from Louis in Johannesburg, South Africa: Presidential Leadership

14 May. The Presidential leadership in SA is now being compared to Churchill. That has to be in comparison to his predecessors Zuma and including the Mbeki Presidency where paranoia and fear of conspiracy typified decision-making driven amongst other figments by the loss of SA sovereignty to the IMF, the World Bank or some such Western bogeyman. Dealing with the COVID19 virus was initially impaled on the horns of a dilemma of “doing too little too late and doing too much too soon”. Social media, as well as mainstream media with few exceptions, basing some of the more dire mortality scenarios on flimsy evidence and so-called models, scared decision-makers and panicked citizens at scale. Decision-makers at a national presidential level should have their eyes set on a 20 to 25 planning time horizon as that is how long it takes for policy and decision at that level to prove itself right or wrong aka Elliott Jaques’ “time span of discretion”. This principle is one of the few scientific facts in the so-called management sciences.

The lockdown decision in SA was taken with very little consideration for how the unlock would be achieved. This lack of looking beyond the immediate is also real for schools and many of the other institutions directly in the path of lockdown. The presidency is now once again in reactive mode attempting to deal with another dilemma between saving lives with lockdown and saving lives impacted by economic destruction with unlocking the lockdown. Only a government genuinely committed to centralised command politics could have any faith that once it was ready the decision to restart the economy would actually start the complex interconnected web, which is an economic system. The so-called Command Council an extra-parliamentary body to lead the campaign against the COVID19 viral attack is now itself under attack and its local constitutional standing in question. In the background, the IMF offers low-interest loans to economies in difficulty in these times of widespread global economic distress. Public servants who bear no risk of organisational failure have insisted on generous, higher than inflation salary increases modelled on the private sector.

In SA critics are finally questioning whether “Saving lives from COVID19  is more important than 5 million joining the unemployed?” So far, the decision has been lopsided in the direction of preserving lives at the cost of between 3 and 5 million people losing their jobs. The enterprises employing them will either go bankrupt or be forced to scale down significantly. Politicians may categorise this cost as an unintended consequence or some such. Two consequences come to mind:

-widespread hunger and potential loss of livelihoods and lives from an imploding economy, and

-patients with cancer and other dread diseases taken out of hospitals and ICUs to make room for incoming COVID19 patients.

President Ramphosa’s presidential decision to lock down is now being labelled as “Nongqause II”. Nongqause I is indelibly etched in the history of the AmaXhosa. It was where the infamous, self-inflicted cattle-killing amongst the Xhosa in the mid 19th century resulted in catastrophic famine and death. It took the Xhosa decades to recover from the widespread hunger and starvation brought about by Nongqause I. On may 5th in Durban the president blamed COVID19 for dealing the economy “a heavy blow.” This statement is not true or balanced. This government has lauded itself for following the best scientific advice. The question now is if it ever considered the scientific basis for recovering the collapsed economy and the impact of trampling on freedom during lockdown would do to the dignity, livelihood and well-being of the population.

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