Silver lining or cause for concern?

For me, 2020 has been the most challenging year I’ve experienced. The COVID-19 global pandemic brought all economic activities to a complete halt and all schools, as well as higher learning institutions, to a close. At the same time, the scourge of gender-based violence and racism has increased in our country. Many of us supported the black lives matter campaign; because racism is also a crisis in our country.

The halt in economic activities has been felt acutely in small towns. Where I come from, near the world heritage site, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, commonly known as St Lucia Wetland Park, the economic activities are largely dependent on tourism. Several hotels, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, boat cruises, game drives, shops – to name but a few – cater for tourists. This has impacted many families in nearby villages as the majority of employees come from these villages.

Some people lost their jobs due to the lockdown. Others have had to live on the payments from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). Some survived these tough times on the elderly pension grant or the child support grant. Not only has it had a negative impact on people’s finances but has also seen to the closing down of many small businesses. Even large-scale businesses have had major financial struggles.

As lockdown restrictions have eased there is a bit of a silver lining, we have hope that the economy will bounce back a bit as many businesses open. Some feel it is a cause for concern as some may get reckless and forget to abide by the restrictions.

As if wrestling with the economic crisis was not enough, the community also had to deal with the fear of not knowing how best they can protect their children. A three-year-old girl went missing for five days from my village. Every parent in the village took new measures to keep their children safe and kept their gates locked day and night. For parents who had to return to work, leaving their children at the neighbour’s house was suddenly a challenge. The child was found alive, thank God. The entire village took part in the search and this sparked hope in most that perhaps a degree of humanity still exists in our society.

The ball, therefore, is in our court if we want to be a society that does good. What are we ready to do to change as individuals and in our homes? And for the growth of our economy, are we prepared to play our part, however little it may be?

I am reminded of a quote by Helen Keller, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Even if it’s a challenge, are we willing to stand together?

“When people are determined they can overcome anything,” Nelson Mandela, the father of our nation, said. How determined are we to make this change?

Ms Nonto Thulile Mhlongo

Nonto Mhlongo works at the St Lucia Retreat and Training Centre giving retreats. She has completed the spiritual direction training programme with the Jesuit Institute.
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