The government’s integrated response to the coronavirus pandemic came under scrutiny at the National Council of Provinces’ (NCOP’s) plenary debate that was held recently. This was a motion raised by the Chief Whip of the NCOP, Mr Seiso Mohai.

According to him, the debate took place at a period which marks South Africa’s significant political agitations that influenced the mass democratic movement that led to the ratification of the Freedom Charter and the outbreak of the 1976 Youth Uprising.

In keeping with the significance of these events, he claimed, Covid-19 has laid bare the inequalities in South Africa and the renewed centrality of the state in economic development in favour of the poor, the working class, and the vulnerable.

He claimed that the governing party entered the debate with a renewed urgency to realise the principles of the Freedom Charter “that there is no government which can claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people. And all shall share in the wealth if the country”.

He said the vision has been articulated in the National Development Plan (NDP) and Vision 2030, which proclaim that “no democratic process can flourish if the masses of the people remain in poverty, without land and without tangible prospects of a better life”.

He said: “As we look at the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, we do so not in a vacuum, we are guided by the broad vision of the Freedom Charter and the NDP.”

This is the case, he said, “because as much as Covid-19 is a health challenge, it has a far-reaching social and economic impact.”

Even worse, “it happened within a context in which our country was faced by multiple economic and social challenges, which include the densely populated informal settlements of our country, with no decent water, sanitation and public health infrastructure”.

These conditions make the majority of South Africans vulnerable to the pandemic, he claimed, “but the government’s integrated approach has taken cognisance of these realities”.

He saluted the government for rolling out economic relief measures to the significant majority, “especially the unemployed who are most vulnerable”.

Participating in the debate, the Minister of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA), Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said: “We have been flexible with our regulations and they have been amended where we deemed fit.”

In her opinion, one of the major challenges the state is faced with is the non-payment of services. “Currently, municipalities are unable to collect the revenue due to the outbreak of the pandemic.”

She mentioned the City of Johannesburg as a case in point: “It has lost the notch of its revenue. It used to collect 80% of its revenue, but now it struggles to reach such levels. The government’s R20 billion relief fund for local government will assist, but it will probably not be enough,” she said.

Litigation is another major challenge, she said. To date, the government has 90 litigations. “Some were settled in court, others out of court, others are ongoing. But on the other hand, there are those who say we have moved too fast to reach level 3, we should not have opened the schools at a time when there is a spike in infections.”

Also participating in the debate, the Minister of Trade and Industry, Mr Ibrahim Patel. Talking about the government’s economic interventions and the scale of their measures to slow down the economic impact of the pandemic, he said: “Economic relief sought to bring about greater protection to our citizens, and laid down the foundation for measures to address the economic reconstruction of our country.”

He said there are various areas in which the government sought to address a crisis that was sudden, unexpected and unprecedented in recent history. He said the first step was to undertake the economic impact surveillance, and identify key risks and challenges so that the response can be based on the best available evidence.

According to him, that enabled the government to come up with a range of responses. He said the government worked with the private sector to secure stocks of medications. “We developed a health stocks database and worked with local industries to repurpose their production machines for the purpose of making hand sanitisers, face and surgical masks.”

In addition to that, he said the government ensured that there is basic food supplies and stock of basic food to avoid food shortages. This was necessary because the pandemic created unprecedented demand and supply challenges.

The fourth intervention was R500 billion to mitigate the impact of the pandemic to workers and firms, he said. “This included loan partnership ventures with banks, small enterprises and businesses. Also, the government set up the Social Security Fund that led to the formation of the Solidarity Fund, an independent structure that mobilises funds to buy personal protective equipment and communicate the message of social distancing and behaviour,” he said. 

This was coupled with the increase in social grants and the funding of local municipalities for Covid-19 interventions, he said. To curb overpricing, collectively companies have been fined more the R20 million for this transgression, he reported.

As lockdown regulations were eased, the government sought to calibrate the level of risks and economic activity, he said.

“The post-Covid economy should afford us an opportunity to build a more inclusive economy that the vision of Freedom Charter entails,” he claimed.

By Abel Mputing

 24 June 2020