When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a nationwide 21-day lockdown in March, many South Africans rejoiced and congratulated him for taking decisive leadership to fight the pandemic.
Sygnia CEO Magda Wierzycka was not one of them. In fact, she was so angry that she decided to sue the government for this decision.
Speaking in a Brenthurst Wealth Management seminar, Wierzycka said South Africa was already in economic trouble before the lockdown started.
When Ramaphosa announced the lockdown, she realised the devastation it would cause in a country where most people are struggling to put food on the table.
“The very next day I phoned Wim Trengove, the best constitutional lawyer in South Africa, and I said ‘I am suing. I want to sue them’,” Wierzycka said.
“I want to sue the government for the infringement of my basic constitutional rights, but more importantly for the damage this lockdown is going to cause to an already a very fragile economy.”
She highlighted the damage which the lockdown would cause, including increased poverty, unemployment, crime, and social unrest.
Trengove, however, told Wierzycka she going to waste her money because the government is going to put dead bodies on the table.
Using a very complex macro-economic argument that showed a lockdown is not the right strategy for South Africa was bound to fail, he said.
Trengove told Wierzycka she was set to lose, which led her to drop the planned legal case against the government.
While she decided against legal action, she remained an outspoken critic of the lockdown and the damage it was causing.
She said instead of flattening the curve, the lockdown has merely delayed it and killed the economy in the process.
The good ANC versus the bad ANC
Wierzycka said decisive leadership is needed to fix the country and create an environment where the economy can grow.
This, she said, is not happening because the country has a coalition government and hence suffers from complete paralysis.
This coalition government is, however, not between different political parties, but between different ANC factions – the good ANC, the bad ANC, and the trade unions.
None of these factions have the upper hand, which means that all government decisions are a compromise.
Wierzycka shared a stark message to those who are looking to the government for action: “The government is not going to do anything”.
She said Ramaphosa is not a decisive leader and he is dealing with a fractured government.
People should speak up
She said she cannot believe society accepted draconian measures like curfews, being prevented from seeing your family, and being forced to remain in your home.
“We complied, like sheep. I am not a sheep, and I do not believe anyone has given the government the right to treat me as one.”
To fix the situation, Wierzycka said people should take to the streets like during the state capture years.
Business should also start to speak out. “Business is silent. Despite everything that is happening, business is not talking,” she said.
“Right now, we should have a group of 20 of the most influential business leaders in South Africa forcing their way into governments and putting demands on the table,” she said. “Not negotiating. Demands”.