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The costs of South Africa’s Covid-19 incompetence

The pandemic did not need government ineptitude to add impetus to its destructive force – yet here we are.
The pandemic was thrust upon us, but the ensuing restrictions didn’t need to be, says the author. Image: Getty Images

If the economy is to have a recovery of some sort, the Level 3 lockdown restrictions have to go.

I was glad to see sense prevail as far as the sale of alcohol is concerned. When President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed South Africans in his February 1 #familymeeting, it was clear that some tough political decisions had been made.

Still, no amount of easing restrictions can hide or cover the fact that the government has been incompetent in procuring vaccines for Covid-19.

Anybody who believes the arrival of the first consignment of vaccines is reason to celebrate is deluding themselves.

Failure to deliver

Ours is a government that has demonstrated that it can cock up even the simplest of tasks – the delivery of textbooks to schools.

A vaccination rollout requires a detailed plan if it is to reach the intended populace. Before that can happen, there has to be an established management system in place.

Lessons from the European Union’s (EU’s) supposedly centralised approach to vaccine procurement for member states demonstrates how even advanced economies are not impervious to bungle ups, with incompetence leading to a shortage of supplies at vaccines centres in various countries. Moreover, EU member states that were hit hard by Covid-19 looked to the European Commission to procure the vaccine collectively; unfortunately that approach backfired and resulted in a three-month delay in placing orders.

In contrast, the United Kingdom had a three-month head start in the race to secure the vaccines.

The failure of the EU saw what began as collective action and solidarity in the face of the global pandemic become an embarrassment for member states who have to explain to their citizenry why there is such a long wait for the vaccines and who is responsible for the disaster.

Mistakes are an inescapable part of life, and some come with a greater economic cost than others.

Capacity and means

While an ailing EU might take a while to get its faltering vaccine rollout programme going, as a bloc it has enough capacity and the means to:

  • Get more people vaccinated despite the late start; and
  • Ensure the false start does not have far-reaching economic consequences for member states, by offering financial support; while
  • Individual countries can copy the UK approach of procuring the vaccines on their own instead of using a centralised system.

The same cannot be said for South Africa.

First, the country had to scramble to raise funds for the down payment of the vaccine and could barely afford it. Second, the paid-for AstraZeneca vaccine has been shown to be less effective in treating the country’s variant of Covid-19, bringing the vaccination programme to a standstill. Third, the direct cost – including the money spent on a vaccine that is ineffective and the delays in the vaccination programme – is significant.

Together with the improbability of the government easing restrictions, lives and livelihoods are at risk and the prospects of economic recovery are dim.

In roughly five months, the country went from a government that seemed to have a handle on the pandemic in the best possible ways, to facing a possible third wave of the pandemic in the coming winter months.

Impact is evident

In a country characterised by historic inequality, the costs of the government’s Covid-related incompetence (vaccine bungle up, PPE procurement corruption, imposed restrictions and lack of clarity/transparency about the R500 billion relief/stimulus package) is seen in its economic impact on life and capital.

Read: SA probe finds evidence of political pressure, fraud in Covid-19 contracts

Business will not recover lost production and workers will not recover lost earnings, since the demand for labour has been reduced.

Furthermore, by any meaningful measure, the terrible trio of poverty, joblessness and inequality is likely to increase further.

Unfortunately, 2020 caused sudden changes to where resources and public spending are focused.

Covid-19 has been the unplanned-for yet extremely expensive unforeseen cost that required resources to be shifted away from their intended purpose to combating the pandemic.

The pandemic caused disruptions to finances at state, business and individual level. In some cases the distress caused by these sudden changes, to which each actor responded differently, has been significantly more visible than others. Some companies, for example, have closed for good and people have lost their jobs.

The main thrust of this point is that, contrary to popular rhetoric (focusing only on the fact that lives are at risk from Covid-19), when the main channels of economic activity are suddenly interrupted – whether by the pandemic or ensuing restrictions – the outcome is detrimental to most people. Both the World Bank and IMF have shown that economic growth is a key driver in reducing poverty, and as 2021 shows little to no signs of economic recovery for South Africa, the long-term impact of interrupted economic activity will surely be a rise in poverty and unemployment.

Frightening reality

However, in government, the disruptions caused by the pandemic have revealed a frightening reality – South Africa has leaders who cannot lead it out of crisis, because they have neither a plan nor the know-how to react once a crisis has hit.

The pandemic is a pernicious cause of economic disruption and distress on its own; it does not need government ineptitude to add impetus to its destructive force.

It takes more economic literacy and long-termism than the government possesses to realise that the costs of ineffectively handling the pandemic will lead to the third wave.

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Ouch! Very good article. Concise and precise. No punches pulled!!
A sledgehammer of comments on ANC incompetence. Any cabinet minister who reads this should question whether they deserve to stay in cabinet.

In any normal democracy heads would have rolled immediately.

You (like so many of us) seem to forget that our cabinet ministers think of themselves (and any other person of similar ethnicity) as victims. They will read this article from that point of view. Like they do with everything that they perceive. From a victim’s point of view, everything is caused by something outside of self. They are therefor never ashamed, responsible, accountable – a victim should receive, not provide.

Never to blame for anything, always some else’s fault.

Welcome to South Africa with its own unique system of government: an inepto-klepto-kakistocracy.

The heading
“The costs of South Africa’s Covid-19 incompetence”is grossly unfair to all citizens

It should read

“The costs of South Africa’s ANC led Government Covid-19 incompetence”

They place themselves at the expense of tax paying citizens, in all spheres of Governance right down to bankrupt ANC run Municipalities

And they have the cheek to call themselves a liberation movement



Good article except that the virus is held responsible for the consequences of the dreamed-up, myopic, ineffective, unnecessary, biased and crippling impositions upon the nation of a handful of truly amateur megalomaniacs best suited to converting the public purse into personal loot.

Blame apartheid?

No jan van riebeeck

Or is it white monopoly capital? take your pick.

No blame the Catholic Church

Our forefathers left Europe to escape persecution..Whilst on the blaming game, we might as well throw in Napoleon into the mix..makes sense

The incompetence, lack of planning, contempt for the average citizen, lack of leadership and inability to secure finances in time simply blows the mind.
And the cherry on the cake is to announce in public that those countries that had the foresight to procure vaccines in time are now labelled as pariahs as they have excess stock and should share their stock of vaccines. Absolutely twisted!!

The best twist is that one in twelve will lose/have lost their jobs, their livelihoods, their means of survival. This is to supposedly save one in 500 thousand from needlessly succumbing due to restraints on effective treatment and telling people to rather stay at home when they become sick.
This entire farce is clearly driven by the influence of big pharma and bungalow bill along with their puppet WHO.
The WHO has published charts that show influenza became extinct in March of 2020. No further mention of pneumonia. No one putting two and two together anywhere it seems.
A planet replete with those who pull strings for a profit nand those that get their strings pulled for a loss.

1. Cuban smoke in bottle – no work – fridge open
2. Indian Tonic water – no work — oops

Watch how the baby shampoo goes.

PS buy popcorn !!!

One of PLENTY stories of corruption/mismanagement under the auspices of the ANC. (SAA et al, etc.)

And we’ll hear of more stories to come….and on the other end, SARS is desperately screaming to collect more due to “revenue shortfalls”. Bhah!!

There is NO SUCH THING as a (current) revenue shortfall from SARS. Govt collects MORE THAN ENOUGH. The proof is the (ongoing) WASTAGE on a grand scale.

Examples of such wastage/mismanagement/corruption is evidence that there is still a LOT OF FAT govt can skin off SARS collections.

It’s like your next door neighbor crying ‘poverty’ and cannot make ends meet, but later you’ll hear the family returned from their 2-week holiday at the 5-star One&Only Le Saint Geran resort.

Agree Michael, it is not just Covid, ie from March 2020, the grand theft and lies started in April 1994.

What do people do when they become so desperate for food , they take to the streets and demonstrate or help themselves to whatever they can find. The police and army is used to prevent and control the masses, as we have seen in South America or Eastern Europe. However if these organs of the state are not loyal to the Government then they see the opportunity to take over themselves and we have a military coup or a power grab by a revolutionary force, which is not unheard of in Africa or The Far East. Let’s hope nothing like this can ever happen in this democratic country’.

I doubt the SANDF could muster such a plan

Remember when Zuma sent them to the CAR …and child soldiers whipped their asses…resulting in them remaining in barracks

Dare one mention IQ ?

You are lucky to have your comment published. Anything that alludes to this reality gets banned. It explains the entire catastrophe though. Politically incorrect, but factually correct.

The introductory sentence of this article: “The pandemic did not need government ineptitude to add impetus to its destructive force – yet here we are” could not be better

What makes the “covid19 command council” more of a circus opera was the AstraZeneca’s arrival in sa – on an Emirates plane (saa can’t get off the ground) whilst it is “welcomed” as if it is another country’s president or king that pitched up – with official vehicles with flashing lights and a full escort – what did they tried to proof / or impressed? Currently the very much officially welcomed product is put on halt.

My limited advice to the anc is: “stay away from something that you have proved you know less than nothing about, prevent making a fool of yourself and a joke of the country”

“To err is human”. The incompetence shows how problems in government escalate out of control when decisionmakers lack accountability and has no skin in the game. The lockdown irregularities and the bungling with vaccines show once again how central planning and government intervention in the free market leads to bad outcomes for everyone.

Individuals in the private sector also make mistakes, but they pay for it themselves though. Whereas government officials and politicians never pay for theirs. Bankruptcy and the profit objective are the “stick and carrot” management strategy that assures delivery by the private sector. The market mechanism focusses the attention and hones the skills of entrepreneurs to deliver the best product at the best price to the consumer.

The government official and the politician do not pay for their mistakes and the profit motive is absent. They are not incentivised to avoid mistakes because the “accountability lies with the collective”. As such, the system actually enables and rewards incompetence. Incentives determine the outcome, therefore we should expect the mistakes to become bigger, and service delivery to deteriorate further under a socialist government. The Marikana Massacre, the Life Esidimeni disaster, the Zondo Commission and PPE and vaccine scandals prove the point.

Privatisation brings the carrot and stick of the market mechanism to ensure that entrepreneurs do serve the consumer. Politicians and officials should pay for their mistakes. They should pay for letting down the consumer. Officials should lose their jobs and politicians should be punished at the ballot. We know that the ANC manifesto selects for incompetence. That is exactly what it delivers.

The NHI envisages the government as the sole procurer of all things medical. If Mkize thought this was his opportunity to prove how efficient such a system would be, he has failed spectacularly. The NHI pie in the sky is the hill on which we are all destined to die.

I usually come straight here to read the comments by @Sensei, @Black Tin, @Seve Roux and @MichaelfromKlerksdorp ammong other esteemed commentators, even without reading the article, but the most useful comment on this great article here must be from @Griet. And meddle they will until not a single function in the complicated network, they fail to appreciate, remains working. Fortunately at such time the money on which they rely will stop flowing and they might return to where they came from happy in the knowledge that it is not their fault.

The consequential deaths will simply be added to those of the cANCer AIDS denialists, Marikana, Esidemini, etc, to be swept under the table and ignored in the hope that they will go away. All under the banner of the glorious revolution. Cannon fodder for the cANCer elite?

End of comments.



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