President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Tuesday that South Africa was witnessing the “total destruction” of its economy due to the Covid-19 coronavirus, and that radical economic transformation must be central to plans to rebuild and repurpose.
Ramaphosa made the statements in Durban while addressing the provincial command council, led by Premier Sihle Zikalala, which is coordinating KwaZulu-Natal’s response to the virus.
Radical economic transformation was once the rallying cry of former president Jacob Zuma’s supporters.
The president said Covid-19 had presented an opportunity to “reconstruct” the economy.
“Covid-19 has brought about a total destruction of our economy. As we speak, there [are people] under a great deal of stress and challenge. We now, collectively, must respond to how we are going to rebuild and reposition this economy,” said Ramaphosa.
He likened the impact of the virus to the aftermath of war, saying it was time to “stop playing around the edges” when dealing with the economy.
“Covid-19 is quite frankly giving us an opportunity to relook at our economic side of life to see how we as South Africans reconstruct our economy after coronavirus, knowing that coronavirus has dealt us a huge blow.
“This is a post-war situation. We have been fighting an invisible enemy and now we must start planning for a post-war situation which gives rise to a number of challenges and opportunities.
“We must address those challenges that Covid-19 is going to yield on the economic side, and my view is that we must begin to put in place the pillars of a new economy. We cannot continue in the same old way,” said Ramaphosa.
He said in the “new economy” the government would identify new sectors while rebuilding ones badly affected.
“We need to find, create, and build jobs for the many of our people who are going to lose jobs. We need to be asking ourselves what is this new vision that we envision for our country going forward, we need to come up with a clear economic strategy, and the building blocks are already in place. We now need to put them all together.”
He said the new economic future must be “inclusive, empowering to women, young people and to black people in the main”.
“Radical economic transformation must underpin the economic future that we will need to craft going forward. We should be able to do this through a new compact we are going to build,” said Ramaphosa.
Elaborating further, he said the new compact would involve “all key role-players in our economy”, as well as labour and community-based organisations.
“We must be able and visionary enough to set up this compact to be able to rebuild the economy, to look out for new sectors, new ways of economic activity, new ways of management of our economy.”
And, he said, state-owned entities “must function in a way that is developmental, in a way that will be ethical, and in a way that will be innovative”.
“In the course of all this we need to build and strengthen state capacity. Innovation must underpin the many things we are going to be able to do. We must be innovative and willing as we rebuild our economy.”
Ramaphosa said growth must be a primary goal.
“We are going to have to go for growth in a big and exponential way, and be willing and be brave and courageous enough to massify whatever needs to be done, because playing around on the edges with whatever efforts we are making – that time is over now.”
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