Ralph Mathekga: Wheels on government's lockdown bulldozer coming off

SANDF at a road block in Khayelitsha. (Gallo Images, Brenton Geach)
SANDF at a road block in Khayelitsha. (Gallo Images, Brenton Geach)

When people ask for information as to why certain decisions are made by the Corona Cabinet; they are silenced by references to alarming death tolls in Spain and Italy.




President Ramaphosa's reputation as a constitutionalist is crumbling faster than the recent drop in oil price.

If Ramaphosa was a share, I'd dump him immediately because the course he is on is unwinnable and at some point it will just be silly for people to keep on holding on to the fantasy that the president is an exceptional breed held hostage by the party that has gone rogue.

The management of the coronavirus lockdown is one of the single most important moments that would have a lasting impact on how Ramaphosa's legacy is written.

Forget about job creation and all the economic stuff that the president is unable to deal with; the issue now is how Ramaphosa's Corona Cabinet will come out of this with its management of the spread of the Covid-19 in South Africa.

At this point, Ramaphosa's Corona Cabinet is doing so badly that the courts are about to take custody of the management of the lockdown.

Having unleashed tyranny on the streets since the lockdown started more than 50 days ago, Ramaphosa's Corona Cabinet has earned a not so glamorous mention by the UN Commission on Human Rights and also a sanction by a court here in South Africa.

The High Court in Pretoria ruled in a potentially far-reaching judgment that government must submit its lockdown plan to the court and address some specific issues relating to the conduct of its security forces.

The case involves the death of Collins Khosa in the presence of South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members and other security forces who were patrolling the streets as part of one of the harshest lockdowns to have ever been adopted as a response to the coronavirus outbreak.

In terms of its intrusion on civil liberties and the basic conditions of the existence of humankind known in modern democratic societies, South Africa's lockdown is probably second only to that which was adopted in Wuhan, where the problem began.

South Africa went a bit further in terms of heavy-handedness.

The fact is that the Khosa case is an inquiry about the role of the army in the death of a national who is served by the very army during peace times.

This is a fact and it is happening in a democracy.

Whether or not SANDF members are found guilty; we are a generation that has had to establish the culpability of the army in the death of a national whose tax goes to maintaining the same army.

This indeed will make Nelson Mandela turn in his grave. This is not good for Ramaphosa's legacy.

The judge in the Khosa case ordered government to present its wider plan on management of the lockdown.

This means that government would have to be more transparent regarding information it uses to make key decisions during the lockdown.

Government lost control of the lockdown not only on the streets, but also in terms of its operational planning.

The judgment in the Khosa case is compelling government to remove the veil of secrecy that government maintained since the lockdown started.

There are now a plethora of court cases whereby government's lockdown measures are challenged. With the Khosa case having gone deeper into the regime of the lockdown than what the Khosa lawyers were asking for, government is headed for what it has become known for in recent years: embarrassing court defeats.

At this point, there is no right thinking "top" scientist who is standing on the side of government in terms of the hard lockdown including ridiculous, vindictive measures such as the ban on the sale of tobacco and alcohol products.

Scientists who advise government are now speaking against the Gestapo lockdown measures.

All the time we were told decisions are based on hard science; it was just arbitrary decisions based on the narrow policy wishes of some of the politicians in Ramaphosa's Corona Cabinet.

Indeed, coronavirus is deadly and maximum caution possible should be taken by nations to ensure the survival of its citizens.

However, the fear of coronavirus should not be manipulated by governments to shut down democratic processes.

When people ask for information as to why certain decisions are made by the Corona Cabinet; they are silenced by references to alarming death tolls in Spain and Italy.

Do not ask questions, else you will die like the Spaniards and the Italians! Distasteful.

The wheels are coming off and government must de-escalate its management of the coronavirus spread in the country, else the entire national response will be managed from the bench, as the lawyers would say.

If government lacks a proper rectitude to manage the spread of the coronavirus because it keeps falling back on its old ways, the court will have to take over the custodian of the management of the response, of course together with everyone in society involving various sectors that were initially excluded from the process.

It just might turn out to be a democratic process, a real opportunity for social cohesion where South Africans work together voluntarily to defeat the killer virus.

That could be the foundation of a new order in South Africa; an order based on an understanding that the survival of the poor is intertwined with that of the rich, as the coronavirus has shown us.

This could mean an equal society based on mutual existence of humanity. I wonder if the ANC as a party would be allowed into that order.

- Dr Ralph Mathekga is a political analyst and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn. 


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