Give your mental health a chance


I found myself in the bizarre situation last weekend of defending Eskom CEO André de Ruyter. “Give him a chance,” I heard myself say more than once. My wife quite rightly asked me if I was feeling unwell or had been taken by the body snatchers.

I’m as angry as every other South African – except the smug, and hopefully soon to be incarcerated, “engineer” Matshela Koko – about the sudden resurgence of “load-shitting,” as I prefer to call it. On top of everything else we’re forced to survive during lockdown, it seems to add a Zuma-esque insult to our misery.

But, if the last three months have taught me anything, it is to worry about the things you can do something about. My main responsibility is to keep my own little business running, so that my business partner Sally Hudson and I continue to support the eight households that depend on an income from Stuff.

Like the rest of the (small business-owning) world, it has truly never been harder to do business. A wise friend (who has a full-time job at a big corporate and whose salary hasn’t been cut) told me the businesses which survive this unprecedented set of economic hardships will be stronger than ever and go on to great things. It’s the usual survival-of-the-fittest economic Darwinism with a slight twist that the entire world’s economy is melting. Just surviving is enough for me.

I’ll be happy to make it to the end of the year. By then, it seems that traditional form of consumer spending surge – which we call Christmas – will come back. It won’t be as lavish as previous years, nor will the window displays. But the last three months of the year are when shoppers do the bulk of their consumer electronics, and other, shopping.

Like all the other “novel pandemic” predictions, especially anything said by our own government, mine has no scientific basis. But I am hoping some form of traditional behaviour – and a brutalised world will feel like it deserves a present – will kickstart something in the global economy. Big companies which have cut back on marketing spend during this dark winter will spend again with vigour, I tell myself.

As we go into another round of hard lockdown – no booze and a curfew, how much harder can it get? – the litany of things to make a SME owner fume will increase. Meanwhile, the sectors that have managed to exert some strange pressure onto government (churches, which rely on tithes, and the indomitable taxi industry) will continue on as if they live in the same non-COVID-19 parallel universe half of our Cabinet inhabits.

So instead of losing my cool over the instantly infuriating Eskom outage, or the madness of Cabinet’s thoroughly illogical decisions – why, oh why, are cigarettes still banned; while you can’t visit your family but you can go pay your tithes at church – I’m taking the path less stressful and focusing on the things that are within my power to do something about. All three of them. My attitude, my mental health, and my sense of humour.

Until the next Eskom blackout, that is, and I have to go turn on the generator, the real sound of South Africa’s new dawn.

This article first appeared in Financial Mail


About Author

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes contributor and a Financial Mail columnist. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 20 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa's tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ's top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper's influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he "has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country" while the M&G wrote: "Toby Shapshak is all things tech... he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech."

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