After 140 days of the world’s longest COVID-19 lockdown South Africa’s rate of infections continues to climb exceeding that of countries that have much larger populations than South Africa. On 23 March 2020 when ?President Ramaphosa announced the lockdown in South Africa for 21 days from March 26 to April 16, 2020, to contain the spread of the coronavirus, he was hailed as a great leader and the vast majority of people enthusiastically supported the campaign. Even when he extended the lockdown by a further fourteen days until 1 May, while perhaps being a bit peeved off, people gave him the benefit of the doubt.
At present Ramaphosa’s popularity is at its lowest and neither the President nor Government are not trusted. Even some of the most prominent businessmen, political commentators and journalists are disappointed in his performance. Despite protestations to the contrary many of the regulations are based on the idiosyncrasies and prejudices of the individual cabinet ministers and not on any empirical scientific evidence. Ramaphosa has failed to navigate his way through factionalism of the ruling ANC and what is best for South Africa or to strike a balance between lives and livelihoods.
Ramaphosa’s problems began the moment on 23 April 2020 that the president announced a reduction in restrictions and that businesses would be allowed to resume activity in a phased manner. There was to be no compromise on activity that would foster people gathering, saying in no uncertain terms that, with the exception of funerals, limited to fifty people, and for work purposes, gatherings remained prohibited. Given the amount of public pressure regarding the sale of cigarettes, it was not surprising that Ramaphosa specifically mentioned lifting this ban.
But it could only happen in South Africa where:
- Two days after President Cyril Ramaphosa had announced that the sale of tobacco would be allowed again from 1 May, on Sunday 25 April 2020, Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said that government had backtracked on this and that it would only be allowed on level 3 of the lockdown.
- The regulations gazetted by Minister Ebrahim Patel as part of governments relaxation of the restrictions for the selling of clothes imposed restrictions limiting it to only winter clothing and narrowly defining the categories of winter clothes, shoes and homeware that may be sold. The restrictions even limited footwear that stores are permitted to sell to “closed-toe” shoes, trainers and slippers, they furthermore specify that the sale of cropped pants is allowed, but only if these items are meant to be worn with winter shoes and hose. During the initial lockdown, the same minister thought fit to proclaim that underwear was not considered essential clothing!! Regulations that would seem more at home during the 1980s under the Soviet Union than they do in a democracy like South Africa
- Ebrahim Patel refused requests by online traders to allow unfettered e-commerce in South Africa, saying doing so would be seen to be “unfair competition”. for spaza shops, for informal traders. We now have an ANC cabinet minister allowed to pick winners and losers in the economy, to determine what is ‘fair’ and has gone to the extreme to determine what clothes people can buy and how they should wear them. As a member of the SA Communist Party Patel clearly showed his distaste for big business and what is in the best interest of the whole population especially the poor.
- Thousands of hungry people, many of whom had lost their jobs, queue for food that NGOs, private donors, and civil society groups donate food that Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu published draft regulations that could have interfered with the providing of food to South Africa’s poor and needy, even before they were promulgated law enforcement agencies were confiscating the food. As a result of a case from the DA Judge Robert Henney in the Cape Town High Court on May 22, 2020, ruled that the regulations may not be implemented.
- The government correctly restricts Mini Bus Taxis to carry a maximum 70% capacity and not to permit interprovincial travel. When the taxi owners demand of R20,000 per taxi for each month of the lockdown was rejected by the government the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) and the National Taxi Association (NTA) decided to go back to loading passengers at 100% capacity and doing interprovincial trips.
Within days government capitulated and amended the regulations to accommodate the taxi owners.
- Lockdown regulations, Section 40(f), prohibits families and friends from visiting older persons’ residential facilities but it would be legal for the resident to catch a fully loaded taxi and meet a relative or a friend in the casino.
- The same older person has been in the residential facility, for over four months, not having seen a relative and therefore dies loneliness and a broken heart must take solace in the fact that fifty relatives can attend their funeral.
- Section 35 of the regulations specifies the requirements for the holding of funerals especially limiting to the attendance to fifty relatives. There have been several arrests at funerals for failing to ensure adherence to the regulations by the mourners, a police spokesperson was reported as warning that the police together with soldiers, they would ensure compliance with lockdown regulations.
However, at the funerals of ANC stalwarts Lindzi Mandela (17/07/2020) and Andrew Mlangeni there were no restrictions on attendance numbers, the wearing of masks nor social distancing. Two senior military officers were captured on television lighting up cigarettes in public. No arrests have been made and no apology has been made to South Africans for this flagrant disregard for law and order.
It will be interesting to see what happens on 14 August at the special state funeral (Category 1) of another ANC stalwart, John Nkadimeng.
- A senior military officer told the Joint Standing Committee on Defence on Wednesday 23 April 2020 they are not the SA National Defence Force’s (SANDF) “clients” and the defence force only take orders from the commander-in-chief, President Cyril Ramaphosa. This is illegal and implies that the SANDF would support a rogue president in the event of an attempted coup d’état.
- Would it take the President eight weeks to comment on the death of a civilian who was killed by a member of the defence force and/or police service during the COVID-19 lockdown? Collins Khoza died on Good Friday 10 April after being attacked by defence force members for having a braai in his yard. It took until June 5 for President Ramaphosa to offer any public comments on the incident.
Ramaphosa spoke at the launch of the African National Congress’s (ANC) anti-racism campaign on Friday 5 June to draw attention to the death of George Floyd an American citizen killed as a result of excessive police violence on 25 May in Minneapolis. Because he was under pressure he was embarrassed into condemning the unjustified use of violence by South African law enforcement officials against civilians.
Amazing how Ramaphosa can act on a foreigners death 14 400kms away within 10 days but it takes him 56 days to comment on a South African killed 100kms away from his official residence. Do South African lives matter?
- Eleven South African citizens died in police action during the lockdown and over 230,000 people have been arrested for violating the draconian measures put in place to allegedly keep people safe. These arrests included a Muizenberg resident and his family who were arrested after his toddler ran onto the beach while they were walking on the promenade.
Yet, President Cyril Ramaphosa in a briefing to newspaper editors on explained these acts as: “They (the police) let their enthusiasm get the better of them.”
- The government suspends the sale of alcohol because of the number of people taking up beds in hospitals as a result of trauma injuries resulting from alcohol abuse. What an indictment of the SAPS that they are unable to enforce the laws prohibiting drunk driving or public violence. But they can arrest 230 000 people for minor offences such as going on the beach, not wearing masks or unable to produce a receipt for the cigarettes that they are smoking in public.
- The President and responsible ministers lie to the public that decisions on the lockdown regulations are based on science yet in defending a case in the High Court on the banning of cigarettes Minister Dlamini-Zuma submit an affidavit that the government has admitted “smoking populations were less likely to be infected“ with the coronavirus and develop Covid-19.
Whereas the President and various cabinet ministers have stated that the decision was made by the collective yet in the affidavit it states after consultation with a wide variety of stakeholders “the ultimate decision as to the formulation of disaster management regulations were made by the Minister alone”. A case of one minister, Dlamini-Zuma forcing her own idiosyncrasies on the entire population.
From the sublime to the ridiculous the same minister in another affidavit state that “an ironic feature’ of the ban on cigarettes is that the illegal cigarette trade will reduce its economic harm.” Not only an admission that the ban on the sale is damaging the economy but that it is enriching the criminals. The true irony is that she and her family have been linked to the illegal trade in cigarettes for years.
- On 24 April 2020 President Cyril Ramaphosa said he does not want to have to establish a Covid-19 commission of inquiry into the misuse of funds allocated to fighting the pandemic once the crisis is over. “Government is going to keep a hawk’s eye on how money allocated to the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis will be spent.”
By July corruption was rampant with many members of Government and their families implicated and public anger reaching fever pitch. Ramaphosa’s said “Those found to have broken the law to enrich themselves through this crisis will not get to enjoy their spoils, regardless of who they are or with whom they may be connected,” and established a Special Investigative Unit (SIU) where all allegations linked to the procurement of Covid-19 goods and services should be reported. In true ANC spirit, the corruption pandemic has become a faction fight while South Africa loses again.
But how serious is the President or the ANC takes corruption when on 18 June DA Leader John Steenhuizen asked him “how many ANC councillors have been arrested for food parcel corruption and manipulation during the course of the COVID crisis,” during parliamentary time Ramaphosa sidestepped the question by saying “I will take a rain check on that one because the information on food parcel misdemeanours is in the process of being put together”.
Seven weeks later we are still none the wiser.
As I complete this edition we are all waiting with bated breath for the traditional “Fellow South Africans (or Compatriots) and another well-choreographed and rehearsed speech in which he may announce some, probably too few, concessions on the draconian restrictions which Dlamini-Zuma will overturn with forty-eight hours. Probably another damp squid…