Like it or not the coronavirus has fundamentally changed the way we live our lives, possibly for good. In this brand-new world, a trip to the grocery store, once so harmless and carefree, now elicits paranoia and distrust. Touching or being too close to someone has become unthinkable, the virus lurks everywhere, so we keep our distance. Our masks provide some manner of protection against infection, but also sadly shields us from each other. To keep the virus a bay we have lost a little of what makes human. While these social distancing measures are necessary, and we should abide by them, fully as society, the nostalgia of what once was is still difficult to let go of.
The post Covid world is likely to be very different to the one we grew up in. The probability of masks being a permanent feature of our lives cannot be discounted, handshakes and hugs could be a thing of the past. Our economies will also have to find new ways of operating as well, the status quo cannot remain. This was a sentiment shared by president Cyril Ramaphosa in his televised address to the nation this past week; “We are resolved not merely to return our economy to where it was before the coronavirus, but to forge a new economy in a new global reality,” Ramaphosa said.
Such has been the epoch defining nature of the coronavirus, that governments, businesses and people are all being forced to recalibrate how they function. This past week South Africa’s finance minister Tito Mboweni continued this narrative of a post-covid “new economy.” This is a tacit acknowledgement of the inevitable change that must come in rebuilding the economy. For Mboweni, the “new economy” needs to be restructured in a way that favours South Africans for jobs and other economic opportunities. Critics might argue that this inward-looking approach could spell disaster in a country with a xenophobia problem, but with the economy set to contract by 6% and with over a million jobs projected to be lost, Mboweni’s first priority is with the South African taxpayer.
As Africa’s most industrialised economy, South Africa should resist being too nationalistic in its approach. Economic recovery needs be seen from the prism of regional integration.
In the post Covid world, African countries will have to work together more than ever to grow their economies and to provide for their people.
With all regions of the world battling their own economic crises, Africa’s “new economy’ will have to come from within its own borders. The Continental Free Trade Area needs to be prioritised and implemented by governments across the continent. While the June launch of the ambitious project has been delayed by the Coronavirus, the prospects of the deal are still immense. A combined GDP of over $2 trillion, with a market of over 1.2 billion people, is a platform that could launch the continent out of this current covid-19 malaise. The virus won’t last, but the way our governments respond to the crisis will, and if Africa is looking to build a “new economy” the best place to build is right here on the continent.