MAHLATSE MAHLASE: RamKhize to the rescue - leadership during coronavirus
The phrase “we are led”, is bandied about undeservingly on social media to applaud some populists on the platforms.
But on the precipice of the global pandemic, we can say with good reason that so far, we have been truly led by President Cyril Ramaphosa and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.
They could be acting like sleeping ducks, keeping clam and unruffled in the public eye. But instead, they have been paddling with the necessary urgency. Even their language and mannerisms fit the moment of crisis we are in.
The potential consequences of not flattening the infection curve, which could include an uncontrollable outbreak in densely populated informal settlements, leaves one shaken.
The wealthiest nations are buckling under the weight of the contagion. Their world-class healthcare systems are crumbling as they scramble to arrest the spread of COVID-19.
But South Africa - with its already over-burdened and weak public health system - could collapse if nothing is done. We could easily bury tens of thousands of people weekly. But the leadership Ramaphosa and Mkhize are providing is reassuring. With them at the helm, there's a feeling there's is a real chance we might stem the tide of infections, provided we comply with the strict regulations.
The COVID-19 crisis hit us at a moment of governmental weakness. Trust in government was waning. Ramaphoria had all but disappeared. To make things worse, the economy has been faltering. Culprits of state capture have been enjoying their stolen millions while public sector workers face salary adjustments freezes.
Ramaphosa, in his two addresses to the nation – first outlining necessary behavioural changes and lastly ordering a national lockdown – is rebuilding the public's trust in government. He has assured the nation by taking decisive action against what could be a catastrophic virus.
He first announced executive decisions, but left it largely to Mkhize to be the everyday face of the nation's fighting chance against COVID-19. In understanding of the escalation, Ramaphosa decided to lead from the front with Mkhize.
The last health crisis we faced saw at least 300,000 deaths under the duo of President Thabo Mbeki and former Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.
Instead of following on other nations' examples, they had to be taken to court to force them to provide life-saving medication. They went against accepted science in the war against Aids and instead, Tshabalala-Msimang famously promoted the use of beetroot and garlic without antiretrovirals.
The Ramaphosa and Mkhize duo is winning the hearts of South Africans. An ANC member has even quipped that if the ANC were to hold an elective congress now, Mkhize and Ramaphosa would be equal contenders.
Mkhize led a failed presidential bid in 2017. At the time of his appointment as health minister, some thought he should have been given a much weightier ministry, such as finance.
But it is now clear Ramaphosa made the right choice. The fact that Mkhize is a medical doctor by profession has served Ramaphosa and the country well.
Despite looking frail lately, Mkhize is reassuring in this time of crisis, appearing as a leader in full charge, in control, working hard and with determination.
He has been honest, explaining that things could get worse, and why. He is already warning us that the number of South Africans infected will rise. He is detailed and informed. As a medical doctor, he clearly knows what he is talking about.
It also helps that he has the experience. As a former Health MEC in KwaZulu-Natal, he managed to contain the cholera and malaria outbreak in that province a few years ago. But, of course, those outbreaks don’t match what the nation faces today.
As we go into the an unprecedented 21-day national lockdown, we will need the consistency of messaging and leadership. If the lockdown serves its purpose, which is to contain the virus, we will have every reason to declare that it left us with true leaders.
Mahlatse Mahlase is group editor-in-chief at Eyewitness News. Follow her on Twitter: @hlatseentle