/ 18 March 2020

Show of political unity as South Africa battles Covid-19 outbreak

Ramaphosa And Mtn's Offshore Stash
Political leaders have backed President Cyril Ramaphosa's response to the coronavirus outbreak.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has held an emergency meeting with the political parties represented in Parliament to update leaders on the latest reports in the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.

After meeting at the president’s office in Cape Town, in a gesture in stark contrast to the usual rough and tumble of party politics in South Africa, President Ramaphosa and party leaders issued a joint statement on the coronavirus outbreak.

“All leaders agree that the Covid-19 outbreak poses a grave and real threat to the lives, livelihoods and prosperity of our people. Our country finds itself in an extreme situation that requires extraordinary measures. It requires that all South Africans work together in unity and solidarity, in partnership and co-operation. It is, therefore, both appropriate and significant that the 14 political parties in our Parliament are standing together, across party-political divides, to fight this disease together,” the statement said. 

Political leaders agreed that, among other things, the government’s response to the outbreak must be immediate and sustained and that poor, elderly, and vulnerable communities must be prioritised. Leaders also called on people to refrain from panic-buying to ensure that the supply chain for essential items remains intact. 

“While Covid-19 poses a great threat to our nation, we are not helpless. There is much we can do, as a country and as individual citizens, to slow the spread of the disease, to save lives and improve health outcomes, and to bring the epidemic to an end. Every person, institution and grouping has a role to play in combating this disease,” the statement said. 

After the meeting, leaders addressed the media in a show of unity. 

Ramaphosa said it was a turning point, as political opponents find solidarity and unity of purpose against the continued spread of the disease. “The 14 political parties in our parliamentary system have found it good to stand together, across party political divides to fight this disease together based on advancing the interests of the people of South Africa and also defending the lives of our people. We are demonstrating we are united.”  

Opposition input

Opposition leaders have backed the government’s plan to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

The Democratic Alliance’s John Steenhuisen said the president had also provided a platform for parties to provide their input on how to manage the crisis. 

“I’m comfortable [about] how the health aspect of it has been handled by [Health Minister] Dr Zweli Mkhize, and that the efforts to flatten the curve are the right ones. We share with you the ingrained effect it is going to have on our economy, particularly in keeping the doors of small businesses open and particularly keeping South Africans in work,” the official opposition’s interim leader said.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema said that as political parties show support for the president, the private sector should also back the campaign in limiting the disease’s spread. 

“As the EFF we fully appreciate the initiative by the government and call upon South Africans to listen to the leadership of the government and follow exactly as we are told. We call upon all business people who are dealing with gloves, sanitisers [and] masks not to try to maximise profit out of this crisis. We also call upon private hospitals that the only way to avoid the nationalisation of those private hospitals is by fully co-operating with the minister of health when he needs beds for our sick people. It is not time to make profit,” Malema said. 
After a final sitting on Wednesday, Parliament with its 400 members of the National Assembly and 90 delegates to the National Council of Provinces will be suspended indefinitely as national state of disaster regulations to limit the gathering of large groups of people come into effect.