As we move into a third year of the coronavirus pandemic, the question many of us are asking is just when life might return to a semblance of normality. One place to garner an answer is to look at history, in particular the Spanish flu pandemic. In 1918, a novel strand of influenza killed more than 50 million people worldwide, compared with the 5 324 867 million that have, as of 13 December, lost their lives to Covid-19.
It took the world until the mid-1920s before life got back to normal. The world, or rather the Western world, went into the Roaring Twenties of buoyant stock markets and rising wealth, an era best captured by the advent of jazz and the penmanship of F Scott Fitzgerald and his novel, The Great Gatsby.
In South Africa — with confidence levels bludgeoned by a pandemic that has laid to ruin some sectors and industries, and further fuelled a long-existing unemployment crisis — you couldn’t find a country more eager for its own “roaring” recovery. On the surface, developments over the past year don’t promise a miraculous turnaround. Petrol prices near R20 a litre, Eskom continues to struggle and joblessness grows. Social tensions and divisions have risen as we’ve grown weary of Covid-19 and its limitations on our everyday life. All these factors, combined with our rather uninspired political theatre — in truth, an affliction the world over — fed into the July unrest. The low voter turnout for our recent local elections shouldn’t be surprising given the apathy with formal democratic structures.
It’s a grim picture.
But, in the midst of these tales of woe, South Africans can remain hopeful — despite our dalliances with the “end of the world” narratives, we are still here. We are growing and we are learning with this young democracy. We are just 27 years into this phase, one in which all our voices are heard. Going in the history books to the birth of any nation, the first two or three decades were never the easiest for its citizens. At its founding in 1776, the US was a place of internal strife and slavery, which would only be outlawed 89 years later. Birthing a nation is never a smooth ride, it’s a very long journey.
As South Africans, including the independents that stood up against the dominant political parties in the recent polls, we have to keep the belief that there is a better day ahead. It’s in our hands to bring it to be; our actions matter no matter how uncomfortable they are to a shrinking middle class and those at the very top of society. Out of necessity, we have to transform as a nation, something that comes with a level of discomfort. It is how we, as citizens, take a leading role in that transformation that is more important. We can’t leave it in the hands of the political and business class. They’ll look to protect their interests — which don’t necessarily match those of the common man.