Crises bring out the best and worst in people. The coronavirus pandemic (covid-19) has shown South Africans the leader that President Cyril Ramaphosa is and can be. Prior to the arrival of covid-19 on our shores, there was discontent from some sectors of society on Ramaphosa’s ‘consultative leadership’ style. Covid-19 has shown that consulting widely and listening to those in the know is vital for better decision making. So far, the President has acted in a decisive manner, when the need arose, especially in the implementation of the 21-day national lockdown and the subsequent 14- day extension.
One certainly hopes that when the pandemic is over and life somewhat returns to a state of normalcy, government will take stock of how they have responded to covid-19, keep the good, discard the bad and seek to improve in order to get the country on a prosperous economic path.
Government has largely done well in keeping the public abreast of its discussions and progress in the fight against covid-19. Coherence between Ministries, transparency and openness should form the cornerstone of government’s actions and policy proposals going forward. Government would also do well to avoid one-sided views when it comes to matters of the economy and policy recommendations. The decision around what is essential and non-essential during the lockdown was largely informed by the WHO and the actions of other countries that instituted lockdowns before South Africa. with China being under the authoritarian rule of the Chinese Communist Party, it was easy to institute a lockdown in Wuhan, however, in South Africa, constitutional rights, socio-economic factors and civil liberties have to be considered and with the increasing number of the discontent, it seems as if the National Command Council has not fully taken those factors into account in making and enforcing some of its decisions. That would include our densely populated townships, the proliferation of illicit goods in our communities and our fragile economy. The decision to ban the sale of cigarettes and alcohol, not only had economic implications, but also saw a rise in homemade brews and cigarettes, which may have long term health implications. The lack of clarity regarding regulations and decisions taken has always been a sickness that has plagued government for some years now. That trend has continued during the lockdown and one hopes it will abate post-covid-19.
The antagonistic relationship between the public and police that existed before the lockdown reached a new low, with scenes all over the media of the undue force exerted by police and members of the South African Defence Force (SANDF) in the enforcement of the lockdown, even resulting in death of a civilian. The apparent lack of sympathy from the Minister of Police on the treatment of some citizens has not helped in mending or alleviating the already fraught relationship.
A lot of good things have come from the President and government and they would do well to lead and maintain the cooperation between themselves and the business sector that we have witnessed during this time to undo the damage caused by state capture and economic mismanagement. The President promised tough action against whom the serious allegations of extensive corruption were made at the State Capture Commission. The President must ensure that he fulfils that promise sooner rather than later; lest he loses credibility in the eyes of the public. We should also see those councilors and officials who stole what was meant for the poor and vulnerable and sought to profit from the pandemic experiencing the full might of the law and ending up behind iron bars. Of course, the allegations from the state capture commission and the looting and food parcel saga related to the covid-19 pandemic, mostly implicate ANC members and if Ramaphosa is to act decisively on corruption, then he should be prepared to go against his own comrades.
Our economy was already in a bad shape before covid-19 and will most likely be worse off postcovid-19. Government’s support for Small Micro and Medium Enterprises (SMMEs) will be more vital than ever to give them a lifeline postcovid-19 and ensure that they play a meaningful role in job creation and poverty alleviation. SMMEs are an important contributor to the economy as drivers for reducing unemployment, especially since the formal sector has been and will continue to shed jobs. According to the Banking Association of South Africa, SMMEs provide employment to about 60% of the labour force and total economic output accounts for roughly 34% of GDP. The R200 billion covid-19 relief provided by government, will keep them afloat for a short period, however, to ensure their long term sustainability, the issues the sector has always lamented should be looked at closely to create a more enabling environment for job creation. Those issues include access to finance, skills development initiatives, reduction of regulatory and compliance burdens. The Department of Small Business Development must step up to the place. Since its establishment in 2014, the department has not done enough to develop the SMME sector, even during the lockdown, it has largely lacked ideas on how it will support SMMEs besides the funding that has been made available.
In 2014, government launched the Gender-Based Violence Command Centre (GBVCC) as one of the vehicles to assist in the fight against women and children abuse in the country. Within the first week alone of the lockdown, South African Police Services (SAPS) received 2,320 complaints of gender-based violence (which are only the reported cases), with only 148 related charges laid. By 11 April, the GBVCC had received close to 12 000 calls. In anticipation of the tensions that would be brought about by the lockdown, government established places of safety, accelerated court dates, counselling and coded calls for help. There is no reason why such measures should not be continued and strengthened in the future. This would mean more funding be made available for the fight against GBV. The R1.6 emergency fund availed by President Ramaphosa in October 2019 and the R15 million allocated to the establishment of the National Council on Gender Based Violence and Femicide are not enough to fight what has now reached crisis levels in South Africa.
Government should accelerate the finalization of the National Strategic Plan to combat Gender Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) that has been pending since 2018. The purpose of the GBVF National Strategic Plan is to provide a multi-sectoral, coherent strategic policy and programming framework to strengthen a coordinated national response to the crisis of gender-based violence and femicide by the government of South Africa and the country as a whole. Key elements of the plan include: A multi-sectoral approach to optimally harness the roles, responsibilities, resources and commitment across government departments, different tiers of government, civil society, movements, youth structures, development agencies, the private sector, academic institutions and all stakeholders; and Active and meaningful participation of communities, civil society, movements, and those most affected by GBV in the design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of the strategy.
Writing in his weekly newsletter on the 27th of April, President said that we should use the lessons learned from covid-19 pandemic “to invest in a new society, a new consciousness and a new economy.” This new society should not only seek to change people’s social behaviours but it should also result in a ‘new government’. Such a government would ensure that those who hold different policy views from government’s are not antagonized and that they are in fact engaged of constructively, so that can assist government in addressing an array of economic challenges, such as increasing unemployment and corruption, that South Africa continues to be confronted with. The spirit of consultation and careful consideration of different views should be a norm a ‘new government’.
Written by Calvin Matlou