Corona forces our hands on long overdue change

People should see things differently and act for the greater good

In Summary

• The same old, same old we are comfortable with is not necessarily best way forward

A woman gestures during a video conferencing session
A woman gestures during a video conferencing session

The lockdown has been an economic nightmare here in South Africa. There is speculation in some quarters that nationally, unemployment could escalate to a peak of 50 per cent by the end of the year. 

Here in the Western Cape with its population of about five million people, there are estimates that up to 160,000 people have lost their jobs, and the number of jobs lost in the country to date could be as high as three million.


It would appear that most of the job losses have been in the lowest 10 per cent of the economy, so it’s mainly the poor who are suffering, as usual.

These are just some of the statistics that emerged from a debate in the provincial parliament that looked at the impact of the “draconian” measures by the national government on the economy. The sponsor of the debate said the lockdown had cost jobs. 

One of the counter-arguments went like this: Saving livelihoods is intimately connected with saving lives. That is not a choice. The government had to act decisively to contain the spread of the virus and especially in poor communities, who live in overcrowded and underserved conditions.

How they achieved this was through the introduction of laws and regulations specifically designed to contain and control the spread of the coronavirus. 

Those calling the lockdown measures “draconian” were accused of caring less for the lives of the poor and being unwilling to “put the greater good above private wealth”. 

Debates like these are going on across the globe, and for my sins, I tend to see both sides of the argument.

The stark reality is that the pandemic has destroyed lives and livelihoods, weakened economic growth and investment and reduced commodity prices. 


In short, it has changed the way we do things, perhaps forever, and we all need to rethink how we go about business, governance, economic growth, environmental protection, work, school, health, agriculture and everything else from now on.

The question is, are we willing or able to do this?

With apologies to any hard working, dedicated and well-meaning civil servants who may be reading this, yes, all five of you: Years ago, my colleagues and I would use the Kenya Civil Service to illustrate change resistance.

The story was that some young, bright spark, fresh from university and bubbling with ideas, had opted to join the civil service instead of going into industry. Once he was settled in, he did a time and motion study of the department he was in and came up with all sorts of wonderful ideas of how to change things to achieve greater efficiency.

He booked an appointment with his line manager and then presented his wonderful ideas and sat back, waiting for applause, or at least a pat on the back and an acknowledgement of his initiative.

Instead, all he got was the response: “Young man, this is the civil service. We have always done things a certain way and that is the way they will be done until the end of time.”

As much as there are those who hope that post-pandemic, the world has to change and get better, I think there are more people who feel it is too much of an effort to change and, therefore, will sit back and let things drift back to the way they were.

How to make them realise that the abandonment of their comfort zone is necessary and that change does not necessarily mean the worst-case scenario, is the trick.

If anyone has the power to get the majority of the population to see things differently and act for the greater good, I suggest they should run for president and use their power on the people to better everyone’s life.

I’m done with the same old, same old.