In his defence,
South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, is not the only world leader to find
extricating himself from a self-imposed lockdown is a lot tougher than
In recent days,
the UK’s Boris Johnson has presented a series of confusing mixed messages with
equally confusing practical application to kickstarting the domestic economy.
In the United States, President Trump has now openly diverged from Dr Anthony
Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert.
From Sao Paulo to
Moscow, from Istanbul to Paris, leaders and their citizens are increasingly
restless in an environment where the traditional rule book simply doesn’t
Of course, every
country has their own social, economic and political dynamics, which play into
the post-lockdown policy framework. The core issues of how societies evolve in
a post-Covid-19 world will adapt to the prevailing internal dynamics of each
South Africa is
therefore no different. The absence of any global precedence or any
international common standard leaves the country to steer in the dark. Yes, it
has scientific and medical experts equal to the best in the world. But it also
has a murky domestic political environment that lacked direction prior to the
virus and therefore, even more unsuited to the future uncertainty.
At the core, is
the debate about the path to re-open to economy and developing a model for
future governance – at all levels.
micro-management of the last few weeks barely reflects a useful approach to
combat Covid-19. Rather it smacks of the same type of over-regulation that has
precisely dampened our economy over the last decade.
It’s not about
which items of clothing you can buy or whether you can enjoy a cigarette, it’s
all about implementing over-zealous controls, a drift towards a more powerful
state and a wrongful deployment of time and energy on the minutiae of detail
rather than on the bigger picture.
While we have no
precedence for a suitable virus response, we sure do have precedence for
damaging rules and regulations that have contributed to the stifling of sectors
of our economy.
Much like South
Africa’s disastrous introduction of birth-certificates for children traveling
into the country or the tardy integration of renewables into our energy grid,
the misuse of regulation is unfortunately far to well-documented in the
Wing and a
Ramaphosa’s entire presidency has been built on a wing and a prayer. And the
country has largely hoped he would succeed despite the internal ideological and
political bottlenecks so holding him back. Within that context, the framing of
the re-opening of South Africa through these (hopefully) latter stages of
Covid-19 must take place.
For both the
frustrated middle-classes and the increasingly destitute poor, the concerns
about the now and future merge. Establishing a sound platform for the
re-opening of the country requires a sound political and ideological foundation
– which has been sorely lacking from the ANC for many years.
The strict lockdown-induced
regulatory framework clearly has to be acknowledged as temporary and it’s
phasing out requires a clear public commitment to this.
overtake pragmatism, the future view of South Africa will simply return to one
where confidence levels in a competitive, constitutional and co-operative
economic environment remains on the side-lines. The country will require
substantive confidence-building policies to enhance its global competitiveness.
For this, the de-regulation of its economy will need to proceed.
For the president,
preparing for a post-Covid economy is now critical. The messaging needs to be
expansive. It needs to express the desire to open-up even to the point of
announcing policy reforms for the future. The world should see a South Africa
so ready to do business, that they are lining up to invest.
sector needs to be freed of state intervention. With supply chains potentially
disrupted, there is a unique opportunity to make our factories the centre-point
of the sub-continent.
energy, we can transform this sector and the input costs to make us so much
more competitive. We can begin to allow more private entrants and bring down
costs for both business and consumers.
So let’s already
say so. Let’s already re-regulate. We don’t need to wait.
We have to
acknowledge that with the pandemic still raging, limited resources will be
prioritised for healthcare. But the messaging needs to be much more
future-oriented. Much more positive. Much more encouraging for the medium-to-longer
Africa needs to express much more than a colour-coded set of amended
restrictions. It needs to be coupled to hope for a new future. Not one based on
dependency and decay but one based on innovation across the board.
But, for this,
ideology needs to shift. And ideology remains a critical constraint within
government. The president continues to remain constrained and restrained.
Battling his Ministers and party faithful, the internal messaging from the ANC
seems to offer little in terms of shifting policy thought-patterns. Unless this
changes, the re-opening is just technocratic without hope for the future.
Ramaphosa was clearly pressurised into making his most recent address. He was
reacting to an increasingly critical populace whose initial support for the
lockdown has begun to wane.
Indeed, he read
the mood of the country – but still failed to articulate the real message for
the future. Unlike other countries, our future was barely a work-in-progress
before Covid-19. If it needed clarifying then, it sure needs it now.
Our success will
not be built on even more dependency, patronage, taxes, regulations and centralised
statist-ideology. It will be built on a fundamental ideological shift away from
this – and that’s as tough to find from the ANC as ever.
Daniel Silke is
the director of the Political Futures Consultancy in Cape Town. Twitter
(@DanielSilke) and at www.danielsilkeglobal.com. Views expressed are his own.