President Cyril Ramaphosa told the nation that the success of the country’s vaccination programme will rely on active collaboration between all sectors of society. The government is greatly encouraged by the active involvement of business, labour, the health industry and medical schemes in particular in preparing for this mass vaccination drive.

“As we have overcome before, we will overcome again and rise. But it is not just this disease that we must defeat. We must overcome poverty and hunger, joblessness and inequality. We must overcome a legacy of exclusion and dispossession that continues to impoverish our people, and which this pandemic has severely worsened,” he said.

He reported that government’s plans have had to be adapted in response to the global emergency of Covid-19. Budgets have had to be reprioritised and many programmes have had to be deferred.

Over the past year, South Africa has experienced a sharp decline in growth and a significant increase in unemployment. “Poverty is on the rise. Inequality is deepening. In the third quarter of 2020, our economy was 6% percent smaller than it was in the last quarter of 2019.”

He reported that 1.7 million fewer people were employed in the third quarter of 2020 than in the first quarter, before the pandemic struck. “Our unemployment rate now stands at a staggering 30.8%. As a result of the relief measures that we implemented and the phased reopening of the economy, we expect to see a strong recovery in employment by the end of 2021.”

As the government worked to contain the spread of the virus, it also had to take extraordinary measures to support ordinary South Africans, assist businesses in distress and protect people’s livelihoods.

“The social and economic relief package that we introduced in April last year is the largest intervention of its kind in our history. It identified measures worth a total of R500 billion – or about 10% of our GDP [gross domestic product] – to provide cash directly to the poorest households, to provide wage support to workers and to provide various forms of relief to struggling businesses.

“A total of 18 million people, or close to one-third of the population, received additional grant payments through these relief measures. It is estimated that this grant lifted more than five million people above the food poverty line, helping to alleviate hunger in a moment of great crisis.

“To date,” he continued, “more than R57 billion in wage support has been paid to over 4.5 million workers through the Special UIF TERS [Unemployment Insurance Fund Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme] scheme. More than R1.3 billion has been provided in support mainly for small- and medium-sized businesses.

In addition, according to President Ramaphosa, over R70 billion in tax relief was extended to businesses in distress. Around R18.9 billion in loans have been approved for 13 000 businesses through the loan guarantee scheme.

Mava Lukani
11 February 2021