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God complex and mission creep are starting to dominate government’s Covid-19 response


Jordan Griffiths is the acting chief of staff in the mayor’s office in Tshwane; he writes in his personal capacity.

There is within the South African government a type of fanaticism coming with implementing the lockdown — and it is massively problematic.

The God complex is a term used to describe an individual who has an almost unshakeable belief in their own personal abilities. Generally characterised by an inflated sense of self-importance, entitlement and deep need for admiration, a person with a God complex also has a total lack of empathy for other people. 

Usually referred to as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, it is a form of mental disorder where an individual is often obsessed with status and power. It’s often seen in individuals showing what appears to be extreme confidence, however, this is usually a veneer which masks very low self-esteem and is often shattered when faced with criticism of their abilities or what they consider to be their achievements.

While generally used to describe individuals, it also aptly describes how the South African government appears to be considering its role in relation to its citizens in responding to Covid-19. The country is witnessing a distinctive type of arrogance and zealotry with which the government is approaching how it communicates on and implements the regulations that relate to the lockdown. It is permeating into every aspect of how the state is engaging with its citizens in its attempt to micromanage and regulate every aspect of their lives.

A good example of this stubborn God-like approach to policy was the banning of cooked food. A rule so inane and banal, it was virtually impossible to justify. When called out on this rule, instead of walking back their decision, the state then moved quickly to make a minor change to the wording of the regulations to specifically ban cooked food. Instead of engaging with the criticism, the default response was to push back against it and bulldoze forward.

Now, the government has stepped it up with banning e-commerce because Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel believes it would be “unfair competition”. This was communicated with an air of such confidence and disdain that it was as if it was insulting for one to even dare ask what the logic is behind such a decision. Again, instead of constructively engaging with the critique on this, the government stubbornly pushes back with this sense of unquestionable self-righteousness.

There seems to be an absolute determination to enforce and regulate every aspect of society in the lockdown and a total disregard for engaging on how we can actually have the economy functioning during the lockdown. Around the rest of the world, e-retailers and online players are trading as per normal to keep aspects of the economy running, in fact, they play a hugely important role in preventing further economic collapse. This logic escapes Patel it seems. His position is that if the economy is to suffer, then everyone needs to suffer together it seems.

With level 4 of lockdown looming, the country has been informed that curfews will be in place from 8pm – 5am, again communicated with an almost sadistic pleasure. The government intends to allow fast food places and restaurants to open, and deliver food, but they will basically only be able to deliver it until 8pm. This is bizarre, essentially giving the industry oxygen and choking it in the same action.

It is worth introducing another term to describe the government’s approach to combating Covid-19 – mission creep. Mission creep is generally used in the military context to explain how objectives during the course of a particular mission gradually expand and grow to encompass other unplanned goals. It often occurs when one has had initial success at a particular achievement and so the role is expanded to include further objectives, and it generally ends in disaster.

In the South African context, the citizens of this country entered into an agreement of good faith when the lockdown started. While questioning some aspects of the lockdown, essentially the majority of South Africans accepted the regulations which buoyed the government. However, instead of maintaining this relationship with trust, the government is gradually stretching its tentacles across every aspect of South African life and attempting to dictate every move, allegedly because it is in the best interest of its citizens.

Initially, cigarettes and alcohol were banned with little push back, now cigarettes will be available, but alcohol will remain banned. The reason for this is very simple – the government doesn’t trust its citizens, cigarettes you can have, but alcohol you cannot. Naturally, this leads to the emergence of black markets for alcohol, robberies targeting stores and people merely making their own alcohol as indicated by the peak in pineapple sales. It is the height of mission creep as the government is moving to inform and regulate the decision of every citizen.

This inherent God complex with which we see the state approaching the lockdown, combined with multiple examples of mission creep, is deeply worrying. Particularly as the stubbornness and arrogance with which the government haphazardly passes these regulations is in many cases totally unjustified and deeply irrational, resulting in immense unnecessary economic harm. Of course, the South African government is also taking this particular mission very seriously with the full-scale deployment of 73,180 members of the SA National Defence Force – how else can you implement such arrogance unless it is backed up through the legitimised use of force?

The social contract that the South African government has with its citizens is far more fragile than those in the state believe and unless the thinking behind the regulations in the different phases of lockdown becomes more transparent, justifiable and rational, the trust between citizens and government will quickly erode. 

Already, the signs are there of growing discontent and economic pain as citizens are growing frustrated at the government’s inability to properly manage this delicate relationship and instead chooses to dismiss criticism.

There is within the South African government a type of fanaticism, which is coming with implementing the lockdown and it is massively problematic. South Africa cannot afford a prolonged lockdown, there simply is no money to fund it, yet the entire government seems focused on making it as restrictive as possible when the priority should be on creating the best possible space between opening the economy and managing the spread of Covid-19. 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]"

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