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Editorial: Covid-19 vs ANC palace politics

Not to tempt fate, but the long-forecast third wave in the Covid-19 pandemic has so far not come to pass. Models have shifted, and have had to be recalibrated as the expected rise in case numbers after our April holidays didn’t materialise. As relieved as we all are, there’s a growing sense that there’s a bit of complacency brewing in the response to the virus that has led to the deaths of more than 54 500 South Africans.

How else does one explain the fact that while the rest of the world, including our neighbouring countries Botswana and Zimbabwe, have a well advanced vaccine programme, ours remains frustratingly at its nascent stage? To date, Africa’s most industrialised nation has only vaccinated some 353 000 healthcare workers in the first phase against a target of 1.25-million people. 

We know some of the delays to our vaccination programme weren’t merely as a result of poor state capacity, but rather due to advice from South Africa’s scientific community on both the AstraZeneca and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines. But as we head to 17 May, earmarked as the start of the second phase of what has so far been an uninspiring vaccination roll-out, our first line of defence against the pandemic remains largely as vulnerable as they were last year. 

In this phase, the target is 2.5-million essential workers, five-million people over the age of 60 and eight‑million people over the age of 18 and with comorbidities. How confident can any of us be?

This is especially true when you consider the political theatre unfolding in the governing ANC at this moment. Over the weekend, the party heads to yet another one of its national executive committee meetings where we’ll all stand enthralled at the spectacle of watching either its continued implosion or its renewal, depending where you stand on the equation. 

As they attend the meeting either virtually or in person, the main area of interest will be the fate of suspended secretary general Ace Magashule, after he sent out his own tantrum-filled letter of suspension to the party president, Cyril Ramaphosa. As we’ve all been beholden to, or rather held hostage by, this party’s internal ructions over the past decade and more, it’s fair to guess most South Africans will be just as spellbound by the events at St George’s Hotel in Irene.

One has to wonder just how much time will be spent discussing what has a much deeper bearing on the future of this country than the increasingly embarrassing tenure of the ANC’s 16th secretary general, namely the war on Covid-19. It may very well be quiet on that front at the moment, but we can’t be complacent. India should be warning enough.

Our way of life is still far from finding its “new normal” and we aren’t getting any closer, while palace politics once again take centre stage as we head to October’s local elections.

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