Soon after the coronavirus
arrived on South African shores, earlier this year, and government imposed a Level
5 lockdown towards the end of March, South Africa, like much of the world,
found itself face-to-face with an enemy no one had seen creeping in.

We trustingly
accepted that what we were told by government was the right way to go about protecting
ourselves and others from the new virus.

In those early
days, we were too shocked and scared of the virus – not of government – to interrogate
the new government directives. In fact, many of us were simply glad to leave
all that to our leaders, trusting that they knew better and could only have our
best interests at heart.

Over the past
two months, however, the conundrum we faced has become a two-headed monster. We
now battle an economic attack as well as a medical one.

The spread of
the virus has not stopped and, at the same time, our economy – which was
already on its knees at the onset of the pandemic – has weakened further right
before our eyes, as our hands remain manacled behind our back.

A triple junk sovereign
credit rating has also not helped.

In more recent
weeks, reports have grown of closures by small and medium enterprises, with a
jobs bloodbath whose real extent is yet to be calculated. The livelihoods of
many poor and middle-class South Africans of all races are being destroyed before
their eyes.

We no longer
have a choice. Government must come up with a convincing, two-pronged plan that
will help us continue the fight against the coronavirus while also saving our
economy. There can be no room in such a plan for personal likes and dislikes. The discussion we should be having cannot be
focused on pushing back against only one head of this two-headed monster.

There is a
sobering incongruence between some of the lockdown regulations and the need to
push back against the coronavirus. Restricting the kind of clothes provided,
for example, has a negative economic impact, and its positive impact on
restricting the spread of the virus is questionable. It would have made more
sense if the time spent by individuals in clothing shops were restricted,
rather than government dictating what garments citizens can buy.

The pandemic
has also presented a golden opportunity to sell Brand South Africa to its own
citizens and strengthen social cohesion. Instead, we’ve seen divisions
highlighted and polarising accusations made over the allocation of relief
according to race or political affiliation. But we are in this together, and those
businesses that have suffered the most – irrespective of who they are – are also
the employers of many. Emotions are running high at a time when so much could
have been done to show the world, and ourselves, that when the going gets
tough, South Africans have it in them to rally together for the benefit of all.

Where citizen
trust is depleted, it leads to lawlessness and decreased compliance with
crucial regulations. Government ministers should therefore be mindful of how
they use their power, and not squander this trust. They should also be
realistic about the limits of security agencies. They cannot stop all incidents
of the proliferating black market, in which alcohol and tobacco products are
sold and transported in secret.

It is not
because people are inherently criminals that they are resorting to the black
market to earn income they need or to access goods and services they
desperately want or need. It is because they simply no longer believe in, or
see the sense of, a continued lockdown. They no longer trust that they must
comply.

And they are
focusing on beating the head of the monster that they presently find most
threatening. A lack of trust in leadership has made them forget that the enemy
is the coronavirus.

When government
fails to use the opportunities it has to build on its reputation within and
outside the country, goodwill is squandered. And that’s a very slippery slope
indeed.

* Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley Reputation Managers. Views expressed are his own.

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