Wear the damn mask

David Bullard responds to the "knickers in a knot" crowd


As South Africa shifts down a gear to level 4 lockdown this Friday it becomes abundantly clear that our politicians haven’t a clue what’s going on and have been flying blind for weeks. They will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

The measured reaction to COVID-19 is little more than a guessing game and given the many diverse “expert” opinions being proffered it’s hardly surprising they are confused. Aren’t we all?

In fact, compared to the mighty USA and the UK, President Ramaphosa has been exemplary. I know of visitors from Europe who are trapped here in the winelands in lockdown waiting to return to Holland and they are so enthusiastic that they want to borrow Cyril to show Europe how it should be done.


The reality is that no elected politician signed up for a disaster like COVID-19 and I’m sure the opportunity to wash their hands of the whole ghastly business and resign must be tempting. It might be worth remembering that when we all criticize our bumbling politicians.

When Boris was returned to parliament last December as the UK Prime Minister with a thumping conservative majority in the House of Commons it was all about getting Brexit done. Nobody has heard a word about Brexit in two months and priorities have changed. So it is with Cyril. The main challenge was to stave off the country’s imminent bankruptcy resulting from it’s downgrade to junk status, try and rescue Eskom and a few state owned enterprises and stop the thieving element in the ruling party getting their grubby hands on more money.

It was all about rebuilding the economy, creating jobs and closing the gap between the haves and have nots. Our only consolation as South Africans is that we knew our economy was already in dire straits so the fact that it’s in even direr straits now is just a matter of the relative level of pain we are about to endure.

In Europe, the UK and the USA the expectation was for things to only get better so their economic decline is going to be much harder to bear. The bigger you are, the harder you fall.

Political dithering could arguably be a contributory factor to some country’s problems in the handling of COVID-19 but the idea that some country’s politicians are better informed than others is obviously nonsense. Our politicians may be flying blind but so are all the rest. Sweden’s much envied stance on keeping schools and restaurants open in the hope of building herd immunity may have kept the economy on a more even keel but it’s still early days as far as infection is concerned. By contrast, our own measures seem draconian but only time will tell who was right.

As the lead article in last week’s 10000th edition of The Spectator magazine said:

Cabinet members have been taken aback by the disagreements among those now advising the government. One minister remarks, with a note of shock, that ‘scientists are as bitchy as a bunch of lawyers’ and that ‘there are a lot of people who want Whitty’s job’, a reference to the chief medical officer Chris Whitty. Another notes: ‘The Sage [Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] committee members don’t even agree with each other, they bicker. And we talk about following “the science” as if there’s one opinion and not at least seven.’

It’s bad enough trying to get economists to agree on whether it will be a U shaped economic recovery or a V shaped one but getting the science boffins to agree on anything seems impossible. So, with seven conflicting opinions, who on earth are you supposed to believe as a politician?

Take masks for example. Last week I tweeted a comment about people not wearing masks at my local Woolies and received a good kicking in return. People were staggered that I was gullible enough to fall for the ANC lockdown propaganda about wearing a mask.

Others sent me a picture of a notice put up in Clicks saying masks had been found to be ineffective by the highly credible World Health Organisation so don’t wear them. I received detailed diagrams of the relative efficacy of other masks and how utterly useless they are in preventing infection. And yet, come Friday, we will all be required to wear cloth masks when we go out in public.

The only reason I wore a mask when out shopping was as a sign of consideration for my fellow shoppers. If I cough or sneeze then surely the nasties are trapped in my mask (however officially ineffectual the Twitterati may deem it to be) and not sprayed over fellow shoppers.

If I am coughed or sneezed on by an unmasked shopper I am under no illusion that my mask will prevent me from infection but surely any mask is better than no mask at all? Which is precisely why we should stop fretting about our civil liberties being eroded and wear the damn mask. It’s no different from being told to wear a seat belt while driving and most of us can manage that without screaming about our freedom of choice being violated by a totalitarian regime.

The other “knickers in a knot” announcements that came last week was the deployment of around 73000 troops and auxiliaries and the imposition of a curfew between 20h00 and 05h00. Final proof apparently that the SA government has become a dictatorship and is prepared to trample on our civil liberties.

Maybe I’m being unusually dim about this but I think I would rather prefer 73 000 military personnel (which I help pay for) to do something positive towards solving this problem rather than hanging around in barracks eating junk food and waiting for a war to start.

The military in the UK (albeit more disciplined and far better trained) have been used to build medical facilities. Obviously it doesn’t help when a Lieutenant General tells us that we’re not his clients and that his troops are answerable to nobody except the commander in chief (I hope he means Cyril and not Julius) but we should be used to people in power saying really stupid things in this country; it’s a daily occurrence for some of our politicians. We really have no option but to give the military the benefit of the doubt until circumstances prove us wrong. Hopefully we will be able to look back and congratulate them on a job well done.

The general squawking about the imposition of a curfew has me really confused. Where were you intending to travel to between 8pm and 5am? You’re not supposed to be visiting friends, the cinemas are closed, the pubs are closed, the restaurants are closed so how will not being allowed to travel between those hours be so detrimental to your personal freedoms?

Unless of course you’d planned a cash in transit heist or the hijacking of a food truck or were up to some other nocturnal criminal activity. While this emergency lasts a night-time curfew is to be welcomed. Start worrying when it’s between 08h00 and 17h00. That’s when your civil liberties will have been kicked into touch.