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03 December 2020 | Story Andre Damons
The final webinar of the UFS Thought-Leader Series, presented in collaboration with Vrye Weekblad as part of the Vrystaat Literature Festival’s online initiative, VrySpraak-digitaal took place on Wednesday (2 December). Dr Max du Preez, Editor: Vrye Weekblad (top left) was the facilitator with Ms Magda Wierzycka, Chief Executive Officer: Sygnia Group (top right), Zingiswa Losi, President of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (bottom left) and Prof Ivan Turok, SARChI Research Chair in City-Region Economies at the UFS and Executive Director: Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), as the other two panelists.

The South African government must ensure that the COVID-19 vaccine is free of charge and that the most vulnerable and exposed in the country receive it first. South Africa cannot afford for anyone not to be immunised.

This is according to Zingiswa Losi, President of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), who was a panellist on Wednesday 2 December at the final webinar of the UFS Thought-Leader Series, presented in collaboration with Vrye Weekblad as part of the Vrystaat Literature Festival’s online initiative, VrySpraak-digitaal. Magda Wierzycka, Chief Executive Officer: Sygnia Group, and Prof Ivan Turok, SARChI Research Chair in City-Region Economies at the UFS and Executive Director: Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), were the other two panellists.

Progress gives hope

Losi said the news on the health front is hopeful because of the good progress that has been made with regard to developing vaccines for COVID-19. The progress that has been made with the economy also gives her hope.

 “As South Africa we cannot afford to undertake another mass lockdown; our economy, we believe, cannot cope with it. There is not enough available in the UIF or social security to cushion workers any longer. We would face the danger of public rejection if we were to go back to a lockdown.”

According to Losi if the government wants to rebuild the state, it needs to address its internal demons. Says Losi: “It cannot allow corruption and wasteful expenditure to continue to consume 10% of the budget. Bail-outs for state-owned entities are not sustainable. The government also needs to show the necessary will to arrest those who steal, and seize their assets.

“And we are saying the ANC must deal with its demons of corruption, factionalism, and mismanagement of the state. It cannot expect to continue to lead, while it itself is limping. Nor can it continue to take workers’ loyalty for granted. We are looking forward to all of us to be playing a pivotal role in shaping society not only 2021, but in fact in the future of our country,” concluded Losi.

No knight with solutions

Wierzycka says when you look at South Africa and other countries you need to recognise that this crisis is not like the global financial crisis. “This crisis has hit every single country in the world, which basically means that no-one is coming to our help. We are on our own. There is no white knight that's going to arrive with some solution.

“This is where it is so essential that we have some kind of economic policy certainty and political certainty, because the only way that we are going to manage our way through this is to attract foreign investment and job-creating,” said Wierzycka.

Investment in infrastructure is needed as it is the only realistic tool for mass job-creation. Tax breaks and incentives and funding to would-be entrepreneurs or small businesses should be encouraged, said Wierzycka, because those small businesses tend to employ five or 10 people, but these people effectively support 30 to 40 families.

“If it were up to me right now, I would call together the brightest minds in South Africa in a think-tank, completely apolitical, who would sit around a boardroom table designing strategies to get us out of this crisis because no-one is coming to help us.”

Leaders should be held accountable

Prof Turok said looking forward he hopes the local elections will see real choices offered to the electorate, a genuine democratic contest between ideas, different philosophies and different outlooks and different ways of addressing challenges.

“I hope these elections will give us a clear outcome, the civic leaders, I think that's really important. We want our leadership to be held accountable. We want our leadership to stand up and be clear as to what they stand for and be accountable to ordinary people. We want and need a national government to recognise the special important, special claim subsidy as crucibles of progress of social mobility,” said Prof Turok.

He also talked about urbanisation in Africa, saying the continent is the fastest urbanising continent in the world and that a billion more people will be living in cities in 30 years’ time.

According to Prof Turok, we must make sure that South Africa makes a contribution to this. “And that we ensure that this process, this transformation, is a productive one and creates jobs and livelihoods, rather than shantytowns. We've got to see cities as economic drivers. You've got to build on the opportunities of density, of social diversity around the world as critical elements of productivity of investment of innovation, and of economic dynamism.”

African cities, like Johannesburg, and Lagos in Nigeria, should collaborate on joint projects, share expertise to transfer skills, to support each other and to overcome the xenophobia we face in South Africa.

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