Whenever former president Thabo Mbeki appears in the news landscape, he has that air of an elder statesman giving much-needed advice and support to the current floundering leadership.
Some people look back on his days as the country’s president nostalgically, wishing for a return to the good old days. It is impossible, though, to look back at Mbeki’s reign and only get a warm, fuzzy feeling because there is the matter of HIV/Aids denialism that cannot be simply wished away.
Rough estimations put the number of people who died unnecessarily due to the delay in the roll-out of the lifesaving antiretrovirals at 350 000.
Back in the early 2000s, when that pandemic was ravaging South African society, there was no daily count of lives lost to the pandemic or an accurate count of new daily infections. The current official death count as a result of Covid-19 is hovering around the 60 000-mark.
If President Cyril Ramaphosa intends to make a comeback as an elderly and wise statesman a decade or two from now, he must do everything in his power to avoid another stain on his legacy by ensuring that the country gets to the point when there is no death that occurs that could have been prevented through an effective vaccination roll-out.
If his government fails at that, he will have the Covid-19 death toll added to his legacy, as if the already undesirable Marikana tragedy stain is not enough. Even before the pandemic hit South Africa in March 2020, it was accepted that Covid-19 deaths were inevitable.
Death toll legacy
The question was always going to be: how high is the death toll going to be?
So, the president is not to blame for all the deaths but his government’s fumbling around the vaccination roll-out will result in deaths that could have been prevented and, like Thabo Mbeki, he, too, will one day have the shadow of such deaths as part of his legacy.
It is said that only numbers of dead people will be used to measure how well or badly the government did during the pandemic because those are very easy to record daily.
And it’s easy to understand why the number of deaths are the main measure of government’s response to the pandemic: a preventable death is the worst thing that could happen to a human being and, where possible, those who could have prevented that death need to be held responsible.
Covid-19 impact in South Africa
Preventable deaths are not going to be the only legacy of a botched vaccination plan: a generation of children who are missing out on school right now will grow up to add to the country’s woes, right about the same time that the president might be attempting to be a wise and elderly statesman.
The current rotational system where kids attend one week and the next they’re off was only meant to be temporary. That is not how education works. The country’s tourism industry will also pay a heavy price because no one will want to visit Africa’s epicentre of Covid-19.
The worst thing – besides dying an unnecessary death – that the government’s bungled vaccination plan can leave the country with is a large section of the population having to live with the lifelong aftereffects of a Covid-19 infection.
“Covid lungs”, unending fatigue and other as-yet-undiscovered conditions that some Covid survivors have to live with are going to be a constant reminder in the future of how the country was let down by a lack of leadership.
Citizens must make a noise until vaccinations are readily available to all.
Now read: Covid-19 vaccines bring hope for SA