Play it again

June 10, 2021 § 2 Comments

When I was at university, and there were no student plays in production, I used to sneak into the theatre and commandeer the old upright piano that stood stage right.

Enveloped in darkness, I’d play inexpertly to the empty auditorium; if the building was empty, I’d sing along. Little by little I’d snatch pockets of stillness and fill them – and myself – with a little night music.

Decades later, I find myself with time on my hands in the evenings, and the alliterative combination of a piano, a pandemic and power failures that mean I could easily recreate those moments.

And yet, and yet… The piano lid is closed, the guitar and bass are in their cases, the steel drum gathers dust in a corner of my bedroom.

I want desperately to play, to release the song that’s fluttering, mothlike, behind my sternum, but I can’t even bring myself to sit down on the piano stool whose only role at the moment is to silently admonish me for not having had it re-upholstered.

It’s been troubling me, this inability to do the thing that brings me the greatest joy. I wondered if, perhaps, it was the company. I am seldom home alone now, and songwriting – when I do it, at least – is messy and sometimes downright ugly. When my kids were younger I would wait till they were asleep to write; now that they are grown, I’m in bed long before they are. And I’m a reluctant performer of my own songs at the best of times.

But tonight I figured out what’s really going on. Songwriting is messy. It takes me several hours to craft the lyrics, to tell a story, to get the rhythm and rhyme just so, and the melody to my liking. There are good chord progressions and then there are better ones, and key changes and ranges, and at this stage of the pandemic, I’m finding it all too much to contemplate.

Right now, I am so grateful for my work because it gives me a reason to throw back the covers in the morning, some days more reluctantly than others. But that’s it as far as motivation is concerned. That’s all I can muster as we grind through one pandemic-induced groundhog day to the next – the get up and go to get up and go to work.

And when I’ve met my deadlines for that day, and Zoomed and taken briefs and crafted a few thousand more words, I am spent. All I am capable of, is watching some TV in front of the fire till my eyelids start to droop.

But it’s OK, as long as I can feel the fluttering. Someday – hopefully sooner rather than later – this historic world event will end and, with any luck, we will make it through uninfected, if not entirely unscathed. My children will return to the normal social lives of young adults, and I will be alone with my piano in the dark.

I may falter at first. I may be less rhythm, more blues. But I’ll play it again, I’m sure. The fluttering tells me it’s still there, and it will rise up when I’m ready.

For now I must simply watch and wait.


June 3, 2021 § 2 Comments

A small peace lily in a red pot on a wooden desk.

Just over two decades ago, my friend Annette gave me a peace lily in a pot. “This is Jacek,” she said. “Do not let Jacek die. He is almost impossible to kill – his leaves will droop when he really needs water.”

These were important words. Up until then I had not been able to keep any potplant alive. When my latest plant died I would simply go and look for a bigger version of the same one, and replace it. Annette was not having any of it, and Jacek was placed in my care, like a foster child who needed love and nurturing.

Miracle of miracles, I managed to keep Jacek alive, mostly by glancing idly across the room from time to time, noticing the leaf droop, muttering an expletive, and quickly getting some water. For the past 25 years or so, Jacek was my only houseplant. He was divided a couple of times when he grew extra shoots, and passed on to others. He moved house with me twice. Once a year he would shoot out a pure white flower or two, and he was enough.

And then Covid-19 and its hard lockdown arrived, and something in me switched. I can’t explain it, but suddenly I walked into my grocery shop and gravitated towards the potplants and seed packets that have always been there, but which never really had any pull in the past.

I started propagating vegetable seeds in assorted containers, and later started a small vegetable garden. I scoured the pot plants on display, and brought them greedily home. I dug abandoned pots out of the back of my shed and broom cupboard, and displayed them all around the house. And with each additional plant my joy has grown.

I have become the sort of person who lovingly examines each plant for new growth, and delights in the slow unfurling of feathery fern fingers. I marvel at the stripy leaves of my most recent acquisition, which sits on a corner of my piano, and point out the stripes to my long-suffering children, who now pretend not to notice that another space in the house has been filled by a new set of leaves, a new pot.

And yes, I talk to my plants; I call them “Darling”. I even suggested to the fern that we be fronds the other day, and spent the next hour quietly cackling to myself.

Do I know their botanical names? Don’t be ridiculous. Do I know their common names? For the most part, no. “Darling” is enough; it’s enough just to know they are there.

While the world rages on outside, my plants continue to push out new leaves, and shoot out new roots. They turn to face the sun and move with the slight breezes that brush across them. I like to think that they laugh at my jokes.

But in their own quiet way, they are a daily reminder to me that as we shelter at home, waiting for the ravages of this pandemic to pass, life will – and does – go on all around us. And so will we, in time.

Just hear “no”

November 4, 2020 § 1 Comment

Years ago, I remember watching Oprah Winfrey interview Gavin de Becker, author of The Gift of Fear. It’s one of those books I keep meaning to read, and keep forgetting to buy, but that’s by the by.

It was a fascinating interview: De Becker is a security expert and he was talking about how people who listen to the instincts, who have a gut feel that something is off, and get away from that situation immediately, usually end up literally saving their lives.

And then he said something that stopped me dead. He said that if you said “no” to someone and they started to push back, you should ask them this question: “Why are you trying to manipulate me?”

It’s not enough, you see, to teach children or adults to say “no”. We also have to teach our kids, and learn ourselves, that when someone says “no” to us, that’s the end of it.

This idea usually falls within the context of sex and consent – that one party should be able to say “no” and the other should respect it, always. And that is certainly true. But it should also hold in a myriad other situations.

Discussion to try and understand is one thing. Guilting or cajoling or otherwise bargaining people into changing their minds? That’s manipulation. It’s a fine line, but it’s there.

And I will always be grateful to Gavin de Becker for pointing that out – because I have seen it play out over and over again, and he’s spot on.

Sweet clarity

September 9, 2020 § 3 Comments

I am not enamoured of the physical aspects of ageing: the rogue hairs sprouting where they have no business to do so, the increasing proliferation of grey hairs I find on my clothing – which must mean they belong to me, I guess – the general sagging and loss of volume in some places and, ahem, increases in volume in others.

No, I am not enamoured of any of this, and I will probably still be grumpy about it at age 100, which is the minimum age I intend to be.

But what I love, what I truly love, is the clarity I seem to be gaining – about who and what works for me, and doesn’t. About what is important to me, in life in general – and what isn’t. About what I want – and don’t want.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m a late bloomer in this regard – there seem to be an awful lot of much younger people who have figured all this out already. I don’t know if I am a late bloomer, and I don’t think it even matters.

All I know, is that after half a lifetime of people pleasing, I care less and less about what other people think, and I properly understand that looking after me, and being completely and utterly myself, is the best way to look after the other people I care about.

Sweet clarity. It’s been worth the wait.*

*And almost worth the grey hair and general sagginess. Almost.

Eating at home

September 2, 2020 Comments Off on Eating at home

On Saturday morning, for the first time in five or six months, I ventured into one of my favourite coffee shops for breakfast. I say “ventured into”, but actually I sat outside, alone at my sanitised table and appropriately far away from other human beings.

It was an unmitigated disaster. The restaurant was not at fault – I just couldn’t relax. I moved my chair – and sanitised my hands. I took a sugar sachet to add to my cappuccino – and sanitised my hands. I worried about whether the forks and cups and plates had been washed in hot enough water. It was so bad that it set off a huge anxiety attack. I didn’t enjoy the meal; I didn’t enjoy the outing. I paid as fast as I could – and sanitised my hands. And I left, vowing to avoid restaurants until such time as we can venture out safely without our masks again.

The restaurant industry will not suffer unduly as a result of my absence. If I eat out at a proper restaurant once a year it’s a lot – it’s simply not cost-effective for me. However, I do spend a lot of time in coffee shops – for work and for pleasure. They’re convenient for meetings, and you can usually find something to eat that isn’t overly expensive, or just grab a quick coffee and be done. They’re also a great place to go for a solitary breakfast, which I treat myself to from time to time – so I’ve missed that hour of quiet time every couple of weeks.

But it also got me thinking about eating out in general – about the difference in experience of my children’s upbringing versus my own.

My kids have grown up getting take-aways and going out to eat far more than I ever did. In 1970s and ’80s Port Elizabeth, and in our household in particular, eating out was a big deal. It happened maybe once or twice a year – and then it was a trip to the Wimpy for the biggest treat of all: the Bender Brunch.

I forget all of the ingredients of a Bender Brunch; no doubt there were fries, and possibly fried eggs, but the big attraction was the two vienna sausages – the benders in question – which had been partially sliced into portions and then cooked so that they curled into two pink C-shapes on the plate. Sorcery! Whenever we tried to replicate them at home, we’d cut too far through the sausages and break our benders before we could even cook them. And even when we got the cutting right, we could never quite get the perfect curl that the Wimpy achieved.

Occasionally my mother would send my father to get a bucket of chicken from Kentucky Fried Chicken – because that’s what we called it back then. There was just the one in the whole of PE – on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Cape Road in Newton Park – and it was the biggest treat to go with my dad to fetch the chicken and breathe in the warm air from their fryers, infused with the Colonel’s 11 herbs and spices. Oddly, we never bought chips from them – I don’t know if they were even on the menu, or if my parents just didn’t like them. Chips (South Africans will know them as slap tjips) were always purchased from the corner cafe in Linton Grange, on the way home from getting the chicken. But this was one of the best days of the year, seriously.

And then, when I was a teenager, we heard about a new place – the Pizza Inn. It was all the rage, and we persuaded my parents to go. We literally didn’t even know what pizza was, or whether we would like it, but everyone was talking about it, and so finally my parents loaded us in the car and we set off a little further down Cape Road to the only pizza restaurant in town.

We only ever went on a Monday night where you paid a flat rate and it was all-you-can-eat. There was no way they were going to splurge on buying each of us a different pizza. But on a Monday night, on one side of the restaurant there were tables with massive pizzas sporting various toppings and you could take as many slices as you wanted. It was a revelation, and I think we went maybe twice, although I did get there once or twice more through school and youth group outings.

I really don’t think we ate out even once a month. We ate at home. My mother cooked, and we were the cheap labour who peeled the vegetables for her. Friday nights were macaroni cheese, Sundays were roasts, or a braai. Most nights were meat and two vegetables. And actually, while I miss meeting my friends for a coffee, I’m happy to go back to that state of being, where eating out is a treat, and takeaways are a rare occurrence.

Of course there have been evenings where I’m dog tired, and ordering some pizza has been the only thing that makes sense. But actually, we’ve had some great homemade pizzas, I make a mean crunchy chicken burger and it’s easier than ever to make a good coffee at home.

I miss shooting the breeze with my friends over a hot latte – but it’s the connection, not the coffee per se that I miss. I do miss having someone else cook me a simple breakfast and leaving me in peace to eat it, but hey – I could strongarm my children into doing that if it were really essential. And not having to be in traffic to the school at the end of the day means I’ve had far more evenings where I could take time over dinner, where it felt less like a chore, and more like a kind of unwinding.

The Slow Food movement has been trying to get us all back in our kitchens for years – and in part, I think this pandemic has, at least, helped to achieve that. I’ve seen many people comment on social media, for example, that cooking at home has been a revelation.

So for now, I’m eating at home, and enjoying it. And grateful for the time that lockdown has given me to rediscover my cooking mojo – and remember the joy of those childhood treats.

Breathing room

August 28, 2020 Comments Off on Breathing room

I am well aware that the Covid-19 pandemic has wrought untold misery in many people’s lives. People have lost jobs, and loved ones, and I don’t think the after-effects are over by a long shot, so I don’t want to minimise any of that.

I do want to say, however, that I noticed a curious thing the other day. For the first time in at least two decades, I feel deeply rested.

It’s something of a paradox. I’ve worked really hard since lockdown began – with enormous gratitude that I have work at all, and cognisant of the fact that I needed to hustle harder than ever to ensure it stays that way. So there have been many evenings when I’ve sunk into my bed or onto the couch, depleted.

But here’s the difference: I no longer wake up feeling tired now, unless I’ve had a bout of insomnia or had my sleep disturbed by external factors. That constant, nagging exhaustion that has dogged me for so long, and which almost felt like part of me, is gone. Sleep actually restores me; I have the energy to attend to the small acts of self-care, the routines and rituals that make me feel like a person, like I could actually do something other than white-knuckle my way through another day.

I’ve been trying to figure out why and how this has happened. And I think it’s the paring back to essentials that has given me room to think and breathe and rest a little. Or a lot. I’m lucky in that my kids are both essentially adults and don’t need me to supervise their school and university work. There’s nothing they need me to do.

A bigger reason, I think, is that I’ve been able to completely dictate my own schedule. Most of my driving for the past two decades has been based around the needs of others – getting kids to school, taking them to extramurals and often, getting them back to school for concerts or recitals in the evening. During the day, it’s been the driving through Joburg traffic to unnecessary meetings – again, because clients demanded them, not because I felt they were necessary.

All of that is gone – all of the mental labour of calculating how to be at a myriad places and get everyone to where they need to be, and on time, and so is the time-wasting that accompanied it. Because as much as I have worked by the sides of fields and swimming pools, in the back row of darkened auditoriums or even in my car, when you’re driving you’re wasting precious time, and too often I’ve driven 45 minutes each way to a meeting I did not want to have, for it to take 10 or 15 minutes.

So I no longer need to get up at 4am to get everything done. I can rise at a more civilised 5am or 6am, and still have time to exercise and do some basic chores before my work day begins. In the evenings after work, there’s time for some relaxed piano practice before supper; at lunchtime I catch up on reading. And I still work as hard as I ever did.

Our days, as we shelter at home, have fallen into a rhythm of shared chores and each of us retreating to our respective working spaces to do what we need to do. In the evenings, as the temperature has sunk with the sun, we three have convened to the lounge and our fireplace after dinner, to watch what part of me feels is probably far too much television.

But it turns out that the simplicity of this routine has been just the ticket; the mindlessness of television watching has allowed me to unwind: not just at the end of the day, but completely. Of course, I still get tired or anxious or angry from time to time, as is appropriate – it’s not all sunshine and roses, and these are anxious times. But there’s a kind of underlying contentment, a settling in. For far too long my baseline has been exhaustion, and I have finally had enough space and time to rest properly, deeply, thoroughly.

Best of all, with all of this a subtle shift has come; a change in my internal energy. For years I’ve been sitting at my life coach and therapist wailing, “I don’t feel like me!” Well, now I do. I feel like old me – the me who left school and university feeling like the world was her oyster. The me who believes in herself and her own abilities. The me who fights for herself. The me who takes risks. (OK, so they’re calculated risks, and no death-defying activities will be undertaken, but still.)

And for that, and for the rest, I am grateful beyond measure.

For the love of reading

August 20, 2020 § 3 Comments

Sometimes I think the process of growing old isn’t so much about reinvention, as rediscovery.

One of my earliest memories is of being woken by my parents – I must be have four or so – where I had fallen asleep on the yellow brocade chaise longue, wearing my favourite rainbow-hued, slightly scratchy cardigan, with its see-through buttons. I had all my favourite things – a book, a quiet place and a comfy jersey, and I needed nothing.

I learnt to read early. My mother, a qualified teacher, taught me to read from the Ladybird Easy Readers (which I still own). I diligently sounded out the adventures of Peter and Jane, and by the time I rolled up for Sub A at Westering Primary School, aged five and a half, I could read fluently. I was always several steps ahead on the reading front, and had my nose in a book at every possible opportunity.

But life changes, and we change, and for the longest time, reading has been difficult for me. My love of reading was long seen as an inconvenience for others, a lack of attention for some people’s needs, or even an unacceptable way to spend a holiday. Because when I go anywhere, the pile of books that goes with me is always the largest and heaviest part of my luggage. (And yes, of course I know about Kindle. It’s just not the same for me.)

And so, as I fell into the role of peacemaker for many years, I also fell out of my lifelong habit of reading voraciously. Add a dollop of burnout for several years, and the fact that my job pretty much requires me to read eight hours a day, and I found myself at the point where I would fall into bed exhausted, pick up a book before lights out, and manage maybe a paragraph or two before my eyelids were just too heavy.

But something about this pandemic has changed all of that. There are anxiety-ridden days, certainly. But on the inbetween days, with no school lifting or external obligations of any sort, I’ve had the luxury of being able to completely determine the rhythm of my days. To work at the hours that suit me – and which can change from day to day – and to actually think about what I want to do with my days.

So, when I was looking for a reward for myself, while working on forming a new good habit, I hit on the idea of giving myself 30 minutes of time to read every day after lunch. And suddenly, I am enjoying reading again – after lunch, while I cook, when I wake up in the morning, and before bed. At every opportunity, really.

And I’ve motored through books, instead of struggling through them. I’ve enjoyed reading them. I feel like I’ve rediscovered not only my reading mojo, but it’s like regaining a memory that has been missing for decades. Decades, people!

And even though I’ve bought a handful of books that I just couldn’t resist (Amazon one-click is an evil thing) I’m also making my way through a to-be-read pile that took up two full drawers, with some books dating back more than five years. I may actually run out of books to read. Well, books that are currently in the house, at any rate. The world has more books than I’ll ever have time to read, even given the breakneck speed at which I consume words.

It’s just another tiny piece of me that is falling back into place, and that, dear reader, is one of the best feelings in the world.

Seeds of hope

August 5, 2020 § 2 Comments


During lockdown, I’ve been growing veggies from seed, and it’s given me a new respect for how long it takes to grow food, but it’s also been the most positive project to do when the world seems to be falling apart even more than usual.

Some I’ve transplanted from their germination in plant pots whose previous occupants succumbed to my lack of gardening prowess. In the picture, you see my latest method – to make little buckets from halved toilet roll inners, plant a seed in each one, and then plant the whole bang shoot (see what I did there) into the designated bed when it’s big enough to take root (I’m sorry, I can’t help myself).


This simple little project has felt a little like a metaphor for what we’re going through. Because you plant the seed, and you water it faithfully, and for a long time, nothing happens. Absolutely nothing. I’m talking several weeks of nothing but damp soil, no matter how many times you peer into the container.

But then one day, in one of the little toilet roll inners there is the faintest glimmer of green. And you don’t know if you’re imagining it, so you check again the next day – and it’s still there, and a little bigger than the day before.

And I’m fascinated that seeds that are planted at the same time, and which are the same plant, grow at their own rates. That different plants grow at different rates. The spinach races ahead; the onions really take their time.

But if you keep doing the right thing – adding water and sun – eventually they all get to the point where they can be planted out and grow into fully formed vegetables.

So, on days like today, when I’m tired and feeling meh, I look at my veggie babies and try to remember that we have to stay in the soil for a long time. Longer than we expect. But eventually, if we just keep doing the right thing, we’ll see that glimmer of green, and then it’s onward and upward from there.

We can do this, mon petit choux. Stay in the soil, keep doing the right thing, and then we can all go out into the open again.

The brown envelope financial plan

July 1, 2020 § 2 Comments


One of my enduring memories of my parents, is the gravity with which they sat down once a month to do the budget.

They always sat at the bigger of our two kitchen tables – the scrubbed pine one with the enamelled metal legs – and they always banished us so they could concentrate. Interruptions were met with a glare and a growl from my father, as he tapped at his calculator, and my mother’s facial expressions over his bowed head were a clear indication that trespassing was not welcome.

But a day or two later, the calculations having been done, my mother would return from the bank with a canvas bag of cash, and carefully divide it into brown envelopes – the kind with a paper ‘window’ for an address – and then she would stash the envelopes in a drawer in her dressing table.

These were the days before you simply swiped a card or waved your card at a QR code to pay for something. It was hard cash or a cheque, and my parents used cash. We were a single-income family – my dad earned a salary at a local tyre manufacturing company – and our living standard was probably in the lower to middle end of the average white middle class family in apartheid South Africa. But if we lived well, my guess is that it’s not because my dad earned a huge salary – it’s because my parents were so careful with money. Because of the brown envelopes.

Each one was labelled, you see. One for groceries. One for the gardener and domestic worker’s wages. Another for fuel. There were even some labelled ‘pocket money’ – for the kids, for my mom, and even my dad. The bulk of his salary went to taking care of his wife and children, but he knew he’d also want to pick up a snack or a drink at the office canteen, or buy a book, or treat himself in some small way – even that was in the budget. And there was no extra. The money in each of those envelopes had to last until the next payday.

Even though my mom didn’t work full-time outside of the home, she was always supplementing the household income – making school jerseys on her knitting machine, sewing wedding and matric dance dresses for friends and family, and later, when we were older, returning to work as a locum needlework teacher.

And it’s these lessons I return to now as the world faces a massive recession in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. There is already huge financial stress in many households at the moment as people lose jobs or face reduced incomes at an enormous rate, which compounds the already appalling unemployment figures in South Africa in particular. And I’m no expert, but when I read the predictions from economists, I think we’re all going to have to simultaneously strap ourselves in and tighten our belts – to mix my waistband metaphors.

So let me share some of the lessons I learned from my parents not just from the budgeting exercise, but from the way they organised their finances.

The financial lessons

  1. Be ruthless with luxuries – there are many things you think you need, which are actually non-essential. Sit with your bank statements and add them up to see how much of your budget they’re using. Unless you’re locked into contracts, get rid of them all, and don’t renew the contracts when they expire.
  2. Live within your means – after the debit orders have done their damage, take what’s left, subtract any upcoming fixed costs you know about, and divide the rest by the number of weeks in the month. That’s what you have to live on – make it work.
  3. Resist going into debt at all costs – beyond your bond, work on a cash-only basis as far as possible. If you don’t have the cash in hand, you don’t buy it. People are all too keen to go into debt for the luxury car, or the high-end clothes, but debts have to be serviced. And compound interest is a bastard if it’s not working in your favour.
  4. Always build in some wiggle room if you can – like my parents’ pocket money envelopes. There will be incidentals you didn’t anticipate, and it helps if there’s some cushioning built in.
  5. Save for a rainy day – whether it’s coins in a piggy bank, or a small percentage of your income, find a way. My piggy bank (optimistically emblazoned with the words “Future millionnaire”) has saved me on many an occasion.
  6. Look for opportunities to supplement your income – my mom’s knitting and sewing would be called a ‘side hustle’ today. It’s worth thinking about what you can do/make to earn a little extra on the side. It’s hard work, but it all helps.

The lifestyle lessons

  1. Don’t waste anything – use up leftovers, write on both sides of the paper, switch off lights when you leave a room, save water, repurpose cans and bottles and boxes. All of those tiny savings add up – many drops make an ocean.
  2. Fix before you replace – I am eternally grateful to my parents for teaching me to sew, to knit, to darn, to wield a drill and a hammer, and so on, but if you don’t know how, there are a million tutorials on YouTube to help you DIY almost anything. Obviously there are jobs best left to the professionals, but there’s so much you can do yourself.
  3. Do whatever you can yourself – cook from scratch, grow vegetables, do home manis and pedis, trim your own beard – whatever you can think of. There’s a lot you pay for that you could do yourself.
  4. Take an ‘enough’ approach – if a pair of jeans wears out and you have three others, do you really need to replace it? Do you honestly need another shirt or jersey or pair of boots? Or do you have enough?
  5. A little of what you fancy – we all need some treats, but the key is moderation. I have an old cake tin (the type you bake cake in) that belonged to my mother, and it’s just under half the height of a modern cake tin. A layer cake used to be a modest affair; now every cake you see is a towering ode to decadence. Most don’t taste nearly as good as they look, and are served in slices that are far too big to finish – there’s so much excess in the world. Have the occasional treat, but dial it back a little.

Beyond the rainy day

One of the great benefits of being someone who is always somewhere on the continuum between worry and full-blown anxiety, is my ability to catastrophise – to visualise the very worst-case scenario and to start planning for it months in advance.

Of course, the visualisation of a worst-case scenario doesn’t help the anxiety at all, but the planning for it does. I’m used to planning for the worst to happen, so impending catastrophe just fires up my strategy neurons, and I’m very grateful for this ability right now – it’s turning out to be a strength.

My anxiety and strategy brain is on high alert right now, and everything I read tells me there’s a strong chance we are hurtling headlong into a catastrophe, a financial Hurricane Katrina, not just a rainy day.

So overhaul your finances; overhaul them today. If it all turns out to be unnecessary, that’s better than the alternative.

(And yes, it’s going to take a truckload of discipline.)


Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash

‘n Boer maak ‘n plan – SA’s secret weapon

May 29, 2020 Comments Off on ‘n Boer maak ‘n plan – SA’s secret weapon

This morning, as I heard the unmistakable sound of a waste picker’s trolley rumbling past on the street outside, I had an optimistic thought: perhaps this pandemic will bring out a rash of creativity in South Africa. Perhaps we will see innovation like we’ve never seen it before.

Of course, there is likely to be a great deal of suffering and death too, as our economy opens up. I don’t mean to minimise that in the least. But it seems to me that South Africans across the board, ascribe to the principle of ‘n boer maak ‘n plan. For the uninitiated, it’s an Afrikaans expression that, literally translated, means ‘a farmer makes a plan’. But it’s about so much more – it speaks to creativity, improvisation, ingenuity, solution-finding – and there are examples all over South Africa.

Inadequate public transport from the townships to the suburbs and city during apartheid? Enter minibus taxis. No recycling services provided by government? Enter the waste pickers, who carefully work through suburban waste on bin day to find recyclable goods they can sell. And then they drag their very heavy loads for miles on their trolleys – another example – which are cobbled together from supermarket trolley wheels and bits of board.

Some startling innovations have come out of this country – heart transplants, CT scans and automatic pool cleaners being among the most famous. And what innovation most loves is a constraint – which makes me think that the ground is ripe for a burst of innovation.

I saw one guest house, for example, offering its rooms out as isolated workspaces for people who need to escape the work-from-home madness of small children and other distractions. It’s brilliant – a room with its own tea and coffee making facilities, it’s own bathroom, and WiFi. You hire the room by the hour, and they are cleaned and sanitised between guests. It’s a great example of creative thinking – it’s true out-of-the-box thinking, and it helps to keep the business going, and its employees in a job.

Those kinds of examples give me great hope. I know I have a tendency to idealism, but I don’t think I’m imagining it. Every day I see small examples of creativity all around me, from South Africans from all walks of life who have that attitude of ‘n boer maak ‘n plan. 

Admittedly, South Africans all too often use this attitude to find loopholes in the law, but that’s not the whole story. There’s no reason we can’t use these powers for good. With some thought and enthusiasm, I think we’re more than qualified to find unique solutions to the problems the Covid-19 pandemic poses, solutions that will make all of our lives safer and easier, and create jobs and incomes in the months and years ahead.

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