South Africans started to receive the COVID vaccine on the 17th of February. Four weeks later, roughly 147,753 have received the shot. The daily average sits at 5910 according to Media Hack who have calculated that it should take the country 18 years, 6 months and 8 days to vaccinate 67% of the population. This might not seem a long time in Eskom years, but is a considerable period to spend in some form of lockdown.

Much like the last 13 years with loadshedding, information regarding the next delivery of vaccines is vague. Little detail with regard the volumes, no real information has been provided as to when significant deliveries will take place and there is a sense that we are just being played for time.

Both government and private medical aids would do well to remember the words of American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel

Right now, the feeling that we will remember is one of abandonment. In a year’s time when hopefully we have received the vaccine and when life will have returned to normal, we will not remember that only 40,000 out of 80,000 vaccines arrived one unremarkable Saturday in March. We won’t remember the reasonable delay of the Astra Zeneca vaccine. But we will remember how we felt during the pandemic.

We will remember the positivity and the unity that we felt when President Ramaphosa stood before the nation, we will remember with tenderness just how strained and stressed he appeared in the early days, and how “together” we felt when he struggled to put on a mask. We laughed with him and not at him because for that moment our president was each of us and we were him.

And then we will remember the horror and the disappointment that we felt when we realized that there was no depth to which the corrupt would not sink when information of the PPE scandals came to light. And we will remember how frustrating it is that so few South Africans have access to vaccines. And we will remember that we weren’t trusted enough to receive honest communication. And we will feel disrespected. As if we were children who couldn’t handle the adult conversations.

Private medical aids will be judged along with government. Even if not by their choosing, they have aligned themselves with the success or failure of the national vaccine plan. In essence they have co-branded with the ANC. They will perhaps be judged even more harshly because we grown to expect so much more. We might rationally be aware that there is centralized procurement and that there is a shortage of vaccines. But as we watch other countries vaccinating their population, and whilst we receive little if any communication, our sense of abandonment grows.

Members of private medical aids are unlikely to recall the sporadic, carefully crafted, but empty communication they have received. They will forget the assurance that the medical aids will be there for their members, or the implied promise that there is a lot going on behind the scenes. What will be remembered is the silence and the disappointment. What will instead be remembered is how they had to provide themselves with explanations and   “filled in the gaps” on information never received. What will be remembered is the feeling of  abandonment.

One of the most difficult challenges for a company or organization is to change a negative perception or feeling. Because they linger and often lie dormant. Many a company thinking that a past negative is no longer relevant has been shocked by the ferocity with which it returns. It might not be expressed now, or in a year, but that there is little doubt that the feeling of abandonment will resurface when the organization least expects it. And worse, can least afford it.

South African media has an important role to play. It needs to ask the questions that citizens are unable to. It needs to probe and interrogate and demand accountability. The “we are all in this together” approach works when each of us do what it is that we are meant to do. Government needs to up its game and procure vaccines, medical aids need to push harder to be allowed to serve their members and media needs to drive accountability and stop simply acting as a government mouthpiece. If we don’t do this, there is more than a good chance that Madupi will be fully functional before we reach herd immunity.

Leave a Reply