Maybe wait and see if the lockdown works before blowing Ramaphosa's trumpet
Well, that is the general tenor of reaction to the lockdown. It’s a remarkably generous response, given the inert nature of Ramaphosa’s presidency so far.
The adulatory reaction was summed up in a Business Day editorial. The lockdown proved Ramaphosa’s mettle, the paper said. “When the country needed leadership at a time of crisis, it had a president ready to provide it.”
Last year there was a clamour for opposition voters to vote ANC, in order to give Ramaphosa a “mandate” to tackle state capture within his own party.
So, Peter Bruce, one of the leaders of the pro-CR media clamour, was similarly delighted. He wrote in one column that with the lockdown, Ramaphosa is “looking better by the day”; and in another, “We are broke and now sick, but at least we are well led”.
The plaudits are premature. Public support for Ramaphosa has at least two other factors behind it.
There’s palpable relief nationally that former president Jacob Zuma’s feckless kleptocracy is not overseeing the response to Covid-19. There is also at work the universal tendency to rally around the nation’s leader, how ever sh*te he or she may be at everyday governance, the moment that there is an existential crisis.
Much is being made of Covid-19 giving Ramaphosa another popularity boost, but those predicting that the president will now act, because Covid-19 has immunised him against the internal foes, are likely to be disappointed.
Ramaphosa’s inertia is not about a lack of power in the wider electorate, nor within the party. It’s about an excess of caution because he is terrified of splitting the ANC or weakening its tripartite alliance with the unionists and the communists.
The disease is going to cause massive upheaval. And while Ramaphosa had no real option to the gamble of imposing the lockdown, even if it succeeds in containing the virus, it is a cure that could kill an economy that’s already reeling.
The parlous nature of our situation is captured in a single statistic in Ramaphosa’s address: R150million. That is all that the government could scrape together to contribute towards its own, new national disaster vehicle, the Solidarity Fund.
That’s pocket change. Compare it with the trillion rand estimated to have been looted by the Zupta forces of state capture.
It speaks tellingly of a fiscus bled dry. Or maybe we should say, in this specific case, bled white.
It was left to routinely excoriated White Monopoly Capital in the form of South Africa’s two wealthiest families, the Ruperts and the Oppenheimers, to kick in a billion rand each. There was not a word, at this stage, from black economic empowerment’s own instant billionaires - including Ramaphosa himself - of any contribution.
As is always the case in South Africa, our new-found national solidarity was quickly challenged. There was an uproar when the Small Business Development (SBD) ministry’s guidelines for emergency financial assistance to small businesses specified 51% black ownership as one of the criteria. Although denounced as “fake news”, AfriForum produced a snapshot of the SBD website showing the offending guidelines. The ministry then issued a statement explaining that a “rogue official” had mistakenly released what was only an “early draft”.
There was another twist in the tail. SBD Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni reassured eNCA that not only black-majority businesses would be aided, “though we will make sure that there is a geographic spread and a demographic spread that is representative”. In other words, race and provincial quotas, not absolute need, would be critical criteria.
When it came to xenophobia there was even less embarrassment. Spaza shops would be allowed to remain open and would be assisted, said Ntshavheni. But “those spaza shops that will be open are strictly those that are owned by South Africans, managed and run by South Africans”.
It is one thing for a country, in normal times, to try to redress historical racial imbalances or to favour its nationals against competing foreigner nationals. It is quite another thing to do so during a state of national disaster. Sounds so much like the old apartheid government. Cyril will be shocked.
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