Cape Town – The leader of South Africa's main opposition Democratic Alliance, John Steenhuisen, on Tuesday said the government's decision to continue restricting swathes of economic activity and normal life due to Covid-19 was only serving the interests of the ruling ANC while betraying ordinary citizens.
Steenhuisen said an easing of lockdown rules to level 3 from Monday was unconscionable and urged President Cyril Ramaphosa to end it altogether.
"It is unconscionable that the ANC government opted to move South Africa to level 3, even as scientists advised a move to level 1 and called lockdown a 'blunt instrument', as President Ramaphosa has now revealed," Steenhuisen said.
"Either deep naivety or outright dishonesty is behind Ramaphosa’s claim that level 3 is a middle road between the advice of South African scientists and the World Health Organisation (WHO)."
Steenhuisen said the president appeared to be straddling a divide within the ruling party. He pointed out that the WHO's advice was for lockdowns to be lifted only when infections were on the decline. By this logic, South Africa should remain in lockdown until the end of winter, he said.
"The level 3 decision has nothing to do with saving lives, or with WHO opinions, and everything to do with ANC internal politics and outdated ideology," he said.
"Level 3 is a result of political compromise between the warring factions of the ANC alliance. Rather than do the right thing for the country, President Ramaphosa has once again chosen ANC unity over national wellbeing."
He said the ANC had found support from public sector unions for not easing restrictions further because the salaries of those they represented were not affected by the lockdown which began in late March.
Steenhuisen said comments by ANC politicians sounded like a sanitised version of the radical Economic Freedom Front's (EFF) call to collapse the country's so-called "white economy", a reference to how the white minority still enjoys economic dominance as a result of South Africa's apartheid past.
At the weekend mayor Mzwandile Masina of the Ekurhuleni municipality posted on Twitter that he supported EFF leader Julius Malema's view that there was a need to "nationalise all commanding heights of the economy".
"This reflects a poor understanding of how an economy functions and a total disregard for the desperate situation of hunger and hopelessness that millions of households are in," said Steenhuisen.
"There is only one economy. It is the precious lifeblood of our society. I urge President Ramaphosa to stop smashing it to death with the 'blunt instrument' lockdown and start putting his country ahead of his party."
He said the DA believed the correct response to the pandemic at this point would be to protect the elderly and others who were at higher risk from Covid-19, and allow the rest of the country to return to work with safety protocols in place, so that the state could collect revenue to fund health, education and social grants."