I’ll tell you why I wear underpants on my face. And why I am a little bit ashamed of it.

I wear it because of kiddies’ pools, Solzhenitsyn, and the National Party.

I wear it because masks don’t work, not as public health measures for aerosolised viruses. They never have. Scientifically, the best explanation for the value of masks is the popular meme where two naked men are standing one metre apart, urinating. Two pissing men, socially distanced. The analogy suggests that you are, in effect, naked and indecent without your mask. The argument is that it protects the other man from being piddled on should you wear pants. If the other guy wears pants, it saves you. Or the other way around. It doesn’t matter; it’s a rubbish equivalence.

This example is only valid – if both men are in a pool. You are not the only ones in the pool in real life, of course. And everyone is peeing (breathing) all the time. Water is not air, and the air is not water, which is why the Manneken pis illustration is deceptive, maybe deliberately so. Water and air have similar properties: when faced with a physical barrier, they will both find the path of least resistance. The wee-wee will find its way through your Speedo and into the pool.  Your breath and everything in it will simply go around or through your mask in the air. We walk in air soup all the time. At the office, in a taxi, at the supermarket. When you move from one room to the other or from inside to outside, you are merely playing musical chairs in the kiddies’ pool.

Uncomfortable realities

Your mask protects you only from uncomfortable realities. Masks can be helpful devices for diffusing larger droplets and making people feel safer on an individual level, but they are not effective as a public health measure. As remote-control devices for despotic Covid commanders, they work great.

The proposed new amendments to the South African Health Act look to make the State of Disaster permanent. They are breathtaking in scope and ambition, in a Stalinesque way. You may be detained if your neighbour reports you for not wearing a mask and merely suspects you of being sick. You can be arrested without any symptoms, isolated and forced to undergo any medical procedures the government sees fit – without access to legal aid.

How meekly and fearfully we march into totalitarianism,’ a bold and prophetic article in this publication suggested two years ago. That meekness terrifies me more than the regulatory gulag we are marching into because totalitarianism takes all of us to work. It is a team sport. So I wear underwear on my face. I am a conscientious objector.


Regulation 67.1 merely requires protection made of cloth, including homemade items that cover the nose and mouth. So the 5-piece multipack I got at the Pick ‘n Pay is not only lawfully compliant but also absorbent and warm. Nothing fancy. Mostly I am the only one wearing a face-pant, but not always. There’s a Mr Shameless who has been wearing briefs and boxers on his head instead of a mask since the start of the pandemic. I would describe his sartorial style as resistance chic: “It is a form of protest, it makes people laugh, and it is a middle finger to the establishment, who have completely overreacted to the pandemic. They are using it as a power grab.” He explains, adding a “Fuck ‘em.” for emphasis.

It’s the simple truths, Solzhenitsyn said, that are the biggest threat to totalitarianism. Modest veracities like: ‘Fuck ‘em, it’s a power grab.’ You say it’s just a mask, but you know it is not after two years. ‘We all wear it under our chins anyway. And only when have to shop.’ That makes our behaviour more nonsensical. That’s like the two men in the pool pulling their Speedos up and down every time the lifeguard walks past, convincing themselves it will save them from drowning.

If your government can get you to do something this ridiculous, and more importantly, when you start explaining it away or incorporating it into the daily lies we tell ourselves – that piece of material, like a flag, becomes a symbol for something else. It becomes an Orwellian boot stamping on a human face – forever. It’s soft and comforting, and you are doing it to yourself, but it’s a boot on your face. And remember, if the new health regulations pass – it is forever.


It’s the least I can do to show my contempt, which is why I am embarrassed; I lack the courage to do more. I don’t know how to engage friends, family and colleagues in peaceful discussions about our march towards a health-based police state. We don’t know how to talk about Covid without it becoming polarising. Because it is ‘just’ a mask.

The police, the security guard at the Pick n Pay and your Covid compliance officer at work, are ‘just’ following orders. I don’t believe politeness or convenience makes us comply – it is fear. We fear the group more than the gun. We dread standing out. We cower under the crushing weight of public opinion. And the most profound horror for an aware South African is that we have always somehow been co-authors of our destruction but are unable to stop ourselves. We hope our individual contribution will remain anonymous ‘because everyone else is doing it.’ Nobody voted NP, and yet they always won. Everyone believes the ANC has our best interests at heart when they issue new legislation. We wear the mask. And we march.


Before his exile, Solzhenitsyn wrote: ‘The simple act of the ordinary brave man is not to participate in the lies.’ I hope fashioning dicing stripes out of cappuccinos on more valiant days counts. ‘If we are too frightened,’ he said: ‘we should stop complaining we are being suffocated. We are doing this to ourselves.’

So, I’ll take stares, thumbs-ups, sniggers and ‘haibo!’s instead of a verbal conversation I don’t know how to have yet. I must figure out how to stand in the public square and shout: ‘Your leaders are pissing in your face right now, but you’ll be okay – at least you are wearing underpants!’

[If you want to do or say something, the IRR has a petition against mandatory mask-wearing. It is called ‘Free your Face’, You can sign it here.]

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Viv Vermaak is an award-winning investigative journalist, writer and director. She was the most loved and hated presenter on South Africa’s iconic travel show, “Going Nowhere Slowly’ and ranks being the tall germ, “Terie’ in Mina Moo as a career highlight. She does Jiu-Jitsu and has a ’69 Chevy Impala called Katy Peri-Peri.