News24 05 May 2020


South Africans are tough people.

We have endured hardships and we do so with grace and humour. Our response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been no different, and our people have shown tremendous perseverance in these difficult times. 

South Africa faces an economic decline the likes of which we have never seen before. To put this in perspective, during the 2008/9 global recession, South Africa lost 1 million jobs.

National Treasury is now projecting the loss of between 3 and 7 million jobs. 

Our national mood is changing and I detect this is because our President’s leadership on the health crisis has not been mirrored in the handling of the relaxation of regulations.  

No, this has been delegated to the Cabinet Ministers of our country.

These are individuals who have collectively led our country to its economic knees over the past 10 years through a mess of ideological confusion and personal hobby-horses.  

Perhaps the greatest cause of anxiety is the manner in which the actual loss jobs will be closer to 3 or 7 million appears to lie in the hands of such a cabinet.  

Whether it is this, or South Africa’s desire to enjoy greater freedoms again, the past week has given much cause for concern for the future managing of the regulations: 

To Smoke, Not to Smoke 

To be clear, I am not a smoker. Tried it, hated it.

But whether you like it or not it is a multi-billion rand industry in our country with millions of customers.

The President allowing the sale of tobacco, followed by his Ministers reversing this position is bizarre.

The reason provided – a secret election in which 2 000 e-mails cast the winning votes. 

If the sharing of cigarettes is the problem – ban that, but to ban the sale of a product that generates R400 million a month in government revenue appears to be an act of self-mutilation in a time of fiscal distress.

What emerges here is the personal hobby-horse of Minister Dlamini-Zuma, who has advocated for the ban of tobacco for years, and the suggestion of relationships with prominent figures in the trade of illegal cigarettes.  

A Sobering Thought 

The rationale continued ban on the sale of alcohol is level of the lockdown appears to struggle on the merits.

Don’t get me wrong, bars and shebeens being closed makes imminent sense. Why people can’t buy liquor from bottle stores, leaves me and many others scratching our heads.

Then you proceed to remember Police Minister Bheki Cele’s long-term advocacy for a ban on alcohol, and it is easy to see how an industry that generates R1.3 billion a month in government revenue takes a back seat in the battle for logic.

By comparison I cannot find a country in the G20 who has followed the course of action of a total ban on alcohol.  

The Return of Industries 

The most pressing question has to be how we can maximise the return to work of as many industries as possible, while not compromising the efforts to prevent an explosion of infections.

I happen to know that many of the submissions made to government were from industries, making some impressive and spectacular proposals of measures they could put in place to protect their customers and employees.

In the day and a half given to consider these submissions, it is not surprising that they did not receive their due attention.  

Look no further than the continued ban on e-commerce for non-essential items. Around the world this is an industry that is booming as people can avoid the risk of stores and malls.

Here, it remains limited because Minister Ebrahim Patel feels it “would create unfair competition.” If this kind of thinking is going to govern the return of our industries going forward, that is gravely concerning.  

BBBEE Criteria for SMME Support 

If you recall it started with a leaked document suggesting government support would be reserved for BBBEE complaint SMMEs. This was categorically denied and branded as fake-news, worthy of punishment under the regulations.

Then it was confirmed to be true in a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee Meeting some 3 weeks later.  

Measures of redressing our unjust past are constitutionally enshrined for good reason – the empowerment of previously disadvantaged business owners.

It may have been implemented atrociously and corruptly, but its intention was good.

Applying it to a National Disaster brought about by a virus which is killing business indiscriminately of their ownership, is appalling.

It is this kind of thinking, indoctrinated into a cabinet of mediocrity, that will ensure the job losses are closer to 7 million than 3 million in the National Treasury scenarios.  

Unintended Consequences  

Our regulations correctly attempt to limit crowds gathering for weddings, funerals, restaurants and bars. This makes sense. Crowding a nation of people who enjoy the outdoors into a 3-hour window of outdoor exercise makes no sense.  

The images I have seen across the country are disturbing, with more close quarter interaction of heavily breathing people than any type of banned activity.

It was not difficult to predict that a nation kept indoors for a month, and then allowed out for a short window each day, was going to respond this way.  

It is not the loss of freedom, which most people understand in the context of saving lives from this terrible pandemic, that is driving South Africans crazy.

Rather it is the extent to which their lives are being governed by arbitrary, illogical and personal hobby-horses of a cabinet left to handle these matters as they see fit.  

The easing of regulations is going to be the make or break of our country’s future prospects.

I suspect most South Africans want to know that it is being managed through careful consideration, expert advice and close collaboration with industries.  

– Herman Mashaba is the founder of The People’s Dialogue

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