Second wave: Ramaphosa’s decision not to implement another lockdown proves the DA was right about them all along

As a second wave of covid infections is hitting some parts of South Africa, we should be looking to learn the lessons of the first wave, to respond more effectively this time.

And indeed, the most important lesson to be learnt is that lockdowns are both catastrophically destructive and ineffective.

President Ramaphosa will probably never state this outright, as that would mean taking responsibility for the tragic consequences of his ill-fated decision to force South Africa into one of the world’s most severe and prolonged hard lockdowns that has so devastated millions of lives. But the fact that he did not implement one last night is a tacit admission of this rank failure.

To be clear, the DA is unequivocally against lockdowns because they have been conclusively shown to be net harmful to younger, poorer societies such as South Africa’s, with the poor suffering disproportionately. (Unsurprisingly, the only people in South Africa I’ve heard support lockdowns are those who are guaranteed an income at the end of each month. The poor have learnt the hard way that lockdowns are totally disastrous.)

Everyone agrees that the socio-economic impact of lockdown is negative. But many people are under the impression that the health impact could be net positive, and that lockdowns may therefore be an effective tool. Yet there is no evidence to support this claim.

To quote Wits professor of vaccinology Shabir Mahdi and The Scientists Collective: “What we can be certain of is that the type of hard lockdown imposed in March will only inflict further, perhaps fatal, damage to an economy which was on the ropes before the pandemic – and which the hard lockdown rendered moribund. It will also significantly undermine any chance of an economic recovery, without achieving any meaningful net health impact.

So how should we be responding to this second wave, in order to minimize human suffering from all causes? (I say from all causes, because deaths caused by lockdown are just as important and tragic as covid deaths although it is now in the president’s interests to afford covid special status, to somehow justify his prolonged hard lockdown.)

As the DA have been saying all along, individuals and groups need to be empowered with greater decision-making capacity, since each person, household, or group has a different risk profile, and must act accordingly.

At the same time, it needs to be made clear to people, as per President Ramaphosa’s message last night, that they need to play their part in slowing the spread of infections. Behavioural changes are the best tool we have to slow transmission.

However, government should be targeting far more of its communications and resources specifically at the group most vulnerable to Covid – the elderly and those with serious co-morbidities – as they are most likely to require hospital treatment.

Concurrently, government should be increasing hospital capacity at existing hospitals and at temporary field hospitals while improving traffic policing and law enforcement in high-crime areas to reduce pressure on our trauma facilities.

Government should also be doing all it can to ensure a spot at the front of the queue for Covid vaccines. Unfortunately, our government has missed the deadline for the first payment in the COVAX vaccine initiative. This means we now fall back in the queue, and South Africans might have to wait even longer before securing a vaccine. This is unacceptable. Government should rectify this immediately to book our spot in the queue.

There is much that citizens and government can do to minimise overall human suffering during the second wave. And there is room for disagreement on the exact strategy to follow. But I hope we can all now agree that lockdown is a terrible mistake never to be repeated.

Only people power can save SA’s economy

This past week tech entrepreneur Elon Musk surpassed Microsoft founder Bill Gates to become the world’s second-richest person while the country of his birth, South Africa, got downgraded deeper into junk status by two of the big three ratings agencies.

Could Musk have achieved what he has if he’d stayed in South Africa? Will he be investing in South Africa any time soon? Not likely.

And nor will many other potential investors. Which should concern all of us, because South Africa’s economy – our lifeline – is in very serious trouble. We are heading for a sovereign debt crisis which as Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has pointed out will lead swiftly on to a banking crisis. Unemployment is at an all-time high of 43%. This is an unnatural level of joblessness and there is nothing Ramaphosa can say to investors to get that number down. Only real reform will do it and if ratings agencies don’t believe that’s going to happen, people shouldn’t either.

South Africans cannot sit this out and trust the ANC’s talk of economic recovery even as their actions – or lack thereof – spell economic suicide. For as long as the ANC controls SA’s economy, we’re heading straight for Zimbabwe. The only way to save our economy is to get economic decision-making power out of the hands of the ANC and into the hands of ordinary people.

And only the people of South Africa can achieve this.

And they can only achieve it at the ballot box.

The ANC has constructed a system of disincentives that repel entrepreneurs and investors like Musk. Most investors will stay away while the ANC hangs out policies like expropriation without compensation, BEE, NHI, Reserve Bank nationalisation, asset prescription, the Mining Charter, Eskom’s monopoly, inflexible labour legislation and the propping up of failed state-owned companies, all of which red flag our country as a no-go zone for investment.

Entrepreneurs and investors are freedom-loving by nature and necessity. That’s why economic freedom and prosperity go hand in hand in economies across the globe. The DA understands this, and we have pushed relentlessly for open energy and labour markets, for secure property rights, for workers’ pensions and medical aids to be protected from a ravenous state. We believe every policy decision in South Africa must aim to put more economic decision-making power into the hands of ordinary people.

Freedom equals prosperity. Power to the people.

The DA have worked relentlessly to create an attractive environment for investment in the Western Cape, so it is gratifying that Google has decided to invest R2.2 billion there despite the ANC’s repellent policy framework at the national level.

If Ramaphosa is serious about attracting investment into South Africa, then he needs to offer real incentives through economic reform. Soothing sentiments at investment summits are not going to cut it, as the ratings agencies know. Investors respond to nothing except the real opportunity to make profits. And that’s a good thing. There wouldn’t be multiple covid vaccines in the pipeline were it not for the profit incentive.

Ramaphosa’s ANC is long on talk but short on action. They endlessly promise reform but have made almost no progress. They call for a week of mourning for GBV victims but reinstate to the ANC’s Mpumalanga executive committee a former MEC who stands accused of raping his two daughters.

They profess concern for the poor but then dip into health and education budgets to subsidize air travel for the rich. They condemn Malema’s incitement to violence against police officers but fall short of charging him. They are all talk, no action. They have lost all credibility.

As we slide deeper into junk status it will be harder and more expensive to get the funding we need to continue living beyond our means. With every day that passes, we dig the debt hole deeper and it gets harder to get out. Next year’s local government elections are a crucial opportunity for voters to use the power of their vote to take back their economic decision-making power. Please don’t sit this out. Vote DA for a people-powered economy that offers the chance of profits to the likes of Musk, and prosperity to all.

Brackenfell: Children’s right to education must come first

Tomorrow, the EFF will be protesting again outside Brackenfell High School in Cape Town and have threatened a “complete shutdown” of Brackenfell. There are indications that targeting schools for protest action will become an escalating EFF trend. For the sake of our schoolchildren, South Africa needs a strategy to resist and oppose this.

Western Cape Education Minister Debbie Schäfer met with City officials today to hand over an affidavit motivating with clear evidence why this protest should either be interdicted entirely, or have tighter restrictions applied and enforced. This follows various threats of violence made on social media by EFF leadership since the protest was given the go-ahead in the High Court, and worrying displays of violence by the PAC in Brackenfell yesterday.

The SAPS have said that they are adamant that they can cope with any eventuality on the EFF’s protest on Friday, and that there is no reason to intercept it. I do think that police and law enforcement do not understand the nefarious and selfish intentions of the EFF and are downplaying the seriousness of this protest as it presents a direct threat to the rights of children to safety and education. In upholding the right to protest, law enforcement must also ensure that individuals do not trample upon the rights of children to receive a quality education. It is regrettable that the SAPS cannot see the violation of this most basic right in this instance.

The DA has, within the confines of the law, done everything it can to prevent this protest from happening. This is not the last time that the EFF will hatch a scheme which seeks only to divide our country on the basis of wanton anarchy, racism, and hatred, and the SAPS and law enforcement must not be naïve as to what is unfolding in our country.

It can never be acceptable for school children to become the target of political protests, and particularly not when the motivations for the protest bear all the hallmarks of political grandstanding and opportunism. In the case of Brackenfell High it has not been established that the private function in question was racially segregated or exclusionary, but it is clear that the EFF don’t care for any such facts.

Having said that, racism anywhere, including at schools, is unacceptable and it is crucial that legitimate concerns are addressed and that all schools take steps to become more inclusive. Where it can be proven that racial segregation has raised its ugly head, there are constructive and destructive ways to tackle this. The EFF is choosing the latter because it builds their image as firebrand revolutionaries.

Fighting perceived racism is not the only agenda motivating the EFF’s protest action at schools. Quite possibly, it is not even the main agenda. There is also the opportunity for free media publicity since the EFF has little else to offer South Africa other than entertainment and spectacle. And they know the more sensational or violent their protest action, the more media attention they will get. Unfortunately, the media are drawn to EFF violence like moths to a candle.

It has become evident in recent years that the EFF sees ongoing racial conflict – and possibly even a full-blown race war – as beneficial to their own narrow cause. Therefore, it is crucial that people do not rise to the EFF’s bait. One hand cannot clap alone. If the EFF is looking to protest peacefully as they claim, there is no need for anyone to come out and engage them. If they are looking for a fight, people must not give it to them. Either way, the best outcome will be if no one comes out tomorrow.

Should there be a racist issue at a school, there are channels to challenge it that don’t disrupt schooling and undermine children’s constitutional right to basic education. The issue can be taken up with the SGB, reported to the SAHRC or public protector, or challenged in a court of law.

Of course, the EFF have a constitutional right to undertake protest action, but children also have a constitutional right to basic education. In the case of protest action outside Brackenfell High School on Friday, these rights clash. Section 28.2 of the Constitution is very clear that the rights of a child trump all else. It states: A child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.

Fighting racism – whether perceived or real – by disrupting schooling is highly counter-productive because it undermines the effort to ensure quality basic education for all, which is arguably the most powerful way of all to address racial inequality.

Race continues to matter so much twenty-six years into democracy precisely because vast socio-economic disparities persist. If we wish to create a non-racial South Africa, we must address these inequalities of opportunity, not deepen them.

There are no short cuts. We have to do the hard yards of dismantling the existing system of inequality. And certainly, there are no short cuts that involve disrupting schools while children are writing matric in the most stressful academic year in recent history.

Get to know newly elected DA leader, John Steenhuisen, and invest in the 2021 Local Government Election campaign. Click here.

South Africans must unite against farm attacks

Young farm manager Brendin Horner’s brutal torture and murder may come to mark a tipping point for South Africa. It could strengthen radical groupings on the left and right, further polarizing and racialising our society, risking a rural civil war of sorts. Or it could strengthen the centre, spurring South Africans from all communities to come together against this attack on our farming community and food security and more broadly against lawlessness.

The EFF has been quick to use this issue to incite violence. On Wednesday, Malema tweeted “Magwala a chechele morago! (Cowards move to the back) Fighters attack!” in response to Tuesday’s incident of violence outside the Senekal Magistrate’s Court where the two men accused of Horner’s murder appeared. EFF MP Nazier Paulsen posted a picture of a machine gun captioned “Get ready!” Racial hatred and division are the lifeblood of their political support.

This reckless, irresponsible opportunism must meet a united front against violence, criminality and racism. South Africa’s society is growing evermore fragile and volatile. Those in the centre need to stand together behind a powerful set of principles: the rule of law, equality before the law, non-violence, and nonracialism. Only with these principles and a plan to enforce them will we overcome the forces tearing our country apart.

There is absolutely no justification for farm attacks, no matter the race of victim or perpetrator. This brutality is a sickness and a crime against our humanity. These crimes cannot continue to be committed with impunity. It is only when people demand and see accountability that criminality and violence will decline. There is also no justification for the destruction of public property as we saw in Senekal this week, no matter the race of the perpetrator. All must be equal before the law, and the law must be able to run its course.

This moment calls for strong, uniting leadership. President Ramaphosa needs to break his silence and condemn farm attacks. He should unequivocally retract his infamous 2018 denial of farm murders. When EFF members attend the second hearing of Horner’s attackers next week as Malema has called on them to do, these “fighters” as he calls them will be looking for a fight with those whose anger and frustration is at boiling point. President Ramaphosa should call for peace to prevail and make it clear that violence will not be tolerated.

His government has a constitutional duty to promote tolerance and the protection of all citizens. He should replace Police Minister Bheki Cele who has failed to take decisive action and refused to classify farm attacks as priority crimes even though it is today four times more dangerous to be on a farm than in other areas of SA. Instead Cele has aggravated the situation, most recently this morning by attempting to blame farmers themselves for farm attacks.

Farm attacks must be classified as priority crimes, so that more resources, manpower and expertise can be dedicated to fighting them. Farming is already an incredibly high-risk vocation in South Africa, not just because farming is so heavily dependent on the weather, but also because of the threat of expropriation of farms. The constant fear felt by farmers and farmworkers is becoming unbearable. Make no mistake, this coordinated attack on our farming community is also an attack on our food security.

The DA has called for a debate of national importance in Parliament and a joint ministerial summit on rural safety. Government can no longer turn a blind eye to this escalating crisis. We need to see a massive increase in research and statistics on this issue. Crime intelligence and investigative capacity must be boosted in rural areas.

Fully outfitted, dedicated rural policing units must be reestablished. Farm patrols must be supported and court watching briefs must be allocated to closely track court investigations and court proceedings to ensure attackers end up behind bars.

More broadly, the DA will continue to drive the issue of land ownership and financial support for emerging farmers and we will continue to fight expropriation without compensation. These are two areas of policy failure putting immense pressure on South Africa’s farming community.

There is uncertainty about the motives behind farm attacks but there can be no uncertainty amongst law-abiding South Africans that enough is enough. Let us unite behind the rule of law, equality before the law, non-violence and nonracialism. The vast majority of South Africans are tolerant, peace-loving and law-abiding. We cannot let our society be sabotaged by the radical, violent few. We must stand together and demand accountability.

State must “get out the way” of economic recovery

It is now incontrovertible that lockdown greatly exacerbated the real disasters we face as a nation – poverty, unemployment, and inequality – hitting the most vulnerable hardest and causing far more suffering and loss of life than it prevented. Ramaphosa’s government is directly responsible and the very least they can do now is get out the way of South Africa’s economic recovery.

Two sets of socioeconomic data released this week confirmed what should have been obvious to all on 27 March 2020 when lockdown was implemented: that anything longer than a short, well-managed lockdown to buy time to implement more targeted interventions would wreak major destruction on a nation already in crisis.

StatsSA reported that 2 200 000 people lost their jobs in the second quarter of this year, with broad unemployment increasing from 39% to an unprecedented 42%, and youth unemployment (age 15-24 years) to almost 75%.

The NIDS-CRAM Survey Wave 2 gives valuable insight into the social effects of lockdown, which have been largely hidden from view, unlike the Covid death toll which is splashed on dashboards and reported on daily in the media.

  • Nearly 1 in 4 shack dwellers experienced hunger every week in July and August. Nationally, hunger rates are still substantially above pre-lockdown levels.
  • The 3 million jobs lost between February and April had not returned by June despite the partial easing of lockdown restrictions, suggesting these losses may be long-lasting.
  • From February to June, the most disadvantaged groups (poor, rural, women, unskilled, less educated) experienced the largest declines in employment and the slowest recoveries, with the percentage drop in employment 10 times higher for the poorest 50% of workers compared to the riches 25%.
  • 311 000 domestic workers lost their jobs.
  • 40% of school days will be lost for most children in 2020, with education inequality increasing.
  • ECD attendance levels were still down 75% relative to historical levels a month after programmes were allowed to reopen, mostly because ECD centres couldn’t afford to reopen.

This data vindicates the DA’s early call to end the lockdown, which was met with outrage at the time, when we argued that poverty kills by stunting bodies and lives, that lockdowns kill, that the poor and young would suffer most, and that growing inequality would dangerously destabilize society.

It is not good enough for government to claim these are “unintended consequences”. Many things have “shocked” Ramaphosa, but no self-respecting president can claim not to have foreseen the catastrophic socioeconomic consequences of shutting down an economy in recession and forcing people to stay inside their homes for weeks on end.

It is crucial that we as a nation recognise lockdown as a monumental blunder on the part of government. Because rule number 1 for recovering from lockdown is to not go back into lockdown if covid cases start to rise again. But also, because Ramaphosa’s government must be held to account for the devastation. South Africa needs a new government.

Anyone who believes that the same government that caused this devastation can lead a rapid economic recovery is living in fairyland. And indeed, Ramaphosa’s “Economic Recovery Action Plan” is the stuff of fairy tales.

The evidence suggests that these 3 million job losses and our economic depression may be long lasting. Lockdown has turned to slowdown. A recovery even just to pre-lockdown levels of employment requires bold pro-growth reforms to free up the private sector.

Instead, Ramaphosa’s plan is to double down on state-led “development”, a contradiction in terms for a state as hollowed out and incapable as ours. Dyed-in-the-wool communist, Trade and Industry Minister Ibrahim Patel, is to tell us what we may and may not import, fresh from telling us what shoes and shirts we may and may not wear. Investment-killing NHI is to forge ahead. BEE regulations are to be strengthened. Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi, recently fingered as having received payments from Mr Edwin Sodi in the asbestos audit scandal and champion of tighter employment equity regulations, is to chair the Economic Recovery Leadership Team. You can’t make this stuff up.

The only possible economic recovery for SA is one which is market-led. The individual choices and risk assessments of 58 million people must direct what gets produced and how much. Power to the people who care about their lives, not to the state that doesn’t. No government that cares about people’s lives would cut R10.5 billion from social programmes at a time like this to resuscitate bankrupt SAA. It is unforgivable that public transport for the rich is being subsidised while people are starving.

The government cannot even perform its own core roles to any acceptable level – witness stolen railway lines, crumbling infrastructure, broken health and school systems, bankrupt municipalities, and delayed social security payments. Nor can it run its own businesses – witness bankrupt Eskom, SAA, Denel, SABC, SAPO and Transnet. Yet it wants to direct the private sector, the only sector which still has capacity.

We need open, competitive energy and labour markets. We must decisively reject investment-killing policies such as NHI, EWC, BEE, prescribed assets, and Reserve Bank nationalisation. We must stop bailing out state-owned enterprises. We need high-level arrests of corruption suspects Jacob Zuma, Ace Magashule, Nomvula Mokonyane, Gwede Mantashe and the like, to stop corruption in its tracks and build immediate confidence in South Africa. Scapegoating through token arrests of small-fry suspects is not going to cut it.

Only if our corrupt, incapable state gets out the way of innovation and entrepreneurship in this country will jobs be created at the scale required, and will the financial reserves be generated to offer a strong safety net and trampoline to those pushed down by lockdown. What Ramaphosa envisages as a state-led recovery, will more likely be a state-blocked recovery. The DA’s headline advice for government’s economic recovery action plan is just four words long: Get out the way.

DA is the party of economic inclusion

September has been a defining month for the Democratic Alliance. I am extremely proud of the way the party conducted our virtual policy conference, and even more so of the resolutions we adopted.

We have now anchored ourselves to a set of extraordinarily powerful and enduring values and principles, including non-racialism, redress, compassion, and integrity. I cannot conceive of a more solid foundation on which to unite and build our party and our country, a higher standard against which to measure ourselves in government and in opposition, nor a more reliable loadstar for policymaking.

Non-racialism means non-discrimination on the basis of race. Inherent in this principle is the imperative to compensate past racial discrimination.

In line with this commitment to non-racialism we adopted an economic redress policy that targets disadvantage, rather than race. Importantly, it prioritises those who still suffer – and suffer most – the consequences of past discrimination and exclusion: the over 30 million South Africans living below the poverty line, excluded from the economy. In so doing, the DA committed to the economic inclusion of all who live in South Africa.

This is not to deny that past discrimination and exclusion were race-based. On the contrary, the DA is not a political home for anyone who denies that Apartheid and colonialism disadvantaged people on the basis of race, and that this disadvantage must be systematically dismantled. Nor is it to deny the existence of racism and racialism, which grew from the false belief in a scientific basis for race. Rather, it is to hold that it is preferable to compensate past exclusion by directly addressing the factors which perpetuate that exclusion than by racial discrimination in the other direction.

Not only is this the better route to a fairer society, it also puts clear blue water between the DA and the ANC, offering an approach to tackling racialised inequality that avoids the serious shortcomings of the ANC’s race-based redress policies, BEE and employment equity (EE).

It avoids the need to resort to racial classification, for which there exists neither scientific nor constitutional basis. It enriches the poor, which is in everyone’s best interest, while race-based redress enables the enrichment and re-enrichment of a connected elite, at the expense of the rest of society, who get less value from public spending, due to inflated tenders and non-merit-based appointments in the public service. And it aligns with the globally accepted approach to measuring and incentivising companies’ social contribution, the UN’s social development goals, and so will attract rather than deter investment as BEE and EE do. This is crucial, given SA’s unprecedented economic crisis.

This week, StatsSA confirmed that economic activity dropped by 51% in the second quarter of 2020. This massive fall follows three previous consecutive quarters of economic contraction. Ramaphosa’s lockdown has now turned a recession into a deep depression that will condemn millions more to dire poverty unless we embrace wide-ranging pro-growth reforms, one of which is to reject the ANC’s investment-killing, race-based redress policies.

Voters who are serious about tackling poverty and racialised inequality now have a clear choice: they can choose the DA, a law-abiding, non-racial party committed to a social market economy and a capable state, with a track record of delivery and a plan to tackle economic exclusion. Or they can choose the ANC, a corrupt, racial nationalist party committed to state control of the economy and cadre deployment, with a track record of economic destruction and a programme of wealth extraction for the elite.

This is the clear blue water South Africa needs if we are to build a better future for all who live here.

South Africa is a sinking Titanic amid ANC corruption

In the National Assembly yesterday during Questions to the President, President Ramaphosa insisted that South Africa is not a “sinking Titanic”, but a turning one. Here’s why he is wrong.

No matter what President Ramaphosa does or says, South Africa will remain a “sinking Titanic” while the ANC remains in national government.

The ANC is largely a patronage network and corruption is the glue that holds it together. Without corruption, the ANC will unravel. Therefore, either South Africa sinks or the ANC does. Ramaphosa confirmed recently: “I would rather be seen as a weak president than… split the ANC.”

Therefore we should not be surprised when, in the same week that he pens a 7-page letter to his party decrying corruption Zandile Gumede, former mayor of eThekwini out on bail for her part in the R400 million Durban solid waste scam, was sworn in as a member of the KZN provincial legislature. In response to the public outcry and pressure from the DA in the house yesterday, she has today been suspended on full pay, meaning she retains her R1.1 million salary. Just this week, it emerged that R158 million was spent on the salaries of suspended public servants in the six months from October 2019 to March 2020.

We should not be surprised that the party this week appointed its Secretary General Ace Magashule – corruption kingpin in the covid looting, Estina dairy and other scandals – to identify corrupt leaders within the ANC. And this job should be easy since he himself brazenly remarked this month: “Tell me of one leader of the ANC who has not done business with government”.

The ANC cannot act on corruption because almost everyone who is anyone in the ANC is implicated. Everyone has dirt on everyone else. Take one card away and the whole house of cards collapses.

Hence, Ramaphosa cannot act on his commitment yesterday to implement independent lifestyle audits for members of his executive and top government officials. Just as he did not act on that same commitment when he pledged it in his 2018 State of the Nation Address, saying they would be done by October 2018.

In sharp contrast, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde committed to lifestyle audits for his cabinet and their spouses at the beginning and end of the five-year term. The beginning-of-term audits have been completed – conducted by an independent contractor appointed through an open tender process – and show that his cabinet members live a lifestyle in line with their income and that there are no conflicts of interest.

Like it or not, BEE is the mechanism that enables ANC corruption. Ramaphosa himself is a prime BEE beneficiary, so it was unsurprising that he restated his commitment to BEE in the house yesterday. BEE may be legal, but it is not moral. It is simply an instrument to enrich a small connected elite at the expense of the poor majority, under the guise of “transformation”. It enables the glue of corruption that holds the ANC together.

But let us imagine the ANC somehow held together even as most of its leaders were sent to jail. Even in this unlikely event, the Titanic would keep sinking. Because the party is committed to a “state-led economic recovery”, which is frankly a contradiction in terms. The experience of Venezuela, Zimbabwe, North Korea and The Soviet Union show that centralized control sinks economies.

The ANC is South Africa’s ZANU-PF. It will sink South Africa as surely as ZANU-PF has sunk Zimbabwe.

We do not need the DA to get over 50% of the vote to save the Titanic. Rather, we need to bring the ANC below 50%, and then lead a coalition that shares our commitment to the rule of law and accountable government.

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.