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It's time for Ramaphosa to stand up and lead once again

President Cyril Ramaphosa
President Cyril Ramaphosa President Cyril Ramaphosa
Image: Esa Alexander

With nearly 50 days gone since the national lockdown started, we are a nation that is at each others' throats. The energy is negative. The shambolic move from level 5 to level 4 is adding to the simmering anger. Ministers are wagging their fingers at the populace as if we are children. Citizens are threatening to "do something". Hunger stalks the land.

Handled badly, times of crisis like this can destroy nations. Handled well, they can serve as a rallying point to build something positive out of the ashes. It is how we act now, in the middle of this crisis, that will determine which way we go. Point-scoring, finger-wagging and threats will help no one.

Visible, ethical leadership is what the country needs now. Since news of the coronavirus emerged in January our government has acted with speed and an impeccable sense of responsibility. President Cyril Ramaphosa was humbly yet firmly in charge. Health minister Zweli Mkhize was a voice of reason and calm as the virus spread among our people.

All that positive work and energy has dissipated in the past two weeks.

It is time for Ramaphosa to speak to the nation again.

The country needs concrete information on key areas and it needs decisive leadership on the economy. Jobs are being lost. Money is running out. The country needs to know what the chief executive officer of the country, Ramaphosa, is doing about all this.

In the public eye, Ramaphosa is limping. The fiasco of his announcement that cigarettes would be sold under level 4 lockdown, and the next week a minister announcing otherwise, paints him as weak no matter the explanation. He needs to speak.

Not many of Ramaphosa's ministers are good communicators. Trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel's messaging on online shopping (and his dismissal of economic projections on unemployment as "thumbsucks") has been abysmal.

Every time he speaks he comes across as an overzealous bureaucrat with a red pen wanting to ban everything rather than someone who should be doing everything in his power to restart safe trading.

Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is a poor communicator.

Mkhize started off well as the face of the fight against the pandemic and he has continued to do well. Calm, knowledgeable and hard-working, he has warmed himself to the nation. Yet, as the figures and the bodies pile up every day, it is time for him to give clarity on what all these numbers are about and where they are taking us.

Right now, without government leadership on what models it is following, every Mbali, Sipho and Johannes is an epidemiologist.

The point of the lockdown was to buy us time to build hospitals, acquire equipment, recruit staff, get appropriate medicine and be prepared for the peak of infections and hospital admissions. Are we there yet on these preparations?

What is the point, the goal, of the continued lockdown at the high level that it is? The minister can explain all this. He should.

The same talking points should be followed by Ramaphosa. He is the captain of this ship. He has the bigger picture. The president needs to talk to his people. He needs to nip the negativity and disgruntlement in the bud. He needs to rally his cabinet behind him and behind explainable and sensible solutions.

The alternative is that we wallow in this negativity, that we throw insults at each other, and that we emerge from Covid-19 even more divided and directionless than we were in the past.

We cannot afford that.

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