At the end of the Easter long-weekend – which I am sure most of you spent with family – we have cause to pause and reflect on the events of last Thursday. At that time our president announced the extension of the lockdown, which will now end on 30 April.
I was initially shocked at the decision, but that was soon overtaken by optimism. Yes, you read that correctly. As much as I am the CEO of a company and I want to see a return to normal operations, I am grateful that President Ramaphosa understands that we live in dysfunctional times. We have a new normal now, unlike anything any one of us has ever experienced.
In these difficult times, our president was faced with an unenviable choice. He had to weigh the risks of an extended lockdown (negative economic exposure), with the attainment of a compensating benefit (containing the spread of coronavirus). Not an easy choice and one, I am sure, President Ramaphosa agonised over before making.
We often sit on the sidelines and criticise government. What our president has shown in the last couple of weeks is tremendous fortitude in dealing with this crisis. I take pride knowing that we are, in fact, being led by a man who is clearly capable of being president, but, more importantly, who has the guts to make hard decisions in the interests of his people.
While the decision to extend the lockdown is a blow for many, the AA is fortunate enough that we can continue working. We are thankful for this, not only because we can carry on doing business but, more importantly, because we can contribute, even in a small way, during this crisis; we able to assist those in distress – through our roadside and medical emergency services, and through our AA Armed Response services.
What also makes our current situation a little easier is that we are able to pay our staff and continue contributing to their families and the greater economy. It’s important that we are also able to pay our suppliers who in turn can pay their staff. This is a blessing and one we don’t take for granted.
But I am acutely aware of those who are struggling at this time. It’s not easy not knowing when (or if) the next pay cheque is coming. I want everyone who is reading this to please reflect on this very important aspect of what we are currently going through and if you are in any way capable of helping, please reach out to our compatriots who are in need.
Returning to President Ramaphosa’s speech, I took great comfort when he said, “We will use the coming days to evaluate how we will embark on risk-adjustment measures that can enable a phased recovery of the economy, allowing the return to operation of certain sectors under strictly controlled conditions.” For me this signals intent to get back on track, but at the appropriate time, and with a strategic and wise approach.
We have seen new information from the Department of Health yesterday which suggests a rapid increase in the spread of coronavirus will happen in South Africa. This could lead to another extension of the lockdown which will be informed by the rate of the spread of the disease. Critically, plans are being developed for a phased and systematic end to the lockdown.
All of this again points to a considered approach by government. Such a phased approach will, I believe, lead to a gradual re-opening of our economy. But we can’t be impatient. As I mentioned earlier, we must balance the negatives with the benefits; this is the correct way to proceed. We must, we must, place our trust in them at this time.
Before I sign-off I want to again thank our healthcare workers who are putting themselves at risk every day to provide care for those in need. The work you are doing cannot be underestimated; our country owes you all a debt of gratitude.
I want to reiterate that the AA is still here. We remain committed to contributing to a stronger South Africa through this crisis and after.
Oh, before I forget, please, if you haven’t already done so, download the AA app which is available for free from all the mobile stores. Using the app will ensure prompt service, and will cut down on calls to our call centre, so you’ll be helping us if you use it. Downloading the app will also allow you to activate AA Armed Response to ensure you stay safe during these uncertain times. The AA’s marketing team asked me very politely to include this, so here it is.
Obey the rules, stay home, and stay safe. We will rise again.
Yours from the kitchen table,
Automobile Association of South Africa