‘This just got real” has become a regular phrase people say when they find out that someone close to them or someone they consider important or famous has either been diagnosed with or succumbed to the Covid-19 coronavirus.
It is a phrase of fear.
For many who say it, they are reckoning with the pain of loss and helplessness brought on by Covid-19 as they finally realise its might and brutality.
The phrase also reveals how, for too many people, the human cost of this pandemic is only measured by how it directly affects them, rather than its impact on society as a whole.
The truth is, Covid-19 was real when it took its first victim.
We didn’t have to know them personally to acknowledge that they too did not deserve to die and had loved ones who are now mourning their absence.
They too had dreams and aspirations that they have been robbed of and, above all, they too were human.
Only caring about people we know is a dangerous mind-set because it flies in the face of what is needed for us to defeat this pandemic, which is a shared commitment to not only value our own lives and those of the people we care about, but also the lives of strangers.
We must give each other a fighting chance at survival by valuing each other’s lives with our actions.
Indeed, as we deal with the devastating consequences of this pandemic, it is centring the human cost beyond our individual cocoons which will force us to focus on the right actions and priorities.
Government agencies should lead us in showing concern for all lives, but too many are not.
For example, the Unemployment Insurance Fund Covid-19 Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme lies in ruin, with more than 1 million people who applied still waiting to be paid, on top of fraudulent activities that have redirected money to where it is not supposed to go.
This has left many vulnerable to the harsh economic realities of having no income. Further, there are daily reports of relief funds being looted and exorbitant payments demanded for subpar services and goods, such as hand sanitisers.
Alarmingly, healthcare facilities are overwhelmed.
Shortages of personal protective equipment, among other woes, have left healthcare workers fearing for their safety, resulting in poor outcomes for patients.
These are just a few examples of how government has exacerbated the already high human cost of the overwhelming virus.
This greed, even during a pandemic, reveals how low the level of empathy is.
Our leaders need to act right, not just by giving us rules to obey, but also by being faithful to their mandate to be accountable regarding the resources they are facilitating.
And we must hold them accountable to this. Our leaders must see us involved, and know that they will not hide easily.
Our own individual lives must also reflect that we value a thriving South Africa.
When no one is looking, do you cut corners when it comes to being just and ethical?
Valuing the lives of people we don’t know ultimately means recognising that our individual actions can save lives.
We are all accountable to and for each other. Our daily lives are made up of actions that have an impact beyond those that one lives with.
When stepping into a taxi, shopping for groceries, buying petrol or even just taking a walk, we all come into contact with others and something as simple as coughing could put their lives at risk if not done in a safe way.
We must commit to wearing masks, practising social distancing, isolating when ill and other interventions experts are telling us will make a big difference.
Being human comes with some level of interdependence, just by virtue of being here together.
To be sure, the pandemic has left no one unscathed, but we should resist the urge to obsess about our own conveniences and comfort at the expense of the communal responsibilities needed to have a fighting chance.
When dealing with a supercontagious, novel disease, one’s understanding of the realness of the disease cannot just be measured by how it affects those they love alone.
A single death is real enough; the loss of one human being deserves our collective mourning.
This crisis requires us to understand that we are in this together, meaning we will have to be each other’s keepers to overcome it.
But we can commit to actions every day that help us survive. And this also extends to our leaders.
Rabaholo is a junior campaigner at amandla.mobi