By Garth Johnstone
Day 52 of South Africa’s Covid-19 lockdown and the general feeling is: This thing is already long in the tooth, it’s time for action.
Businesses are stuffed, to be honest. Some closed for good in the Midlands this past week and other business owners express doubts about whether they will ever open again. Some are being forced to look at entirely new business models, which are speculative because no-one knows whether they will work.
The newspaper I’m reading at the moment (yes, I still buy one or two papers a week) has a banner headline, “Save SA: end lockdown!” across the top of page 1, and its editorial staff are by no means alone in their thinking. Websites, social media and blogs have expressed similar opinion over the past 10 days or so. A number of economists who regularly provide comment to the media have expressed the same sentiment.
When you talk to acquaintances at the shops (observing social distancing requirements of course), via WhatsApp and on the phone, the consensus seems to be that this thing needs to move a whole lot quicker. Dynamism, clear thinking, direction and clear instructions are vital for the government in the coming week to restore confidence.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s performance in this coronavirus crisis has, in general, been exemplary, but he mis-stepped badly last week with a vague address to the nation, saying that the lockdown would move to stage 3 “by the end of May”.
This is too slow for most people, there was not enough detail and clarity and some parts of the country simply do not need to be at level 4 at all. We need action and for people to get working. People on all economical levels, from street traders, to domestic workers, baristas, factory workers to small business owners need to get back to work with all the appropriate health and safety measures in place.
Extra inspections can be done at business premises to ensure measures are being taken. The government can use some of the tax revenue it is currently losing out on (see tobacco and booze ban, for example) to fund this.
This enemy knows no colour, class or creed; South Africans are feeling the devastation, and will continue to feel the devastation, of a shut-down economy.
My heart goes out to employers and employees who right now are closing their doors and walking away from jobs, many of them uncertain of when they will next get the opportunity to make a decent living.
Our economy is being ravaged due to a lack of revenue earned and eroded tax base, which will be reflected in the months and years ahead of us. Ramaphosa and Tito Mboweni are not Father Christmas: The funds for all these stimulus packages have to come from somewhere and need to be paid back, or lost. Moving funds around within a budget does not fill the holes left behind (Robbing Peter to pay Paul).
Returns to schooling are, rather wisely I believe, being handled with utmost caution. The last thing we need are underprepared schools where children and teachers are exposed to serious health risk and where contagion is a real threat.
We feel for the parents who have been home schooling bored, locked down kids, but let’s hope they will soon get some relief, in a safe and sensible opening of schools.
Finally, we are not advocating that greed and capitalism are prioritised ahead of the health and lives of South Africa’s people. Rather, we believe, more people will lose their lives, dignity and sanity if this type of economic restriction is extended any longer than it absolutely needs to be.