The adage “Keep calm and carry on” has become prominent in recent times, particularly in the United Kingdom, and has infused a sense of cultural pride and resilience amongst the English people. It soon found its way to other parts of the world where it also created a sense, I would argue, of chutzpah, which speaks to the quality of audacity, for good or bad. Put differently, it can also signify the amount of courage, mettle or ardour an individual or group has.
This slogan – which first appeared in the form of a poster produced by the British government in 1939 in preparation for World War 2 – was intended to raise the morale of the British public. It was evocative of the Victorian belief in British stoicism, self-discipline, fortitude and remaining calm in the face of adversity – all attributes I would hasten to say that we, as South Africans, have also displayed from time to time throughout our history.
As the country is ravaged by the coronavirus and the pandemic wreaks havoc among our people, it is now more than ever that we are required to keep calm and carry on. This is not meant to sound insensitive to those who have lost loved ones, friends or colleagues, but we must remain strong, display self-discipline and have fortitude during this adversity. We must not lose hope.
It is far too easy to point fingers and engage in the blame game, even though this makes us feel better and less responsible for our own actions. It is the government and its poor planning that has brought us to this point, I hear some say, and perhaps this is true. After all, the president did indicate that they had made a few missteps in the combating of this virus.
Why did they not make proper preparations and anticipate the severity of the third wave? They should have had more hospital beds and more oxygen available, and so much more. Why did the government get rid of an early shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines which could have been very effective in the fight against Covid?
And there are many more such arguments. I’m sure you would all agree that there is probably merit in some of these points, but what matters now is not to panic and to get behind the vaccination plan as it is being rolled out currently.
We cannot ignore the role of the countries of the Global North and how they simply ignored the plight of the Global South and hogged all the vaccine doses manufactured by their big pharma. They insisted on buying all of it for themselves and ensured that their respective populations are inoculated first. Only when they had had their fill and were satisfied, did they begin to allow us mere mortals to purchase and obtain vaccine doses.
Till today, they have refused to give us access to their intellectual property rights around vaccine manufacturing. They remain selfish in this regard, regardless of the rising death toll in the developing world. Since then, vaccines have been coming in a steady stream and I am confident that over the next few months much progress will be made with the vaccination roll-out.
I’m sure that as we observe the increase in mortality and infection rates, and a sense of despondency creeps in, a sense of loss must be uppermost in our minds. But we must remember that it was us who overcame adversity in the 1960s to 1990s under apartheid. It was us who retained fortitude and focused on the ultimate goal of liberation.
It is a thing to behold, seeing white compatriots standing in lines at Lentegeur Hospital in Mitchells Plain waiting for their vaccine jabs. Some of them no doubt had never before been in Mitchells Plain, but today, they know where it is.
The care with which our elders have been handled during this difficult time is exemplary, to say the least. Unlike some other countries, we value our elderly and hence started vaccinating them and not the youngsters who displayed much stronger resistance to the virus.
Some panic set in because, for the first time, we were all equal in a health emergency. Whether you are a private medical aid member; whether you are used to the system catering for you first because of the colour of your skin, or whether you always knew you could buy your way out of any pandemic situation – none of these were an option. Instead, we saw and experienced a healthcare sector responding to each and every one of us equally. Register, await notification and then present yourself at the most convenient facility for your inoculation. We are certainly making progress as a country, difficult as it is for some to accept.
It is unfortunate that we had to return to harsher lockdown measures, given this third wave and the Delta variant of the virus. I would argue that this is partly the result of our complacency during the second wave. But, yes, better planning could have been made for the third wave and its devastating effects.
Allowing this pandemic to destroy the very fabric of us as a people will and must not be allowed. And just as the British people endured the Blitz during that war, just like it destroyed family units and just like they had to face death and misery, we too shall overcome this pandemic.
So, I say again, keep calm and carry on, fellow South Africans. DM