Humanity’s epic struggle with the coronavirus, which at the time of writing has had us locked down for seven weeks with no end in sight, has been likened to war.
So it is rather apt to think of the saying that when it comes to war, truth is the first casualty. It’s also ironic that the question of who first came up with the saying is also heavily disputed. It may have been uttered by US senator Hiram Warren Johnson in 1918, although this was not recorded, according to The Guardian. But it may also date back to the 18th century, via Samuel Johnson.
The struggle over the past couple of months has pretty much also been about whose version of truth you choose to believe. And social media hasn’t helped, with its ability to spread myths and half-truths with clinical efficiency.
Even “facts” that are seemingly obvious and out in the open are subject to dispute.
Take the curious story of Sweden and its more lax attitude to physical distancing. It was often cited by those opposed to lockdowns as a model of success despite its higher death rates compared to neighbours such as Norway. Even the US, which by the middle of May had the highest numbers of infections, had fewer mortalities per 1-million people.
And here in SA, one had to decide whether they believed the government’s line that the virus was the source of our impending economic destruction, or the official opposition’s view that the mitigation efforts, including the punishing lockout, would kill more people than the virus.
A herd-immunity strategy sounds great but I’m not keen to end up in hospital —
The latter seemed, to me, to be advocating something dangerously similar to the cavalier approach that did nothing for UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s reputation and landed him in hospital for his troubles.
As for me, I’m happy to mostly stay at home and binge on Netflix when not working. A herd-immunity strategy sounds great but I’m not keen to end up in hospital — or worse.
If not downright lies, it’s also been a time for hyperbole. By some accounts, we’re living in the Soviet Union ruled by a command council, with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as Joseph Stalin’s enforcer. You’ve probably seen the one about the government acting like the Taliban. I enjoyed the response pointing out that, supposedly, Mullah Omar never went as far as banning cigarettes.
Social media has its role in these dark times. But were the warnings about a government developing an unhealthy authoritarian streak that far from the truth?
It seems a long time ago that we were told we could have a little bit of freedom and leave our homes to exercise for three hours in the morning. That novelty quickly wore off for me as I struggled to get out of bed by the 9am deadline, let alone get up, go for a run, and be back in my “prison” by then.
But that’s not the point. That first weekend, I managed, just. As I headed back I looked at the time and realised it had just gone past 9am. And then there it was. A police van driving towards me.
For a split second I was transported to a different SA, and it was not a good feeling at all.
• Mnyanda is the editor of Business Day.
• From the June issue of Wanted 2020.