We hear that the world will never be the same again. We are told that after Covid, we are likely to have a better, more caring world where many of the economic problems will disappear, to be replaced by a new order that cares about the quality of human life, and equitable levels of human, environmental and economic development.
Forgive this cynic, but such a wonderful outcome of Covid-19 seems unlikely. I cannot speak with authority about other countries, but I know something about SA. Reading ideas advanced by some, especially those in authority, I think South Africa may be worse off, not better, after the end of the pandemic.
This was summed up for me by a recent article in The Star, written by Father Stanslaus Muyebe, the director for Justice and Peace of the SA Catholic Bishops’ Conference. “The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that the cornerstone of a better world is a resilient, corruption-free and efficient public sector that has the means to deliver public services, enhance social protection and create an environment conducive to economic growth that sustains people, the planet and businesses equally. “
Father Muyebe, with respect, cannot possibly think the public sector in SA meets these criteria or will do so anytime soon. Certainly not with a governing alliance of the ANC, the SACP and the trade unions.
This was the situation before the pandemic; after it, things are likely to be much worse. We already had the highest unemployment rate in the world; we are told that the figure may rise to 50% which can only be described as a disaster. As an aside, the (“Neo-liberal”) USA, hated by so many in SA, this month created 2.5 million new jobs and reduced its unemployment rate down to 13.3% (Before Covid it was 3.5%, the lowest for four or more decades).
Former deputy minister, Enoch Godongwana, the economic guru of the ANC, talks airily about the role of the state, quite forgetting that there is hardly a state enterprise (or state department) that has been run with even a tiny bit of success.
Godongwana and the SACP seem oblivious to the R700 billion deficit this year or that the Landbank needs an R22billion bailout or SAA wants R21billion and ACSA needs R3billion, not to speak of Denel, of ESKOM and countless others. The answer they come up with is that we must print money (the Zimbabwean way) and the government should get its hands on pensions and savings belonging to ordinary citizens.
President Ramaphosa also occupies a lofty place in the clouds, seemingly unaware that what our economy needs is major and multiple structural reforms to put it back on the path to growth. Our people need jobs. How do we create them?
When will these men wake up to reality and find the courage and foresight to change their governing policies so that SA after Covid-19 might indeed become a better, fairer, more-inclusive country with greater opportunities for all our citizens?
Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and former ambassador to Thailand. His website is douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com. This article first appeared in The Star newspaper.