Undoubtedly, humanity will pay a staggering price for Covid-19. For South Africa it was as if this epidemic-induced crisis, shook her leaders to wakefulness of the potential human cost of inaction.
Finally, many watched President Cyril Ramaphosa become the leader they had expected him to be: bold, decisive, measured, intentional and very clear about what his government must do. Furthermore, by roping in non-government and opposition parties, he showed the importance of inclusive leadership, bound by the common vision of pursuing extraordinary measures to combat the spread of the virus and serve South Africans.
On Monday night, he announced a 21-day lockdown effective from midnight on March 26, 2020, as a measure to contain and reduce the spread of the virus. In a thorough address, he outlined key plans of action in the most sobering statement in recent years of democratic South Africa.
At a time of great uncertainty, Ramaphosa led, with assurance and poise.
At a time when leaders in some of the world’s advanced economies in Europe were faltering, undecided and seemingly stunned by the rapid spread of Covid-19, Ramaphosa showed them how to lead in times of great crisis and global threat.
It’s not every day on social media that the English use South Africa as an example of good leadership in calling out their leaders for failing to act decisively on issues of national importance. As a nation, we tend to be too hard on ourselves and rarely applaud good decisions. Whatever your views are on the governing party, we must acknowledge that when some world leaders were fiddling while their countries were in a crisis, our political leaders to their credit acted swiftly, had a clear message and made informed decisions.
Additionally, since the first announcement, his administration has made necessary reforms to ensure that various government systems are agile in responding to the crisis – something that some states in Europe are yet to achieve as seen in Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom.
The bad news is that it’s going to be tough, even unbearable for a while before it gets better. Whichever way the markets will move, the irrefutable fact is that the 21-day lockdown will have profound knock-on effects on South Africa, economically and politically.
First, until the coronavirus outbreak the Tripartite Alliance was not the poster child of unity and coherence; it had been in thrown into disarray by different factions seeking to assert control on the National Executive Committee (NEC). However, since the March 15 inter-ministerial briefing on Covid-19, the mood in the alliance has changed – because finally, their leader has shown he holds the real power in the land.
Furthermore, what Ramaphosa got right in his first announcement, was to ensure that the ministries would take the lead. This way, any intransigent action by a minister would be seen as sabotage or unwillingness to put internal party differences aside in serving the nation. By the end of this crisis, provided it turns out to be the great escape, Ramaphosa might emerge as the biggest winner, with full control of the NEC, because which alliance politician will want to be on the wrong side of a successful response in a time of crisis?
Second, the adverse effects on the economy will be profound, considering no one really knows how long this global pandemic will last. Consequently, no one knows how the global economy will adjust. A global recession threat loomed at the beginning of the year, then quickly dissipated. Now, with governments all over the world realising the importance of lockdown in this extraordinary time, ergo restricted shutdowns of their economies, South Africa will be one of the worst affected.
Beset by enduring long-term unemployment at 29% and an economy already in recession and poverty, the efficacy of economic interventions such as the Solidarity Fund and money set aside to assist businesses will only go so far. The point is, the longer the crisis continues the more likely it will deepen existing challenges.
That said, President Ramaphosa made the right decision.
Difficult, even painful choices had to be made in the now, to ensure survival in the future. Ironically, Monday’s statement marked a defining moment for the incumbent. It will also be a defining moment for South Africa’s key stakeholders. Does it take a global crisis for everyone to put the interest of the country first, for decisive leadership to be noticeable, or is just flickers of a moment that will soon fade?
For the first time in a long period, on Monday night I felt like South Africa has leaders who know where they want to take the country, how to get there and what to do once there.
A flicker of hope.