It is quite easy to imagine that South Africa will look back in late March 2020 as a particular moment in its young democracy. Many nations around the world appear to wallow, or terrified of the rising threat of Coronavirus. This country, however, took a rare and extraordinary degree of unity and decisiveness. President Cyril Ramaphosa – a man whose leadership has long been a source of frustration to many residents here- changed into a man of action. He started by abruptly implementing a series of almost unimaginably severe and decisive steps. These steps reformed South Africa overnight and proved surprisingly effective at breaking the increased rate of infections.
In a phase where so many politicians are extending for war metaphors and comparisons, South Africa’s Dunkirk moment – bought the country enough time (as the Dunkirk evacuations did for war-time Britain’s military) to reorganize and to shore up its immunities. That “Dunkirk spirit” has not disappeared yet, and it’s from it. At the grass-root, in precise, South Africa is still overwhelming with examples of ingenuity and cohesion. Communities and businesses reach out to assist each other and to support the millions who are struggling to feed their families.
However, we are now over two months into what remains one of the toughest lockdowns universally. The government’s health professionals are foreseeing that the peak of the epidemic may still be two to three months away. Infection numbers are rising in some areas. There is a possibility of the nation going back to its fractious nation despite the struggle to contain the virus. Also, South Africa is entering a difficult season of fighting Covid-19.
Mr. Ramaphosa is not about to go back to bunker – indeed, he has persistently won praise for his level-headed approach. Telling residents to avoid careless behavior and to
“accept the reality, get ready for it, and adapt to it.”
A gap separates those who are more inclined to follow China’s example. They are in favor of a more heavy-handed tactic by the state. This includes plans to quarantine new cases in hospitals—the call to extend the controversial ban on all alcohol and cigarette purchases. Also, to enforce a new overnight curfew to see a lighter touch and the lockdown eased faster. Both approaches are logical; therefore, there is nothing wrong with the government debate.
South Africa stakes particularly high.
Business spearheads are now fore-warning that if the lockdown is not removed soon, South Africa’s gross domestic product could reduce by over 16%. Furthermore, up to four million jobs could be lost- dragging figures for any country. However, this mainly challenges an economy that is already wrestling and in recession with a 27% unemployment rate. Democratic Alliance (DA), the main opposition team, warned the government of abusing its power with “outrageous announcements” and “arbitrary rules” that are “progressively met with resistance and even outright civil disobedience.” The DA wants the alcohol and cigarette ban raised, and an end to the “ANC lockdown crisis.”
The ANC, in turn, accused the DA of “irresponsible and reckless… and dishonest” behavior. President Ramaphosa seeking to rise above the situation, he emphasized the dangers – already seen in other nations – of a “second wave” of infections. The question remains whether the Dunkirk strategy will work to turn the tide for the battle that lies ahead.