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  • Writer's picturePublieke Getuienis

We need to rethink (just about) everything by Mcebisi Jonas

As published in The Daily Maverick - 03/06/20

1.  The pandemic has graphically exposed our weaknesses and humbled developed nations such as the US and the UK.

2.  Many countries that have been the most successful in containing Covid-19, are led by women and are those whose actions have been accompanied by a high degree of public trust.

3.  They (the winners) have three things in common: 

  • Wise policy-making based on consultation and the advice of experts;

  • Sound governance, which means the ability to implement these policies effectively to protect public health, save              lives and ensure that aid reaches where it’s intended; 

  • A two-way street between the people and government which flows from clear communication - people understand what is being done and why.

4.  The gap between intentions and implementation in South Africa became painfully apparent and the good start was partly squandered by mixed messages and an exercise in old-style commandism and micro-management that many found difficult to understand.

5.  While we need to proceed with caution, especially as we go into winter, South Africa’s response has so far been relatively successful. However, we should take the warnings to heart - the pandemic is far from over. As one US doctor was quoted as saying: If they’re lifting the lockdown it doesn’t mean the pandemic is over – it means they have room for you in the ICU.”

6.  "The weakness of the “actuarial” case is that it was not the lockdown that sunk the South African economy. The flight of foreign investors and the collapse of international travel and tourism, commodity prices, and international trade, all would have happened whether or not the government imposed a lockdown."

7.  The IMF is now admitting that the global economy will take much longer to recover than initially expected. Managing director Kristalina Georgieva said the fund was revising downward on its expectation of a strong recovery in 2021.

8.  Forecasts for South Africa indicate a GDP contraction this year of anywhere between 4.5 % and 10.6 % – and debt levels rising to over 75% of GDP by the end of the year.

9.  The coronavirus has shaken up assumptions, challenged worldviews and taught us where our weaknesses and fault lines lie. 

10. After WWII: Are we at another inflexion point when the leaders of the planet face up to our shared humanity and work towards a greater institutional connection, in a more inclusive manner than 70 years ago? Aside from defeating he pandemic and the wreckage in its path, the challenges of inequality and climate change are common to all nations and the way to combat them is not further alienation, but greater cooperation in the face of a common enemy. 

11. African economies should stand to benefit from the reconfiguration of global value chains that have come under extreme pressure because of over-concentration in China.

12. We must demand fair terms of trade and an easing of the unsustainable debt burden.

13. The discussion has moved to: what kind of state can drive growth? In South Africa, there has been a flurry of thoughts around a “year zero” plan – in which some believe everything now becomes possible. But chasing unsustainable grand plans that the state has no capacity to implement or afford, will fail and will fail brutally.

14. If we have learnt anything these last few weeks, it is that while we look to the state as a guiding force, a lifesaver and a safety net, it becomes overbearing when it tries to control every aspect of our lives. South Africa has neither the ruthless bureaucratic efficiency nor the cultural tolerance that would allow a reversion to the command economy of the apartheid era of the 1950's and 1960's.

15. While the state should remain focused on social protection and inequality reduction, it should also be the catalyst for a dynamic and forward-looking economy based on rising productivity and income. The government needs to start making business and investment easier for all, not inventing new obstacles and regulations that have to be policed. We need to unclog the system.

16. The recovery will be tech-driven in an accelerated way.

17. We know that the Treasury is already drained, and the social grants will not be sustainable forever. But if it is well designed and implemented, some form of universal basic income is a way of changing the trajectory of inequality in South Africa by creating the conditions for growth: expanding employment, the consumer class, the number of taxpayers and overall demand in the economy and overall demand in the economy.

18. Clearly, as we enter the new world, we need a new social compact that brings the two kingdoms into one federation. At the same time, we need to revive and refresh our democracy so that every South African feels they have a stake in the system.

19. Neither ruling party factionalism nor opposition opportunism, hoping to make short-term gains by scratching away at the wounds of our past, are going to serve us in this new reality.

20. If we don’t get the politics right, there is no pathway to prosperity.

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