Ministries own up to glitches and put correctional measures in place, ranging from early social grant payments to a 60% passenger quota in taxis
After just two days of the lockdown imposed on South Africa in response to the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak, government has acknowledged shortcomings regarding the plans and legislation put in place to guide citizens during this period.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Monday, March 23, that South Africans would undergo a lockdown situation from midnight on Thursday.
The announcement came two days before most citizens got paid.
This led to a large portion of the population resorting to panic-buying, which resulted in queues spiralling outside retail stores – defeating the objective of practising social distancing.
The mass rush to the shops came about despite repeated assurances by government that supermarkets, pharmacies, fuel stations and healthcare facilities would remain open after Thursday.
“We have seen some challenges and glitches, as one would expect, from this massive mobilisation of resources across the nation,” said Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel.
“We will be addressing these as we refine our approach and as we implement the lockdown over the remaining period.”
He explained that a number of measures had to be put in place to ensure that queues were cut short and social distancing rules maintained.
“There will now be provision for trollies for those in queues and additional measures to have fewer people in the queues. We are speaking to retailers and the police to assist us,” Patel said.
He assured citizens that retailers were in the process of restocking shelves over the next two days – which means there will be enough food for everyone.
In addition, he said, a new regulation halting the export of critical goods was in place to ensure that South Africans were not left in the lurch.
Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has increased the number of essential goods that can be sold by retailers.
The list of essential services has also been updated.
Spaza shops can stay open as long as they sell essential goods, but they need to maintain social distancing regulations.
More than 40 000 companies have registered to be placed in the essential services category, and more than 500 complaints have been registered for unjustified price increases by retailers.
Transportation has also been a controversial issue as many citizens have expressed concern that the new system is too limiting.
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula agreed, saying that, while the control measures had started on a good note, the challenge of long queues at taxi ranks – resulting from the new regulation that taxis could only transport a limited number of people at a time – remained.
He has announced that taxis are now allowed to be 60% full to alleviate the problem.
The transport department is working alongside the social development department to ensure that social grant recipients are able to collect their funds.
“We have activated a government fleet across all provinces to ensure that older persons and persons with disabilities get to the paypoints to receive their grants,” said Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu in her report-back yesterday afternoon.
To reduce the number of people queuing to receive their grants, Zulu announced that payments would be made earlier, on March 30 and 31, starting with older people and people with disabilities.
All other social grants will be paid on April 1 as scheduled.
“Both the SA Social Security Agency and the SA Post Office have finalised all of the logistical arrangements pertaining to social grant payments,” she said.
The National Development Agency has appointed volunteers in all nine provinces who will serve as the eyes and ears of the department.
These volunteers will be expected to report any service delivery challenges that occur, and these will be escalated to a so-called war room, headed by the deputy minister of social development, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu.
Delivering his report-back, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande said his department had commissioned and finalised the set-up of a situational awareness platform with the help of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
This platform would assist in compiling critical information about Covid-19 and in conducting studies that could help stop the spread of the virus.
“A joint CSIR and department of health team are hard at work creating a range of data warehouses, which include [mapping] the current geographic spread of the disease, current cases, health vulnerabilities and the location of health and other facilities,” he said.
Nzimande added that the Human Science Research Council was in the process of conducting an online survey to better understand behaviours and patterns that could assist in finding ways to curb the spread of the virus.
“As at March 27, about 2 400 people have responded to the survey. The sample size has increased, but a statistician has been commissioned to assess the quality of the responses and data, after which analysis can be done. This will happen over the next two days,” he said.
Many South Africans have heeded the call by the president to stay home during the lockdown period. However, others have flouted the rules, regarding the lockdown as a holiday and hosting parties.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Ngqakula and Police Minister Bheki Cele said on Friday that they had received numerous tip-offs, which were particularly important in finding the culprits behind these illegal gatherings.
In a joint operation with the SA National Defence Force and the SA Police Service, 55 people were arrested on the first day of the lockdown, most of them in Gauteng.
“This pandemic is a killer. The situation we find ourselves in is very serious. We are fighting an invisible enemy,” Ngqakula said.
She said the government would be working on a new joint plan on where deployments should be.
Some South Africans have criticised the army and police for using force against those breaking the law, but Cele believes there is nothing wrong with how police have conducted themselves.
“This war we find ourselves in is not a war against any citizen of this country; it is a war against a common enemy: the coronavirus. Whoever breaks the law and chooses to join the enemy against the citizens will face the full might of the law, and police will decisively ensure that we defend the people of South Africa,” he said.