Covid – some hope but social costs of corruption are clear

By Imraan Buccus

Covid is ravaging the country but recently Durban was the epicenter. It followed the Eastern Cape into the sort of Covid-19 crisis that we saw in Northern Italy in the early part of last year.  In the mornings we turn to our phones with a sense of dread. The messages informing us of new deaths come in with increasing frequency. And, sadly, Muslims have been disproportionately affected. 

We also hear more and more horror stories about families driving around the city in panic looking for a hospital that has a bed. Some families have driven as far as Howick in the midlands looking for a hospital bed. There are families that have had relatives die in their cars while they are looking for a hospital bed.

The stories coming in from doctors and nurses are also getting worse and worse. People are working impossible shifts, without the equipment that they need, having to make tough decisions about who to prioritise and losing patients at a frightening rate. Doctors speak of being exhausted and deeply traumatised. Some have said that they don’t think that they will be the same afterwards.

The virus is a global crisis. But some countries have handled it very well while others have done very badly. Our government has, unlike that of Donald Trump, taken a consistently pro-science position. This is welcome, and after the disastrous anti-science fantasies that flourished at the highest levels of power during the Mbeki era, a real relief.

But our health system – like our education system, our public housing system and much more – was broken during the Zuma years. A predatory elite made themselves very, very rich while destroying public infrastructure. For example, in Durban the city was suddenly full of new millionaires. In elite spaces there was new wealth everywhere. But at the bottom of society poverty got worse, public services got worse and the state governed the poor with increasing violence.

It is mind-blowingly cynical that the organised looting of the Zuma years has been presented as a form of radical politics in the interests of black people. In reality it was a form of organised crime that hit the black majority, who do not have access to private healthcare, education, security and housing the hardest. It was a betrayal of everything that the ANC had stood for during the struggle.

Today, in the midst of the Covid 19 crisis, the social cost of that betrayal are agonisingly clear. It is not just the state that was captured by utterly cynical criminal networks, it was also the ruling party, and the broader vision of the struggle.

But in this crisis there are some glimmers of hope. The news that five more people will join former police officers Navin Madhoe, Ashwin Narainpershad and Mmamonnye Ngobeni, as well as the notorious ‘businessman’ Thoshan Panday, in being charged for the 2010 World Cup accommodation scandal. Of course, this should have happened ten years ago. And, of course, there are other prominent figures, some who continue to be treated as ‘celebrities’, who have not been charged for gross corruption.

But it would be overly pessimistic to dismiss the progress on bringing Panday and his accomplices to justice as too little too late. In a context in which politically connected people had absolute impunity for criminal behaviour and the cynical destruction of the state’s ability to meet its commitments to the public this is progress. It shows that the era of absolute impunity is over.

Covid has shown us the costs of state capture. The progress on bringing Panday et al to justice shows that there is now some willingness to rebuild state capacity. There is a glimmer of light in this dark tunnel.

Dr Buccus is Al Qalam editor, research fellow in the School of Social Sciences at UKZN and academic director of a university study abroad  program on political transformation

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