Government’s disgraceful pandemic response won’t be forgotten

By Riaan Salie is a contributing author for the Free Market Foundation and is a policy fellow at the Foundation for Consumer Freedom Advancement. By Riaan Salie is a contributing author for the Free Market Foundation and is a policy fellow at the Foundation for Consumer Freedom Advancement. 

The inhumane, corrupt and unlawful government response to COVID-19 must be remembered as the worst violation of civil liberties since 1994. Resulting from the alcohol ban, Collins Khosa was brutally killed on 10 April 2020 by security forces for holding a glass of alcohol. Shamefully, COVID-19 contracts worth R2.1 billion were flagged for possible corruption and food parcels meant for the poor were stolen. By 30 April 2020, the country lost R1.5 billion in revenue resulting from the unlawful ban on the sale of tobacco products. 

From its founding, the African National Congress (ANC) has been committed to incrementally acquiring all ‘levers of state power’ in an effort to advance the National Democratic Revolution (NDR). This lead to the establishment of the cadre deployment committee, which was found to be central to the development of state capture. The infringement of civil liberties was always a natural outcome of ANC ideology, and the pandemic provided the perfect opportunity to enforce it.

Collectively the alcohol ban, welfare crisis, unlawful cigarette ban, and anti-market government policy has delivered an unemployment crisis, record inflation and unimaginable levels of corruption. The 66.5% youth unemployment rate, 6.5% inflation rate and R100 billion state capture dealings have crippled South Africa; this all combines to highlight a poverty-stricken state under the decade long ANC government.

So, when the health minister suddenly repeals remaining COVID-19 regulations, against the backdrop of a scandal riddled presidency, South Africans must never forget.

On the streets of Soweto, citizens were inhumanly forced to do pushups as punishment for breaking lockdown rules. An elderly woman was shoved into a police van for selling atchar, and videos showed surfers and joggers being hauled into custody in the name of ‘public health’. In total over 400,000 citizens were arrested for breaking draconian lockdown rules. However, this shameful use of force would always be a natural consequence of a party bound by communist doctrine.

An uncaring government has been embroiled in corruption scandals, from ministers down to ward councillors, all while citizens were locked down. Wasting R1.4 billion on parties, dinners and hotels during the lockdown and ward councillors stealing food parcels from the vulnerable poor. The repugnant behaviour of this government during the pandemic is a stain on our democracy.

Inept decision making from Cabinet resulted in two economically brutal bans. The alcohol ban cost the economy R64.8 billion, placing 248,756 jobs at risk in 2021. In 2020, prohibition destroyed 7,400 jobs in the beer industry. The hospitality industry, which constituted 3% of Gross Domestic Product in 2018, was also crippled.

In a scathing ruling handed down by the Supreme Court of Appeal, the court found that the tobacco ban was unlawful, unscientific, and violated the right to property and trade; it found that the reasons for maintaining the ban were “constitutionally perverse.”

The price of illicit cigarettes increased by 4.4% per day and 90% of smokers continued smoking despite the ban; thus, making the R2.4 billion loss in excise taxes over eight weeks unfathomable to the court. It has also been pointed out that the taxes could have funded additional hospital capacity, instead of funneling into the black market. No scientific evidence was provided to show that the tobacco ban would reduce harm for smokers from COVID-19. The court ripped into the government’s arguments, finding that the encroachment of constitutional freedoms was without merit.

Countless opportunities were available to save the economy. If the government decided to allow Independent Power Producers onto the grid, then load-shedding would have been avoided in 2021. Repealing Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment and minimum wage legislation would have unlocked the job market for young unskilled workers.  Following an educational based approach, instead of outright bans, would have prevented supply chains from collapsing altogether.

However, the ANC’s ambitions to achieve the NDR pushes them towards power centralisation in the form of Eskom, while incentivising the state to control private industry through stringent regulatory frameworks. Importantly, clamping down on freedoms to engineer social and political outcomes as prescribed in communist doctrine, was achieved. Ultimately the pandemic response has served as a trial run for the ANC’s vision for South Africa.

Clinging to the hope that more commissions or new oversight committees will bring ‘change’ is a futile exercise. The ANC’s ideology is engrained with centralised control which breeds through patronage networks. As witnessed during the COVID-19 response, councillors steal to provide for their inner circles, while tenders serve as a self-enrichment scheme through loyal cadres.

While the last COVID regulations may finally be gone, the damage inflicted on South Africa may be generational, inflicted during the Zuma years and the loss of liberties during the pandemic. Apart from economic destruction, the dignity of thousands were undermined during this lockdown. May South Africans never forget the unconstitutional damage inflicted on them.