I had been back in South Africa for about 10 hours when President Ramaphosa announced the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions, allowing alcohol sales again. For my colleagues in Johannesburg, this was good and bad news.
Obviously good because they could restock, though many of them claimed that they were doing their annual “dry January” and had hardly felt inconvenienced by not being able to go to the bottle store or have a glass of wine at their favourite restaurant.
It was bad in that, had the president made that speech 24 hours earlier, I might have been able to bring them some Scottish whisky that’s not the usual they find at Pick n Pay Liquor. Settling for Glenmorangie can’t be described as the biggest hardship in the world, so I didn’t feel too bad for too long.
The timing was all the pity because, with the lockdown, alcohol was about the only thing I could have realistically brought back home as the UK’s non-essential shops were closed. The British have a different approach when it comes to the definition of “essential”, and alcohol is deemed as such.
Unfortunately, it was illegal to bring it home. So, in a sign of the times, the gift I managed to bring home was a tartan face mask. As I handed it to my friend, we talked about how strange it was that face masks had become a thing. And then came a startling discovery.
Another friend who lives in Japan had bought her a beautiful face mask for her birthday. Friend in Japan sent you a gift? And how did it get here? I almost fell off my chair when she said via the Post Office. The SA Post Office actually works! I’m still in shock.
The British have a different approach when it comes to the definition of ‘essential’, and alcohol is deemed as such
The last time I went to my local post office was to try to renew my car licence. It took three visits of me arriving and being told “the system is offline” before I finally gave up and tried the recommended alternative — a different branch. It must have been the only one in Johannesburg working at the time as the queue was rather long — or was it because of social distancing?
Discovering that we have a post office with any functionality sort of spoiled the punchline to my other story. I had arrived from South Africa just as the UK press was becoming hysterical about what they call the “South African Covid-19 variant”. Track and trace there, which is much criticised by the locals, actually works. It wasn’t long before I got a call from someone telling me that since I had flown from South Africa, I would need to take a Covid-19 test on top of the 10-day quarantine. Where do I go for the test? “We’ll just send you the box and you administer it your-self,” came her answer.
She then made the outrageous suggestion that when I was done, I should walk to the end of the street and simply drop the test in the red mailbox. Sure enough, about 24 hours later, I had my test result.
I’m still impressed that minister of communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams managed to get my friend’s face mask to her a mere two months after it was posted in Japan. But can I imagine that she’ll ever deliver a postal service so efficient that you could entrust it with something more important? I like to look on the bright side, so I take comfort in the fact that while it’s going to be a long wait, at least Covid-19 will be ancient history by then, and we will be back to trading more conventional souvenirs.
• Mnyanda is the editor of Business Day.
• From the March edition of Wanted, 2021.