Business bodies pledge support for Ramaphosa as global coronavirus cases surge


South African business bodies and lobby groups on Sunday pledged to work closely with President Cyril Ramaphosa and his government in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, as global cases surged past 300 000. 

Representatives from business groupings Business Unity South Africa, the Banking Association South Africa and the Black Business Council met with the president and government ministers on Sunday morning to "consolidate a single approach to the economy".

This comes as countries around the world scramble to pass economic rescue packages as the impact of the virus severely constrains economic activity, causing stock markets to plunge and layoffs to surge, as analysts warn of a global recession.  

South Africa's struggling economy slumped into its second recession in two years in the last quarter of 2019 amid power cuts, low business confidence and record high unemployment. 

Global economic slowdown 

Minister of Trade and Industry, Ebrahim Patel, said the meeting focused on the impact of the global economic slowdown on SA, stocks of health products, competition exemptions, price regulations and support for small and vulnerable enterprises.

"What came out of the meeting was excellent ideas. Lots of proposals and thoughts were given [These] will now be fed into the command council the president will chair this [Sunday] afternoon."

Patel said the meeting showed "enormous convergence of thinking" and a commitment to working together.

The minister said the president would be communicating the details and outcomes of the meeting he chaired with business bodies later on Sunday. This address has since been postponed to Monday.

Martin Kingston of Business Unity South Africa said the meeting was "very constructive," and the business body had offered its support to work collaboratively with the president and his executive.

Kingston and other business leaders did not provide specifics of what was discussed on Sunday, leaving it to the president to make any announcements.  

"We have mobilised very significant resources to look at the impact on healthcare, the labour market and obviously economic interventions in the immediate short term, in the medium term and over time."

Kingston said the "ravages" of the virus would be felt "for a long time to come" and preparation was needed for key interventions in the future.

"We have committed ourselves to working on an aligned basis on all key aspects of the economy," he said.

Richard Wainwright of the Banking Association South Africa said South Africans could be confident of the resilience of the country's banking system.

Sandile Zungu of the Black Business Council said business had committed to working with government and other social partners to 'flatten the cure'.

Flattening the curve refers to measures intended to prevent a surge of coronavirus cases by instead attempting to stagger infections out over a longer period, by introducing social distancing measures.

"Let's honour the social distancing protocols," said Zungu.

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