The post-corona world

A series of interactions to shape what comes next


At the University of Johannesburg, the Institute for the Future of Knowledge (IFK) is coming together with the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS) and the Library and Information Centre (LIC) to host a series of conversations about the world after COVID-19. The conversation series has been envisaged by the Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, and premised on the idea that much more of the future can be known than we commonly suppose, if only we take the time to think about it. This requires interaction between different areas of expertise, since the future is no more the domain of a single expertise than the present.

The pandemic of COVID-19 has demonstrated how surprised humans can be by unsurprising events. Major outbreaks of infectious disease recur like milestones in human history. And nearly everyone knows this. COVID-19 was presaged by a series of smaller outbreaks of a similar kind, the most similar of which originated in nearly the same place, is caused by nearly the same virus in the coronavirus family, and bears nearly the same name. The spread of the coronavirus causing SARS following its first human case in Guangdong Province of China in 2002 is widely known; yet the spread of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, since its first human case in Hubei Province of China, has been called unprecedented, even unimaginable. In truth, it was anything but. Makers of popular series and films have had no difficulties imagining scenarios like this (and considerably worse), and the sober World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a stark warning to the world in 2016 about its unreadiness for exactly this kind of scenario.
This shows, not how little we know about the future, but how little attention we pay to what we know. At the University of Johannesburg we are leading a new way to thinking about the future – one that takes the future seriously, by bringing together perspectives from things that we do know about. The COVID-19 “period” also coincides with the university’s strategic contextualisation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).


We are bringing in experts and others from a range of perspectives, to discuss:

  • Political questions. What will the new world order look like? Will the individual and state relate differently? Will national executives relinquish the powers they have gained when enacting emergency measures? Will populations feel that leaders have acted with them or against them? Will there be wars? Between whom, and why?
  • Economic questions. How much poorer will the world be? For how long? Who will bear the cost? What will be the effect on inequality? We are in for a rough ride: how rough, and for whom? What will the other side look like?
  • Social questions1 – how will societies be disrupted, or alternatively brought together? Will traditional displays of trust and friendship, which commonly involve contact, evolve? What will post-COVID society look like?
  • Technological questions. Will this human challenge yield novel technological responses? Will these lie in the field of biomedicine or communication technology – of defense or mitigation? How will 4IR shape or be shaped by COVID-19?
  • Health questions. Will health provision move towards or away from the public domain? Will the nature of health spending change? Will attitudes towards the elderly change, and especially to the costs of healthcare in age, given the well-known fact that in some places half of the expenditure on an individual’s healthcare occurs in the final year of life? What does this mean for the National Health Insurance (NHI) financing system?
  • Questions about education. How will students learn? Will remote learning become more common? Will it sharpen inequalities, or improve access to top quality teaching? What will be taught – the same stuff, or will the need to “get to the point” in a data-rationed context drive significant refinements? How will these effects differ at different levels of education?
  • Questions about the academy. In a poorer world, will it face reduced support from governments globally? Or will it be seen as a potential bastion against nasty surprises in the future? In either case, how will it change – in its methods of working, in the subjects it researches, and in the disciplinary approaches it takes?
  • Questions about the future of work. Will large numbers switch to working from home? Will large organisations – corporations, universities, government departments – see large savings from reduced need for premises? What will replace the corridor chat? Will there be more meetings or fewer? More emails or fewer? Which technologies and conceptual frameworks for remote work will become normal, and why? Will contract work become more common? What will any of this mean for the large proportion of work that must be done manually, in one way or another? Can the resolution of personal differences in the workplace be done online? And what will it mean for work that could in theory be done remotely but in which we see a strong value in live physical presence, such as verbal argumentation in litigation, a doctor’s consultation, or a face-to-face meeting to conclude a deal or sale?
  • And, most important of all, how will all these interact to give rise to things that we really should have anticipated, but didn’t – things like the pandemic of COVID-19?

Wednesday, 13 May 2020
17:30 – 18:30


Chair: Professor Alex Broadbent
Professor Johan Giesecke
Dr Joyce Banda
Professor Sehaam Kahn

Professor Alex Broadbent is Director of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge at the University of Johannesburg and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Johannesburg. He specialises in prediction, causal inference, and explanation, especially in epidemiology and medicine. He publishes in major journals in philosophy, epidemiology, medicine and law, and his books include the pathbreaking Philosophy of Epidemiology (Palgrave 2013) and Philosophy of Medicine (Oxford University Press 2019).

An entrepreneur, activist, politician, and philanthropist, Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda was also the President of the Republic of Malawi (2012-2014). She was Malawi’s first female president and Africa’s second. Voted as Africa’s most powerful woman by Forbes Magazine for two years running and voted as one of the most powerful women in the world, Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda is a champion for the rights of women, children, the disabled, and other marginalized groups.

Before becoming President of Malawi, Dr. Banda served as a Member of Parliament; Minister of Gender and Child Welfare; and Foreign Minister and Vice President of the Republic of Malawi. While serving as Minister of Gender and Child Welfare, Dr. Banda championed the enactment of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Bill in 2006, which provides a legal framework for the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.

A recipient of more than 15 international accolades including the “Hunger Project Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger” shared with President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique in 1997, Her Excellency Dr. Banda is a strong advocate for women and girls’ emancipation and empowerment and a prominent civil rights campaigner. She founded the Joyce Banda Foundation International, which guides projects that range from empowering women to providing for orphans’ education.

Professor Johan Giesecke trained as an infectious disease clinician in Stockholm, Sweden during the 1980’s, and from his work with AIDS patients he became interested in the epidemiology of infectious diseases. He received an MSc in epidemiology from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 1992, and then worked as a Senior Lecturer at the school for a few years.

After this he became State Epidemiologist for Sweden (1995 to 2005) and during a one-year sabbatical 1999-2000 he led the group working on the revision of the International Health Regulations at WHO HQ. From 2005 to 2014 he was the first Chief Scientist of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). Professor Giesecke has written a textbook on infectious disease epidemiology, and now teaches on this subject as a professor emeritus at the Karolinska Institute Medical University in Stockholm.

Professor Khan is an accomplished scholar completing both her undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications: Masters (cum laude) and PHD, in Microbiology, at the University of Western Cape. Her scholarly prowess is further demonstrated in her extensive contribution to academia, through her publications of peer reviewed articles, book chapters, scientific papers, conference proceedings and conference outputs: poster presentations. Further to this, she has obtained various scholarships and awards, notably amongst others, the Faculty of Applied Science- Researcher of the Year Award in 2003, and the Institutional Teaching and Learning Award in 2014. Professor Sehaam serves as a member to various societies for microbiology: the South African Society of Microbiology, the American Society for Microbiology-Division Environmental Microbiology, the Health Professions Council of South Africa in category Medical Biological Scientist; as well as a member of the Research and Innovation Committee for the development of Fifth National Development Plan for Namibia. In addition, her community engagement reflects her passion for her subject matter on a professional level, focusing on engaging with organisations as well as learners at High School level; and giving back to society through her Christian outreach programmes for disadvantaged children and women. Furthermore, she established and procured external funding for a feeding scheme at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) in 2017.