Defend Truth


Coronavirus crisis is an opportunity to redefine our nationhood


Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar was born in Cape Town and raised by his determined mother, grandparents, aunt and the rest of his maternal family. He is an admitted attorney (formerly of the corporate hue), with recent exposure in the public sector, and is currently working on transport and infrastructure projects. He is a Mandela Washington Fellow, a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, and a WEF Global Shaper. He had a brief stint in the contemporary party politic environment working for Mamphela Ramphele as Agang CEO and chief-of-staff; he found the experience a deeply educational one.

South Africa has an opportunity to walk together and reshape our social compact so that it really responds to the lived reality of the people that call the country home. 

South Africa was not necessarily prepared to receive Covid-19, but the response by President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa and his administration has been impressive, thoughtful, responsive and meaningful. 

In these troubled times of a pandemic that threatens the very way in which we live, how we interact, how we celebrate, how we mourn and how we engage as a society is under threat. 

We cannot simply continue as if this is business as usual. We must embrace the principles of social distancing, compassion and additional hygiene measures. Failure to do so will continue to not simply threaten the lives of our people, but also the functioning of our economic and health systems.

The responses across the world in places like Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States of America have unfortunately been behind the curve, and the consequences of that failure have resulted in the expanding footprint of Covid-19, and the climbing infection rate and death toll.

Since last week, the Ramaphosa administration has boldly undertaken the task of taking the message of social distancing, additional hygiene measures and responsive communication to heart. However, far too many South Africans have not embraced the call of Thuma Mina by the president, and we have seen many continuing to enjoy their weekends without any physical distancing. Far too many businesses have also been slow to respond to a world where working remotely must be considered, but the president’s announcement on 23 March has pushed us all to deal with this crisis immediately.

The consequence of ignoring the pandemic and not implementing steps proactively, robustly and compassionately is visible where Covid-19 continues to expand. The need to flatten the curve to protect our fragile health system is the responsibility of all who live in South Africa. 

There are far-reaching consequences should our health system collapse, and South Africans and residents must confront the harsh reality that our country and its productivity will alter drastically over the next 21 days, commencing from midnight on Thursday, 26 March 2020. 

The various ministerial clusters will continue to provide perspective, detail and information on what this national shutdown means. However, the issue that will continue to plague us is how this lockdown practically impacts the residents of areas as diverse as Langa, Bonteheuwel, Blikkiesdorp, Qwa Qwa, Alexandra, Norwood, Houghton and Cato Manor. 

Ramaphosa and his colleagues are confronted with a pandemic that has changed the world. The crisis will redefine Ramaphosa, and has provided an opportunity to transform his presidency. We have seen a president able to engage with experts, religious leaders, business leaders, politicians, trade unions, and to then make meaningful decisions which will save lives, and play a part in shielding South Africa from the complete collapse of our health system and indeed the country itself. 

However, a great deal more needs to be spelt out about how the economic consequences economically will be carried by a struggling and already overburdened fiscus. 

The ensuing weeks will not simply be a test of the leadership of Ramaphosa and his administration, but importantly of South Africa itself. The burden of a national lockdown for 21 days will have a serious impact on those working in the formal and informal economies, our young children, who will not benefit from the structure of a school term, a fragmented public transport network, and those most vulnerable in our society.  

South Africans in the coming weeks will be tested. How will we respond to those most vulnerable in our society? How will we respond to the fake news and fear-mongering that has caused thousands to ravage our shopping malls in hoarding that threatens our supply chain but also acts dangerously as a vector-pool of infectious exposure to Covid-19? There is an opportunity for South Africans to work on our social compact – to engage afresh on issues of xenophobia, gender-based violence and other prejudices in our society. 

We will be tested over the next 21 days and beyond, and to quote Ramaphosa: 

“In the days, weeks and months ahead our resolve, our resourcefulness and our unity as a nation will be tested as never before. I call on all of us, one and all, to play our part. To be courageous, to be patient, and above all, to show compassion. Let us never despair. For we are a nation at one, and we will surely prevail. May God protect our people. Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso. God seën Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa. Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika. Hosi katekisa Afrika. 

This is an opportunity for South Africans to really consider how we can begin to walk together – how business, labour and government can reshape our social compact so that it really responds to the lived reality of South Africans and the people that call South Africa home. 

Ramaphosa and his administration are modelling a very different approach to the denial South Africa showed during the HIV/AIDS crisis, or the bald lies and denial of the lost decade under Zuma. 

Ramaphosa will need to continue modelling this leadership in the weeks ahead because after the lockdown there will be no all-clear sign, there will be no immediate victory over this pandemic. Rather, we will need to pick up the pieces of our fragile economy, walk with our people, who will be even more vulnerable, and we must ensure South Africa does indeed serve its people. DM



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