The pandemic offers us an opportunity to rebuild a better South Africa, but it won’t happen without real debate about the kind of infrastructure we need, to serve which industries and communities, at what price and with what quality.

When it comes to dealing with the economic disaster of Covid-19, most observers seem happy to reiterate proposals they’ve cherished for years. It would be more practical, however, to start by asking how the pandemic has changed South Africa and the world. After all, if your house burns down, you don’t begin by designing your new kitchen. Instead, you figure out where you’ll spend the night and think about how to rebuild, and only then move on to researching countertops.

Covid-19’s phased impact constrains the scope for reconstruction. In the short run, say through the middle of 2021, the contagion itself will severely limit economic and social activity at home and abroad, as individuals and public health regulations seek to contain infections. But even after the pandemic is tamed, the economy won’t just bounce back.

The South African Reserve Bank expects the GDP to shrink by an extraordinary 7.3% in 2020, and the International Monetary Fund forecasts a similar decline…

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