Now is the time for extraordinary leadership
by Louise Burgers. Today we woke up in a new world. We are at war. Our generation has never experienced anything like the global battle we are now waging against this unseen, little known virus, COVID-19. Not since the Second World War have we mobilised on such a global scale. It is a time for extraordinary leadership, kindness and empathy.Monday, 16 Mar 2020
by Louise Burgers. Today we woke up in a new world. We are at war. Our generation has never experienced anything like the global battle we are now waging against this unseen, little known virus. Not since the Second World War have we mobilised on such a global scale. It is a time for extraordinary leadership, kindness and empathy.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa showed that extraordinary leadership last night. He looked strained and didn’t even crack a smile at the little elbow-dance he did to indicate how we must greet each other and stop shaking hands, avoiding close contact, when announcing the wide-ranging measures under the National State of Disaster. Effectively, our country is in lockdown so that we do not end up like Italy which is overwhelmed by the number of cases and deaths. Specific communities will be next. We can see the devastating impact on countries that have not acted soon enough – the news has been dominated by the struggle to contain COVID-19, the coronavirus, this past month and we are fortunate to be able to learn from the mistakes of Europe, the UK and the US and learn from those who are curbing infections, like China.
March 15, 2020, will go down in history in South Africa, as the day our Government tried to stem the tide of infection and death to protect the vulnerable and the sick. Make no mistake, this was also an economic decision. A sick population and a health system that has collapsed will lead to as much anarchy and disruption to the economy this year, as the economic fallout from the decision last night to prevent movement across South Africa’s borders and curb any gathering larger than 100 people, which critically, included the shuttering of universities and schools. It was absolutely the correct thing to do to curb the spread of infections.
The economic fallout will be dire. Businesses will fail. Salaries will stop. Bills will go unpaid. There will be mass retrenchments. There will probably have to be feeding schemes to ensure the jobless and penniless do not go hungry. It will impact every single one of us, no matter how rich or poor. But right now, what we all fear the most, is losing those we love to this global pandemic. Who among us does not have an elderly parent, a sick or immunocompromised friend or colleague or child or employee? South Africa is also particularly vulnerable due to our large population of those living with Aids and TB. We have also not yet started our Winter flu season. The flu vaccination isn’t even available yet. I know – I tried to get it for myself and my daughter, who has asthma.
Our retailers and their employees are in the frontline and will need to remain open so that people can still buy groceries. But this is also an opportunity for entrepreneurs, for ecommerce, for delivery systems, for innovative solutions to distribute food and medicine to the most vulnerable. To build community. To reassure your loyal brand fans. This is not a time to disappear and ‘wait and see’. This is a time to take your channel and your influence and use it wisely to reassure your customers that you understand what they will be going through and this is what you can do for them. Now is the time for innovative thinking.
This Charles Dickens quote (1856) in A tale of two cities, about the time of the French Revolution, sums it up for me perfectly: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”
We only have our community in times like this. Our ubuntu. And brands are part of that. Be on the right side of history when this is all over and we have to come together to rebuild our shattered economy and our spirit.
Keep healthy – and keep your news coming. We will keep publishing. Here’s the link to the President’s full speech last night.
Louise Burgers, Publisher & Editor
Retailing Africa: firstname.lastname@example.org
Louise Burgers (previously Marsland) is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of RetailingAfrica.com. She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.
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