S. Mkhatshwa: Chairman of Moral Regeneration (MRM)
Date: 11/04/2020

Moments before the armies of Brutus /Cassius engaged the troops of Octavius Caesar/Mark Anthony in a titanic battle, Brutus addressed his men thus “There is a tide in the affairs men which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries, on such a full sea are we now afloat, and we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures “.

The battle confronting the world right now is the coronavirus. Unlike previous pandemics this one is unique. It caught the world by surprise. Its battlefront is without borders, there is no immediate cure or vaccine COVID 19 has already claimed many lives. Unless It is defeated or at least brought under control millions of lives will be lost. The opening quotation enjoins us to seize this ideal moment and engage our enemy locally and internationally there is neither a deus ex machina nor a panacea. In this regard, we must applaud and fully support the timely anti-Covid 19 intervention under the leadership of our President, Cyril Ramaphosa. His dedicated team of ministers and officials are doing a sterling job.

Before sharing some further thoughts on COVID 19 it would be useful to put the discussion in a broader context. It is common cause that there have been a number of plaques and epidemics which decimated millions of people in their wake. Three of the best-documented pandemics include the Black Death (1347-1354) Great English Plague (1666) and the Spanish Influenza (1918) Each of them claimed millions of lives, especially in Europe, Asia, Africa and later the United States.

The commonest denominator among them was a shock, panic, unpreparedness, and a frantic search for an explanation. In the absence of an immediate scientific reason, people succumbed to suspicion, superstition, and religiosity. Some thought God was punishing them for their wrongdoings and was bringing the world to an end. The poor, migrants, and even animals were blamed for the bacteria invasion.
Interestingly enough in certain situations, the epidemic forced temporary abolition of social class consciousness. Facing a common enemy and striving for national survival, people forgot about class, race, or colour.

What can we learn from the global pandemics alluded to above? The affected countries resorted to strategies of mitigation, isolation of victims, quarantine, cordon sanitaire (secured by the army) closure of schools, churches, places of entertainment, and the markets. In Italy, they erected the “Lazerette” which served as detention centres for treatment and restricted free movement. The situation deteriorated to a point where corpses were simply thrown into impromptu graves without any decent burial rites. People were forced to wear masks, doctors and health personnel wore special protective garments. In 1377 Yugoslavia forbade merchant ships to sail closer to their cities. This was later replicated in other coastal cities.

Since then we have learned much from the countries that were ravaged by pandemics. We have refined some of the prevention methods and have added sophisticated technologies.

Globalisation has been a mixed blessing. Intercontinental travel has been made very easy and fast. Thanks to airplanes, cruise ships, and railways. As someone puts it, “the world has become a Global village. “Hence the unparalleled rapid spread of coronavirus

Where to South Africa From Here?
Thankfully, the science of Bacteriology Public Health and advanced germ theory have prevented the recurrence of certain pandemic plaques. Scientific and early response to unexpected bacterial diseases is more advanced. The stubborn reality, however, is that we have not won the WAR against all diseases. Battles, yes. The Struggle continues.

It is often said that a crisis brings on the best or worst in leaders’. In confronting the coronavirus onslaught our government has covered itself in glory for now. The President’s address to the nation on 23rd March was spot on. In declaring the state of national disaster; he unveiled a clear plan of action, including the current Lockdown. He invoked Section 36 of the Constitution which allows him in certain threatening situations to limit the exercise of certain rights by citizens for the protection of the common good. It is not a removal of constitutional rights but their temporary suspension.

South Africa’s timely response to the COVID 19 has been acclaimed worldwide. Most surprising though the tardiness of countries which were once victims of pandemics e.g. Italy, Spain, France, and England, Who knows South Africa can still prove the Romans saying: Ex Africa

Semper Aliquid Novi (From Africa there is always something new)
Our scientists and our leaders are hard at work on this one.

The Lockdown must be supported without reservation, not because the government has imposed it. Each one of us wants to be healthy and stay alive. You cannot enjoy your rights when you are dead. The temporary discomfort that goes with it is like a doctor’s prick (injection ). Some medications give the patient a little pain as part of a healing process.

As often happens in a crisis, there are legitimate questions that people are raising e.g. how are the destitute expected to meet the conditions of the Lockdown when they lack basic services especially water, sanitation, electricity, decent and spacious houses, space for kids to play, storage facilities for edibles: how can they comply with social distancing in overcrowded mikhukhus?

Some of these challenges are of a systemic nature, including joblessness, gender-based violence, substance addiction. Our Gini-coefficient says it all

The prompt response of the government to these challenges is commendable. This, of course, raises other questions .Will the government has the capacity to sustain the good work in those informal settlements post coronavirus. Do we have a strategy to stop temporary decent shelters from bludgeoning into new squatter camps? How will the government once and for all curb illegal immigration, both local and foreign?

I do not expect or even encourage these and other problematic questions to be raised sharply now until after the virus has been dealt with. Let’s rather focus on the immediate challenge. Failure to confront these questions will cause more headaches for the whole country. Add to this the kick in the teeth blow delivered by rating agencies Moody and Fitch which will compound our struggle against poverty unemployment and a stagnant economy.
That said, though, one would hope that some serious thought is being given to:

  1. Rebuilding an inclusive economy of the country after the COVID 19 war.
  2. Authentic and wholesome reconstruction of the nation’s moral fibre which is an essential component of the social cohesion.
  3. Restoration of respect for the law
  4. Reimaging a post-Covid 19 South Africa based on our Constitution and our rightful place in Africa and the world.
    These reflections must take into account the lessons positive and negative we have learned from the Lockdown experience, regardless of its time frames

Moral Regeneration Movement (MRM) commends all the professionals, men and women volunteers, officials, and contributors to the solidarity for their selfless and sometimes risky contributions to the on-going fight against the COVID 19. Over and above these patriotic citizens the struggle against coronavirus will be won only to the extent that the government gets buy-in from the leaders on the ground, especially councilors, religious, and respected community leaders.

If Madiba would be with our people at this time he would reiterate his own words of wisdom:” I am fundamentally an optimist, whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death. I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid but he who conquers that fear,

A country under siege such as ours must consider a few quick wins, not for political expediency but to boost the morale of the nation.

The Solidarity Fund is already working.
As the President said it is an opportunity for the people of South Africa to show their spirit of Ubuntu, Humanity, Brotherhood, generosity as well as Unity during a crisis. It would, however, be dangerously myopic to see it as nothing more than a very short term alleviation of the suffering and inconvenience of millions of people. Their immediate needs are many and varied, they include job losses, crippled businesses’ basic needs like food, water, sanitation, health care facilities, overcrowding, unemployment, safety, and many others. The President and his administration have set a very good example by contributing part of their salaries to the fund for three months. Leadership from other spheres of Government have come on board. We are all fighting a common enemy that knows no class, race, colour gender, or social status. There is no guarantee whatsoever that this sense of solidarity will outlive the pandemic.

After the disease comes under control government’s hands will be full e.g. Reconstruction of macro social and economic structures, borrowing money from big financial institutions, sustaining services in the disadvantaged communities helping businesses and other services to resume their operations, manage unemployment normalise schooling, education, sports, etc.

Other “quick” wins could be suggested. Every family (Black/White) that owns a piece of land should be encouraged and assisted to grow their own food. Commercial agriculture will, of course, continue as per government policy tapping into the billion rands already earmarked for that purpose. The country cannot be fed only by White farmers it is a political embarrassment that in a black-run government we shall still tolerate such a situation. We cannot wait for the passing of an amended section 25 of the constitution. Producing your own food is cheap, healthy, it also raises one’s children’s awareness of the value of land however small. Whatever happened to schools and home gardens? This project can be carried out both as individual families or as co-ops. Many blacks whose family properties are lying fallow back home and or in their urban back yards should be cajoled or even nudged into producing their own food-vegetables, fruit, poultry, eggs, etc. The role of government should be limited to providing expertise and seeds.

The third “quick” win is the formation of street committees: a la’ days of the struggle. If you politicize them, they won’t work. Post-Covid 19 they could facilitate inter-family communication, community- government interaction, promote safety against criminals, minimize corruption. The leadership of such structures should be voluntary and democratic to avoid corruption. After the coronavirus government will need to initiate a credible corps of interlocutors to rebuild a viable dialogue/cooperation with the communities. The MRM Charter of positive values could serve as an important tool to pave the way for genuine and lasting social cohesion.
Leaders in all spheres of government must be visible and translate the message of the President in dialects people can understand

• Wash your hands with soap thoroughly as often as possible
• To avoid infection by observing social distancing
• Stay at home, except to buy food, medicine, consult Doctor
• Wear a face mask if available
• Respect the lockdown until the end of April 2020