It’s almost 50 days since the head of state shut the country down.
Somehow, we’ve managed to spend seven weeks sitting at home, pretty much sober, something which, if you’d asked me before March 26, I’d have said we could never do.
It’s been a long 49 days, perhaps the longest 49 days any of us has experienced, particularly those among us who are gagging for a cigarette and an ice cold Amstel.
Perhaps the next 49 will be a little easier, a bit less extreme. They will, if the changes to retail regulations, the modification of the exercise rules and the potential district by district move to level three announced by the president on Wednesday night materialise.
I guess Cyril Ramaphosa will have to run the proposed changes past Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and the National Coronavirus Command Council before giving us the good news. I’m not convinced that Dlamini-Zuma and Dr No, as Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize is becoming known in the Harper household these days, will want to give the smokers and drinkers a break, despite the benefits to the taxman of doing so.
Perhaps they’ll show some mercy.
Take their boots off the sinners’ necks.
Somehow, despite the best efforts of Dlamini-Zuma, I’m still zolling, to borrow a term from the woman herself. I stocked up properly, bud and papers, so I’m covered, for at least another six months, maybe longer if I behave myself, no matter what happens at the end of May.
Locked down or not, level 5, level 4, level 3 or level whatever, I’m still rolling. I’m still licking the paper — just like Dlamini-Zuma’s sign language interpreter did that fateful evening when she broke millions of South Africans hearts — still using my saliva to ensure the zol doesn’t fall.
I’m still smoking.
What I’m not doing is sharing, mainly because all my smoking mates are, like me, abiding by the terms of the lockdown and staying in their own pozi, so there’s nobody to share with. We’ve all adopted what has become the stoner’s mantra for life under Covid-19 — and after it, for that matter — puff, but don’t pass.
It’s unnatural behaviour, the antithesis of cannabis culture, to not share. It’s also something that is now unavoidable, something which, like not shaking hands or hugging, will have to be learned.
Passing the spliff to the left is as natural an action as a high five or a fist bump — to me at least, after nearly 40 years of doing so — and it is going to take some unlearning. Perhaps by the time that I can finally see my mates again, not passing the joint will have ingrained itself on my muscle memory.
It’s gonna be weird. Standing around, a metre and half apart, smoking our own spliffs through our masks, exhaling away from each other. It’s gonna take some doing, but so did hugging and 45 times a day handwashing, so it’s possible.
I was glued to the screen for Ramaphosa’s “my fellow South Africans” on Wednesday night, when he eventually got going, after being forced to ditch his open-toed shoes and put on his crop bottoms by Minister of Fashion Ebrahim Patel. I wonder who advised Patel on the clothing retail regulations? Perhaps it’s the same person who advised Dlamini-Zuma about the zol issue, on smokes and beer?
I don’t get the argument that the president’s announcement was empty, which, not surprisingly, is loudest from those who were agitating the hardest for him to make a public appearance, claiming he had done like his deputy, David Mabuza, and disappeared.
Given the realities of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ramaphosa had a fair amount to say: the lockdown has served its purpose and kept the infection rate and death toll down, with the country now ready to move into the next phase of dealing with the virus at the end of May. More economic activity will open up; those districts which are not hotspots can move to level 3 at the end of the month; those with high infection levels will stay on level 4; more products will be on sale; regulations restricting exercise will be amended in the next couple of days.
Ramaphosa didn’t announce the end of the lockdown, a lifting of the booze and cigarette ban, a return to normality, because he couldn’t. There was never any way he was going to do so. We’re still several months from the pandemic reaching its peak, no matter how long the last 49 days have taken.
More than 200 people have died from Covid-19 already, even with the lockdown. More people are going to die, particularly when the restrictions are lifted further, so an incremental move back to a semblance of normality is the best we could expect.