When the lockdown in South Africa began three months ago, we made jokes about staying at home and doing nothing. We even had challenges on social media where we teased each other, laughed and enjoyed our “free” time. However, students in all institutions of higher learning were engulfed with anxiety and confusion about the online/remote learning they were about to embark on. Many were anxious because in the coming months, they were to be conferred with their hard-earned qualifications.
Although we had confidence in ourselves and knew we had the potential to direct our own learning, many could not fathom out how to study at home, as our homes are not conducive for learning.
We thus not only made jokes and took part in social media challenges, but also lamented the challenges we would inevitably face as a result of the lockdown. Unemployment, gender-based violence and other kinds of abuse threaten our mental and physical stability. We knew that COVID-19 was not only a health issue, but a socio-economic and spatial one. It exposed the economic disparities confronting South Africa, with many households brought to their knees by the pandemic. While the government did increase social grants and accommodated the poor, vulnerable and unemployed, the majority of South Africans live in abject poverty.
As community outreach and development persons who are concerned with providing help to marginalised and vulnerable people, we used this critical period to be a voice for the voiceless. We explored various ways in which we can meet the government halfway, muck in and be of help to people who may need our help.
For us, this was and continues to be directed towards transforming societies in these unprecedented times. With the lockdown rules and regulations in place, we were obliged to stay indoors and offer “distant help” to those in need. We were forced to embark on a journey we have never been on before, which is “online community engagement”. There is no doubt that the “new normal” will be our normal now. It made us appreciate helping those within our reach. In this “new normal”, we had to resort to hosting events virtually; online career guidance to high school learners and out-of-school youth; online tutoring/teaching and engagement in some helpful online talks. This helped a large number of learners who were on the brink of losing hope. The motivation sessions also made a huge difference. Whether we like the situation or not, with or without the virus, we vowed to be agents of change. We know that the going is getting tough and that things will never be the same again, but positive lessons can be drawn from this. Teaching and learning can take place everywhere and anytime if opportunities are created. Where there is a will, there is a way.
We encourage South Africans to never give up. We should not write ourselves off. Let us go back and rekindle the tips we gave each other during the first week of lockdown. Let us embrace the “new normal” and be active citizens. It starts with you! As the saying says “kwahlwa, kwasa” (It dusked, it downed).
Mr Luthando Molefe is a postgraduate student (Teacher Development Studies) and a Research Assistant at UKZN’s School of Education. Miss Yolokazi Mfuto is a postgraduate student (Political Science and International Relations) at the University of Fort Hare’s Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities.