South Africa: Back to the Future With Covid-19 As War Talk Dominates the Discourse


Have we forgotten all the lessons we learnt from the HIV-AIDS pandemic? Of how to mobilise a multi-sectoral response and sensitive interventions? Instead, we are confronted by a 'command centre' that responds with metaphors of war. This is so wrong, on so many levels.

If I remember correctly, in the 1990s/early 2000s when war metaphors dominated explanations of the HIV-AIDS pandemic, a common question was: who are we fighting - the virus or the hosts? Déjà vu, with President Cyril Ramaphosa's recent reference to South Africans being at "war" and in a "war zone" in relation to the current restrictions on people's rights. The statement is ominous. In a war zone, the inhabitants are collateral damage, if not the enemy.

We are, of course, not at war. We are back on familiar ground in the face of the president's and other ministers' facile explanations of why the government is acting the way it is. The explanations are much like those of the government in the early 2000s when civil society was trying to get Thabo Mbeki and his ministers to understand science and provide antiretroviral treatment for HIV-infected people. This time, South Africans have the advantage of lessons learned from...

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