In his weekly ‘From the desk of the President’ letter on April 13, President Cyril Ramaphosa lamented the vandalism that had caused the demolition of schools, describing it as “a great indictment of our society”.
He pointed to the “despicable” implications: “When lockdown is lifted and learning resumes, thousands of our children will have no school to return to, depriving them of the right to education …”
The irony of his words is that the government is currently the vandal-in-chief.
The damage done to schools in the president’s lament of four months ago has been dwarfed into insignificance when compared to the destruction its lockdown strategy is inflicting on South Africans.
The magnitude of the destruction boggles the mind.
The government has:
- Destroyed at least one in five salaried positions in the private sector. BankservAfrica data indicates that 20.7% fewer salaries and wages were processed in June compared to a year before (these people are not necessarily unemployed as yet; many have been furloughed);
- Added at least two million of its citizens to the ranks of the unemployed since the start of lockdown;
- Successfully scuttled private sector investment of at least R12.8 billion by Heineken, AB Inbev, Consol and Distell, thereby contributing to the deindustrialisation of the country;
- Undermined profitability in the private sector by deciding which businesses are essential or non-essential, thus disrupting the free individual choice to buy and procure;
- Shuttered the businesses of hundreds of thousands in the tourism, hospitality and personal services industries;
- Acted like white ants, hollowing out large tracts of central business districts and shopping centres, leaving brittle thin façades and tearing the once solid intricate relationships of investors, tenants and the public to shreds; and
- Magnified the problem of poverty on an unprecedented scale.
Estimates of the number of payments that have declined by salary category (June 2019 to June 2020)
It is tantamount to an anti-business campaign and the destruction of livelihoods that will probably be ranked with that of the infamous prophet Nongquase.
Apart from the drastic promotion of poverty, the strategy will also accelerate South Africa’s departure from the ranks of upper-middle income countries.
A feast for the well-connected
During lockdown, the more than 2.1 million public servants (all three spheres) have received their salaries on time and without even the suggestion of a cut. Many of them, we know, are still not in office.
And the funds diverted from normal budget lines to ensure the procurement of sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and hospital equipment have resulted in an orgy for the well-connected.
The demolition of businesses, jobs, investments and the workings of free enterprise is a great indictment of our government.
It has grave implications.
To paraphrase the president’s words: “When lockdown is lifted and life resumes, millions will be poorer, out of jobs, having no businesses to return to, depriving them of their right to earn a living and a decent life.”
It is time, not to adjust some regulations, but to cease the lockdown forthwith.
The evidence that lockdown is not essential in combatting Covid-19 is everywhere to be read and assessed for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Likewise, evidence of the destruction of livelihoods through lockdown is available in abundance.
The question is whether the government, hell-bent on not admitting its strategic blunder, will pay attention. Or will it continue to act with the arrogance of a pharaoh
Johannes Wessels is director of the Enterprise Observatory of SA (Eosa).