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In March 2020, South Africa’s government imposed a severe lockdown in response to the covid-19 pandemic. The economic and social costs of the lockdown—coming on top of preexisting unemployment, poverty, hunger, and deep inequality—resulted in strong pressures on the government to ease it just as the pandemic accelerated, especially in June and July. The combination of pandemic and lockdown exposed anew incompetent state institutions (with limited capacity to deliver key services), poor leadership (through an entrenched dominant party mired in corruption), a largely supine Parliament, and weak opposition parties. The courts and civil society have played important but insufficient roles in holding the executive to account.