Published: 24 May 2020
Two weeks after the announcement of a lockdown in the country, President Cyril Ramaphosa pleaded with the nation to “endure” the inconvenience of strict regulations “even longer” for, he said, premature relaxation may prove costly.
It was a decision not taken lightly and he, at the time, was “mindful of the great and heavy burden” this imposed on citizens. “I have to ask you to make even greater sacrifices so that our country may survive this crisis and so that tens of thousands of lives may be saved. I am keenly aware of the impact this will have on our economy,” said the president.
We applauded. Government, many of us thought, was using science to make unprecedented decisions to save our lives and our economy. Surely, the virus can only be defeated. Government and our president were duly showered with praise for sterling leadership.
At the time, we must note, there were only a total of 1934 cases after almost a month since the first case was detected and 14 days into lockdown. This past week, however, South Africa recorded its highest rates of infections ever, edging closer to 1500 infections a day. Our total infections are the other side of 20000 with about 400 deaths. Statistically, it’s looking grim.
If the logic of the lockdown was to slow infections, this has evidently not been achieved. At the time, Ramaphosa told us that “unless we take these difficult measures now; unless we hold this course for a little longer”, the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic will be uncontrollable.
It has now become apparent that the equivocation by our first citizen when he announced that consultations will be getting under way to move the country to level three was informed by the contradiction that he knew, and we all ought to have known, was around the corner. The virus has become uncontrollable regardless of the lockdown.
Our government locked down our country prematurely. We obliged. It has now dawned on government and the citizenry that the impact of the lockdown on the economy and people’s dignity (hunger wars) is not sustainable.
Major firms are threatening to retrench. Business inactivity means government itself will contend with decreased tax revenue, which further compromises its ability to embark on job-creating service delivery capital works. This will no doubt further stunt our economy, rated junk by all agencies, unleashing joblessness in a contracting economy already suffering high unemployment. It’s a heart-wrenching plunge. Levels of desperation are rising. It makes ordinary, hungry citizens more daring, more uncontrollable. The initial public relations gains of a government attuned to scientific decision-making are becoming undone.
At a time like this, our country needs a government focused on achieving results, however painful. It is self-evident that people are Coronavirus-fatigued. They can see that all the sacrifices, the inconvenience, loss of business and work, have not brought about the much-awaited defeat of the virus. If anything, the virus has killed fellow citizens as it has done several businesses and jobs. The prevailing logic seems to be that we should die trying to save jobs than die in our homes, alone, out of jobs, hungry and stripped of all human dignity.