Letter: Tackle economy with same zeal for virus, Cyril - The Citizen

19 August 2020 - President Ramaphosa’s announcement on taking South Africa to level 2 of the lockdown will have been greeted with relief. The message was that, with South Africa getting on the right side of the pandemic, it was time to get the economy moving.

President Ramaphosa’s announcement on taking South Africa to level 2 of the lockdown will have been greeted with relief. The message was that, with South Africa getting on the right side of the pandemic, it was time to get the economy moving.

‘The task before us,’ the president said, ‘is to apply the same energies with which we have battled this pandemic to the economic recovery effort.’

If only this could be the case. The government took enormously stringent and intrusive measures to deal with the health crisis. Whether this was the right course of action, and how well it performed, will be debated for a long time to come. But there is no question of the seriousness with which it viewed the challenge.

There is little to suggest that it has this level of commitment to an economic recovery. Remember that South Africa entered a recession before the pandemic hit. In large part this was the accumulated outcome of decades of policy that stifled economic growth: racial empowerment and restrictive labour market policies, stultifying red tape that frustrates small businesses, the threat of property seizures, an inefficient and politicised state, plus failing state-owned enterprises and the all-of-the-aboves of corruption and malfeasance.

There is little in the government’s behaviour over the past few months to suggest that it has changed course. Even the most optimistic would have found it tough to imagine that under these conditions, government would recommit to supporting a money-draining airline. The ‘state-led’ recovery (should that be ‘recovery’?) seeks continuity with this agenda, not change.

Until a change in direction takes place, with pragmatism displacing ideology, recovery will remain elusive.

The lockdown was more dead than alive. It remains to be seen whether this is the case for the economy.

Terence Corrigan

Project Manager, Institute of Race Relations

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