The lesson for the government is clear. The patience of citizens is wearing very thin.
Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel during the swearing in of the new Presidential Cabinet at the Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria, 30 May 2019. Picture: Jacques Nelles
Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel needs lessons in crisis communication… if the way he handled the announcement of clothing purchase restrictions is anything to go by.
He handed down the schedule of permitted and forbidden clothing items rather like the tablets from on high, without bothering – until after much of the public relations damage had been done – to explain about how that list had been arrived at.
It emerged later – but only after SA’s government was a laughing stock in the eyes of people both inside the country and abroad – that the textile and clothing industries, as well as retailers – had been involved in the process. That makes it look less like a abitrary, silly, Soviet-style diktat. That reality was strengthened by the fact that the retailers welcomed the guidelines.
Sadly, what was absent from the whole communication process was the biomedical rationale behind the decision to, for example, outlaw the buying of opentoed shoes. In the absence of such an explanation, we assume this was because the government wants to limit clothing purchases to “essentials” such as are needed in winter. This is presumably so that people will not rush out, with the relaxation of lockdown restrictions, and go on a fashion-buying binge.
That may seem reasonable – but, once again, we see the law of unintended consequences kicking in. So, while aiming to curb hordes of people congregating in clothing stores, the restriction might end up pushing people into more confined spaces, as shops cordon off their forbidden ranges.
The lesson for the government is clear. The patience of citizens is wearing very thin. If you do not truly take them into your confidence about your decision-making process, you will, at best, make them laugh at you.
At worst, they will actively rebel against your restrictions.
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