Whichever way you look at it, 2020 was a year of loss – not only of those near and dear to us, but acquaintances and frontline medical personnel; a loss of income and freedom of movement, human contact, food security, trust (remember the Zondo Commission?), and more than anything else, as the second wave of the pandemic hit us, a loss of hope.

If we look back at large-scale catastrophes, both man-made and natural, over the last century or so – World Wars I and II, the Spanish flu, the Chernobyl Disaster, the great Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 – one thing is clear: the world was never the same again for those involved. Old routines and certainties were gone forever. They were required to imagine a new way forward, to go back to basics and start over. 

Although in the early days of lockdown, there was constant reference to the ‘new normal’, many, if not most, South Africans seemingly could not let go of the old, and at the first opportunity, alcohol flowed – bottles were passed from one mouth to the other – and hordes of raging teenagers descended on holiday venues, sans masks and social distancing, to jol the night away. And surprise, surprise, a new, more transmissible wave of Covid-19 infections engulfed the nation, resulting in overflowing medical facilities and many more people losing their lives.

But this lack of responsibility goes way beyond ignoring physical protocols. It has to do with a failure to recognise a fundamental principle of human survival. As some guzzle at the trough of dwindling resources, others starve. As fellow citizens crowd together in unventilated shacks where social distancing is impossible, others shop till they drop in crowded supermarkets. As global warming threatens to fry us all in our tracks, both rich and poor, we disrespect and rubbish nature.

With many of us wondering if all our lockdown efforts were worth nothing, the good news is that while there may be no quick fix when it comes to social transformation, there is a fail-safe solution – it’s been there for millennia – and it’s within the grasp of every one of us. It involves taking responsibility for our own well-being, protecting and learning from our exquisitely balanced natural world, and, importantly, reaching out to ensure our neighbours’ well-being and dignity. The simple truth is that nobody is safe until everyone is safe.

‘I am, because you are’; ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ – sound familiar? 

We wish all the members of our community loving-kindness, good health, resilience, peace and prosperity in 2021. 

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