Last week Cyril Ramaphosa declared that it was now time for us all to “pull together and grow South Africa”. He and his colleagues have made this call on umpteen occasions, sometimes phrasing it as putting “shoulders to the wheel” or getting “all hands on deck”, or some other formulation.
How do they think what’s left of the economy survives except by people working together to create and buy and sell things despite all the obstacles placed in their way by Mr Ramaphosa and his government and party ever since they came to power? Perhaps they have not noticed. Perhaps they have never stopped to think how a mine or a factory or a restaurant or a bank or a supermarket or even a spaza shop operates.
Farmers are denigrated, their farms threatened with confiscation, murders on farms airbrushed away, lockdown regulations used in efforts to thwart their own security arrangements, and supplies of diesel interrupted by thievery – yet farmers and farmworkers have just brought in the second biggest maize crop in the country’s history.
The government prattles on about “food security”, but thousands in the private agricultural and food distribution sectors actually make it possible. While politicians and bureaucrats delay or hijack food parcels intended for hungry people, thousands of charitable organisations “pull together” to feed them.
Charities and independent entrepreneurs, many of them older women, provide most “early childhood development” in South Africa, but in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis the government was more concerned to enforce compliance with regulations than to assist these vital institutions.
One of the most striking things about the crisis has indeed been the contrast between ministerial and bureaucratic callousness on the one hand and, on the other, the efforts of thousands of ordinary people to care for the sick, feed the hungry, and supply water to the poor.