The real numbers: Readying for the eye of the coronavirus storm

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published May 17, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - South Africa has been tested to the fullest extent possible. 

In 1998, late rugby boss Louis Luyt hauled then president Nelson Mandela before the Pretoria High Court. 

Before taking the stand, Mandela said his blood boiled at being forced to be grilled on his decision to set up a commission to investigate alleged racism, graft and nepotism in rugby. 

Mandela said despite his reservations on the unprecedented order that could open the floodgates by which all presidential decisions might be challenged in the future and government undermined, he appeared to want to show that no-one was above the law. 

Former president Thabo Mbeki’s government faced some litigation on the realisation of rights such as HIV/Aids treatment. Fast forward to ex-president Jacob Zuma who had a fair share of being in and out of the courts and earned Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s attention on how legislators held the executive to account. 

Judge Mogoeng found the legislators wanting and said Zuma’s conduct defied someone who was expected to not only protect the constitution but represented it as well. The court challenges are an integral part of a constitutional democracy. If voters and any other interested party wants to explore the depths of our constitutionalism, they are allowed to approach the courts to assist them. 

However, today the contestation has shifted to company profits over health, perhaps because of how the coronavirus pandemic has manifested itself. The question is whether the government’s stance of ultimately succeeding in forcing adoption of generics and lowering the cost of care and treatment for HIV/Aids does not set the lessons on how pharmaceutical industries should position themselves for coronavirus. President Cyril Ramaphosa has been challenged thick and fast as the coronavirus manifestation has become a human rights issue. 

At the centre of the court actions is the inextricable umbilical cord between lives and livelihoods. As a young boy growing up in Lesotho I have seen how when a cat is faced with the decision between lives and livelihoods, it makes the difficult choice of devouring its kittens. May it be that under the circumstances the weaker do not become the victims of the balancing act between lives and livelihoods. 

The message of how society post-coronavirus cannot tolerate the haves and the have nots living comfortably side by side because the have nots remain in danger of being the real meal. 

We do not only have to face the consequences of state capture. We are readying ourselves for the eye of the coronavirus storm. 

Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa.


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