The 21 Days of Solitude in the Times of Covid-19

Dr Zweli Mkhize, Minister of Health


The 21 Days of Solitude Series

In the year 2120, future generations will look back to the year 2020 and ponder on how an “invisible virus” callously ravished the world. And read in retrospect, how our generation survived the pandemic. Almost in the same way, our generation cannot imagine the global devastation of the 1919 Spanish Flu, and how this invisible virus, killed almost 50 million in a space of two years.

In his seminal novel One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), Noble Prize author Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the history of the isolated fictional village of Macondo in Colombia and of the family who founds it, the Buendías. For years, the town has no contact with the outside world, just like many villages, towns and countries would be isolated in solitude – in the Covid-19 era, until the world – only God knows when – finds the scientific solution to control or defeat the pandemic. So that the global community can regain normalcy and a return to their civil life and liberties, again.

The novel explores the themes of solitude and timelessness within the framework of mortal existence, in the same way as the pronounced 21 days of national lockdown will induce a sense of social isolation and solitude amongst many. A time when many will grapple with a sense of timelessness and purposeless, as the 21 days of solitude drags in a dreary pace of monotony and entrapment.

Perhaps it is mostly prisoners who have the experience of solitary confinement, who might better be able to deal effectively with the prospect of social isolation and social distancing that is required to stem the spread of Covid-19 in communities, worldwide. In order to mitigate against the sense of endless monotony, spatial entrapment and restricted social contact with the outside world, it becomes imperative that individuals, families and communities – depending on their habitat settings – become innovative and creative on how to productively and meaningfully put to use the 21 days or 1 140 000 hours, available to them during the Covid-19 lockdown.

In the absence of any vaccine or cure for the sly Corona Virus, it would seem that the only currency at the disposal of many South Africans is faith, resilience and hope. Faith for a spiritual intervention – from all forms of extra-terrestrial and supernatural powers – that some higher spiritual power will provide scientific knowledge and political leadership to find solutions to the biological scourge.

Resilience to be able to survive the health and socio-economic challenges that will confront many communities especially the underprivileged and vulnerable. Hope – that thing that Orrack Obama called “the audacity of hope” – that South Africa, the African continent and the global community will finally prevail in its collective endeavours to find a vaccine and cure for Covid-19.

In his book, The Anatomy of Hope: How People Prevail in the Face of Illness (2003), Jerome Groopman MD, writes: “Hope is one of our central emotions, but we are often at a loss when asked to define it. Many of us confuse hope with optimism, a prevailing attitude that “things turn out for the best.” But hope differs from optimism. Hope does not arise from being told to “Think Positively,” or from hearing an overly rosy forecast. Hope, unlike optimism, is rooted in unalloyed reality. Hope is the elevating feeling we experience when we see – in the mind’s eye- a path to a better future. Hope acknowledges the significant obstacles and deep pitfalls along that path. True hope has no room for delusion.”

When we hope for something, we employ, to some degree, our cognition, marshalling relevant information, to a desired future event. That “vision or picture” of a desired future – of a Covid-19 free future – is painted in part by assimilating information about our human behaviour in dealing with this invisible common enemy, as well the anatomy of the Covid-19 virus and its potential treatments.

So, the 21 Days of Solitude Series – sponsored by Times Group in partnership with the Temba Heritage Project – seeks to inspire a sense of inspiration and hope that today will be better than yesterday, and that by the end of the current lockdown – the environment and our communities will be better and safer for normal living.

The 21 Days of Solitude Series, will also explore creative ways in which individuals, families and communities can live through the Covid-19 lockdown era. Hopefully, the articles published will also unlock innovation and change our perspective on how we can become part of the solution towards arresting the spread of the virus through exemplary behaviour, whilst the health caregivers are attending to the infected and the scientists on the other hand, are seeking for that elusive vaccine and cure with an accelerated sense of urgency.