Dear Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma…

Dear Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma,

I write to you in my private capacity as a citizen of South Africa, just in case the media read it wrong, again.

I watched your NCCC briefing today. I decided at the outset to give you the respect due to you – as an elder. Without the usual judgement that we’re all prone to, I listened not to get angry or find fault, but with an open mind.

Minister, I see a woman who is directly in the vulnerable age group and who has put herself on the front-line, not someone commanding from a safe distance – most people your age are retired and relaxing at home. I see someone who appears to me to be trying her level best to navigate uncharted territory, just like all of us. You said yourself that government has made mistakes and asked for our patience and support – and that isn’t asking much. I see someone who has overcome a great deal of adversity and male chauvinism, not to mention nastiness from a public who like to cast you as the villain. I feel it is time for us to find ways to be less destructive and more collaborative.

Because we’re all feeling threatened and the future is uncertain, the best and worst in all of us has come to the fore. On social media I see friends turning on each other, people saying unbelievably mean and callous things about those they disagree with, even when they’re disagreeing about minor things. It almost seems like we have forgotten how to be civil to each other. That will undoubtedly make things worse, and nobody wants us to emerge from this crisis morally poorer as well as having lost loved ones and jobs. At least we have a choice about our attitudes.

Now, I shouldn’t have to say this, but if I don’t people will think I’m a traitor to my principles: There are a great many things you and I disagree on – the tobacco ban, the liquor ban, the curfew – in fact, I have been against the lockdown from the start. I think it has done enormous damage to us, and to many other nations. Nobody will find themselves immune from this unprecedented situation, and the costs are mounting. No doubt some will interpret this letter as an about-turn, and just like the group who had a problem with my letter to the president, I don’t care if they don’t like me after this one.

But Minister, who cares if you and I disagree? We will both find ourselves in a very different country after this lockdown and we can either treat each other decently now and at the end, or exhaust ourselves arguing about what might have been done better. The former may result in some positive things, the latter only in bitterness. We should do what sensible, responsible people do – wear masks, wash our hands, avoid putting others in danger – and we should get back to work and save South Africa.

By the way, your song with Max Hurrell is the one thing I loved about lockdown – even though I don’t zol.

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