Defend Truth


Ramaphosa should seize the opportunity to retool the economy in a more humane way


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.

Navigating the Covid-19 crisis requires a deft hand from President Cyril Ramaphosa, but he is hampered by both the deadwood in his Cabinet, and South Africa’s staggering levels of inequality. Reimagining the economy is the first step.

The polarising nature of South Africa is that polarisation is entrenched in our very fabric as much as inequality, poverty, patriarchy, hunger, violence and unemployment are. The Covid-19 pandemic has indeed galvanised the South African government under Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa and his administration, but it has also revealed the delinquents in his Cabinet. The response by the government has been exemplary as led by Health Minister Zwelini Lawrence Mkhize, but the government has failed on a number of other fronts and these own goals have often been scored by Cabinet members such as Bheki Cele, Fikile April Mbalula, Lindiwe Zulu, Ebrahim Patel and Thulas Nxesi. 

Unfortunately, the approach by the Ramaphosa administration has fallen off the rails in providing rational decision-making in the realms of policing, classification of essential goods, social development and transport. Beyond this lockdown, Ramaphosa will need to demonstrate a clear and fair hand to ensure that the delinquents within Cabinet are repurposed and redirected to ensure South Africans are properly served by its government.

The medical response and co-ordination by Mkhize, supported by experts, epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialists, has been exemplary and co-ordinated in such a way that the World Health Organisation this week praised the Ramaphosa administration for its meticulous approach in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and its efforts to flatten the curve and the impact on the national health system.

Similarly, the Solidarity Fund, as announced by Ramaphosa in his first major address on Covid-19, demonstrates a commitment to contribute to the battle facing millions of South Africa. However, this fund and its contributions (and similar interventions) will remain a drop in the ocean – it will not be sufficient to support the millions of South Africans who will be exposed to the real whirlwinds and instability that have been accelerated by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

However, the structural realities of South Africa will always adversely affect the most vulnerable in our society, particularly those who for decades have been exposed and violated by inequality, poverty, patriarchy, hunger, violence and unemployment. This vacillation, inaction, conflicting directives, irrationality and disrespect for the rule of law and our Constitution continues to have a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable in our society. 

Critically, the structural reforms that have been alluded to by Ramaphosa, and Finance Minister Tito Titus Mboweni will have to turn the inaction and vacillation on its head. South Africa in this moment requires rational and clear regulation, which is responsive, expedited and supports the millions of South Africans who are looking to their leaders for guidance, compassion and direction.  

The Ramaphosa administration will reprioritise and redirect spending on the existing balance sheet, and seek additional funding from multilateral bodies such as the World Bank, New Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund (which has made its full capacity of $1-trillion available globally with emergency facilities of $100-billion being made available quickly) as well other international agencies. Raising debt from these multilaterals as well as money on the bond market is not a simple matter, and will require careful negotiation by the Ramaphosa administration led by Mboweni to ensure that this is carefully balanced to ensure that these funds are introduced in a co-ordinated and meaningful manner to confront the economic crisis (and avoid a collapse of South Africa’s economy).

Mboweni has not been front and centre during this period, but in order to respond to these very obvious interventions, he will need to lead the development of clear and rational regulations, which for instance can allow informal traders and e-commerce traders a clear basis to trade, and certainty, which supports and avoids unnecessary distress especially where the trading has no adverse impact on the need for physical distancing and our collective efforts in flattening the Covid-19 curve.  These two obvious examples are simply a regulatory issue, and Mboweni can very easily provide clarity, which will allow those traders to have a livelihood and lighten the pool of businesses that are going to be in immediate distress (thereby freeing up resources for those sectors that are in dire need of support from the government). 

The Ramaphosa administration is seized with a unique opportunity in this moment as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, and the commitment of R500-billion (amounting to about 10% of South Africa’s GDP) as an economic package is a meaningful approach to balance the economic and social issues and needs in the country. The redirection is crucial to ensure that the economic crisis is managed suitably by creating demand and injecting stimulus in the country, which supports the broader economic support that will allow South Africa to weather the storm. 

The impact on the informal economy and millions of South Africans has been devastating, particularly over the lockdown period. The Ramaphosa administration must navigate to ensure the informal traders are allowed to trade and that e-commerce/online traders are supported in order to ensure that they are able to trade. 

The structural circumstances of our society and government are inescapable, and these are the areas where South Africa will continue to struggle. The design of the government was manipulated and altered during the lost decade of Jacob Zuma, and in fact, the levers of delivery were diverted from its service of people and the inherent need for respect of law to instead serve the interests of a small group of people. 

Beyond the lockdown, South Africa requires a government that will honour the rule of law and act within the spirit of the Constitution, and where local authorities such as those in Cape Town and Johannesburg are not doggedly pursuing the most vulnerable by continuing with removals and evictions especially when so many are suffering and struggling. 

The challenge for the Ramaphosa administration will be to execute the economic stimulus and restructuring of our economy in order to ensure it is more humane, engaged, integrated and supportive of the needs of South Africa and its people. Where possible, the Ramaphosa administration must support the introduction of real money into the hands of millions in order to allow them to spend that money closest to their homes, which will support those who are most vulnerable: people who will lose their jobs (and have already lost their livelihood) as a result of this crisis and allowing them to support the informal sector. This is the type of structural reform that South Africa needs more of, and something that the Ramaphosa administration will need to look at if we meaningfully consider the deployment of the economic and stimulus package that was announced by the administration. 

South Africa does not need new ideas or massive bounds of creativity in its approach in confronting the economic and social challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic has escalated, and alarmingly has revealed the disconnect that too many leaders have in understanding South Africa’s real issues. The reprioritisation and redirection of South Africa’s Budget must be coupled with rational and clear regulations, which simply amounts to the appropriate exercising of public power through a stroke of the pen. The delivery of the mechanisms for relief must be appropriately assigned, particularly given the hollowing out of government’s capacity in the lost decade and the circumvention of the rule of law

The obvious mechanism to deploy resources would be South Africa’s revenue system to ensure that we are not trying to recreate the wheel but rather are leveraging the information systems, resources, knowledge of taxpayers and other service providers to ensure that unnecessary delays and creation of new red tape are avoided. 

The economic and stimulus package of R500-billion will not in itself be sufficient to navigate through this economic crisis, but rather the Ramaphosa administration will need to act swiftly and ensure that the financial crisis is equally flattened to ensure that the system is not overwhelmed. DM


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted