President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS

In the midst of all the dejection with every illogical pronouncement by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government, for many it may seem that it’s easier to just give up.

The abrupt decision to close schools, leaving millions of working parents in the lurch, is just the latest, confirming that fighting the disease is secondary to political consideration and satisfying interest groups that have the ear of the president, to the detriment of outsiders.

It came just over a week after Ramaphosa stunned the R140bn liquor industry by saying it would be immediately stopped from trading. Unlike counterparts in the church and taxi businesses, or teachers’ trade unions, it was not deemed worthy of being consulted.

Those who operate hotels, bed and breakfasts and other establishments reliant on tourism have been completely forgotten. It was on May 30, almost two months ago, that tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said the industry could lose almost 600,000 jobs if it wasn’t allowed to operate by September.

That’s a mere 35 days from now and there is still no word on when this important sector, and others associated with it such as aviation, will be allowed to operate. It’s impossible to fathom what the motivation would be for a party in power, but it’s as if the ANC government is intent on destroying the industry.

SA’s total income from accommodation was just over R7bn in the last three months of 2019. It doesn't take much of an imagination to get an idea of the kind of devastation that will be revealed when data for the past three months is available.

And since we are talking about a sector that contributed directly just under 3% of GDP in 2018, to describe the support measures announced by government as a drop in the ocean would be an understatement. That would still be the case even if the government was competent in distributing that aid and hadn’t been shortsighted enough to allow it to be delayed by fights over other policies such as BEE.

Tourism’s indirect contribution to GDP and employment was 8.2% and 9.2% in 2018, capturing “the strong economic links to the demand and supply side that the sector has with other sectors of the SA economy”, according to the government. And yet it’s willing to let it wither away.

In previous years, tourist operators would be getting ready for their busiest period now. Instead they are in the dark.

While the coronavirus outbreak and potential new waves of infection mean that SA was never going to get anything near the 2.66-million arrivals recorded from October to December 2019, the government is doing its best to ensure we get zero for 2020.

Ironically, one of the biggest victims will be the state-owned Airports Company SA, a previously successful enterprise that is now likely to be a burden on the taxpayer.

Holidaymakers from SA’s traditional markets in Europe and North America, and the newer markets in Asia, will be making their year-end travel plans, and SA will be off the radar. It is possible that Covid-19 may make this irrelevant, but if there is a race for tourist traffic, SA will have disqualified itself.

In the Financial Mail, the former public protector, Thuli Madonsela, lamented the government’s lack of empathy towards those affected by its regulations. Another weakness, which has eroded public support just as SA is entering the most acute phase of the Covid-19 outbreak, has been its lack of openness.

It refuses to release the advice forming the scientific basis of its decisions and Ramaphosa’s addresses to the nation are just monologues and journalists are not provided an opportunity to question him.

So last week he didn’t get asked to explain how a government committed to equality could have different rules for private and public schools. Or why schools can be too dangerous for some and not others. Why wait until Thursday night to tell teachers and pupils who were supposed to return to class on Monday that this was no longer the case?

A reasonable and rational government would not have left citizens helplessly wondering.

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