Chuck Stephens on lockdown: Can we please go back to the ‘Old Normal’?

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we live… possibly forever. We’ve seen that business can be conducted from our homes. Exercise can be done in our living rooms. Schooling can be done via Zoom. Homes may be bought and sold based on the strength of their internet connectivity. But is this ‘new normal’ preferable to what we had before? Will we return to our offices when the threat is over? Chuck Stephens of the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership shares his thoughts on South Africa’s lockdown and his desire to hold fast to the ‘old normal’. – Claire Badenhorst 

God grant us some serenity

By Chuck Stephens* 

Reinhold Niebuhr famously prayed for courage to change the things he could, serenity to accept the things he could not change, and wisdom to know the difference.

We keep hearing about the ‘new normal’, as if a virus can dictate to the human race – which has split the atom and landed men on the moon – how to redefine our future!

Speaking of landing men on the moon, when John Kennedy announced the Apollo project, he said: “We are going to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard”. That is not the spirit of lockdown, it is the attitude of courage that you need to be a change agent.

Sorry, but I don’t want to go to church online. I like to read the Bible from a leather-bound volume, not a tablet. (I don’t need a scroll!) Let me get deeper into this question of what the non-negotiables are, the things that cannot change. There is already a resistance movement to the new normal.

For example, Apple and Amazon have prospered hugely from the lockdown. Apple devices have helped with communication and with contact tracing. Amazon actually staffed up while most businesses were forced to close, in order to expand supply chains right to the consumer’s door. Is this the new normal?

Read also: Graphs illustrate the devastating effects of Covid-19 on the SA economy

Will we fatalistically accept the closure of small business, of local producers, of corner stores, of tuck shops? God grant us some serenity here to keep small business and micro-enterprise from extinction. Oddly enough, some shops – for ‘essentials’ – have remained open throughout lockdown. I have never heard of massive loss of life among their employees, or for that matter of bank employees or government employees. They managed to keep their salaries coming in while so many had to tighten their belts and accept debilitating loss of income.

This goes deeper into civil liberties. In Democracies, we cherish our constitutions. We have both national Bills of Rights and international charters. To a great extent, these were suspended by governments everywhere. What about the airlines for example? Borders were closed bringing international travel to a halt. Is that what borders are for? Whatever happened to the seamless, borderless world?

The travel industry has been decimated – from airlines to hotels to restaurants. Some observers read this as a trend – governments trying to assert their control. Others (mostly on the Right) generated a ‘conspiracy theory’ saying that governments had ulterior motives in suspending rights during this moment of disaster.

That is actually my point – so why all the talk about a New Normal? What exactly was wrong with the Old Normal? Or is there an element of political opportunism in this pandemic? Making changes that were harder to effect democratically. Like shrinking the bad habit of smoking, for example.

Speaking of conspiracy theories, these come from both sides. From the Left comes the push for voting by mail. On the whole, the trending of ‘hard lockdown’ was championed by Leftists and opposed by the Alt-Right. So now they are saying that the new normal can include virtual conventions and mail-in voting. Just imagine the possibilities for corruption!

In South Africa, we have not yet returned to Alert Level 1 (read: normal). And yet already R5bn is under investigation for corruption – a full 10% of the R50bn that government set aside for Covid relief. Here is a great example of resistance to change. ANC patronage has blossomed under this emergency. God grant us courage to change the things we can, and serenity to accept what we cannot change. The ANC seems almost fatalistic about this patronage system, not at all courageous.

God grant that the new normal allow no space for corruption.

This points, as always, to SA’s electoral system. Finally some senior leader like Lekota, Maimane and Mashaba are pushing for re-structuring of the way we vote. Take that patronage system that we call ‘cadre deployment’ away and replace it with a constituency-based system. God grant us the courage to make this part of the new normal.

But there are non-negotiables that we must not allow to change, no matter how much the Left tries to seize this opportunity to force its RET agenda.

Read also: Nedbank: Further warnings as SA banks face plummeting profits

Grant us vaccines so that we can return to school, to work, and to church safely. But don’t let these vaccines enrich Bill Gates who is rich enough already and Anthony Fauci which would be a conflict of interests. Big Pharma must give account. The tight wiring diagrams have exposed a cabal of such people that make the whole vaccine business look very shady.

Grant us funerals where people can meet and grieve and celebrate their heroes in the time-honored African fashion.

Grant us a media that is not on a Leftist leash. Freedom of expression cannot be for sale. Government advertising budgets should not be used as an indirect form of censorship.

Grant us fact-checkers who can see that both Left and Right have their spin-doctors. We get conspiracy theories galore, from interference by the rich in Botswana’s elections to politicians who want to defund the police. These are confusing times! God grant us generous measures of serenity to hold fast to what is non-negotiable from the Old Normal, along with the courage to make some changes going forward.

  • Chuck Stephens works at the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership. He has written this article in his own capacity.