Opinionista Jordan Griffiths 9 July 2020

A second lockdown would break South Africans

What must South Africans who diligently locked themselves down think of the state of play right now? It certainly does not inspire much hope in the government’s efforts to contain the spread of the disease.

Resilience is generally considered to be a trait which relates to the personal strength of individuals to overcome issues pertaining to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. These can come in a variety of forms – be it the sudden loss of a loved one, severe health issues, being affected by a crime, losing a job or undergoing a major life change. The ability to be resilient in the face of such issues is critical in relation to one’s own personal growth and ability to move forward with one’s life.

As South Africa continues to battle the spread of Covid-19 with the ever-present lockdown requirements and restrictions, it will require resilience from citizens across the country. The psychologists Norman Garmezy and Emmy Werner have published extensively on resilience through studies on young children, tracking how they have dealt with hardship. The research demonstrated how a supportive bond with a caregiver parent or teacher played a key role in their resilience. While in other cases their resilience was strongly psychological and related to how they interpreted a particular event and chose to channel it through their lives. Werner’s research also demonstrated how resilience could change over time and how in some cases multiple instances of stress or trauma can simply overwhelm one’s resilience.

This is an important notion as it speaks to the notion of a breaking point. In the weeks to come it is likely that many South Africans across the country may well face such a scenario. Some could have already reached their breaking point. The coronavirus has cost lives, led to the closure of many businesses, resulted in job losses and significantly disrupted life across the country and in the world globally. Now more than ever, resilience as a value will become critical, for individuals, businesses, the state and society as a whole.

The challenge facing the South African government is that their attempt to manage the coronavirus outbreak is now gradually eroding the resilience of the various different stakeholders in the economy and pushing them towards their breaking points. The government’s policy response has been characterised by introducing various unnecessary restrictions and arbitrary limitations which have not only been deeply irrational but undeniably callous and in some instances, almost cruel. 

Taking such decisions is often quite easy when you have no skin in the game. If you aren’t running a business or employed in the private sector you might not even be affected by these decisions. In many cases if the ministers taking these decisions were to in fact fall ill, it is likely that they won’t even be checked into public healthcare. Some may only be aware of the issues in the public health sector when they read about them in the news.

It is likely that soon there will be increased calls for a second hard lockdown as it gets worse, either countrywide or in particular provinces. Should such a decision be implemented it will probably take many South Africans over their breaking point as some may well lose what they so desperately attempted to save during the initial lockdown. 

Indeed, already it seems there is a crisis in the Eastern Cape where media reports indicate that the healthcare system in the province has collapsed. This wasn’t even questioned by the government, in fact it was said openly by Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane in requesting assistance from the President. One would have thought that during the nine weeks of Level 5 and 4 lockdown the Eastern Cape would have been focused on building a resilient public health service. Instead, it seems the health service is collapsing after exceeding 20,000 cases. Further to that, research compiled by Mail and Guardian indicates that there remains a critical shortage of PPE and staff across the hardest-hit provinces.

What must South Africans who diligently locked themselves down now think of this news? It does not inspire much hope in the government’s efforts to contain the spread of the disease. As cases begin to rise in Gauteng already there is speculation on the strength of the public health sector in the province and the possibility of a second lockdown. What level of faith would South Africans be expected to have in a second hard lockdown knowing that in the week after Level 4 ended the country started experiencing over 3,000 cases a day?

Premier Alan Winde in the Western Cape has focused his approach on ensuring that the province is able to function in the face of Covid-19. In fact, he was one of the most vocal about ensuring that the country moves out of a hard lockdown as soon as possible due to the disastrous economic effects.  He understood the importance of ensuring that the Western Cape was adequately prepared under the lockdown so that it could reopen and keep the economy moving. No doubt a difficult decision to take but one that understands the importance of maintaining a resilient health service in the face of a public health crisis.

Many South Africans are probably attempting to rebuild or carry on their lives as a result of the economic damage that has been caused by the hard lockdown and in the face of the continued threat of Covid-19. Schools are reopening and the gradual reintegration of the economy is taking place. In the weeks to come, the number of cases is set to increase which is what was always expected. The notion of flattening the curve does represent an absence of cases but merely reaching the point whereby spread of the disease can be managed appropriately. With rumours of potential second lockdowns this information must remain ever-present.

We know that in May, members of the Pandemic Data and Analytics initiative (Panda) sent through a comprehensive report to the Presidency outlining the grievous economic costs of lockdown on the country. They have also been at the forefront of trying to get the government to disclose the models that they have been using to forecast the impact of the virus, unfortunately with little success.

It is likely that soon there will be increased calls for a second hard lockdown as it gets worse, either countrywide or in particular provinces. Should such a decision be implemented it will probably take many South Africans over their breaking point as some may well lose what they so desperately attempted to save during the initial lockdown. 

Resilience will be crucial as South Africans will have to guard themselves against another situation where arbitrary and restrictive rules are placed on their lives. DM

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