When 2021 dawned, media outlets throughout the world were awash with stories about how the 16th century astrologer-cum-seer Nostradamus had predicted this to be the year of the zombie apocalypse – and possibly even the end of the world. If you believe in this kind of stuff then Nostradamus’s 1543 predictions should have you very worried.
“Sad concepts will come to harm each one, temporal dignified, the mass to succeed. Fathers and mothers dead of infinite sorrows, women in mourning, the pestilent she-monster: The Great One to be no more, all the world to end,” he wrote.
He then appeared to be warning that after the pandemic of 2020 there would be worse trouble to come this year.
“After great trouble for humanity, a greater one is prepared. The Great Mover renews the ages: Rain, blood, milk, famine, steel and plague. Is the heavens fire seen, a long spark running.”
And then the zombie part, which should send shivers down the spine: “Few young people: half-dead, to give a start. Dead through spite, he will cause the others to shine. And in an exalted place some great evils to occur.”
These predictions had believers – shall we call them Nostradamusians? – rushing to astrologists, sangomas, diviners, prophets and all manner of mystic types to see how things aligned for them in 2021.
They need not have. All they needed to do was look at what the economic, health and social indicators were telling us about the year to know that we were not headed for pleasant things.
The good thing is that, unlike 2020, we entered 2021 prepared for the fact that this was not going to be a happy new year. No matter how much we gave our loved ones the elbow bump at midnight on December 31 as we wished them well in the transition from gloom to gloom, unbridled happiness was not on the menu. The facts were there in front of all of us as last year tailed off. The virus had come back with the vengeance of that babalaas which teaches you to respect the holy liquids. Except this vengeance was deadly; people were dying left, right and centre.
We had watched this stubborn virus make a spirited comeback in other parts of the world and knew that we were in for a horrible time in the season of joy, and then it came – infection hikes, hospitalisation surges, death spikes, new lockdowns...
When we entered the festive season there was nothing festive. The gloom was cemented with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s emotional announcement a few days before the calendar’s most festive day that a season of darkness was indeed upon us. Then Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma took away the thing that humans turn to for solace. There was little to cheer for on that New Year’s Eve when we could not be in festive settings, could not hug strangers as is tradition on that carefree occasion. The days and weeks that followed were surreal.
There was none of the usual January back-to-school frenzy as academic calendars were pushed back. The “compliments of the new year” wishes were muted or qualified as many of us knew the reality of the year ahead.
For many there was not the usual return-to-office vibes and the “how was your break?” conversation starters at the water coolers and coffee stations. And there was little in the way of regaling with tales of wild parties and tranquil getaways.
What then to make of the year we are already deep into and the future that lies beyond 2021?
Is what we inherited from terrible 2020 really the new normal, as we have been told to accept by the experts?
By the sounds of people’s sentiments, most wish not. We don’t really like the hermit lives and the touchless existence that have been forced upon us. This new normal may have accelerated convenient living – working from home; groceries delivered to our doorsteps; your favourite restaurant coming to your dining room table; and the avoidance of early morning flights and hotel buffet breakfasts – but we want to be human again. We want to shake hands, embrace and do the things that, over thousands of years, have come to represent the showing of human affection and trust.
We want to be in sporting arenas screaming our lungs out and in music concerts singing along to familiar tunes. We want to be in bars, bumping into regulars or striking up conversations with strangers without a bother. Couples want to be in packed cinemas and theatres, soaking up the energy of performances. Being remote workers has its advantages, but we miss the workplace banter and the camaraderie that comes with being in one place.
To repeat, we want to be human again.
In times like these we reminisce about what came before the darkness, make sense of the days of darkness and consider what will be on the other side when we emerge into the light.
On these pages City Press writers, columnists, photographers and graphic artists take you through these remarkable times and help you comprehend what we are going through. In writings, pictures, graphics and other illustrations we give you an authoritative take on this moment in history.
Consider this publication a journal of the present and a GPS to the future. This is one that will not only be a feast of knowledge today, but one that you will return to in years and decades to come.
It is also one to leave behind for those who were either too young to fully comprehend what was going on and those who will not have been around to experience the world we knew when it ceased to be the world we knew.
And if Nostradamus was right and this is indeed the year of the apocalypse then this will be something which the new species that will replace us will remember our last days by.
Enjoy the feast.