These days, the only interesting thing about the country’s occasional family meetings is working out whether our aunties on Whatsapp have got the time and date right, or if they’re dealing in fake news again. But listen, Mr President: the meetings themselves are boring. You feel like the patriarch no one dares question but we all have to listen to. We prepare ourselves to hear something revelatory; we end up getting your teleprompter lines. You haven’t told us anything new in the past few meetings. We at The Daily Vox know you must be tired and running out of ideas, so like the helpful citizens we are, here are our red pen notes for future Covid-themed chats.
We saw you in high spirits earlier on Monday at Aspen Pharmacare’s manufacturing facility in Gqeberha, where you told us about 30 million J&J vaccines will soon be produced. Good news and all, but you haven’t even been able to push on with our original vaccine roll-out, which is supposed to be done in three phases: 1.2 million frontline healthcare workers in phase 1; essential workers, people over 60 and those over 18 with co-morbidities in phase 2; and people aged between 18 and 60 in the final third phase. Simple, streamlined – and delayed.
Phase 2 is supposed to start on 1 May 2021, but only 200 000 healthcare workers have received the vaccine so far. Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has admitted that we may miss the target of 67% of the population vaccinated by the end of the year. This is not exactly instilling confidence and hope in any of us.
Never one to miss a marketing opportunity, Discovery Health in all its privileged glory has managed to gentrify the vaccine roll-out by promising to make it available to its members. The company says it aims to vaccinate 50 000 people per day beginning in May, with more than 20 large-scale vaccination centres around the country. It even has its own portal that will work alongside the government’s existing registration platform (on which only healthcare workers can currently register) .
It would really inject (sorry) some life into our meetings if you’d offer concrete, honest timelines rather than just leaving us all reading Discovery Health’s terms and conditions.
If a ban on booze is going to happen before this Easter weekend, then say so. We’re getting whiplash trying to keep up with all the speculation and guesswork. To be clear, we’re fine with a temporary ban: we’ve seen that it’s effective in easing pressure on emergency rooms, and that’s a very good thing on a usually bloody long weekend.
Our problem is with you not announcing a ban, if it’s on the cards, timeously. If an announcement is made tomorrow it will be a frenzy of folks stockpiling. Queues will be formed and these lines can be super-spreaders. People may also break the rules just from spite if they feel they weren’t given proper warning. Contrary to popular belief not all South African adults are immature and unable to follow rules. We will adhere to Covid-19 protocols – if you stop making us guess. Just let us know. Don’t leave it to the eve of the Easter weekend to make any announcements. We know you have your own family issues with a certain Ace Magushule but you are the president – make South Africa your priority.
TERS (Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme)
To TERS or not to TERS? That is not even the question: what we want to know is, do we have money for TERS?
Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi announced in mid-March 2021 that the TERS benefit would not extend beyond March 2021. The Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) had been under immense pressure as it also benefited folks who did not contribute to it, he said. This is a major problem. Folks will be in economic recovery for the next few years. Why is there no more money for TERS? It is not enough to just say there is no more government funds available. It is a lazy statement, and it’s another layer to our anxiety. TERS was set up as an emergency fund, to help workers during the lockdown. We are still in a lockdown and workers still need help. Do better and extend the funding till at least the end of next year.
No more family meetings: we need an imbizo
We all know it was fun at the beginning of lockdown to gather for family meetings. Amidst all the anxiety and uncertainty it was kind of comforting to know people all around the country were listening to you address us. We got to have a good laugh when you messed up putting on your mask. It felt like you were taking us into your confidence. Well, not anymore.
It’s been a year of lockdown, in various forms and phases. Apart from the countless deaths and people infected, people have lost their jobs and livelihoods. Things that were tough already have been getting progressively tougher for many South Africans. Yet, corrupt government and state-linked officials have continued lining their pockets. We need answers, not just a family speech. Please show some accountability by hosting Q&As, letting journalists ask questions on behalf of the nation.
Stop being disappointed
We are all very familiar with the disappointed face you have, Mr President. You know the one: it’s like, “I’m not going to yell at you but I’m so disappointed in you.” It’s the look we dreaded getting from our parents. Well, you aren’t really our uncle, Cyril – and truth be told, we are disappointed in you. Stop promising us as a side note that you are going to tackle corruption. You’ve been promising that since the beginning of your presidency. And now we’re in the middle of a panini. Take some decisive actions. Maybe bring back those specialised courts from the World Cup. Before worrying about us, your “extended family” sort out your immediate family first.
But our fellow family members, let’s take some responsibility as well. Treat lockdown level 1 as if level 5 was just announced. Continue to adhere to protocols (masks, distance, hand-washing, not jolling like it’s 1999). Watch the news and remain mindful that Covid-19 isn’t gone just because we wish it would voetsek. Let’s play our part to keep ourselves and each other safe – because if our family meetings currently are anything to go by, a great deal is in our hands.
Reporting by Ling Shepherd and Fatima Moosa