Thought that I have been mulling on over the past few days of seeing our government fall over itself in missteps & reductions:

The response and at times, scrambling by the government of South Africa to deal with COVID19 & arrive at a consistent policy direction shows the level of neglect that we’ve lived under. I suspect that much of this neglect is because the country was functioning regardless. A credit to the institutions, citizens & public servants of the country.

Just consider these thoughts:

1. A mystery about the homeless

The Social Development Department in Gauteng anticipated 15,000 homeless to be housed during this crisis. To date, they’ve identified 54,000 people and the count is still rising. That’s near four-fold. My mind immediately bends to the question, “how could the number been so poorly estimated?”. Is it because we lack strong and rigorous data about the homeless? Which if true is a source for serious concern. Or have we neglected the homeless for so long that we can lack reliable mechanisms of tracking & monitoring the population size of the homeless, especially in cities?

Just yesterday MEC Lesufi, who it must be said does a stellar job regardless of his portfolio, bemoaned schools that wouldn’t allow their facilities to be used to shelter the homeless.

You have to ask the question, absent of COVID19, what was government’s plan for the homeless & indigent.

2. The small matter of public transport

The decision process, policing & then reneging by the Department of Transport on maximum allowances in minibus taxis shows just how badly public transportation for the poor has been managed, if at all, by the State. This is amongst the “known legacies” of Apartheid. Whilst I recognize that this matter is complex, I cannot accept that the industry – which is managed through an association for operators – cannot be lobbied & incentivized into a formalized public transport system. This is a critical lever to pull if you want to lower the cost of accessing cities (read opportunities) for the poor.

And so it prompts a policy to renege.

3. The Spaza Shop Blindspot

The uproar & subsequent ricochet of protests over retail stores (& not Spaza shops) being declared essential services show a poor policy framework to manage & equalize retail & food distribution in South Africa. You have to ask the question, what is the plan to include the township economy (a key component of which are spaza shops) in the mainstream economy or as we simply to accept this as a systematic failure by our Government?

Just yesterday it was reported that Minister Dlamini-Zuma made it possible for spaza shops to start trading in townships.

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A stark contrast to the video that circulated a few days ago of soldiers instructing spaza shops to close. Again, must the poor protest before their plight is voiced in the rooms of policymakers?

And so, as you might expect, another policy renege.

4. The lack of water is a South Africanism.

Seeing visuals of poor South Africa walking untold distances in gravel roads to collect their daily stipend of water had become part of our national mirage. It was a pixel seen daily on the television news. We’d even lost sensitivity to it. That this is the case is a poor reflection of all of us South Africans.

The emergency response of COVID19 triggered emergency protocols and the state (read Department of Water Affairs) has been able to make water available. Here is my question, is the availability of water, not an essential service? Shouldn’t the lack of access to clean running water for all citizens prompt an emergency response regardless?

What the department has done in making the water available, albeit using emergency protocols, is proof that it has the capacity to do so.

This presents an issue we must address in South Africa: do our procurement rules serve the public or the bureaucracy?

The use of “deviation” to procure goods during this crisis means that the state has had the funds to procure those goods. It’s simply lacked the agility to be responsive to plight of the poor. This is understandable when you consider how big & complex the machinery of government is. Of course, that ours is a cooperative governance model, further adds to this complexity.

5. Around the corner

The wave yet to come is the number of self-employed & survivalist business people (think about hawkers) who are now unable to earn an income but haven’t been counted amongst South Africa’s unemployed by the narrow definition for years.

And whilst the response of the state it must be said has been rapid, the opening form on the government website to claim for losses due to Coronavirus asks for a company registration number. Later, I’m sure, those administering the system will request proof of income as part of the due diligence & to safeguard against fraud.

But the question must be asked, how do informal traders, hawkers & sole traders provide any of these? Unable to provide these documents, how will they be assisted?

It could be said that our politicians has been living under the illusion of a “poorly managed state”.

They are about to realize that actually, we have been functioning in conditions that if stress-tested, can only be defined as “mirroring neglect.” I hope I am wrong.

Here is the COVID19 silver-lining: our state has to finally confront its own reality. After Coronavirus, we now know the government CAN deliver services. We now know the government can deal with the homeless crises. We now know the government can deal with the plight of the informal traders. We now know the government can deal with the issues of lack of access to housing & poor access to water. We now know.

Forced to, this government can deal with the issues of service delivery.

Vusi Thembekwayo

… a concerned citizen.