Hendri Pelser
3 minute read
11 Nov 2020
9:56 pm

First take: Ramaphosa backed into an economic corner

Hendri Pelser

The truth is that government has run out of money. The vultures circled us and the cadres feasted on our fiscus before we even had a chance to have a dry cough.

File picture. There was one word missing in the 3,330-odd-word speech by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday: corruption. Not once did the President mention it. (Photo by Gallo Images / Foto24 / Theana Breugem)

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address to the nation on Wednesday evening came with the usual amount of pre-emptive speculation.

Would a harder lockdown be imposed? Would booze be banned again? How will government react to the new lockdowns in Europe?

In his weekly newsletter to the nation on Monday, Ramaphosa hit a relatively upbeat tone. That was the first indication that not much would probably change.

He stuck to this during Wednesday night’s address, for the most part.

The President’s “family meeting” was different to the previous ones. While he again took the patriarchal position (which is part of a larger political positioning), urging citizens to adhere to health advisories and regulations, wear masks and avoid large gatherings, it was more of plea than a threat this time around.

Previously, the spectre of a potential ‘punishment’ loomed in the air like an upset father hinting at grounding you before the matric dance.

The truth is that government has run out of money. We are broke as Finance Minister Tito Mboweni clearly spelled out in his mini budget last month.

Yes, we will be borrowing money from international institutions for some time. But, we are broke. Dead broke.

This means that any action on government’s part to potentially kill the economic “green shoots” Ramaphosa referred to on Monday, is basically completely off the table for now.

We simply cannot afford it.

The two biggest indicators of this change in approach came in the form of going back to primary health care interventions in dealing with cluster outbreaks and the normalisation of alcohol sales hours.

“Interventions include primary health care outreach teams to intensify contact tracing, daily community mobilisation, ensuring the readiness of health facilities, and being ready to respond to possible clusters outbreaks,” the President said primarily in response to current large regional outbreaks.

This form of response was put forward at the beginning of the local outbreak of the pandemic as a primary intervention measure. However, it was quickly found to be wanting, as government did not have the resources, capacity, or ability to effectively execute track and trace interventions in those early days.

Now, they have decided to go back to this low impact level of intervention as opposed to hard lockdown interventions.

The normalisation of alcohol trading hours should also not be underestimated. The consumption of alcohol has been used as the canary in the coal mine for some time: people drink, they socialise, they hurt themselves and others and fill up hospital beds, and, they infect each other with the coronavirus.

This relaxation, and the reawakening of other industries such as tourism by allowing all international travel, shows that the money is doing the talking now.

Government is broke and every cent is needed while we get the economy back on track again as quickly as possible.

This, seen in light of reports this week that a vaccine might be available as early as the first or second quarter of next year, is good news and should fill us with a sense of pessimistic optimism to say the least.

However, there was one word missing in the 3,330-odd-word speech by Ramaphosa on Wednesday: corruption.

Not once did the President mention it.

The reason for this is quite clear: his address to the nation was an economic and health rallying cry. A call to get the ship moving in the right direction again.

To mention the looting that took place during the pandemic would have been counter productive.

Ramaphosa, his government and the country needs the economy to come back to life with as much bang as it can muster.

Any acknowledgment of wasted expenditure, looting and theft would have thrown a spanner in the works.

The country is broke from this pandemic and the lockdown. People are without jobs. Lives have been ruined. Generations will bear the brunt.

Ramaphosa announced that flags will fly at half mast to honour the dead.

However, the vultures circled us and the cadres feasted on our fiscus before we even had a chance to have a dry cough.

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