Ralph Mathekga | A stricter lockdown was not an option

Ramaphosa did not revert to a stricter lockdown on Sunday. (FlySafair)
Ramaphosa did not revert to a stricter lockdown on Sunday. (FlySafair)

If more was done to educate communities on Covid-19, we wouldn't be where we are now, writes Ralph Mathekga. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa's recent address to the nation regarding the fight against the spread of Covid-19, signals an interesting shift in the national approach.

The president pushed back against pressure to revert to a tighter lockdown. Amid calls by some opposition parties and interest groups to abandon the course of relaxing lockdown measures because of spiralling infections, Ramaphosa insisted that South Africans need to take responsibility and play their part in fighting against the spread of the virus.

The president took time to elaborate how irresponsible behaviour by some of us allowed the infection rate to get out of control. South Africa is among the countries that have recorded high infection rates. This is quite scary and will indeed cause anxiety. However, the president did not see this as a reason to justify reverting to a stricter lockdown level. The reasons for this shift in position are both obvious and interesting.

The government could not justify implementing a stricter lockdown level for the obvious reason that the shift would only adversely affect an already struggling economy, and the country might still not be able to reverse the spread of the disease.

This also shows a tacit admission by the government that the hard lockdown experiment did not work. Through a hard lockdown, we were unable to flatten the curve. That is the reason why no one in the National Coronavirus Command Council is talking about flattening the curve.

Personal responsibility 

By opting to emphasise personal responsibility in fighting against Covid-19, Ramaphosa is doing what should have been done in the first place.

We earlier, wrongfully and even religiously, believed hard lockdown regulations, which excessively gambled on the government's capacity to enforce, would work.

In any case, our socio-economic conditions are such that strict lockdown regulations are impossible to enforce and obey without coming across as insensitive to the conditions of the poor and vulnerable, who just can't exist under a strict lockdown. It makes sense that the president could not return to an unenforceable strategy that has already shown serious shortfalls.

If we humble ourselves and admit that we wasted the lockdown experiment, it becomes clear that not enough resources were invested in educating the nation about the reality of the coronavirus and the importance of following personal hygiene practices. If this had happened, we would not be dealing with communities where some are still in denial about the reality of the virus.

This would have realistically flattened the curve. Alas, our penchant for spending to please service providers took our attention away from prioritising meaningful public awareness campaigns, as we focused on buying JoJo tanks to address the water problems which were already there prior to the Covid-19 crisis.

A generally compromised public procurement system, which is held ransom by powerful service providers, will certainly misallocate national resources towards priorities that allow for a constant flow of cash to those who stand to benefit. When it comes to the fight against Covid-19, I conclude that we misallocated resources to the non-essential areas while important issues, such as public awareness, were less of a priority. This is beginning to haunt. 

We all knew from the beginning that public education campaigns about the reality of Covid-19 was going to be a major challenge.

This was revealed early on by various senior ministers who acted in a way that showed they were in denial about the virus. If a Cabinet minister shares a video showing they do not believe they should maintain social distancing due to Covid-19, then why should we act surprised when ordinary people harbour the same denial and subsequently disregard personal behaviour guidelines?


The only thing worse than the denial of Covid-19, is to deny that such denial exists as we continually fail to prioritise it as a challenge worth our attention.

South Africa can still turn the corner in the fight against Covid-19, by helping each other to behave responsibly, instead of scolding each other and accusing the poor of being barbaric when we did not bother to engage in meaningful education regarding the meaning of Covid-19.

It is only through co-operation that we can learn to exist with the virus. This is the only solution that can be implemented successfully in the context of South Africa.

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

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