More than a year into the global pandemic and South Africans are suffering: 61 840 lives have been lost (as at July 5) and the positivity rate is higher now than it was during the second wave.
This is what we are currently going through. The third wave of Covid-19 is here. The Beta variant remains defiant, while the Delta variant curtails the progress that has been made against the pandemic.
Gauteng is the epicentre, with daily infections increasing and provincial hospitals almost full. Amid this serious health crisis, somewhere out in the far west of Johannesburg there is brand new hospital that is unused (the AngloGold Ashanti Hospital). Other provinces have seen an increase in hospital admissions.
Have I mentioned the total disaster and slow pace of government’s rollout of the vaccination programme?
But wait, that’s not all.
Electricity supply is as fickle as a feather; there can be load shedding at any time.
And there is nothing anybody, including big business, can do about it. The severely strained power generating capacity of Eskom is killing what’s left of the business that the pandemic has not already wiped out.
South Africa is not emerging from the unprecedented economic shock.
According to Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the first quarter of 2021, under the expanded definition of unemployment, 17.2 million people are jobless, not economically active, and have lost hope of finding a job.
Many others may have kept their jobs but lost significant hours of work. Consequently, they have seen a drastic decline in income at a time when most foodstuff prices have doubled.
Concretely, unemployment continues to rise and among the youth it is a record-breaking 74.7%, according to Stats SA’s expanded definition of unemployment.
Additionally nearly all sectors of the economy are struggling and provinces’ contribution to GDP has dropped, increasing the possibility of further retrenchments.
Poor and low-income people cannot afford food. The pandemic has worsened the situation, and the R350 social relief of distress grant is not sufficient as such poverty is increasing.
The helpfulness of the grant is understated.
Amid all the suffering …
South African families are suffering and we have a political leadership that still thinks stricter lockdown measures are the only way the spread of the pandemic can be curtailed.
A study published in the South African Journal of Economics – Social Assistance Amidst the Covid-19 Epidemic in South Africa: A Policy Assessment (Bhorat, Haroon, Morné Oosthuizen, and Ben Stanwix) – shows that many who are vulnerable because they are not covered by the child support grant are beneficiaries of the R350 grant.
These are individuals who are from low-income households and were proportionally affected by the hard lockdown more negatively than most.
Unfortunately, the yo-yoing between the various lockdown levels means the economy will continue to be deeply depressed and will continue to decline. This means many workers will continue to face uncertainties about working hours, as if the pandemic has not made the precariousness of work apparent enough.
For most South Africans life in the time of the coronavirus means a period of extreme economic uncertainty and inaccessibility of primary health care as public hospitals become full and attentive to the resurgent pandemic. It also a means a time of food insecurity for many, including children who must still go to school.
This is where we are today, and it is important to understand how we got here.
First, and as a long established problem, the priority of politics has been not to take South Africa forward. Politics became a step-up for leaders for personal accumulation. In the service for this ambition, state resources became a way for individuals to confirm power and establish circles that had to be supported by ministerial positions and access to strategic state resources.
Second, there is no mystery as to why South Africa has been brought to this point.
The obvious reasons are:
- Poor if not stagnated growth, coupled with the recession before the pandemic;
- The shock of the pandemic that was followed by shutdown and a collapse of economic activity;
- Failure to curb the pandemic due to the complacency of government; and
- A cock-up of vaccine procurement and the ensuing vaccination programme.
Third, we are at the mercy of destructive individuals pretending to be leaders.
We are at the mercy of men and women who are stubbornly refusing to let go for the greater benefit of the country.
Unsurprisingly, these leaders are incapable of recognising that they are the problem. The sickness that is plaguing South Africa is political leadership. A glut of clueless politicians and a dearth of leadership.
Better leaders won’t just appear. They will emerge from the youth of today.
And within that demographic – the youth of today – we currently have a 74.7% unemployment problem.
Add hungry bellies and more than a handful of feeble leaders as role models, and the magnitude of the problem becomes clear.
If ever South Africa needed firm and decisive leadership, it is now.