We can’t talk lockdown

A red and purple sunset

Soon another “My Fellow South Africans” and talks of a lockdown to stem the tide in COVID infections trending upwards? Is this how we will start November, staring down the barrel of a weaponised response to an increase in infections and a televised speech that will drag on, full of dire threats with no substance until we hear from the pandemic ministers?

Let’s get one thing out of the way, right up front. South Africa is not able to survive another Level 5 Lockdown. The government proved unable to provide for citizens during the first, law enforcement and the military were unable to effectively enforce it without wandering dangerously close to abusing citizens.

Trouble is, the real damage that is being done isn’t by a lockdown, it is by the threat of one. We live on an economic knife-edge at this point and the country does not need more speculation that will impact on business. Exchange rates, investor and business confidence and the willingness of tourists to travel to SA are all affected by suggestion and speculation.

A second ride on the lockdown merry-go-round, after that first which resulted in the country sliding heavily into debt, shedding jobs at an incredible rate and bringing serious economic hardship across the board will not go like the first. First time out was the best-case scenario where as many resources as could be made available, were. Trying that again will result in economic disaster and a failed state that will dump South Africa into a pit it will take generations to emerge from.

There’s an election coming and there’s no way the current government is going to hand lockdown-sized ammunition to both the DA and the EFF, not if they have any political nous whatsoever. None of the other parties need convert ANC voters to their particular party, all they need is to encourage them not to vote at all. The erosion of power will do the rest.

Something we should also not lose sight of is that South Africa’s government is one of the most ineffective talkshops in the world. Rise in crime? Get the police minister to threaten action in the hopes that the criminal element will be scared into submission. Too many road accidents? Get the traffic minister to make threats about increased policing and hope it has the desired effect. Too much domestic abuse against women? Get the welfare minister to talk about the scourge of women and child abuse but don’t actually address the problem. Pick any other examples you like, you’ll find as many as you need.

Then we need to look at media reports about this looming lockdown. There’s a big difference between a level 5 lockdown and a “harder lockdown”. A harder lockdown is a far more realistic announcement, but ultimately useless. The viral spread is due to human contact and unless mass transport is halted there will be no slowdown in the transmission rate.

It must also be remembered that South Africa’s people live in a society where civil disobedience is normalised. It will be really difficult to find a day in any week where there is not a tyre-burning protest regarding a lack of service delivery or some other government failing somewhere in the country. It is literally a daily occurrence. With an inadequate police service and military offering the only hope government has of a lockdown is by civil agreement – and that simply isn’t going to happen.

The wasted opportunity originated in the failure to establish strong medical facilities, which was promoted as one of the reasons for that first lockdown at the end of March. That first few weeks was to create the opportunity for a focused and efficient medical response to patient care. Now, amid stories of these centres get few admissions and field hospitals being dismantled, now the talk of a new lockdown bubbles to the surface.

One thing you can be guaranteed of with South Africans, they aren’t easily led down the garden path a second time. In a country where political promises are followed by … nothing, the population knows it is on its own and this independent thinking makes them very hard to dictate to.

Through all of this, treat rumour as exactly that. Until there is official word that stories of a new lockdown are confirmed, they are absolutely nothing but stories. Get on with your day and remember there are a great many reasons to enjoy South Africa, don’t lose sight of that.

On a final note, I decided to take a break from my nightly ruminations this past weekend. This is my first post since Friday. It can be incredibly easy to disappear into a digital rabbit hole and we need to maintain the reality check provided by our surroundings. Make sure you take time out to enjoy that walk, the waves, the clouds scudding by overhead, the birds screaming their Spring calls at each other. Whatever you have around you, whatever is real, make sure you take the time to enjoy all of it.

Edit: This piece was updated to replace 1 with 5, in reference to the lockdowns.

Author: Morné Condon

Automotive journalist in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, following new models, old cars, car clubs and motorsport. My interests are not restricted to the automotive environment, although this is where I am mostly to be found.

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