Dear South Africa: Staying At Home Is Not Political Repression

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Dear South Africa: Staying At Home Is Not Political Repression

We’ve all seen long statuses being posted on Facebook by people complaining about how being forced to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic is some kind of big government conspiracy designed to rob us of our freedoms. This is what has become of a generation of people that were given “time outs” and participation medals.

Now I’m not usually a fan of the “toughen up” kind of attitude. Gen-Xers telling us millennials that life is too easy is the kind of patronising attitude that undercuts genuine hardships and issues in our society. It’s annoying and it’s not lost on me, but you guys need to chill the fuck out. I even read a long post where someone described the need to stand up for “smokers’ rights” and I cannot even begin to describe how absurd it is that our perception of a tyrannical government is one that forces us to remain indoors while they handle a public health crisis outside.

Everyone complaining about having to wake up early in the morning to go run, about not being able to buy their rotisserie chickens at Woolworths, about not being able to drink a glass of wine with dinner every night… you’re all completely devaluing the concept of human rights violations. Six months ago, nobody gave a shit about Syrians who are forced to stay inside to avoid getting shot, seeking refuge in their houses that are crumbling at the foundations from previous bombings. Suddenly every South African expresses concern about the poor who are going to starve because they can’t go to work. Yet four months ago when poor people were forced to stay home because their trains didn’t arrive at the station on that day, nobody batted an eyelid. And when children were starving, as they do every single day in poverty stricken neighbourhoods throughout the country, we all turned a blind eye and said “it is what it is.” So everyone (myself included), stop acting like you speak for the poor, because you don’t. The median wage in South Africa is R3,300 a month, which means an average person living in an average household lives on R30 a day – less than the price of your box of cigarettes. Spare us your faux outrage – us middle-class folk are just suffering from cabin fever.

We were so caught up in our consumerist lifestyles of iPhones, PlayStations, keto diets and Fitbits that we forgot to take pleasure out of the important things in life, like being outside in the sunlight and breathing fresh air. Now that we’re locked in a room with our iPhones, we can’t bear it. Maybe it’s a chance for us to take a long, hard look in the mirror and readdress our priorities. But, for most people, vanity stands in the way. Rather, you project your own shortcomings onto the government around you – because its easier to do that than admit that you don’t give a shit about how many people die when we all go back outside again… you just want to get your nails done.

And you’d think in a country like South Africa, where people literally died in a decades long fight for freedom, where people were denied access to education, running water, electricity and an endless list of actual human rights, that people would have a better grasp on what political repression actually is.

You want to know political repression? Ask millions of Kulaks murdered under Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, ask millions of gays, Jews and gypsies in Nazi Germany that were sent to the gas chambers under Hitler, ask Buddhists, Chams and Chinese Cambodians in Cambodia that were decimated by the Khmer Rouge, ask Rwandan Tutsis, Turkish Armenians, Bosnians in Srebrenica, Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa tribes in Darfur and the greater Sudan that continue to be slaughtered to this day. You know nothing but freedom and neither do I.

We live very privileged lives and I pray that none of you, my readers, will ever have to experience those hardships. Just don’t confuse stay at home orders as an assault on your rights. I’m not a fan of placing my trust in government and much less the South African government, but this is all for our own good and a little bit of sacrifice is necessary, especially when actual human lives are on the line.

You may be safe, driving to work in your car, but there are millions of South Africans who take trains and taxis to work, that don’t have medical aid and will not be going to private hospitals. They will be spending days in waiting rooms for public clinics to consult with doctors that don’t have the facilities or the motivation to tend to their afflictions.

And guess what? Reopen the economy too early, and we’re probably just going to shut it right back down again… for even longer. Simply because we could not exercise a little patience and clean our own houses.

BUT

If you’ve made it this far, this isn’t just a lecture on Western privileges and middle-class sensitivity. It’s a message to the South Africans that really care.

You want to make a difference? Your Facebook statuses aren’t going to reach Cyril Ramaphosa’s ears. The government is impotent and powerless. Reopening the economy is not going to fix it… you, and the most vulnerable people in this country, are not going to find it any easier to make ends meet. And, like I said, reopening the economy is probably going to make things worse, rather than fix them. So, if you can’t change the government’s approach, what can you do?

Look at private businesses. Not SMEs… the big guys. Standard Bank, FNB, Vodacom, Old Mutual. The massive corporates – they ALL have the cash reserves to weather this storm, yet they all keep collecting their bills at the end of the month. They won’t do the only thing that really makes sense: a furlough on bills. So, in other words, put your bills on pause. Seeing as no money is going through the economy anyways, why not stop paying rent and bonds? Miss three months during the lockdown and then pay those three months at the end of your rent contract, or pay to extend your bond’s payments by three months. Do the same for cellphone bills etc. etc.

And threaten the big businesses that aren’t doing their job. They all preach about their outreach campaigns. Where are they now? Where are Woolworths and Shoprite and Nedbank? They all get to benefit when the economy is doing well, now’s their chance to stand up when it’s suffering. And they may say that they don’t have the financial means to do it, as they look down at you from the balcony of their four-story mansions, but they do.

And we can’t force them. They are private enterprises. But we can collectively organise a boycott on their products which will put them out of business. As a country, we proved that we are capable of organising on a massive scale with the #ZumaMustFall marches, students all came together for #FeesMustFall, social media movements like #ImStaying are all examples of what we can do when we come together. The question is, though, can we do it when it really matters? That’s the kind of political action that eases the pressure of a crisis like this.

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