The Covid-19 pandemic has created conditions conducive for a perfect storm of three converging crises: a health crisis, an economic crisis and a societal crisis, all with stark consequences.
Brand South Africa recently partnered with the University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS) and Business Day on a dialogue that took place on 26 August 2020. The discussion sought to identify actionable insights, recommendations and actions to cope with and prosper beyond the current pandemic circumstance plaguing the world.
“As South Africa grapples with the consequences of the lockdown, social cohesion remains fragile, particularly as the converging crises have served to further expose the divisions that plague our society” says Brand South Africa’s Strategic Relations Manager: Civil Society. She adds that exploring what holds us together and what divides us may well be the key to navigating through the current storm of complexity and uncertainty.
The discussion, moderated by Iman Rapetti, included lecturer and researcher at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Lukhona Mnguni; professor at the University of Johannesburg, Professor Mcebisi Ndletyana; and satirist and academic, Conrad Koch. The panel agreed that the current environment is characterised by a sense of exhaustion around ongoing corruption and a fear for the future given the prospect of growing unemployment levels.
Growing inequality is exacerbating the problem of social cohesion, said Mnguni, calling for a bold recovery plan. Elites need to be disrupted and the country’s citizens need to stop tolerating corruption. The government needs to stop making bad regulations that deprive people of the ability to earn a living. Not only have the country’s leaders become deceitful, but they have underestimated the ability of citizens to tolerate growing levels of corruption and inefficiencies, he said.
However, while Covid-19 has disrupted people’s lives, on the ground communities have continued to have a working social contract in place which is helping them through this period.
The political leadership of the country will be severely tested as the country battles to recover, said Ndletyana. However, he added, we need leadership who don’t merely placate or pacify various interest groups but who are prepared to make the hard – and unpopular – decisions necessary to put the economy back on track. Pointing to the recent example of President Ramaphosa conceding to the powerful teachers’ union, he questioned whether our country’s leadership are in fact capable of making these hard decisions.
There are a number of potential solutions to our current challenges, he said. “In a country with such high unemployment why do we even have a minimum wage,” he questioned, adding that trade unions might have to start making some concessions. The country’s leadership can no longer afford to make fashionable decisions, he said, suggesting that the government starts to practice a degree of blackmail in order to get the economy on an upward trajectory.
One of the biggest problems, said Koch, is that there continues to be a lack of perspective regarding who qualifies as a South African, who is more deserving of human rights, and how we change a fundamentally sexist and prejudiced society. Koch, who has a master’s degree in corporate anthropology – “which everybody knows is the study of white guilt” – said the current power status quo will continue to be in place until something drastic occurs to shift those dynamics. He called for a greater focus on enabling SMMEs to operate without undue red tape.