David Makhura. Picture: SOWETAN
David Makhura. Picture: SOWETAN

“Nobody goes to work and no-one moves. Then the economy opens up again for a particular period of time and then it closes again. So at least there is predictability and you can control infections in that way.”

These words were obviously not uttered by someone who has ever run a business and provide yet more evidence of how unaware ANC leaders are of the impact of their words and actions on the economy. We hope that premier David Makhura will not heed the advice of his health MEC, Bandile Masuku, as quoted in the Sunday Times. If it goes that far, President Cyril Ramaphosa should veto such a plan.

The noises coming out of Gauteng, the country’s economic engine, will be of great concern to citizens who have been asked to make great sacrifices since the imposition of a national lockdown in March. Just to rewind, Ramaphosa said at the time that the lockdown was necessary to slow the spread of Covid-19 so that when the surge in cases came, the country’s health system would be prepared.

Business cannot operate in the period of uncertainty that is being created by the mixed messages.  



The promise wasn’t that we could prevent a surge but that, as Makhura said in May, the idea was to prepare for the worst. “We are ready for the worst of times. We will continue to build capacity for that,” he told a virtual sitting of the legislature in May. Has he failed to achieve this, or have the numbers been much bigger than what was anticipated?

Without openness about the current surge relative to previous forecasts or models, it is right that citizens are asking what was done with that initial three weeks when the whole economy was virtually closed, and the subsequent period with various levels of relaxation. While the idea of certain hotspots being at different levels of activity was discussed, this should be done as a last resort with openness about the scientific evidence justifying it.

Makhura himself has in the past pointed out what the provincial government is suggesting now — different lockdowns for different parts of the province won’t work. Could there realistically be a different regime for Soweto and Sandton, for example? What would happen to a worker who resides in Tshwane, which might be closed, but needs to be in Auckland Park, which might be open, for work?  

A selection of business, at least those that have managed to stay afloat, such as hairdressers and sit-in restaurants, have just returned . It takes money and organisation to reopen. Imagine how demoralising it would be if they get an edict from the government on Monday, saying they have to close down again. For many it will be the last and final push that gets them over the cliff.

Business cannot operate in the period of uncertainty that is being created by the mixed messages.  

Before the move from stage 4 to 3 on June 1, Makhura was talking about a jobs bloodbath that would push millions into poverty and make them dependent on food parcels. Since then, official economic data has got worse, with confirmation that the unemployment rate climbed to a record above 30% even before the first restrictions were imposed.

Granted the government has made some mistakes with the regulations and there are specific relaxations that could be reversed without much of an economic costs. The decision, for example, to allow religious gatherings could not have been based on any sound science, and even leaders of religious bodies were reluctant to allow congregations to resume.

But a haphazard approach that makes it hard for business to plan should be rejected. Take the idea to restrict the sale of alcohol to once a week. That has obvious health concerns because it will encourage large queues during those restricted hours. It’s doubtful that Masuku has thought about implications for businesses along the supply chain, from farmers to glass manufacturers.

It's never a good time to have a government destabilising the business environment. That’s even more so with SA facing its deepest economic slump in about a century.

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