The Power of the Pandemic to Unite and Divide

Written by 10:06 am Business, People Focus

The Pandemic is causing suffering and devastation to people and our economy. But its the same pandemic that is uniting us around a common cause.

The Power of the Pandemic to Unite and Divide

While COVID-19 has undoubtedly destabilized our lives and created lots of uncertainty, with more to come. It has also highlighted the polar opposite experiences people are having of the pandemic.

COVID creates Opportunities and Threats

‘We needed a crisis to reset’ is the mindset of those welcoming in the opportunity to change what wasn’t working. Less travel with less pollution, a little sanity in our day brought about by time gained from not commuting.  A global crisis uniting us all to do something good, forcing us to stay home, slow down, and reconnect with what matters. Versus the threat experienced by those in lockdown who have had their freedom of movement revoked. The freedom that enables informal workers to step outside their home to earn an income. Employment is prevented, income dries up, and putting food on the table is an everyday struggle. The lockdown that set out to save lives is a threat to livelihoods.   

Going Online vs Standing Inline

The start of the lockdown sent one group of the population online while the other had to stand in line. Adoption of e-commerce has accelerated as people practice social distancing and visit physical stores less often. A South African Kantar study indicates that 35% are visiting physical stores less often and 22% are shopping more online.  Nillionaires (a group having little to no money) on the other hand stood in line to queue to get into physical stores, to receive food parcels or social grants.

The Pandemic has made us Better Off and Worse Off

For some of us, a by-product of the lockdown has been saving. Our petrol bill has reduced, we spend less on eating out, socializing and shopping and incidentals (like that expensive daily coffee). On the other hand, the very means of having an income as a starting point from which to save has been removed. As informal traders, taxi drivers, hospitality workers, construction workers to name a few are no longer able to go out and earn an income.

The Nutritional Gap Widens

In-home eating widens the nutritional gap between high and low-income groups as cash strapped consumers reach for cheaper, less nutritional, and processed foods. While higher-income groups seed out fresh, immunity-boosting foods, supplements, and vitamins.

Space and Safety to Quarantine

For many in lockdown, home is now our base, we work, school, gym, and socialize and as humans, we’ve adapted quite well to our new normal. Lockdown in informal settlements presents a host of constraints over and above the lockdown challenges. Practicing social distancing becomes impractical. The average household size is 5 members and up, consisting of family members and extended family members. Families with extended families have increased tension and anxiety with some forced out of their homes to get a moment to themselves. Going outside is equally risky as staying indoors, particularly when considering that some can no longer find reprieve from their abusers.

Screen Saturation

Screens have enabled us to a large extent, to recreate our pre COVID lives, in-home. We work on a screen, get taught on a screen, we shop on a screen, entertain and keep up to date on a screen, we exercise on a screen and even worship on a screen. We are heavily reliant on a screen to maintain some sense of normal in our lives. It is this very screen that is draining us and depleting us when we spend too much time on it (Zoom fatigue is a real phenomenon). While screens appear to be less pervasive in lower-income households, spending more time indoors means more time on screens. This user group is keen to spend more time on screens, but they are limited by the high cost of data. Accessible platforms such as FaceBook Lite and WhatsApp overcome the challenges of high data costs.

A glimmer of hope?

The harsh reality is these opposites existed pre-COVID and all the pandemic has done is further deepen these divides.  Ironically, the same thing that is deepening the divide, COVID-19, is pulling us together and connecting us around a common purpose.  The pandemic has brought about suffering and hardship, but this crisis is uniting us around a common purpose, to do good.  From Gogo’s in the townships making face masks, Mom’s in the suburbs distributing food parcels, Teleco’s giving free data to students, Ride-Hailing services providing free rides to health care workers and so many individuals, brands and organisations doing amazingly, good things.  COVID-19 has called on all of us to make a better social impact.  This crisis elevates the social impact of every business and throws a spotlight on the nature of our companies, our character, and our brand(s).  Now is the time to unite to do good. 

Tags: , , , Last modified: August 6, 2020
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