Era of employment as we know it is at an end and may not be back in our lifetime

To help stop the spread of Covid-19 infections, socially distance yourself, wear a mask in public spaces, and sanitise your hands as often as possible.
To help stop the spread of Covid-19 infections, socially distance yourself, wear a mask in public spaces, and sanitise your hands as often as possible.
Image: AFP / MICHELE SPATARI

There are two central problems facing SA as we navigate the uncharted territory of the coronavirus.

The first is to arrest the spread of the virus and minimise death. So far SA has done its best. The quick enforcement of a national lockdown has slowed down our progress towards the scary situation Italy, and now the US, found themselves.

A lockdown is not a solution; it merely delays what can happen if a country does not have the capacity to test, trace, isolate and treat.

Countries that have done this well have been able to normalise life the soonest.

SA is now on the brink of an uncontrollable spread of the virus, given our rising numbers. There are signs it has now reached townships in the Western Cape and Gauteng. Once in informal settlements, the state can never be able to control it.

But there is something we ordinary people can do. If you don't want to get infected or infect others, you must socially distance yourself, wear a mask in public spaces, and sanitise your hands as frequently as possible.

If you take personal responsibility, you might live to tell your grandchildren about the plague - just like my grandfather survived and told his grandchildren about the 1918 Spanish flu.

The long-term solution is indeed a vaccine, estimated with 18 months. Science is, eventually, capable of either killing or managing viruses. HIV has now been subdued.

The second problem is an economic one. This will prove to be the most difficult and long-term problem SA will face post-Covid-19.

The short-term goal is to ensure people have something to eat during lockdown. Social grants and food parcels are desperate measures in that regard, but can only be sustained for a short period.

Government is aware of the severity of the economic disaster coming our way. That is why President Cyril Ramaphosa is preparing to move to level 3 even when infections are rising.

But Ramaphosa will not prevent the economic disaster. While he has promised a plan, experience has taught us his plans don't work. How many plans has he announced since he took office? Which one of them has grown the economy? Which one has created jobs?

There are gullible people who told us to expect Ramaphosa to deal with corruption swiftly. Who among his corrupt comrades in the ANC is in jail today?

If you have lost your job because of Covid-19, don't expect to get it back because of a promise from the Union Buildings. What we know is that there will be too many unemployed people after Covid-19, and the state will be so broke it will not be able to offer any assistance.

We are getting into a situation where Steve Biko would say, "Black man, you are on your own." While we trust the economy will eventually recover, we know it will take a decade or more to be where it used to be - which was not an ideal economic situation in the first place.

This is the time when we owe each other the truth. South Africans must prepare to taste what other Africans in countries like Zimbabwe and Mozambique are used to - living without expecting anyone to give you a job.

In our new normal, people will have to assist each other. But, more importantly, people must learn to do something for themselves. The era of employment is over, and may not come back in our lifetime. So, brace yourself.

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