In its response to an emergency a government reveals in a flash how it understands both itself and the society it governs. In regard to the former, SA’s governors have performed better than we could have reasonably imagined. But in regard to the latter, there is trouble ahead.

To get a sense of the poise with which SA’s government understands itself, compare President Cyril Ramaphosa’s response to the onset of the pandemic with that of Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador, who waved a six-leaf clover in the air, saying it would protect him from the virus, while doubling down on an austerity programme. Or compare Ramaphosa to Thabo Mbeki, who greeted the Aids pandemic by fuelling a dissident scientific paradigm...

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