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Government incompetence puts population at risk of coronavirus

Minister of health Dr Zweli Mkhize and MEC of health in Limpopo Dr Phophi Ramathuba brief the media at The Ranch Resort in Limpopo where 121 South Africans have been quarantined.
Minister of health Dr Zweli Mkhize and MEC of health in Limpopo Dr Phophi Ramathuba brief the media at The Ranch Resort in Limpopo where 121 South Africans have been quarantined.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

During a national crisis, it is not ideal for citizens to speak disharmoniously, especially on matters that menace the whole nation.

At such a time, the government must lead the effort to save the nation from calamity. The precondition, though, is that the government must be trustworthy and competent enough to deal with the situation.

The problem in our country today is that very few of us can trust our government. Think of President Cyril Ramaphosa telling us that he was "shocked" by loadshedding, or that he did not know that Bosasa "donated" money to his ANC presidential campaign.

During Jacob Zuma's time, we would be arrogantly asked: "The president has apologised, what more must he do?" An apology was transformed into a coercive silence: The president has apologised, therefore shut up!

If you pressed Zuma more, as some of us did, you would be made to appear like a madman who does not understand the meaning of the word "apology" that Zuma's advisers wanted you to grasp: "end of story".

Indeed, most sane South Africans are very happy that Zuma has been ejected from the Union Buildings, and quarantined with lucky chickens and cows in Nkandla.

But the spirit of Zuma lingers on at the Union Buildings today. There are fat cats there who get very angry when we remind the nation about Ramaphosa's lies about loadshedding and Bosasa.

The same Zuma question is hurled at us today: "The president has apologised, what more must he do?"

If you lie once or twice to us, why must we trust you next time? That is our answer to the fat cats, and that is South Africa's biggest problem as we grapple with the coronavirus.

More than a month after the virus broke out in China, and as the virus was messing up other Asian societies such as South Korea, and as it was shaking up European countries like Italy, Ramaphosa's government behaved as if the virus would never get here, as if we were favoured by some deity.

By the way, South African embassy officials based in the affected countries clamoured for a policy directive from Pretoria not to issue visas to people from affected countries to visit SA. And what did Ramaphosa's government do: nothing.

When I wrote this column (on Friday), our government had still not imposed travel restrictions on people coming from the affected regions of the world.

Why has it taken so long for our government to stop the entry of Asians and Europeans into SA? Was the government waiting for the coronavirus to first come in? Is it wise to lock a house when criminals are already in?

The first confirmed coronavirus case in SA was of a South African who had travelled to Italy.

By the time the man returned home, the whole world knew that Italy was a hub of the virus.

By that time, a responsible government would have issued a policy to quarantine everyone coming from Italy and other affected countries for 14 days.

All honest South Africans have always known that our government is incompetent.

The problem is that incompetence in the face of the coronavirus is potentially deadly - unlike Eskom incompetence, for example.

Think of the unwell-looking Dr Zweli Mkhize. He rushes to tell a school in KZN to reopen and not to panic. He does so having tested neither a child nor teacher there, even though the children of an infected man went to that school.

The ignorant Angie Motshekga also did the same to a school in Sandton.

An epidemiologically oriented medical doctor would have thanked the school for halting operations to allow space to test every child and teacher at that school. Obviously, Mkhize is suspicious of science. He is the kind of man who trusts his feelings.

South Africa is still kind of lucky; the coronavirus seems to be confined to the chattering class. Let us all close our eyes and pray that the virus must not get into black townships and informal settlements. Dear Lord, please help us!