Crisis requires all of us to do some soul searching_1

The sight of suburban South Africans descending on supermarket shelves this week like a horde of rampaging locusts – panic buying ahead of what they perceive to be a looming coronavirus apocalypse – was ugly. It showed that many of us still have a “laager” mentality, when we seek to hide away from the realities of life in our well-appointed cocoons. It showed that we are prone to panic and see the worst in every situation. In that sense, some of us are not much different from the American “Doomsday preppers” who stockpile fuel, food and ammunition against the day...
The sight of suburban South Africans descending on supermarket shelves this week like a horde of rampaging locusts – panic buying ahead of what they perceive to be a looming coronavirus apocalypse – was ugly.

It showed that many of us still have a “laager” mentality, when we seek to hide away from the realities of life in our well-appointed cocoons.

It showed that we are prone to panic and see the worst in every situation. In that sense, some of us are not much different from the American “Doomsday preppers” who stockpile fuel, food and ammunition against the day the barbarians storm their fortified hideouts.

While it may be true that some of the large bulk buying – from wholesale outlets like Makro – may have been done by those running small businesses and spaza shops – many of those in the queues were middle-class housewives buying up items like bread, which cannot be stored for long anyway.

It goes without saying that this sort of panic purchasing can, if taken to extremes, become a self-fulfilling prophecy, by creating a real, albeit, artificial shortage.

However, at a time when common sense is not that common among household shoppers, we would expect to see stores step in to limit quantities sold to individuals. It is gratifying to see that some of them have started doing just this.

There is definitely some merit in the argument that this is “privilege buying” … by the people who have the financial means to stock up on months’ worth of supplies, but also have a place to store these supplies.

What happens to the people – perhaps those living in shacks or townships – who cannot afford to stock up or don’t have a place to keep tins of canned food?

How do they feel looking at empty shelves in the stores, knowing that behind walls in leafy suburbs there is plenty?

Another ugly side of the coronavirus is the profiteering from those who are selling essentials such as hand sanitisers and face masks. Their prices have gone up many times more than they were just a few months ago.

It is interesting that, in the countries where the virus has successfully been countered – places like Vietnam and Singapore, for example – the authorities moved quickly to threaten rip-off artists with jail time.

And we believe that is the correct approach. This is the closest most of us are going to get to a serious war in our lifetimes. Wars call for sacrifice in the national good and for selfish attitudes to be parked for the duration. To do otherwise, we would suggest, borders on treason.

The government needs to lay down harsh regulations about hoarding and profiteering … and enforce them with jail time. Only then will the practices abate.

But this crisis requires all of us to do some serious soul searching – about how we live, how we treat others and how we view civic duty.

The “Blitz”, which began in Britain in 1940, welded people together against a common enemy and make the huge sacrifices – including rationing, which lasted more than 15 years – all worth it in the end.

Today, the planet consumes too much unnecessary “stuff”. People don’t care for the vulnerable – the poor, the elderly, the young and the abused.

If this global tragedy helps us, and the rest of the world to look at ourselves and say “we can do better”, then it will have been worth it in the end.

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