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COVID and the Social Contract

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on April 26, 2020 09:18

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There has been ample time to reflect, catch up on the gardening and get on each other's nerves lately. And the way we see our societies, our governments, our economies, will never be the same again. Now is the time to design a new social contract to see us through the crises that the future holds.

In our contract with our rulers there is an inevitable balance between freedom and state-directed action. The temptation of emergency powers will be too much for some, and only rapid reaction from informed citizens will maintain democracy.

Of course individual response and culture has much to do with that: my grandfather, eager to greet us on our arrival for the Christmas break, forgot that the Municipality had installed a stop street at a nearby intersection. He reported himself to the nearest police station because, as an advocate and officer of the court, he had to respect the law he had broken. (The sergeant noted the contravention in the daily register and sent him home.)

Social distancing is not for Kings. Photo Richard Sowbry

South African police, over-eager to enforce the Presidentially decreed lockdown, burst into a local Mosque and arrested the faithful who had gathered to celebrate the beginning of Ramadan. A viral video showed a policeman asking: 'Are you bigger than the President? Is Muhammad bigger than the president?'

Public reaction prompted the Minister to apologize. South African citizens overwhelmingly accept the stringent, sometimes illogical rules of the lockdown, despite finding ways around the ban on tobacco and alcohol. Limited public unrest and looting of shops occurred.

Kruger Park: Infrastructure is for all to use. Photo Richard Sowbry

Similar patterns were seen elsewhere. An interesting tension is developing between closing borders, hunkering down, seeking a strong leader to take decisions on the one hand, and the amazing cross-partisan, internationally linked effort to find a vaccine, treatment protocols and economic redress.

Between those who, having ensured that international bodies such as the World Health Organization remains at the mercy of donors and thus only able to play an advisory role, then blame it for not having done more, on the one hand, and those who call on international platforms for coordination in lifting of lockdowns, in economic stimulus measures, in support for poorer nations.

A similar tension lies between global supply chains, and the need for local resilience and manufacturing of emergency goods. A tension between 'We take care of our own to the exclusion of others' and 'we are all in this together.'

Penguins in Cape Town. Photo SANCOB

This virus will not be the last to emerge from the forests. A global structure, well regulated, to react, guide states, and to build reaction mechanisms such as stockpiles of equipment and infrastructure to create vaccines is essential. A global system of balancing finances, of developing a Marshall Plan to raise bonds, to finance rebuilding must follow.

As we watch these ideas play out on the global screen, remember John Donne:

No man is an island, entire of itself.

Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main

...

any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind;

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee

 

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on April 26, 2020 09:18

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Source: The Guardian

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