Paddy Harper: Sho’t left for rights, so pay up

Wednesday.

The Cat in the Hat, police minister Bheki Cele, is at the podium, addressing the nation.

I wonder what gives with the hat thing?

Perhaps Cele sleeps, takes a shower, wearing a lid.

Perhaps.


For once, Cele isn’t telling us that Senzo Meyiwa’s murderer will be arrested by Easter, or Christmas, or whenever.

Instead, Ndosi is busy laying down the law — literally — for the 21-day lockdown declared by President Cyril Ramaphosa in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The regulations formulated in terms of the state of national disaster declared by the head of state are a lot, a pretty comprehensive suspension of the majority of our constitutional rights.

They’re also totally understandable, and necessary, given the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic.

And the number of South Africans who acted like muppets and went ahead with parties and church services as per usual over the past weekend. Our mindless and thoughtless fellow citizens who took the piss or went on it left Ramaphosa no option but to take a hard line and shut things down properly.

The country is closed.

No liquor sales whatsoever. No Easter services, sermons or pilgrimages, except on the TV. No jogging. No walking the dog.

No football matches —  behind closed doors or otherwise —  no sessions at the car wash, pub or restaurant, for the duration of the 21 days, and possibly beyond.

No beach.

Tough, but fair enough.

The numbers are already terrifying, despite the government’s best efforts to convince people to change the way they do things and stay at home.

I’m cool with the ban on booze sales during the lockdown. My alcohol consumption has dropped spectacularly since cannabis was legalised, so I regularly go longer than 21 days — which just happens to be the standard drying out period in most rehabilitation centres in South Africa — without a drink these days.

Perhaps that’s why the Commander-in-Chief locked us down for 21 days, as opposed to 22, or 20, or 28.

Perhaps Ramaphosa realised that if he made us go cold turkey for 21 days, it would be long enough for those of us who acted like assholes last weekend to sober up and understand that we are on the verge of losing thousands of lives if we don’t stop the spread of the virus.

Perhaps.

I’m scared. Terrified, to be honest.

This virus isn’t like the threat of violence, of death, that comes with the world we live and work in. This is in another kind of menace. Invisible. Swift. Deadly.

You can run from someone with a gun, or fight them. Protect yourself, or flee. What can you do to deal with the constant threat of death from something you can’t see and could be carried by the person closest to you for weeks?

Stay in the house.

Wash your hands.

I’m also frightened about the economic effect of the pandemic. Our economy is broken. The country — and this industry — are already both fragile.

The lockdown is going to hurt, but hopefully it will limit the damage in the longer term by slowing the spread of the virus and the numbers infected.

Hopefully.

It’s been a rough week trying to work, trying to adjust to doing as much as possible remotely, to put the knowledge that something horrible and unavoidable and potentially threatening to my life is coming aside and think. Write.

Do what I have to do.

I’ve been glued to every briefing, watching the numbers of infected climb, appalled but unable to look away. I’m grateful not to have been in any of the packed briefing rooms.

They’re sure to be just as dangerous as any pub, or supermarket, in terms of potential exposure to the virus.

I haven’t done any panic buying, or stockpiling, in anticipation of the lockdown. It’s not payday yet, so I couldn’t, even if I wanted to. I’ll have to wait until after the lockdown starts to go grocery shopping.

At least there won’t be the kind of queues there have been all of this week at the supermarket, which is only a three-block wander from home, by the time I do go shopping. And at least I have the means to restock the fridge and grocery cupboards, unlike most people getting ready for the three weeks to come.

I don’t know what will happen in the next 21 days. This is far beyond anything I have ever experienced, or even heard about.

Nothing, no post-apocalyptic horror movie; no TV footage of the pandemic in other countries; no amount of ministerial briefings, can really prepare us for what is ahead.

Life — and work — under martial law, under threat of death from an invisible killer, starts on Friday.

The mobile goes.

It’s the first of this month’s debit orders.

Covid-19 or not, the capitalists still want their money.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.
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