This time last year [Jan 2020] things were normal at least in South Africa and most countries.
People were preparing to go back to work, schools re-opening and businesses getting back to normal.
And within a few weeks, boom, there is the coronavirus pandemic, which threw the entire globe into an era of rapid and radical change.
Radical changes to our individual habits, expectations, and routines.
Radical changes to government and fiscal policy.
Radical changes to the natural world around us, from sudden drops in air, water, and noise pollution to abrupt shifts in the behaviour of countless wild animals.
Wild animals started to enjoy the freedom of a quieter world brought by lockdowns.
India’s air quality improved so much since the country went on coronavirus lockdown citizens could now see the Himalayas for the first time in 30 years.
If nothing else, the past few months have put the lie to the idea that societies are incapable of radical transformation on a deadline.
We have witnessed governments put together some aggressive interventions in the economy.
Coronavirus has proven that we can change, if we want to, that we can give ourselves crazy deadlines and meet them.
We [LORA Centre] had to migrate 100% from in-person to online classes within a period of two weeks, in order to continue empowering our entrepreneurs. Something that would have taken us a year, only took us two weeks to achieve.
Driving, flying, and shopping have all been scaled down to the most essential trips.
The coronavirus has resulted in major loss of lives, loss of jobs, businesses closing down, livelihoods threatened, economic recessions etc.
So my point is not to romanticise the forms of change that the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in.
My point is to observe that the radical shifts to public policy and private lives all happened over a period of less than six months, if not less.
The world is still going through radical fast-paced transformation as you read this.
Some economies will be reopened entirely, others will be closed for the second wave, the pandemic may be subsiding in some countries, and it may we be getting worse in others.
What we know, or rather recently observed, is the notion that we humans cannot do what is required to confront the huge challenges of climate change, ending extreme poverty, unemployment etc because it is “too much,” [too much change or too much money or too much effort or too much sacrifice] was always a convenient myth propagated by those in whose interests it was for things to remain the same.
It is too much effort to eradicate poverty, said those who benefited from high levels of inequality.
It is too much effort to deal with climate change, said those oil and coal companies smiling all the way to the bank.
It is too much effort to deal with inequality, said those who see equality as a punishment and threat to their elitism.
Racism, what racism? said those who continue to benefit from their supremacy.
Clearly, when societies decide to treat an emergency as an emergency, all manner of possibilities instantly mushroom.
We consider dealing with all critical issues as emergencies, the same way we do with coronavirus.
The coronavirus has shown that a great many things feel more possible within a short space of time. It has shown what is possible when we have a sense of urgency on steroids.
Having held classes and conferences online, meetings over videos, many professionals are questioning the necessity of large portions of the pre-Covid air travel, a revelation that could have large climate benefits.
Some cities have opened up dramatically more bike lanes and pedestrian roads during the pandemic [to facilitate social distancing] and some have decided to make these changes permanent, in order to reduce air and noise pollution and improve the quality of life.
In his TEDxGaborone talk, Dr. Kaone Panzirah-Mabaka makes a case that death is a gift to humanity, meaning we should not miss the opportunity to learn from a disaster. Never let a good crisis go to waste.
Maybe, just maybe, we should have the same attitudes in fighting the coronavirus and fight the dangers posed by climate change, poverty and inequality, unemployment, and racisms.
The new normal should not just come with the coronavirus. We should strive for the new normal of life after poverty, climate change, inequality, unemployment, and racisms.
Coronavirus is presenting us with a lot of learning opportunities that we should use to tackle other critical and urgent issues.
As Dr Panzirah-Mabake concludes in his talk:
“While shedding tears when a loved one died, and it is okay to do that, pause for a moment, and try to understand what you can learn from their death.”
Let us not let a good coronavirus pandemic go to waste.