Howard Feldman

OPINION | Ramaphosa's Covid-19 response has thus far earned the confidence of a sceptical nation

2020-04-16 20:02
President Cyril Ramaphosa addressing the nation on the lockdown extension. (GCIS)

President Cyril Ramaphosa addressing the nation on the lockdown extension. (GCIS)

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Ramaphosa has acted rationally, quickly and divisively, addressing the need to balance economic hardships with the saving of lives. It is critical that he continues on this path, writes Howard Feldman.

There are a number of criteria that have contributed to South Africa’s success in dealing with Covid-19 thus far. And whereas the fight is far from over, the interim news is a significantly better than could have been or was anticipated. 

The rational and sometimes ponderous approach adopted by government: President Cyril Ramaphosa has been criticised in the past for being too slow to act, too deliberate and even for procrastinating. In a past column I referred to him as South Africa’s “Hamlet” and even pointed out that the tragedy of that Shakespearean play was caused by his inability to act. 

And yet with Covid-19, he has managed to combine deep rationality, expert advice with action. He acted quickly and divisively by locking down the country sooner than most other countries did, and by addressing the need to balance economic hardships with the saving of lives.

By providing constant information, showcasing the erudite and inspiring Professor Abdool Karim, he has earned the confidence of an enormously sceptical nation. 

It is imperative that this approach continues and includes a strategy with regard to the economy. This will be an area of potential conflict for the South African government as there can be no getting away from the fact that the situation would have been significantly better had the prior regime not plundered national resources for their own gain.

On a logical level, most South Africans understand that there is little to be gained by taking the conversation in that direction, but when anxiety increases, this will be difficult to contain.

The government also needs to ensure that they continue to get buy-in from South Africans who so far are respectful of the lockdown. The banning of the sale of cigarettes and alcohol is one area that doesn’t sit comfortably with everyone.

Whereas most understand that alcohol poses real dangers, there is a sense that the cessation of even online sales might be a case of “not letting a good crisis going to waste.”

When I asked the question on my radio show this morning, the ACDP tweeted the following to me, “We repeat our support for the #LockdownSA ban on alcohol sales. It’s clearly proven that alcohol abuse is a leading cause of criminal activities, accidents, abuse and deaths. You just have to look at the huge drop in such cases in the last two weeks for confirmation.” 

The response of the opposition parties has been extremely positive. The Democratic Alliance has not only been vocal in its support of the government’s initiatives but have rolled up their sleeves in order to assist where they are able. Their economic strategies, assistance in the repatriation of South Africans have clearly been useful to Ramaphosa who is prepared to read the content of the message rather than focus on the messenger.

The EFF and the Freedom Front seem to be adhering to the adage that my late grandmother never lived by; “If you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”  And the ACDP have publicly supported where they have been agreement and remained silent where they have not. 

One of the biggest risks faced by a government will be the perceived success of the fight against Covid-19. The less the “threat” is felt, the more chance there is of complacency setting in and the more chance that there is of people not adhering to the advice and recommendations being made.

To add to that, as South Africans become more anxious about the future the temptation to defy the guidelines will be greater. With this in mind, it is critical that decisions are rationally based, that citizens are taken into the confidence of leadership and that other parties continue to support the initiatives. 

South Africa really is a remarkable country with a remarkable people. The handling of Covid-19 should leave little doubt to the contrary. 


Read more on:    cyril ramaphosa  |  lockdown  |  coronavirus


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