OPINION | This is what I learnt in lockdown

A billboard on an apartment building in Cape Town's CBD. (Nardus Engelbrecht/Gallo Images)
A billboard on an apartment building in Cape Town's CBD. (Nardus Engelbrecht/Gallo Images)

Lockdown has been a time of learning and self-discovery for many South Africans. Howard Feldman explores what he and those around him have learnt over the past sixty days. 

Monday morning 1 June was the day that South Africa stumbled into Level 3 Lockdown.

Although we eagerly anticipated this milestone, there were many aspects that seemed to catch us by surprise. Parents had no idea whether to make school lunch or not, runners weren’t certain if they could join a group and golfers, rather sadly, looked to the heavens, both to check the weather and for some sort of sign that they could once again participate in an activity that they know brings out the worst in them. And that they swear each time that they will not play again.

What I hadn’t anticipated was being asked on my morning show what I had gained during Lockdown? At first I panicked because I thought the question was meant to be answered in kilogram, but then I realised it was a reference to the positive benefit of the sixty plus days spent working from home. As I considered the ways, I put the question out to listeners and received some of the most delightful answers.

One person told me that they had discovered their green thumbs and now grows her own herbs. Another had learnt to bake and yet another had found out that she need not have been afraid of her children. She had spent most her life in high powered positions in the banking sector but has loved being at home with her girls.

My co-host had realised that she could manage without wine every day and that she had been pleasantly surprised by how much she had loved looking after her brother who had moved in with her as his university had closed.

I learnt that I am not a technical ‘special needs’ and that I can manage to figure things out when I set my mind to it. I also realised that I like my kids more than I had thought I did. They in turn have benefited from me being around, to the extent that my 18-year-old son, who is dyslexic, has started reading novels (a huge accomplishment for him). He also plays a mean game of Bananagrams and holds the family record. I have learnt further that being an author does not guarantee expertise in the game and that sometimes simple words are the most powerful.

Since this discussion I have asked a number of people the same question. I have loved the answers because they almost always contain an element of gratitude.

“I realised how truly privileged and fortunate I am,” said David, “to have job security at a great company. There are people out there losing their jobs and struggling to feed their families. Here I am ordering stuff online to make my home office a bit more comfortable. It feels utterly wrong, but I don't know how to fix it.”

Tom learnt that, “Eating healthy home-cooked food every day is actually possible… and actually cheaper and more surprisingly fun. And spending time in the kitchen is ‘mindful’ time isn’t it? Still haven’t figured out how to get my kids to eat vegetables yet – but that’s the next mission!”

Steyn learnt that “I am more of a handy-man than I thought, having been forced to jump onto tasks that I would previously have outsourced – often needing to McGyver it due to not having the right equipment. I also learnt that if the world ever turns into an apocalyptic wasteland, then pineapples might just become the dominant currency.”

Jake learnt a surprising lesson about fellow South Africans. “At the start of lockdown I did not think South Africa would be able to cope with the shutdown of the economy for even a week. I had incorrectly predicted that we would face civil unrest after a month or so when funds and food ran out. I have learnt that people of South Africa are far more resilient and resourceful then I gave them credit for. I have never been so happy to be proven wrong.”

Nomkhosi said that “during this time I couldn’t help but think how grateful to be employed while many fellow south Africans have lost their jobs. I have learnt how important it is to stand strong and more than anything to be grateful for the small mercies we receive.”

Covid-19 has taught me that numbers can be manipulated, that graphs and statistics are fun and are often fictitious. It has taught me further that even though South Africans spend 35.7% of their adult lives complaining about government and their “irrational” and perplexing approach, there is something unique and very special about this strange and wonderful place. Most importantly I have learnt to appreciate just how blessed and how fortunate we are.  

- Howard Feldman is a keynote speaker and analyst. He is the author of three books and is the morning talk show host on ChaiFM.

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