I had an entirely different topic to propose for discussion
this week when I woke up on Tuesday morning, and was preparing to get out of
bed to start my writing when I received a text message.
Let's call her Kgotatso. She lives in Mapobane, north of Pretoria, and she wrote:
I understand that we should stay home. But our Government ain't thinking of those parents who are selling on the street (sic). Those parents, they were managing to get Sanitary Pads for their children. How are they gonna help them selfs (sic)? ??????
I slumped back onto my pillow following this brief exchange with Kgotatso and thought again about what it must be for people like her, the neighbourhood mothers she’s worried about, the daughters of these mothers and others out there. People for whom venturing out of their homes during lockdown, even to obtain the bare essentials, has become as dangerous as a meerkat venturing out of its hole to look for food where danger lurks in all directions – whether it's snakes, caracals, and other predators on the ground or eagles, owls, and other birds of prey swooping in from the sky.
On Tuesday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a whopping R500bn socio-economic stimulus that should lighten the material yoke off the shoulders of many poor South Africans and businesses. Its two-pronged aim is to put much-needed funds into the hands of poor South Africans who have been hard hit by the effects of the lockdown on one hand and, on the other hand, to stimulate the supply side of the economy by ensuring that qualifying businesses that can be rescued are enabled to stay afloat so that they can continue to operate and prevent people from losing their jobs.
In the president's words, "Central to the economic recovery strategy will be the measures we will embark upon to stimulate demand and supply through interventions such as a substantial infrastructure build programme, the speedy implementation of economic reforms, the transformation of our economy and embarking on all other steps that will ignite inclusive economic growth."
If allocated fairly and used as well, these funds stand to go a long way in lessening the pains that many have begun to suffer, as well as levels of stress. We should also hope that social tensions that had begun to rise will also simmer down somewhat.
Justice is the crux
The other important news that many South Africans had no doubt been waiting to hear was on the future of the lockdown. Is it about to be lifted? Cabinet has opted for a phased re-opening of the economy.
This means a risk-adjusted approach to the return of economic activity, balancing the continued need to limit the spread of the coronavirus with the need to get people back to work.
Again, the president is correct. If the lockdown is ended too soon or too abruptly, we would risk a massive and uncontrollable resurgence of the pandemic. Were this to happen, the costs in human life and to the economy would be massive and take even longer to recover. Using evidence-based approaches guided by reputable scientists is therefore the right way to go.
So, as things stand, the lockdown is set to continue. We should hope that when the president makes a further announcement, on Thursday, of the exact measures to be taken in the staggered lifting of the lockdown – or staggered restarting of the economic machinery – he will not omit to remind the security forces tasked with enforcing lockdown regulations to take it easy on people. They should stop behaving as if they’re in competition with the coronavirus to see who will add the biggest numbers of body bags to our count.
And those national ministers who behave either as if lockdown regulations were not established for them, or as if power has gone straight into their heads and clouded their judgement, must be pulled back and reminded that we’re now in democratic South Africa and that South Africans do not want to be reminded of that era when government was the enemy and its security forces a machinery for humiliation and murder of our citizens.
As things stand, going out has become a gamble in many parts of the country because one never knows the level of overzealousness driving the police who will stop one along the road; or the mood they’re in. Too much in their approach seems subjective. It’s like opening a lucky packet. They do not seem to be reading from the same instruction manual on how to treat citizens they encounter or stop on the roads.
Some will listen attentively, check papers, kindly give advice where it is needed, and let you go, while others will come down on you like a ton of bricks before you even open your mouth to explain why you’re out there, and treat you as if you were a suspected fugitive on the run. They do not care whether you’re on your way to get/ deliver food for an ailing relative or to fetch medication for which you might not carry a recent prescription because it’s for a chronic condition.
South Africans have, by and large, stood behind government on its management of the developing situation around the spread of Covid-19. Even many of the most vociferous government critics have come out to support its overall management of and communication around steps it has taken to push back against this global pandemic.
A point for Brand Ramaphosa
In a strange way, the advent of the coronavirus as also been good for Brand Ramaphosa, or for Ramaphoria, as it has presented the president with another chance to demonstrate that he can lead. Many South Africans have embraced him again and want him to stay ahead.
But they do not want him to stop with the coronavirus. They also want him to take advantage of the tide while it swells around him to take care of other, outstanding business over which he had been expected to be more decisive since he took over from his predecessor, and on which he has so far failed us. He knows what that is.
Tuesday evening marked a positive continuation of the recovery of the Ramaphosa brand. The president and his advisors should know this and keep going, ensuring that he also speaks out more clearly against people in the governing party who have been found to have allocated some stimulus food packages in ways that are politically biased.
The way SA handles the coronavirus will ultimately test our appetite for justice and equality - on both a social and economic level. We should all use this time to remind ourselves about how much we can achieve, as a nation, if we work together again for the sake of a country we all love.
* Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley Reputation Managers. Views expressed are his own.