The trouble with lockdown, virus mutations, waves of infection – this whole pandemic thing with its highs of family bonding and health worker dedication and its lows of loneliness, grief and poverty, is that it is almost impossible, as a mere bog-standard mortal, to plan head or prepare for the future.
But that is what to some degree we do expect of the people we elect and pay to govern us. It is what we expect of those who have the money, the means, the connections, the power to make big changes to and direct the things that have huge impact on our lives. Like schooling, power supplies – and pandemics. Especially when we feel overwhelmed
The future stretches ahead bleakly. We have already spent months learning to bake banana bread, bonding with the children, completing our DIY projects, mastering online meetings, moving our restaurant tables outside or simply closing the doors, retrenching another round of workers, or making enquiries with emigration experts. Outside the middle classes the future is not only bleak it’s also empty – of jobs, money, food.
The light on all our 2021 horizons is a vaccine. Yes, it is not a silver bullet but it is a step out of where we are. The news is filled with reports of vaccine rollouts around the world. India is preparing to start the vaccination of 300 million people next week. Israel has vaccinated 10% of its population already.
We took part in vaccine trials. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is suitable for developing countries logistics and reported to be reasonably priced. UK and Argentina have approved it.
But, according to SABC News, President Cyril Ramaphosa says only that we will find a vaccine at “an appropriate time”. Is that April as Dr Zweli Mkhize tells us, or the first quarter as some or other Ministerial Advisory Committee member, or talking head in a white coat told some or other broadcaster?
With two missed deadlines before it even made its Covax lay-bye payment and Mkhize insisting we’re still checking out 11 possible vaccines, our trust in government (which speaking personally is never particularly high) is pretty low right now.
You do not need to have stepped out of your bubble or to have analysed the rate of delivery of all that has been (repeatedly) promised prior to this, to find evidence of the ANC cabinet’s inability to manage or organize even the simplest of its tasks competently or cleverly enough. I agree with civil society organisations – government is not showing the urgency and planning skills we need for the rollout of the vaccines. Nor, in my view, for the long-haul actions required to reduce our huge deficit and raging unemployment.
The way government has handled the relatively simple task of their televised Covid communications over the past 10 months is a small indicator of how bad they are at getting anything done properly, how devoid of understanding they are about what people (not our people or my people or the people) but ordinary human folk people need in times of crisis: A continual stream of information from the top. Transparency. Openness about exactly what’s being done, and who is doing it. Not a minimalist, ‘mum’s the word’ approach.
Can you recall back in March when President Ramaphosa began to ‘speak to the nation’? Punctuality was a problem then. Better late than never is not a good phrase to live by if you’re wishing to encourage trust. Thankfully heads appear to have been cracked and later addresses by the Pater Familias to an unruly, frequently lawless, complex, and dysfunctional government fantasy “family” did start on time.
But that’s probably all that can be said for this communication strategy.
Although the earliest iteration of Principal, apologies, President Ramaphosa’s addresses did elicit some simpering and cooing from the New Dawn fans even the most demented of them must agree his performances have been neither particularly enlightening nor effective. Was he tearful or simply suffering a head cold on his last outing? Who cares?
As for those who hoped for inspiring Churchillian-type speeches and rousing rhetoric: Sorry.
My friendly experts from the world of television production also point out the lighting set up and angles used in these televised appearances has been appallingly amateur so the President never looks as good as he should.
Then there’s his glaring failure to offer journalists an opportunity to ask questions and get answers in a public follow-up briefing – and in so doing win hearts and minds with a couple of off-the-cuff responses or spontaneous interactions (at which he is often very good).
Details are instead left to various members of the National Covid Command Council to put across in their own, frequently contradictory and frustratingly opaque, subjective ways.
In her latest appearance to elucidate on the level restriction regulations “prime minister” Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma chose to keep her sunglasses on throughout.
This is not a good look when addressing the public as any decent PR practitioner or Communications strategist will tell you, unless, like Haiti’s one-time TonTon Macoute militia, you’re deliberately out to instill fear in the masses.
It all makes one wonder. Is this “failure to communicate” deliberate (a factional battle thing) or just more evidence of the widespread ineptitude of those who govern us?
Either way it’s one of the many worrying “tells” that we’re not in the best of hands for our medium-term prospects of an effective national vaccination rollout or anything much else that lies ahead.
I am not and never have been a fan of the various superheroes of DC or Marvel Comics nor of their movie descendants (I was more an Archie and Veronica, war stories in which bespectacled men with buck teeth shouted Banzai, Mad Magazine fan). But it would be great if an Action-oriented superhero showed up in our little bit of Africa right now.
Someone dispatched from the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (no offence intended), the Justice League, or even by Cthulhu would do just fine provided they undertake to urgently negotiate, pay, enable, manage, organize, implement, monitor, adjust, and guard from corruption, for as long as it takes, the most suitable vaccine for our “Escape from Covid-19”.
Failing that fantasy perhaps something more prosaic? A super skilled project management and implementation team, selected by all (reasonable) parties including those agitating civil society organisations, funded by every South African millionaire and all the monies we would have spent on propping up SAA or any other good-for-nothing SOE, driven to make every deadline and target on pain of death or excessive taxes or cancellation by the furies of the left.
More likely though, at this late stage, is that we will end up depending on Gift of the Givers, Johan Rupert, Patrice Motsepe, or Discovery.
Ultimately though it’s voters who can be the true heroes. They need to make their voices heard and let government know it will be held accountable for what is done and not done now. Voters can be the superheroes we need if they make sure the next government we have is fit for purpose.
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR
If you like what you have just read, support the Daily Friend