Govt and Covid-19: Incompetence, indifference and hypocrisy

Eugene Brink says the pandemic has amplified existing trends rather than generated new ones

Government and COVID-19: Incompetence, indifference and hypocrisy

COVID-19 has, more than creating new trends, expedited existing trends, and laid bare old truisms about the South African government and ruling party.

First, the state’s incompetence and venal schemes have led to a much-delayed rollout of vaccines. Because they have misappropriated money meant for COVID-19 relief efforts and did not take warnings of a second wave seriously or properly capacitate public hospitals in nearly three decades, many more people will succumb to this disease and the economy will be rendered even more parlous.

What is their only measure to combat the more malignant strain of the virus? More lockdowns and racial ploys that will have a further cost in terms of livelihoods (and lives)? It is likely that more restrictions are on the way.

This virus has pertinently shown how weak and poorly equipped the public health sector is. State-run hospitals and clinics will ultimately and perforce comprise a significant part of the proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme. And yet, an inordinate amount of money is spent on the salaries of bureaucrats with sinecures, rather than appointing more doctors and nurses and spending an increased amount on machines and equipment for threadbare hospitals.

Not much can be surmised about the intricacies of the NHI because government itself does not reveal much about it. The only certainties are that it will not work nor lead to improved care. The latest wave of COVID-19 has exposed this to the point where denial is futile. The NHI, exactly like South Africa’s COVID-19 response, will be an abject failure and will lead to even more deaths that could have been prevented.

Moreover, there is the widespread presupposition that government’s intentions are noble when it is safe to say that – looking at policy matters, for instance – their intentions and accompanying actions are anything but honourable. Cloaked in compassion, they institute policies and regulations that destroy lives whilst covering up their own failings and sinister motives. Measure the impact of everything ranging from the minimum wage to the COVID-19 response and it becomes painfully apparent: The net result is not always obvious, but without exception a negative one.

And so it has been with COVID-19. So far, the impact of the much-vaunted Solidarity Fund is nowhere to be seen and the Fund appears to not nearly be able to stem the pandemic’s tide. Money for personal protective equipment (PPE) was stolen and thus far only investigations are underway and probable culprits identified.

Finally, it begs the question: Is government really worried about all the hardship and death visited on the country? My emphatic and unfortunate answer is no. It gives me no pleasure to admit to this nonchalance and even glee on their part, but this seems to be the reality. If you look past the ostensibly heartfelt speeches and tears and focus on the long track record of mismanagement and corruption, it is a logical conclusion to draw.

It suits them that an increasing number of people become dependent on government and the ruling party – especially in an election year. The evisceration of the middle class – especially small business owners – is a coup for a government that has failed at poverty eradication and job creation. These are largely self-inflicted wounds that can still be remedied provided that an ideological mindshift is made – possible but not probable. Above all, a measurement of an action’s outcome instead of its intent is the ultimate litmus test.

Then there is the rank hypocrisy pertaining to the COVID-19 rules. While Collins Khosa was killed despite not flouting the COVID-19 protocols, Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams was merely placed on special leave by President Cyril Ramaphosa for flagrantly contravening the regulations and then lying about it. This week, a large number of female ANC members (many of them unmasked) danced outside a court to celebrate a councillor from their party, charged with rape, receiving bail of R2 000.

Be your own leader and take control

Constrained by his many socialist allies and nefarious colleagues, the state of the economy, his own predilections and beleaguered position within the ANC, Ramaphosa can only tinker with the status quo to the extent that an ill-informed and desperate public will consider pyrrhic victories to be veritable reasons for hope.

Once you realise that Ramaphosa is a weak and incompetent leader and that the ANC is at best indifferent to the suffering of millions, you can take control of your life and become your own leader. Gwen Ngwenya made an eloquent and poignant case for the so-called “parallel state” (as opposed to the official state) in an article on PoliticsWeb.

This term may have copped a negative connotation on account of being associated with something tenebrous, but it is simply a collection of necessary things that the private and non-governmental sectors offer because the state has failed in providing them. Call it what you like and smear it all you like, but these endeavours are what help people to survive and thrive amidst a raging pandemic and a crumbling state – otherwise they will not be provided and popular.

Many more services are being added to this bouquet as the bloated and inefficient state increasingly fails in its duties. AfriForum and its many branches consisting of ordinary community members have been cleaning neighbourhoods, replacing faded and damaged street signs, painting road signs, removing refuse and patrolling streets for years due to municipal inaction. Private companies deliver a range of services such as security and education, and as Ngwenya forthrightly points out, “the rise of the private parallel state is also responsible for a large degree of false optimism about South Africa”.

Many people rightly feel that it is the authorities’ duty to deliver these services as they are already getting paid to do it. This might be true, but it does not solve the problem of a state that is unable to provide the necessary services. It is incumbent on us to take the lead when it comes to our own safety, security, education and future. We are not led, and neither should we be.

Dr Eugene Brink is strategic advisor for community affairs at AfriForum.