South Africa and the world have been confronted with the Coronavirus – now declared by W.H.O. as a pandemic – and it is changing the way we think about life, as it has already severely affected several countries around the world.
Economies globally are being affected negatively, in particular the travel industry. The Coronavirus could not have come at a worse time for our country as our economy is weak and our government is trying to resuscitate it. The pandemic represents a situation that could only make things worse.
The constant news stream about the rapid spread of the pandemic in the mainstream media, newspapers, social media and television, can feel overwhelming. Being in the throes of yet another economic recession, loadshedding continuing almost unabated, and now our nation has its first confirmed cases of COVID-19, we might conclude that we are headed into a perfect storm.
All this news can easily cause us to be gripped with fear and panic. The negative nature of what is going on around us can cause us to turn inward and to think only of the worst possible future outcomes. Such fear can make us think only of ourselves, completely disregarding others. It can debilitate us and rob us of our peace and joy. Fear can stop us from living our day-to-day lives.
But fear is not the only response available to us. Heroes throughout history, including our liberation heroes, are the ones who chose to courageously face fear. That does not mean we should bury our heads in the sand and pretend that the global economy is not headed into a recession, or that the pandemic won’t disrupt our lives.
Courage means facing the facts, while rising above fear, as stated by our former President Nelson Mandela “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”
South Africans are a tough and resilient people in the face of adversity. For many, simply making ends-meet is a daily struggle. We know how to struggle, how to survive, and how to thrive and win in the midst of a crisis.
We must choose to use these strengths to overcome this challenge, face it head-on with unflinching resolve, knowing that tomorrow will be better than today.
If we are fortunate enough to avoid a large-scale health crisis in South Africa, we should take the pandemic as a warning and prepare ourselves to effectively manage such risks in the future.
On that note, we want to applaud our President, Minister of Health and all those involved for being proactive in preparing our country and the health system for a possible crisis. We also want to applaud our government for sending a team to China to repatriate South African Citizens who were in the affected areas in China.
If the worst estimates of infection materialize and South Africa sees a wholesale national outbreak akin to what is happening in Italy, then we will need to pull together as a nation, not pull ourselves apart.
Being anxious will add no good thing to our situation. The only thing that anxiety will do is limit our capacity to act responsibly.
As President Ramaphosa has said “DON’T PANIC”.
Instead, we need to be sensible and prepare ourselves to do everything we can to limit our exposure and reduce the impact on the lives of our communities. This means taking responsibility for good hygiene and hand washing, for being circumspect about participating in public gatherings and supporting those who are best placed to manage the situation.
If we muster the courage to look beyond our immediate fears, we will realize that our future is brimming with opportunity. The continent of Africa, our home, is the youngest in the world by median population age; it is largely undeveloped and has a wealth of untapped human potential.
Our destiny is to build a country and an African continent in which our grandchildren will be safe and prosperous. To do that, we have to lift up our eyes beyond this current moment and look to the future, to reach deep inside of ourselves, harnessing the hope and strength which comes from an enduring faith, to choose the good in the midst of looming darkness.
This is the mark of maturity, to rise above the circumstances and to be agents of hope instead of peddlers of fear.
In the coming months, as our government officials do their best to stabilize the Coronavirus infections in our country, we should lift them up in our prayers. As healthcare practitioners place themselves on the front-lines to serve the most vulnerable, we should cheer them on. As our neighbors face challenges, whatever they may be, we should love them as we love ourselves, by being an encouraging voice, and a helping hand.
As South Africans we are known for pulling together, for unity in the midst of diversity. This is our strength. Here is how we can overcome these challenges – in particular this pandemic.
A massive campaign to educate South Africans on how to protect themselves and dispel the fears and panic around this disease should be a priority for our government. This campaign should draw upon all stakeholders; leaders of religion, business, civil society, sports, academia etc. The campaign should be rolled out in places where people gather, such as churches, synagogues, mosques, schools, sports and social events and densely populated areas such as informal settlements. It should be translated into all 11 languages to be understood by all South Africans.
No doubt South Africa’s challenges will test our resolve and endurance, but it will also present us with an opportunity to demonstrate to ourselves and the world that we are stronger together as a nation and our best days are ahead of us.
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika
PASTOR RAY McCAULEY IS THE PRESIDENT OF RHEMA FAMILY CHURCHES AND THE CO-CHAIRPERSON OF THE NATIONAL RELIGIOUS LEADERS COUNCIL