Address the nation, President, it’s been 19 days – John Steenhuisen

DA leader says Ramaphosa must play open cards or he will very quickly lose all remaining public support and compliance

Address the nation, President Ramaphosa. It’s been 19 days

12 May 2020

The Democratic Alliance (DA) calls on President Ramaphosa to come out of hiding and address the nation on the escalating Lockdown Crisis.

It has now been 19 days since the President last spoke to South Africans about the government’s nationwide lockdown in response to Covid-19. Since his announcement of a move to Level 4 of the lockdown, he has been missing in action and has left it to a handful of ministers to communicate the questionable decisions of the National Command Council.

We call on the President to address the nation regularly – at least once a week – and that these briefings should include the opportunity to answer questions from the media. We also call on him to make public all Covid19 data, along with the NICD modelling he is using to justify the continued lockdown.

This data should include Covid death statistics by age, HIV status and co-morbidity. It should include the exact state of healthcare and hospital readiness in each district and city. It should include full transparency on what triggers a move to a different level of lockdown. And, importantly, it should include a clearly defined reason – and therefore goal – of the lockdown.

In the context of this lockdown crisis, 19 days is a very long time. Every day that our economy has remained shut has cost our country billions of Rands. Since the President last spoke, countless more businesses have had to shut their doors leaving thousands more South Africans without jobs and with no income. These past 19 days have been devastating for those already living in poverty.

Desperate and hungry South Africans have had to watch as food parcels have been hijacked by ANC councillors, and how good citizens trying to feed the poor through soup kitchens and other outreach programmes have been harassed, shut down and arrested. We have seen the steady march of an authoritarian state brutalising citizens, arresting pensioners and terrorising toddlers for the “crimes” of going about their daily lives. And still the President has remained hidden.

It is unthinkable that any country in this perilous situation should go for almost three weeks without a sign of its leader. And the vacuum left by President Ramaphosa has been filled by the petty authoritarianism of the worst of his ministers – people who seem to have very little understanding of what keeps a country afloat and how people should survive when all economic activity has been suspended.

South Africans deserve to be treated like adults, and to be told the truth. They certainly do not deserve to be told that crucial information on the virus and the country’s state of preparation is being deliberately withheld from them “for their own good”. They deserve to be shown the same trust and respect that has been asked of them by the President. When he speaks of a social compact, surely he must know this cuts both ways.

We call on President Ramaphosa to recognise that he is answerable to 58 million citizens – not subjects – of this constitutional democracy. He has a duty to appear before them and explain not only what he and his government intend to do to protect lives and livelihoods, but also why. In other words, the reasoning, the data and the modelling behind keeping the country locked down, when experts across all fields are increasingly calling for a swift end to the lockdown crisis.

If the President doesn’t immediately take South Africans into his confidence and play open cards with them, he will very quickly lose all remaining public support and compliance.

Issued by John Steenhuisen, Leader of the Democratic Alliance, 12 May 2020