On the 17th of June, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation.
“Y’all wanna go outside so bad; and drink your liquor so bad; and get y’all nails li’l done SO BAD – then yeah! Gwan den! Just wear a mask when you do!”
That’s not really what he said, of course…but that’s the message that was conveyed. What we saw on our screens was a battle-weary man who has been beset on all sides, defenses weakened and resolve hanging on by a thread. The economy was already ailing, pre-COVID. The rand’s value is worth almost half of what it was 5 year’s ago. Government corruption has not abated and the citizenry is impatient and agitated; Gatvol, in local parlance. If I were him, I’d throw in the towel as well. Except it’s never been in my nature to truly commit to the type of laissez-faire attitude that inspired Europeans to colonize these (and many other) shores and has ultimately led to the rampant spread of the virus in the Western Cape, where I currently reside.
The Garden Route, an area known as the most picturesque in the country, is not just a COVID hotspot, it logs half of South Africa’s Corona virus cases. It’s also ground zero for the much of the anti-vaxxer, conspiracy theorist, cannabutter making, vineyard owning, trust-your-gut-not-Western-medicine population. It is from this group of people that my family has made close friends. I love them dearly, but sometimes reasoning with them is about as effective as playing Monopoly with my cat. On various topics, we’ve had numerous disagreements over the years wherein we’ve committed to agree to do so; but on the topic of how we interact during this pandemic, I’ve determined that some firm foundation rules and boundaries have to be set. Terms like “compulsory”, “boundaries” and “rules” are very difficult for people like this to accept, which is why I have been forced to become a social douchebag.
My daughter’s friend recently sought refuge in our home. I drove 90 minutes to pick her up and made the return trip to drop her off the following day. Without going into all the details, she has a difficult situation at home and needed to escape her transient dad who lives in Cape Town. The ugly life that this family lives is as a direct result of the darkness that their father has thrust them into. As a coping mechanism, the mother has sequestered the children away from the world and presented what little they do see through rose colored glasses. They have no concept of the horrific ways that people have died as a result of COVID. To them, this pandemic is an abstraction from reality.
When we reached their home – overlooking the cliffs of Kranshoek – the girl thanked us for dropping her off and asked if we wanted to greet her mother.
“Of course!” I said, fitting my mask back onto my face.
She balked and went pale.
“You don’t have to wear your mask when you see my mum, hey?”
“No, no. You should take off your mask, hey?”
She cooed the words like professional crack selling street hustler. To my shame, I pocketed my mask, reasoning that I could still maintain social distancing once we located her mother on the ranch aka labyrinth. Eventually, the ball of nervous energy I befriended in 2017 came bounding up to us, shrilling her hellos. I smiled. It was SO good to see her again after many months.
And that’s when she did it: She grabbed me in a bear hug. When I wriggled free, she cupped both my cheeks and kissed them both. KISS. SMACK. KISS. SMACK!!!
I stood rooted in place, horrified. She then took two long steps towards my masked husband with arms outstretched. He greeted her with an elbow, which stopped her in tracks.
“What is this, Marshall? Hug me!” she demanded.
He replied with one syllable.
Now she was offended, I was still reeling, the kid’s eyes were darting nervously about and Marshall was watching the whole scene behind his mask like:
“Your husband just got here from Cape Town,” he said flatly.
At the time, there were 20,000 positive cases in the city. We left shortly after he made that statement.
This is by no means the only incident where people have breached social distancing rules that I’ve witnessed, but it’s certainly the worst that I’ve encountered. Every day, I see people forgoing basic social courtesies, like not wearing their masks properly or standing too close to me and others. The other day I was at Clicks and an elderly man dropped his mask and began to cough violently before replacing it over his face. I fled, but not before treating him to a look of through disgust.
As lockdown restrictions ease and as more people get more comfortable with taking risks with their lives (and the lives of others as a consequence), it is evident that those of us who take this pandemic for the destructive force that is are going to have to engage in ettiqute vigilantism.
Should you ever have doubts about how to convey your displeasure with someone breaching the rules of social distancing, here is a quick guide:
I don’t enjoy embodying douchebaggery, however when circumstances necessitate it’s something I’ve very good at – and if it means keeping my family safe, something I am committed to perfecting.
What’s the worst social distancing infraction you’ve witnessed or encountered? What kind of boundaries have you had to establish during this pandemic? How are your acquaintances dealing with the change?