By Chloe Kingdom
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 4 of VARSITY News.
The #CyrilMaskChallenge has sparked debate about the mocking of leadership who steer us through a global pandemic. President Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Thursday evening, April 23, 2020, to announce a gradual and phased approach towards lifting the lockdown. At the close of the address he put on a mask to encourage South Africans to comply with new regulations that mandate mask-wearing in public spaces from Friday, May 1.
However, the president struggled to secure the mask over his face. At one point, he accidentally pulled the mask over his eyes. This moment went viral instantly as South Africans replicated it at home with their own masks.
Memes featuring the momentarily blindfolded Ramaphosa also became popular in iterations of Bird Box memes.
— ㄥ乇乇 (@IamLeeCore) April 23, 2020
Memes are often used as a coping mechanism to alleviate the stress of our current reality, by exploiting humour from unconventional sources, such as the president’s address.
The unexpected moment provided comic relief amidst fears of contracting the virus and concerns about economic recession caused by the lockdown. South Africans affectionately teased the president on social media en masse: #CyrilMaskChallenge trended on South African Twitter on Thursday night and #CyrilFridays trended the following afternoon.
Many people defended the president by scorning those who participated in the challenge. The country’s leadership are bearing the burden of late nights and difficult decisions for the country, and their efforts should not be mocked.
This debate excludes the opinions of citizens who are not moved by the president’s leadership which presides over a system of socio-economic inequality.
Ramaphosa commented on the viral moment the next day at a Gauteng media briefing: He jokingly announced that he would “open a TV channel” dedicated towards mask-wearing demonstrations. The jovial briefing interaction showed that the president appreciated the nation’s sense of humour.