I Have Witnessed Leadership Amidst the Chaos of Covid-19
It is clear that South Africa has leaders, such as Ramaphosa and Mkhize, who have risen to the occasion, have exceeded expectations and are receiving praise from South Africans and organisations around the world.
We have entered unprecedented, uncertain times. Coronavirus (Covid-19) has become a global pandemic, with over 1 million infections, and an ever-increasing death rate. South Africa, like most of the world, has been affected by this pandemic. Despite the challenges of being downgraded to economic junk status, corruption and socio-economic issues, there is no doubt that South Africa has illustrated superb leadership during times of great difficulty.
On Thursday, 26th March 2020, at midnight, South Africa entered a nationwide lockdown in an attempt to curb the growing infection rate of coronavirus in the country. President Cyril Ramaphosa and his cabinet of ministers have been constantly updating South Africans on regulations as well as decisions they have made throughout these devastating times.
Regarded as a “ruthlessly efficient fight against the coronavirus” by BBC, the national and provincial governments of South Africa have been making waves to combat the spread of the virus. The country has followed the advice and urgent action taken by South Korean and China, two states that instituted lockdowns immediately after COVID-19 breakouts occurred in their countries.
Despite South Africa being the world’s “most unequal society,” it has been able to set up a “track-and-track programme” with the aim to detect as many cases of the coronavirus in order to prevent it from spreading more, as well as treating people with severe symptoms. The Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize stated that he does not care if the programme only detects that a few people test have the virus. “As long as government can successfully test as many people as possible to ensure that people are healthy and safe from the virus.”
In addition, South Africa has been taking its own, specialised approached, noting its experiences with HIV and TB, and using it to identify communities and demographics that are most likely to be infected and affected symptomatically by the virus.
Following the decisions and actions taken by the South African government, Director General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has praised President Ramaphosa’s leadership. He noted that healthworkers have been deployed in all medical centres and thousands of fieldworkers “will be visiting homes in villages, towns and cities to screen residents for COVID-19 symptoms”.
This is impressive and although we will only be able to analyse accurate successes after this period, the lockdown seems to have been the best approach after countries, such as Italy, Spain and the USA, have been too late in handling the virus, and consequently, the coronavirus has spread too quickly and as a result, the death rate has soared in these countries.
However, it is important to note that there have been concerning bumps in the road for South Africa. There have been incidents of police brutality, as well as heightened incidents of gender-based violence, with 87000 phone calls to the police in the first week of the national lockdown. Moreover, there has also been confusion with government backtracking on a number of regulations, such as disallowing, then allowing informal traders to sell produce with a permit.
Like many countries in the world, South Africa is battling with the shortage of protective health gear such as face masks. In response to this, trade unions that represent nurses, are calling on their members to refrain from doing their duties, otherwise they risk their lives and health.
Opposition parties have been playing different roles to assist during these uncertain times. The Democratic Alliance (DA) has launched a WhatsApp line for people to report police brutality during the lockdown period. The Economic Freedom Fighters has been distributing free hand sanitisers, as well as launching a book reading club for its members.
I strongly believe that we have entered a difficult period where true leadership will outshine incompetency. It is clear that South Africa has leaders, such as Ramaphosa and Mkhize, who have risen to the occasion, have exceeded expectations and are receiving praise from South Africans and organisations around the world.
Time will only tell how effective South Africa’s approach has been, but for now, it deserves commendation and support from the people, as well as investors and stakeholders, for its focus on protecting the welfare and health of South Africans by placing people’s lives before money.
Luke Waltham is a BA Law Graduate and is currently studying a BA Honours at Stellenbosch University. He is a writer, blogger, and human rights activist.