Ramaphosa: 'Economy is slowly recovering, but we risk leaving most vulnerable behind'

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President Cyril Ramaphosa at SONA.
President Cyril Ramaphosa at SONA.
Twitter, @PresidencyZA
  • President Cyril Ramaphosa is deeply worried about poverty in the country.
  • Ramaphosa said there remains a risk that the nation's most vulnerable will continue to suffer.
  • The president delivered a reply to the debate on his SONA.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is deeply worried about poverty in the country as the number of people starving has again risen to higher levels than before.

Delivering a reply to the debate on the State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Thursday, Ramaphosa said data from the NIDS-CRAM household survey showed that, by October last year, total employment had recovered to nearly reach the level seen in February.

READ | EFF warns Ramaphosa they can remove him as corruption continues to cloud SONA debate

Ramaphosa said the nation's economy is slowly recovering, but there is a risk of "leaving the most vulnerable behind".

"The data also suggests that while the expansion of social grants provided substantial relief to individuals and households last year, hunger has again risen to higher levels than before. This is deeply worrying. It is evidence of an uneven recovery, which risks leaving the most vulnerable behind.

"It demonstrates the need to maintain some of the extraordinary social relief measures we put in place, and to accelerate our livelihoods support and employment programmes," Ramaphosa said.

The president also said women were hit hard by the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn.

He said:

The same survey found a high degree of turnover in the labour market, which means that those who lost their jobs in April are not necessarily those who gained jobs in October. Women are working fewer hours, and their employment levels have not recovered as robustly as men. This may be due, at least in part, to the disproportionately more time that women spend on child care than men. More broadly, our experience of the impact of the pandemic, has shown the importance of the economic empowerment of women.

Ramaphosa said improving the economic position of the country's women can reduce inequality, levels of child hunger and poverty.

"We can reduce the vulnerability of women to violence and abuse. And we will be harnessing the talents and energies of one half of our population more effectively to drive growth and transformation. We are working to give effect to our decision to direct at least 40% of public procurement to women-owned business.

"This requires not simply a change to procurement policies. It also requires that we prepare women-owned businesses to access these opportunities," he said.

On the positive side, Ramaphosa said the data showed a recovery in the labour market.

"This recovery in employment is the result of both the phased reopening of the economy as we brought the virus under control, as well as the success of relief measures, such as UIF Temporary Employee Relief Scheme (TERS), that were implemented as part of our emergency stimulus package.

"It is these green shoots that we must continue to nurture as we steer the economy towards a full recovery and further growth," he said.

ALSO READ | SONA debate: Opposition parties lament govt's 'instability' and 'party infighting'

Ramaphosa said the pandemic has demonstrated how the country's economic growth and social development depend on citizens' health.

"It has shown how vital it is that we invest in our people's health if we are to sustainably grow our economy and realise the potential of this, our most significant endowment. The pandemic has also exposed the inequalities in access to healthcare and underscored the value of a national health insurance.

"While the pandemic has further constrained our public finances, in many ways it has also enabled progress towards the NHI," he said.

He added that the pandemic has shown how public and private partners can work together.

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