Ramaphosa: Find the ‘silver lining’ in Covid-19

President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Thursday afternoon that he is wary, yet optimistic about how South Africa’s economy would recover from the Covid-19 economic downturn.

In a historic sitting of the National Assembly, Ramaphosa became the first South African president to conduct a parliamentary question-and-answer session through video conferencing. 

Because of the coronavirus lockdown, only a minimum number of MPs are allowed into the 400-seat National Assembly chamber. The rest have to dial in.

Ramaphosa told MPs that although the lockdown restriction of business and the slowing down of economic activity was meant to save lives, the economic effects had dawned early on his government. 

“Towards the end of April, we realised this pandemic was having a much deeper negative effect. It led us to embark on the second response. It was economic as well as social,” the president told MPs. 

This response included a R500-billion support package to stabilise the economy. The president said this was to save jobs and to support South Africans who were no longer earning an income. This included temporary increases to social welfare grants and a R350 grant for people who are not registered for social welfare and who are unemployed. 

Emergency budget provisions have also had to be made to equip public health facilities for the peak of the Covid-19 storm. Billions of rand have already been spent on personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses, more than 100 quarantine sites in public and private buildings have been set up, and money has also been made available to hire more medical personnel to assist with people needing treatment. 

This, the president said, has been a significant financial burden on the public purse. 

Next week Finance Minister Tito Mboweni will table a revised budget in Parliament. It will be a reset of the government’s economic policy with Ramaphosa confirming that zero-based budgeting will be the order of the day. This means that all government department expenses will have to be justified for each financial year. 

On Thursday, the South African Reserve Bank governor, Lesetja Kganyago, said the bank expects the local economy to contract 7% this year after “the great lockdown”. It anticipates the worst economic downturn in a century. 

On Wednesday, the president announced a further slow and gradual reopening of the economy, with restaurants, personal grooming salons, conferences and some local travel being allowed. 

“As much as Covid-19 is a dark cloud that is hanging over us, it does have a silver lining. And that is it gives us an opportunity to look at the way we’ve been doing things. Our policies, processes and institutions, and to see whether they are still fit to deal with the devastation that Covid-19 is going to bring about,” the president said. 

The interim leader of the opposition, the Democratic Alliance’s John Steenhuisen, asked the president details on what scientific modelling was used to institute a hard lockdown. 

In response, Ramaphosa said the government relied on a range of scientific and epidemiological data. He said the South African Covid-19 Modelling Consortium had predicted there would be 3.4-million to 3.7-million cases by November this year. 

“This pointed to the need to act decisively before the epidemic curve reached an inflection point. This is when the curve changes from a slow, steady increase in cases to exponential, explosive growth. South Africa had an opportunity to act early before its inflexion point had been reached,” he said. 

Pressed on whether the hard lockdown was justified at the expense of millions of people losing their jobs, the president said, based on Covid-19 projections, his government had acted in good faith. 

“We have not been short on information that should be made available. I’m one of those who would say that whatever information there is needs to be put out in the public,”  he said. “The South African government has led this process with honesty and integrity and without seeking to hide anything with the people of South Africa.” 

In what is usually a robust engagement between the president and opposition MPs — with many often playing to TV cameras in the chamber — the first virtual Q&A session was far more subdued. This is helped by the fact that the speaker holds the power to mute heckling MPs.

This didn’t stop Economic Freedom Fighters MPs from complaining about issues such as the fact that Ramaphosa was seated next to a roaring fireplace, and that he was using the presidential seal in his video. 

The president later reframed the shot to include only his face and the South African flag. 

Deputy speaker Lechesa Tsenoli reminded MPs that the president is not an MP and is not subject to parliamentary rules. 

Tsenoli then muted EFF MPs’ online mics, allowing the president to continue. 

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Lester Kiewit
Lester Kiewit
Lester Kiewit is a Reporter, Journalist, and Broadcaster.

Related stories

Ailing Far East Rand hospital purchases ‘vanity’ furniture

Dr Zacharia Mathaba, who purchased the furniture, is a suspected overtime fraudster and was appointed as Gauteng hospital chief executive despite facing serious disciplinary charges

Eusebius McKaiser: Reject the dichotomy of political horrors

Senekal shows us that we must make a stand against the loud voice of the populist EFF and racist rightwingers

It’s not a ‘second wave’: Covid resurges because safety measures are relaxed or ignored

A simple model shows how complacency in South Africa will cause the number of infections to go on an upward trend again

Deconstructing South Africa’s construction industry performance

The construction industry has contracted sharply, partly due to Covid, and needs to rebalance its focus if it wants to survive

Fort Hare students test positive for Covid after partying

The 30 students, who went to a bash at a tavern in East London, were not wearing masks, did not sanitise their hands nor keep to social distancing regulations.

Black construction businesses sidelined

When it comes to mega infrastructure projects, it is still the mega white-owned companies who score government contracts

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

Unions cry foul over SABC dismissal costs and retrenchments

Broadcaster bodies say claims that a recent skills audit is unrelated to retrenchments are ‘irrational’

Gas: SA’s next “battleground”

As government pushes for a huge increase in electricity generation from gas, serious questions are being raised about the logic behind the move

The Nigerian government is killing its citizens — again

‘Nigeria kills its people. Nigeria has always killed its people.’

Finance probe into the Ingonyama Trust Board goes ahead

The threat of legal action from ITB chairperson Jerome Ngwenya fails to halt forensic audit ordered by the land reform minister

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday