President Cyril Ramaphosa has said we are not going back to the pre-coronavirus state. It is for us to put on our social consciousness and define that future state. Photo: Ayanda Ndamane African news agency (ANA)
President Cyril Ramaphosa has said we are not going back to the pre-coronavirus state. It is for us to put on our social consciousness and define that future state. Photo: Ayanda Ndamane African news agency (ANA)

OPINION: Defining a new future post Covid-19

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Jun 11, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG – The world today is seeking new answers in conceiving a post-Coronavirus world.

Did US politician Nancy Pelosi and her team kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds at the White House, while donning the Kente scarfs from Ghana, atone the sin of slavery and signal the coming of Africa’s time? 

Did the gruesome demise of George Floyd at the hands of the US police provide new answers by raising old problems that were never addressed?  Did the pangolin and the bat awaken the world to the spectre of its long ignored ailments on natural capital? 

Did President Donald Trump brandishing the bible upside down generate new forms of divinity and prayer?  

We are struggling to glean meaning from all these, yet the philosophers and practitioners of the 19th and 20th century provided the answers and pathways.  

But none have been as articulate and forthright as the trio of Karl Marx, Ferederick Engels and Ulianov Lenin. 

Yet social consciousness and learning from these has remained ever so illusive and difficult. 

This body of work continues to be undermined by a theory-free and deeply flawed sectarian and eclectic fetish of the gig economy seen as a disruptor and driver of change to which those who cannot adapt will die.  Knowingly the poor, the unemployed and the marginalised will of course die.  

Today the subject of disruption and disruptive technologies as drivers of change are very much in vogue.  

Technology,  despite its bubble in the late 90’s early 2000’s, continues to influence us and be a significant force of change.  

It adds new vintages such as artificial intelligence and the fourth industrial revolution.  

Sadly, change emerging from the gig economy is seen from an eclectic metaphysical dialectics devoid of the human labour entering it and the relations of production that supplants.

In this regard, the pernicious social consciousness this “in vogue” language spews, serves only to isolate and emasculate into insignificance, what the seismic and underlying organic prominence and import the political economy brings to the balance of forces between labour, economic capital, natural capital and social capital.  

This immiserizing view undermines and limits the imperative to conceive of what the different future should be and what difference it should make. 

In the main the convergence of technological advancement, the increasing inequality, menacing global poverty, the rapacious exploitation of natural capital and the emergence of viruses characterised by the coronavirus pandemic underlie and elevates the essence of the struggle of labour, social capital and economic capital and natural capital. 

The undying presence of the significant contribution of dialectical materialism postulated by the insightful works of Marx, Engels and Lenin is palpable.  

Deprived of its essence as an organic component of political economy and as a product of labour puts paid to how powerful forces that manifest themselves independent of will elude social consciousness – the essence of social capital. 

Marx opined thus on the mode of production. 

He wrote, “In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.” 

Coronavirus, which kills both rich and poor and afflicts a blow to capital, brings major questions on social consciousness.  

However, devoid of the realisation that this social consciousness is driven by the relations of production, which are entered into independent of people’s will and is indeed the rock that the builder rejected. Ironically that rock is becoming the corner stone of the building.  

Free market proponents, who believe in the invisible hand of the market and that prices drive all equilibriums, have to engage new forms of social consciousness and think again.  

If indeed the Computerised General Equilibrium model is our medicine in South Africa, then the high unemployment, low growth, poverty and inequality are deserved because after all - we are in equilibrium.  

Like a statistician measuring the human temperature, whose head is in the oven and the feet are in ice, the live temperature will be average.  

The classics teach us political economy where behaviour and the power of policies determine outcomes rather than Adam Smith invisible hand to which free market fundamentalists want the poor, the unemployed and the marginalised to cling to. 

The new economy cannot be created outside the fundamental pillars that should define both the product of and the relations of production that organise to produce that product.  

These relations of production between labour, capital, natural capital and social capital are the central piece of defining such a society.  

President Cyril Ramaphosa has said we are not going back to the pre-coronavirus state. It is for us to put on our social consciousness and define that future state.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him at and @palilj01


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