South Africa is now in its fourth week of lockdown, with an increasing number of commentators warning of an economic catastrophe unless something is done soon.

Economist Mike Schussler warned at a briefing hosted by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) that unless the country transitions to a softer lockdown we will be facing an expanded unemployment rate of 50%.

 Others, from doctors to economists, agree that a hard lockdown extending much further than 30 April will devastate South Africa and its citizens to a much larger degree than Covid-19 ever could. The economic cost will simply be too great. A group of academics at Wits University have proposed how South Africa can emerge from lockdown here.

What began as a health emergency is increasingly looking like an economic emergency, with many in the government being exposed as petty tyrants.

Many of the rules that have been implemented seem to have no purpose other than for petty bureaucrats to demonstrate their power over ordinary South Africans.


And this petty tyranny extends to many in our security forces who have been tasked with ensuring the lockdown is adhered to. At least five people have been killed by overzealous security forces enforcing draconian lockdown rules and we have also seen images of soldiers humiliating people by making them do push-ups or frog jumps.

What is also concerning is how our new reality has been welcomed by many in the middle classes. On social media, I have seen people celebrating photos and footage of soldiers making citizens do physical exercise, and claiming this is a good way of enforcing lockdown. As my colleague Sihle Ngobese has pointed out, South African citizens are not enemy combatants which the South African National Defence Force needs to deal with.

And a number of journalists have shared photos of people breaking lockdown by jogging or doing something else equally ‘unspeakable’. Luckily for us, we are meant to believe, these heroes have taken it upon themselves to enforce the lockdown and tell people to stay at home – although it is not clear what moral or legal authority they have to do so.

This petty tyranny is not limited to members of the governing party or some of our journalists. Last weekend a councillor for the Democratic Alliance (DA) in Johannesburg, Tim Truluck, gleefully shared pictures of people who had committed the serious crime of purchasing takeaway coffee from a bakery. Truluck, who is presumably still receiving his councillor’s salary during the lockdown, tagged the police and a number of other organisations in his zeal to shame the criminal masterminds who had the audacity to try to ensure someone’s income stream in this economic calamity we are all facing. And, in fact, it does not seem that selling takeaway coffee out of a bakery is prohibited under the lockdown, so the brave councillor may have jumped the gun.

Arbitrary rules

The continued imposition of what are clearly arbitrary rules will simply ensure that the lockdown loses its legitimacy among South Africans. It is unlikely that the lockdown ever had much legitimacy to begin with among people who rely on the informal economy and live in less than spacious housing. It is one thing to impose European-style lockdowns on South Africans who live in homes with gardens, who have the internet and electricity, and can work from home and still receive a salary. To impose these conditions on people who live in conditions of poverty is not feasible and is, arguably, cruel. And it is these South Africans who have borne the brunt of heavy-handed army and police lockdown actions.

The imposition of arbitrary rules has shown, first, that many in our government do not trust ordinary South Africans and, second, that they have let their power go to their heads.

The sale of alcohol has been banned during lockdown, along with cigarettes, and now hot food too. These rules are completely arbitrary and have clearly been implemented without much forethought. The argument has been made that the restrictions on alcohol sales have led to a dramatic drop in trauma admissions at hospitals and have kept beds free for people who need to be treated for Covid-19. However, the drop can just as well be attributed to less social interaction between people due to the lockdown. The ban on cigarettes (now to be lifted when the level 4 lockdown begins on 1 May) was also arbitrary – and, perhaps, ironic, given that  smoking may not increase the risk of falling ill from Covid (although it is still too early to come to any concrete conclusions). All that these bans have done is send the smokers and drinkers in our midst, who need their fix and no longer have a supply, into the black market, which the government has now created. Ivo Vegter has also written on these pages about why prohibition is a failure.

Another rule which seems to have been implemented without sufficient thought is the ban on the sale of hot, prepared food. Last Friday, minister of trade and industry Ebrahim Patel announced that it was now illegal for food retailers to sell hot food, so that was the end of rotisserie chickens. However, it was pointed out that nowhere in the regulations did it say that hot food could not be sold. Three days later, on Sunday, minister for co-operative governance Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma amended the lockdown regulations to state that hot food could no longer be sold. However, what ‘hot food’ is has not been defined. Is it food that is served above a certain temperature? Or curried food? If it is the former then presumably food retailers can sell cooked chickens, pies, and pizzas once they have cooled down. And another question to ask is, when is food no longer ‘hot’?

No proof

South Africa is one of the few countries in the world to ban alcohol, tobacco, and the sale of hot, prepared food. Most countries have allowed restaurants to remain open to serve takeaways, and the sale of booze and cigarettes, partly because there is no proof that banning the sale of these items will help in combating the Covid epidemic and partly because allowing their sale will help the economy to tick over.

Instead of taking South Africans into their confidence about why certain rules have been implemented, our leaders are treating us like naughty schoolchildren. Nobody should be surprised that some in our armed forces and police are acting like petty tyrants – they are taking their lead from those in government.

In this setting, Tuesday’s announcement that the entire manpower of the SANDF has been put on standby should be noted. If you aren’t worried, you’re not paying attention.

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  1. People celebrating soldiers humiliating people or snitching on their neighbours for jogging are the same kind who happily reported their neighbour under Hitler that they were hiding Jews. To me they seem like sado-masochists who like to see others suffer more than them.

  2. Most developed countries do not have squatter camps bordering our towns and cities. In Jo’burg there are 180 odd squatter camps. If the virus had to get a hold in these townships the consequences could be devastating for the entire population as a result of extreme poverty, poor nourishment and poor immune systems. So if you are a leader and this problem is suddenly thrust upon you and you have to make a judgement, how would you solve that problem if not by the lockdown solution imposed. This article has ignored the obvious and provides no solution to this massive problem that over 2000 squatter camps pose.

    But then how can one expect practical solutions from people not trained in developing practical solutions, using science and technology

    For example an imminent sociology professor at Wits without any science and technology, using pseudo-science reasoning, was able to prove that Ford, GM, Goodyear and Siemens were incompetent in manufacturing development and from 1996 to 2010 the dti and Presidency believed him

    Please Marius provide a practical solution to this very real problem that SA faces. Let’s hear it as I see this as pseudo science mumbo-jumbo like the Wits professor’s report!

    • Greville, you appear to be missing the point Marius is clearly making which is about the idiotic tyrannical measures this foolish government has adopted in flattening the curve. This is designed to buy time to avoid overwhelming an already dysfunctional public healthcare system. This will never stop the virus from ultimately infecting a large proportion of our population. It can only delay it.
      Using the army and police to beat into submission our citizens to enforce stupid measures such as the banning of alcohol cigarettes and hot food is unhelpful. Our citizens are not stupid and will continue to break laws which make no sense.
      Ebrahim Patel, Bheki Cele, Fearfokkol Mbalula NDZ and the DA’s Truluck epitomise the sad lack of common sense in our leadership today
      We face catastrophic poverty and the government would be wise to keep the population on side and not treat them like dirt.

      • A lot of hot air but no practical proposal concerning how we tackle the problem where 67% of the population live on top of one and other, so how do you prevent the infection spreading through shack communities like wild fire. If you want to criticize and not have solutions for the 67% of the population but only a small minority no government can afford to do that.

        • Oooh Greyville such an academic unthinking answer. 101 education, first define the problem then the possible solutions will become evident and based on other considerations one can make a solid, defendable decision. The author is merely doing such. For you to say one cannot criticize unless one has a solid alternative solution is in itself tyranny and a form of censorship. This begs the question, why pray then are you reading articles from this website.

    • Greville you must have been looking in the mirror when you wrote pseudo science mumbo jumbo.. Have you bothered to see what is going on in the world, have you bothered to look at numbers without ignoring the denominator, have you bothered to compare Norway and Sweden? Trite drivel!

      • Average monthly deaths worldwide = 4.5 million – 200k dead after 2 months and you panic??? To put a % to it – less than 0.003% of the world’s population died from the virus and you think that it justifies the lock down catastrophe….Fear mongering drivel coming from you…..

      • Does Norway and sweden have 67% of its population living on top of one and other in tin shacks? It is not me who is taking drivel and using pseudo-science but you as you have proposed no solution to this problem but hot air gushing from your empty cranium.

  3. Greville, you omit to reply to the Reason for the prohibition of cigarettes, alcohol & exercise. The heavy handedness on our forces, the sale of hot foods, lack of forethought, treating all areas, for 5 weeks all the same. Don’t you think Metro, small town & rural areas could have been treated differently. You left so much out in your comment, its hard to believe you are not a tyrant as well. Lack of Health care facilities, before the Covid, lack of preparedness, are the reasons for this draconian lockdown. Lack of thought, treat all areas, & population the same, like they are all equal risk. Thats ridiculous, so when Marius draws your attention to the facts, you have to criticize. You know it could have been done far better, so allow for criticism, please. Its a democracy.

    • I agree but these are exceptional times and exceptional decisions had to be made and under those circumstances there are always negative circumstances when rapid planning and implementation takes place regarding a problem that there are no proven solutions. We are in a trial and error situation and must expect glitches as explained. But generally the population has behaved responsibly from what I can see.

      In providing practical solution to a problem that has no history and no tried and tested solutions, one is always in the line of fire from hind sight experts. The next round from the scientists, there will be better planning and that is standard problem solving practice in science, engineering. It will be up to the politicians to sort out the social issues this initial containment plan threw up.

  4. When people get desperate for food they will turn to the looting & burning! It reminds me of a movie I saw in 1961 called Africa Addio ( still available on Youtube). I just hope we don’t get to that again.

  5. Johannes I remember Mondo Cane and Africa Addio well and both disturbed me first as a human tradegy and secondly as well contrived films that expresses everything negative about black Africa. What worried me then was there was no balance as good things were happening in Africa as well, but the films ignored them concentrating on black Africa’s lack of technical and political knowledge.

    However the Rwandan genocide killing up to a million people in 1994 gives Africa Addio some credibility except to say that Adolf performed a far greater massacre than in Rwanda.

  6. I have maintained from the start that the lockdown is not what it appears to be.

    The virus is in human society, it will spread and there is little we can do about it.

    however, all the models upon which this lockdown are based, seem to be proven, by emerging data, to be wrong.

    Taiwan never locked down, and is the greatest success story.

    Notably, the ministers take very few questions and Cyril never does, only sweetheart interviews from captured media like ENCA and SABC. The State has not let anyone see the data they are basing this on, and has criminalised the spread of “fake news” about its “intentions”? Why would that be criminalised if not to hide something? Why has the entire army been mobilised and a new, unconstitutional control centre established?

    My opinion (not fake news since its just an opinion), is that State ran out of money when we had the unreported in MSM near-default. The ANC cannot pay social grants on time and will pay them late. Its out of money and the game is up.

    We are under an effective State of Emergency to protect the State against the explosion which is coming, because the money has run out.

    The Police State has arrived, the generals in the army are claiming “insulting the president” is a crime; Zimbabwe/Venezuela, we are here!

  7. It is fairly common knowledge that alcohol consumption (alcohol being a toxin) weakens the immune system. It is far better known that smoking damages the lungs and reduces lung capacity and tar from cigarettes clogs the lungs, though stopping smoking can reverse both of these to some degree.

    The lifting of the ban on cigarette sales was not as a result of any medical decision, but purely a political decision because the tobacco industry (the sly bullies that they are) had threatened legal action to continue selling its products and the government could ill afford the burden of yet another issue on its plate with unions from SAA and from nurses battering them, along with riots and other issues.

    Furthermore, the sale of hot food is restricted because it promotes human contact and so the spread of the virus. Hot foods sold in township areas are typically not reheated before being eaten. If you have kept your eyes open at supermarkets you would have noticed that our lesser educated countrymen have little understanding of the virus or the protective gear that they wear and still continue with touching their faces and picking their noses (where the virus is likely the most concentrated before your body shows symptoms)

    You cannot compare what is being done in other countries because other countries have variously different factors. Most other countries have a more disciplined population that obey government instruction. Most other countries don’t have at least 50% of their population living in township shacks. Most other countries have advanced health systems for the majority of their population.

    All of the actions taken contribute to the aim of “flattening the curve”.

    The first world countries where we have seen death rates spike have been as a direct result of their health system being inadequate for the sudden onset of hospital admissions. Even though those countries have good health systems, they simply could not keep up with the numbers. Look at New York, London, most of Italy and Spain, and you will see that is the reason for their high death rates. The vast majority of people that are admitted to hospital need only supplemental oxygen and not ventilators, but they would still take up beds and that is the problem. As those not being treated due to a lack of space get progressively worse, people would need to be ejected from the supplemental oxygen to make space for those needing ventilators and those that were on oxygen would then ultimately end up needing ventilators. And so it snowballs.

    To the contrary, the WHO has praised South Africa and New Zealand who have dealt with Covid19 in similar fashion and who have both shown remarkable success until now.

    Do you really want to stop the measures being taken to cut the number of deaths (both from Covid19 and from other causes) attributed to overburdened hospitals because you believe that you can survive in your suburban house?

    The money that you would gain/retain by recovering the economy would be linked to the number of lives lost and then you could literally calculate how much each of those lives were worth.

    Perhaps the amount of money that you saved would then calculate to be one human life that was lost. Money in your pocket and yet your morals murdered your countryman.

    How does that make you feel?

    • .Are you actually aware of any of the science that is out there more of a twat? Is there any worse epidemic than poverty? What spike in deaths? It is exactly the same as a normal flu? You believe a government that has persistently lied for 25 years? Lets look at measures to save deaths. Twenty eight murders a day but two covid deaths a day. More than three hundred deaths due to aids related diseases but thats not a crisis. The WHO run by a non medical revolutionary who could be guilty of crimes against humanity if his alleged actions against people in his own country are proved, defended Chinas silence on the outbreak. Where do you get your logic? The death rate is around 0,1%. Like a normal flue!

      • Exactly correct Donald.
        The numbers that are force-fed daily are in fact irrelevant anyway. There is insufficient information to draw any conclusions yet everyone incessantly repeats the number of cases. Notice how no one ever talks about the number of negative tests and the recovers numbers stay persistently and stubbornly low. The 11 000 flu deaths of last year flu season are never mentioned. So what does a number mean without context. The number is 513. The other fact chosen to be ignored is the conflation. Just so many positive cases and then there are the deaths. There is a phrase you may be hearing in the media a lot of at the moment: “she/he died after testing positive for coronavirus”. Not, “as a result of” or “because of”, but “after testing positive”.

  8. Greyville Wood the lockdown isn’t to stop the spread of the virus, that’s not possible, whether it spreads now or later it can’t be stopped.

    The point of the lockdown is to buy time to get the hospitals ready for the masses of Covid-19 patients Cyril and co. say can be expected. SA’s medical professionals have been ready for weeks and are still waiting with empty beds.
    That’s why they petitioned Cyril to stop the lockdown. It’s damaging everything in SA.

    • Exactly and the purpose of the whole announcement of a disaster was to enable government to take over the private medical resources to disguise the fact the Government actually has no capability. It was a red herring and then the lockdown followed. All based on a UN-WHO lie with an agenda

    • That is an opinion not an established fact and my argument still stands even if you could establish your argument as the truth. How do you prevent the human disaster in squatter camps. Or may be that does not concern you. My name is Greville not Greyville. It is the name of a parish in Normandy and filtered into the English language as a first and last name after the 100 year war between France and England.

  9. There appears to be a lot of pettiness around this issue, but the facts of the matter is that compliance is not being adhered to across many areas and levels of society. The wearing of masks is not going to help because people leave there nose uncovered in many cases and remove them while they are talking. I could mention many other things that occurred when I was chatting to a group today. I was even offered a draw of a cigarette that one of them was smoking, which I politely refused. The medical issues of smoking and drinking are many but it is interesting to see in the world statistics that smokers don’t seem to get infected easily, and those that do all recover well. Doctors involved with this are even using nicotine patches for non smoker in order to determine whether nicotene works in some manner. It could also simply be that smokers tend to be outside more and exposed to fresh air and sunlight which is known to help against the virus and all infections. But attempting to stop addicted people now is akin to trying to save a drowning person by teaching them to swim quickly. Power corrupts and absolute power currupts absolutely, I forget who said that, but it may have been Napolean, himself. Unfortunately, in our case it would appear that this is that is happening. Just how these politicians will handle a ravished economy with a guaranteed influx of patients with TB and HIV together with the corona virus is a nightmare that looks like it will come true in a relatively short period of time.


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