from Louis in Johannesburg: life under lockdown …

June 29. Life under lockdown in South Africa has settled into a routine. These routines have been stripped of the jarring interruptions from another way of life where the clock and the time it keeps rules. Electric lights still extend the day beyond what is a healthy cycle. I prefer this rhythm. The rooster’s crow as the sun rises is one signal of dawn breaking. The playful bark of our small dogs starts their announcement of a new day. No better, non-violent alarm system, self-adjusting to solar time. Going into Southern Hemisphere winter in May, nights are lengthening and days shorter. Our little natural system is geared to track this shift. I am the beneficiary of that shift for now. Time to feed the dogs, and the chickens and also to collect any eggs for breakfast. Enjoying an egg this fresh tends to make one judgemental about the so-called fresh eggs from the local supermarket

Then into my workspace to continue working on the writing and other matters of developing an income in this time of lock-down. I am committed to converting a thesis to a readable piece of writing for practitioners interested in rebuilding towns and cities as the next phase of my so-called career. This diary has recently taken second place to my plan to leverage my modest process-consulting business of scenario-based strategy and executive education (aka capacity-building) during and after this lock-down. I appreciate the privilege we enjoy working from a home office. Commuting to the office is a one minute stroll down the corridor gets me into my “office.” From there Zoom and Google meeting connects me to a scenario session in New Hampshire and a family friend’s funeral in Dublin in the same day.

Since 1990 when I left the corporate world, I have enjoyed the benefit of knowledge work. Long may it continue. In the early 2000s an Irish Life assurance company engaged us to develop scenarios for a viral attack and its consequences. That’s where I learnt that a viral attack similar to the 1918 so-called Spanish Flu was inevitable. The timing was unknowable. Since the Spanish Flu we have seen a succession of viral attacks on the human species. A number of other “inevitable surprises” spurred me to consider what a sustainable, robust plan for our home in Midrand would look like.

We live in a community of 450 families. Together we have pooled our resources to ensure that criminal elements cannot enter to make or lives a misery. Our security manager, an ex-cop with sound relationships with the South African Police Services (SAPS), understands that criminals are not deterred by the consequences of their actions but by being tracked around and within our community. In these days of extended lock-down our community support grows by the day. Sean from Homestead Meats delivers bacon, sausage and steaks later today. His meat processing is down the road from our home. Sara brought in eggs by the dozen a couple of days ago. She is down the road as well. We support both these home-based entrepreneurs in their efforts to sustain their families in these times. Back to creating a sustainable home, we installed solar water-heating and grid tied, generator-assisted electricity, which hedges us against our faltering national electricity supplier and its predatory pricing. We have been off the water grid for years but receive regular “accounts” from Joburg water. The so-called accounts seem to be based on some poor soul extending last month’s reading and rendering an account based on that estimate.

Our organic garden delivers, spinach, pumpkins, gem squashes, basil, rosemary and other herbs for kitchen cooking. “Flattening the curve” between growing your own veggies and the demand in the kitchen takes on a whole new meaning. Suddenly the importance of curried beans, frozen veggies and surplus pesto to absorb an overproduction of basil highlights the complexity of farming where supply and demand must be matched to avoid wastage.  We are constantly and painfully aware of our privileged life and remain engaged in assisting in the broader community at an interpersonal and project levels.

A local car guard, from the DRC whom we have befriended, receives a monthly stipend to sustain his six children and spouse. Another person, a Malawian, receives food parcels and monthly payment regularly as he stays in isolation. During the hurricane/typhoon last year in Mozambique, Marie moved 32 tons of clothing and food into Mozambique via the Charitas faith-based network to help the needy there. Currently she is again coordinating the Charitas efforts to assist people in need as result of the Covid19 pandemic. 

Over the past four years, I have coordinated a blanket-fund as part of a men’s group. We raised funds, acquired and distributed more than 4,000 blankets to the poorest of the poor. My engagement in various poorer communities has indelibly changed my perspective on township life in our province and how to support the needy. For instance, balancing the quality of blankets purchased and distributed, with the context of the recipients is critical. Too high quality and they are sold to buy food. Too low quality and they are discarded on the refuse dump where I understood they are harvested by other people lower down the needs chain. Zero wastage in poorer communities. This, besides raising money for numerous other donations to orphans in distress in an underfunded orphanage and a mission station for abused women and their families to name a few. In these ways we ensure that as a family we maintain an ethical balance between our relative comfort and those in need in this country fraught by the greatest inequality anywhere. Dwelling on how corrupt politicians blatantly steal food parcels destined for the poor or use their power over the starving to extort votes for food seems “just how it is here” for now.

My hope is that as the Covid19 exposes the political opportunists and fracture lines in the SA society opportunities for policy improvement will open up. The imminent entry by the IMF to fund the national deficit will eliminate short-sighted ideology-based decisions and encourage pragmatism in terms of evidence-based economic policy. According to the Institute of Race Relations’ surveys, the average South African simply wants government to create jobs, reduce criminality, provide education for their children and medical care for the sick. Expropriation of property without compensation is ranked last in a list of ten top priorities. The ideological blinkers worn by the socialist/Marxist national political leadership of the ANC prevent them from seeing the priorities of the average person in the street. Never were Prime Minster Thatcher’s words more prescient; socialists are politicians that run out of other people’s money.  Every Rand paid by the taxpayer devotes 58 cents to servicing foreign debt. Many of the State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) are technically insolvent. Eskom now owes R500 Bn which is state guaranteed. Ministers are trying to recover South African Airways (SAA) which is also technically insolvent. This in a climate where airlines in general are struggling to survive.

For the first time in memory, government is turning to the much maligned private sector vilified as “white monopoly capital” (WMC) as a potential source of further borrowings. LOL. Attention is gradually shifting towards unlocking the economy and restarting organisations which have been dormant during lockdown. The extent to which society has adapted to social distancing, and other behaviour required to keep safe, is astounding. Many now prefer this mode. School children in high school now prefer what they call home-schooling via computer link. Teachers have made the investment in digitally delivered provision. The adjustment may be permanent, with typically the higher grades preferring this mode while the lower grades, which need careful supervision by parents at home prefer a back to school choice.

Many of the private schools have been accused of racism amidst the global wave of Black Lives Matter (BLM). In South Africa its history predisposes this society to ingrained racist practice which is often invisible to itself. Transformation usually begins with non-racial policy and due process to deal with behaviour that violates policy and agreements between parents, pupils and schools. However, behaviour of pupils is shaped by the attitudes and values formed in the family context. Prejudice and stereotyping persists in families long after the need for societal transformation is seen to be essential. Schools as institutions are also being called out for individual racist behaviour under the current our cry for BLM.    

From Steph in London: A World Beating system … and absolute incompetence

June 19

Hurrah, with a world beating system the NHS and the country will be saved…

The new track and trace scheme is now up and running.  The management of it has bypassed local public health teams and it’s controlled centrally. So- from a very reliable source …. somebody gives information after testing  positive for Covid on May 31.  The team starts phoning round but can’t get any  joy so on June 10 contacts the local PHE team to take over the contact tracing ….only 10 days wasted and heaven knows how any more infections..

Fortunately, we are on top of the track and trace(!)  and are going to give Google/ Apple a try at the phone app-creating world beating systems temporarily shelved! We’ve only wasted about 3 months and millions but the boys have all the answers.

And now we move to education, where the leadership has been spectacular. Thank goodness we have Heads and staff working their socks off trying to work out how to get children back into schools realistically..

My daughter in law is a data manager for a 1600 plus secondary school. Normally at this time of year she will have done the timetable for September and head of departments will have ironed out any issues (like double A level Physics on a Friday afternoon!)

This year she has created 2 timetables – a normal two week timetable with all subjects getting their allocated time in the right rooms with the right staff and a shadow timetable that can be slotted in for all pupils…..for simplicity and to ensure all pupils get time in school, they have decided to offer Maths, English and science only on a part time basis if necessary …..It’s the Options that create problems for bubbles and social distancing.

Given the school leaving age is now 18 it may be time for the curriculum police to think about a broader offering for all students for longer.  No Options or GCSE exams at 16, (which no longer makes sense as everyone stays in education beyond that.. the end of year 11 is not a definitive time anymore) Perhaps International Baccalaureate type education?

from Steph in London: If you’re not bothered about uplift …

June 4. Shiny graphs galore and an inbuilt belief that, if they look good, they will be telling the truth and, even more importantly, will be proving we are not the worst country in Europe and nearly the worst country in the world for the virus … David Blunkett when Minister of Education once said, “Learn to measure what you value not value what you measure”. It might help!

Shutting the borders so that those countries with a worse record than ours don’t send people over to contaminate us … I am sure that the fact that we are (almost) the worst country in the world will mean that anybody with any sense will keep a wide berth of the UK for ages.

In the meantime we wait and watch to see what happens with the freedom that has been given to us … there are definitely more cars around. Five of the grandchildren are back in school 3 days a week, one is having a full day of lessons on line much to her horror and the others are getting very much  better at table tennis and baking cakes. The six-year olds spend the day in ‘bubbles’ of 15 with 2 teachers. They do everything together and are separated from everybody else at break and lunch time. Then when they are dismissed at 3-ish they all pile into the playground, throw themselves at their friends from other bubbles then go home.

 My eldest son is planning to be working at home until December with the younger members of the team going into the office on a fortnightly rota. The logic of that is that the “youngsters” may not have the space at home to work there long term and the oldies (those over 35!) who can work in a separate room will do so, and just visit the office once a week for the odd meeting.

Life has become strangely more agitated for us all. Do we go out? With gloves, a mask, nothing? We’ve bought disposable cups for friends so we can serve coffee (in gloves) and safely. Are we being totally neurotic and is the R number in London only .4? It was strangely calmer when the world had stopped … but it is the summer and if it had gone on into the winter there would have been many (more) stir crazy households.

So, the conversation about uplift was a joy – two very jolly over 80s discussing comfortable underwear.

The rest is censored …

from Brenda in Hove, UK: Time to show up

Rural community in Northern KwazuluNatal, South Africa

20 May. My son, Ian, lives in South Africa, inland from Durban on the East Coast in the province of KwaZulu Natal. It is a spectacular part of the country which is rich in beautiful landscapes. It has many conservation areas, game parks and nature reserves which are visited by people from all over the world – or used to be, at least. Like other countries, South Africa has been in lock-down and there is certainly no tourism. South Africa had 67 million international visitors in 2018 and their contribution to GDP was estimated at 8.5% and growing.

It is not difficult to imagine what this has done to the people who depend on tourism for their livelihoods – no more real than in rural communities far away from cities and adjacent to the wildlife reserves that serve as employers to the local communities and through which tourists used to pass.

Last week Ian, a part time expedition member with the Kingsley Holgate Foundation, joined Kingsley and several others who have started a movement called “Feeding the Wildlife Communities”(http://www.kingsleyholgate.com) to deliver 4.5 tonnes of food to communities in very remote areas who are suffering terribly under the COVID lockdown conditions that currently grip South Africa.

The 3 tonnes was purchased from the Potchefstroom Chamber of Commerce and the remaining 1.5 tonnes generously donated by the DO MORE foundation (part of RCL foods). https://domore.org.za/ 

The journey was a 1200 km round trip that took them up to northern KwaZulu, Natal, right on the border of Mozambique and Swaziland distributing food along the way. When Ian told me about it, I have to say I was beside myself with anxiety. I remembered a time when there was a horrendous flood in the province and my sons were teenagers and volunteered with the Red Cross to collect and distribute clothes and food – and had to be accompanied by armed soldiers. The thought of a few Land Rovers laden with food destroyed my sleep for the weekend.

Coolest kid ever

I should have known better. These are not amateurs. The team had already done two initial runs and set up a system through local indunas (elders in a tribe and in positions of authority). They were expecting the convoy and were prepped ahead of time so that when the convoy arrived, the local induna who received the parcels did so accompanied by five witnesses, and distribution was an orderly exercise. Everyone wore masks – and just as well in more ways than one. Ian said he was overcome by the levels of poverty and sheer despair.

School house – without a roof

It turned out that it wasn’t only food that was a problem. Right near the distribution point was a school: walls, windows, floors, roof beams – but no roof! A tornado had torn it off and much that was inside as well as the schooling was thrown into disarray. Ian is passionate about early learning (ages 0-6) and his company, Barrows, are much engaged in printing and distributing educational materials into this space.

Ian went straight into fund-raising mode.

https://www.givengain.com/cc/feeding-the-wildlife-community/

Readers who are interested need to put ‘SCHOOL ROOF’ in the narrative box (and the Rand exchange rate is at an all-time high – so a little goes a long way). I was so pleased to at least do something.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: boredom? Or is it fear?

April 27. I can find things to do, but I am like a grasshopper, unable to settle. Before this virus dominated our lives, I felt time stretched out in such a way there was mental space for me to … to plan … to write another novel … to read serious books … basically, to concentrate. Now I struggle. My mind has shallowed, lost the will to believe in the possibility of normal.

The uncertainty is getting to me – every day we receive unsettling news. One moment the experts say you will get immunity after recovering from Covid-19. Now, they are not sure. Specialists are reporting that the virus is acting in strange ways not registered before – causing unexpected blood clotting behaviour, for example. We read about past pandemics and mutations and realise how vulnerable we are – and how foolish we have been as a species in our factory farming and consumption of wild animals.

And the USA, which is our western world’s mightiest power and democracy is attacking the WHO, stopping payments, and undermining them in other ways. All this in an attempt to distract from Trump’s mistakes. We spend our time ridiculing the most powerful man in the world, but it’s more a time to weep than laugh. How have we come to this? We are living on slippery sand at the end of our lives.

So, who do we trust? Our politicians are severely scrutinised as we assess them for mistakes. World-wide, faith in politicians is at an all-time low.  Currently, in Australia, there is a fierce debate about whether children should return to school this week. Our South Australian Premier says ‘Yes,’ – with care – taking advice from SA Chief Public Health Officer, Professor Nicola Spurrier.

But the Australian Education Union, SA president, Lara Golding, muddied the waters, saying that their safety was “not considered as important …(teachers) are told that they are essential workers but don’t have the equipment, training or support to manage a health crisis.” It’s a question of who is most vulnerable and it’s a tricky question. We have not had any new cases in South Australia for 5 days but I read this issue as being more of a power wrangle between a Labor Union and a Liberal Premier. No wonder we are confused about the greater good and who to trust.

Many are saying: trust the science. Sure, but across the world there is some confusion of science as well – do we need masks if we have no symptoms? Yes? No? What is the best treatment for severe cases? Ventilate or not? What drugs are recommended for severe cases? Why is it taking so long to assess hydroxychloroquine?

No wonder my sleep pattern is disturbed. Dreams are strange and vivid.

“Present fears are less than horrible imaginings” …. Macbeth