When South Africa implemented its non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) (its “lockdown”) to stem the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, it was hailed as exemplary. By June 2020 however, the lockdown was in disarray: the number of confirmed infections continued to grow exponentially, placing the country amongst the ten most affected countries in the world, and on average eight public protest actions took place daily. Moreover, the business sector launched a campaign, supported by more than 50,000 businesses, to have government end the lockdown altogether. In this paper we argue that both government and the business sector’s responses are problematic, and that this “failing to pull together” will be costly. We provide arguments that a smart and flexible lockdown, based on data, testing, decentralization, demographics and appropriate economic support measures, including export support, can save lives, improve trust in government, limit economic damages and moreover improve long-term recovery prospects.