[*n (Yiddish) a gullible simpleton more to be pitied than despised. Synonyms: simple, simpleton. a person lacking intelligence or common sense.]
The lockdown has wrought havoc on people’s livelihoods, employment, food security, and nutrition.
But after starting the first 3 weeks co-operatively, with a government which seemingly was doing its best with the available evidence, seven weeks of lockdown have worn us down psychologically and emotionally.
It seems that the government thinks we’re just poor shnooks.
President Cyril Ramaphosa exhorts us frequently to enter into a ‘social compact’ in order to advance the country. The idea of a social compact appeals to him as a mediator, negotiator and consensus-builder, but he doesn’t mean it to be the liberal idea that it is.
A ‘social compact’ is defined as a usually implicit agreement among the members of an organised society or between the governed and the government defining and limiting the rights and duties of each. It is a classically liberal idea that seeks a balance between governing and being governed.
He probably means something like the populace allowing the government the space to manage as it deems fit while we just sit and watch. We’re not really involved. We are just expected to sit and watch the regulations and bureaucracy grow absurdly as we realise that a pandemic does not make an incompetent and dishonest government competent and honest.
Being a consensus seeker, Ramaphosa waits to see which way a debate is going and then votes with the majority, every time.
As government’s handling of the crisis gets worse, the longer the periods of time between Ramaphosa’s appearances on television become.
Then there is the emotion-sapping presence of the perpetually dour Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, who holds overall responsibility over the management of Covid-19.
It’s revealing that her expression shows the disdain for us that she has. Dlamini-Zuma holds us and her constitutional mandate in utter contempt.
The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) launched a court application for:
- to declare that tobacco products fall into the category of agro-processing and constitute permitted goods;
- To declare the export of the products to be permitted; and
- To order release of the minutes of the National Coronavirus Co-ordinating Command (NCCC) meetings.
Fita also wanted the record of the decision that led to the promulgation of Regulation 27, which including banning the sale of tobacco products.
Fita, in a case to be argued at the end of May, wants an order setting aside regulations that prohibit the sale of tobacco products, and declaring that the sale of tobacco products is lawful.
On 11 May Fita withdrew the application to order Dlamini-Zuma to release the NCCC minutes. Fita did this, allegedly, because due to some of the responses and ‘concessions’ from government, it was no longer necessary to go ahead with that part of the application.
Fita said this included an undertaking that the government would provide both the record of the decision and the reasons for the promulgation of Regulation 27.
In her court papers Dlamini-Zuma insisted that there was nothing ‘sinister’ about government pushing ahead with the ban after Ramaphosa had initially announced that the sale of tobacco products would be permitted.
However, she said that these documents were ‘classified’.
In a moment of breathtaking arrogance Dlamini-Zuma said that Fita had not given any reason why it sought the minutes, ‘let alone why it considers itself entitled to them’.
Dlamini-Zuma is adamant that the minutes of the NCCC meeting at which the decision to ban the sale of tobacco products under Level 4 lockdown was made, will not be made public.
And she has made good on that promise. Neither we citizens nor Fita will be entitled to know how the decision for our own good was reached.
At the end of that meeting, Ramaphosa did a volte face by supporting the reversal of an earlier decision to allow tobacco products to be sold.
Fita’s chairperson, Sinenhlanhla Mnguni, said the decision was taken ‘without regard for the far-reaching traumatic effects flowing from the withholding of these products’. Also the decision will fuel the illegal sale of cigarettes, negatively impact businesses that legally produce them and result in ‘significant’ tax losses for the fiscus. And so it has turned out.
Dlamini-Zuma said she would ‘explain the process’ under which Regulation 27 came into effect, but only under the second part of Fita’s application, to be heard at the end of May.
‘I emphasise that the decision to promulgate that regulation was taken after careful consideration, not only of the submissions received, but also the relevant medical literature.’
Dlamini-Zuma obviously holds us in real contempt: ‘Second, in any event, the minutes are privileged. The NCC is a structure of cabinet. The minutes of its meetings are therefore classified … Further, I am advised and submit that such minutes are privileged from disclosure in legal proceedings, as they are protected by what is known as ‘public interest privilege.
‘Not even the Promotion of Access to Information Act … permits access to cabinet documents.’
In a separate affidavit, director-general in the presidency Cassius Lubisi says the minutes of the NCC meetings are ‘classified as secret’, which is also the case with minutes of cabinet meetings.
‘Their disclosure during this time of crisis would seriously jeopardise government’s decision-making processes and, as a result, the management of the national state of disaster,’ he says.
But…but…Minister! The Constitution requires any decision of this nature to be rational and justifiable – can a regulation be justified in terms of the stated aims of the declaration of a State of National Disaster?
Medically smokers are at no particular risk of catching the virus. There’s even some evidence that their lungs may offer some protection from the virus. If they catch the virus they may take longer to recover, but their risk of death is not particularly elevated.
Law aside, in a constitutional democracy, it’s voters who ultimately hold the government accountable.
But this week’s coup de grace lies with the Minister of Trade and Industry, again. Ebrahim Patel has just issued the Directions to his earlier regulations.
Patel, apparatchik that he is, lists 53 types of clothing, shoes and accessories that may be sold during Level 4. The list is so ridiculously long that he shouldn’t have wasted so much time creating it; he could have just told us what the Politburo will not allow us to wear and be done with it.
The Democratic Alliance’s comment on it says it all and can be found here.
I cannot sleep
I only weep
I am badly shook
To NDZ I’m just a shnook (with sincerest apologies to Dr. Seuss)