/ 17 June 2020

Ramaphosa — ‘We are still near the beginning of this epidemic’

Presidentcyrilramaphosa Gcis

Addressing the nation on Wednesday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa first dealt with the further easing of the lockdown, and then with the ongoing violence perpetrated by men against women.   

“The rapists and killers walk among us … they are violent men with utterly no regard for the sanctity of human life,” he said.

The first half of his speech addressed Covid-19 and was often haltingly read from the teleprompter. The second half carried far more emotion.

Ramaphosa’s speech came 100 days after the first local case of Covid-19 was identified. There are now more than 80 000 confirmed cases in South Africa, with 55% of those people recovering and 1 674 deaths. 

He lauded the lockdown, saying “the cost in human lives could have been far higher” without it. In the three weeks before the lockdown, the number of cases was doubling every two days. During level five this slowed to every 15 days and it now sits at every 12 days. 

More business allowed to reopen

Restaurants will now be allowed to serve sit-down meals to patrons. Travel accommodation will be opened up, although this excludes home-sharing businesses such as Airbnb. 

Conferences would also be allowed, and cinemas and casinos would be allowed to reopen with limited numbers of patrons and other restrictions to improve safety, which included “serious and stringent” safety measures.

The dates these businesses and events could reopen — and the operational protocols they need to observe — would be announced in coming days, Ramaphosa said.

The additional businesses that would be allowed to open employ more than 500 000 people, who have been unable to earn a salary since March 26.

“The past three months have been particularly difficult for the millions of women who work as hairdressers [and] in spas as therapists and technicians. These women are in businesses that are also owned by women [who derive] a source of income from these. Many of these are also informal businesses,” Ramaphosa said. 

The president also announced that certain non-contact sports will now also be able to resume; contact sports will only be permitted only for training purposes for professional sportsmen and -women. 

“Stringent safety requirements have been agreed by the various representatives and businesses and those will need to be put in place before a business can reopen. Protocols will need to be adhered to for those businesses to reopen,” he said. 

“We have had to think about those people in these industries and those who depend on them for their livelihoods. Through the easing of the lockdown we are continuing to balance our overriding objective of saving lives and preserving livelihoods,” Ramaphosa added. 

The further opening of the economy now means South Africans will have to take their safety into their own hands. 

Ramaphosa said that the hard lockdown had been difficult for many South Africans, but added it was the right thing to do to keep millions of people safe. 

He said people’s anxiety and concerns about the increase in infections and the risk of infection were justified, but the likelihood of becoming infected or infecting others could be reduced by the appropriate behaviour.

“Through our behaviour as individuals, we can reduce the likelihood of being infected, and even infect[ing] others … Through our personal and collective actions, we can continue to delay the rate of infection across society in our communities,” he said. 

Such actions included wearing masks in public, which millions of South Africans are doing, and washing of hands with soap and sanitiser and maintaining physical distance.

Addressing the government’s medical response, Ramaphosa said more than 100 quarantine centres have been established, and that the number of intensive care unit beds and field hospitals have increased. 

On a visit to the Western Cape last week, he said that money was not an option when it came to recruiting more doctors and nurses to be deployed to these facilities. 

Ramaphosa said there was still a shortage of testing kits, but that the government was pursuing all possible avenues to secure kits and develop the capacity to manufacture them. An African forum for procurement of essential supplies for the fight of Covid-19 was being set up to improve the ability of countries on the continent to procure equipment and materials.

The president said that, even after 100 days, we were still near the beginning of the pandemic, which is likely to be with us for many more months, or even years.

Hotspot areas around the country also still remain a concern. 

Ramaphosa said one-third of all cases had been recorded in the last week, with the bulk remaining in the Western Cape. Community transmission was rising rapidly in the Western Cape and was beginning to rise in the Eastern Cape.

“What was once a distant disease is now coming much closer. More and more of us now know somebody who is infected,” he said.

The war against women

Turning his attention to recent, publicised incidents of gender-based violence, Ramaphosa said the killing of women and children by South African men had become another pandemic and that he was appalled by what had become a war against the women of South Africa.

He said the government would “speak” for the women and girls who were raped and killed by men before and during the lockdown.

“These women are not just statistics. They have families and they have friends.” 

Additional resources were being given to the criminal justice sector to improve the capacity of police to deal with gender-based violence, and legislative amendments were being drafted to increase the sanctions for those convicted of violence against women and children.

Alcohol abuse

On whether the government will relook the sale of alcohol, Ramaphosa said it was being considered. 

Since the unbanning of the sale of alcohol (which is nonetheless still limited in terms of trading hours) from June 1, hospital emergency and trauma wards have filled with people seeking attention for alcohol-related injuries. 

The president said the effects of alcohol abuse on gender-based violence and violence more broadly needed to be considered, as did its effects on deaths on the road, particularly in the light of the increase of alcohol-related crimes since the move to level three.

“If alcohol intoxication is contributing to these crimes, then it must be addressed with urgency by all of us. We need to draw lessons from this lockdown and decide how we can protect our society from the abuse of alcohol. We need to provide greater support with drinking problems through rehabilitation and treatment. We need to encourage responsible drinking, especially among younger people,” Ramaphosa said. 

Already Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane and Western Cape Premier Alan Winde said a debate was needed about the sale of alcohol after both provinces saw a spike in admissions to trauma wards after the sale of alcohol was permitted.