Last March, the South African government implemented one of the strictest lockdowns in the world in an attempt to stop the spread of Covid-19.
The deadly virus arrived at a time when the governing ANC was about to implement a series of policies aimed at radical economic transformation. These policies broadly aim to nationalise land ownership and healthcare, and transfer ownership of the SA Reserve Bank to the state.
Government facilitated South Africa’s catastrophic economic downturn by enforcing harsh and, some believe, unnecessary lockdown regulations. As a result, the economy is on the brink of failure, exacerbating the hunger crisis that plagues poor communities.
According to the expanded definition, unemployment has risen to 42% – which accounts for individuals who were stuck at home due to the lockdown.
Worryingly, 6.5 million people suffered from hunger in 2019, which increased because of persistent joblessness last year. The severity of the jobs crisis has undeniably worsened the levels of child poverty across the country.
Continually high levels of socioeconomic disparities in South Africa heighten the child poverty issue.
Alarmingly, 62.1% of children younger than 17 are classified as multidimensionally poor, meaning that a child is classified as poor if they are deprived of at least three of the seven dimensions in the SA Multiple Overlapping Deprivation Analysis, which include housing, protection and education/child development.
Transformation and development have rightfully occurred over the past 26 years. However, slow development has hampered any meaningful attempt to create prosperity in society.
More importantly, children in poorer communities have borne the social and economic cost of slow development.
The long-term damage of child poverty on South Africa cannot be understated. Early childhood development is hindered and has permanent consequences.
Severe acute malnutrition affects 27% of young children in the country, which leads to lower cognitive development and long-term health issues. South Africa will remain disproportionately unequal if hunger persists.
Admittedly, the ANC recognises the urgent need to provide for struggling families. As a result, R500 billion was allocated towards Covid-19 relief measures, of which welfare recipients are entitled to a grant of R350 per month.
This grant offers little financial support for those who are jobless due to the strict lockdown. But government should be removing barriers to employment, not just making more people reliant on the state’s creaking finances.
When the prohibition on alcohol and cigarettes was announced in March, it became clear that government was pursuing its ideological interests instead of implementing policies to curb Covid-19.
The ban on the sale of cigarettes created a surge in illicit trade during levels 5 to 3 of the lockdown. This resulted in government losing an estimated R4 billion in excise taxes.
The wine industry shed more than 21 000 jobs because of the ban on the sale of alcohol and the industry has reportedly lost R7.5 billion.
This was a self-inflicted economic disaster by government, not the pandemic.
Government’s priority strangely became centred around efforts to curb the illicit trade of alcohol and cigarettes while flexing its political muscle over citizens.
Consequently, tax revenue – which could have aided the failing healthcare system and provide social relief to vulnerable communities – was lost to the illicit market.
However, conjecture rather than science took precedence and the social practices of citizens was scrutinised to cover for a decade-long inept leadership regime.
Certainly, healthcare systems are imperative to life itself, but the consistent crumbling of infrastructure in South Africa is a product of the ANC and not the people.
Despite consistently poor economic performance over the past decade, government insisted on implementing policies that created the economic sinkhole.
Policies that increase government intervention into the private sector and decrease the ease of doing business in the country have disastrous implications for poor communities.
The minimum wage, for example, leads to higher levels of unemployment, which has significant implications for child poverty rates.
The economy is crumbling because the ANC has refused to create a market-friendly environment, one that Nelson Mandela successfully created and that saw the middle class increase exponentially and unemployment fall rapidly.
The government is bent on using the pandemic to implement radical economic transformation and anti-market policies by effectively removing private property rights, nationalising healthcare and pursuing a dangerous path to state supremacy.
Changing South Africa’s economy to test such policies would destroy human progress in a nation once held as the beacon of hope for Africa.
Salie is a writing fellow at African Liberty and is a student in political, philosophical and economic studies at Stellenbosch University. Follow him on Twitter @RiaanSalie