Covid-19: What would JZ have done?

Jeremy Gordin reflects on lockdown questions, great and small

I ended last week’s report from this non-frontline bivouac by remarking that the lockdown was taking its toll even here – and so it seems to be.

A good friend, who’s about 75 and lives some 20 metres down the drag, told me yesterday that he was living a “very structured life” – going to bed at 2.30am, waking at 6am due Covid-19 anxiety, falling back asleep till 10am, then watching TV till 2.30am. He said he tries to “omit letting his pooch out at midnight to have the crap she would have had during her daily walk ...”. Why, I asked. Because what then ensues, he said, “is the most exciting part of my day”.

Talking of which: when returning by car from buying something “essential,” I encountered another friend, who also lives close by, walking his dog in the twilight.

“Watch out,” I said through the window, “the Kingsmead/Roedean mafia,” as we Parkview dissenters call them, “are gonna get you. They post pics to name and shame on the local WhatsApp thread and might even report you to the authorities.”

He explained that his dog is a “rescue” and whoever owned him previously had “done something” to him – so that the dog dogmatically refuses to evacuate his bowels on my friend’s property. He must be taken outside the gate for the purposes of such evacuation. Bheki “chapeau” Cele never thought about that, did he?

Now, this friend strikes me as the type who never tells porky-pies. Yet who knows what the mental pressures exerted by the lockdown are doing to previously normal folk, not to mention their dogs?

But enough (I hear you cry) of this cavalier chit-chat about the troubles of whiteys. More serious, surely, are the pressures exerted on my fellow citizens living cheek by jowl in the country’s poorer communities.

Bearing in mind that if any of those calling the shots regarding the local “war” against Covid-19 are playing with a full or semi-full deck (which, given the presence of Cele, Fikile Mbambalula [corr] and a few others, I can’t guarantee), then the lockdown will have to be extended beyond midnight on April 16.

As Richard Calland’s Paternoster Group noted: when April 16 arrives, “[President] Ramaphosa will be on the horns of the ultimate [sic] dilemma. Open the country and risk a public health disaster of unprecedented proportions, or leave it locked up and risk an even greater economic crash and the potential for escalating social unrest?”

I’m not certain the Group and I have the same things in mind when it comes to “escalating social unrest”. I for one am thinking about (1) the ban on being allowed out for exercise (for yourself and your doggie), (2) the ban on the sale of tobacco, and (3) the ban on the sale of alcohol.

Ronnie Kasrils has written recently that volunteerism is “in our DNA”. I’m not as certain as he is about this, especially when it comes to putting oneself at risk. But, having in my youth studied the history of shebeens, I am sure that when it comes to booze, ways of sidestepping the cops and the army are undoubtedly in our DNA. Seffricans, ever entrepreneurial, will rally to the cause!

The ban on the sale of tobacco. A very strange one, don’t you think? Bad for one’s health? Well, we all know that, especially we Wokies. But so is living in a country where, to take just two examples, the people in charge literally stole the money earmarked to ensure the supply of electricity and clean water.

Maybe the idea was to take this chance to whack those who make money illegally from tobacco? Cf. the life of the late Jackie “finish en klaar” Selebi, The President’s Keepers by Jacques Pauw, and the suggestion by the perfidious media of a connection between the director of a cigarette company and the commander-in-chief of the EFF. I hope that Chapeau Cele and others aren’t using extra-parliamentary means to go after el comandante and his merry people. That wouldn’t be cricket.

Or perhaps the National Command Council decided in its wisdom that the country simply couldn’t allow folk to exit home all the time to buy smokes, that it’d be destructive of our self-discipline? But we go out to buy food all the time, so why can’t we buy cigs at the same time, as suggested by Western Cape Premier Alan Winde? Search me – or search Chapeau Cele’s brain box – but first you’d have to get him to take off his hat, for which, in these troubled times, you’d probably need a court order.

Anyway, one needs to keep looking on the bright side – and I’m sure no one would disagree that we are world leaders when it comes to shooting ourselves (and occasionally some township-dwellers) in the feet. I.e., by banning the sale of tobacco products, Cele et al have removed one of the Revenue Services’ greatest money-spinners; and, by all accounts, SARS ain’t doing so lekker these days.

The exercise and doggy-walking ban? Ach, it’s common cause that a break outside, provided one doesn’t imperil anyone else, is good for the body and soul. As for dogs, well, that’s considered preeminently a whitey pursuit – and Cele was just being his goonish self while trying to score some brownie points (I choose my words carefully) with his buddies. Ironically though – and nothing takes place in the beloved country without irony – I have noticed over the last 10 years that I am, with maybe one or two exceptions, the Last White Man who walks his dog himself. Just saying.

Can you imagine that meeting a while back at the National Command Council?

“What is wrong with Zweli?” Cele would have asked, grinning. “Dogs? Dog-walking? Has Zweli gone soft in the head? Why do we want to favour the whiteys? This is not the time for giving them special privileges. Remember the spirit of the NDR.” Mbalula and Minister of Small Business Development Lindiwe Zulu would have almost toppled off their chairs in mirth and Ramaphosa would have blanched (I choose my words carefully). What was he going to tell Peter?

And talking of eavesdropping on Council (or cabinet) meetings, I have just recalled a piece by Ferial Haffajee on 24 March, headlined “Thank God it’s not Jacob (or Donald or Boris)”. Besides casting aspersions on Boris – about which I hope she feels bad today – Haffajee wrote: “On Saturday I woke up in a start and the first thoughts were these: ‘Thank God it’s not Jacob’ – that’s former president Jacob Zuma .... The years of the Zuma administration provided pointers where we would be now if Covid-19 had hit in that time ... We would be in serious trouble whereas the crisis now feels as if it is being managed with astuteness and leadership that South Africa has not recently experienced”.

But was the learned Haffajee correct? I’m not certain.

Having been informed by the scientific and medical boffins about what was headed our way, Zuma would probably have leaned back in his chair and said:

“Well, y-e-s. I am not surprised, my brothers and sisters. I was head of intelligence before; and I hear things that others can’t hear. Yes. Just as we have been besieged by impimpis, so are we besieged by this virus thing. Years ago, I told people I took a shower to combat a virus and they mocked me. Now, Thixo wa se George Goch, you want me to tell them to wash their hands all the time. Strange times, strange times, I must say.

“But okay, if we must lock the people down, well, we must. But I don’t like what this will do to our money. I know that when I was on Robben Island, I couldn’t do anything to make money for my family. And I know that some of you are too busy to do things right. Alright, we will lock down. But my friends, the Guptas, must organise the emergency importation of those masks and gloves and tests and suits and those other funny things. They can do it quickly. My son, Duduzane, will arrange everything.

“What? What are these ventilator things? We don’t have them at Nkandla. Why must the hospitals have them? Okay. I will speak to my good friend, Putin of Russia, and we will get them quickly. I can arrange for SAA to bring them here today. Nhlanhla, don’t stand in the way of this. It’s an emergency, my brother.”

Would that have been so bad – or so different? Just asking.