/OPINION | Covid-19: how students can play a critical role during the pandemic

OPINION | Covid-19: how students can play a critical role during the pandemic

2020-03-30 15:00

It is now up to us to create a vision of getting to the other side of the crisis. We have been given the tools to overcome this by being constantly informed, writes Kriyanka Moodley.


While the world looks for leadership during the outbreak of Covid-19, South Africans need not look far, as all our political leaders showed up, showed support and rallied behind the very adaptable ANC government.

It was heartwarming to see a usually politically divided country united in the face of a deadly virus.  

From a leadership perspective there is no set of rules, regulations or guidelines to deal with a crisis of this magnitude.  What has worked in one country may not work in another.

The world is trying to mobilise and find ways to mitigate the impact of Covid-19, yet uncertainty abounds. South Africa has its own unique challenges, ranging from 7.5 million people infected with HIV, to malnutrition and high levels of poverty.  

As citizens of this diverse country, which embraces adversity with vigour, we need to start thinking critically about the situation we face.

The decision is ultimately yours; you can succumb to panic or paralysis or we can heed the advice of our competent leaders who have embraced crisis leadership superbly and use this to navigate our own critical “moments of truth” as we face the next chapter of this disaster.  

Our Leadership  

Our country’s leadership has undoubtedly put people first. While we have yet to see the surge in the virus, projections indicate that every person infected will infect two to three others.   

However, this is not an attempt to unpack the medical aspect of Covid-19 but a way to enlighten you as the educated South African to step up and play your role in curbing the spread if this virus.  

This is our attempt to flatten the curve which will certainly have an impact on the spreading of the virus.

The aftermath of a nationwide lockdown could possibly lead to a great depression and will be felt for years to come, but what can we do here and now?

It took a great deal of strength from our country to decide on this, given the historical ramifications of how “lockdowns” were enforced during the apartheid regime. 

It is now up to us to create a vision of getting to the other side of the crisis. We have been given the tools to overcome this by being constantly informed.

We therefore need to start empowering and educating others, so that everyone can play their part.  

Finally, it must be acknowledged that these are highly emotional and turbulent times.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, and ministers Dr Zweli Mkhize, Bheki Cele, Fikile Mbalula and other cabinet ministers have shown mental calm which is needed to stay grounded and for us as a nation to continue moving forward.

Their decisive and strong leadership should be resonating among us as we move through uncharted territory. 

While there are those of us who are feeling frustrated with how long the president has taken to address us or angry at certain rules and regulations put in place, please be informed and recognise that many individuals need to be consulted before taking such drastic measures to ensure our safety.  

Students should take the lead  

University students can play a critical role during these difficult times and can be a part of the greater conversation in leading change in how we tackle Covid-19.  

It is your time to lead your families, communities and societies by taking charge of the situation.

The key is to listen to our adaptive leaders who have thoroughly and persistently given directives and have been transparent throughout the process.  

Put people first, like our President and his cabinet have done. It is important that every person in our country adheres to this.  

Here’s how you can assist:  

  • Lead by example: show those around you how to self-isolate. Exhibit excellent hygiene standards and practice social distancing. Once you start doing it people will follow. Staying at home, avoiding public places and cancelling all social activities is the best defense against the virus. Limiting contact with EVERYONE is vital.  
  • Educate people in your community: as educated beings you are gifted with comprehension levels far beyond other people in this country. Use this to find ways to explain the magnitude of the disease to others and provide ways to combat the spread. Speak to people on a level that enables them to understand the ramifications of continuing with life as normal.  
  • Spread the message to elders in remote communities: while our loved ones are not always close to us we have a responsibility to protect them. Travel has enabled Covid-19 to spread. There is a misconception that elders that do not live in the cities are spared from the virus; the reality is that they are the most vulnerable. Get the message to them somehow, use your initiative to determine a way to educate them on the importance of self-isolating and hygiene.  
  • Stop stigma and discrimination: Again, as educated beings, it is unfair and unjust to pass judgement on another person suffering with the virus. This virus cannot be a vehicle for racism, bigotry or xenophobia. Instead, educate yourself and those around you about the virus and its origins.  Furthermore, if you discriminate against someone who could have the virus, they may be reluctant to get tested for Covid-19, for fear of being stigmatised or outcast from their community, which could have adverse effects on you and your loved ones. Be kind to all people during this very unstable time.  
  • Think of ways to bounce back (use this time to reflect): As future leaders, use this time to not only minimise the risks, but seek out the upside for yourself, your organisation, community or society. By shifting from a fear-based perspective, to one grounded in the above-mentioned core behaviours of crisis leadership, leaders can equip themselves to navigate these “moments of truth” effectively, regardless of when they occur. 

Lastly, we are individuals, moreover we are part of the collective. 

It is your time now to slow the spread of the virus, to flatten the curve, to avoid the massive, needless suffering of our people, those among us who happen to be elderly, face ill-health, uninsured, poverty stricken, living week to week, the people who are alone and without any support.

Self-isolation and social distancing is not about you; it is about protecting the people who are especially vulnerable.  

– Dr Kriyanka Moodley is a leadership lecturer for the MBA programme at the Graduate School of Business and Leadership at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. 

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