FAMINES, according to the renowned economist Amartya Sen, do not happen in functioning democracies.  Nor do epidemics. There has been no better illustration of this than the Covid-19 pandemic that could become a turning point in human history. We face severe, long-term damage to the world economy and potentially dire political consequences.

Direct responsibility lies with an authoritarian regime with lax health regulations that treats civil society with contempt. In the case of coronavirus it suppressed well-informed warnings and persecuted knowledgeable whistle blowers. The material benefits of globalisation have blinded world opinion to the dangers of the distinctive Chinese blend of communist repression and rampant exploitative capitalism. For many the consequences will be premature death; and for even more increased poverty.

Authoritarian regimes like Beijing’s have all the tools necessary to suppress epidemics. After all, this is a government that runs re-education centres and detention camps. While liberal democracies do not start epidemics, nor are they well-placed to curb them without damaging their essential liberties. Meanwhile there is little sign that there will be fundamental change in China where everything that happens in society and economy regardless of the consequences is designed to protect the ruling elite and their political structures. It is no coincidence that the ANC constantly looks to the Chinese for inspiration.

Witness, 20 March 2020