As South Africa approaches one year since its first reported case of coronavirus, President Cyril Ramaphosa is counting the cost of the pandemic.
The president, in his newsletter to the nation on Monday, acknowledged that the pandemic came at a great cost to both public health and the livelihoods of millions of people.
Although the government had put in place various relief measures – such as the special Covid-19 social grant and the UIF’s Covid-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) – the country would not be able to sustain them indefinitely.
“These remain short-term measures,” he said.
“Our focus now must be on creating an enabling environment for businesses to recover, and for economic growth that spurs job creation and attracts investment.”
Ramaphosa also acknowledged that the recovery would be difficult and would take time, not least because South Africa is still in the midst of the pandemic, but “we need to make sure that these relief measures provide a firm foundation for a broader recovery without driving the country deeper into debt”.
Unless we can bring our national debt down to sustainable levels no meaningful economic recovery will be possible, he said.
“The extensive relief measures we put in place were both necessary and urgent. And, now that nearly a year has passed, we can say that these measures have proved effective,” he said.
The support provided by the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) was a lifeline to struggling businesses and employees. It made the difference between companies remaining open and being forced to close, between jobs saved and jobs lost, Ramaphosa said.
- Sihle’s Brew, a restaurant in Gauteng, was able to retain its 18 employees because of the Ters scheme;
- Thanks to government support, Mamoshalagae Trading and Projects, an auto-electrical business in Mokopane, was able to pay its workers as well as its rent and rates during the lockdown;
- Employees in dire straits were able to receive a portion of their salaries; and
- Lindiwe Ntuli, a paralegal in Centurion, has told how receiving her benefits enabled her to work from home and be able to afford her rent.
“There are many stories of companies that have been able to stay afloat over the past year because of the support they received from the UIF,” Ramaphosa said.
“The same can be said of the small businesses helped by the various grants and loans provided by a number of departments. These measures greatly helped our people in their time of need.”
Ramaphosa said that, as South Africa transitioned from relief to recovery, we have to shift gear.
“While these relief measures were designed to be temporary, the economy will continue to feel the effects of the pandemic for some time,” he said.
“Even as lockdown restrictions have been eased, many companies are struggling to cope with the fallout of months of diminished operations and lost revenue.”
It is for this reason, he said, that the Covid Ters benefit had been extended until March 15 for sectors that were not able to fully operate.
The special Covid grant has been extended for another three months.
“Our national consciousness must now move beyond the realm of relief into that of recovery, and we must all be part of this effort,” he said.
On February 24, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni is due to deliver the 2021 national budget speech
“As government, hard decisions on public spending will need to be made and implemented this year,” Ramaphosa warned.
He said companies would need to be innovative in driving methods and processes that secure their sustainability and profitability, with job retention being their foremost consideration.
“We must put our money back into our economy by buying local products, supporting local businesses and industries and procuring from local suppliers,” he said.
The temporary relief measures must be seen as the means to get the economy back on its feet.
“Let us use the extended relief to drive a stronger recovery,” Rampahosa concluded.