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Remembering our Covid-19 journey – the hardships and our spirit of perseverance

Remembering our Covid-19 journey - the hardships and our spirit of perseverance

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South Africa’s Covid-19 journey began on Friday, March 27, 2020, shortly after midnight when President Cyril Ramaphosa called on us to remain at home and to observe the 21-day lockdown period.

The initial lockdown was extended again on April 9, 2020, and a number of subsequent lockdowns followed, based on the need to save lives and livelihoods.

This brought about the greatest test our nation had ever faced; cut off from family, friends and support networks, we all had to call on our inner reserves of strength and fortitude to keep going.

Faced with an unseen and largely unknown enemy, communication became our primary weapon to drive behavioural change.

The story of the power of communication and partnerships has been brought to life fully for the first time through the publication of the GCIS Covid-19 Communication Digital Book.

This e-book captures the work of South African communication professionals and partners, and tells how communication changed the course of the pandemic. It looks back to pivotal moments in the fight, such as the arrival of students from Wuhan, in China. It also explores our massive behavioural change campaign which

It explores the evolution of our journey from uncertainty in the early days of the pandemic, right up to the roll-out of the most massive undertaking in our history in the form of the Covid-19 mass vaccination campaign. As it stands nearly 38 million vaccine doses have been administered.

The e-book also captures the anguish and pain we went through as a nation, and the loss and devastation we felt at the loss of loved ones. The Covid-19 pandemic caused severe human suffering and took many precious lives from us, including the late Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu.

The untimely death of Minister Mthembu rocked the GCIS and greater government communication family, and robbed our nation of one of its finest public servants and government communicators.

South Africans had to adapt to a new way of life for close on two years .

The reality is that nobody has ever faced a challenge of this magnitude, yet the crucial task of educating and reassuring the public remained.

The challenge was enormous, and it took an immense physical and mental toll on those on the front lines. In the first few days of the pandemic, especially during the initial declaration of a national state of disaster, hardly anyone at GCIS slept. Every hour was precious and communicators worked flat out to ensure continuity in the work of the government.

One of the distinguishing features of how the government managed this pandemic was listening to the people and their concerns. We continually assessed our operations and amended our practices to best respond to various challenges.

One of the greatest challenges was communicating while facing a virus that took away our ability to interact directly. GCIS found new ways to reach people through the use of digital platforms such as national portals, mobile apps and social media. From their homes, South Africans were also able to watch live streams of press briefings and announcements by government, we also ensured that most media briefings were broadcast live to community radio stations, which reach the farflung rural areas in the country.

What this period showed more than anything is the power of partnerships. The media as a vital partner was provided with constant updates on what still was a fast-evolving situation. Through regular virtual meetings, press conferences and engagements we kept the media informed so that they could impart vital information to the public.

The partnerships we fostered with civil society organisations assisted in the quick adoption of measures to prevent needless exposure to the virus.

These stakeholders would also become powerful agents to inform people about the risks of the virus, and helped us to deal with the rise of fake news and misinformation.

GCIS brought together business, labour and civil society under the auspices of the National Communication Partnership on Covid-19.

This partnership became a key driver of the vaccine rollout, and implemented more than 1011 activities on the response to Covid-19 and the vaccine roll-out.

The SA Council of Churches spearheaded the VaxuMzansi Campaign, while Vaccination4Men was hosted by Nedlac and the Solidarity Fund.

Business for South Africa, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the Mining Industry and Faith Based Organisations assisted with spreading the message to vaccinate on their platforms.

GCIS made available a toolkit of content on the vaccine campaign to partners which was used on their social media platforms and retail spaces. At the same time, CovidComms, a network of volunteer communication professionals, used content provided by GCIS and other stakeholders to package it in formats that were easy to distribute across platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook.

The GCIS Covid-19 Communication Digital Book reflects on our journey as a nation and the cohesive partnership between government, business, labour and civil society.

Through communication, public trust was strengthened, which would play a critical role in our success in driving back the spread of the virus. Communication also reinforced that everyone was part of the solution, and that together we would build back better, stronger and more determined to ensure a better tomorrow for all.

* Phumla Williams is the Director-General for the Government Communications and Information Service.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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