OPINION: Covid-19 needs better PR

Phiri Cawe

The conflicting and often confusing messages about Covid-19,commonly referred to as the coronavirus have the potential to negatively impact our ability to stop the spread of the virus – particularly in poor areas.

These are strange days and the months ahead could possibly become even stranger.

As social distancing is encouraged, some of us may already have a growng feeling of emptiness. We cannot gather and be happy together. We have to “self-solate”. Paranoia is growing. And our sense of belonging, waning.

Coronavirus has now spread to over 160 countries, with more people diagnosed with the disease and casualties. By the time this edition of Vukani went to print, there were 116 confirmed cases in South Africa.

Despite President Cyril Ramaphosa having addressed the nation on Sunday night, closer to the ground, I feel there is a deafening lack of leadership, with no real answers available for the have-nots.

We are urged to play safe in whatever we do and to regularly wash our hands — yet so many people do not have access to clean water.

On Sunday, our president spoke like he loves us. Maybe he does. But that does nothing to change the fact that most of us cannot afford hand sanitiser which is now — if you can find it — three times as expensive as it used to be.

So, Mr President, please provide us with enough clean water.

Amakholwa believe this a prophecy and the coming of the end of the world. If you don’t have water, what’s the use? And despite the threat of infection and restrictions on gatherings of more than 100 people, believers have not stopped going to church in droves.

Those who love entertainment have not stopped going to clubs and pubs.

But why is this? I blame the confusing messages coming from the leaders. When I first heard about the pandemic, I understood it to be a virus affecting those who have money to travel.

It was a disease affecting people with passports. I never imagined that it might affect the poorest of the poor. And I believed that my village people were safer than the ones in Khayelitsha, Mfuleni, Langa and other black townships in Cape Town.

But at the back of my mind, however, a voice told me that people in these areas were, in fact, at risk.

They were at risk because there are always buses filled with people with passports visiting these areas. And they put themselves at at risk when they go to work for people with passports who had recently been travelling.

The reality is that they were at risk even though they did not fly out to other countries.

When I visited the Eastern Cape last weekend, there was little talk about the pandemic. To people in villages the disease is for people in big cities.

This was all I needed to know that we still have a long way to go. In my opinion, the education that’s being done is not enough if there are still those who believe the crisis is not real or that the situation is not serious.

The fact that churches still congregate on Sunday tells us a lot.

The fact that pubs are full shows ignorance on our side.

Villagers should know that this is not a disease for strangers and those far away from their world.

Churches and pubs should value life and close for a while. If people should choose between church and life, there is no contest.

If people were to choose between booze and life, there shouldn’t be even such a comparison. This is not theoretical but a reality. And those selling sanitiser should stop taking advantage of the poor by upping the prices.

What is now common is the virus – and we have a responsibility to fight it together. This should not be a time to make money out of people’s fear and illness.

For the governments, it is time to provide what is needed. Prepare our hospitals for a possible influx of the infected.

We are in the middle of a health crisis that needs everyone to be able to afford these things.

With big economies struggling to contain the spread of the virus, I am even more worried about my country. I am positive that our hospitals and hospital staff are far from ready to deal with the disease.

Far from the “don’t panic message” being communicated, I feel that it is indeed now time to panic.Father I pray that we all become wiser in this time of darkness.