Letter from Cape Town: Post Covid-19 fears and hopes

Former Plettenberg Bay resident and retired urban designer ALASTAIR GRANT shares sentiments that transcend the general doom-and-gloom norm of pandemic musings


I believe that life will never return to normal - whatever that means - and in some ways it will be for the good. There is a fair chance that the economy will be of a different shape (according to the Doughnut economic model with nine ecological ceilings pictured on this page), more diverse, inclusive and sharing.

Young entrepreneurs will find new opportunities to make a living and thrive. They will be involved in some things we could never have imagined. Recreational activities will adapt.

Tennis, athletics, cycling, equestrian events, aquatic activities, and golf will have few difficulties, but rugby and football matches will face challenges to survive as spectator sports.

I fear for the risks of social unrest and the difficulties of making the necessary changes. I worry about the restrictions on gathering which our children and grandchildren may have to endure for years.

The world economy could be nothing like it was BC19 and the balance of power may change. Jobs will be scarce for unskilled people. There will likely be more poverty and all that goes with it.

Crowded and poorly-heated homes will continue to be commonplace. Air travel will be much curtailed, and social life may be restricted to small local gatherings, while big events may rarely occur.

It is sad, during lockdown, to hear of cancelled weddings - now a worldwide occurrence - but this will pass. Theatres and orchestral performances, as we know them, may not survive.

I hope our children and grandchildren will enjoy something like the life I enjoyed before plastic was invented and we went to school on bicycles, when classrooms were uncrowded with less than 30 children each.

When we could leave the front door open and the back door was seldom closed. The post was efficiently sorted and delivered daily. The railways then played an important role in our lives and air travel was in its infancy.

We had one annual holiday and often camped out under a tent, while the wealthy had once-in-a-lifetime overseas voyages, by mail ship.

Many homes then had vegetable gardens and a chicken run. The cockerels woke us at dawn. We shopped at a nearby grocery and bought fresh produce (wrapped in brown paper) which could be ordered by phone.

Milk in bottles was delivered daily. We never went to restaurants but, when Mother shopped in town, she sometimes visited a tea-room to meet a few friends. In school holidays we sometimes went with her.

I think that in many cities, activities will be decentralised, and populations will disperse to little smallholdings in rural areas, just as they now do in Zimbabwe. Town centres may no longer provide much livelihood.

Some regions offer more potential for self-sufficiency than others. The Eastern Cape Province, for example, has greater potential for a sustainable lifestyle and food security than the Western and Northern Cape put together, because there is so much more Class 1 agricultural land (classification being determined by soil quality and rainfall).

It is inevitable that electricity will be produced from renewable resources; that producers will be smaller and more widely distributed, providing energy where it’s needed, as can be seen in France, which boasts more than 55 nuclear power plants, wind farms galore, and numerous small hydroelectric power-stations in the mountainous regions. (The French population is only a little greater than South Africa’s.)

The pandemic has given us time to think and review what we have been doing. It is a terrible shock, but some good will come of it.