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An example for Africa as SA's infection rate drops from 42% to 4%, says presidency official

SA's comprehensive approach to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic needs to gain a continental footprint, says Thembi Siweya, deputy minister in the presidency.
SA's comprehensive approach to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic needs to gain a continental footprint, says Thembi Siweya, deputy minister in the presidency.
Image: REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

The international community is faced with an invisible enemy that has claimed the lives of many people, wounded some souls, changed our perceptions about life and devastated most economic systems.

For some people, the challenges coronavirus has created for humankind are a symbol of the end of times, and there is a need for humanity to repent for sins and turn to the Saviour. For others, the invisible enemy presents us with a time to ask relevant scientific questions, conduct medical research and implement regulations that will curb the pandemic.

The South African government, as an epitome of democracy, is able to unite both schools of thought through a comprehensive approach to dealing with the pandemic. All diseases and viruses have a social impact and affect everyone.

The lesson the government learnt from the HIV/Aids epidemic is that a narrow approach towards dealing with any disease or virus can lead to a higher mortality rate, stagnant economic growth and hindered social cohesion.

A narrow approach is evident when policymakers focus only on one aspect in the fight against a particular disease or virus. This can include allowing people to live their normal lifestyles while medical practitioners and scientists focus on medical research and finding a cure.

This approach is obsessed with the cure, but neglects the fact that the variants of any disease or virus consist of various societal aspects including diet, population growth, climate, geographic locations and socio-economic backgrounds.

The narrow approach is dangerous because while medical researchers and scientists conduct their work, people become infected and die in large numbers. The current government led by President Cyril Ramaphosa rejected this approach.

Before the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) passed the current lockdown regulations, the number of new infections daily were about 42%. Had the government opted for the narrow approach, the daily infections would have been higher, and with more deaths, especially among elderly South Africans.

The current comprehensive approach combines the social variants with medical research. The approach is scientific because it is clear the invisible enemy does not move, but people move. The current national lockdown and limits on movement have reduced daily infections from 42% to 4%.

It is important to make it clear that the national lockdown is not the only solution the government has implemented. Ramaphosa and the NCCC are aware that the national lockdown has an impact on the economic, political and social facets of society.

In dealing with the vital facets mentioned above, the government, through the comprehensive approach, resorted to a multifaceted mechanism. The mechanism provides for strategic and specific programmes in each facet in order for the national lockdown to be effective in reducing infections.

The multifaceted mechanism in the economic aspect calls for the notion of a solidarity economy. Such an economic system is orientated towards the implementation of welfare services by the state, the private sector and the people. This means the responsibility of government to offer basic necessities to the people, especially the poor, is shared by all independent components of the state, the private sector and ordinary citizens.

The elements of a solidarity economy were shared by Ramaphosa when he announced the formation of the Solidarity Fund. It is through this that the basic fundamental needs of many South Africans will be met. The success of the fund is dependent on the collective efforts of all of us.

It is also important to make it clear that the multifaceted mechanism in the political aspects is evident through Ramaphosa's ability to unite all political formations in our country behind the regulations. Political parties have been able to put their ideological and political differences aside. They are all committed to support all the regulations the NCCC has implemented.

Regarding the social aspects, many ordinary South Africans are adhering to the regulations, are committed to the fight against the coronavirus and are helping those in need. The stigma surrounding the virus has also reached its lowest level.

The comprehensive approach towards dealing with the coronavirus needs to gain its continental footprint. The approach will strengthen the principles of Pan-Africanism, channelled towards the need to create institutions on the continent to deal with the current challenges.

Ramaphosa, as the current chair of the AU, needs to recommend the comprehensive approach to other nations and deliberate on mechanisms that will be realistic in the prevailing material conditions on the continent.


  • Thembi Siweya is a deputy minister in the presidency

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