Kganki Matabane | SA needs a new economic normal when the coronavirus ends

Medical staff take the temperature of a driver.  (Odd Andersen, AFP)
Medical staff take the temperature of a driver. (Odd Andersen, AFP)

I got a call the other day from my lovely village of Makurung, Ga-Mphahlele, in Limpopo Province, informing me that they are very thankful to the Covid-19 pandemic. They are thankful and happy because the government has finally provided water, the commodity that the village never lacked before 1994. I ask myself, why does it have to take a serious and unfortunate crisis and pandemic for villages to be provided with drinking water?

The situation above is a clear demonstration that something is wrong somewhere. The democratic miracle has not actually reached its intended beneficiaries. The government has also not been efficient and agile in its provision of essential services. The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated that things, which sometimes take years to be accomplished by our government, could actually be done in a matter of weeks.

SA has never experienced this type of collaboration between business, labour, civil society and the government (social partners) since the dawn of democracy. I have never experienced this sense of solidarity in my entire life. It makes me proud to be a South African. South Africa is indeed alive with possibilities.

This period has been characterised by quick decision-making, world-class collaboration, sufficient consultation (not perpetual), seamless integration, speed in addressing bottlenecks, agility, efficiency, effectiveness, visibility of leadership and unity of purpose.

One wonders what stops the country from adopting the same attitude when addressing issues bedevilling the country: Pertinent matters, such as our social ills and societal challenges, gender-based violence, crime, corruption, provision of water and sanitation, eradication of mud schools, development of small businesses, providing access to market and funding to black-, female-, and youth-owned businesses, mainstreaming people living with disabilities, sorting out the non-performing state-owned companies, among other matters.

What stopped the country from fully implementing the spirit of the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) with the same zeal instead of ticking the compliance box? How is it that, 26 years into democracy, black people are still on the periphery of the economy, owning less than 5% of their supposed economy. Why are the top echelons of the country's private sector still dominated by white males?

The positive energy I am referring to above should not be confused with the negative actions of some in the country, who want to take us back. Those people are reminded that the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and other laws are not suspended during this period. As such, the B-BBEE remains law and in place and, as such, should not be undermined under any circumstance.

We should take advantage of the crisis and use the opportunity created to come out of it with a "new normal", an inclusive economy that is underpinned by socioeconomic transformation and a high level of localisation. As we look at economic intervention and recovery, we can no longer accept the pre-Covid-19 "normal" of unacceptably high levels of joblessness, poverty, inequality and exclusion.

I agree with those who say we need to develop a post-Covid-19 Economic Reconstruction, Growth and Transformation Plan. The plan that is fortified by a determination for localisation and the development of local manufacturing; empowerment and development of small businesses, women-, youth-, and black-owned businesses, including companies owned by people with disabilities; agile delivery of services to the poor; utilisation of state spending to entrench socioeconomic transformation; acceleration of the intra-African trade, using the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA); investing in cooperatives and the informal sector of our economy; fast-tracking the release of the high-frequency spectrum to enable working and learning/schooling from home, etc.

Forging a new economy 

We should use the same enthusiasm displayed during the Covid-19 pandemic to vigorously implement what is envisioned by President Cyril Ramaphosa when he said, "we are resolved not merely to return our economy to where it was before the coronavirus, but to forge a new economy in a new global reality… we will forge a compact for radical economic transformation that ensures and advances the economic position of women, youth and persons with disabilities, and that makes our towns, villages and rural areas vibrant centres of economic activity”.

We need a new economic order, where we normalise procurement of goods and services by big business and the government from SMMEs as well as black-, youth- and women-owned companies, including companies owned by people living with disabilities.

In my language, Sepedi, we say "Tau tja hloka seboka di shitwa ke nare e hlotja", loosely translated to mean (lions that fail to work as a team, struggle to bring down even a wounded buffalo). The country displayed an unprecedented unity of purpose while dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

Let's adopt the same energy in deepening the socioeconomic transformation to accelerate the participation of black business in the mainstream economy, instead of reversing some of the gains made.

Let us aim for an era where water will not only be delivered to my village, so that people can wash hands but because it is an everyday basic necessity and a human right.

* Matabane is the chief executive officer of the Black Business Council

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