No escape route, we’re in this together’

When calm returns, our kind gestures to alleviate the suffering won’t be forgotten. It will help to forge the bonds of a truly South African brotherhood through collective pain and sacrifice, writes Dr Imraan Kola, part of the Covid Team.

Earlier this week I listened to Dr ZweliMkhize’s Covid-19 press conference. Firstly, I think the Covid-19 pandemic health response is in stark contrast to the frankly crazy AIDS denial that marked the early days of the HIV response in South Africa in the late 1990s.

We still see the ravages of this lack of responsiveness daily in South Africa with an orphaned generation, abject poverty and the high HIV rates because of the lack of early treatment as a preventative strategy. Like all fledglings, the nation has learnt from previous indiscretions. Health and wealth are intrinsically linked. Let’s hope and pray that our vastly different and proactive Covid-19 response will have positive mortality benefits in the years to come. An investment now will save lives later.

I think the public briefing was the best Covid-19 conference I have as yet watched around the world. Prof Abdool Karim, the government’s chief advisor on Covid-19, provided easily understandable and graphic depictions of the South African Covid-19 trajectory and predictions. It was honest and transparent and the public was privy to information that was being evaluated by the Covid Command Council on decisions regarding lockdown and Covid response. This helps citizens understand the logical reasons why government has implemented and extended the nationwide lockdown which has had crippling economic consequences. It clearly demonstrated the effects of lockdown and school closure on infection rates.

 The briefing was also frank that exponential growth in infections will likely not be avoided. It detailed the well-thought out government plan and stepwise approach management of the remainder of the pandemic. It made me confident, as a citizen, that our leaders have a plan and learnt from other countries successes and failures. Our ministers and government have based their policy on sound scientific knowledge and shared the evidence with us. I think Covid-19 could be a significant nation building exercise for South Africa. Yes, winning the Afcon and rugby world cup can play a nation building role. They provide temporary national euphoria but do not truly affect the social, economic lives and survival of the nation’s citizens.


For the first time I can recall in South African democratic history we are faced with a problem that transcends racial, religious, social, economic lines with no chance to abandon ship. Problems often cited by South Africans till now include crime, corruption and maladministration. Often, an easy escape from our problems is to immigrate to developed countries. Instead of being a part of a South African solution, many professionals or those with a financial means, leave. For the first time, we are afflicted by a crisis that is truly global. Those countries we see as greener pastures have a worse handling of the crisis.

 There is no easy escape route and the crisis demands domestic solutions that are inclusive of everyone. We are a nation with collective resolve and ingenious thinkers. We have pioneered heart transplantation, CT scanning, dolos (coastal barriers), designed Rooivalk helicopters, built and abandoned nuclear weapons and averted an almost inevitable civil war. We underestimate ourselves, and as the saying goes, South Africans ‘maak ‘n plan’. Who’s to say ventilator, PPE manufacturing or vaccine design are beyond our scope. We need to overcome Covid-19 with that same collective resolve with creative solutions.

Everyone is susceptible to Covid-19 and our actions will affect the most vulnerable in our society. Our decisions to abide by social distancing and forsaking a braai, party, wedding or religious gathering will have tangible infection/survival consequences on our older parents/gogos/ friends/family and neighbours with disabiliy.

Our decision to contribute to funds to help businesses or impoverished families will be put to the true test when all our incomes (rich, middle class and poor) are shrinking. It is truly a time when small sacrifices on an individual basis can help benefit the collective and help build a nation – a true test of our spirit of ubuntu.

 In the not so distant future, when we overcome the pandemic, InshAllah, the gestures of the rich and middle class to alleviate the suffering of the poor, the actions of the young and strong to protect the sick, old and infirm and the decisive actions of an often criticized government will surely not be forgotten and help to forge the bonds of a truly South African brotherhood through collective pain and sacrifice.

 Perhaps witnessing the occasional almost miraculous awakening of a comatose patient to life and recovery has made me a dreamer or unrealistic optimist. It restores my faith in the God-given miracle of life after a pseudo-death. In the same vein of resurrection perhaps, the jarring reset of the covid crisis which appears as a calamitous precipice can serve as a launching pad for the fledgling South African democracy to soar like the secretary bird into the 4th industrial revolution. Our knobkierrie and spear in the fight against this invisible enemy, social solidarity and a creative equitable industrial redevelopment will double as the legs to spur the launch.

*Dr Imraan Kola is the Internal Medicine Registrar at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg and part of the Covid Team

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