Government are not medical experts or qualified economists

Unemployment and poor leadership has brought about informal settlements like Setjwetla in Alexandra./Thulani Mbele
Unemployment and poor leadership has brought about informal settlements like Setjwetla in Alexandra./Thulani Mbele

Up until now I have been supportive of the SA government's Covid-19 response.

It was important to buy time, to enable both the government and public health system, in particular, to prepare adequately for various scenarios.

Crucially, there needed to be a clear path to flattening the curve and preventing people from getting ill unnecessarily, and dying from the virus.

Scientists and health experts have been studying the situation and all the available data and facts, and advised the government to take required action.

But the job of the government is to govern, not to be a sub-committee of medical experts who have little practical experience on how to run a country and keep an economy, especially one that is underperforming like ours, afloat.

There is no harm in reiterating that Covid-19 was not the beginning of our socioeconomic problems.

We were already in deep trouble before this disease flew in from overseas.

This year was always going to be a difficult year, and frankly a headache for the ANC-led government.

This is the year that we reap the harvest of wasted years, bad decisions, poor leadership and bad governance.

Even without the Covid-19 pandemic, the ratings downgrades were inevitable given the absence of an emphatic change of course in the policies that got us where we are now.

Frankly, the vision for a more inclusive economy needs to become reality quickly. The sixth administration under President Cyril Ramaphosa has no luxury of time, very limited political capital and no comfort of understanding from a despondent citizenry.

The lockdown, relief packages, top-up of social grants, a basic income grant for the unemployed, all these have their place.

The uncomfortable truth is that the prolongation of these measures is eroding the dignity of millions, who were already living with the indignity of being poor, not because of a lack of effort but of sustainable opportunities to participate meaningfully in the economy.

It would seem that the ANC-led national government has seized on this public health crisis to cajole society.

It has gone beyond just flattening the curve and containing a deadly contagious virus. It's become about containing society.

Using force to get township and informal settlement residents to toe the line. Banning the sale of certain goods to control the behaviour of adults.

Decision-making has been centralised. Consultations and meetings between social partners are held behind closed doors. As the public, we only get announcements.

Even with the phased easing of the lockdown, it remains unclear what will trigger the shifts from one stage to another and under what conditions this will happen.

This creates uncertainty which is neither good for business nor for our personal lives.

It has been established that the state lacks capacity at many levels and this was pre-Covid-19.

Covid-19 is therefore not the biggest threat to our society. The big threat is a government that is beyond its depth and unable to come up with workable solutions to SA's problems.

We need a government that is able to think laterally, that strikes a balance between managing a health crisis and reviving a dying economy and protecting an already vulnerable people.

The question is what is going to be done about our dire economic and social situation? What answers does the new dawn have for these problems?

Covid-19 and the latest ratings downgrade have amplified these questions and made them even more urgent.

Where are the big ideas from the government about how we are going to redeem lost time and find ourselves in a better place - not the same place - than we were before Covid-19?

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