"If we look at Covid-19 objectively, the real killer in this scenario is our response" - Charles Stith

15 November 2020 - 00:00 By Charles Stith

Published in the Sunday Times (15/11/2020)

This book contains a collection of my thoughts about the corona crisis over four stages of lockdown in South Africa. I was in Johannesburg when the lockdown was put in place and was sequestered in Sandton for more than five months. Like a lot of folks, being in lockdown resulted in a lot of time for reflection and, in my case, time to write down those reflections.

It was before the lockdown that I wrote my first opinion piece on Covid-19. The overarching theme was the need for leadership. Particularly, it was about the ways in which I thought Donald Trump, and by extension the US, was coming up short. I saw it as nothing more than a one-off piece. Not long after it was published, the South China Morning Post asked if I'd write something about the impact of the pandemic on Africa. As the crisis started to cascade out of control I kept on writing.

The book was an afterthought, which I decided to do for a couple of reasons. Given the monumental mistakes being made in dealing with Covid-19, I knew it would take time to clean up the mess. I was hoping my thoughts would be a contribution to the political and policy discussions that would come. I was concerned with how those discussions would unfold in Africa.

Much to my surprise, and most other people's, Africa as a whole has fared better than the West during this crisis. Instead of following the pack, Africa is posed to lead the way out this mess. Because every African country didn't copy the Western response, we are able to do some comparisons, and as a result there are valuable lessons. I think Africa is more prepared than some might think to provide leadership. While the responses had to take into consideration the political issues of each African country, there was not the same degree of polarisation on the continent that emerged in the West. This means that some of the hard questions that need to be asked have a better chance of being addressed.

While everyone is experiencing more than a little corona fatigue right now, we need to maintain a sense of urgency. Ironically, that sense of urgency is not about the virus itself.

If we look at Covid-19 objectively, the real killer in this scenario is our response. The go-it-alone strategies that countries are employing are not working. We've got to get everyone to the table to fashion a global strategy. If we don't, we're doomed. I hope my book, in some small way, contributes to that necessary global conversation taking place.

A View from the Other Side: Locked Down in South Africa by Ambassador Charles Stith is published by Footprint Press, R250