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20 April 2020

20 April 2020 - From the desk of the President

20 April 2020 - From the desk of the President

 

Dear Fellow South African,

Many countries around the world have imposed coronavirus lockdowns with a view to

saving the lives of their citizens. We have done the same in our country, but our lockdown

has revealed a very sad fault line in our society that reveals how grinding poverty, inequality

and unemployment is tearing the fabric of our communities apart.

 

There can be no greater anguish than that of a parent whose children cry out to them for

food, but they have none to give.

 

There can be no greater injustice than a society where some live in comfort and plenty, while

others struggle at the margins to survive with little or nothing at all.

 

Yes, these are the residual effects of a fractured and unequal past. But they are also a

symptom of a fundamental failing in our post-apartheid society. The nationwide lockdown

in response to the coronavirus has gravely exarcerbated a long-standing problem.

 

Over the past three weeks, we have been confronted with distressing images of desperate

people clamouring for food parcels at distribution centres and of community protests

against food shortages.

 

We have also had to contend with allegations both disturbing and disgusting. A number of

provinces have received reports that callous individuals, some of them allegedly

government ofcials, are hoarding or selling food parcels earmarked for the needy and

destitute, or diverting them to their friends and families.

If there is found to be substance to these allegations we will deal with the individuals

concerned harshly.

 

With the declaration of a national state of disaster and the imposition of a nation-wide

lockdown we entered uncharted waters. South Africa has never had to deal with a public

health emergency of this magnitude.

We had to act quickly to save lives. And we must acknowledge that in the days and weeks

that have followed, the provision of support to our country’s most vulnerable citizens has

been slower than required, and that lapses have occurred.

However, the payment of social grants has proceeded relatively smoothly, and after a

number of technical challenges, the food distribution system is being streamlined.

 

Imposing a nationwide lockdown at very short notice presented several challenges. We

have had to weigh up the proportionality of the national response and the extent of

restrictions we would need to impose.

We ultimately chose to err on the side of caution. And as the presentation by the Ministry of

Health last week indicated, enforcing a lockdown at the time we did has slowed down the

rate of infection and, more importantly, bought us time to prepare for a probable surge in

infections in the coming weeks and months.

 

We had to consider the impact on an already oundering economy in both the long and

short term, and the impact of this substantial disruption on the livelihoods of millions of

people.

 

We had to consider what weeks of connement to the home would mean for the employed

not paid regular salaries, for the unemployed and those seeking work, for those in casual or

seasonal employment, for those in the informal sector, for the indigent and for the

vulnerable.

 

Cabinet will nalise a set of measures to respond to the impact of the lockdown on the

livelihoods of our people. This has been preceded by a range of engagements with a

number of stakeholders including business, labour, religious organisations, civil society and

the Presidential Economic Advisory Council.

 

The social partners have put forward a number of proposals on interventions that could

address the immediate vulnerability of the poorest of the poor, most of whom rely on social

assistance to survive.

 

We will scale up welfare provision during this period to help households living below the

poverty line.

Even when the nation-wide lockdown is lifted, its effects will continue to be felt for some

time to come.

 

Those fortunate to have a steady income will be able to return to their jobs; but for millions

of others this will be a lost month where they would otherwise have found temporary work,

done business in the informal sector or saved money earned to meet their family

responsibilities.

 

Food support is a short-term emergency measure. It will need to be matched by sustainable

solutions that help our most vulnerable citizens weather the difcult times that are still to

come.

 

I wish to thank the many NGOs, religious groups and ordinary citizens who are donating

money and volunteering to help feed the hungry and destitute.

Alleviating hunger is not an act of charity. It is an imperative for any society that is founded

on respect for human rights.

 

We are at a point in our battle with the pandemic where complacency could prove

disastrous. I call on each and every one to remain vigilant, to continue to abide by the

regulations, and to keep safe and keep others safe.

As government we will this week be providing information on the direct interventions we are

taking to shield our most vulnerable citizens from the grim prospect of starvation.

 

Among the many difculties our people face at this time, wondering where their next meal

will come from should not be one of them.

With best wishes,

 

Building on the stimulus and recovery plan, government will finalise a clear economic growth strategy

within the next few weeks. This strategy will draw on the many valuable contributions that have been

made by South Africans on the discussion paper released by National Treasury.

 

Several parts of the growth strategy are already in place. These include how we can strengthen our

reform programme, a revitalised industrial strategy in support of key growth sectors and the establishment of an Infrastructure Fund with a clear plan to revive infrastructure investment. Much work is underway to improve the ease and reduce the cost of doing business, as are efforts to restructure state owned

enterprises and ensure that they perform better in meeting the country's needs. A clear strategy to place

Eskom on a sustainable path of recovery is also being finalised.

 

All this work is taking place at a time when government's finances are under great strain, and there is

very little room to increase spending or borrowing. This means that we need to spend our limited

resources more smartly, get rid of wastage and shift more resources to infrastructure investment.

 

On the first Monday morning of each month, the Deputy President and I meet with the leaders of business, labour and the community sector to review the implementation of measures agreed at last year's

Jobs Summit. Our continued focus is on job creation and how we can reduce the numbers of people who

are unemployed.

 

It is clear that, as a country, we are taking firm action to grow the economy and create jobs. But we need

to do more to turn things around. We need to finalise a comprehensive growth strategy that takes all the

work being done to another level. I am certain that with the active involvement of all sectors of society,

this will be achieved.

 

South Africans are ready to rise to the challenge.

 

With best wishes,

The Gender-Based Violence National Command Centre can be reached on

0800 428 428.

Last published 20 April 2020