Government’s own advisors called the extended lockdown ‘unscientific and nonsensical’. Unicef warned it could kill more than Covid-19, including 1.2 million children. StatsSA reported the crippling business impact. By any logic, the lockdown must be ended, but it won’t, because it suits the ANC’s agenda to sustain it.
As long ago as the middle of April, the chairman of the Ministerial Advisory Committee and the country’s epidemiologist-in-chief, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, first mooted the idea that the lockdown had achieved its purpose of postponing the peak of Covid-19 infections – giving the healthcare sector precious time to get ready – and that extending the lockdown would not produce significant additional benefits.
On 6 May, health minister Zweli Mkhize reiterated this view: ‘In terms of our scientific focus, we were able to push the peak. If we were to prolong the lockdown, it would not have delayed the peak substantially.’
Still, we’re stuck at a level of lockdown that isn’t much different from the hard lockdown of the first five weeks, and is in some respects even stricter, until at least the end of the month.
Even then, it is possible that major metros, where most of the country’s economic activity happens, will not see any relief. And when the anticipated peak does come, in August or September, higher lockdown levels will again be imposed.
The government keeps insisting that it is acting according to the best available science, but, as Steven Friedman wrote last week in the Mail & Guardian, government’s Covid-19 science mask is slipping.
The available science is not very good, as we saw with the unravelling of the vaunted Imperial College model upon which many lockdown decisions were based.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his speech to the nation on 13 May in which he infamously announced basically nothing, did say Cabinet is ‘determined and committed … to be transparent, to take the nation into confidence and to do so regularly…’, and other such niceties.
Still, however, the deliberations of the National Command Council remain ‘classified’, the epidemiological model projections that would trigger lockdown level changes remain secret, and only the most basic of data have been released to the public.
The government has not taken the nation into its confidence at all. It has merely dictated the terms of lockdown, often in farcical detail.
‘Unscientific and nonsensical’
Government has been quick to administer a public spanking to several of its top science advisors, including Dr Glenda Gray, chairperson of the South African Medical Research Council and head of the research division of the Ministerial Advisory Council (MAC), Dr Ian Sanne, associate professor at the clinical HIV Research Unit at Wits University and CEO of Right to Care and a MAC member, and Professor Marc Mendelson, head of the Division of Infectious Diseases and HIV Medicine at the UCT Department of Medicine and head of the clinical division of the MAC.
All three spoke to News24 to express harsh criticism of the government’s lockdown strategy, saying that it is ‘unscientific and nonsensical’. Gray said the lockdown should be lifted completely, in favour of non-pharmaceutical interventions such as handwashing, wearing masks, social distancing and prohibitions on gatherings. ‘[It’s] almost as if someone is sucking regulations out of their thumb and implementing rubbish, quite frankly,’ she told News24.
In a recent StatsSA survey on behavioural and health impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, almost everyone knew the main symptoms of Covid-19, and almost everyone was able to minimise their risk of infection through hand washing, social distancing, avoiding crowds, and remaining at home. This demonstrates that non-pharmaceutical interventions could be very successful.
Sanne told News24 that the lockdown was having a negative effect on the country’s healthcare system, and that between 40% and 60% of patients with chronic diseases such as HIV and diabetes were simply not being seen to. There had also been a substantial decline in childhood vaccinations, he said, raising the spectre of deadly epidemics down the line.
In the StatsSA survey, 54.1% of people who wanted to visit healthcare facilities but decided against it did so out of fear of contracting Covid-19, while another 25.5% feared they would get arrested or fined for being outside their homes.
‘Infections are inevitable. Sixty percent or so of our country will become infected over the next two years, but limiting the rate of infection is not going to come through lockdown,’ Mendelson told News24, adding that there should be a ‘rapid de-escalation’ of the lockdown to Level 1.
Sacrificing the young to protect the old
Gray warned that malnutrition cases were beginning to arrive in hospitals, for the first time in decades. According to Dr Stefan Peterson, chief of health at Unicef, the blanket lockdowns imposed in countries like South Africa are not an effective way to control Covid-19. He told The Telegraph that the risk of children dying from malaria, pneumonia or diarrhoea in developing countries is spiralling due to the pandemic and ‘far outweighs any threat presented by the coronavirus’
Unicef warned that 1.2 million children could die as a result of lockdowns across the world, which would outweigh the likely Covid-19 deaths. A study by researchers from Johns Hopkins University likewise found that disruption of health services could have a catastrophic impact on maternal and child mortality.
Essentially, we’re trying to protect old people and people with pre-existing conditions at the cost of killing young mothers and children, instead.
Meanwhile, the economic toll of the interminable lockdown, now in its eighth week, is evident in the Business Impact Surveys conducted by StatsSA. The second such survey was published on 14 May 2020, and covers the last two weeks of April.
Only 14.4% of businesses said they were confident they had the financial resources to survive the pandemic. Only 6.7% said they could survive more than three months of lockdown.
Eighty-three percent of survey respondents said they expected the economic fallout from the lockdown to be worse than the 2008/9 financial crisis, and 75.7% said it would be substantially worse.
More than half of surveyed businesses indicated that they were unable to get the required material, goods or services to conduct day-to-day operations. Almost half said they expect their workforce size to decrease, and 14.9% had already made 80% or more of their workforce redundant.
By the end of April, the lockdown had already cost South Africa 8.6% of all its businesses. Small and medium-sized businesses were hit the hardest. Fewer have been able to continue trading, more have had to close temporarily, and more have closed their doors for good.
In its behavioural and health impacts survey, StatsSA found that by far the biggest concern among respondents about the pandemic and the resulting lockdown was that it would ‘contribute to economic collapse’. More than 99% of respondents said they were somewhat, very or extremely concerned, with by far the majority being extremely concerned.
Lockdown must be lifted
So we have a situation in which the government’s own advisors oppose the continued lockdown, health authorities are warning that lockdowns could kill more (and younger) people than Covid-19 will, and the economy has been critically damaged, and most of what’s left can’t survive further lockdown for long. The biggest concern among the general population is no longer health, but economic survival.
On top of that, there are various Constitutional questions surrounding the legitimacy of the National Command Council, the lack of parliamentary oversight of the Executive, the secrecy of government’s data and deliberations, and many of the specific regulations. A State of Disaster does not suspend the Constitution, which means that the entire project of locking people in their homes, imposing a military curfew, requiring pass books for movement, and shutting down businesses violates numerous rights conferred upon citizens by the nation’s supreme law.
The president declared that government would ‘ensure that all government decisions are taken in good faith, that they are reasonable and based on empirical evidence, and that they do not cause more harm than good’.
A continued lockdown violates all of these criteria. It must be lifted, as rapidly as is reasonably possible.
It won’t be, however. And the reason is that this plays right into the playbook of the ANC.
I’ve pointed out before that Ramaphosa is a committed socialist. He told the nation: ‘We are resolved not to merely return our economy to where it was before the coronavirus, but to forge a new economy… to restructure the economy and to achieve inclusive growth. … [W]e will forge a compact for radical economic transformation… Our new economy must be founded on fairness, empowerment, justice and equality.’
That is the blueprint of a socialist economy. His former – and probably current – rival for the presidency, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, was also clear: ‘…COVID-19 also offers us an opportunity to accelerate the implementation of some long agreed-upon structural changes to enable reconstruction, development and growth. These opportunities call for more sacrifices and – if needs be – what Amilcar Cabral called “class suicide” wherein we must rally behind the common cause’.
Cabral was a revolutionary socialist and leader of Guinea-Bissau’s liberation movement, who was assassinated only months before achieving this goal. According to Tom Meisenhelder, writing in 1993, Cabral believed that ‘real social change involved winning indigenous control over the forces of production while mere political independence would result in the continuation of imperialism as neocolonialism’.
Socialist revolution, according to Cabral, requires that the petty-bourgeois leadership of the liberation movement, which otherwise would act in its own narrow class interest and perpetuate the monopoly of capitalism as a privileged class, must commit a kind of ‘class suicide’.
That is, the leadership class must surrender its class position, privilege and power, both political and economic, to the working masses. Only then can true socialist democracy, in which the means of production are owned by the proletariat and the state withers away, be achieved.
Of course, all of that is a pipe dream. It has never, ever happened. However, establishing a socialist or ‘state-capitalist’ state under an authoritarian government certainly has. In fact, that has historically been the outcome of every socialist revolution.
The careful massacre of the bourgeoisie
The ANC is committed to a second, socialist revolution, through the communist-penned National Democratic Revolution to which the party recommits itself at every Congress.
Whether the ambition of individual factions are to create a ‘developmental state’ in which market forces are harnessed in the interest of the collective, à la China, or an authoritarian state-capitalist society ripe for looting and corruption, à la Russia, an agrarian paradise à la Cambodia, or a socialist utopia à la Zimbabwe or Venezuela, the power of the capitalist class, the bourgeoisie, the middle and upper classes, must first be destroyed.
The Covid-19 lockdown is doing exactly that. As early as 9 April 2020, President Ramaphosa looked forward to ‘a process of fundamental reconstruction’. That, too, requires destruction.
All the signs of socialist zeal are there. The government has become autocratic, xenophobic, paranoid, and repressive. With apologies to Mr Robot, what we’re witnessing is the careful massacre of the bourgeoisie.
The end goal appears to be to destroy the vibrant market economy over which the state has no control, to make the poor masses dependent upon government for basics such as their income and their food, extend government ownership or control over increasing swathes of the economy, and harness big business in service of the state.
All the supposed mistakes, such as ordering companies to employ a majority of South Africans, denying food aid to poor white communities, imposing BBBEE requirements on business support packages, imposing onerous permit requirements on private charities offering food aid, and making regulations that seem specifically targeted at crushing the spirit of the middle class, play into this agenda.
Pusillanimous and obsequious
The people and small enterprise have hardly any voice in this matter. Their concerns and proposals are routinely ignored, under the guise of ‘consultation’.
Big business, which is least impacted by the lockdown and stands to profit even under a new socialist or state-capitalist regime, has been pusillanimous in resisting. Witness the obsequious gratitude and praise expressed by the clothing industry when Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel graciously permitted them to sell T-shirts, provided they were intended to be worn for warmth under other clothing.
The extended lockdown, during which all commerce will likewise be planned by capricious communist nincompoops, will not be lifted, as scientists, business lobbies, academics, and the general public have implored.
It will be continued, not despite the damage it will do to the economy, but because of it.
Viva la revolución!
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR