OPINION: Who’s talking to whom about what?

Norman McFarlane

At the time of writing, Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga, is addressing the nation about her department’s plans for the return to school of Grade 7 and Grade 12 pupils, on Monday June 8.

This address follows an initial announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa, that when the country moved to lockdown level 3 on Monday June 1, Grade 7 and Grade 12 pupils would return to school.

Later in the week, the good minister told the media how it was all going to work.

And then the wheels began to fall off the tricycle.

The SA Democratic Teachers Union led the charge, telling its members to disregard the call, followed by the other educator unions, student unions, and school governing body associations, across the country.

A last-minute meeting between Ms Motshekga, MECs, teacher unions and governing body associations on Saturday night resulted in the plan being stopped dead in its tracks, and the address on the matter by Ms Motshekga, scheduled for Sunday at 6pm, was postponed to Monday morning.

In the ensuing carnage, the Western Cape decided to go back to school anyway, because it had put in the hard yards, following the intial announcement, to ensure that schools were ready to reopen.

As Education MEC Debbie Schäfer put it in a press release on Sunday night: “Given these preparations, and the enormous effort put in by teachers and non-teaching staff alike, it would be unfair to delay all schools from re-opening.”

Whatwentwrong betweentheinital announcement by President Ramaphosa and Sunday night?

In parallel with this farcical shambles, another sideshow unfolded on Saturday night, when Tourism Minister, Mmamaloko Kubayi-Ngubane, disclosed the level 3 regulations for the tourism sector.

“Tour guides and tourism operators can go back to work,” she simpered, but she failed to explain from whence would come the tourists.

One can apparently go hiking, but only alone, and between 6am and 6pm. Evidently, the good minister is oblivious to the very real risks of solo hiking, despite the frequent press reports of assaults, muggings, robberies, and murders on Cape Town trails, over the last few years.

With great pride she explained that if one lives in Mpumalanga, one can take a game viewing self-drive in the Kruger National Park, but one cannot stay over, which restricts this particular privilege to the very few who live close enough, and have both the money and the inclination to spend it thus.

It turns out, according to SANParks, that only “open access parks”, Table Mountain National Park – except for Boulders Beach and Cape Point – and Golden Gate National Park in the Free State, will accept visitors, in their own cars, from Monday June 1. Announcements about all other parks, which are classed as “access controlled”, will come “in due course”.

One can also go hunting again, but alone, and between 6am and 6pm.

It is unclear whether a solo hunter is alowed to spend the night out in the bush to be able to take the spoor at first light the next morning, but it is better to err on the side of caution, to avoid being brutalised by an overzealous law enforcement officer, or worse, a contingent of the SANDF.

Since travel for leisure purposes is strictly prohibited under level 3, it is a mystery how these measures will benefit the tourism sector.

Earlier in the week, President Ramaphosa announced that religious gatherings of no more than 50 people would be permitted under lockdown level 3, and that the sector would self-regulate on sanitisation and social distancing protocols.

In short order, a number of senior clerics had stated their strident opposition to the move, citing fears about a massive spike in the infection rate.

During every address to the nation, the various talking heads assure us that the changes announced are informed by wide-ranging consultations, but with whom? Societal stakeholders at large, or a blinkered collection of people in the National Coronavirus Command Council, pushing partisan beliefs and murky agendas?

With regulations becoming increasingly irrational, illogical, and counterintuitive, it clearly points to the latter.