I’M not sure what the joke was, but there was Cyril Ramaphosa, having a fit of the giggles. It came during Wednesday’s media briefing on the cabinet’s Covid-19 action plan just as the EFF commander-in-chief Julius Malema threatened to nationalise the country’s private hospitals.
Without coming over all po-faced, and there’s certainly a lot of that about, what with the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) now closed for the foreseeable, it should be stressed that this is no laughing matter.
Given the number of South Africans infected with HIV and tuberculosis and the broken and beggared public health sector, the government is facing a potentially massive catastrophe. Talk of coronageddon this winter is not without foundation.
So, the president duly chaired a multi-party pow-wow on strategies to slow the spread of Covid-19 and raise awareness of such attempts. Given the circumstances, it emerged that all concerned were committed to supporting government efforts to tackle the crisis.
The DA’s John Steenhuisen, for example, called on the private sector to do their bit as well, and urged citizens to stop panic buying and to avoid sources of fake news. Pieter Groenewald, of the Freedom Front Plus, suggested government communicate with the public daily to keep them more informed.
And from Malema: “We also call upon the private hospitals that the only way to avoid nationalisation of those private hospitals is by fully cooperating with the minister of health when he gives beds for our sick people. It is not time to make profit.”
At which point Squirrel had the chuckles. Just briefly though. Within moments it was back with the stern concern as Juju, warning of “corrupt elements” that will be gathering at the funerals, urged government to ensure that “no-one steals out of this disaster”.
A clip of the incident has gone viral, along with claims that it provides “some light relief” in these troubling times. That may well be. However, after watching the full video of the presser, it’s still not exactly clear what is so amusing about Il Douche’s comments. But we can hazard a guess or two.
According to psychologists and neuroscientists, there are good reasons why we crack up at inappropriate times. The nervous laughter could be an involuntary response to relieve tension and anxiety. Our brains need to diffuse the anxiety triggered by upsetting matters and laughing could be seen as a defensive coping mechanism at times of such dread and despond.
In this case, perhaps, Squirrel had no choice but to laugh. He was in the presence of one whose strategic use of the moron card is legendary. This is not a person who simply doesn’t know any better. This is a person who knows enough to know that knowing nothing is never the issue; all that matters on the podium is making a very loud noise that sounds, in a crudely clichéd fashion, vaguely revolutionary.
So, on the brink of a looming health crisis, with a hugely controversial and potentially disastrous national health insurance about to be forced upon the populace, Malema makes empty threats about nationalising private hospitals? Laugh? You must. It’s either that or weep.
The idiocy of it all is a bit … well, it’s like signing up at Arthur Murray and discovering that the dance instructor is Carl Niehaus.
But speaking of idiocy, it would probably be far more useful for all concerned if government trotted out some scientists at their pandemic briefings. We need to hear from experts at such times, not the usual bullshitters.
To their credit, government is at least taking heed of the scientific community. According to a News24 report, Squirrel was somehow shocked into action after being told last weekend that, if government’s response to the pandemic is slow or inadequate, as many as 351 000 people could die.
That figure, according to the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis, in conjunction with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, is based on an infection rate of 40%. If the infection rate is 10%, then 87 900 people could die; if 20%, then there could be 176 000 fatalities.
On Thursday evening, health minister Zweli Mkhize told a Q&A session with members of the South African Medical Association that it is quite possible that 60% to 70% of the population could be infected.
That night, the number of reported cases of infected South Africans rose from 150 to 202. They included, the Citizen reports, several individuals who had returned from abroad, attended a church service in the Free State and may have infected an entire congregation…
Mkhize now had to explain that, although government has in fact called on people to pray in response to the pandemic, prayer alone, it seems, may not be enough to combat the spread of the virus.
Those that want to pray, he added, should not gather in groups to do so but rather mutter to themselves in the privacy of their homes. Not exactly in those words, admittedly, but at least Mkhize’s message is on point where advice concerning social distancing is concerned.
One wonders, though, about the sort of thinking that has prompted public works minister Patricia de Lille’s decision to spend an estimated R37.2 million on repairing 40 kilometres of fencing along the Zimbabwean border in a bid to curb the coronavirus.
Never shy when it comes to the sweeping gesture, De Lille announced on Thursday that she has invoked emergency procurement procedures to build or repair fencing on either side of the Beitbridge Border post.
“This is to ensure that no undocumented or infected persons cross into the country and vice-versa,” she said in a statement. “This is in line with one of the measures announced by the president in that South Africa’s borders and ports are to be secured with immediate effect. This measure will, however, not be effective if the fences at the border are not secure, which in many places, they are not. All 40 kilometres of fence will be finished within one month.”
This measure will not be effective. Full stop. Period. Fences and walls, no matter how secure, do not stop the migration of the desperate. You may as well try to stop people laughing. Which, as it turns out, is not unheard of…
IT seems like another lifetime, but not quite a fortnight ago, in the carefree days before the virus put paid to such things, that a series of scuffles broke out between England and Wales players eight minutes into their Six Nations clash at Twickenham. During the pushing and shoving, English prop Joe Marler put his arm around Welsh captain Alun Wyn Jones and then cheerily tugged at his genitals.
The incident did not go unnoticed. During their half-time chat, former Welsh international Gareth Thomas told fellow commentators Clive Woodward, Jonny Wilkinson and Mike Phillips: “It’d never happened in my day, and I’m upset about that, as I’d never have retired.”
Thomas is openly gay, and his colleagues all had a good laugh at what they felt was a witty and light-hearted remark. And that should have been that.
But no. There came, predictably, purse-lipped reproach on Twitter.
One former England international posted: “Imagine if someone touched another man or woman up in the workplace and then someone joked about it on TV. People have admiration for Gareth Thomas with what he’s been through and opened up about but I wonder if something similar was done in a homophobic way he’d joke about it?”
Back at the old Mahogany Ridge such a remark would, at the very least, be deemed an act of self-isolation. But that was a whole other time and place, and erelong Thomas was apologising to the rugby community. “I tried to find humour in a situation,” he tweeted, “that doesn’t mean I condone it, it means I wanted it to not be an issue. So don’t change the narrative to justify how you feel.”
Find, then, the humour in the situation. Wash your hands often. Keep your distance, especially from idiots. Go easy when buying toilet rolls. No-one can be that full of crap. Well, most people, that is. And do take care.