We should not have been so stupid

By Branko Brkic 31 July 2021
lllustrative photo by Samuel Ferrara on Unsplash

Every time I walk past this cartoon, which happens to be many times a day in these times of limited mobility, I think of things we lost in the fire of the Pandemic of Covid-19.

Branko Brkic

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.


I have a picture
Pinned to my wall
An image of you and of me
and we’re laughin’
We’re loving it all
But look at our life now
All tattered and torn
We fuss and we fight
and delight in the tears
that we cry until dawn

These are, by now, the long-forgotten opening lyrics from the Thompson Twins 1980s semi-big hit Hold Me Now. And it just wouldn’t leave me these days, or let me rest. Because I do have that picture pinned to my wall. And I do keep asking myself: Whatever happened to us? Whatever happened to South Africa? Whatever happened to the world?

To be precise, this picture on my wall is neither a photograph nor a painting. It is a colour print of one of Zapiro’s cartoons, one of my favourites named Asterix vs Pandemix: Hold it off. It is placed in such a spot that I see it dozens of times every day. If you forgot it, or never saw it before, this is what it looked like on Daily Maverick.

Ever the genius, Zapiro managed to pack so much into this precious square of flat and yet perfectly multidimensional Euclidean space: his technically flawless, while hauntingly beautiful, homage to his then recently departed hero, and co-creator of Asterix, Albert Uderzo; his call to screaming urgency of coronavirus vaccine creation and, perhaps above all, the burning need for humanity to for once come together and fight the invisible enemy that would go on to hurt us all so badly.

This piece of brilliance was published on 26 March 2020, the day the South African Covid-19 lockdown commenced. The Pandemic was only a few weeks old. The world was in turmoil. Fear was everywhere. And yet, so was the hope.

Today, as I write this text, it is the 490th day of lockdown, slightly more than 16 months. Every time I walk past this cartoon, which happens to be many times a day in these times of limited mobility, I think of things we lost in the fire of the Pandemic of Covid-19.

I think of the image of so many nations, races and religions standing together, fighting the dreaded virus while protecting our Getafix druid who was preparing the potion to save us all. I remember the resolve we all had to stand and fight together as a nation while our health department, in collaboration with other government players, prepared our hospital system to fight the illness and make sure everyone had personal protective equipment (PPE) to stay safe. I think of health workers, cashiers, tellers, drivers, labourers and so many other essential people showing up for work daily in the face of threats that were largely still unexplored by human science, making sure the wheels of our society keep turning. I think of scientists (druids) who created, tested, tested again and once more, and then made billions of doses available to humanity. It was an unprecedented effort when the entire civilisation put its best people forward, shattering previous records while perfecting an entirely new avenue for vaccine creation in the future.

But. (There is always a but.) I also think about those days as the times when I could still believe in people and their fundamental goodness. The events and horrific crimes that happened over the past 490 days, together with the stunningly confusing behaviour of some, make me ask what happened to our joint humanity. Here are just a few of the many shocking points:

The PPE corruption scandals shocked me to the core. To steal from your own people in times of Pandemic should be labelled a crime against humanity and prosecuted in the International Criminal Court.

To shoot and brutalise your own hungry people in locked-down townships is a clear sign of state machinery that doesn’t care.

To push for a xenophobic wave against immigrant communities in times of horrific deprivation is inhumane.

To have a violent politically driven insurrection in the middle of the third wave, to take at least $3-billion out of the already battered economy is a crime that should never be forgotten.

Globally, Zapiro’s cartoon of the world standing together didn’t pan out that way. The great divide between the First and Third World became a wall between the vaccinated and the not so lucky.

And the last on this ignominious list, but certainly not the least, are the anti-vaxxers and other spreaders of false information, who really should know better than to find their currency in prolonging human suffering and the near perpetuation of coronavirus variants’ cycles. At the beginning of the Pandemic, and the almost immediate way of horrifying misinformation, the law that banned the spreading of misinformation was passed. Eventually, most social media platforms came to their senses and banned the anti-vaxxers’ lies, but it was too late. There are just so many of them still peddling lies, sowing doubt in the very fundamentals of our civilisation, propelled by aggressive energy that is difficult to define or grasp. Unlike in Zapiro’s cartoon, our real-life druids are harassed and attacked daily by the very people whose lives they are trying to save.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they’re doing”, the wise man said a long time ago. All these years later, they are still at it, and still devoid of understanding anything.

I love that Zapiro cartoon pinned to my wall. And yet it makes me terribly sad, every day. It should not have happened this way. We should not have been this stupid. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


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