When the coronavirus struck, the workplace was one of the casualties.There was need to enforce social distancing measures in order to minimise interpersonal contacts and reduce risks of transmission of the killer bug. Therefore, workplaces closed and staff got banished to their households. While some received it as a blessing, others regarded this state of affairs as a misfortune. Nearly, every dimension of the pandemic was two-sided. Various staff were servicing loans but as normal work was interrupted by the lockdown, they could not ably remit monthly instalments as agreed in the loan contracts they had signed.
Banks inevitably offered loan repayment holidays, so, the borrowers could resume remittances when the coronavirus restrictions would be halted or eased. While this happened, the banks expanded both the loan repayment duration and interest rates so that borrowers would get a longer timeframe for clearing the loan but on higher interest rates. In the end, a loan repayment extension amounted to an extended period of agony for many borrowers. The ultimate beneficiary of loan readjustments was the bank as the borrowers would in due course pay higher returns on each loan.
The global pandemic also presented opportunities for family members to stay together fulltime for weeks and months. In many families today, social distancing is but an open secret. In some cases, the coronavirus lockdown was the first time for couples and their children to enjoy quality time together, to bond and to appreciate themselves more.
On the other hand, the long time they spent together made it easy for each to see another’s real character developed after years of erratic family interface. Wives discovered the new traits of the men as husbands also witnessed first-hand the altered manners of the women they had last observed closely during courtship. Conflicts erupted and incidents of domestic violence flared up. During the lockdown, tenants took break from paying rent for residential and business premises since incomes were disrupted. Previously, some tenants were always defaulting on rent, so the lockdown came partly as a blessing which they received with open hands. In this way, landlords did not only lose power to demand for rent or evict tenants from their properties, they also lost rental money since tenants got excuses to default. It also remained unclear if tenants would later be compelled to pay rent after the lockdown or such obligations would be permanently waived off.
As an African saying teaches, a bondman’s burden is multiplied by his conscious choice to take a health break. Therefore, time might come when tenants would be compelled to clear all the rent bills, arrears and current, to their utmost distress. That would be the moment landlords would laugh all the way to the bank. It was clear that people’s normal lives were adversely affected in a sudden manner, so they needed support to adjust to the lockdown reality. In some cases, therefore, government and aid agencies tried to distribute relief items like food, water vessels, cooking utensils and sanitary stuffs to the community members considered as most vulnerable. Yet, the criteria for selecting beneficiaries was also awkward because a great majority of the citizens qualified. The social shock from the lockdown was simply incalculable.
The worker’s dilemma, during the lockdown, was compounded by two other government actions. Many wished they could access part of their social security savings with the worker’s annuity fund but government fiercely vetoed the proposal. Instead, they announced a plan to tax residual earnings still going into the workers’ bank accounts. “The difference between technology and slavery is that slaves are fully aware that they are not free” – Nassim Nocholas Taleb.
By Venansio Ahabwe
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