ramaphosa2Natasha Marrian writes that no-one can predict what our country will look like on the other side of the present health and economic crises.  

Dramatic shifts are already apparent in the economy, and in our politics.  But, consequences of the pandemic and the economic meltdown do not have to be only negative and they could present an opportunity for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration to effect the reforms that were expected when he took office.  For the past two years, the president has had a tough time taking decisions, having to appease factions in the ANC and his many opponents.  The public sector wage bill is an example of crippling indecision — the government took forever to act, despite finance minister Tito Mboweni having revealed last year the mess bequeathed by former public administration minister Faith Muthambi, who signed off on wage hikes without the requisite mandate.  Now workers are not going to receive the last leg of an agreed-upon increase (due in April) and there is little at present they can do about it.  But, this presents an opportunity for Ramaphosa’s administration to address the public-sector wage bill decisively.  It is very likely that the pay issue will end up as the subject of lengthy court battles, which could stretch well into next year and coincide with the local government elections next year.  Cosatu-aligned unions could try to use the polls as a whip to shift the government’s stance, but this will not necessarily work.  SA — its parties, unions and society as a whole — will have to reckon with the new normal of the post-pandemic era, in which we relate to each other in fundamentally different ways.  Unions, for their part, run the risk of rendering themselves irrelevant if they remain locked in ideological fortresses.


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