Run, Hide, Fight

Post-2004 in the US, this mnemonic became the FBI’s standard protocol in response to ‘active shooter’ situations or other general emergency attacks. And the ABC is used to train employees and school children across the US (sad, but true).

In many ways, this is what our COVID-19 response has been:

Avoid: social distance, wash hands, sanitize

Barricade: Lockdown

Confront: Emerge from Lockdown and face the virus down, by re-opening

It’s a good modus operandi for many dangerous situations.  I knew a black belt karateka who was a South African All Styles Champion, whose sage advice was always: run and only fight when you’re cornered.

But it does suggest that sometimes in life there is a time to come out fighting.  Sometimes we can’t hide or just avoid battles and sometimes we have to come out and face down the enemy.

I’ve peered into the nasty visage of several enemies: disease, divorce; unemployment, toxic bosses; single parenthood, depression… and no chocolate.  

My solution is a little simpler and less likely to get you killed:

Wearing body armour and coming out shooting, both literally and figuratively may be necessary at times, but the nature of the ‘fight’ or ‘confrontation’ doesn’t always have to be violent or aggressive. To me, the best revenge is to be happy and sometimes a benign response is better.

Oncologists will testify to how a positive attitude benefits cancer patients; Oscar Wilde says to ‘forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.’ Killing ‘em with kindness can be way more kick-ass than being a bitch. Even lack of chocolate can make you smile when you look at your ass in the mirror.

Not everything needs to be a fight. Sometimes you win by smiling.

Just wear a mask and smile with your eyes.

COVID-19 Hypochondria

A New Approach to Treating Hypochondria - The New York Times

Are you also analyzing every tickle of the throat and ache in your limbs as potentially presaging general pulmonary collapse and ague, related to COVID-19?

I think I am either becoming a hypochondriac or hoping to finally contract the jolly illness to put me out of the agony of suspense caused by expecting it at every turn.

But let’s face it, it’s not unrealistic anymore to suspect one might have succumbed. In our metropol, they have begun to identify cases by ward. There are 38 cases in the streets around us. %^&$ gets real when you realise this is not something over there in Wuhan or even across the peninsula at Groote Schuur Hospital. It’s in our neighbourhood. These are the people we shop with and jog with (okay so I don’t jog, but you get the point.)

‘So, this sore throat could be the start of my decline… Diarrhoea? Probably just a bug…but hang on that’s also a symptom…. oh my gosh, oh my gosh…. I’ve got it!’

 And we confirm our self-diagnosis after consulting Gray’s Google by reading that an employee at the Checkers store we visited two days ago has tested positive… ‘so that settles it. I must have it!’

But if we take the panic pot off the stove for a bit, we’ll remember that just because COVID-19 is doing the happy dance through the air, it doesn’t mean that all the other bad boys in Da Flu Gang have stopped stalking us in the malls and taxis.

Sometimes a cough is just your allergies and sometimes a fever is from one of the other many flus that float across to us from the east every year…. I also sneezed… so it can’t be COVID, hey?!

So it might be merely something minor. Not every cold or coronavirus is COVID-19. Not every sore throat foreshadows the deadly flu.

However, no one told Cancer and her Mean Girls to leave town while we dealt with Corona.

Just this week, a friend’s nephew was diagnosed with leukaemia, a colleague’s mom had a malignant growth removed from her thyroid, and health authorities tell us patients are not turning up for TB and HIV treatments because of this pandemic. And those gangsta-germs are killers too.

… But this tiredness could be serious… I mean just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean I’m not being hunted down by swooping microbes who’ve been lurking on trolleys, waiting for my sweet blood (okay it’s a little acidic because of all the lemon tea I drink, but you know what I mean.)

My mother used to joke that only the good die young, and then she had a heart attack at 56… I’m nearly 56… perhaps that tightness in my chest is actually a heart attack…it’s genetic…

Then, as I peer into the mirror to see whether the itch around my eyes is conjunctivitis (another symptom), and hence a clear sign that I am COVID positive, the Celtic Queen Maeve of my ancestors rebukes me for such foolishness. It’s actually a slap in the face for people with real illnesses to carry on like this. Even hypochondria is a real anxiety disorder, and I don’t have that. I think I just have COVIID -19 fatigue: the only thing I’ve ‘caught’ is the unease of others. All the preparations for healthcare at school, and coping with so many other people’s anxieties about the re-opening of schools, and the financial worries of my school community have exhausted me. I am in danger of jumping into the trauma terror train of needless panic myself. It’s time to put on my warrior armour and fight my own demons.

So, I am taking a cautious step back this weekend and switching off from all things COVID.

… If I do catch it though, just remember you heard it here first…

“After obsessively Googling symptoms for four hours, I discovered 'obsessively Googling symptoms' is a symptom of hypochondria.”
― Stephen Colbert

The Real COVID-19 symptoms:

COVID-19 affects different people in different ways. Most infected people will develop mild to moderate illness and recover without hospitalization.

Most common symptoms: fever, dry cough, tiredness

Less common symptoms: aches and pains, sore throat, diarrhoea, conjunctivitis, headache, loss of taste or smell, a rash on skin, or discolouration of fingers or toes

Serious symptoms: difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, chest pain or pressure,loss of speech or movement

Seek immediate medical attention if you have serious symptoms. Always call before visiting your doctor or health facility. People with mild symptoms who are otherwise healthy should manage their symptoms at home. On average it takes 5–6 days from when someone is infected with the virus for symptoms to show, however it can take up to 14 days.

[World health Organization]

Forgiveness

7 things to know about surviving hurt and trying to forgive.

‘Forgiveness’ by Mario Sanchez Nevado

I have faced my share of betrayal and spite, and sadly I have realized over the years that it seems to be a part of the human condition, this coming to terms with the damage others inflict in our lives.

I once asked for a formula to follow to try to forgive someone who had hurt me badly, and not even priests could give me a how-to guide. I think it is a path we often travel alone, but one can produce a joy more profound than the hurt.

These are the 7 things I have done and what I have learnt about surviving hurt and about forgiveness.

1. I kept an angry book

When I first realized I would need to raise five little tykes on my own with little or no consistent financial assistance, I was filled with soul-penetrating hurt and an impotent rage, that I thought would overwhelm me.

So, I wrote it all down. I filled a cheap little brown exercise book with my profound personal hurt and the rejection which threatened to destroy my fragile sense of self. And I scribbled vile words in several languages in an attempt to purge the acid that burned inside me.

Late at night I vented into that book every impassioned thing I wanted to say and needed to say, yet was unable to because I was unable to address them in person, in the knowledge that even if I could have reached his voice, I could not reach his spirit.

One day, I came to the end of the notebook. And I realized I didn’t need to buy another. I was done. The poison was out.

And then I found love

I put the book aside and some years later when I was packing to move into a new house with The Maestro, I threw it away.

2. Everyone is the hero in her own story

This is especially true of people who inflict pain on others. Some years ago I worked with a colleague who made my life so unbearable, I was forced to leave. I was filled with the penetrating pain at being falsely accused, as well as anger and anxiety at the loss of my livelihood, and concern for my children who were innocent victims yet again.

It was at this time, that I tried in vain to google ‘forgiveness for dummies’ because I knew that the hurt would crush me and demolish my serenity if I didn’t.

Then I realised something: she actually thought she was right. In her mind, she was the avenging angel, and I was a cruel woman who had to be vanquished.

In my newfound empathy for my tormentor, and her cabal, I was able to understand her a little, and in the end, I felt sorry for her. Because she was simply wrong.

Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.

Oscar Wilde

3. Forgiveness is not about the abuser

Letting go of anger, no matter how righteous the rage may be, is a healing process and brings true serenity. When you are angry with someone, that person neither knows nor cares how you feel. So, your feelings are an invisible toxin that kills only you.

Physical action helps to externalize the ache. That’s why often jogging or cycling till your drop helps some people. I am not that crazy. However, I did find that walking alongside the sea gave me a sense of perspective on my life, measured against the ebb and flow of the eternal tide.

Redhead Woman In White Dress Standing On Beach And Looking To ...

4. It’s much more difficult to forgive someone when the abuse is ongoing

If you are able to walk away from a situation or draw a line under toxic relationships, it is much easier to let go of the emotional damage they cause, but when you face the same day-in-and-day-out bullying or verbal abuse or permanent penury that often accompanies great betrayal, it is not so simple.

There is recourse in the law for some things naturally, but I found that the legal route is almost as brutal as the original crime, and I had to look inside of myself to find solutions for the problems. Being honest with myself about how and why I felt unhinged by my emotions allowed me to park the anger temporarily so that it has eventually become a side-blur as I journey through life.

5. Time heals

It is true that time takes some of the sting out the raw pain you endure when first you are wounded. And I have found that suffering has made me more compassionate towards others. You just have to wait it out. 

6. ‘The truth will out’

As Shakespeare tells us in The Merchant of Venice (and many other of his plays), ‘the truth will out.’ And it really does in the end. It is good to be vindicated, but the waiting to be ‘exalted above [your] foes’ as the psalmist promises, can be long and requires patience.

Far be it for me to suggest we should wish for such vengeful deliverance, but it is human nature to hope for it when we have been wronged.  I have found though that the truth has a wily way of popping up to haunt those who abuse it.

7. The greatest ‘revenge’ is to be happy and successful

Laugh long and often. Life is absurd, but there is much joy and friendship to be found, even in your darkest hours. You can experience profound joy in the midst of your suffering.

This is how I have found my peace.

‘Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.’

Mark Twain
Fly boots flower crush - YouTube

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

17 things to remember about apologising

President Cyril Ramaphosa was criticized by a caller on a talk-radio show this week, as ‘being weak’ for apologising for mistakes made in the process of addressing our country’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

I completely disagree. I think it is a sign of strength that a person can apologise (and a rarity from a politician). I think it shows an acknowledgement and empathy for other people ‘s feelings and opinions if you can say you are sorry to someone who has been hurt by your words or actions. And in a leader, that kind of humility is important.

I have a saying with my staff that ‘sometimes only grovel will do.’

Because we mess up – like all people – and much time is saved when the offended party is given that recognition of their hurt or inconvenience.

Here are some tips about apologizing (with a disclaimer that I don’t always get these right either):

1. Believe you have offended. Apologise even if the mistake or slight was unintended.

There is nothing worse than being gaslighted by the very person who has caused you hurt, or upset you. To have one’s offended feelings then denied, adds insult to injury.  The first rule of conflict management is to believe what the other person is saying. It is not for you to judge whether a person is over-reacting either.

2. Relationships matter more than your ego or being right.

A servant leader knows the simple truth that ‘it’s not about me.’ Expressing remorse shows your partner or client that the relationship you have with them is more important than your ego or being right.

When you’ve done something wrong, admit it. No one in history has choked to death from swallowing her pride.’

3. Mean it. Only two year olds are ‘sorry, not sorry.

Is Your Child Acting Out—or Just Acting His Age? | Parents

We all remember being made to ‘say sorry to your sister!’ and hearing that muttering ‘Sorreeeee!’ which was a clear sign that you were not! We’re grown-ups now though and admitting regret should be sincere and humble.

Recently after a spat between two of my my offspring, that had become particularly personal, had been calmed down, I asked each to say something nice about the other. My daughter told her brother he had nice eyes. His retort: ‘I like your glasses.’

Clearly ‘Not sorry.’

4. Don’t ruin the apology with a ‘but.’

Likewise, saying ‘but’ after an apology is just another version of saying ‘sorry, not sorry.’ See point 2 above.

5. Apologies do not absolve you of responsibility/blame/legal ramifications

Even when a criminal apologises to his victims in court, he is not excused his sentence because he is remorseful. There is still a consequence that he must accept. The same is true when we screw up.  We still need to fix what we broke.

In South Africa, not enough people apologised for Apartheid, despite the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s noble aims, let alone spent their old age making amends, (or licence plates in prison).

Of course, sometimes you can land up in court for apologising because you may have admitted legal liability, but I really hate it when companies or politicians use all of those euphemisms like ‘it was a regrettable incident (that 100 of their employees died down the mine that they did not ensure was safe, or contracted cancer following their factory’s effluent poisoning the drinking water’ …

Avoiding acceptance of responsibility is cowardly. If you stuffed up, admit it! That’s the honourable thing to do, however unfortunately, honour, like cigarettes during lockdown, is hard to come by when a company is facing financial losses through litigation. Sometimes they apologise but add those little disclaimers such as ‘while the company regrets…. this in no way is an acceptance of liability…’

Large underwear is needed: confess (It’s good for the soul – trust me I’m Catholic so I know), apologise and face the music.

6. Don’t wait

Express remorse immediately when you discover you printed someone ‘s name incorrectly on the awards ceremony programme, or before someone sees the scratch on their car, or when there has been a delay in response time to an issue. Make contact even before the injured party becomes aware of the situation, if possible. That shows you’re sincere and not hiding it. It also tends to take the sting out of the error or insult and can calm down a furious client and gain their respect for being someone who owns her mistakes.

‘When you realise you’ve made a mistake, make amends immediately. It’s easier to eat crow when it’s still warm.’

Dan Heist

7. There is always something to be sorry about in a conflict situation

Even if the angry customer in front of you is dead wrong. There is always something to apologise for such as a miscommunication that has led to the misunderstanding. If you take ownership of even a part of the complaint, the complainant may be slightly mollified at least.

Always acknowledge their feelings as valid.

8. Apologies heal relationships and build trust

Humans are weird about ‘losing face’ and being the first to apologise. In fact, to me, that is the moral high ground and shows a stronger person, confident in herself because true strength requires humility. How many of us know families who no longer speak because siblings or children or parents refuse to be the first person to ‘give in’ as apologising is considered a surrender.

In the end, we all want to feel validated. Likewise, if someone apologises to you, apologise back for your part, enabling both parties to heal and feel forgiven.

9. Take the long view

Be prepared to lose the battle in order to win the war. If your goal is to win over a group of people to co-operate with you, it can be of strategic importance to suck it up and apologise unreservedly in the small things so that they will believe you and respect you in the long term.

10. Apologies take courage

It is not always easy to apologise because it often involves facing the wrath of the offended party, and that is another reason why I say that it is strong leaders who are able to do this. An apology makes one vulnerable in the relationship (or so many think) and so they avoid doing so which is sad because the courage to own up to being flawed is both liberating and empowering.

The first to apologise is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest.’

11. Don’t respond to anger or annoyance in another with reeling out a list of their own similar crimes

While it may be true that you may have experienced similar treatment at the plaintiff’s hands, now is not the time to say, ‘well you always/never do that either’

(btw ‘always’ and ‘never’ should never feature in arguments.)

‘I am so sorry! I know how annoying this is when it happens to me,’ is a far more conciliatory response and won’t escalate the conflict.

12. Don’t expect forgiveness

Don’t apologise because you want to be forgiven. Apologise because you want to heal the relationship.

13. Apologise to children.

That is how you teach them to be sorry too.

14. Sorry means I won’t do it again

My mother always told me that ‘Sorry means you won’t do it again,’ and while this assumes a path to perfection that is not always possible for horribly flawed humans, it should cause us to pause and determine a way to at the very least try to avoid the behaviour, or in business (and at home) build structures and procedures to prevent a recurrence of the error. Otherwise, you run the risk of being (or being seen to be) once again ‘sorry, not sorry.’

15. Make amends

As much as it is a powerful means of spiritually cleansing oneself, priests who prescribe prayerful penance sometimes let we sinners off the hook a bit. Saying a few ‘’our Fathers’ will not build the bridge again with one’s husband and is not as effective as going home from Confession and baking a cake for your beloved or washing his car. Showing and not just telling is a powerful way to prove repentance, and it takes more effort.

Chocolate and flowers help too:

16. A good leader apologises for the team without shifting the blame to the individual who may have caused the fault.

Not only will this gain you the thanks of your team for having their backs, it is important to remember that as a leader you may not be responsible for the mess, but you are always accountable for it.

17. Apologising is empowering

When you realise that in fact you lose nothing by apologising, there is profound sense of peace and inner strength, which leads to greater resilience.

“Apologies aren’t meant to change the past, they are meant to change the future.”

– Kevin Hancock

The Masquerade – Subtitled: The unmasking of beauty masks during Lockdown

Tonight I decided I needed to work on ‘my fabulous.’

Since #masks is trending, I used a beauty mask gifted to me by the lovely Gabriella for Christmas 2019, which I have been meaning to use one evening ever since. It was touted as a ‘de-stressing mud mask for a revived healthy-looking complexion.’

This is what I thought I looked like:

This is what I actually looked like:

Not my best look!

Now my devilish clever plan had been to apply the mask, then wait out the 10-15 minutes finishing off my emails. But I really didn’t think it through properly. It’s all very well playing spa girl, massaging in the green mud (a delightfully creamy substance), being careful to avoid the eyes, admiring my peppermint complexion, and frightening my family, (Okay they actually just laughed, and The Maestro merely glanced at me, and  commented drily, ‘Now really! Was ist hier los?’ The Mad Lab thumped her tail patronizingly at my vain attempts at vanity. Thank God the Cat was outside hunting pigeons (her only use) because I didn’t need her sneering derision as well.) But when I got to my laptop, I realised that neither Spa Girl nor Jim Carrey need glasses to see. And I couldn’t put my specs on while the mask was still wet.

The Mask: 1; Aging Matron: 0

Undeterred, I used the time to send photographs of myself to the family WhatsApp group to see whether I could at least frighten my sister and my sons who have left home (and I wonder why!). This is what I got back:

The Mask: 2; Failed Scary Monster Mom: 0

As the substance dried and tightened on my visage, leaving me looking like a chalky green clown, with huge lips, I realized a second thing made impossible by this so-called ‘de-stressing’ (more like ‘distressing’) concoction: you’re not supposed to speak with a mask on. For FIFTEEN minutes! Now, anyone who knows me, knows how difficult that is – well-nigh impossible. I did survive of course, albeit peering myopically at my screen while using my ventriloquist skills to mutter at whoever was listening (no one, as usual.)

Sadly, I looked no different after removal of the ogre-gunk. I was expecting more of a facelift – I mean, doesn’t ‘de-stressing’ imply uplifting something? But not even my spirits were lifted and I remain the same old witch as usual. So much for fabulous!

My only consolation is the third thing I realized:

Even though I wanted to look Vogue-cover vibrant, it doesn’t matter because even if I did, in Lockdown:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-14.png

No one could see! Saved by the COVID mask, a covert way to hide one’s blemishes! And the irony? The only part visible above this mask?..my eyes, which were never part of my beauty treatment at all!

Perhaps I should be working on my inner-beauty instead – sadly there is no ‘de-stressing mud mask’ for that!

“There is a face beneath this mask, but it isn’t me. I’m no more that face than I am the muscles beneath it, or the bones beneath that.”
― Steve Moore, V for Vendetta

Strangers in the blight

I miss News Café. I miss Mugg & Bean. These are local hangouts for the Maestro and me, although he is also crazy about La Forneria, which he refers to as La Fornicatoria(!) I think about the staff of our neighbourhood bistros quite a bit, not only because I am dying for a cappuccino, but because I miss the ambiance and the ‘outing.’ And I wonder how they are surviving during this shutdown period.
Mugg &Bean, Table Bay Mall
Mugg and Bean is our go-to breakfast, tea or lunch venue. If we’re meeting there, I try to arrive first so I can grab a people-watching possie, and if Andrew beats me to it, he can be found in a dark corner somewhere as far away from sight (and other people) as possible – and therein lies the difference between us. Jean-Paul Sartre and Andrew believe that ‘Hell is other people’ and I am fascinated by humans and energized by being among the throngs. Of course, this fact about me drives my children to despair because no trip to the shops is ever quick. We are bound to bump (in a socially distant way, post-COVID) into acquaintances, fellow parishioners, past pupils, or their parents, or former colleagues. Liam believes this is no excuse for stopping to speak to them all, which is a cheek coming from a chap who makes a point of striking up a conversation with every cashier as if he has been starved for human contact. But my children’s reluctance to join their loquacious maman allows me to sneak off and date my husband. And if he is not chatty, I can always watch the crowds. Not in a creepy way of course. I am fascinated by observing and imagining what their back-stories might be. You can’t people-watch nowadays of course, because the genteel art of coffee-sipping, while stalking-shoppers-with-your-eyes, is denied us thanks to the virus. Which is such a pity. I mean I have developed my sartorial style over the years from watching my fellow humans wear things well and well, … not well. How will I know what is in if I can’t watch? And how can I be in, if I can’t be watched. Mind you, I am looking forward to our first visit when they reopen because I can ‘window shop’ for funky masks while I drink my latte. Then there is our evening haunt: News Café. You cannot beat the view from this establishment and the waiters greet us like old friends, so it feels a bit like a Cheers set and you don’t have to start googling Trip Advisor to get good service. The waiters are charming and good fun. Andrew always goes for the happy hour cocktails – ‘James Bond lifestyle,’ he says. We have good laughs over the various football matches we watch there and debate politics and philosophy, sometimes even with each other. Because we occasionally meet up there after work, I wonder whether the staff think we are having an affair. It’s fun to pretend we are.
News Cafe, Table View
Before I met Andrew, I could never have walked into a bar on my own (oh what an admission for a feminist!) but at News Café, it is so welcoming it’s easy. Although we never venture upstairs when the techno beat vibrates at night – that’s where the view, especially at sunset, is magnificent. And the people-watching there is spectacular. All the beautiful people going upstairs to see and be seen have to walk past where we sit (yes, we have ‘our table’) so it is like watching a fashion show. Scratch the thought that the waitstaff think we’re dating. We have ‘our table,’ for goodness sake! We must have ‘old fogey’ written across our faces. But still, a girl can pretend. We have watched many a sunset from this restaurant and I hope they survive the lockdown period to open their doors again to us. I’m getting bored with my husband. It’s time to meet my lover again. At least we’ll change out of our pyjamas then.
News Cafe, Table Bay

A luta continua

A Freedom Day Reflection during COVID-19 Lockdown 2020

I was born in 1964, three months after Nelson Mandela and seven comrades were jailed for life.

What is now the Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital, but then was the St Joseph’s Nursing Home, run by German Catholic nursing sisters, at the foot of Devils Peak, Cape Town, sounded like a strict place to be, from my mother’s telling of it. The fact that the nurses hurried her out of the loo, where I was nearly born, gave my existence an almost unseemly start, perhaps that’s why I was constantly found guilty of behaviour ‘unbecoming of a lady’ by the nuns who educated me. I was too loud. But not loud enough when it mattered.

The historic tragedy of the Rivonia Treason Trial that year though was unlikely to have been marked in my white, middle-class family, where my father was more conceivably focused on reading in the newspaper about the Springboks’ victories against touring French and Welsh rugby teams, or his own cricket matches at the club, while my mother was almost certainly consumed with caring for a toddler and a new baby. Johannesburg and race politics of the time were not even on their radar, both seemingly thousands of miles away. That’s one of the shocking realities of South African apartheid-era history: white people in the main, were not affected by the brutality and racial injustices being perpetrated in the country and life went on as ‘normal.’

I first heard about District Six when my father, a formidably fierce man, yelled at some pesky children taking delight in walking atop his newly constructed boundary wall in middle-class Pinelands, ‘What do you think this is?! District Six?!’ he roared out the window at them. I had no idea what District Six was but it seemed to be, from his attitude, a place where children got away with doing fun things. He of course had bought into the propaganda which saw the colourful, cosmopolitan area on the slopes of Table Mountain as a slum, resulting in the horrifying social and economic disaster of forced removals of black and coloured people in 1968. (Not that as an English-speaking United Party supporter, he would ever have seen himself as pro-government, an irony still playing out still in the English-Afrikaans divide in older, white South Africans.)

District Six’s fate was sealed in October 1964, a week after I was born when the Minister of Community ‘Development’ (one PW Botha!) set up a committee to re-plan and ‘develop’ District 6 and surrounding Salt River and Woodstock. The plan fell under CORDA, an acronym for the Orwellian Committee for the Rehabilitation of Depressed Areas, a plan which left communities decimated and precipitated ongoing poverty and crime although its stated intention was to eradicate crime ‘caused by inter-racial mixing.’

30 years later, however, on 27 April 1994, pregnant with my own second child, I stood in one of thousands of snaking queues in our nation’s first democratic election. Even though at the advanced stage of my pregnancy, I could have voted days before, I wanted to celebrate that special day and make sure my small son and unborn daughter would be there as part of the moment when we stood on the head of the snake of apartheid.

The people I queued with are dead now, the old man in front of me, almost certainly from old age, but my companion for the day, Kefilwe Ratsweu, passed away in 1999 from AIDS-related illnesses, following her rape in a field by a mindless, opportunistic thug, one mild Sunday afternoon.

She had five short years of ‘freedom.’

She, like so many women in our country, had lived a brutalized life of poverty and spent much of her divorced life away from her children. She recalled for me once how when she first moved to Johannesburg to find work, police vans would routinely pick up young women supposedly on pass law[1] offences and remembered the absolute terror she felt in being considered one of the ‘young, attractive ones’ who were offered an impossible ‘way out’ of their arrest. Many women saw the option of being gang-raped by policemen as a better option than imprisonment and loss of income for their families.

The abuse she suffered at the hands of authorities didn’t end there though. She married a taxi driver, who, when he drank, assaulted her repeatedly. Eventually, when he began to inflict his violence on her five children, she took them one dark night and fled home to her mother, who raised them in the country, while she worked in the city. And yet if I remember one thing about her, it was her capacity to throw her head back and laugh.

I visited her the day before she died in the Johannesburg General Hospital, stepping gingerly over used syringes on the lift floor of a state hospitial groaning in its need for public funds, not wanting to acknowledge that she was dying. We held hands, hers always so elegantly long and soft, despite her years of physical labour, like her once rotund body was even thinner from the ravages of her disease. And we wept quietly together. I wept for the system that made her vulnerable; I wept for the children she was leaving behind; and that I couldn’t save her. Mostly I wept because I had been part of that system, simply by being white. No amount of university protest or liberal thinking and teaching prevented me from saving her.

And hers is just one story.

The AIDS pandemic has caused so much human suffering in South Africa. Just as PW Botha’s men razed District Six to the ground, so HIV and AIDS bulldozed through townships and families, orphaning countless children in the process. And today we face a new, more threatening disease.

At its height, nearly 3 million people died in South Africa, but so many deaths were recorded as TB–or-other-related that the figure is probably far more. Nearly 250 000 new cases of HIV infection are recorded annually, with over 70 000 deaths still in this brave new world of post-apartheid South Africa.

Today is Freedom Day, being celebrated in Lockdown from a new enemy, set to ravage our nation. COVID-19 is not Die Groot Krokodil, so openly evil that we can launch an armed struggle against it. This time we are faced with another unseen nemesis like the HIV virus. The coronavirus is a tiny microbe spreading its invisible armies throughout our cities and towns, swifter and more easily even that HIV.  And the people it is set to destroy are again the poor and broken of South Africa.

But this time we know what can happen if we don’t fight. This time we have a president who is leading from the front.

This struggle ironically cannot be fought by mass gatherings of protest or by an armed struggle. This enemy thrives on our togetherness, something the apartheid regime recognized about our struggle for freedom and that’s why they banned public gatherings.

But this time for the sake of freedom (and life) for our people, especially those we have failed, please heed our president’s call to stay at home.

I was a child during apartheid; I stood by while HIV ran rampant and killed Kefilwe; I did not protest her brutalization.

This time, I am staying the fuck at home so my country(wo)men can live to see another Freedom Day!

How’s that for being a lady?

‘They also serve who only stand and wait’

John Milton, On His Blindness

[1] The dompas in apartheid South Africa required black people to carry identification at all times, including permission to be within (white) urban areas.