'If you have a problem, I am sorry': Ramaphosa hits back at opposition over state of disaster

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President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Kopano Tlale/GCIS
  • President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government would not endanger South Africans as it planned the lifting of the Covid-19 National State of Disaster.
  • He said the remaining health regulations aimed at keeping the spread of the coronavirus in check would not kill jobs.
  • While he would not give a date, Ramaphosa said the lifting of the National State of Disaster would be announced soon, after thorough consultations.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has hit back at opposition parties in a heated debate over ongoing lockdown regulations, saying while government planned to lift the National State of Disaster, it would not do so in a manner that endangered the health of South Africans.

Ramaphosa was replying to questions from members of Parliament during a National Assembly sitting in the Good Hope Chamber on Thursday.

A question on cutting red tape for businesses turned into a heated exchange over the impact of lockdown regulations on jobs.

WATCH | 'I fear f****l' – Ramaphosa tells Malema why he did not act against police minister

Since the advent of the global Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, South Africa's already challenging economic prospects worsened rapidly. But the country has also struggled to reach its vaccination target of 70% of the adult population, which it had aimed to do by the end of last year.

MPs pressed Ramaphosa on when the National State of Disaster would be lifted – this after he had stressed in his State of the Nation Address in February that government was committed to doing so.

However, earlier this week, the state of disaster was extended for another month to mid-April, taking it past the two-year mark.

READ | Pro-business SONA includes promises on lower cost and red tape

Leader of the opposition and DA MP John Steenhuisen said the Covid-19 lockdown had become a headwind to businesses and the creation of jobs.

"The lockdown is the single biggest piece of red tape. Our unemployment and poverty disaster has now become permanent. Infection rates are low. There are no overflowing hospitals. How do we justify keeping the economy on its knees by extending lockdown?" Steenhuisen asked.

READ | OPINION | To cut red tape, Ramaphosa must first cut those sabotaging SA's economic recovery

'Health regulations are not destroying jobs'

Ramaphosa replied that the intention remained to lift the National State of Disaster, but added that government needed to ensure that it could keep health regulations for public gatherings in place so that the infection rate remained low.

"We moved away from the harder state of disaster regulations to health regulations, because now we are dealing with a health pandemic. If you have a problem with that, I'm sorry.

"We are being guided by scientists to act in the best interests of South Africans. Health regulations are not destroying jobs," he said.

Attending the plenary virtually, EFF leader Julius Malema switched on his microphone to disagree with Ramaphosa's suggestion, saying: "By closing down stadiums, you are killing jobs!"

Ramaphosa admonished opposition MPs, accusing them of stoking vaccine hesitancy and resistance to the National State of Disaster regulations instead of encouraging South Africans to social distance, wear masks, sanitise and vaccinate.

"I have been saying ad nauseam that we should encourage our people to vaccinate. I have yet to see leaders in opposition benches talking about getting people on the ground to vaccinate. All they do is talk against vaccination," Ramaphosa seethed as ANC MPs in the chamber clapped.

Ramaphosa repeated that a move was on the cards to lift the National State of Disaster "soon" and replace it with health regulations, but said such a move "will not be reckless but managed in an orderly manner".

ANC MP Faiez Jacobs had earlier asked how Ramaphosa hoped the red tape team in the Presidency would help entrepreneurs in the current economic climate.

"We have taken far-reaching measures to unleash the potential of our economy but particularly focusing on SMEs and informal business. This includes reducing the cost of doing business and removing barriers to entry for small businesses," Ramaphosa replied.

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