Covid-19 exposes weaknesses in leadership

President Cyril Ramaphosa pulled the country together with his “grave situation” speech, announcing the lockdown measures to address, prevent and combat the spread of the coronavirus in South Africa. The country has been very fast to react to the pandemic and has been impressively issuing regulations since March 16.

Minister of Health Dr Zwelini Mkhize similarly provided comfort that we are in good hands.

And then reality bites.

Covid-19 has exposed the lack of training and experience in leadership, and the lack of commitment to act for the common good in those who have to provide guidance. Regulations are announced, and then mis-explained by inept leaders who dare to get ratty when asked questions by journalists.

Wednesday night’s briefing on the latest regulations – streamed live on Moneyweb – was a spectacle indeed, delving to the depths of absurdity with Police Minister Bheki Cele spending much time announcing that the sale of alcohol is forbidden and that “there shall be no dogs that can be walked around”.

“You can walk your dog around the house,”he said. “It ends there.”

He further reminded the country that the law will be very harsh on those who dare break the quarantine regulations: there will be six months’ imprisonment or a fine, or both.

This will stick in the craw of everyone who is waiting for the real criminals (state capturers, murderers et al) to be jailed.

We have also had ‘fake news’ of the SA National Defence Force pushing its weight. Fake or not, what is a fact is that they have not been trained to handle people.

It is necessary to mention that the Disaster Management Act makes provision for providing “advice and guidance”, which should include publishing guidelines and recommendations, interacting with specific role players and individuals, disseminating information, conducting workshops, facilitating access to its electronic database, and acting in any other way approved by the Director-General of the department. So far, they have failed miserably.

The recent regulations are not clear. There are so many uncertainties.

The regulations prescribe that all businesses and other entities “shall cease operations” during the lockdown, save those subject to an “exception”. What about virtual businesses and entities, those that operate telephonically, electronically or online? Can one spread Covid-19 on the internet? Do we have the right to overlook careless errors, and ‘operate’ from home?

What about other enterprises? Must farmers cease necessary work on farms? Must street vendors, who eke out a living on the street, stop selling their wares? The poor cannot stockpile food; is the army going to deliver food to them?

It is not clear whether groceries or meals can be delivered. What about the aged, ill and infirm who rely on these services?

Places of residence

What is a ‘place of residence’? I live in a townhouse complex with a common garden, presumably that is my place of residence, and I am free to walk around in the common garden? Where do the regulations state that you may not walk through your front door? Squatters who have taken up residence along the riverbank, sometimes erecting “dwellings”, are surely in their “place of residence”? Unlike a person who sleeps on a pavement “in the open”?

The government, which has never been concerned with the plight of the homeless, now plans to round them up and place them in “temporary shelters”, still to be identified.

Presumably they will be fed? Has any thought been applied to how they will be moved out after the lockdown (succinctly, kicked out)?

Temporary shelters will also be identified for those who need to be quarantined or self-isolated, and cannot do so in their homes. Incidents of domestic abuse may increase over this 21-day lockdown, and special police units have been put in place to deal with this.

The regulations attempt to absolve “an enforcement officer” from any loss or damage “arising out of any bona fide [in good faith] action or omission” under the regulations. “Enforcement officer” hasn’t been defined.

Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel announced a registration process for essential businesses and services late on Wednesday (March 25). These are to be registered on the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission’s BizPortal, from which the necessary certificate can be obtained. All this is last-minute stuff.

Read: Businesses can still register as essential service providers during lockdown

Over the next few weeks, crucial decisions will have to be taken instantaneously. One can only hope that the decision-makers have the moral framework to make these decisions with no thought of personal gain or traction.

It is time for the inept elders to step aside.

The government must now make space for the new generation of young leaders to emerge and take the country forward. And so, together, but separately, we will hobble into the future.