District Mail

Where were you when the earth stood still?

- Lise Bey­ers South Africa · Africa · George Gray · New York City · Diana, Princess of Wales · Paris · Nelson Mandela · London · Cape Town · John Lennon · John F. Kennedy · Berlin · Berlin Wall · William Welch · Trafalgar Square · Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd · Nagasaki

When the an­nounce­ment of lock­down hit us, for many like a wreck­ing ball against the chest, where were you?

I re­mem­ber that dreaded Mon­day evening that changed our lives for­ever well.

I had re­turned home from gym, made my­self a quick din­ner and poured my­self a tall glass of le­mon­ade. I then switched the telly on to lis­ten to Cyril’s speech, think­ing he was prob­a­bly just go­ing to re­cap on how things con­cern­ing the corona threat were go­ing.

The pre­vi­ous Sun­day the Pres­i­dent had an­nounced some pro­tec­tive mea­sures for com­bat­ing the virus, such as the im­me­di­ate clos­ing of schools un­til after the Easter week­end, no gath­er­ings of more the 50 peo­ple in one place and restau­rants be­ing pro­hib­ited from sell­ing al­co­hol after 18:00, among oth­ers.

These were just tem­po­rary mea­sures, we all thought, al­ready slightly ir­ri­tated. But then on 23

March 2020 the na­tion was shocked when a to­tal lock­down was an­nounced, which would be im­ple­mented just a few days later – giv­ing one a chance only for panic buy­ing.

I was flab­ber­gasted by the news. I re­mem­ber pour­ing at least three fingers of gin into my le­mon­ade and wan­der­ing across to my neigh­bour, who also hap­pens to be a good friend.

WTF was our stunned re­ac­tion. We are now well aware what the out­come of this shat­ter­ing an­nounce­ment is – com­plete eco­nomic col­lapse and South Africa plung­ing into what is start­ing to look like a dic­ta­tor­ship. And this is prob­a­bly how this his­toric an­nounce­ment will al­ways go down in the mem­o­ries of most.

But this was not the first time the world was stunned into si­lence. There have over the cen­turies been many mo­ments that made mankind stop and watch, talk and lis­ten.

Even at the time of smoke sig­nals, the bush tele­graph or pony ex­press, news of shock­ing events have been car­ried across the world – if per­haps not as timeously as now.

Over the last hun­dred years or so, with the ad­vent of the tele­graph, tele­phone, tele­vi­sion and, of course, the manic flood of dig­i­tal, in­stant news, which we all take for granted now, gen­er­ates global re­sponses from all corners of the earth.

The last time news knocked the socks off me was when ter­ror­ist at­tacks on the Twin Tow­ers in New York were first re­ported. It was prob­a­bly the first live, blow-by-blow ac­count of a dev­as­tat­ing world event.

Be­fore that I re­mem­ber be­ing wo­ken one Sun­day morn­ing by the news of Lady Di’s death in a car crash in an un­der­pass in Paris. By that time the tele­vi­sion chan­nels were al­ready full of live re­ports from the scene, and news­rooms had al­ready been com­pil­ing footage of the events of the weeks be­fore that cul­mi­nated in the Princess and her lover be­ing hounded to death by paparazzi.

Then, of course, who can for­get the road that led to the re­lease of Nel­son Man­dela in 1990? The world was glued to their tele­vi­sion screens, and world­wide large screens were even placed at such places as Trafal­gar Square in Lon­don, where thou­sands gath­ered to watch Man­dela take his first steps to free­dom.

Be­ing a mu­sic lover I re­mem­ber walk­ing through the streets of Cape Town in De­cem­ber 1980 to be in­formed of the news of Bea­tles su­per­star John Len­non’s mur­der by late af­ter­noon news­pa­per posters.

These mem­o­ries that will prob­a­bly stick out in my mem­ory till the day I take my last breath.

But through the gen­er­a­tions there have been many mo­men­tous oc­cur­rences that have stunned the world. In the last cen­tury alone there were ma­jor events that changed the course of his­tory.

There were many who re­mem­bered where they were when they first heard of the as­sas­si­na­tions of John F Kennedy and Hen­drik Ver­wo­erd, or the out­break of the First or Sec­ond World War. These, fol­lowed a close sec­ond by the dra­matic, haunt­ing im­ages of the nuclear bomb­ings of Hiroshima and Na­gasaki, which ended World War II. Then there was the Rus­sian Revo­lu­tion of 1917, which ul­ti­mately led to the decades-long Cold War, which ended with the 1989 dra­matic and long awaited fall of the Ber­lin Wall, an­other sem­i­nal event.

An un­known South African doc­tor stunned the world by dar­ing to per­form the first heart trans­plant, be­com­ing the first med­i­cal “su­per­star”.

Many space­craft launches were also tele­vised in the 1960s, as the world waited for the first per­son to set his foot on the moon. And this too was tele­vised live on 16 July 1969, cap­ti­vat­ing a world au­di­ence.

One won­ders what the news head­lines would have been in the days of Je­sus Christ.

But now, just as the world seemed to be set­tling down, a lit­tle virus ap­pears and wipes out the world as we know it – no bombs, no guns, no war, no revo­lu­tion. In South Africa, it has led to com­plete col­lapse and anar­chy due to id­i­otic and short­sighted de­ci­sions of the SA gov­ern­ment, lit­er­ally caus­ing the coun­try to fall overnight.

So, 23 March will go down in the an­nals of his­tory as the day we were doomed.

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