Just just now (and not “long, long ago!”) there was a man who ordered his people to shut their doors and refrain from going to their places of work. His name: Cyril Matemela Ramaphosa. He told the people of South Africa that there was a way to ensure that the reputedly voracious beast called corona virus would not create havoc in the land.
All his people had to do was to follow the advice of Nongquase as recorded in writing by William Wellington Gqoba who, as teenager, had lived through the infamous cattle killings and the resulting famine amongst the Xhosa:
“Shut yourselves in your huts… In order to survive, you are to use many doors to close each hut, fasten every door tightly, and abstain from witchcraft.”William W Gqoba: The Cause of the Cattle Killing
Substitute the words “abstain from witchcraft” with the phrase “abstain from going out to work and buy only what we allow you to buy”, and one has the contemporary equivalent of a decision that had decimated the livelihoods of tens of thousands of the Xhosa in the mid 19th C with a spiralling death peak caused by the resulting famine.
This is how it is happening in real time now. Cyril called together the many-too-many chiefs that form his cabinet. They talked and they talked and they talked. And they consulted with themselves and they consulted among themselves and they consulted again for themselves.
And they found consensus that the corona virus should be killed by the army and the police through ensuring that people shut their doors and do not do their daily work and follow their daily pursuits. And that a central command centre would decide on everything for everybody.
They also had a vision of “flattening the curve”.
As a collective command centre, they started to take all decisions about what wass essential and what was non-essential. They decided who were allowed emergency procedures and not allowed non-emergency procedures. And they decided that lives are of ultimate importance and livelihoods not, being entirely dispensable.
Saving lives from Covid 19 more important than 5 million joining the unemployed
In fact, they decided that preserving lives from the invisible destroyer was more important than:
- between 3 and 5 million people losing their jobs because the enterprises employing them will either go bankrupt or scale down significantly;
- widespread hunger and the potential loss of livelihoods and lives from an imploding economy.
- caring for and treating people with other illnesses and non-life-threatening injuries in a dignified manner. They therefore evacuated those patients from public hospitals to make room for the expected tsunami of Covid 19 sufferers, knowing well what had happened to similar patients transferred from Esidemeni. They also stopped the treatment of existing cancer patients (unless it qualified as an emergency) or non-emergency orthopaedic or dental surgery. Many more were denied access to proper healthcare.
They decided full closure of enterprises was the strategy that should be adhered to strictly and without exemption or exception, unless considered by central command as “essential”. This decision was based on their vision (or scenario or model or guess or revelation) of how deadly the Covid 19 virus would be. Their plan, just as that of Nongquase, was to keep people indoors in their home environment and to stop the economy. In the contemporary version the production of food, facemasks and “vibrators” as well as other items that central command, in its infinite and untrammelled wisdom, considers as essential, were allowed.
They also stopped the distribution and sale of cigarettes and alcohol.
PW would have been proud…
The timing of their move during parliamentary recess meant that they in effect suspended for a long period parliamentary oversight of the executive. Constitutionally guaranteed liberties (including freedom of movement, speech and opinion, choice, and to work) were no longer considered as human rights, but as enemies of central command. Some examples are the following:
- Freedom of movement was killed through lock-down regulations, a curfew and restrictions on travelling, walking in a park (with or without a canine companion) or swimming in the sea (both completely alone);
- The liberty to have your own say and opinion was trampled. CNN’s Xoli Mngambi and Jane Dutton’s on the air apology and subsequent suspension for voicing their own opinion, clearly demanded by central command, would have received applause from PW Botha, the Gestapo and the Kremlin at the time of Stalin or even Lenin.
- Freedom of choice to work or not to work, to buy where and what one wants to buy and to exercise in accordance with one’s own preferences, were also culled. Central command decides what can be bought, which shops can open and operate, and where and when one can exercise. (in the dark at times convenient to the enforcers of the lockdown)
The amaGogotya & the amaTamba
Many voices cried out loud, long and early, warning that an economy that cannot sustain livelihoods, would also result in deaths. Like the amaGogotya (the Unyielding) in the Nongquase period, the dissident voices were considered as traitors of the cause by the amaTamba (the Submissive).
As Nongquase was revered and held in high esteem, so too Cyril Matemela is viewed as “visionary” and “presidential”, even “Churchillian” which is an easy conclusion considering that the benchmark the country had become accustomed to since the demise of Mbeki, had sunk so low.
The instructions directed by central command and enforced by the army and police, led to the closure of the shops and cessation of non-essential services. This approach is akin to the devastation brought about by Nongquase instructing the Xhosa to kill their cattle, to throw away the grain stored in the grain pits and refrain from ploughing and planting during the planting season. Adherence to her dictates would bring about the resurrection of the dead, a new breed of healthy cattle and the grain pits would suddenly be filled to the brim with corn.
Enterprises the modern-day cattle government is slaughtering
And this is the core problem: in the mind-set of collectivist planners it is not a problem to resurrect the economy. For them the economy is a product of their command. It can be picked up from the floor, just as the rand when the latter falls as Nomvula Mokonyane had boasted when serving in cabinet. Or in Nongquase’s vision: the grain pits will be filled by the ancestors.
If central command would say “back to work”, the economy would rise again magically from nowhere in a radically transformed mode, just like Nongquase had promised the ancestors would rise again, bringing beautiful and healthy cattle in abundance with them. The minister of trade & industry, Ebrahim Patel, refers to the projections of economists that millions would be joining the ranks of the unemployed and that thousands of enterprises would die, as mere thumb-sucking.
There is apparently little understanding among Cyril Matemela Ramaphosa and his comrades in central command and cabinet that the economy doesn’t work like that at all. They do not appreciate that the enterprise world is a spontaneous order that emerges from the billions of uncoordinated decisions by both consumers of goods and services and the responses of entrepreneurs to those billions of actions. Government has put a halt to this chain of uncoordinated events that produce intricate networks of connectivity in and across value chains, sectors and regions. The government – not the virus – is causing an unparalleled disruption of demand and supply and halting trade that is the oxygen of businesses. This will result in the demise of thousands of enterprises and capital destruction.
The resurrected economy of Matemela’s vision will also know no class differences: everyone one will have access to the grain pits filled with whatever goodies they could imaginably want: even land and houses and any property, even patents and copyright, can be obtained without compensation.
The radical economic transformation (RET) concept is on the roll again. On several occasions since the start of lockdown, Ramaphosa has embraced RET. Key players in central command think it includes, Stalin like, the demise of the kulak class. That is also not new. Nongquase envisaged that the British rule at the Cape would end and the white people (a foreign class) would be driven into the sea.
Collective consensus on NDZ’s Class Suicide…
But it would be wrong to assume that it is only the vision of some in central command. The class suicide concept of Amilcar Cabral propagated by Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma, is considered by Paul Hoffman of Accountability Now as bordering on sedition.
Ramaphosa has not distanced himself from that statement. In fact, he has never distanced himself from the economic perspectives of Jacob Zuma who had claimed that market demand doesn’t determine the price of an item and that the only factor that determines value is the labour effort in the production thereof. After Hoffman excoriated radical economic transformation and called for NDZ’s head, Ramaphosa responded by giving his full support to radical economic transformation, without, of course, providing any detail and by supporting Dlamini-Zuma in her approach. He claims that there is collective consensus despite Tito Mboweni’s dissent. NDZ’s approach is Marxist and negates key economic concepts and realities regarding how innovation, financing and entrepreneurship drives growth and development.
For a person so intimately involved in both the process of as the contents of the South African Constitution, Ramaphosa should know that allegiance to the National Democratic Revolution is incompatible with the oath he and his Cabinet ministers took on assuming their duties.
Mr. President, it’s not Covid 19 that hurts the economy. It’s your decisions
Ramaphosa pleaded in his latest weekly newsletter for understanding, claiming that central command is learning all the time and basing its decisions on scientific evidence:
“The reality is that we are sailing in uncharted waters. There is still a great deal about the epidemiology of the virus that is unknown. It is better to err on the side of caution than to pay the devastating price of a lapse in judgment in future.”
On 5 May in Durban the president blamed Covid 19 for dealing the economy “a heavy blow”.
Both these statements are neither true, nor balanced. It is government’s response to the Covid 19 infections and not the virus that is devastating the economy. There have been, from the start, alternative approaches to a full lock-down. These didn’t fit the command approach of government to the economy and a flexible lockdown with district wide differentiation based on tracking, confining and treating was not considered. The government’s approach is akin to attempting heart surgery with a chain saw.
In addition: to argue now that the government decided in the unchartered waters to err on the side of caution, is simply disingenuous. This government has lauded itself time and again for following the best scientific advice and scientifically-based modelling. The question is whether they have ever modelled the risk of what a collapsing economy and severe trampling of freedom would do to the dignity, livelihood and well-being of the population? Or would the damage that is already all around one to see be described again as “unintended consequences” that would, true to form, “shock” and “surprise” the president?
To refer to untested waters: that may be true concerning the virus, but killing the economy is not untested. The history of the Xhosa cattle killing based on Nongquase’s vision and the response of the leadership to that vision, is chilling evidence of irresponsible leadership.
Gqoba recalled in his memory of the cattle killing and resulting famine the following:
“As the killing of the cattle went on, those who had slaughtered hurriedly for fear of being smelt out, began to starve and had to live by stealing the livestock of others. Then everybody looked forward to the eighth day. It was the day on which the sun was expected to rise red, and to set again in the sky. Then the dead would rise and return to their homes, and then the light of day would come again. On that day, the sun rose as usual. Some people had washed their eyes with sea-water at the mouth of the Buffalo/Some peered outside through little apertures in their huts, while those who had never believed went about their daily outdoor tasks. Nothing happened. The sun did not set, no dead person came back to life, and not one of the things that had been predicted came to pass. Such then was the Nongqause catastrophe. The people died of hunger and disease in large numbers…”
The curve of a disastrous outcome is rising
Ramaphosa is running the risk of becoming a Nongquase II and his government’s declaration and regulations of a state of disaster can easily become the cause of a disaster like that over which Nongquase I presided. The:
- lengthy chains of people waiting for food parcels,
- spike of claims on the UIF,
- growing number of companies filing for business rescue and
- a flood of requests for assistance by enterprises at the range of instruments established to support them
are clear signals of a disastrous increase in the curves of poverty, unemployment and executive unaccountability.
The number of lives claimed by the virus will pale into insignificance (as actuaries have reasoned without as yet any response by central command) if the current trajectory toward destruction of the economy is continued in an opportunistic fit of national democratic revolution-speak that indeed undermines the chances of a better life for all, promised by politicians and contemplated by the Constitution itself.
PS Cyril Matemela Ramaphosa is co-author of the book Cattle of the Ages, Stories & Portraits of Ankole Cattle of Southern Africa.
On principles that should guide any lock-down, see Locked in on Freedom Day