President Ramaphosa must put South Africa first, and end the lockdown

The State of Disaster – already extended – comes to an end in less than 24 hours, and there is no clarity at all on what happens next. This is unacceptable. The stranglehold this places on our country goes way beyond the immediate damaging effects of the regulations enforced under the State of Disaster, because it is the uncertainty that inflicts the most damage. Millions of livelihoods are in peril as thousands of businesses cannot plan for the immediate future, and every day more and more of them are taking the heart-breaking decision to close their doors.

Where is President Ramaphosa in all of this? How can it be that a country’s leader goes missing in the midst of its biggest crisis? We know he’s around, because he can find the time to make Women’s Day addresses or pen platitude-filled newsletters about a fantasy future, which we know will never happen under his government. But as far as making critical and urgent decisions right now to save our economy, which is fast collapsing thanks to a self-inflicted lockdown crisis, he is nowhere to be seen.

South Africa’s daily Covid-19 infection rate is declining, taking pressure off our public health system. At the same time, our recovery rate has increased significantly. While this is no reason to drop our guard, it is reason enough for President Ramaphosa to grow a spine and end the lockdown immediately and entirely.

There can be no more talk of levels that don’t serve any purpose whatsoever other than to obliterate what’s left of the economy and jobs. There can be no more bowing to narrow interest groups or the agendas of ANC factions. The lockdown must be ended right away, and along with this the irrational bans on alcohol and cigarettes as well as the curfew and travel restrictions must be lifted. And there can certainly be no consideration to extend the State of Disaster.

This is not the view of the DA or business or any specific interest group. It is the widely held view of the vast majority of our society, including government’s own political allies and its own scientific advisors. Just this week, both Cosatu and Nedlac urged the President to end a lockdown that cannot be justified. The scientists on the Ministerial Advisory Committee have long said that the lockdown should be lifted. We welcome this support for a view the DA has held ever since the initial three weeks of lockdown came to an end, and we urge the President to listen to these voices.

The virus will still be around a year, or even two, from now. We cannot remain trapped by indecision and ego until then. We must be smart when it comes to reducing the risk of transmission through masks, hygiene, distancing and ongoing testing, but we have to get out there now and rebuild our shattered economy.

Every day that the president dithers, our country is one step closer to economic ruin. Already we have lost more revenue thanks to the inexplicable ban on alcohol and tobacco than we borrowed, amid great fanfare, from the IMF. What is the point of that then? Our economy is estimated to have lost over a trillion Rand already due to this extended lockdown, and any positive outcome that might have followed the president’s much vaunted investment plans has certainly fizzled away as his government committed economic hara-kiri.

The truth is, this extended lockdown could never be justified, and President Ramaphosa knows this. But he and the ANC have painted themselves into a corner, because ending it now – without any significant increases in the country’s healthcare capacity, without any significant advances in our testing strategy and without any sign that we have contained the virus – would be an admission that it was all for nothing. And so it seems he would rather crush the economy and ruin the lives of millions than say “we got it wrong” and bring it to an end.

South Africa needs him to do the right thing for once: Act like a president, find some courage, face down the factions in his own party and end the lockdown immediately. Our economy was already in crisis before the virus arrived. Now national insolvency is all but guaranteed, while our economy lies in ruins and millions of people will suffer unnecessarily for years to come. Enough is enough. Let’s get back to work and start rebuilding.

The ANC’s Covid looting has to be the final straw

What do Bilal Erdoğan, Isabel dos Santos and María Gabriela Chávez have in common? Well, two things. One is that they are all incredibly wealthy, and the other is that they are all children of current or former presidents (of Turkey, Angola and Venezuela). And these two things are very much connected.

It’s a pretty accurate rule of thumb: where the children, wives and husbands of world leaders do exceptionally well in business it generally doesn’t take much scratching to unearth a rot of corruption. Our very own Duduzane Zuma did not amass his fortune at that tender age thanks to his extraordinary business acumen.

In countries where government corruption is endemic, the ruling elites loot because they can. Years of deliberate dismantling of investigation and prosecution bodies – and in some cases the judiciary – make it possible for them to get away with it.

But they also loot because many of them don’t actually believe it’s all that wrong. Among these ruling elite there is often a genuinely-held view that access to wealth through the state is one of the spoils of war. If you’ve clawed your way onto an upper rung of the ruling ladder, you’re somehow entitled to the perks of the position.

These are predator governments. They prey directly on the people they’re meant to serve, because the money they hoard carries a substantial opportunity cost for communities who depend on government services and social assistance for their survival. Very often this cost is the lives of the nation’s poorest citizens. Corruption is not, as former President Zuma once tried to argue, a “victimless crime”.

It’s easy to spot such predator governments, because after a short while in power all shame evaporates and all pretence is abandoned. The idea of being caught out and exposed is no longer a deterrent, and the only handbrake on the looting is whatever remains of the country’s rule of law.

This is when we see politicians unashamedly living it up far beyond the means of their supposed income. It’s when we see factional battles waged for access to these riches, which often include political assassinations. And it’s when we see a relentless feeding frenzy for the Holy Grail: government tenders and contracts.

Sound familiar? Unless you’ve been living under a rock for a couple of decades, you will clearly recognise the ANC government in all of this. Across all three spheres of government it has become synonymous with corruption, tender fraud and BEE-enabled price-gouging on a massive scale.

The big stories easily spring to mind: the Arms Deal, State Capture, Nkandla, Bosasa. But it’s the thousands of little stories of procurement looting – euphemistically called “tenderpreneurship” – across every ANC-run province and municipality that has really bled our country dry. If there’s a scam out there, the ANC has either invented it or perfected it.

And now, in a new low, the ANC has added pandemic looting to its corruption resume. In recent weeks we learnt how emergency PPE procurement became a free-for-all for the families of high-ranking ANC members. Because that’s how it’s done, with one degree of separation. It’s always a husband, wife, son or daughter who scores the windfall. And thanks to the “emergency” nature of this government spending there was no requirement for competitive pricing, which cadres duly exploited with massively inflated prices.

The cost of this looting couldn’t be higher. Inflated prices means less PPE and other equipment, and so hospitals are constantly running out, forcing healthcare workers to wash and re-use disposable equipment and even fashion their own protective gear from everyday items like rubbish bags. Sub-standard equipment supplied by get-rich-quick cadres with no history in this kind of work also poses a life-threatening danger to healthcare workers.

This looting involves hundreds of people and scores of brand new companies established only months ago to get in on the action. But predictably it is the names of close family members of top ANC politicians that always float to the top of the cesspool, many of whom are already embroiled in earlier corruption sagas.

The two sons of Ace Magashule, who were also central characters in the Gupta looting of the Free State, have suddenly become PPE suppliers. The daughter of Nomvula Mokonyane, who also benefitted from her mother’s many Bosasa bribes, is now also a PPE supplier. Even the son of President Ramaphosa, who famously ended up on the Bosasa payroll the moment his father became president, has landed himself some business modifying Gauteng taxis to make them Covid compliant.

It is brazen and shameless, and evidently a large portion of the ANC think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Ramaphosa faced massive pushback in the NEC when he suggested they relook the rules around families of politicians doing business with the state, and there was no shortage of ANC defenders for Magashule’s sons and Mokonyane’s daughter.

When then ANC spokesperson, Smuts Ngonyama, said back in 2004, “I did not join the struggle to be poor,” he was speaking for the party.

The latest attempt by the president to placate an increasingly outraged public – yet another toothless “inter-ministerial committee” to investigate its own Covid corruption – must be seen for what it is: window dressing.

No previous inter-ministerial committee has ever found its own ANC cadres guilty of anything. Not when it was investigating Nkandla. Not when it was investigating the Gupta landing at Waterkloof. And this will be no different. It simply creates the illusion of action. History has taught us that the looting of the state will continue, and it will go unpunished.

But while this endless corruption by the ANC and their network of cronies feels like it has infected our entire country, there is in fact a part of South Africa that has been bucking this trend with remarkable results. The DA government in the Western Cape has long prided itself on achieving clean audits from the Auditor General, but it’s not always that easy to show the direct link between clean governance and better service delivery.

The Covid crisis, however, has shone a spotlight on this. While other provinces turned emergency procurement into a feeding frenzy for connected cadres, the Western Cape government published all the recipients of its Covid procurement tenders on a public portal, because it has nothing to hide.

While other provinces now have to scramble to explain the actions of wealthy tenderpreneurs who occasionally moonlight as government officials, the Western Cape government conducted lifestyle audits of its cabinet members, all of whom passed the test.

And while all other provinces now have a dire shortage of hospital beds, a critical lack of PPE, and hospital patients fighting each other over precious oxygen supply, the Western Cape reached its peak with room to spare in its hospitals, which included four fully equipped field hospitals.

The difference between the Western Cape’s Covid response and the rest of the country is the cost of corruption. It is costing the lives of South African citizens, and we have to end it. There is no working around corruption if we want to save our country. It has to be cut out entirely.

We need to stop justifying it. There is never a legitimate level of tenderpreneurship. There is no such thing as “earned reward for the struggle”. Public service should be its own reward, and if the salary is not enough then it probably isn’t the right line of work.

We need to stop ignoring it. Just because it is relentless and exhausting doesn’t mean we can ever stop fighting it. If our country is worth fighting for, then we have to draw the line in the sand – even if it means drawing the same line every day.

And we need to stop accepting that corruption is part and parcel of our country’s future. It may be baked into the DNA of the ANC, but it doesn’t have to become baked into the DNA of South Africa. If the Western Cape’s Covid response has taught us one thing, it is that clean, transparent government is entirely possible. You just need to vote for it.

Why has our president been reduced to

The following speech was delivered by the DA Leader, John Steenhuisen MP, during his address to the nation regarding the ongoing leadership crisis in SA. 


Watch the full speech here: https://bit.ly/2Z6WDgC

Fellow citizens,

On Saturday we reached the hundred-day mark since our country went into lockdown. This is a long time, and I’m sure for many of you it feels even longer.

But the truth is we are still in the early days of dealing with this virus. Even with the world’s best scientists working day and night to develop a treatment or vaccine, it could be another 18 to 24 months before this becomes available.

We have to learn to live with the virus, as safely as we can.

Whether we like it or not, we’re in for the long haul, and this long haul cannot be life under lockdown. If people are to survive, our country needs to function. Every part of it.

We simply don’t have the reserves and surpluses that many other countries do. Each little compromise to our economy will put thousands more out of work and in danger of extreme poverty and hunger.

All our efforts now must go towards being economically active and productive once more, while doing all we can to avoid becoming infected.

And I don’t mean that our economy should function as it did before Covid. We need to do far better than that. Because even before Covid, the writing was on the wall and millions had no hope of finding work.

We can’t go back there. That’s not the benchmark. If we’re talking about a “new normal”, let our new normal be one of raised expectations and of goals worth pursuing.

Let our new normal be a brand new paradigm for our country.

Let’s use this opportunity to flip the script and walk away from the failed project of centralised state power, and instead give more power to the people of South Africa.

Let our new normal incorporate all the long-overdue reforms to our economy that the president and finance minister have been talking about, but can never seem to implement.

This is our opportunity, so let’s do it right.

We have already adjusted to so many new things in our lives these past three months, we should have no problem getting used to a few more changes – a South Africa without an SAA, or one in which Eskom doesn’t hold a stifling monopoly.

We’ll easily adapt to a new normal of flexible labour laws, and a trimmed-down public sector.

Let our new normal include a state that is actually able to deliver because it is staffed by the best, and not by political appointments.

If we’re using this opportunity to recalibrate and reset the clock, let us do it properly.

But all of this will require real leadership. And that is something we have not seen from our president since that first announcement of a lockdown a hundred days ago.

We have seen a lot of muscle flexing from ministers around meaningless regulations.

We have seen plenty of force and brutality used against our citizens.

We have seen inexplicable decisions that have caused untold harm to our economy with no measurable impact on the virus.

We have seen ministers repeatedly slapped down by our courts for abusing their power during this crisis.

But we are yet to see leadership from the one man who matters.

Throughout all of this – as the rogue ministers of the National Command Council compounded our problems with petty regulations, as our hospitals filled up and our economy imploded – President Ramaphosa has been little more than a spectator.

We needed someone to step up and take charge, but what we got was a president obsessed with dialogues, reaching out and building consensus.

And this has been the story of his presidency to date: a lot of talk and a lot of promises, but very little action or leadership.

Going into this crisis he had all the public support he needed if he truly wanted to be bold, but he squandered it.

Martin Luther King once said, “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.”

We desperately needed the latter, but we got the former.

And that’s not what you want when your country is facing a devastating double-blow of healthcare and economic crisis.

But thanks to this dithering, we now have a third crisis to contend with – a political crisis. Because while our president has been watching it all unfold from the sidelines, others have been very busy. Most notably, COGTA Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Since the declaration of the State of Disaster, the unchecked power handed to the COGTA minister has made her our de-facto president. And she has wasted no time digging herself in.

We’ve already seen multiple commitments made by the president on live TV undone a couple of days later by Dlamini-Zuma. Her stubborn refusal to reverse the cigarette ban is her way of letting the president know exactly who is in charge.

And consider that she has the power to extend this State of Disaster indefinitely.

But even that is not enough. This week a top-secret document was leaked to the DA in which the COGTA department put forward several extremely concerning ideas on how they think our country should function.

At the heart of this document is a proposal to extend government’s centralised Command Council system well beyond the Covid19 crisis, and to include provincial command councils.

Simply put, it is a bold play to try and centralise provincial and local government power in the hands of a few.

To call this unconstitutional is an understatement. It is tantamount to a coup, as it attempts to put unelected national politicians in charge of provincial and local government functions, against the wishes of those who voted for these governments.

This is the RET faction of the ANC showing its hand against the Ramaphosa faction. And they feel comfortable doing so because they recognise weak leadership.

They are using the Covid crisis as cover to pull the rug of government from under the president’s feet, and he seems incapable of stopping it.

And all the while our country’s economy and healthcare are imploding as we head towards the really big Covid numbers.

When infections in the Western Cape were rising faster than anywhere else in the country, there was much talk of sending in the big guns, and even of threatening the province with a return to hard lockdown.

But now that provinces like the Eastern Cape and Gauteng are collapsing, national government is strangely silent.

What happened over the past months in the Western Cape has been extremely traumatic and challenging, and the province is not out of the woods yet by a long shot.

But the numbers show that the interventions there appear to be working. Infections are slowly levelling off, and hospitals – while full – have not yet been overrun as we have seen in other parts of the world.

This is no doubt thanks to the preparation of the provincial government. We know what they did to “raise the line” in terms of hospital capacity because they constantly showed us.

We saw new field hospitals at the CTICC, Khayelitsha, Brackengate and various other locations. We saw the increase in intensive care and high care beds. We saw oxygen and ventilator availability.

We knew, at all times, where and whom they were testing in order to try and contain local transmission.

In other words, we saw what this provincial government had been doing since the day they became aware of the looming crisis.

But elsewhere we have seen almost nothing. No one knows how the past fourteen weeks of lockdown were spent readying Eastern Cape hospitals for the imminent wave of Covid cases.

No one knows how many extra beds Gauteng has prepared. We haven’t seen their field hospitals. We haven’t seen their ventilators and their oxygen tanks.

And we’ve seen even less from places like KZN, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.

What we have seen from these provinces is patients fighting each other for oxygen, and entire hospitals being closed down.

Can you imagine how distressing all of this must be for those in high-risk categories?

And why are we in this position in July when we should have been preparing since March?

The purpose of the lockdown was to try and hold the virus outside for just a little longer so that we could get these things in order.

South Africans were asked to sacrifice all they had for this sole purpose. What can you possibly say to people who lost everything in the lockdown if it turns out they did it for nothing?

What do you say to vulnerable people – the elderly or those with co-morbidities – in places where the system clearly cannot cope?

But even more importantly, what will our president do about it?

President Ramaphosa, if you’re in charge, and not Minister Dlamini-Zuma, then you need to stop being a spectator to all of this and step up to the plate.

Your country needs you to do better.

Don’t be too proud to ask for help and advice from those who have already been through it.

The experience of the Western Cape provincial leadership these past few months should be of immense value to the rest of the country right now. Given what we’re seeing with the numbers there, surely these are strategies we should be replicating.

Speak openly and clearly about your plan. People need to know what’s in store for them, and they need to plan accordingly.

Businesses can’t possibly operate under chaotic regulations and with the threat of re-entering lockdown hanging over their heads.

When it comes to spending money to build prevention and treatment capacity, nothing is too much. Money should not be the problem here.

Held up against the vast amounts that have been wasted on bailing out failed SOEs like SAA – and now also bailing out the failed e-toll programme – the cost of raising the healthcare line and ramping up our testing programme is not that high.

Cut those other things and spend where it matters.

We also need to make far better use of the expertise that exists in the private sector.

Government is not in this fight alone. There are many experts out there who are able and willing to help get our testing and prevention efforts back on track. You need to reach out to them.

But above all, you must be rational when dealing with this crisis. Don’t allow your party’s factional battles, ideology or egos to get in the way of common sense.

We know, given the perilous state of our healthcare, that we cannot rely on treatment to safeguard us from this virus, and so we need to really up our prevention game.

We also know far more about the airborne spread of the virus than we did three months ago, and we have to advise citizens correctly.

One of your most important jobs, Mr President, is to tell people how to best protect themselves.

It is crucial that people always remember the three most important things that affect their chances of becoming infected: their distance from an infected person; the dose of the virus they get which depends on the time spent near this person; and the degree to which the virus is dispersed in the air.

Whatever we allow in terms of gatherings or socialising has to take these three D’s into account: distance, dose and dispersal.

In other words, always maintain distance, try not to stay close to people any longer than you have to, and try to keep the air moving by either being outdoors or by having the windows open.

We know that gatherings of people are super-spreaders, and we know that this is far worse when it happens indoors. So let’s take our small gatherings and our socialising outdoors wherever possible.

This means lifting the remaining irrational bans on beaches, parks and other outdoor places.

Let us always wear our masks when necessary and wash our hands frequently.

And let us encourage those at high risk to remain in voluntary isolation until it is safe. This includes respecting the safety of employees with co-morbidities as we all return to work.

These are the things we all can and must do to ensure our own personal safety.

What you need to do, Mr President, is take charge.

Use your position and the support you still have to fight for the safety of our citizens. Always put them first.

If the choice is between e-tolls and hospital beds, choose the beds.

If the choice is between SAA and a comprehensive testing strategy, choose testing.

And if the choice is between your party and your country, always choose your country.

That is the duty of the president. And right now our country needs a president and not just another spectator.

Stabilizing our debt: the hippo in the room

The Covid-19 pandemic and the government’s mishandling of it has brought our growing debt problem to a head. How we approach it now will determine what life in South Africa will be like for generations to come. Either more and more people slip into grinding poverty, or more and more people get onto the ladder of opportunity. This is a pivotal moment in our history.

In his emergency budget speech, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni faced up to this problem: “Our Herculean task is to close the mouth of the Hippopotamus! It is eating our children’s inheritance. We need to stop it now!”

Unfortunately, he did not and could not present a credible plan to put South Africa on a path to debt sustainability and growing prosperity. Credit rating agencies are therefore more likely to move South Africa further into junk status than back towards investment grade.

We were already caught in a low-growth, high-debt vicious cycle before the government implemented the blunt instrument indefinite economic shutdown. Having dropped from 49% of GDP in 1994 to 22% by 2008, our debt was set to breach 70% in the next three years. This terrible starting point was reflected in the unemployment figures released this week which reveal 334 000 job losses in the first quarter of 2020, before the pandemic hit.

But now the cycle is that much more vicious. Collapsing tax revenues and increased spending needs have doubled the expected budget deficit (the amount by which our spending exceeds our revenue) for this year, from 7% to 15% of GDP. The result is that debt is expected to be R4 trillion, 82% of GDP, by the end of this fiscal year.

In 2020, 21c of every tax rand goes to paying back the interest on our loans. This is more than we spend on social grants, health, or policing. This number will soon surpass even what we spend on education. The hippo is indeed eating our children’s future.

The minister set out two scenarios, passive and active. On the passive path, we stay on our current trajectory with debt-to-GDP rising to 140% by 2028. This all but guarantees a sovereign debt crisis, meaning we are unable to raise any more debt. At that point, South Africa is either a failed state like Zimbabwe and Venezuela, or the IMF steps in and takes over decision-making. Either way, there’s a lot of unnecessary suffering involved.

On the active path, debt will stabilize at 87% in three years’ time and then slowly decline. This requires us to implement economic reforms that enable growth. (I have listed some of these at the end of this newsletter.) No matter how the government chooses to spin it, South Africa’s runaway debt is a direct consequence of bad policy choices. It can only be remedied by changing direction on these.

Genuine commitment and active steps to implement growth-enabling economic reform will increase our ability to pay back debt while also bringing down the cost of that debt, because lenders charge less the more confident they are that it will be repaid. Sustained economic growth is the only pathway out of poverty and towards broad prosperity in a more equal society.

Mboweni himself strongly supports economic reform. Indeed, he published a paper last year setting out these reforms in detail. His calls for reform are widely supported, including by Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kanyago, the Democratic Alliance and other opposition parties, business organisations such as Business Unity South Africa and Business Leadership South Africa, economists, international lending institutions, and the major credit rating agencies.

Yet despite this vast weight of support, South Africa remains on the passive path to debt crisis. The few promises Mboweni did make – zero-based budgeting, restructuring Eskom – have a high risk of failing on implementation or delay.

The hippo-sized stumbling block is Mboweni’s own party. The ANC remains committed to the failed socialist ideology of state-led “development” that got us into this debt-trap in the first place. In the face of dwindling popular support, the party has been forced to appease vested interests in the ANC alliance – public sector unions and politically connected business cronies – to ensure its survival.

The public sector wage bill consumes 58c of every tax rand and this number will rise to 61c if unions have their way.

Realistically, either reformists unite to build pressure for political change, or we live the horror story that unfolds on the current dangerous and unsustainable debt trajectory.

The DA is committed to building a country that works for everyone. Financial management is measurably better where we already govern. This week, the auditor general reported that 27 out of the 30 municipalities in DA-run Western Cape achieved clean or unqualified audits. In Gauteng, the only municipality that achieved a clean audit was DA-run Midvaal.

In the end, voters need to start being realistic about what does and doesn’t work.

The DA proposes the following focus areas for economic reform:

  1. Stem the immediate bleeding by ending the lockdown and replacing it with a standard set of evidence-based safety rules and guidelines, where each regulation is directly linked to reducing the spread of covid-19. A standard set of high-impact safety rules will improve compliance and enforcement and raise economic activity. This will protect lives and livelihoods.
  2. Cut the public sector wage bill over the medium term and grow public sector productivity by: freezing wages for non-frontline workers for a three-year period; reducing head-office management staff by one third; introducing performance management systems across all sectors; appointing and promoting on performance rather than race, gender or other criteria. The money spent on salaries is crowding out productive investment in public infrastructure.
  3. Sell or shut down state-owned enterprises that are not able to survive without bailouts,and redirect the funds to service delivery and social welfare. South Africa cannot afford vanity projects such as SAA or a new nuclear build.
  4. Make electricity cheaper and more reliable for households and businesses by ending Eskom’s monopoly and opening the electricity market to competition. Municipalities must be able to buy directly from producers.
  5. Make it easier to get and create jobs by freeing up the SMME labour market. Small businesses should be exempt from the more stringent labour legislation including from agreements reached by bargaining councils.
  6. Reject investment-killing policies of EWC, NHI, prescribed assets and SARB nationalisation. Each of these policies may be well-intended, but the real-world result is to scare off investment, capital, and scarce skills.
  7. Abandon BEE system and target redress policies at disadvantage rather than race. The DA’s position paper on redress sets out the policies South Africa should pursue to remove the underlying inequalities that still exist because of past dispossession and discrimination. Abandoning BEE will make state spending vastly more efficient, which is strongly in the interest of the poor.
  8. Auction digital spectrum to bring down data costs for individuals and businesses.
  9. Reform visa regulations to enable more scarce skills to enter South Africa.
  10. Tackle corruption in the private and public sectors by establishing an independent, well-resourced corruption-busting body – effectively reestablishing the Scorpions.

Lockdown’s lesson for South Africa: Power to the people.

“Everything is more complicated than you think.” So says philosopher Kwame Appiah of the real-world consequences of well-intended “solutions”. This quickly becomes apparent when the “solution” is to criminalise the earning of a living.

The crucial lesson that lockdown holds for South Africa’s economic recovery is that we will not achieve an optimal outcome – maximizing social wellbeing or minimizing human suffering – while decision-making control is so concentrated in the hands of a small group of individuals.

Even assuming those ANC politicians in the National Coronavirus Command Council genuinely have the best of intentions and possess superior intellect and knowledge, it is still inherently impossible for them to take decisions on behalf of 60 million South Africans such that the optimal result is achieved.

Central to this conclusion is the inescapable reality that policy-making is about trade-offs rather than solutions. This is premised on three facts:

  1. Society is a complex web of interconnectedness. Making a change in one area to achieve immediate, visible results sets up a knock-on effect with consequences for the whole system, some unseen, unintended, longer term, and negative.
  2. Resources are limited. Targeting public resources at one group or programme means depriving another group or foregoing the opportunity to implement some other programme. The more limited the resources, the more painful the trade-offs. In South Africa’s case, our resources are extremely limited, since our nation was already in a precarious position even before Covid-19 arrived, with our economy in recession, growing poverty and unemployment, entrenched inequality and an incapable state.
  3. Society faces multiple, often competing, risks. Achieving an optimal outcome requires striking the right balance between them. Speed limits, for example, seek to strike an optimal balance between mobility and safety. The more accurately the risks can be assessed, the more likely it is that the right balance will be struck.

Covid is a deadly disease to many people, the true risk of which we are still only beginning to understand. There is so much we don’t yet know, but what we are all acutely aware of, is that it is an immediate and visible risk to society. So it is tempting to view support for South Africa’s extended lockdown as noble, and to view calls for people to be allowed to work as “callous”.

It is easier and more emotionally satisfying to focus on the problem under one’s nose and wish to solve it. Our tendency to do so is aggravated by the inherent bias in the media, since journalists can more readily report on immediate, visible problems.

More challenging is to identify and quantify the full set of consequences that ensues when one aspect of a complex, interconnected system is modified.

And yet this is what we must strive to do if our goal is to achieve an optimal outcome in the real world, where everything is indeed more complicated than we think.

Every life shortened or destroyed by covid is a human tragedy. But so is every life shortened or destroyed by extended lockdown, be it from malnutrition, suicide, police brutality, another disease the response to which was compromised as a result of lockdown, or grinding poverty. Poverty kills.

As Thomas Sowell notes: “Doing good on some problem right under one’s nose is not enough in a world of constrained options and systemic interactions, where the overlooked costs of immediate benevolence take their toll elsewhere.”

This sentiment is echoed by the economist Henry Hazlitt in his classic book Economics in One Lesson: “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy, it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group, but for all groups.”

Realistically, there is no “solution” to covid that does not involve the destruction of lives. The reality is that extended lockdown is not a “solution”; it is a trade-off, and a highly complex one at that.

The best we can do is face reality head on and rise to the challenge of striking the right balance between the myriad risks we face, by considering immediate and longer-term costs, seen and unseen, so as to minimise overall human suffering.

No single individual or group of individuals can possibly do this on behalf of 60 million people, since the risk and incentives landscape for each individual, family, organisation, group and community will be different.

No matter how much more knowledge those on the NCCC may have, it will still not be anywhere near as much as the aggregated knowledge of 60 million people, all acutely aware of the details of their own circumstances.

No matter how well intended are the ANC politicians on the NCCC, the fact is that they are isolated from the real consequences of their decision-making. Those who suffer the real consequences of decisions are more likely to make optimal decisions, and will more quickly correct bad decisions.

Some individuals or families may decide that locking down is in their best interest. Others may reckon the risk to their wellbeing of foregoing an income is greater than the risk covid poses to them. Some schools may be ready to open. Others not.

If decision-making is decentralised so that individuals, families, groups and communities are empowered to act in their own best interest, the aggregated knowledge and incentives that will be brought to bear make an optimal outcome far more likely.

Of course, even with power less centralized, the state still has a crucial role.

With greater access to specialist knowledge – from epidemiologists and economists – the state should be providing people with as much information as possible to inform their decision-making. Instead, the state has been secretive, going so far as to force its advisors to sign non-disclosure agreements.

It is also up to the state to provide a fair and reasonable framework of rules within which decentralised decision-making should operate, because our individual decisions impact other people. So things like mask-wearing and sanitising in public areas cannot be left to individual choice.

It is up to the state to deliver the public goods that create an enabling environment. Public hospitals, testing capacity, water and sanitation, and law enforcement, for example. Some public goods are better suited to provision at a local or provincial level.

Sometimes it is appropriate for decision-making to happen centrally. A coordinated national lockdown of limited duration made sense in March, as a precautionary move. It bought South Africa time to learn more about the nature and scale of the risk, to educate people about it, and to put in place cheaper, more targeted interventions such as building healthcare and testing capacity, universal mask-wearing, and other safety protocols.

Unfortunately, the state did not use this time effectively. South Africa has a largely incapable state, as President Ramaphosa has acknowledged. Effective testing and tracing before the virus had spread widely would have enabled us to keep control of it.

Instead of devolving control as soon as possible, our state has sought to retain maximum control at the centre, with disastrous unintended results, many of which will only reveal themselves in the years to come as the consequences of increased poverty and unemployment unfold.

To summarize. It is not enough that a policy is well-intended. Ultimately, it is the net result that matters. Reality is not optional. The real consequences of policy decisions are borne by ordinary people, not by political elites. So ordinary people have stronger incentives to make good decisions and to quickly correct bad decisions. Their aggregated knowledge of the real risks involved is far greater than the total knowledge of those on the NCCC.

Going forward, a covid response that empowers people within a reasonable set of safety rules will achieve a better outcome than will one that is managed centrally by a small group of people who themselves are protected from the real consequences of irrational or arbitrary decisions.

These same considerations hold true for South Africa’s economic recovery. When individuals, families and communities are empowered, infinitely more creativity, incentives and knowledge can be harnessed.

This is why the DA’s rallying call is: power to the people.

South Africa’s inflexible labour legislation seeks to protect the employed, but the unintended consequence of deterring job creation and excluding new entrants far outweigh the benefits. The empirical evidence is our high and growing unemployment skewed to younger ages.

State-owned entities with their large and relatively well paid staff complements were well-intended. Their unintended consequence has been to stifle private creativity and competition. The empirical evidence is seen in compromised products (unreliable, dirty electricity, for example) at high prices.

Policies such as expropriation without compensation, NHI, prescribed assets and nationalisation of the Reserve Bank may be well intended. They seek to “solve” problems. But all will have unintended consequences, such as deterring investment, that will ultimately be net damaging to the poor, the very people they ostensibly seek to benefit.

These and other such statist “solutions” backed South Africa into a corner of rising poverty, unemployment and debt, with no fiscal room to manoeuver as we went into this pandemic.

A leaked strategy document suggests the ANC is doubling down on this approach in the hope of achieving a rapid economic recovery.

Governments can be forgiven for well-meaning “solutions”, if they adapt their approach once the empirical evidence shows them to be net painful to society. But when a government persists with an approach that does net harm, it is time to change the government.

The DA’s approach to South Africa’s economic recovery is founded on the notion that reality is not optional. That results matter. And that the best results will come when power moves closer to the people. We will publish our economic recovery plan on Monday 22 June. It will show us to be SA’s true liberation movement.

ANC lockdown is based on fear not facts.

We’re ten weeks into the world’s longest and most damaging lockdown, and still the folly continues. On the cold facts alone it has been a terrible, unforgivable mistake.

President Ramaphosa should apologise to the nation and make good by reshuffling his cabinet to remove those ministers who have most compromised his government’s covid response. (COGTA Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, for her disingenuous handling of the tobacco ban issue; Ibrahim Patel for his irrational, petty economic regulations that have cost so many livelihoods unnecessarily; Police Minister Bheki Cele for encouraging the senseless violence exerted on citizens; Defence Minister Mapisa-Nqakula for her terrible handling of Collins Khoza’s death; Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu for attempting to ban NGOs from distributing cooked food to the hungry.)

But millions of South Africans are yet to see the lockdown itself for the huge mistake it is, because they’re gripped in a pandemic of fear. This fear set in before enough real data on the virus had come in, when lockdown could still be deemed a rational precaution.

The fear now is fueled by ignorance of the true nature and scale of the risk. So even as people break lockdown regulations because they need to feed their families, many continue to view it as a rational response.

This is as the ANC government would have it, hence they’ve made little effort to update people, and continue to withhold information which should be in the public domain. They are simply covering their own backs.

Armed with facts, people will be able to make better decisions in their own best interest, and they will be more likely to hold government accountable for lockdown’s socioeconomic devastation.

On the facts alone, the rational response to covid is to assist the high-risk group to shield, while the vast majority of South Africans get back to work, with reasonable safety protocols in place, to start rolling back hunger and producing the tax revenue necessary to fund health, education and social grants.

If our disingenuous government had a shred of concern for the ordinary person, they’d use their substantial platforms to reassure people that it is safe and sensible for non-high-risk individuals to get back to work and school, by giving them the facts.

Fact 1: Covid does not pose a significant risk to healthy 0-65 year-olds.

So says the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), whose best estimate for the fatality rate of symptomatic cases is 0.05% for those under 50 and 0.2% for 50-64 year-olds. One third (35%) of those infected experience no symptoms at all.

Putting this in context, which is how all risks must be assessed if we are to respond to them rationally, covid has a risk level similar to flu (0.1%) for those under 65.

Western Cape data show the overwhelming majority of covid-positive people who have died in the province have had one or more co-morbidities (additional diseases or conditions occurring with the primary medical condition). So vulnerable people must be shielded and we should all adhere to safety protocols (masks, sanitising, physical distancing).

In the UK, which is no longer at epidemic levels, the average age of those who’ve died is over 80, while 95% had serious co-morbidities. In both the UK and Italy, the average victim had three co-morbidities severe enough to be causes of death on a death certificate.

Despite repeated requests by the DA, the government is yet to share South Africa’s covid death data by age and co-morbidity, most likely because the facts show the lockdown to be wholly irrational.

Fact 2: The overall Covid risk to the population at large is comparable to many other risks.

The NICD (South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases) risk model, on which government’s decision to implement the lockdown was based, has still not been released for public scrutiny. But its latest projections are 40-45 000 deaths from covid this year.

For context, this is four average flu seasons in one, since flu kills an average 11 000 people a year in South Africa. And it is a lower risk than tuberculosis which kills around 60 000 people per year.

Had 40-45 000 deaths been the NICD’s initial estimates, it is doubtful the government would have implemented a lockdown. But initial estimates were allegedly ten times this, though the government has never shared these details because the massive drop in the size of risk would logically require an equally massive drop in the size of response.

A mature government, acting in the country’s rather than the party’s best interest, would have admitted as much, taken their scientists’ advice, and called the whole thing off weeks ago. It would have been an embarrassing, but forgivable mistake.

Apologise and get out, as the saying goes.

But the ANC isn’t partial to admitting mistakes, and anyway lockdown suits the unionists and communists in their ranks. Public sector workers remain on full salary, while for communists lockdown is filled with revolutionary opportunity.

So the party has opted instead to hide or fudge the facts and play on people’s fears. But the fact remains, this extended hard lockdown has been the ANC’s costliest mistake yet. It will be measured in lives lost to South Africans and, if facts prevail over fear, in votes lost to the ANC.

Western Cape heading into covid surge, yet should move to Level 3.

Over half of SA’s confirmed active covid cases are in the Western Cape, where the virus is more established than in other parts of the country and is now moving into the phase of rapid growth ahead of the peak. Yet the province has done what it can to prepare for the peak, and should move to level 3. Leading experts predict that many provinces will catch up to the Western Cape’s trajectory in the coming months. They should not be returned to level 4 or 5, regardless of readiness.

As of 23 May, the Western Cape had 6 146 active cases – people currently known to be infected – out of a total of 11 239 active cases in South Africa. Case numbers are expected to peak in June/July, a couple of months before other provinces, where numbers are expected to peak between August and October.

Why has the Western Cape’s infection curve been ahead of South Africa’s? One reason is that Cape Town is Africa’s most popular tourist region, and thus welcomed the most visitors from the hardest-hit regions in the world, including China, Europe and the United States while the epidemic was progressing. Many of the country’s first cases were reported in the Western Cape, and it is likely that the province has had the highest number of infections all along.

Secondly, the Western Cape has been testing more of its population than any other province. So far, it has tested 1350 people per 100 000 of population, while other provinces have tested between 140 and 850 per 100 000 of population. The more tests conducted; the more cases will be recorded.

Thirdly, in contrast to other provinces, the province’s testing strategy is focused on testing in ‘hotspots’ – places where the infections are concentrated – as opposed to general testing of the population. This means the ratio of positive tests to all tests will be higher, because of testing being focused in places where the virus is suspected, or more likely, to be present.

And fourthly, the Western Cape is performing post-mortem testing. This means patients who were not tested for covid before they died have a greater chance of still being picked up. If someone is not tested for covid before or after they die, their death will not be recorded as a covid-related death. This shows the impact of testing on the reported covid death rate.

Yet, despite the growing numbers, the DA and Premier Alan Winde are adamant that the province should move to level 3, and is probably more ready to open than any other province. Why?

The dual purpose of the lockdown was to buy government time to: 1. increase the capacity of the health care system (“raise the line”) and 2. ramp up more targeted measures to slow the spread of the virus (“flatten the curve”), in particular testing to trace and quarantine infected individuals. The Western Cape has used the time effectively and has been transparent about the increased health and testing capacity that has been achieved:

  • R725.5 million has been committed to covid-related expenditure across the Western Cape Government.
  • The conversion of the CTICC into a temporary hospital facility that will provide 850 additional beds at the peak of the pandemic, set to open 8 June.
  •  Additional temporary hospitals along the R300 in the Metro, in Khayelitsha, and in the Cape Winelands that collectively provide an additional 616 beds, to open soon.
  • 18 testing and triage centres (12 are already operational) to provide additional support at these facilities.
  • 3888 Community Health Workers are operating across the province, with a further 464 due to start work soon
  •  The number of tests have increased from 7 975 on 1 April to 94 275 on 18 May. This is an increase of 1182%.

Some in government believe the Western Cape should be held at level 4. This would be a mistake, just as it will be a mistake to return other provinces to level 4 in the months to come, whether or not they have used the lockdown time to prepare their health systems.

Extended hard lockdown creates more problems than it solves. It presents a greater risk to people than does the virus itself, and will ultimately result in more human misery. It too threatens lives. There is a strong link between economic devastation and increased mortality. The ability of the public health system to treat those with diseases and potentially fatal injuries requires resources which come from tax revenues. Without these resources lives will be lost.

Lockdown has a direct impact on government social and health spending. Aside from the impact on the fiscus, economic decline will lead to job losses (National Treasury estimates between 3 and 7 million for South Africa) and loss of income, which in turn means starvation and malnutrition for millions of people. Poor nutrition and low incomes are further directly linked to compromised immune systems reducing quality of life and years lived and also making people more susceptible to contracting covid.

Government’s worst-case mortality projections of 45 000 covid deaths this year, while grim, reflect that the covid response has been grossly out of proportion to the threat. We need to bear in mind that more than 400 000 South Africans die from natural causes each year, including around 37 000 from tuberculosis and 32 000 from diabetes, as well as 15 000 in road accidents and 21 000 from murder. (In the US, between 1 February and 16 May this year, across all ages, more people died of pneumonia than covid.)

None of these threats to human life lead us to mothball our economy and stay indoors, and for good reason. While every death is a human tragedy, we cannot avoid all deaths, nor sacrifice society’s other competing needs, such as food and mobility.

STRAIGHT TALK WITH JOHN STEENHUISEN | Help us end this lockdown

Help the DA challenge the hard lockdown in court

This speech was delivered by DA Leader, John Steenhuisen, on 14 May 2020.

Help us end this lockdown crisis

My fellow citizens

In these unprecedented times, it is more important than ever that we stand together and support one another.

Our deepest condolences go out to those who have lost loved ones to the Coronavirus. And our prayers are with those who find themselves facing enormous hardship in this lockdown crisis.

Together we will overcome this and rebuild our country.

Together we will find a way forward.

South Africa tuned in last night in the hope that our President would show us a way forward, but an hour later he had barely said anything.

He told us his government had often got it wrong these past seven weeks, which is true.

He told us that South Africans have played their part and made sacrifices, which we know.

But when it came to the part we were waiting for – the urgent opening of our economy so that people can get back to work – South Africans were left bitterly disappointed.

What President Ramaphosa announced last night was simply not enough.

Remaining in hard lockdown until at least the end of May, and possibly even longer, is not good enough.

Remaining imprisoned by a night curfew enforced by armed soldiers is not good enough.

Remaining subjected to a slew of irrational, petty regulations that do nothing but kill businesses and turn decent people into criminals is not good enough.

And having all of these decisions passed down by a secretive sub-group of the Executive with no clearly defined authority is certainly not good enough.

South Africa tuned in last night to hear one thing only: “The job of the lockdown is done. It’s time to get our country back to work.”

But instead we got a long, rambling justification for an extended lockdown that has torn our economy to pieces, and a vague announcement that this might be eased, for some, in two weeks’ time.

Not good enough.

If the purpose of the lockdown was to ramp up our healthcare capacity and expand our testing programme – and we are told by the President that we have done this – then why keep the hard lockdown in place for another two weeks?

In the President’s own words: “There is clear evidence that the lockdown has allowed us to achieve our objective of delaying the spread of Covid-19 and avoiding a massive surge in infections that would have overwhelmed our healthcare system.”

So if this objective has been achieved – if even the President’s own experts agree that the hard lockdown must end – why are we still locked down?

Why are we deliberately destroying thousands of businesses and millions of jobs? Why are we causing all this suffering for our fellow citizens if it is no longer necessary?

I’ll tell you why. It’s because of a lack of courage.

Going into lockdown was the easy part. Everyone was doing it. The world was panicking and governments were spurred into swift action.

But coming out of lockdown is the hard bit. This is what requires smart strategy, analysis and skills. And it also requires a lot of bravery.

People are going to see infections spike and they are going to want to find someone to blame. It will take a courageous leader to know this and still do the right thing.

Hiding from the virus was the easy part. Dealing with the virus is the hard part.

But every sacrifice we’ve made these past seven weeks has been for this very goal – to prepare us to face the virus.

We cannot let fear paralyze us.

We cannot remain trapped by fear of the spread of infection. The lockdown was never going to stop infections. It was always only going to delay this.

We cannot remain trapped by fear of a rising curve. Because the curve will rise, and it will rise by a lot. We must know this and we must accept it. And we must trust that the curve will rise by less than if we’d had no lockdown at all.

We cannot remain trapped by fear of the duration of Covid-19, because this illness could be with us for the next two years. We must learn to live with it.

We have to end the national hard lockdown, and we have to do it now.

We have run out of any road we might have had. In fact, we reached that point a month ago, when the initial three weeks set aside for our hard lockdown came to an end.

Three weeks was just about all our crippled economy could bear.

When the President announced that the three weeks would become five weeks, the DA spoke out strongly against it. We warned that an extension to the lockdown would be an economic disaster, and we were right.

Those extra two weeks of Level 5 and then another two weeks of Level 4 have already baked into our economy a depression that will take a generation to recover from.

We called on the President to end the hard lockdown a month ago, and he has had every opportunity to act since then. Yet last night he told us to stay put for at least another two weeks.

We don’t have another two weeks.

That is why the DA has decided to take action. Because someone has to, and the President won’t.

One by one, we will fight and we will overturn every decision and every regulation that is either irrational or immoral until we have done what President Ramaphosa could not do: End the hard lockdown.

You’ll know that we have already instructed our lawyers to challenge the discriminatory use of the Covid emergency relief fund. It isn’t right for government to exclude citizens from this relief based on their, or their employer’s, race and other arbitrary criteria.

We also petitioned the IMF to make any funds obtained from them by the South African government conditional on non-racial use, or any other arbitrary criteria. And today I would like to set out our next rounds in this fight.

Today our lawyers will file papers in the High Court challenging the rationality of three separate lockdown-related issues: the night curfew, the ban on e-commerce and the restriction on exercise hours.

It is our opinion – and it is the view of many South Africans – that all three of these decisions should be immediately reversed, as there are no rational justifications for a military-enforced curfew, a restriction on e-commerce business and a limited 3-hour window for exercise.

But it also has to be said that all these irrational decisions are taken by the National Command Council because they are acting without any checks and balances.

The State of Disaster we are currently under, governed by the Disaster Management Act, has zero provision for Parliamentary oversight. Which means this secretive National Command Council answers to no one.

Now consider that not even a State of Emergency, which is a further step up from a State of Disaster, has such sweeping powers with no parliamentary oversight.

There is no logical reason for this, and it surely could not have been the intention of the authors of the Disaster Management Act.

And so tomorrow our lawyers will be filing court papers challenging the constitutionality of this aspect of the Disaster Management Act. Because unless the Act meets constitutional muster, the decisions taken by the National Command Council under this Act are not valid.

This is an extremely important case, because it speaks to one of the most crucial principles in our democracy – the separation of powers.

We have an Executive branch of government – Cabinet – and a separate Legislative branch – Parliament – for a very good reason.

But right now, because of this lack of oversight, the Executive is effectively doing the job of writing our laws and regulations as they please, bypassing all the debate and possible opposition that would’ve happened in Parliament.

We have to fight this, because from here our democracy finds itself on a very slippery slope.

What we will be asking the court is to apply the same oversight provisions to the State of Disaster as to the State of Emergency. Because without this oversight, petty authoritarians hopped up on power are allowed to run amok.

That’s when you see pensioners and toddlers harassed and arrested for walking on a beach.

That’s when you see e-commerce banned, not because it is a health threat, but because it is apparently “unfair” towards non-e-commerce businesses.

That’s when you see cigarettes, alcohol and hot food banned.

That’s when you see laughable regulations about which kind of T-shirt or shoes you can buy and how you should wear them.

None of these things make any difference in delaying the spread of the virus. They’re all just a massive over-reach by the kind of ministers who should be nowhere near such power.

If we want to prevent this kind of dictatorial madness, then we have to stop it at the source. And this means removing this authoritarian power through proper oversight.

Right now, these legal challenges of ours are what stand in the way of a slide towards a one-party fiefdom, where laws and regulations are simply issued by decree.

It is in every single South African’s interest that we succeed.

And so I ask that you help us fund this legal process through a small contribution. Please go to our website – da.org.za – or our Facebook page to see how you can donate.

There you can also co-sign my letter to the President asking for the hard lockdown to be lifted.

We cannot do this on our own. If you were perhaps feeling powerless until now and wondering what you could do to help fight this heavy-handed lockdown, this is it.

We need to fight this together, just as we need to face our fear of the virus together.

Yes, there is a threat – a very real and scary threat – right outside our door, but it’s not going to go away.

No matter how long we choose to stay on this side of the door, it will still be waiting for us on the other side.

So let us put on our masks, wash our hands and open the door so that we can face it with courage, determination and a whole lot of common sense.

Let us replace this hard lockdown that is destroying our country with a proper smart lockdown plan that allows the maximum number of South Africans to return to work.

Let us allow every business that can operate safely to do so.

Let us set out hygiene and distancing protocols for every type of business and every mode of transport.

Let us do the same for our schools.

Let us make the best possible use of the resources of the state. Instead of locking up soup kitchen workers and atchar sellers, let us rather pour the state’s attention into finding people who are at real risk and helping them to isolate.

Those with co-morbidities such as diabetes and hypertension are vulnerable and should remain locked down. Many of them cannot do so where they live, and the state can play a crucial role.

Let us put on our masks, wash our hands, keep some space around us, and then go out there and try and rescue what we can of our economy so that people can earn a living and feed their families.

The threat posed by this lockdown crisis is so much greater than the threat of the virus, that we simply have no choice but to end the hard lockdown now and start our economy up.

If the President is unable to make this decision, then help us make it for him.

Thank you.

Help the DA challenge the hard lockdown in court

We must end the ANC lockdown crisis now

This speech was delivered by John Steenhuisen on 8 May, as South Africa entered the seventh week of lockdown.

My fellow citizens,

I know you love this country as much as I do. There is a lot to love.

We all want South Africa and her people to succeed, and it is heart-breaking to see so many suffering in these difficult times.

We pay tribute to those who have lost their lives to the virus, and our deepest condolences go out to their friends and families.

But what makes this even more heart-breaking is the fact that much of the hardship we’re going through is unnecessary. In our efforts to fight off a very real threat, we have replaced it with an even bigger threat of our own making.

The real tragedy playing out here is no longer the Coronavirus, but the lockdown itself. Because this lockdown is going to cost many more lives than it can possibly save.

This is a hard truth to speak, and it is even harder to hear. But it must be spoken.

We have to end the lockdown crisis, and we have to do it now.

There is very little for us to gain and almost everything to lose by keeping people at home and keeping businesses shut any longer.

The only reason we entered into the lockdown was to buy some time.

We weren’t trying to stop all Covid infections. We weren’t trying to kill the virus.

We were simply giving our hospitals time to prepare. To give our healthcare workers the best possible chance of dealing with the inevitable wave of infections when it finally hit us.

We knew then, as we know now, that this wave is coming, lockdown or not. We also knew that our country’s economy could only withstand a very limited freeze.

This is why the lockdown had an end date. Three weeks is what it was going to take to source equipment, to get beds ready and to train the doctors and nursing staff in Covid protocols.

However, before those three weeks were up it was decided that a little more time was needed, and so the three weeks became five weeks.

These extra two weeks would come at a huge cost to our country, but at least there was an end date, and we could brace ourselves for the duration.

All of this had to be a very delicate trade-off: shut everything down at an enormous cost to the livelihoods of millions for a short period, and hopefully save many lives in the process.

But this is the thing about managing this pandemic – there’s not only one trade-off. You have to make them all the time.

Every day, the situation changes – the odds change – and you constantly have to reassess this trade-off.

Six weeks ago, that decision by President Ramaphosa to act quickly in shutting the country down to delay the spread was widely praised, and rightly so.

I was one of those who stood firmly behind him and supported his early call for a nationwide lockdown. The whole country did. At the time it was undoubtedly the right thing to do.

But although the President was called brave and bold at the time, that would turn out to be one of the easiest decisions he would make in this crisis.

We could all see what was happening around the world. We could do what they were doing, only faster and firmer.

It was the right thing for the President to do, but not the bravest.

Because the real bravery would be required later, when the time would come to open everything up again and face what we had been preparing for: the spike in infections.

That was the whole point of this hard lockdown: to prepare for the opening up.

I also supported the President when he announced that we would be moving into a phased approach to the lockdown. What he called a risk-adjusted model that would allow for a return to work, schools and, ultimately, normal life.

The DA had just proposed a very similar model to him, and we were grateful that some of this work had found fertile soil.

I said, at the time, that we would judge this model on the details that would follow, but in principle this was a good move.

But we were right to reserve our judgment. Level 4 of the lockdown, as it turns out, is hardly different from Level 5. In fact, in many respects it is more restrictive, not less.

We now have a curfew enforced by more than 75,000 armed soldiers, which we didn’t have under Level 4. And even shopping hours have been reduced instead of expanded.

This wasn’t progress towards a more open society and economy at all. It was simply an extension of the hard lockdown – this time with no final deadline in sight.

What the DA had proposed in its Smart Lockdown was a detailed plan, sector by sector, for how we could safely return to normality.

What the government gave us was simply a longer list of rules and a curfew.

And, as most of you have seen, or even personally experienced, the rules and restrictions under this supposed lighter level of lockdown are often petty, irrational and authoritarian.

It is little wonder then that these rules are increasingly met with resistance, and even outright civil disobedience.

If you want people on your side, you have to treat them with the respect they deserve. You have to treat them like adults.

Instead we have seen citizens treated like criminals.

We have seen people being abused and humiliated in the streets and in their properties by members of the police and the army.

And sadly we have even seen citizens die at the hands of these armed forces.

We have seen good Samaritans arrested for the crime of feeding the poor.

We have seen arbitrary rules on what may and may not be purchased drawn up with the stroke of a pen. There is no rational argument for the continued ban on cigarettes, or alcohol, for that matter.

We have seen announcements from ministers on keeping sectors of the economy shut that have nothing to do with halting the spread of the virus. Petty, irrational announcements, like the ban on all e-commerce.

We have seen the outrageous announcements from the Small Business Development Minister and the Tourism Minister that they intend to exclude some South Africans, on the basis of their race and other arbitrary criteria, from government’s emergency relief measures.

The DA has already written to the head of the IMF – where a large part of this relief funding will come from – to urge them to instruct our government not to use this money in a way that discriminates against some South Africans.

We have also instructed our lawyers to take this matter to the High Court, because it is unconscionable that government would play identity politics in a time of crisis.

We will continue to fight to overturn regulations that are either irrational or immoral, whether in court or through other means.

And we will fulfil our duty, as official opposition, of guarding against the abuse of power.

Because never before, in democratic South Africa, has the power of the state been spread wider, and yet concentrated in the hands of so few.

And all the while, South Africans have been asked to give up even more for even longer, without questioning any of it.

That has to end.

South Africans have more than done their bit.They have been asked to sacrifice, and they have done so. Many have lost all they had.

They have sat diligently in their homes as our country’s economy slowly crumbled around them, waiting for the news that the hospitals and the doctors were ready and we could resume our lives.

I don’t have to tell you how hard this wait has been.

Many of you know full well what it’s like to go week after week without any income, or to wait every day for that dreaded phone call: “I’m sorry, you no longer have a job.”

Thousands of businesses have either already closed down, or are about to. Each of these businesses was a precious lifeline for the employees and their families.

National Treasury says, best-case scenario, we stand to lose 3 million jobs. That’s if we do everything right and end the lockdown now.

Worst-case scenario it’s 7 million jobs. That’s on top of the 10 million who were already unemployed before Covid hit.

SARS says we will miss our revenue target by a massive R285 billion. That’s a fifth of our income gone. This is money meant for social grants, it’s meant to pay teachers, nurses, police officers. It’s meant to deliver water and housing.

We are not the USA. We are not the UK, or Germany or Japan. We simply don’t have the means to navigate around this kind of loss.

The effect on poor South Africans will be devastating.

This is a self-inflicted catastrophe far, far greater than anything the virus could throw at us.

Mr President, by creating this lockdown crisis, you have broken your sacred compact with the people of South Africa. You have weaponised our trust in you and turned it against us.

Instead of trusting us back, you have devastated lives and livelihoods through brutality and coercion.

And you have turned the free citizens of the Republic of South Africa into subjects of an authoritarian government.

We are no longer dealing with a Covid19 crisis. We are dealing with a lockdown crisis. An ANC lockdown crisis, to be precise.

Let me be very clear about this: There is no longer a justification to keep this hard lockdown in place. Government cannot produce this justification.

They cannot show us the modelling they use to decide when to ease and when to tighten restrictions. They cannot do this because they don’t seem to know for sure themselves.

And so every decision is shrouded in secrecy. We are told to blindly trust a body called the National Command Council – a small group of cabinet ministers who don’t answer to Parliament or anyone else.

When asked for their meeting minutes to clarify why they backtracked on lifting the cigarette ban, this National Command Council refused, claiming this was classified information.

I don’t buy that for a second, and neither should you.

The DA has filed a PAIA application to obtain not only the minutes of their cigarette discussion, but of all their other decisions relating to the lockdown.

It is crucial that we all know exactly why, according to government, we’re still in this destructive lockdown.

What we do know is that government’s very own epidemic expert, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, thinks this lockdown has already run its course and is of little more use.

In fact, this was his view already two weeks ago. Yet here we still are.

We know that the sole reason for locking the country down was to buy time to boost our healthcare response. We’ve done this. What hasn’t happened in the past six weeks will not happen now.

The only thing keeping us locked down now is fear.

And we have every right to fear the virus. We have every right to worry about the health of our loved ones, and particularly those who are at higher risk.

We have every right to feel unsure about the future, and what our world will look like three months, six months, a year from now.

But this is not a reason to remain locked down. We cannot afford to remain trapped by fear alone.

If there is a good reason for maintaining the lockdown, based on a scientific modelling of this pandemic, then we need to know what this reason is. We need to see government’s modelling.

If no reason and no modelling can be shared, then we have no choice but to suspect that government is acting irrationally, or deliberately instilling fear to further some other agenda.

Since the start of this crisis, the DA has called for all this data to be shared publicly. We have made extensive and multiple submissions to the president explaining exactly what kind of data is needed for such decisions to be made.

This must go way beyond just the number of infections, deaths and recoveries in the country and for each province.

The data has to be localised. It has to include a detailed breakdown of age, gender and co-morbidities. And, most importantly, it has to include the full, updated picture of the state of our healthcare preparations in each town and city.

It also has to include a very detailed picture of our screening, testing, tracing and tracking efforts.

Because if we don’t know this, we have no way of knowing whether the lockdown serves any purpose at all, and we have no way of knowing if and when we will ever come out of it.

We’re about to enter our seventh week of lockdown, which means we’re fast catching up with the longest Covid lockdowns in the world – Wuhan at 8 weeks and Italy at 9 weeks.

Every single day that we stay here comes at a massive cost. Because every day more businesses are closing down and families are left destitute.

But there is some good news too. As we see this virus spread through the world, we get a clearer picture of its effect. And one encouraging part of this picture is that mortality rates are not as high as we initially thought.

While still dangerous, the Coronavirus is not as deadly as we had feared.

Most people who contract it will get better, or perhaps not even know they had it. For younger, healthy people, the risks are not much higher than normal flu.

This means we have based our response on over-estimated risks. Our strategy is flawed, and we need to respond to this new information by phasing out this lockdown.

This is where the DA’s Smart Lockdown model comes in. A real phased approach that balances the flattening of the infection curve with the safe opening of the economy.

Under this approach, the three steps that we all must do – wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining physical distance – are still critical.

We then use extensive testing to identify where the virus is spreading out of control, so that we can use localised lockdowns to contain the spread.

At the same time, we protect the elderly and others who are at risk as far as possible through isolation.

And then the rest of us get back to work, where every business in every sector will have comprehensive safety regulations in place which they will have to comply with.

Every single business that can safely open, must be allowed to open immediately.

That is how we can effectively spread infections out so that our hospitals can cope, while still allowing businesses to operate safely and allow people to earn a living.

We need to do this right away, because every day we delay comes at a price we cannot afford.

We also need to end the lockdown in an orderly way before the people end it with chaos.

Millions of people are already breaking the law, not because they are criminals, but because they are hungry.

Not because they want to, but because they have to.

Not because they are bad, but because the laws are bad.

When a rule is met by mass non-compliance, it is usually because the rule is irrational. If you need an example of this, just look at e-tolls.

There is no bravery or compassion to be found in this lockdown.

The true bravery and compassion is in the mothers and fathers, the grandmothers and grandfathers, who risk arrest or death to break this lockdown, so that they can feed and clothe their families.

The true bravery and compassion, President Ramaphosa, will be in ending this lockdown.

And be warned Mr, President: Unless you come to your senses and end this lockdown crisis, millions more will start breaking the law in the coming days and weeks.

If you don’t end it, the people of South Africa will take charge and end if for you.

As it now stands, the lockdown is a tragic mistake that has already caused damage that risks dooming an entire generation of South Africans to a lifetime of destitution and suffering.

We can’t undo any of this. We can’t turn back the clock.

What we can do is act now to end this lockdown crisis and get as many of us back to work as safely as possible.

That is the only way we will ensure that, once we have defeated this virus, we have a country left to rebuild.

Support our petition calling on the International Monetary Fund to direct the South African government to NOT use its relief aid financing in a way that discriminates: http://stopcoronaaiddiscrimination.co.za/