At midnight tonight, South Africa will have been in lockdown for exactly a year. And what a year it’s been. In the last 365 days, I think it’s safe to say we have seen both the best and worst in people. We have lost an inordinate amount, but we have gained some things too.
It’s easy to always focus on the negatives of lockdown, and they certainly do outweigh the positives. Although restrictions are nowhere near as harsh as they were a year ago, we are still living in uncertain times, and unable to do so many things we took for granted previously. We still have a curfew in place. There are still restrictions in terms of numbers at social gatherings, and although sport has returned, it is played in achingly empty stadia. Many businesses never recovered from the losses they took while closed. Although the economy in its entirety has taken a brutal beating, there are some sectors that are worse affected than others – tourism, hospitality, entertainment, to name a few. Somehow South Africa has become the pariahs of the world, with a variant of the disease that was identified by our scientists first, but has been found elsewhere, leading to almost universal travel bans. I guess it doesn’t always pay to brag.
On the plus side, people who have been able to work from home have enjoyed the benefit of not having to sit in traffic for hours on end. I have literally done the same amount of mileage in the last year that I previously would have done in two or three months! Even better, working from home has meant extra time with our favourite companions for those of us with pets, and watching my anxious Violet come out of her shell has been a particular blessing. We have learned new ways of working, and realised that doing things virtually is actually easier and more effective than we may have thought. I even changed jobs and didn’t meet the new people I am working with in person for the first five months, which was weird and initially unsettling, but not insurmountable. We have been reminded of the resilience of the South African spirit, as we just keep going, no matter how hard it gets. Maybe that’s a blessing and a curse, but I am always grateful to be part of a country that is able to find the humour in even the worst situations.
This year, I have learned that even some of the most unexpected people, people you thought you knew, may turn out to be wild conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, or plain old racists. I have found myself disappointed, frustrated, angered, and saddened by some of the things I have heard or read online. But I have also seen and been inspired by the incredible good in people. The willingness of people I know, and those I don’t, to go out of their way to help those who are struggling during these insane times. The generosity of spirit in this country is boundless. Even those who are struggling themselves will go out of their way to give what they can to others. I have learned to focus on those people, rather than the ones who continue to complain about their personal inconvenience without ever once thinking about the bigger picture. Or maybe they do think about it, they just don’t care. I will never understand the fuss people make about wearing a mask or sanitising their hands. Even if you don’t believe it works (it does), how does it harm you to just do it anyway? Seriously.
Probably the biggest thing I have learned this year is how important it is to have something to look forward to. Without that, I have descended into a very cynical headspace, even for me. So many people seemed to start 2021 on an optimistic note. There seemed to be a sense that this year could only be better than the last. And I suppose in some ways, that is true. I have to be honest and say that I did not share that sense of optimism. I couldn’t really see any grounds for it. Obviously at the time we were deep in the second wave, with soaring numbers and no end in sight. That isn’t necessarily true anymore. Our numbers have declined remarkably once again, although who knows what will happen after Easter, a time when many South Africans typically travel and gather in large numbers for religious purposes. I couldn’t initially figure out why I was so determined to see the glass half empty, whereas last year I was annoyingly upbeat about the whole thing. Eventually I figured out that without anything to look forward to, without that sense of magical anticipation of some event, big or small, that we take for granted to the extent we don’t even really notice it until it’s gone, life is pretty joyless. So I am clinging to the hope that I will get to use my tickets to the British & Irish Lions tour, against all the odds, because if I don’t, I may lie on the floor and cry. And then I’ll get back up again and look forward to watching the games at the pub.
There may not be lots to look forward to right now – let’s face it, most of us aren’t getting vaccinated any time soon, just for starters – but we’ve survived a whole year of this madness, and are arguably stronger. Maybe we can just appreciate the little things while we wait for the big things to return. Coffee in the garden. Lunch with friends. Cats. The return of gigs. Books. Libraries reopening. Endless voicenote exchanges. And maybe even the curfew…I’m kind of into having an excuse to go home early.