut the country down to protect lives and then the moment we re-open the economy to save livelihoods, load shedding kicks in with a vengeance, says the writer. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Covid-19 lockdown: SA is slaying it as a country of paradoxes

By Kevin Ritchie Time of article published Jul 18, 2020

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The age-old philosophical conundrum of whether a tree makes a sound when it falls in the forest if there’s no one there to hear it took on a new meaning on Sunday.

“Uncle Cyril” took to our TV screens to issue a stern uitkak (telling off) for all those who think they’re Covid-19-proof and have been partying like it’s March 14, 2020.

The problem was Eskom started load shedding in earnest five minutes beforehand, so a lot of people didn’t get to hear President Cyril Ramaphosa. They didn’t really need to, not if they had social media. As the millennials would say, it was “lit” on Monday morning.

A visitor to South Africa, not that we’re allowed any, would have thought the world had imploded.

What had happened was that Ramaphosa had summarily prohibited all liquor sales without having the decency to call “last round” (and spark a round of panic buying and massive social proximity outside bottle stores), re-instituted curfews - and allowed inner-city taxis to run at 100% capacity.

It was that which slayed the netizens more than anything else.

After all, for those still asphyxiating themselves on cheap over-priced black-market gaspers because of the continuing fatwa on legitimate cigarettes, you can still go to the casino and blow your social grant, but you can’t have a dop.

You can’t see your family ostensibly because of social distancing, but you can travel in a 100% full taxi to get to work - albeit with the windows open, which means getting soaked in Sea Point or hypothermia on the Highveld.

We’ve gone from Kafka with Ebrahim Patel’s cropped shorts and open-toed sandals to Schrodinger’s Cat. The cat, much-beloved of the instant philosophers on the web, is locked in a box with a radioactive particle. You don’t know if it’s dead or alive until you actually open the box and observe it for yourself. Which begs the question: can the cat be dead at the same time it is alive? It’s like seeing one of those industrial dumpsters at the side of the road with the injunction “Empty When Full” painted on the side.

How do we flatten the spread of the virus by banning booze, but stuffing taxis?

How do we stop people smoking by stubbing out of the sale of legitimate cigarettes but allowing illegal sellers to flourish?

How do we allow people to gamble with their lives by taking a punt with strangers at a casino, but not protect their mental health by allowing them to see their loved ones at home?

Perhaps the biggest paradox of all is why do we get so surprised? South Africa is the textbook definition of a paradox: we’ve been told for more than 10 years to help Eskom by using less power but paying more.

We shut the country down to protect lives and then the moment we re-open the economy to save livelihoods, load shedding kicks in with a vengeance.

So, if Ramaphosa bans booze but Patel doesn’t stop supermarkets from selling yeast, pineapples and sugar will people still brew their own and get bladdered?

* Ritchie is a media consultant and a former newspaper editor.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

Saturday Star

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