Easter is a time to challenge the iniquities of the pandemic
The past year has been a time of darkness. It has been gruelling, a year of grief and anxiety, of challenge and adaptation. The months of lockdown have been hard, especially for the women and children who are victims of domestic and gender-based violence. Competition for resources has added to racial tensions. And the suffering continues for those impoverished by the lockdown.
Even as humankind achieved new heights in a mission to Mars, the pandemic forcefully reminded us that our existence is conditional, impermanent and reliant on the infinite grace of the God we worship.
The stresses have sometimes brought out the worst in us. There are those who have stolen from the common purse, who have plumbed the depths of corruption, who have stolen the very breath of those struggling to breathe in intensive-care units. They have denied others, especially the poor, the means to cope with the effects of the pandemic.
Their behaviour is all the more sad because we hoped that, by throwing us together to face a common crisis, the pandemic would make us rise to the occasion by creating a different future.
Across the world we spoke of different economic models, of systemic ways of caring, of respectful relationships and honouring difference.
But we seem to have slipped into a business-asusual approach where the few benefit and the many suffer. We stand accused of missing the moment and condemning our sisters and brothers, and the earth which nurtures us, to relentless injustice and human wrong. In our country we see again how our democracy is being tested, how constitutionalism stands at the crossroads and how too many with power abuse it.
Yet we recall the good that emerged, the sacrifices of frontline health workers, of those who ensure that we have food and keep our environment clean, of all who take risks and with generosity of spirit have kept us going. Their dedication is perhaps epitomised best by those in hospitals and other institutions who have gone above and beyond their everyday duties, and have held up cellphones to enable those who are ill or dying to speak to their families.
Above all, we can celebrate the achievements of scientists who have developed, in record time, vaccines to fight the pandemic. We owe much to our scientists, including the researchers in SA.
Now that we know science can beat Covid-19, we face the next challenge: to live up to the highest ideals of our different faiths and moral codes, and to ensure that everyone, whether rich or poor, whether they live in Africa or in Europe, is vaccinated quickly.
The scientists have done and continue to do their work — now it is for leaders in other fields, in the government, in the pharmaceutical industry, in transport, to match the achievements of the scientists and to find ways of rolling out vaccines that ensure the citizens of every country receive jabs at a similar rate.
Internationally, the prospects are bad. Vaccine nationalism has taken hold. A quick check this week showed that while the US had vaccinated 16% of its population, we had covered less than 0.5% and many countries haven’t seen vaccines at all.
As I told Dr Anthony Fauci in the US in a recent letter, the voluntary vaccine supply mechanisms, such as Covax, and the bilateral agreements to procure vaccines across the world, are failing. And they are failing especially for the global south, where the poor are suffering from vaccine apartheid.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement this week that agreements with pharmaceutical companies will bring us enough doses to vaccinate 41-million of our people, and that the most vulnerable among us will begin receiving our jabs in the middle of May, is welcome. But in view of the fragility of some of our health infrastructure, I am sceptical of how quickly the rollout will progress. Those covered by the private health-care industry and who are on medical aids can feel more confident. I am worried that, as is often the case, the poor and the marginalised who use state facilities will suffer.
There are large areas of our country where political corruption has poisoned public healthcare systems. Political leadership has been lacking in the worst areas affected; shame on those who have left hospitals and clinics short of people, equipment and protection. I have read that on the current strategy it would take 18 years to vaccinate our entire present population.
We are a world-class country. Our medical scientists are world class. Ten years ago, we built world-class soccer stadiums and ran a world-class World Cup. Distributing and administering vaccines is not rocket science, it’s just getting the logistics right. If humankind can send a spacecraft 470-million kilometres to Mars, surely South Africans can come up with a co-ordinated plan to get vaccines quickly to every corner of our country.
Easter gives us hope to insist that those who have power and resources come up with a timetable for getting everyone their vaccines.
Let us renew our determination, let us remember our resilience, let us bemoan the corruption that brings death, let us weep for the 52,000 people who have died in the pandemic. Above all, let us challenge our government to be transparent and fair in the rollout. While vaccines will not do away with Covid-19, they will help us cope better with it. And let us take those vaccines.
Let us also challenge vaccine nationalism. You can’t put a flag on the vaccine and hope the virus will not cross borders. Let us challenge the vaccine apartheid. Let us fight those with money and who are greedy, who put profits above human life, and who determine who can have access to a vaccine and who not.
Easter provides answers to the deepest questions of the human spirit. The Easter message says love is the most durable power in the world, that we will solve Covid and get our families, friends and neighbours vaccinated. And through devotion to equality and justice solve our problems and challenges.