As SA’s leaders indulge their pet hates we’re failing in the ...

Ideas

As SA’s leaders indulge their pet hates we’re failing in the Covid-19 fight

Instead of getting ready for the pandemic’s peak they’re badgering smokers and hamstringing business

Columnist
Our own people are dying and our own army, certainly in the Collins Khosa case, is trying to sweep their deaths under the carpet, says the writer.
Writing's on the wall Our own people are dying and our own army, certainly in the Collins Khosa case, is trying to sweep their deaths under the carpet, says the writer.
Image: Esa Alexander

SA and the world are faced with a cunning and horrifying enemy. The coronavirus’s cunning is that just as it attacks the human body and aggressively moves from one host to the next, it devastates economies and wrecks livelihoods. The death toll from Covid-19 is rising rapidly. At the same time, the economy is dying: jobs are being lost, wages are being cut, businesses are closing shop.

Our society has many other problems, but this is the overwhelming challenge of this time: keeping our people safe from Covid-19 and keeping livelihoods secure by safely opening up the economy. We cannot afford to be distracted, to take our eye off the ball. Sadly, we are.

The biggest mistake President Cyril Ramaphosa has made in his handling of this twin crisis has been to get distracted. After an inspirational start, his leadership cohort seems to be losing its way badly. Cabinet members seem to have forgotten that the enemy, ultimately, is the virus and not the pet hates they have all held in the past.

This is not the time to be trying to beat ordinary South Africans into compliance on cigarette smoking. That’s a distraction and the whole industry of “research” trying to justify this campaign is a distraction. This is no time to be trying to bring business to heel by hitting industry with strangling regulations and permits and permissions for everything and anything. This is not the time to be jumping up and down about the horribly murdered George Floyd in the US when a cover-up is unfolding in your own backyard about the murder of Collins Khosa.

Cabinet set itself clear goals at the beginning of the fight against the coronavirus: to procure a large number of intensive care unit beds, ventilators and staff to fight the pandemic at a medical level. Second, to educate and isolate all of us from each other enough to slow down the spread of the virus. Finally, to cushion the impact of this virus on our lives and our economy.

Why would Ramaphosa feel the need to rush to talk about a US problem like this when we face our own massive police brutality problems here at home?

We are failing. The beds and the ventilators are not ready. News24 reported on Sunday that its comparison of the latest number of critical care beds available in the public sector as of June 1 (2,719) with the capacity that existed as of April 10 (2,512) shows that only 207 additional critical care (high care and ICU) beds have been made available in the public sector. What have we been doing all this time?

As for ventilators, the report argues that after more than two months of lockdown, just 350 additional ventilators have been added to the public health system. The health department estimated in April that the country would need at least 7,000 by the pandemic’s peak in September. Again, what have we been doing?

The economy continues to take a spectacular beating. The National Treasury estimates that job losses could be between 690,000 in the event of a quick economic recovery, or 1,79 million in a worst-case scenario.

At this point – a point, mind you, we should not be at – our leaders should be working like demons to get the economy back in production. Instead, the government is wasting an inordinate amount of time policing the sale of cigarettes or stifling businesses with so much red tape it makes operating unsustainable. Take the simple act of flying from Johannesburg to Cape Town to inspect your factory. You need letters and permissions to travel there and to sleep in a hotel – a lot of it on paper. You basically need to travel with a printer to get this stuff done. We had a red tape problem before. Now it will kill this economy.

The greatest example of taking your eye off the ball was displayed by Ramaphosa last Friday when he led the ANC’s launch of an anti-racism campaign which mimicked the current major anti-racism campaigns in the US protesting against police brutality. Ramaphosa knows that here in SA at least 10 people were killed by security forces during the lockdown. To say he and his government have in large part acted as if they are covering up these incidents is to be charitable.

Why would Ramaphosa feel the need to rush to talk about a US problem like this when we face our own massive police brutality problems here at home? That Ramaphosa and the ruling party felt that they need to launch a “me too” anti-racism campaign illustrates just how little grasp of the challenges our leaders have. Our own people are dying and our own army, certainly in the Khosa case, is trying to sweep their deaths under the carpet. Our economy is shattered. We are not ready for the peak of Covid-19. Yet our leaders are losing focus.

It’s time to quote Thabo Mbeki back in 1999: “The time has now come that we go back to work!”