Those who so ardently advocate for more government control and power should not be surprised, and definitely not outraged, when that government power is brought to bear upon them.
On 12 May, the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, Ebrahim Patel, gazetted a list of winter clothing, footwear and bedding that may be sold during level 4 of the lockdown. Our enlightened politicians (and yes, President Ramaphosa is included here, as he indicated previously that these sorts of decisions are taken “collectively”) have taken it upon themselves to decide what clothing we may or may not buy, and furthermore how we should wear the few items we are allowed to purchase.
The new ‘enlightened’ regulations include the unbanning of short sleeve t-shirts, however only if “promoted and displayed as undergarments for warmth.” I hope South Africa’s policemen and -women are not too busy at the moment, as they will soon be tasked with monitoring whether citizens are wearing newly purchased t-shirts in the ‘correct’ manner. The regulations also include what types of shoes may be sold (closed-toe are unbanned, open-toe have been banned). If anyone thought things may get ‘better’ as we reach different levels of lockdown, they were sorely mistaken.
There is no way in which these regulations can aid in the ‘fight against COVID-19.’ Indeed the effectiveness of the lockdown itself is being questioned by more and more voices. It appears that the government has abandoned any notion of scientific or reason-based justification for the lockdown and regulations, and is now simply proceeding as it deems fit, people’s concerns and lives be damned. But then, I don’t think those currently in power were ever truly concerned with citizens’ consent for the lockdown: They knew what was best for us, and they proceeded accordingly.
These new regulations should not be labeled as merely “bizarre” or “irrational.” They are immoral. Many politicians, including Patel, have shown time and again that they adhere to the philosophy that the state should control as much of our lives as possible. Many South Africans themselves support immoral laws and regulations, such as price controls, and cheer when the government cracks down on ‘anti-competitive’ behaviour. In countless ways the current blunt approach taken by the government was shaped by past and consistent support from citizens.
Indeed, it appears that retailers supported the clothing regulations. According to Business Day, the National Clothing Retail Federation (NCRF) (members such as TFG, Mr Price, Truworths, Pick n Pay Clothing, Queenspark), “called on the clothing retail sector to take advantage of the opportunity to be trading in essential good.” To be so thankful for the smallest sliver of freedom granted by government, that you don’t fight the very spirit of the regulations, is terribly sad to see.
If you give the government the room to decide what exactly ‘winter clothing’ is, don’t be surprised later on when they make all sorts of other decisions on your behalf as well.
Many currently in power hold the view that it is right and moral for the state to decree what we may or may not consume, what wage we may work for, whom we may employ, and which businesses may or may not operate. These regulations have been drafted and decided on within the context of a government that will push for control in whatever way it can.
Statism (socialism and communism, the view that the state is superior to the individual) underpins many of the edicts and regulations we’ve seen, and we should not be surprised at consequences that flow from the view that the state must decide everything for us. All it takes is an emergency or crisis to expose controlling, authoritarian tendencies.
When writing and debating on the concepts of ‘big government’ and ‘authoritarianism,’ arguments may be dismissed as “hyperbole” or “scaremongering.” While I would always say we must be careful about using terms such as ‘police state’ (lest we minimise their weight), we must always be vigilant to point out when politicians act outside of their constitutional bounds. Small, incremental decisions eventually become a landslide.
We have to be vigilant and push back against any government overreach, at all times. That the government is now implementing these regulations is testament to how far South Africans have allowed them to go in the past. When the state encounters very little resistance, it will go as far as possible in restricting people’s lives.
Surely there is no more credibility left for the government’s approach to lockdown. Based on these new regulations, I can only hope more people are waking up to the realisation that we are being ‘led’ right off a cliff, by petty politicians and bureaucrats drunk on power.