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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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SPIES, Philip  and  JONES, Chris. Explorations in a post-normal landscape: South Africa this side of and beyond Covid-19. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2020, vol.60, n.4-2, pp.1132-1149. ISSN 2224-7912.

The initial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was felt through its life-threatening flu-like infections that caused the death of tens of thousands of people around the world, but an even more serious and enduring effect evolved from the lock-down strategies of governments to contain the infections. It caused mass disruptions in the social and economic life of nations and communities: people were isolated from friends, family and their recreation facilities, businesses went bankrupt, supply chains crumbled, and unemployment increased. The ultimate economic and social consequences ofthis policy-driven destruction of global systems are unfathomable. They confuse people, causing a feeling of hopelessness and incompetence in their search for solutions to the policy-initiated spillover problems they have to face. They are faced with an uncontrollable wave of change, the nature of which they can only try to understand, and which, it is hoped, will lead to a more desirable future outcome. When they reflected on the emergence of the pandemic, people suddenly became aware of a number of warnings issued since the 1990s about the likelihood of a Covid-19-type flu-like pandemic that would ravage the world. Why were these warnings ignored? Moreover, why did this pandemic become so utterly disruptive that people now struggle to find solutions to it? Three futurists at the international Centre for Post-normal Policy and Futures Studies describe the Covid-19 pandemic as a "perfect post-normal storm" in "post-normal times". This paper uses aspects of their research to explain the disruptive effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, applying them to the South African situation. The wave of disruptions that were caused by pandemic control is in essence complex systemic. It is very difficult to understand complex systemic change if traditional thinking and established systems of specialised knowledge (the so-called "cognitive homeland") are used. What is required is, first, to acknowledge a state of "invincible ignorance" in established thinking: an acknowledgement that established thinking must be replaced with new thinking. This requires an exploration of the "manufactured normalcy field", which refers to the thought systems that reaffirm normalcy despite major shifts in circumstances. Such an exploration covers, among other things, inquiries into the underpinnings of the "manufactured normalcy field", contrasting worldviews, paradigms, values, metaphors, and perspectives. The possible impact of "strange attractors" to guide a process of self-organisation in complex systemic change is also important to consider. Such "strange attractors" can emerge from information management, values management, heuristic learning designs which may usher in shifts in collective insights, paradigm shifts and new worldviews. South Africans are often reminded that Covid-19 created a new normal which requires them to adapt their outlook on life and their lifestyles. In fact, this country's pre-Covid-19 world was far from normal - since the 1990's South Africans have been living an unsettled life in an unsettled country. In other words, for thirty years they have been trapped in a state of limbo of post-normal times, the nature of which is described by the Centre for Post-normal Policy and Futures Studies as "an in-between period where the old ways are dying and new ways have yet to be discovered".

Keywords : complexity; systems thinking; post-normal times; post-normal crawl; uncertainty; ignorance; cognitive homeland; black elephant; black swan; blackjellyfish.

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