Dr David Monyae, the Co-Director of the University Of Johannesburg (UJ) Confucius Institute (UJCI), penned an opinion piece published on IOL News on 18 March 2020.
On March 15, President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered a speech to the nation about the coronavirus. South Africa has 62 confirmed cases of the virus, with the number expected to increase.
The speech was a commendable effort by a visibly sombre head of state. In terms of the Disaster Management Act, he declared coronavirus a national disaster.
He then went on to list a raft of stringent measures designed to mitigate the spread of the virus.
The measures included immediate visa cancellations from countries that have been identified as high risk.
Foreign nationals that have visited high-risk areas in the last 20 days would also be denied visas.
Within South Africa, the government has discouraged large gatherings on which the spread of infection can thrive.
The president’s speech merits admiration because it was based on sound science. However, apart from national measures, the coronavirus teaches something about the nature of the international political economy. In the US, Donald Trump could not resist the temptation of injecting racial and nationalistic undertones in the current crisis.
Quite inexplicably, he described Covid-19 as “the Chinese virus”, a remark which, needless to say, drew a lot of criticism from people that perceived his gratuitous description as racist. Another interesting thing to emerge from the current crisis is that there seems to be more social and personal interaction between the West and China, unlike what has been assumed about Africa and China. Indeed, the cases that emerged in South Africa were contracted through people that had visited mainly Western countries such as Italy, Austria, France and Canada rather than China.
The case of Italy raises a number of questions about cohesion in the West and the place of globalisation. Italy seems to have been abandoned by its Nato and EU allies. This is partly because the US and the UK are under nationalistic leaderships that are averse to globalisation.
It is telling that countries of the global south in the form of Cuba and China have demonstrated more eagerness to help an embattled Italy. It is hoped that after the spread has been controlled and Italy recovers, the leaders of that country will appreciate the fact that more than ever, the world is largely integrated.
Circumstances such as Covid-19 remind us that we should work in concert to contain challenges that threaten the entire world. Covid-19 should galvanise efforts for medical research. This will be very crucial especially in Africa where health systems battle to contain more popular diseases. While globalisation is becoming less popular in the Western world, the global south seems to be bucking that trend and Africa is a good example.
The African Continental Free Trade Area, the largest of its kind in the world, demonstrates that the African continent seeks to be more integrated. This, however, will entail helping poorer African countries to meet the basic needs of their citizens.
When Ramaphosa delivered his national disaster address, his manner was dignified, depicting much needed statesmanship under trying circumstances.
It should also not be forgotten that South Africa is the chair of the AU in 2020. When coupled with its comparatively sophisticated technology and health care system in Africa, it is only natural that other African countries will look to South Africa for advice and direction.
For the government to succeed in this daunting endeavour and to inspire the rest of the continent, it will need the collaboration and compliance of all stakeholders from the private sector, education institutions, civil society to ordinary citizens. It is when all these actors are pulling in one direction that South Africa can succeed in its efforts.
*The views expressed in the article is that of the author/s and does not necessarily reflect that of the University of Johannesburg.