It is a common enough picture: as the sun rises, the parents get up first and put on a kettle, so everyone can have a bath, and breakfast. The bath itself is not really a bath, more like a plastic bucket, the ones that became a common sight during Cape Town’s water crisis. All the children bath together because no one has the time to boil water twice, plus the electricity costs too much.
The children make the long walk to school, while the parents have to rush to catch the bus or taxis, the father to get to work and the mother to get to her stall where she sells sandwiches to working people at lunchtime.
This is life for millions of South Africans every day. The question is, now that we have shut down the economy for 21 days, what happens to these people? What happens to the millions who rely on a functioning economy to get the necessary nutrients to avoid compromising their immune systems?
It is not just the hawker. This global shutdown was already going to cause massive job losses even without our shutting down the economy. But now that we have done so, what comes next? Who will take responsibility for these people and for ending their livelihoods? We know who parties like the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) will blame – they will most likely scream about capitalists using the virus as an excuse to fire workers.
They will mobilise among many millions more of South Africa’s disaffected voters. Lest we forget, the growth of the EFF came in the wake of the 2008 global recession. The crisis that is coming this time around will likely be far worse. It is a scary thought, imagining what could be worse than the EFF as it is now.
South Africa is not a Western nation, we do not have a consistent demand for our government’s debt. We cannot simply pay everyone to stay at home. As it is, investors across the world are certain to become more cautious after the crisis, and South Africa is not the most welcoming country for investment.
We need to understand that this shutdown will make people poor, and they will die because of it. Except, we will not be getting daily reports on how many shutdown victims have died. And what evidence is the government using to justify this extraordinary measure? It is not enough that everyone else is doing it. The fact that we’ve had two world wars should tell you that governments are not averse to collectively harming ordinary people’s interests, all at once.
The details of the model and data that the government relied on in making this decision have not been made public. We are expected to take them at their word. Why?
After billions have been stolen from us through corruption, after millions of our fellow citizens died of HIV due to government neglect, including more than 300 000 children, according to one study, after all the children that have drowned in faeces because they fell into an open pit toilet, and after millions were made unemployed even before this pandemic due to bad government policy, why should we trust this government?
Should we not instead learn to trust one another? To do the hard work of engaging with each other, debating with one another and coming to a consensus on what needs to be done? This is our problem to solve and, even if the worst fears about this pandemic come true, we are the ones who will have to deal with it.
If history is anything to go by, the government will simply be overwhelmed at the very beginning of the outbreak, leaving ordinary people like you and me to deal with it. So why should they get to decide what the appropriate response is? Do these people even know the meaning of the word appropriate?
I do not trust any government, especially this one. And I refuse to yield to arbitrary rules that rob me of my liberty, imposed by people who have a history of bumbling incompetence and malice, without the decency of explaining to me on what basis the decision is being made.
Fear is the authoritarian’s favourite tool, which is why this national shutdown or act of national suicide also comes with a list of arbitrary rules, which on the surface seem to have nothing to do with the virus.
Why can’t I order an Uber taxi? Why can’t I get food delivered to me? Why are we impoverishing these essential employees, who play an important part in many people’s personal logistics and supply chains? Why can’t I buy a cigarette along with my groceries? Why should I be punished for increasing prices on goods that belong to me? Has a pandemic taken away my property rights?
In addition to these arbitrary rules, we are in the process of devaluing our currency as part of the government’s response to this illness. The Reserve Bank not only cut the repo rate by a hundred basis points, it also started buying government debt in the secondary market, also known as quantitative easing. These actions virtually guarantee future inflation, on top of the harm being done to the economy by the virus and the shut-downs. This is a disaster for an emerging economy that relies on imports and is structurally weak.
None of this makes sense to me and no one has bothered to explain it before taking away my God-given right to liberty. No one has bothered to explain it to the millions of others who will have their livelihoods wrenched from them. Economics is more important than health if you’re poor, because health is not your only problem or even your biggest problem necessarily; health is but one thing that can kill you, and all the things that can kill you can be made less harmful through money.
It is for these people most of all that I will not be honouring this ‘shut-down’. I will go about my everyday life, buying from as many hawkers as I can. If any of them are still out. I am pretty certain that I won’t kill anyone, but passively going along with the government’s suicidal act, will. It might even kill liberty itself.
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR.