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#Lockdown: Compliance and the people’s demands

Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex. He is the author of ‘You Have To Be Gay To Know God’ (Kwela Books, 2018), which won the Desmond Tutu-Gerrit Brand Literary Prize. Follow him on @SKhumalo1987 (Insta and Twitter), or like his Facebook page With Siya Khumalo.

The citizens of this country must co-operate with the law without giving up power to those who create and enforce the laws.

This is a spreadsheet where South Africans can state conditions without which the lockdown may worsen the socioeconomic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. If the country’s structural vulnerability to this and other crises persists as a result of conditions that will leave the country worse off post the lockdown, then what’s the point? Here are what actual citizens are saying:

Don Ross: “Unemployment benefits to be extended to include the three million informal traders. Currently denied.” 

Megan Natasha Ross: “The alcohol ban must be repealed. It is effectively criminalising those with substance abuse and addiction problems, which is a medical condition, and poses a grave threat to people with alcoholism. Middle-class alcoholics may stockpile before lockdown, but poor and working-class addicts who cannot buy alcohol during the lockdown will be forced to go through withdrawal, without medical support, and could, realistically, die.” 

To this, Tiah Marie Beautement added, “I have concerns over the children being confined to homes with adults going through nicotine withdrawal. The rage this can evoke is a recipe for disaster. I have concerns of children being harmed by adults going through potentially fatal alcohol withdrawal, as it evokes rage. I have concerns of people trying to use surgical spirits and meths to get a fix. I worry about people using cocktails or over the counter drugs trying to take the edge off. I worry about the lethal results of alcoholics going cold turkey, as this is supposed to be done in a manner overseen by medical professionals. This social experiment is being conducted on the poor, as the financially well off had the means to stock up on booze and cigarettes.” 

Some wonder whether this exercise won’t fuel unrest and anger. But quite the contrary could happen: if the demands are reasonable and heard, the moral obligation to co-operate fully with the state is stronger because there’d be nothing more government could have done for citizens, within reason.

Others will wonder whether this won’t give people a platform to make childish demands. But the visibility of all demands could be a deterrent to that, and where it isn’t, demands only get so far with other contributors’ “upvotes”. Should an unreasonable demand still pass the populism filter, its fulfilment will still be subject to the rule of law and the logical constraints of rationality. 

This isn’t about any of the demands per se: it’s that the citizens of this country must co-operate with the law without giving up power to those who create and enforce the laws. That said, I started the spreadsheet with this far-fetched condition, which obviously is subject to the mentioned constraints: that the Zondo Commission release an interim report to kick off investigations and high-profile arrests. If this demand receives a significant number of emails next to it (because enough people agree it’s pointless to stay home while corruption runs rampant), yet is refused by the powers-that-be for reasons that aren’t constitutional or logical, that refusal will hopefully be performed publicly. At that point, a critical number of people would realise that the balance of power lies towards a self-serving state, and the lockdown is just buying its players time. The collateral damage of ignoring the lockdown would, to their consciences, be no worse than the state’s historic choice to ignore the rule of law, which has led to our collective heightened vulnerability. 

Another person may decide that Qedani Mahlangu’s Life Esidimeni sins must be revisited: at the moment this was written, Esidimeni’s death count exceeds our coronavirus death count. As does the count for Marikana. The point is whatever you put in that spreadsheet, it’s your litmus test for whether the virus is more dangerous than the government. I’d only ask that, unlike the examples I listed, we make those litmus tests both pertinent to the resolution of the immediate crisis and a sound gauge for how many of the state’s other crises are about power for its own sake. 

In the worst-case scenario, whatever civil disobedience people decide on (and the threshold for civil disobedience will never be lower than it is now) the important thing is amassing sufficient numbers to make state retaliation unlikely. We’ll start hearing news about civil unrest in other countries: we might as well manage the coming chaos instead of having it manage us. 

The message above the sheet reads, “We, the Undersigned, intend to comply with every aspect of the lockdown. We understand that the Coronavirus poses a severe threat to many citizens. However, we can’t in good conscience view this threat as separate from other problems plaguing our state – in fact, it’s pointless to address the one without the rest, leaving unresolved all the problems that left us even more vulnerable to the pandemic than we could ever afford to be.” These “problems” encompass decisions about the lockdown, like the alcohol ban.

How to participate

You scroll down to an empty row, enter your name in the first column, the condition in the next, and after that, your email address. You can also enter your email address next to any other demand(s) you agree with (ie, “upvote” someone else). Although the document saves automatically, it’s advisable to screengrab or download the version immediately after your entry. Take care, South Africa. DM

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