When the coronavirus struck, President Cyril Ramaphosa responded by choosing human life over economic life. As there is no immediate cure he focused on the containment of Covid-19 by combining persuasive and coercive tactics.
The coercive tactics exposed the systemic and structural weaknesses of society – the apartheid/democracy duality manifested as wealth/poverty contradictions.
The majority of the poor are Blacks. As they live in overcrowded housing conditions, rely on public transport to earn a living, and are over-exposed to unemployment some of the voluntary methods like social distancing cannot be implemented. SANDF soldiers, whose work culture pivots on the use of live ammunition, resorted to brutal coercion at the outbreak of food riots and criminalised hunger.
The state trans-disciplinary team has focused on containment by using a mathematical diagnostic tool, which allows for a game of statistics. While statistics measure the quantity of the symptomatic carriers who show up, evidentially, the X-factor is the asymptomatic carriers who show up 7-14 days after infection.
The prognosis is based on the assumptions of existing statistics, which is susceptible to falsifiability within hours. The prognosis guides the determination of the different lockdown periods, which are reversible. People have the added stress of coping, on hungry stomachs, with the uncertainty for an indefinite period of social time. An Indonesian psychological study has identified the new stress as a three-phase emotional journey – disruption; confusion and uncertainty; and acceptance of the new normal.
This high-risk lethal respiratory virus is largely asymptomatic and its sudden detection could threaten contagious spread to the larger population. This is why the state is emphasising individual responsibility, risk perception, and taking care of children, the elderly and chronic sufferers.
The quality of the statistics can be improved only by proactive testing, for which the state is inadequately resourced. This, too, is a part of the systemic and structural weakness of state and society, which has been skewed in favour of the profit-oriented private corporate health care market with ‘germ-free’ boutique hospitals. WHO’s message is test, test, test.
The state has screened 2-million people, of who 15000 have been referred for testing and 3465 have tested positive. How and when does the state reach the rest of the 57-million people?
How does the state repair the damaged economic life while protecting human life?
It has an initial budget of R500-bn, which is 10% of GDP and it will lead with an infrastructure program, which is reminiscent of RDP that the Mbeki administration had abandoned in favour of the IMF’s GEAR. But the focus is still on growth (GEAR) and not on development (RDP). Trade unions and civil society will focus on development because it will favour the Black poor.
The fourfold nature of the budget – health, social relief, business/labour relief, and economic opening – will be contested for bigger portions by big business (including the private health care) and labour/civil society.
Part of the budget will be likely raised from the World Bank, IMF, BRICS Bank, and ADB, all of which have a poor reputation for borrower-lender relationships, which prejudice borrowers. The loan conditions need monitoring, for which state and corporates cannot be relied upon because the state, corporates, IMF, and WB had colluded to asphyxiate RDP, with consequential systemic and structural Black social misery.
What the Black poor need is not for the state ‘to balance’ the competing and contradictory interests of big business and the Black poor. The ANC government as managers of the state with executive powers, based on the voting power of the Black masses, must incline expenditures towards the poor, unapologetically.
For the first time in the short history of the ANC government, it is budgeting for the homeless who before the 2010 FIFA World Cup were shunted out of public view.
The homeless and the unemployed amongst the Black poor are the biggest victims of human indignity. Should the budget be lopsided in favour of big business this indignity will increase and the class struggle will intensify.
The state will deploy extra 73180 soldiers to augment the present 2280 exhausted soldiers until June (R5-bn). Military tactics will dominate persuasive tactics. The soldiers will enforce laws, screen people, set up field hospitals, deliver water to communities, and quarantine civilians.
The R5bn includes setting up fully equipped temporary military field hospitals, which will be converted to permanent structures. The soldiers working under science-led civilian command should exercise great restraint in the use of force and use respectful persuasion and dialogue to maintain the cooperation and human dignity of citizens.
The trans-disciplinary Cuban Medical Brigade of 217 professionals will help in the proactive aspects of work and transfer expertise in the planning, execution, and management of the clinical cases and public health response. Hopefully, help reverse the upward curve to a downward one. Thirty Cubans will be assigned to the army and the rest to the health department.
The Cuban Ministry of Health’s list has twenty-two medicines to be used for the treatment of Covid-19. They do not prevent or cure the infection but stimulate the immune system, improve response to viruses, and reduce complications. They do help with death reduction. The anti-viral drug, Interferon Alpha 2b, mimic a family of immune proteins called interferons, which fight off infections by alerting the nearby cells to heighten their anti-viral defences. This prevents their spread through viral replication in host cells.
Even when the pandemic ends it will scale down to an endemic in certain places.
WHO director general Tedros Ghebreyesus has observed, “The amazing spirit of human solidarity must become even more infectious than the coronavirus itself.”
The invisible coronavirus invasion and colonization of all human societies presents the state with a historic opportunity to revert to the RDP model of Keynesian economics with a revived RDP social compact to correct the lop-sided national economy, led by the state.
The international debate is on whether it should be the Marshall Plan or Marshall Fund or both or neither.
* Aziz is an author and journalist.
By Haroon Aziz