Giving up on the ANC

Jeremy Gordin says the lockdown cost 3m people their jobs, and for what?

Pace RW Johnson, who’s just penned “Waiting for the old regime to die”, for about 100 days I have been, and remain, far more concerned about my and my wife’s possible deaths than the ANC’s.

Every morning, first thing I do is check the local Covid-19 death figures. The latest, this morning’s, was 4 453. Compared to the rest of world, mutatis mutandis, this is not too bad – though there is not much good about it for those who have died and for their families.

But, as you probably know, life (or death) is not so simple, not in SA anyway. For example, it seems the daily figures for Covid-19 related deaths released by Minister Zweli Mkhize might be on the low side.

If critically ill patients die before being tested, or outside hospital, and/or if there is an inadequate reporting system, then there will be underestimates, which currently seems to be the situation outside the Western Cape. Gauteng, for instance, is only releasing figures for Covid-19 deaths erratically. Additionally, the South African Medical Research Council is tracking deaths closely and has calculated there were 10 994 excess deaths from natural causes between 6 May and 7 July 2020 (i.e. ones we didn’t know about).

Now, these “excess deaths” were not necessarily Covid-related – though they could have been the result of the initial hard lockdown (people not going to hospitals/clinics for other maladies or not taking or getting their medication for other serious ailments) – but it does seem we’re looking at, or should be looking at, death numbers higher than the “official” ones for Covid. 

But then I leave aside data and focus on various other things ...such as, say, President Ramaphosa’s virtual “imbizo” on TV on Wednesday evening. I didn’t stay for more than a minute or two, figuring this was going to be more of the same PR-type boilerplate as previously. And, according to what I have heard and read, it was. But I did see the president’s face when he began – and he looked tired. Defeated, one might say.

We began with a tough lockdown that wiped out the economy. According to a study by South Africa’s Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (CRAM) released on Tuesday, about half of South Africans live in poverty, and about a third are unemployed. Some three million lost their jobs since the lockdown began.

In short, the main worthwhile thing the hard lockdown could have achieved, besides getting people’s attention, was scaling up testing and contact tracing capacity (with the aim of quickly jumping on hotspots and shutting them down) – as well as preparing hospitals. Achieving these goals was the responsibility of the health authorities, i.e. provincial and national governments, with the assistance of the private sector.

But, as is increasingly obvious, with the take-off of Covid in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and now Gauteng and KZN, the national government and the provincial governments, excluding the Western Cape, achieved close to diddly-squat.

As DA leader John Steenhuisen pointed out a couple of days ago, government’s testing programme has missed any kind of meaningful target, and so far ANC government has produced only one patient-ready field hospital across eight provinces.

“The so-called ‘functional field hospitals,’” as Steenhuisen wrote, “are mostly just sites earmarked for use. Apart from Nasrec in Gauteng, where some patients have been received, they are empty warehouses, empty tents and bare construction sites. They have no beds, no equipment, no oxygen tanks, no doctors, no sisters and no nurses.

“Nasrec, originally a quarantine facility, is now trying to install oxygen points and staff the place. This should have been done months ago,” Steenhuisen noted, adding that Gauteng’s other “field hospitals” at Diepsloot, Soshanguve, Midrand, Daveyton and the Tshwane Expo Centre are still in the planning phase. In the Eastern Cape, only the Volkswagen-built Chabula-Nxiweni Field Hospital is partially operational [1]. And so on and on.

What then has been happening since March? A good question from Steenhuisen. And the answer? Well, not much ...

Which means, in the case of Gauteng, that, as a doctor called Mark Human of the SA Medical Association remarked the other night, hospitals are under very serious pressure. His remit is private hospitals and he said that 18 out of 20 private hospitals in northern Johannesburg are “on divert”. Because they have no more ICU beds available, ambulances carrying patients requiring an ICU are instructed to find somewhere else.

Human added that the “capacity problem” was partially due to the high number of PUIs (people under investigation) – who are still waiting for test results and thus cannot be put together with others who are infected. But the largest problem of all, Human said, was “the human resource”.

“No use having 12 000 ventilators being manufactured,” he said, referring to an earlier Ramaphosa announcement, “if no one can operate them.” (Where, by the way, are the Cuban “experts”? Have they gone home? I think we should be told.)

Human said he and his colleagues were “deeply concerned” that the situation in Gauteng was far from being under control.

Bottom line: the important things that needed to be done – the things for which the hard lockdown famously bought us time – have not been done, except, it seems, in the Western Cape. People are both frightened and have lost patience with Ramaphosa et al who have wasted our time fiddling (restrictions on the sale of cooked food, exercise hours, tobacco and liquor sales bans, etc.) while Rome burns. And they don’t even fiddle very well, it must be said.

Even (former) champions of ra-ra-Ramaphosa and the brave new South Africa approach seem to have lost their mojo. Recently Peter Bruce wrote a good piece on the lard-headed reintroduction of the alcohol sales ban, titled “Ramaphosa and his cabinet have lost control of the pandemic ...”. Ferial Haffajee is going hammer and tongs about our woes. eNCA has suddenly stopped singing government’s praises.

If you’ve lost many of your chief praise singers, if people have lost patience, no wonder you’re looking defeated. But the worst part – the proverbial kicker – is that all of this is the result of wrecked health (and other) systems, cadre deployment into those systems, political patronage and corruption. En kyk hoe lyk ons nou.

Will any of this make any difference? Has the electorate truly lost patience? Will we see a huge shift of the body politic – brought about, ironically, by a contagion that kicked off in China?

Are we indeed – to go back to RW Johnson, where I began – waiting for the old (ANC) regime to die and other profound or notable transformations? Or, given what seems to be happening in Gauteng, just waiting for many more of us around here to die?

My son recently called me an aggressive optimist. But this time my money is on the latter, my one hope being that I’ll be as wrong as I usually am.


[1] Over the same period, according to Steenhuisen, the Western Cape government managed to equip and staff no less than four fully functional field hospitals at the CTICC, Khayelitsha, Brackengate and Sonstraal. These facilities have a combined total of 1 482 beds and have been treating Covid-19 patients for weeks now. Without them hospitals would certainly have been overwhelmed.