THE power of habit may end up being the biggest obstacle we have when trying to stay in during the lockdown in the fight against the global pandemic Covid-19. To add to that obstacle is the power of myths and urban legends to confuse the messaging in the fight against the deadly disease.
Had a chance to pass through some of the townships on the first day of the lockdown here in Bulawayo. Thankfully the State mandated that journalists offer an essential service and as such we have generally been able to move around.
However, before the police received official communication that we could use the current but expired media accreditation cards, one of ours had been detained in Gweru. The news went viral on social media and, of course, we were naturally concerned that that happened.
Fortunately, the Information Ministry intervened and the colleague was released. But that is not the gist of this piece this week. It is what I saw as I moved through Makokoba, Mzilikazi, Mpopoma and Pelandaba that made me realise that we may have a serious challenge.
Urban legends are apocryphal and fictional stories rooted in popular culture. They are stories which are purportedly true and passed around as such. They are typically sensational and despite that the tellers deem them as true, there is no evidence to back it up.
“Black people are strong mdara!”, “Smoke weed, it will kill that virus. Have you ever seen a Jamaican who is sick?”
These are some of the things the ghetto youths were saying in my interactions with them on the township streets as they sat with their friends outside the tiny box-like houses of the former dormitory township for migrant labourers or were ambling about.
I could not help but laugh about the misconceptions. One youth in particular had a red eye even as he squinted with a wry smile on his face. He had the cheek to ask if he was going to get something in exchange for telling me his views.
I declined because I also need money as it is . . . But I did make a point of trying to correct the misconception about Covid-19. There seems to be quite a lot of myths regarding who can contract this disease, what can cure people from it and how it came about.
Social media is replete with similar sounding stories. Some are saying that lemons can burst this virus and others are talking about steaming it down.
The facts are that there is not yet a cure that has been found and anyone without regard to age, race or colour can contract and die from the disease. We must cooperate with the health warnings and measures to stem the tide of this deadly disease.
Now, aside from the half-truths or outright nonsense out there on the cyber and actual streets, hardship itself is standing in the way of social distancing. I found as I moved around folks carrying bags of mealie meal.
One young man in particular I spoke to who is doing “O” level at one of the city schools, said he had been sent by his grandparents who look after him and his siblings to look for mealie meal.
Both his parents live in South Africa and they are not coming home this Easter. Usually omalayitsha brings groceries through for the family. But not this time because borders are shutdown.
Folks are saying that they have no money to hoard foodstuff and must go out and fend for themselves. Thus I could see one or two people selling their wares on the township streets or carrying on with their usual hustle of arc welding or whatever it is they do.
‘Icovid leyi ibuye lendlala mdara’ (This covid spells hunger and doom for us). It does seem to me that neighbours will have to chip in and help each other.
There is simply no way out. In squashed township dwellings, such as Mbare and Makokoba, one person contracting the pestilence is really just a downright tragedy. The snowball effect is too much to countenance. I pray that it does not happen because winter is coming.
Power of habit
Habits are hard to break. People are used to getting out and socialising. You would think that seeing as we are all somehow connected via social media and phones which have now become like new human limbs, cyber connectivity would be enough to assuage the human need to belong. No.
Actual physical human contact is apparently irreplaceable. I personally find that visits to the press club and to friends and family, things I took for granted are precious. The lesson I am re-learning is that everybody needs somebody. Whereas in the hum drum of the past few weeks, one could linger in answering calls, now it is a different matter altogether. For now, however, we must keep distance from each other if only to save each other from a terrible fate of falling sick and even dying alone. That is this disease’s cruel irony.
I must say that the recent pronouncements by government to mobilise resources toward the fight are a step in the right direction. I just pray that the government can rise to the occasion and make sure that what is meant for the poor and hard pressed does not reach them at this critical time. It is time for all to listen to our better angels.