Mondli Makhanya: ‘Never been a time like this’

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The Oxford English Dictionary defines torture as “the act of causing somebody severe pain in order to punish them or make them say or do something”.

The UN’s conventions say that the term means “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person”.

Human rights movement Amnesty International’s definition of torture is “the systematic and deliberate infliction of acute pain by one person on another, or on a third person”.

For four-fifths of the human race right now, the meaning of torture is entering week five of no football being played.

At this rate of frustration, this lowly newspaperman may be compelled to start watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians and replays of Somizi’s wedding

The much-anticipated mass march on the offices of SuperSport to demand the airing of the Belarus league – one of the few still functioning – failed to materialise because tens of thousands of people turned up and the organisers could not decide how to cull the numbers down to 50 to comply with lockdown regulations.

At this rate of frustration, this lowly newspaperman may be compelled to start watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians and replays of Somizi’s wedding.

Living through the past few weeks reminded one of a refrain that anti-apartheid cleric Allan Boesak used to rouse the masses at rallies in the 1980s.

Boesak, one of the finest orators this country has produced, would animatedly describe the state of the resistance to apartheid, and then pause and say in his distinctive high-pitched voice: “There has never been a time like this.”

He would do this over and over until the crowd was on its feet.

There has indeed never been a time like this.

A time when a third of the world’s population is imprisoned in their homes; when industrial machines are quiet the world over; when the arts and the sports have ground to a halt; and when visiting family and friends is a prosecutable crime.

If anyone had suggested on January 1 that, at some point this year, places of worship for all religions would for weeks be empty on their respective days of prayer, that Easter would be cancelled, and that iconic annual events such as Wimbledon and the British Open would not take place, they would have been sentenced to the community service of brushing Steve Hofmeyr’s teeth.

A commentator on one of the international channels remarked the other day that this lockdown period must be the first time in human history that billions of people in different parts of the planet are having exactly the same experience.

The videos, memes and jokes flooding social media speak to the experience of people in Tokyo, Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, Berlin and Auckland.

Read: Mondli Makhanya: How to become a colony again

The stories you follow in the media from around the world are eerily similar: the inexplicable hoarding of toilet paper; the battles of front-line health workers for protective gear; the police’s frustration over young people’s stubborn noncompliance with lockdown rules; and the robotic manner in which people are having to say their final farewells to their deceased loved ones.

There has never been a time – except in war – when citizens of democracies all over the world willingly give up their rights, and when those who never bow to authority tell governments that it is okay to take away their freedom.

Humanity has never seen a situation when the de facto leader of the world is a man from a country that ranks 173rd on the UN’s Human Development Index.

Barely three months into the job, World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – who hails from Ethiopia – finds himself captaining the planet through one of its worst crises since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden.

This Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has also brought out the best in humans, forcing people to feel for people they would normally feel nothing for.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a despicable man, is now in everyone’s prayers as he battles an enemy that has been identified as a common foe.

There have been many cases where people have reached out across political, religious and racial divisions to help save lives.

Unfortunately, it has also brought out the worst in the worst among us. US President Donald Trump has been the worst Donald Trump he could ever be.

His denialism and buck-passing has seen his country become the global epicentre of the pandemic.

Then there is Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, another denialist who has spouted racist rhetoric at every turn as he seeks to push his myopic views down the throats of a frightened population.

You have gangster preachers such as TB Joshua and Shepherd Bushiri, who have continued preying on the vulnerable even as the virus bites.

Joshua, like many other scamsters, had to be forced by the Nigerian authorities to shut his church as the virus spread through the country.

There has never been a time – except in war – when citizens of democracies all over the world willingly give up their rights, and when those who never bow to authority tell governments that it is okay to take away their freedom

He then predicted that Covid-19 would be over by March 27, the day the lockdown was kicking in, sparking anger that this was a ruse to keep his doors open to the tithing congregants.

Forced to close his doors by state regulations, Bushiri has now taken to soliciting tithes through the church’s TV channel, and has even condescendingly asked female congregants to defy their husbands and hand him the money.

It has also brought out the worst in dictators, who are using the lockdowns as cover while they usurp power and suppress citizens’ rights; police forces who find every opportunity to brutalise civilians; and greedy businesspeople who extort consumers.

But the good thing is that the humanity of humans has shone through and all of the above rogues have been roundly rebuked.

There is hope that we will be a better people when we emerge at the other end of this dark and musty tunnel.



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