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Press Statements

From the desk of the President (18th May 2020)

Dear Fellow South African,

We often take our healthy and robust democracy for granted. Yet it is probably our greatest asset in our momentous struggle to overcome the coronavirus pandemic.

We have among the most politically-engaged citizenry in the world. A poll in 2018 by the Pew Research Center shows South Africans are strongly inclined to take political action about issues they feel most strongly about, such as health care, education, freedom of speech and corruption.

The poll confirms much that we already know about ourselves. We enjoy nothing more than robust engagement with our government and among ourselves on the burning issues of the day. We have an active civil society ever ready to safeguard our fundamental freedoms and rights.

One of the triumphs of our democracy is that every South African believes the Constitution protects them and that the courts are a fair and impartial arbiter of their interests.

I got thinking on these matters during a recent visit to the Eastern Cape to assess the province’s coronavirus state of readiness.

I was asked by a journalist whether I was concerned at the pending litigation challenging certain provisions of the Disaster Management Act. This law is the basis for all the regulations promulgated under the national state of disaster we declared to combat coronavirus.

Since the start of this crisis, a number of people have exercised their right to approach the courts. The lockdown regulations were challenged in the very first week of the lockdown by a private citizen from Mpumalanga who wanted an exemption from the travel prohibition to attend a funeral.

In the 7 weeks that have followed, there have been legal challenges from a number of individuals, religious bodies, political parties, NGOs and from business organisations against one measure or more of the lockdown provisions they were unhappy with. Some have succeeded in their legal challenges and some have not. Some had approached the courts on the basis of the urgency of their cases had their urgency arguments dismissed and others have found other avenues for the relief they sought. Others have subsequently withdrawn their applications following engagement with government.

While we would prefer to avoid the need for any legal action against government, we should accept that citizens who are unhappy with whatever action that government has decided on implementing have a right to approach our courts for any form of relief they seek. This is a normal tenet of a constitutional democracy and a perfectly acceptable practice in a country founded on the rule of law.

We have checks and balances in place to ensure that every aspect of governance is able to withstand constitutional scrutiny. Where we are found wanting, we will be held to account by our courts and, above all, by our citizens. Besides our courts, our Chapter 9 institutions exist to advance the rights of citizens, as do the bodies tasked with oversight over the law enforcement agencies.

As I told the journalist, every South African has a right to approach the courts and even I, as President, could never stand in the way of anybody exercising that right.

There has been, and will continue to be, robust and strident critique of a number of aspects of our national response to coronavirus, from the data modelling and projections, to the economic effects of the lockdown, to the regulations. As government we have neither called for such critique to be tempered or for it to be silenced.

To the contrary, criticism, where it is constructive, helps us to adapt and to move with agility in response to changing circumstances and conditions. It enriches public debate and gives us all a broader understanding of the issues at play.

We have consistently maintained that we rely on scientific, economic and empirical data when it comes to making decisions and formulating regulations around our coronavirus response. To the greatest extent possible under these challenging circumstances, we aim for consultation and engagement. We want all South Africans to be part of this national effort. The voices of ordinary citizens must continue to be heard at a time as critical as this.

The coronavirus pandemic and the measures we have taken to combat it have taken a heavy toll on our people. It has caused huge disruption and hardship. Although we can point to the progress we have made in delaying the transmission of the virus, there is still a long way to go. The weeks and months ahead will be difficult and will demand much more from our people.

The pandemic will therefore continue to place an enormous strain on our society and our institutions. Even as we gradually open up the economy, the impact on people’s material conditions will be severe. For as long as this is the case, the potential for conflict, discord and dissatisfaction will remain.

As we navigate these turbulent waters, our Constitution is our most important guide and our most valued protection. Our robust democracy provides the strength and the resilience we need to overcome this deep crisis.

Just as government appreciates that most court applicants are motivated by the common good, so too should we recognise that the decisions taken by government are made in good faith and are meant to advance, and not to harm, the interests of South Africans.

Our foremost priority remains to save lives. Our every decision is informed by the need to advance the rights to life and dignity as set out in our Constitution.

We will continue to welcome different – even dissenting – viewpoints around our national coronavirus response. All viewpoints aid us and help us to work better and smarter.

The exercise of the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and speech is a barometer of the good health of our democracy. But much more than that, these rights are essential to the success of our national and collective struggle to overcome the coronavirus.

With best wishes,

COVID-19 IMPACT ON THE ECONOMY

The Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (the dtic) has noted with concern a series of recent comments and news articles that give the impression that the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, Mr Ebrahim Patel, has underplayed the extent of the costs that Covid-19 and the lockdown will impose on the economy. This is exactly the opposite of the truth. The impression seems to be based on an interview that Minister Patel conducted with the Sunday Times shortly after he had addressed Members of Parliament regarding Covid-19 in a session that was broadcasted live.

In the address to the Parliamentary Committee, he stated that the pandemic has caused a massive and rapid shock on the economy, starting globally and transmitted rapidly to South Africa and the rest of the continent, with a dual impact on the demand and supply-side of the economy. He also stated that  the impact on GDP will be very significant – with a projected recession with severe contraction of the economy in 2020, accompanied by big job losses and firm closures with high levels of social hardship.

Minister Patel told the Parliamentary Committee: “Our work has indicated that the pandemic will affect the South African economy in very deep and significant ways. The estimates of the impact vary. The work is still being done as we see the extent to which different parts of the economy are affected.” He illustrated with estimates from the IMF, SARB and IDC which projected declines in gross domestic product of approximately 6%.

In the interview Minister Patel made the self-evident point that it was too early to get a firm figure of the extent of the damage with a range of projections by different economists, and that one of the numbers in the public domain referred to a lockdown-cost of about R13 billion a day. This he pointed out, was simply based on taking the size of the GDP (about R5 trillion) and dividing it by the number of days in a year. Such a figure is clearly at best a guesstimate of impact since the full extent of the cost would depend on a number of factors; and does not take into account that key sectors were working during the lockdown, including the agriculture and food-processing sectors as well as healthcare and parts of mining.

Unfortunately, the subsequent media story in our view did not contextualise the reply adequately, as it focused on only the Minister Patel’s cautioning of this particular estimate.

On 8 May 2020 Minister Patel addressed a meeting of about 100 CEOs convened by BLSA, where he stated that the pandemic was likely to have a devastating effect on the economy, though the extent of the damage was not yet clear; that many firms in South Africa were in difficulty as a result of the current circumstances and millions of workers were without an income.

The Department would like to reiterate  that Minister Patel has consistently put forward the view on the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the SA economy since the declaration of the national disaster. He pointed out already on 24 March 2020 at a media briefing that the pandemic will put a strain on the economy, including small business owners and ordinary citizens. Minister Patel also called for all South Africans and corporates to pull together to ensure that our people and economy come through this challenge with their lives, their jobs, their businesses, their livelihoods and their property intact.

The Department would also like to put it on record that Minister Patel recognises the very significant impact of the pandemic and the lockdown on the economy. It is imperative that there is a more measured and responsible public commentary during this trying times in our country in particularly and the globe in general, given the enormous consequence on human lives if we get it wrong.

Enquiries:
Sidwell Medupe
Departmental Spokesperson
Tel: (012) 394 1650
Mobile: 079 492 1774
E-mail: MSMedupe@thedtic.gov.za
Issued by: The Department of Trade, Industry and Competition

STATEMENT BY PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA ON SOUTH AFRICA’S RESPONSE TO THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC, UNION BUILDINGS, TSHWANE, 13 MAY 2020

My Fellow South Africans,

This week, our country reached a sad moment in the progression of the coronavirus pandemic, as we recorded our 219th death from the disease.

Every life lost is a tragedy.

These 219 people who passed away had families, they had dependents, friends and colleagues.

Their lives were cut short by a virus that has caused human and economic devastation across the world.

In recording and reporting on the daily figures of new infections, deaths and recoveries –– we can too easily lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with human lives.

This coronavirus is taking a heavy toll not only on the health of our people, but also on our people’s ability to earn a living, to feed themselves and their families, to learn and to develop, and to enjoy many of the basic freedoms that we daily take for granted.

This evening, let us keep in our thoughts and prayers all those who have been infected by the coronavirus, all those who have lost loved ones, and also those who have endured – and continue to endure – great hardship because of the pandemic.

It is nearly 7 weeks since we implemented a nation-wide lockdown.

During this time, South Africans have demonstrated great courage, resilience and responsibility.

I once again thank you for the sacrifices you have made thus far.

I would like to say, as I have said before, that despite its duration and its severity, the lockdown was absolutely necessary.

Without the lockdown the number of coronavirus infections would have soared uncontrollably, our health facilities would have been overwhelmed and many thousands more South Africans would have died.

From the very beginning, our response has been guided by advice from world-leading experts from our own country and across the globe.

We have also benefited from the guidance from the World Health Organisation.

The experiences that other nations have been through have also given us invaluable insights.

There have been several projections about the possible path the disease would have taken without our swift and decisive action.

As more data has become available, these projections have been updated and refined.

The best current estimate is that, without the lockdown and the other measures we have taken, at least 80,000 South Africans could have been infected by now.

And the death toll could have been at least 8 times higher than it is.

As it stands, there are 219 people in South Africa who have succumbed to this disease.

By contrast, at a similar stage in the progression of the disease, the United States had recorded over 22,000 deaths and the United Kingdom over 19,000 deaths.

We should never forget that the purpose of the lockdown was to delay the spread of the virus and prevent a huge surge of infections.

So far, we have been successful in the manner we as South Africans have responded and dealt with this virus.

The percentage of cases identified out of all the tests conducted – what is known as the positivity rate – has remained low and stable.

The level of confirmed infections in South Africa is around 181 people per million of the population.

By contrast, countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and Singapore have between 2,400 and 4,600 coronavirus cases per million people.

It is significant that out of the 12,074 confirmed cases in South Africa, we have recorded 4,745 recoveries.

By delaying the spread of the disease, we have been able to strengthen the capacity of our health system and to put in place wide-ranging public health programmes to better manage the inevitable increase in infections.

We now have nearly 25,000 additional beds available for quarantine.

We have been able to source and produce substantial quantities of personal protective equipment for health workers, vital medical equipment and other supplies.

Using the valuable time which the lockdown gave us, we have managed to significantly expand our screening and testing programme.

In all, our field workers have now screened over 9 million people, and we have conducted nearly 370,000 coronavirus tests.

This is the largest and most extensive public health mobilisation in the history of our country.

It has been made possible by the hard work and dedication of thousands of community workers, nurses, doctors and other health workers.

They made enormous sacrifices to ensure the success of the lockdown.

By answering the call to stay at home and stay safe, you, the people of South Africa, have helped us to save many lives.

As we have strengthened our public health response, we have introduced several vital measures to support the companies, workers and households that have been severely affected by the lockdown.

We have introduced an economic and social relief package worth over R500 billion to help companies in distress, to save jobs and to provide some income to informal workers and poor households.

Since it was established, the special COVID-19 relief scheme of the Unemployment Insurance Fund has paid out over R11 billion to 2 million employees employed by over 160,000 companies in distress.

This will help to keep companies afloat and save millions of jobs.

The various funds that we established to provide support for small businesses, including the initiatives of the Department of Small Business Development, the Department of Tourism, the Industrial Development Corporation and the South African Future Trust, have provided direct assistance to over 27,000 enterprises.

As of today, the R200 billion COVID-19 Loan Guarantee Scheme, which is guaranteed by the government, has begun to process applications from small and medium-sized businesses.

At the beginning of this month, government paid out an additional R5 billion to social grant recipients to assist poor households at a time when other sources of income have been disrupted.

We have opened applications for the special COVID-19 grant of R350 a month for unemployed South Africans who receive no other form of assistance from government.

By the close of business today, some 3 million South Africans had already applied for this assistance.

These temporary measures will be in place for six months.

We will spare no effort to ensure our most vulnerable citizens are supported and protected during this difficult time.

The scale of the measures we have taken, including tax relief and interventions by the South African Reserve Bank, is historic.

The Solidarity Fund, which was set up to support the coronavirus response, has raised around R2.7 billion in commitments from over 175,000 individuals and more than 1,500 companies and foundations.

We are grateful to the many governments and organisations that continue to generously support our coronavirus response.

In addition to those that I have previously recognised, I wish to express our appreciation to the government and the people of the United States for the donation of 1,000 ventilators.

I also want to recognise the commitment of the ELMA Group of Foundations of R2 billion to mitigate the impact of coronavirus on vulnerable communities in Africa.

This includes an immediate contribution of R250 million to South Africa’s Solidarity Fund.

We are determined that our response matches the proportions of the crisis and helps to ensure that the foundations of our economy are protected.

There have been very disturbing reports of increased levels of gender-based violence since the lockdown started.

The scourge of gender-based violence continues to stalk our country as the men of our country declared war on the women.

We have developed an emergency pathway for survivors to ensure that the victims of gender-based violence are assisted.

One of the interventions we have made is to ensure lockdown regulations be structured in a manner that a woman can leave her home to report abuse without the fear of a fine, intimidation or further violence.

Now, two months after we declared a national state of disaster, we are ready to shift to a new phase in our response to the coronavirus pandemic.

On the first of May, we moved to Alert Level 4 and began the phased easing of the national lockdown.

This was in line with our risk-adjusted strategy through which we sought to slow down the rate of infection and flatten the curve.

We are now preparing for a further easing of the lockdown and a gradual opening of the economy.

I will repeat what I have said before: if we lift the lockdown too abruptly and too quickly, we risk a rapid and unmanageable surge in infections.

We will therefore continue to proceed cautiously, informed by the best available evidence and guided by the advice of local and international experts.

Our goal is to steadily increase economic activity while putting measures in place to reduce the transmission of the virus and provide adequate care for those who become infected and need treatment.

When I last addressed you, I outlined the five level alert system that we have introduced to guide this process.

At the time, the country was at alert level 5, which has the most stringent restrictions on movement and economic activity.

Alert level 4 – which is the current level across the country – retains most of the lockdown regulations but permits the gradual opening up of certain parts of the economy.

Alert levels 3 to 1 allow a progressively greater relaxation of restrictions.

As I indicated then, some areas of the country may be designated at a particular alert level, while others may be designated at other levels.

This would be done according to the rate of infection in an area and the state of readiness and the capacity of its health facilities to cope with treating infected people.

For now, infections are mostly concentrated in a few metropolitan municipalities and districts in the country.

it is important that we maintain stringent restrictions in these areas and restrict travel out of these areas to parts of the country with lower rates of infection.

We will immediately begin a process of consultation with relevant stakeholders on a proposal that by the end of May, most of the country be placed on alert level 3, but that those parts of the country with the highest rates of infection remain on level 4.

We will make further announcements after the completion of the consultations

In the coming days, we will also be announcing certain changes to level 4 regulations to expand permitted business activities in the retail space and ecommerce and reduce restrictions on exercise.

Some have questioned whether our approach in dealing with the coronavirus has been at the expense of the livelihoods of our people.

Our strategic approach has been based on saving lives and preserving livelihoods.

Our key objective has always been to slow down the infection rate through a number of interventions in our coronavirus prevention toolbox.

Each of these prevention measures are crucial and non-negotiable. They are:

– Lockdown (to achieve extreme social distancing)
– Social distancing
– Adopting hand hygiene practices by washing hands regularly with water and soap or sanitiser
– Cough etiquette including coughing into your elbow or a tissue
– Wearing cloth masks whenever you are in public places
– Use of personal protection equipment by all health workers
– Frequent cleaning of the work environment and other public spaces
– Symptom screening
– Testing, isolation, quarantine and contact tracing

It is in the implementation of all these preventative measures that we will overcome this disease.

The success of our efforts to limit transmission of the virus depends on finding those who are infected as early as possible, tracing their contacts and isolating them so they cannot pass on the virus to others.

Our door-to-door screening campaign in vulnerable communities across the country resulted in over 100,000 people being referred for testing.

This gave us a good indication of the extent of the infection among the population, but we now need a screening and testing programme that is targeted to areas where people are more likely to be infected.

This will involve the identification of infection hotspots using a combination of technology, surveillance data and epidemiological mapping, enabling the rapid deployment of dedicated screening and testing teams to these areas.

Those found to be positive should either self-isolate or be isolated in suitable and independently inspected facilities.

Most importantly, this new phase will require each of us to change our own behaviour in profound ways.

There needs to be a fundamental shift in our thinking and our way of life.

We need to take personal responsibility for our own health and the health of others.

Let us remember that although the lockdown has slowed down the rate of transmission, the coronavirus is very much still present – and will be present among us for a long time to come.

We have been warned that infections will inevitably rise as the lockdown measures are eased, as has happened in many countries.

We also know that the coronavirus will continue to be a global health threat for some time to come, and that the fight against COVID-19 needs to become part of our daily lives.

Our success in overcoming the coronavirus will ultimately be determined by the changes we make in our behaviour.

As restrictions are eased, we will need to observe social distancing even more carefully, wear face masks whenever we leave home, wash hands regularly with soap and water or sanitiser, and avoid contact with other people.

I have been encouraged that so many people are wearing face masks in public since the start of Alert Level 4.

We will need to re-organise workplaces, schools, universities, colleges and other public places to limit transmission.

We will need to adapt to new ways of worshipping, socialising, exercising and meeting that minimise opportunities for the virus to spread.

It is our actions now that will determine whether the advantage we gained through the lockdown can be sustained.

It is our actions now – individually and together – that will determine whether the great sacrifices that people have made over these last two months will ultimately save the lives of thousands of South Africans and spare our country from the huge devastation that this pandemic can cause.

The transition to the next phase of the coronavirus response will in many ways be more difficult than the present one.

The risk of infection outbreaks will increase as more people return to work.

This calls for vigilance, responsibility and discipline from all of us.

My fellow South Africans,

Over the last 7 weeks, you have been asked to endure much and to sacrifice much.

On more than one occasion, I have stood before you and asked you to accept stringent restrictions on your daily lives, knowing that these will bring great hardship.

You have heeded these calls, firmly convinced that these measures are necessary for the health and the well-being – indeed the survival – of our young nation.

In return for everything that is being asked of you, there are a few fundamental things that you ask of us, your leaders.

And that is why we must acknowledge that as we have confronted this unprecedented challenge, there may have been times when we have fallen short of your expectations.

Some of the actions we have taken have been unclear, some have been contradictory and some have been poorly explained.

Implementation has sometimes been slow and enforcement has sometimes been inconsistent and too harsh.

This evening, I want to reaffirm my commitment and the commitment of the government I lead to take whatever action is necessary to safeguard the life, the dignity and the interests of the South African people.

The last time I addressed you, I said that we will soon be embarking on the third phase of our economic response to the coronavirus crisis by outlining a clear strategy for economic recovery.

Cabinet is seized with this issue and will be announced when the work has been completed.

We are determined and committed:

to ensure that all government decisions are taken in good faith, that they are reasonable and based on empirical evidence, and that they do not cause more harm than good;

to be transparent, to take the nation into confidence and to do so regularly;

to continue to be forthright on the state of the pandemic. You want to know when things are bad, and be told when they could get worse;

to continue to engage and consult with you;

to ensure that we continue to mobilise every resource at our disposal to support the most vulnerable, and to give the greatest support to those most in need; and,

to make sure that the funds that are dedicated to our coronavirus response are not wasted and are not stolen.

Above all, I pledge once again to ensure that your rights are respected and upheld, especially by those who have been entrusted with this responsibility.

As your President, as this government, we are firmly committed to meeting the expectations you rightly have of us.

Where we have disappointed, we will continue to make amends.

Where we make mistakes, we will continue to correct them.

Our collective struggles over the past months have taught us much about ourselves and about each other.

We have also learnt a lot about this virus.

Although there may have been differences and disagreements, there has also been kindness, empathy and compassion.

There has been courage and solidarity.

A very different South Africa and world awaits us.

The greatest test will be our willingness to embrace change.

Let us rise to meet this challenge.

Let us stand as one family and one nation to build a new and stronger society.

The days before us will be difficult.

But we will draw strength from what we have achieved.

We should recall the words spoken by President Nelson Mandela 20 years ago when our country was being devastated by another pandemic.

He said:

“In the face of the grave threat posed by HIV/AIDS, we have to rise above our differences and combine our efforts to save our people.

“History will judge us harshly if we fail to do so now.”

As I end, let me offer the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, delivered at a difficult time in the life of his own country:

The state of this nation is good
The heart of this nation is sound
The spirit of this nation is strong
The faith of this nation is eternal.

May God bless South Africa and protect her people.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE PRESIDENCY OF THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA

From the desk of the President (11th May 2020)

Dear Fellow South African,

Since the beginning of May, when we began the gradual easing of the nation-wide coronavirus lockdown, many people have started returning to work.

As part of the phased recovery of the economy, companies in certain specified industries have been able to resume part or all of their operations.

The national coronavirus alert level is now at 4, which means that extreme precautions remain in place to limit community transmission. Our goal is to steadily reduce the alert level by keeping the rate of infection down and getting our health system ready for the inevitable increase in cases.

As the lockdown is gradually eased, life will slowly return. But it will not be life as we knew it before.

While there is still much about the pandemic that is unknown, experts now agree that the virus will remain a threat to global public health for some time.

We must therefore be prepared to continue to live with the coronavirus among us for a year or even more.

We must be prepared for a new reality in which the fight against COVID-19 becomes part of our daily existence.

Our success in overcoming the coronavirus will ultimately be determined by the changes we make in our behaviour.

Even after lockdown – especially after lockdown – we will still need to observe social distancing, wear face masks, wash hands regularly, and avoid contact with other people. We will need to re-organise workplaces, schools, universities, colleges and other public places to limit transmission.

We will need to adapt to new ways of worshipping, socialising, exercising and meeting that minimise opportunities for the virus to spread.

This is a reality that countries across the world are having to confront. Even those countries that have started easing their lockdown restrictions are doing so tentatively and with extreme caution.

Like we have done, many countries are implementing extensive stimulus packages to strengthen their respective health care sectors, support ailing industries and workers and provide relief to vulnerable households.

Like us, they have had to heed calls for economic activity to resume. Like our citizens, their populations are restive and frustrated with the curtailment of personal freedoms.

At the same time, health experts around the globe are warning of a ‘second wave’ of infections as public life resumes. A number of countries including Germany, Iran and China have seen a rise in new infections since they relaxed certain restrictions.

We will be no different. We can and must expect infections to rise as more people return to work. We must accept the reality, prepare for it and adapt to it.

The next phase of our national response is as much about continuity as it is about change or innovation. We will step up our intensive screening, testing and case management programme. We will introduce new measures to make contact tracing more effective. We will need to implement mass sanitisation of workplaces, public transport and other spaces.

Since the nationwide lockdown began, most South Africans have observed the regulations that are in place for their own health and safety. They have made an informed decision to do so, understanding it is necessary for their own lives and for the lives of those around them.

As the restrictions on economic activity and daily life are eased, it is vital that all South Africans maintain that firm sense of personal responsibility. In all that we do, in every sphere of life, we must take care of our own health and the health of others.

Whether as individuals, employers, employees, government, civil society, trade unions or businesses, we will all continue to have a role to play in fighting the pandemic.

In the same way that we had to change our behaviour to prevent the spread of HIV, now we need to change our behaviour to stop the coronavirus.

Imposing a nation-wide lockdown gave our country a strategic advantage. It bought us valuable time to prepare our health system and put in place containment measures. This has slowed transmission and saved lives.

The transition to the next phase of the coronavirus response, that of recovery, will be more difficult than the present one. The risk of infection outbreaks will increase. The demands on our clinics and hospitals and medical personnel will grow.

That is why easing the lockdown restrictions must not result in careless behaviour by individuals or reckless practices by businesses keen to resume activity at the cost of human health.

The coronavirus crisis will pass. But for as long as it remains a threat to the lives of our people, we must remain vigilant, diligent and responsible.

Now, more than ever, it is upon the conduct of each that depends the fate of all.

With best wishes,

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