ANALYSIS: We can only defeat Covid-19 and save our economy if we flip the script

If the governing party again fails to stand up to narrow and destructive interests to protect the well-being of South Africans, it will potentially condemn hundreds of thousands of people to preventable deaths and destroy thousands of jobs and businesses, writes John Steenhuisen.  

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus and the associated Covid-19 disease has plunged South Africa into an unprecedented crisis that is likely to have devastating socioeconomic effects.

Our country faces far greater health risks than many others due to the corruption and mismanagement that have systematically hollowed-out our public healthcare system.

This is further compounded by the fact that 30.4 million of our citizens live in desperate poverty, often in crowded informal neighbourhoods that lack access to basic water and sanitation facilities.  

At the same time, this crisis is likely to also have a devastating impact on the South African economy, which was already in recession prior to the outbreak of the virus. 

The only way that we will be able to muster the resources we need to avert a public health disaster, as well as to prevent the South African economy from plunging into outright depression, is by choosing the country over narrow party politics.  

I have already announced that the Democratic Alliance supports the plans announced by the government to begin mitigating the impact of Covid-19 by trying to flatten the disease curve.

To show that we are serious in our determination to put politics aside in the best interest of the country, each member of the DA’s shadow cabinet has already written to their counterpart in national government, offering the DA’s assistance.  

On Tuesday, the DA further announced a set of interventions that our governments will be making to supplement the national response, and we strongly urge the national government to also implement these same measures.  

But defeating Covid-19 will require the ANC leadership to similarly choose country over party by rescuing the economy so we can fund the emergency response.

Make no mistake about it: saving lives and livelihoods in this crisis will cost hundreds of billions of rands. Unfortunately, the funding that could have helped in this time of national crisis, has been squandered.  

The reality is that South Africa has already been in a per capita recession for over half a decade as a result of the ANC’s refusal to let go of its ideological obsession with expanding state control.

Over the past decade, the government has wasted billions on corruption, zombie state-owned enterprises, a bloated wage-bill for cadres in management positions, and a dogmatic refusal to liberalise the economy.  

The result is that, at precisely the time when we need it the most, the government has no money left with which to protect South Africans from Covid-19.  

If, like the DA, his government is prepared to choose country over party, it must acknowledge that Covid-19 has exposed, once and for all, that the ideological paradigm of ever-increasing state control is the reason why South Africa is utterly unprepared to protect lives and livelihoods from the virus.  

The ANC must accept that this dogma is the reason why, just a few weeks ago, the government chose to waste another R16.4 billion on a bailout for SAA while cutting the health budget by R3.9 billion.

This is an outrageous and inexcusable moral crime.

Who, exactly, will be flying SAA when South Africans are sick and the economy is dying?  

For the sake of millions of lives and thousands of businesses, we no longer have a choice. The government either breaks with ideological dogma, or Covid-19 breaks South Africa’s back. 

Together, we must now flip the script and embrace a new paradigm that puts people first.

Parliament must urgently pass a new special appropriations bill that scraps the tens of billions of rands in bailouts for failed SOEs like SAA, Eskom, Denel and the SABC, and redirects that money into managing the coronavirus disaster.

Together with invoking emergency measures to immediately freeze the public wage bill for managers and administrators while protecting the salaries of doctors and nurses, this will raise R349.95 billion in new revenue over the next three years to fight the coronavirus and support the economy.  

To treat the wounds of our dying economy and stave off an economic depression, the government must also immediately and publicly abandon economically ruinous plans for property expropriation without compensation, the nationalisation of private healthcare, asset prescription, and the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank. 

The R349.95 billion that can be raised if we dump the failed paradigm of state control must then be used to bolster the fight against Covid-19 and to give economic power back to the people.

This is the only way that we will survive this crisis. 

To save lives, we must use the money to roll out a massive coronavirus testing and screening campaign, to re-employ retired healthcare professionals, and to deploy police and healthcare workers to hotspots across the country.  

To protect livelihoods, we must use the money to reduce the tax burden, implement a four-month loan and rental forbearance for businesses, pause VAT, UIF and compensation fund payments from businesses, process VAT refunds immediately, and bring rates relief to homeowners.  

These reforms will, of course, be opposed by ideologues and looters in the ANC.

But that is precisely the point: if the governing party again fails to stand up to these narrow and destructive interests to protect the well-being of South Africans, it will potentially condemn hundreds of thousands of people to preventable deaths and destroy thousands of jobs and businesses.  

Most importantly, even if significant numbers of ANC members refuse to vote in favour of these life-saving measures in Parliament, the DA will use our 84 seats in Parliament to make up for any shortfall, thereby ensuring that these vital reforms are adopted by a majority of MPs. 

It has never been more urgent for South Africa to build a new majority that dumps the failed ideology that has brought this country to its knees in the face of the Covid-19 crisis.

In the interest of saving lives and livelihoods, the DA unashamedly chooses country over party.  

– John Steenhuisen is the interim leader of the Democratic Alliance  

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