With the real economic impact of the coronavirus lockdown now beginning to reveal the depth of poverty in South Africa, frustration is building over the strategy being used to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
In March this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa imposed a hard lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic which has since claimed nearly 200 lives and infected nearly 10 000 in South Africa.
Jimmy Ramokgopa, a socioeconomic commentator, believes that the lockdown may have initially appeared as the best thing to do, but the way it has turned out makes one doubt the lockdown's suitability for South Africa.
"Any person would've been in agreement with what the government decided to do. Data shows that countries that responded quickly to the virus were able to contain it better. Initially, it made sense to have a lockdown at the time the country did."
"No one could've imagined that, right now, we'd see people being restricted to this extent in trying to foster economic activity. In principle, it seems as though the government is restricting economic activity as much as possible instead of allowing economic activity as much as possible whilst observing precautionary measures.
He added that whilst space has been made for coronavirus patients needing medical attention, in order to avoid the healthcare system being overwhelmed, the economic impact means that tables have just been turned.
"One will argue that there are now fewer beds [occupied] in hospitals because there are less road accidents but while making space for people who might need medical attention from the coronavirus, all you are doing is turning the desks around. At the end of the day you are ending up with a state that will be less capable of dealing with issues after the pandemic."
Ramokgopa said that the lockdown will have to end at some point and there will be a need to question the country's preparedness to deal with pre-existing economicchallenges. "This pandemic won't last forever. We will have to go outside and the real question will be is the economy ready to handle the other things that have been happening before the pandemic."
Another expert, Yamkela Spengane, noted: "We need to start looking at how we can control this virus while not suppressing the economy because then we are costing too much to the economy."
Professor Alex Van Den Heever from the Wits School of Governance echoed similar sentiment, saying that the lockdown is not sustainable.
"South Africa cannot sustain the lockdown economically. We are not London, New York or Paris. South Africa's economy will be smashed completely if we continue on this trajectory. When we smash the economy, we are going to have other kinds of destruction."
Last month, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a R500bn package to be directed towards South Africa's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, estimates suggest that around 34% of South Africans go to bed hungry every night under the lockdown. Small businesses have been forced to shut down forever, thus pushing up the unemployment rate of the country.
Van Den Heever said that the lockdown strategy would have been worthwhile only if it was used to prepare the country's infrastructure and a 'smart tracing and testing' strategy for the Covid-19 outbreak. This, he says, has not been done.
"The lockdown was not used to set up the testing and contact tracing platform and South Africa is way behind the curve on having what can be referred to as a 'smart tracing and testing' strategy. "
"The problem appears that they [government] have been setting up beds as their only key strategy as contingency and the National Health Laboratory Service have failed to set up the infrastructure necessary to get testing at scale."
He said that large-scale testing would have costed South Africa less than the lockdown has. "The annual cost [of testing] is less than one day's cost of a lockdown."
"These impacts are real", said Professor Alex Broadbent of the University of Johannesburg. "What you have to do is weigh the health impacts of the disease you're trying to prevent with the other impact caused by the things you're doing to prevent it."
Prof Broadbent added that he doesn't believe the lockdown is the best strategy.
"It's highly implausible to suggest that lockdown is the best measure in this country. The strategy is opaque to put it best."
Watch the full discussion here:
Zahid Jadwat is a South African writer, columnist, podcaster and radio show host.