Editorial: Harmful flip-flop messages from those at the top

The country's leader, President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture:Supplied/ GCIS
The country's leader, President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture:Supplied/ GCIS

Confusing messages from leaders in times of crisis can be very dangerous.

The past few weeks have been instructive on how to and how not to communicate important information in such times.

The initial messaging was streamlined and to the point. President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke as the nation’s leader, laid bare the gravity of the situation and the actions that had to be taken to fight the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and his team gave us the science, the updates and other relevant information.

Ministers spoke about their respective portfolios, some articulately and others full of bluster.

In the end, citizens were clear about what needed to be done – whether they agreed with the measures or not was neither here nor there.

But now confusion has crept in. Last week, Ramaphosa announced that under level 4 of lockdown, which we entered on Friday, cigarettes could be sold in shops. However, this changed a few days later when Cabinet ministers seemed to overrule their own boss.

Confusing messages from leaders in times of crisis can be very dangerous.

This not only agitated consumers, the industry and shopkeepers, but also embarrassed Ramaphosa, who had seemed to have been very much in control of things.

But now the nation is questioning whether he is really in charge.

This past week, parents’ blood pressure shot up for – as it turned out later – nothing.

First, basic education department officials told MPs that schools would reopen on May 6.

With the pandemic and infection numbers going up daily, parents – and all citizens – were left fuming about government’s seeming uncaring towards the young members of our society.

But, by Thursday evening, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga had logically outlined plans and possible timelines for when the first batch of children could return to school.

Read: Schools may reopen in a month for Grades 7 and 12

Although the sector reopens tomorrow, it will be another month of deep-cleaning and sanitising schools, and educating teachers about the new methods of teaching under Covid-19 before some children will return by, hopefully, June 1.

There have been other instances where it seems decisions were made on the hop or when there have been flip-flops.

Think taxis, cooked food, lotto tickets.

What South Africans need in this battle is the right information based on scientific advice.


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