There has been a lot of talk the last seven days that President Cyril Ramaphosa will address the country at some point this week, to announce the lifting of more regulations as the country heads to Level 2 of lockdown. At a meeting of the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) on 13 August, the participants apparently made it clear to the government that it is essential the economy be opened more. It is clear that, while the intended goal of the lockdown may have been to buy time for the healthcare sector to ramp up its capacity ahead of an expected flood of cases, the only ‘curve’ that has been flattened is South Africa’s economic trajectory – indeed it is pointing ever downward.
Saturday, 15 August, is the deadline of the country’s extended state of disaster. No announcement has been forthcoming as to whether it will be ended, or simply extended once again. With rising discontent at irrational, arbitrary, and unreasonable regulations, many South Africans have already lost their jobs (at the moment the figure is judged to be around three million) and many more are at risk of joining the unemployment lines. No business can plan, never mind grow, in this environment of uncertainty and lack of communication and transparency from government.
Ramaphosa promised that loadshedding would end by 2017. Here, in the midst of a lockdown that prevents a lot of economic activity, we have still been mired in darkness as Eskom (the government-enforced monopoly in electricity) has failed to keep the lights on. Even if we are to resume all activity, any noteworthy recovery will likely be hobbled because the government refuses to let go of control in the electricity industry, and allow competition. The darkness in which we are regularly dumped is an apt reminder of the folly that comes with giving the government all control, and not applying enough pressure (through various means) for the necessary reforms to be implemented.
It must be kept in mind, always, that even if all lockdown restrictions and regulations were to be lifted, no pro-freedom (thus inherently pro-growth) structural reforms have been introduced. Restrictions such as a rigid labour market, and ever-increasing taxes, already hobbled the economy before COVID-19 hit our shores. We will not return to a pre-pandemic level of 1.5% GDP growth, never mind the actually necessary levels of 5-10%, if serious, deep cuts aren’t made to all the ways government controls are enmeshed in all aspects of the South African economy, and of South Africans’ lives.
The lockdown has served as a stark, concrete example of what happens when people allow the government to live out all its socialist tendencies and desires. Under the guise of fighting a pandemic (that, granted, gripped millions with paralysing fear), our civil liberties and economic freedoms (the removal of which has real negative consequences, especially for poorer people) were summarily suspended. Without consultation, without transparency, without any idea of when the lockdown may end, freedoms that had been won were stripped away in the blink of an eye.
The worldview that the government just needs more control to help us, to protect us, that our freedom is actually a hindrance to the progress and meaning the government can give us, has been in force since the end of March. The growing anger, despair, frustration, joblessness, poverty, and hunger, are all manifestations of this philosophy, of this view that the state needs all control over the individual. Politicians and bureaucrats were seized by both the fear of being blamed if they just didn’t do something, and an underlying desire to prove that they have what it takes, that they were right to push for more control over the people. In the process they have destroyed economies, set back progress in the improvement of living standards that comes with freedom, and doomed potentially millions of people to years of more poverty and hopelessness.
It is high-time that we move past the obsession with waiting for the next leader, or the next government, to help us, to lead us to whichever version of utopia is the flavour of the day. You deserve to live a life of meaning, of consequence, of fulfillment, of happiness. Do away with the sentiment that you need to rely on some bureaucrat or politician (of whatever stripe) to ‘give’ you stuff. The only way they can ‘give’ any of us anything is by taking from others. You deserve to look back on your life and know that everything you earned and built was because you put in the work, you spent the time, you used your mind, and you treated people around you well, and that you pushed your society to be one of mutual exchange, care, and trade.