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Lockdown and leadership: How it all went bad

by Salaamedia

By Zahid Jadwat

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Salaamedia’s editorial stance.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is one of 188 leaders from around the world who have been tasked with the responsibility of guiding their nations through a pandemic that has brought the global population to its knees. His handling of the crisis had initially boosted his reputation until things turned sour.

How Ramaphosa deals with it will play an important role in influencing how he will be seen by his nation for the rest of his career. Alongside him in the fight against the Covid-19 outbreak is the Health Minister, Zweli Mkhize, whose reputation also depends heavily on how he manoeuvres through the crisis.

During the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa, the duo was seen as purposeful leaders who knew what they were doing. The coronavirus came as an opportunity for Ramaphosa to boost his public standing and offered Mkhize an opportunity to demonstrate his potential ability to rectify the mess that had become of country’s now crippled health system.

At the beginning of March 2020, all went well. Fast-forward to May and all seems to be going out of control.

The leadership behind the lockdown decision fast became the target of relentless criticism from an irked South African public.

From the onset, I’ve always supported the lockdown. If we are to contain this virus we must follow international best practices. Looking at the island nation of New Zealand, it is evident that the lockdown intervention is an integral mechanism in the response to Covid-19. However, slowing the spread is just about as much as the lockdown can benefit.

A lockdown must be backed up with a rigorous secondary plan that involves a massive testing drive, quick processing, and contact tracing. All along the aim of the lockdown must be kept in mind: its only purpose is to buy time.

The valuable time afforded by the lockdown must be used wisely. The opportunity must be seized to make adequate efforts in order to prepare the country’s health infrastructure so that it may reach its full potential in dealing with the virus.

Years – if not decades – of mismanagement at state-run health facilities have caught up with us and the only way out is to act quickly, else we risk losing lives en masse.

Undoubtedly, prohibiting people and businesses deemed as non-essential from earning an income would have a catastrophic impact, especially on the poorest of the poor. That’s why it is important that the lockdown is accompanied by a requisite economic response package. We have that. The R500bn Covid-19 economic stimulus and social relief package, which was announced by the President in April, is the lifeline for the people during this difficult period – only if the red tape is cut out.

Unfortunately, the most vulnerable are unable to access these funds. The car guard or the domestic worker are examples of those who simply cannot access these funds due to red tape that surrounds them all around. This needs to be addressed urgently.

President Ramaphosa had a good intention: he implemented the lockdown at a time when calls were growing for decisive action. In the immediate period after the government imposed the lockdown, there was a sense that Ramaphoria 2.0 was beginning to grip the nation. Unfortunately, all excitement quickly dissipated when the reality hit and the shortcoming exposed: the plan isn’t clear enough and whatever is planned is inadequate.

Until a well-thought-out plan is put into action, the lockdown has little merit and will be more disastrous than the catastrophe it seeks to prevent.

Zahid Jadwat is the host of The Special Focus on Salaamedia, a weekly show that interrogates the socio-political status quo in South Africa. Follow him on Twitter: @zahidjadwat.

Featured image via FreePik.

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