“inclusive economic growth”
“new post-virus economy”
“post-pandemic South Africa”
“don’t waste the pandemic”
“fast track implementation”
“the virus exposed …inequality/fault lines/unsustainable foundations”
These have become favorite terms used by the National Command Council over the past weeks. But one word stands out above the rest: “Legacy”. Since Defence Minister Nosiwiwe Mapisa-Nqakula spoke of the “permanent Covid-19 legacy project” during a briefing to Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defense on 22nd April, the word seems to be popping up everywhere! It even trickled its way down to Provincial MEC’s.
It’s creating the impression that the ANC government is trying very hard to convey the message that the Covid pandemic, miraculously made the proverbial scales fall from their eyes and suddenly the inequality, poverty and unemployment in SA has become glaringly obvious. This led to some sort of group epiphany that a perfect opportunity has presented itself to fast track and implement changes ranging from centralised water management, building and upgrading of hospitals to social welfare infrastructure.
So when Ebrahim Patel says: “It won’t be business as usual when the pandemic is over” or Minister of Social Development speaks about: “outcomes and impact generation towards the post-pandemic South Africa; and…the need to unlock closed and monopolised economic spaces”, even Finance Minister Tito Mboweni states: “Government will ensure that the new economy that will emerge after the lockdown prioritises locals.” and certainly when Dlamini-Zuma said at a press briefing on 25 April: “However, Covid-19 also offers us an opportunity to accelerate the implementation of some long agreed-upon structural changes to enable reconstruction, development and growth. These opportunities call for more sacrifices and – if needs be – what Amilcar Cabral called ‘class suicide’, wherein we must rally behind the common cause. The coronavirus knows no class, race, gender or geographical location.” – It seems clear they are all referring to the “Covid-19 legacy project”.
The irony is laughable, if it was not so heart-wrenchingly sad. In-short the legacy the ANC would leave behind after the first 25 years of democracy is shocking, to say the least.
In February this year after a long process, with multiple warnings, Moody’s has finally dropped SA to sub-investment grade at Ba1, and has also put a negative outlook on the rating. Also in February, just as Covid started circling the globe, Stats SA released the latest unemployment figure that stood at 29.1 %, however the agency’s wider definition of unemployment, which includes people who have thrown in the towel and stopped the fruitless search for work, was 38.7%.
According to Stats SA The number of households receiving at least one form of social grant rose from 29,9% (of the population) in 2003 to 44,3% in 2010 and to 45,5%in 2015. By the start of 2020 there are officially more people in SA living of social grants than those earning a living.
Children under 18 years old makes up 34% of the SA population, nearly a third of these children around 6 million, live in households where no adult is working, either in the formal sector or the informal sector.
It is widely accepted that billions of Rands was lost due to state corruption and fraud over the past decades. From the arms deal back in 1999 to State Capture and the latest VBS bank scandal. Over and above the countless amounts of money lost, the costs associated with endless commissions to investigate is staggering. At the start of 2020 SA was dealing with an average of 57 murders per day and gender based violence reached proportions that had women marching to parliament to demand the presidents attention. It came as no surprise when SA was pronounced the World’s 3rd most dangerous country on 23 January.
The state of SA’s Health System at the start of 2020 was dismal, years of plundering resources, major scandals (Life Esidimeni and the KZN oncology disaster to name only 2) and incompetence resulted in medical negligence claims of just over R104 billion against the sate. The figures does not even begin to paint the picture of pain, suffering and death many South Africans had to endure due to a failed and mismanaged public health system.
Then off course there is the small matter of housing and service delivery … suffice to say that only 8% of the 257 municipalities received a clean audit from the Auditor General in 2019 and irregular expenditure of around R21 billion was reported. Eskom the power utility that increase rates, but can’t seem to keep the lights on have also created a proudly South African kind of normal called load-shedding.
As the saying goes, a fish rots from the head down. This might be the reason why government, up to now, has found it almost impossible to effect consequences. Long suspensions, warnings and firing cadres as a PR exercise only to reappoint them in different positions later has become “normal”. Even Bheki Cele the current Minister of Police was previously the National Commissioner of the SAPS, until October 2011, when he was suspended from duty due to allegations of corruption. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is taking centre stage as Minister of Cooperative Governance has also been at the centre of a major corruption scandal. When she was health minister in the mid-90’s and awarded a R13-million contract to a friend for producing the aids-awareness play, Sarafina II, which subsequently flopped. She lied to Parliament and evaded accountability, protected by then president Nelson Mandela.
Currently South Africa is waiting with baited breath for 1 June when we go into lock-down level 3. Although South African citizens, scientists, economists and various politicians (excluding off course the EFF) have called for the economy to be opened, the National Covid Command Council (or as some lovingly refer to them the Gestapo council) is hell-bent on enforcing a new set of illogical rules and regulations on citizens. From 1 June we will be able to go to Church with 49 others, but not to the hairdresser; we’ll be able to buy alcohol again, but only Mondays to Thursdays … because “the children can’t buy over weekends”; your domestic worker can come back and 80% of the SA work force can return to work, but the crèches can’t re-open … so where do you leave the kids, as you cannot travel “outside of your immediate area” to drop them with granny? Oh and nobody is allowed to smoke legal cigarettes yet, only illegal ones the state does not collect tax on, but don’t let the police catch you without a receipt, then they’ll confiscate and smoke them, but only after they gave you a fine.
Earlier in May Nedbank published a new report on how the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent 35-day lockdown is set to impact jobs in South Africa. They forecast that 1.6 million jobs will be shed in the country in 2020 (700 000 more than what was lost during the global recession). “The 35-day lockdown has severely negative consequences for employment, which will take more than three years to neutralise.” says Nedbank. Then there are countless businesses that opted to cut salaries and wages. Martin Kingston, the man tasked with drafting economic interventions to deal with the fallout of Covid-19 at B4SA, says there will be a downturn in GDP of between 8% and 10% depending on the extent of the lockdown.
But, back to the “permanent Covid-19 legacy project”. The NCCC or the ANC lead government (depending on how long SA will be kept in a State of Disaster) will have to do more than merely pull the proverbial rabbit from the hat to bring about any sort of improvement in their legacy. They will have to be honest and transparent (the more than R500 billion in aid funds and secretive command councils); they will have to miraculously ignite the economy from a bankrupt base; they will need knowledgeable and dependable branches of state to implement (who does not steal food parcels from the hungry or terrorise citizens); they will need the support of business and citizens (the ones they’ve been ignoring and treated like children over the past weeks); the president will have to regain the trust of citizens, the perception that he lied to the country and is merely a pawn of the collective that is able to spin a nice speech from time to time, but unable to put put his money where his mouth is, is not going away overnight.
For the ANC to rewrite their legacy of the past quarter century, to try and make themselves resemble the victorious saviors they once were, seems almost impossible. Unless the plan is to move away from the constraints of capitalism or even democracy, but that won’t be an easy task either.
Perhaps only time will tell and finally interpret NDZ’s answer to a question on which social class she would prefer to commit suicide: “Indeed, we mustn’t waste this crisis. We must look at the economy, the structure of the economy, the ownership of the economy, the decentralisation of the economy, and that is why we are more and more talking about districts, so that every district must have a vibrant economy”
Indeed, don’t waste a good crises.