By HOWARD FELDMAN
Monday morning June 1 was the day that South Africa stumbled into Level 3 Lockdown. Although eagerly anticipated, there were many aspects of this milestone that seemed to catch us by surprise. Parents had no idea whether to make school lunch or not, runners weren’t certain if they could join a group and golfers, rather sadly, looked to the heavens, both to check the weather and for some sort of sign that they could once again participate in an activity that they know brings out the worst in them. And that they swear each time that they will not play again.
What I hadn’t anticipated was being asked on my morning show on Chai FM what I had gained during lockdown. At first I panicked, because I thought the question was meant to be answered in kilograms, but then I realised it was a reference to the positive benefit of the 60-plus days spent working from home. As I considered the ways, I put the question out to listeners and received some of the most delightful answers.
One person told me that they had discovered their green thumb and that she now grows her own herbs. Another had learned to bake and yet another had found out that she need not have been afraid of her children. She had spent most her life in high-powered positions in the banking sector, but has loved being at home with her girls.
My co-host had realised that she could manage without wine every day and that she had been pleasantly surprised by how much she had loved looking after her brother, who had moved in with her after his university closed.
I learned that I am not a technical ‘special needs’ candidate and that I can manage to figure things out when I set my mind to it. I also realised that I like my kids more than I had thought I did. They in turn have benefited from me being around, to the extent that my 18-year-old son, who is dyslexic, has started reading novels (a huge accomplishment for him.) He also plays a mean game of Bananagrams and holds the family record. I have learned further that being an author does not guarantee expertise in the game and that sometimes simple words are the most powerful.
Since this discussion I have asked a number of people the same question. I have loved the answers because they almost always contain and element of gratitude. “I realised how truly privileged and fortunate I am,” said David, “to have job security at a great company. There are people out there losing their jobs and struggling to feed their families. Here I am ordering stuff online to make my home office a bit more comfortable. It feels utterly wrong, but I don’t know how to fix it.” Tom learned that “eating health home-cooked food every day is actually possible – cheaper and, surprisingly, more fun. And spending time in the kitchen is ‘mindful’ time isn’t it? Still haven’t figured out how to get my kids to eat vegetables yet – but that’s the next mission!”
Steyn learned that “I am more of a handyman than I thought, having been forced to jump onto tasks that I would previously have outsourced – often needing to Macgyver it due to not having the right equipment. I also learned that if the world ever turns into an apocalyptic wasteland, then pineapples might just become the dominant currency.”
Jake learned a surprising lesson about fellow South Africans. “At the start of lockdown, I did not think South Africa would be able to cope with the shutdown of the economy for even a week. I had incorrectly predicted that we would face civil unrest after a month or so when funds and food ran out. I have learned that people of South Africa are far more resilient and resourceful then I gave them credit for. I have never been so happy to be proven wrong.” And Nomkhosi added, “During this time, I can’t help but think how grateful I am to be employed while many fellow South Africans have lost their jobs. I have learned how important it is to stand strong and more than anything to be grateful for the small mercies we receive.”
Covid-19 has taught me that numbers can be manipulated, that graphs and statistics are fun and often fictitious. It has taught me further that even though South Africans spend 35.7% of their adult lives complaining about government and the authorities’ “irrational” and perplexing approach, there is something unique and special about this strange and wonderful place.
Most importantly I have learned to appreciate just how blessed and how fortunate we are.
Howard Feldman is Head of Marketing & People at Synthesis.