I had an entirely different topic to propose for discussion
this week when I woke up on Tuesday morning, and was preparing to get out of
bed to start my writing when I received a text message.
Let’s call her Kgotatso. She lives in Mapobane, north of Pretoria,
and she wrote:
I understand that we should stay home. But our Government
ain’t thinking of those parents who are selling on the street (sic). Those
parents, they were managing to get Sanitary Pads for their children. How are
they gonna help them selfs (sic)? ??????
I slumped back onto my pillow following this brief exchange
with Kgotatso and thought again about what it must be for people like her, the
neighbourhood mothers she’s worried about, the daughters of these mothers and others
out there. People for whom venturing out of their homes during lockdown, even
to obtain the bare essentials, has become as dangerous as a meerkat venturing
out of its hole to look for food where danger lurks in all directions – whether
it’s snakes, caracals, and other predators on the ground or eagles, owls, and
other birds of prey swooping in from the sky.
On Tuesday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a
whopping R500bn socio-economic stimulus that should lighten the material yoke
off the shoulders of many poor South Africans and businesses. Its two-pronged
aim is to put much-needed funds into the hands of poor South Africans who have
been hard hit by the effects of the lockdown on one hand and, on the other
hand, to stimulate the supply side of the economy by ensuring that qualifying
businesses that can be rescued are enabled to stay afloat so that they can
continue to operate and prevent people from losing their jobs.
In the president’s words, “Central to the economic
recovery strategy will be the measures we will embark upon to stimulate demand
and supply through interventions such as a substantial infrastructure build
programme, the speedy implementation of economic reforms, the transformation of
our economy and embarking on all other steps that will ignite inclusive
If allocated fairly and used as well, these funds stand to
go a long way in lessening the pains that many have begun to suffer, as well as
levels of stress. We should also hope that social tensions that had begun to
rise will also simmer down somewhat.
Justice is the crux
The other important news that many South Africans had no
doubt been waiting to hear was on the future of the lockdown. Is it about to be
lifted? Cabinet has opted for a phased re-opening of the economy.
This means a risk-adjusted approach to the return of
economic activity, balancing the continued need to limit the spread of the
coronavirus with the need to get people back to work.
Again, the president is correct. If the lockdown is ended
too soon or too abruptly, we would risk a massive and uncontrollable resurgence
of the pandemic. Were this to happen, the costs in human life and to the
economy would be massive and take even longer to recover. Using evidence-based
approaches guided by reputable scientists is therefore the right way to
So, as things stand, the lockdown is set to continue. We
should hope that when the president makes a further announcement, on Thursday,
of the exact measures to be taken in the staggered lifting of the lockdown – or
staggered restarting of the economic machinery – he will not omit to remind the
security forces tasked with enforcing lockdown regulations to take it easy on
people. They should stop behaving as if they’re in competition with the coronavirus
to see who will add the biggest numbers of body bags to our count.
And those national ministers who behave either as if
lockdown regulations were not established for them, or as if power has gone
straight into their heads and clouded their judgement, must be pulled back and
reminded that we’re now in democratic South Africa and that South Africans do
not want to be reminded of that era when government was the enemy and its
security forces a machinery for humiliation and murder of our citizens.
As things stand, going out has become a gamble in many parts
of the country because one never knows the level of overzealousness driving the
police who will stop one along the road; or the mood they’re in. Too much in
their approach seems subjective. It’s like opening a lucky packet. They do not
seem to be reading from the same instruction manual on how to treat citizens
they encounter or stop on the roads.
Some will listen attentively, check papers, kindly give
advice where it is needed, and let you go, while others will come down on you
like a ton of bricks before you even open your mouth to explain why you’re out
there, and treat you as if you were a suspected fugitive on the run. They do
not care whether you’re on your way to get/ deliver food for an ailing relative
or to fetch medication for which you might not carry a recent prescription
because it’s for a chronic condition.
South Africans have, by and large, stood behind government
on its management of the developing situation around the spread of Covid-19.
Even many of the most vociferous government critics have come out to support
its overall management of and communication around steps it has taken to push
back against this global pandemic.
A point for Brand Ramaphosa
In a strange way, the advent of the coronavirus as also been
good for Brand Ramaphosa, or for Ramaphoria, as it has presented the president
with another chance to demonstrate that he can lead. Many South Africans have
embraced him again and want him to stay ahead.
But they do not want him to stop
with the coronavirus. They also want him to take advantage of the tide while it
swells around him to take care of other, outstanding business over which he had
been expected to be more decisive since he took over from his predecessor, and
on which he has so far failed us. He knows what that is.
Tuesday evening marked a positive continuation of the
recovery of the Ramaphosa brand. The president and his advisors should know
this and keep going, ensuring that he also speaks out more clearly against
people in the governing party who have been found to have allocated some
stimulus food packages in ways that are politically biased.
The way SA handles the coronavirus will ultimately test our appetite for justice and equality – on both a social and economic level. We should all use this time to remind ourselves about how
much we can achieve, as a nation, if we work together again for the sake of a
country we all love.
* Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley Reputation Managers. Views expressed are his own.