Over the last two weeks, I have had a couple of very interesting conversations with my friends in Europe and local business owners in South Africa. Their key questions are how I perceive the lock-down, its regulations, implementation and how it makes me feel about South Africa.
How do I feel about South Africa? This is a very good question. It has triggered some interesting discussions. For the first time in 20 years, I feel disappointed and I’m questioning whether South Africa has the capability to tackle its problems.
The strict limitations on exercise outside and the prohibition of alcohol and tobacco, amongst other restrictions does not make sense and is most annoying. Since this COVID-19 situation is new to everybody, including our politicians, some mistakes were made in the beginning and I was able to accept them.
In our March newsletter, I raised questions around the restriction of personal freedom. What really disturbs me is how easy it is for some politicians to limit and regulate tiny aspects of our lives. It makes me feel like I am being treated like a child. It is worrying that the trust in the South African people is missing. The fact that we are governed by a collective, without proper parliamentary oversight, did not help.
There was never any public discussion on what is allowed and not allowed under the state of disaster. The media only raised their concerns about the restriction on freedom towards the end of April.
Yes, the opposition parties have raised their concerns, but for the general public, whether the implementation of the lockdown is legal, is not of paramount importance. Most people I speak to do not see it as a real problem. My fellow citizens are more concerned about their right to exercise, than how their fundamental rights are being limited. This is not a good sign in a young democracy.
It feels to me like some politicians have developed, or are giving into, their existing autocratic tendencies. They are very comfortable without parliament, without the separation of power and are happy regulating every tiny aspect of our lives and the economy.
They seem to be in their element. The attack on one of South Africa’s most renowned scientist for speaking her mind fits this picture.
A senior military commander has said, “For now we are a constitutional democracy.”
The Minister of Labour has called for a general quota limiting the employment of foreigners in certain sectors. Our Unemployment Fund has not paid foreigners, despite them being registered and entitled for UIF, with a general statement that stated that a lot of foreigners were working illegally in South Africa.
These are just a few examples of strange statements that have been made by our politicians.
Do I think that influential politicians within the ANC want to abolish our democracy? No, I do not! What I do think is that there is a lack of respect for institutions and understanding of important legal concepts. These actions do not help to build trust in our government.
In addition, it is very disappointing that the government didn’t use the time during lockdown to ramp up testing capacities. Two and a half months after the start we are still sitting with roughly 15,000 tests per day. I think the crisis has really revealed that some ministers and their administration are not competent enough to understand, address and solve the challenges that this crisis has brought upon South Africa.
I am very disappointed that quite a few politicians still see employers as the enemy and think that they do not know how difficult it is to build a business and how much hard work it takes. They do not realise that most employers really care for their employees.
I question whether a large part of the ANC have the answers to solve this economic crisis and are capable of implementing them. It will require a fundamental structural change to enable South Africa to have the economic growth it needs for the future. 2% growth will not be sufficient to reduce debt and create meaningful employment.
I am aware that after 10 weeks of lockdown, my mood is not as positive as it usually is. Although I have to say that as an African country, South Africa has done a great deal to support its people and businesses.
Having spoken to our country manager in Mozambique a few days ago, their local businesses have received no support! Could more have been done? Yes, but I also know that usually the worst-case scenario does not occur and our fears are usually worse than reality. Therefore, I will take it day by day and trust that we will all be okay.
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By Andreas Krensel