Guest Column

OPINION | How should President Ramaphosa manage the lockdown whinge brigade?

2020-05-18 14:33
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (GCIS)

President Cyril Ramaphosa. (GCIS)

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First, he should appreciate that he can never shut them up.  He won't stop the moaning by telling people to stop moaning. They'll just moan about being told what to do.

During the past week two social media posts from friends got me thinking: One said: “When he (President Cyril Ramaphosa) doesn’t open the economy, he is killing livelihoods.

When he opens the economy, he is killing lives. When he doesn’t update the nation, he is in hiding. When he updates the nation, he doesn’t say much. When he consults, he is weak.

When he is decisive, he is abusing his power.” 

“It comes with the territory Mr President. Just continue to lead us Mr President. We will continue to pray for you Mr President including the doubting Thomases and Naysayers.” 

Another one said: “If he uplifts the lockdown we will blame him for the lives lost. If he extends the lockdown we will blame him for the economy that has fallen into pits. If he becomes lenient with the lockdown we will accuse him of unfairness. If he lifts the ban on alcohol (and cigarettes), we will deem the lockdown to be futile. Bottom line nothing he says or does will satisfy us...” 

Whinge brigade 

It is amazing that at the time when managing the global threat of the coronavirus contagion requires both calm and urgency, as well as cooperation and transparency amongst all of us, some citizens, parties and organisations are moaning and whingeing and even rushing to the courts. 

Everything we have learned from previous contagious disease outbreaks - including the similar SARS outbreak in 2003 - should have prepared us well enough to know that we all have a part to play in thwarting the spread of the coronavirus too.   

Yet the Democratic Alliance is taking the government to court to challenge the validity of some aspects of the national lockdown, including the military-enforced night curfew, the ban on e-commerce and the restriction on exercise hours. 

There is also the whingeing and moaning about whether the continued ban on the sale of liquor and tobacco products is really justifiable as the nation and world tackles the coronavirus. 

Defending the ban of alcohol sales amid cries of protest from the liquor industry, President Cyril Ramaphosa said alcohol was “a hindrance to the fight against coronavirus.” 

“There are proven links between the sale and consumption of alcohol and violent crime, motor vehicle accidents and other medical emergencies at a time when all public and private resources should be preparing to receive and treat vast numbers of Covid-19 patients,” the president said in a statement. 

“Evidence shows that the War on Drugs caused more problems than it did good… It is highly discriminatory. The vast majority of the population are unable to stock up.” - Prof JP Van Niekerk, South African Drug Policy Initiative told Cape Talk 567. 

And of course tobacco retailers and producers are up in arms. A collective of cigarette producers, the Fair-trade Independent Tobacco Association, have gone to court. 

The truth is if any reckless buffoon caught Covid-19, it wouldn't be just their health on the line. They might pass the deadly disease to a frail or sick person who could easily die. 

Occasional grumble 

These arrogant attitudes are irresponsible beyond belief. Granted, everyone has the right to grumble occasionally, but the constant and unchecked whining of habitual moaners has become a contagion that can bring all of us down amidst the killer virus. 

The novel coronavirus requires leaders in business, government and civil society to continue to come together to help our nation deal with the pandemic, support our healthcare system, weather the economic disruption, and ensure we can come back from this crisis stronger than ever. 

We can defeat this invisible killer only through a co-ordinated response, not court challengers and whingeing sessions.  

Unfortunately as coronavirus sinks its fangs into our nation's skin, resentful defeatism appears to be our national coping mechanism. We have some of the most inveterate whingers and belly-achers. 

Moaning has become a pessimistic outlook

The moaning has become a pessimistic outlook on everything and occasionally leads to a loss of a sense of purpose and general all-round negativity.  

It also has a direct effect on our own sense of self. Self-confidence suffers, energy drops, and there is a bleak outlook on life.  

Anyone who deals with moaners knows that their querulousness can suck the life out of you.  

Of course having someone who flaunts a healthy disregard for authority can be valuable - so long as their subversion is effectively harnessed.  

The threat posed to this country by the coronavirus Covid-19 is a serious one that requires comprehensive action.

This is needed to minimise any loss of life and the economic damage that the disease could inflict. 

Much of this, of course, involves government action. This includes the provision of clear information to the public. 

Ramaphosa, the collaborative leader  

Granted no one wants to be governed by a nanny state. But over the past two months, President Ramaphosa has been a collaborative leader.  He has not tried to dominate the government as its all-seeing visionary, leading idea generator and controlling intelligence.  

Instead, he sees himself as a stage setter, as a person who makes it possible for the creativity in his government to play itself out.  He has lessened the power distance between himself and everybody else.

He has demonstrated that Covid-19 is too complex for one brain, but if he can create the right context and nudge a group process along, his team will come up with solutions. 

He has created a culture of cooperation, not competition. He has evoked a shared national consciousness more than partisan consciousness.

Yet the moaners are picking holes in over-optimistic plans and always present the downside of the argument against steps that can be taken to defeat the pandemic. 

People, their organisations and leaders moan for a number of reasons: some for attention, some because they have a low tolerance for frustration, others because they feel that responsibility lies elsewhere. This is known as external locus of control.  

All of us should be grateful for the president’s collaborative and honest broking approach.

To be an honest broker, I am sure the president has had to repress some of his own ideas in order to serve as referee, guide and nudge us toward a common goal of defeating Covid-19.

He has embraced an oppositional mind-set.

As Linda A. Hill and others argue in a Harvard Business Review essay called "Collective Genius," the president has created a culture in which relationships are more important than one person's touchy pride. 

He understands that there are going to be people who take cheap shots at him.  

Manage whingers and moaners

But he knows that he should swallow indignation and be tolerant, step back from the war posture of politics, take off the armour to build strong bonds through intelligence, self-confidence to guide us through this war against the virus without appearing to be cocky. 

He has demonstrated determination to be humble enough to put others' needs before his own. 

So, how should President Ramaphosa effectively manage whingers and moaners?  

First, he should appreciate that he can never shut them up. 

He won't stop the moaning by telling people to stop moaning. They'll just moan about being told what to do.  

There's still time to avoid a national calamity.

But how well we survive the coronavirus menace could well be determined by all our actions, not court actions and joining the whinge brigade. 

- Rich Mkhondo runs The Media and Writers Firm (, a content development and reputation management hub.  

Read more on:    coronavirus  |  pandemic


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