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At The Turning Of The Year

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on December 31, 2021 14:20

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We are entering the third year of the pandemic, with no end in sight. The only thing we have learned is that nothing can be planned any more. The question is how we will manage and live with the uncertainty. But we have been here before.

I had hoped to be able to resume a normal (what is normal again?) life by now. Family plans included an overseas trip to my in-laws, camping in the Kruger Park, sight-seeing in the desert, visits to our children. On a global level one would have wished for a return to normal political interaction, a resumption of economic growth, lessening of political tension. COVID put paid to most of that.

Mauritius dreaming. Soon. Author's photo

Previous pandemics had lasting effects on political and economic structures. The Spanish Flu probably did as much to hasten the Great Depression and the rise of fascism in Europe as did the first World War. The Black Death of Europe in the 1500’s brought about tremendous political instability and disruption of economic systems.

South Africa’s political elites reacted to the news of COVID by establishing a Command Council, essentially Cabinet members wearing different hats. Literally. After initially welcoming strong leadership disbelief set in as decrees sought to regulate clothing and shoes that may be sold. Banning tobacco moved vast amounts of money from the tax-paying economy into criminal circles. Alcohol bans created a resurgence of home brewing. Beaches were closed, swimming banned. Worldwide fear helped authoritarian rulers close borders, limit freedoms, encourage facism to blossom. 

Bureaucratic control tightened. In the economy, too, controlled by big companies, able to sit out a year or two of slowdown helped push many small operators out of the economy. Tourism is an obvious field, but the same trend is also seen in many other sectors and countries: The big get bigger, the small disappear.

Camping in the Kruger Park wth friends in better times. Author's photo

Technology became a valuable aid to governments to protect their people, but also monitor and impede their movement. The Medieval aristocracy that controlled populations have been replaced by an unresponsive bureaucracy. A friend’s family has been stuck in a war zone because their papers are not in order, for two years now. Another friend who spent seven years building a boat has it stuck in a port, because he lacks a multi-million dollar insurance policy to cover the boat being craned into the water. An action that might take two hours, and might, to the uninitiated, incur the loss of the boat, at worst. That is not the point, some accountant somewhere has to see a piece of paper.

On the other hand, technology has liberated many people, and working from home will enable more freedom and flexibility. Individuals have increased access to media and information.

The Renaissance was a product of disruption. In its wake, social, religious and scientific networks brought a flowering of the arts, science and knowledge. Democracy as we know it was born from the Black Death, political disruption and social networks made possible by the printing press. May we see a similar flowering after COVID. May technology free consumers and voters, bringing real democracy instead of more repression and control.

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on December 31, 2021 14:20

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