Not everyone’s impressed by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement on Saturday evening, in his address to the nation, that South Africa will move into Lockdown Level 2 with many regulations relaxed, including a lift on the ban on cigarettes and alcohol, and the opening of borders for inter-provincial travel.
While some rejoiced – and looked forward to popping open the champagne on Monday when the alcohol ban will be lifted – hundreds of furious social media users berated the government for waiting too long and leaving many starving, destitute, and jobless in their “corruption-riddled” lockdown wake. South Africa’s main opposition parties gave it a resounding thumbs-down – but for very different reasons.
“Too late, Mr President. You’ve already killed the economy.” – John Steenhuisen, DA
John Steenhuisen – Leader of the Democratic Alliance – said: “President Ramaphosa’s announcement tonight that the Lockdown will continue at Level 2 is nothing but a capitulation to the real power in the ANC, who desperately want to cling to the “new normal” they have created for South Africa these past five months. The lockdown, along with the State of Disaster that was again extended for 30 days today, only serves to place power and control in a few hands and bypasses government’s legislative arm entirely. Whether they call it level one, two, three or six, it doesn’t matter. It should not be there at all.
“Lifting the ban on alcohol and tobacco sales, as well as opening beaches and parks and permitting inter-provincial travel is not something for which government should now be praised or thanked. These restrictions should have been lifted months ago, along with every other regulation that has curbed economic activity during lockdown. The ANC government has caused devastation on an unimaginable scale to the lives of ordinary South Africans, while they themselves have not experienced a single day without income. Throughout the lockdown crisis, they could not have been more out of touch with the people whose lives they destroyed.
“The only thing the lockdown achieved was the devastation of our economy and the loss of millions of jobs. And that is what President Ramaphosa and his government must take responsibility for. The President admitted this evening that the models used to justify shutting down the economy were wrong. This is not something he can casually mention and walk away from. If they paralysed our economy for five months based on wrong information, heads must roll right at the top.
“We are now in the midst of a devastating economic depression, and all that matters now is getting as many South Africans working as we possibly can. This means opening up every sector of our economy as widely as possible, and particularly our tourism and hospitality sectors. We have to welcome back international tourists. It also means that we cannot afford any more delays in implementing economic reforms, and the President is going to have to learn very quickly how to face down his opponents inside his own party.
“The decision to extend the State of Disaster by another month must also be regarded with the utmost suspicion. Nothing at this stage of our efforts to contain the virus justifies a State of Disaster, and there has been no explanation from COGTA Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on why this had to be extended. What we do know is that the Disaster Management Act hands her unprecedented power and circumvents all parliamentary oversight. It has also allowed ANC cadres and their families to loot Covid funding at will.
“And that is the big elephant in the room of tonight’s address: the brazen looting of Covid funds by ANC cadres and their family members. South Africans won’t be distracted by announcements of lockdown levels. They want to know what the president is doing about this pandemic of ANC corruption. They want to see charges, court dates and sentences.
“With regards to the remaining restrictions – the ban on international travel, the senseless 10pm curfew and limited school attendance – these must all be lifted immediately. Our country simply cannot afford to turn away tourists, and we can’t continue to jeopardise the education of our children. We can, and must, get on with our lives, while remaining vigilant in our behaviour. This means still wearing our masks, washing our hands and surfaces, maintaining distance, keeping windows open and air moving, and avoiding unnecessary large gatherings.”
Steenhuisen concluded that President Ramaphosa has not been able to justify the lockdown for a long time now, “but backing out of it without having made any significant inroads into building healthcare capacity or containing infections would have been an admission of failure. It would have been a clear admission that our economy was ruined – along with the livelihoods, and even lives, of millions of South Africans – for nothing at all. And so he now has to try and back out of it bit by bit to retain a semblance of control and save some face. But it’s too little, too late. The damage is done.”
EFF Rejects the Relaxation: Lies that will lead to a loss of life
On the other hand, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) said in a statement Saturday night that they reject the relaxation of lockdown regulations “in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic”, and warn that it is a mistake that could lead to a great loss of life. The EFF say that “Cyril Ramaphosa in collaboration with the Health Department has conspired to manipulate” the data to “rationalise the reopening of the economy at the cost of lives”. They say the peak has not yet been met in SA, and by the time people realise it will be too late. “The consequence of this lie will be death,” said the EFF, who also berated the government for not yet doing anything constructive about the corruption. The EFF has called for an independent study of the Covid figures, accusing the ANC leadership of being “loyal to big business over the lives of people”.
The EFF says there has been no infrastructure development to deal with the inevitable spike in trauma-unit cases as a result of the sale of alcohol, and claim that “the reopening of taverns and resumption of the sale of alcohol will therefore have a deadly effect as inter-personal violence will increase sharply, and the spread of infections will rise.”
“Countries across Europe are reinforcing stronger lockdown regulations in the face of a rise of infections, while South African politicians lie to the nation,” says the EFF. “We will hold the government directly responsible for lies that will lead to a loss of life, and Cyril Ramaphosa in particular as an individual committed to the massacre of people.”
Read the full statement here:
EFF Statement on Relaxation of Lockdown Regulations pic.twitter.com/ZnRrdTXxYz
— Economic Freedom Fighters (@EFFSouthAfrica) August 15, 2020
“Too little too late for many farmers” – SAAI
Dr Theo de Jager, Chairperson of Saai’s Board of Directors, said the announcement is “too little and too late for many farmers, agricultural industries and value chains”.
In a statement Saturday evening, SAAI said: “For the game industry, already crippled by the absence of trophy hunters from abroad, the incomprehensible ban on interprovincial travel for local hunters (while taxi passengers are allowed to be transported on the same routes) came as a deathblow. The traditional hunting season has almost reached its end and hundreds of game farms have been plunged into a financial crisis with thousands of job losses upstream and downstream in the value chain.”
The statement points out that similar job losses have already resulted in a social crisis in the wine industry, where the loss of business is not limited to the 2020 production year only. Overflowing cellars have no storage capacity in tanks and barrels and have already notified producers that they are unable to allocate 2021 quotas. “A farm cannot be closed down for a year, and very few family farmers are able to survive two consecutive years’ loss of income or turnover,” says De Jager.
Tobacco farmers and their workers who SAAI says have been doomed to cash flow crises by the 20 weeks long cigarette ban are upset by the “obviously deficient research and data on which the decision to ban smoking was based”.
“To be calling now for new job opportunities to be created while affected farmers and rural businesses are struggling to retain existing manpower, especially following cries of distress addressed to the government since May 2020 to give the businesses that have been choked to death some breathing space, is very strange indeed. The rural business sector’s confidence in the government has been shattered by the unpredictability, recklessness and irrationality of the government, to such an extent that it will take a long time for investments to back new job opportunities again.”
The announcements did not come as a surprise, given the pressure exerted by the court applications in the tobacco, hunting and wine industries brought by Saai and the “weak arguments” and data sets the government has based its defence on.
“The government is the problem, not the solution” – AfriForum
AfriForum said communities should realise that it is reckless to still expect the government to act responsibly and look after their interests. The civil rights organisation is of the opinion that government cannot be lauded for removing the ban on tobacco products and liquor, as well as interprovincial travel, because these were irrational right from the start.
Ernst Roets, Head of Policy and Action at AfriForum, says corruption, in particular theft of money earmarked for relief because of the COVID-19 pandemic, has not been dealt with.
“Now to thank the president for relaxing the lockdown measures would be like a prisoner thanking his kidnapper when he is set free. We are not suffering from Stockholm syndrome,” says Roets.
In a statement on Saturday, AfriForum said the President had been warned by the country and the world’s foremost experts to act differently, but he “succumbed to pressure from his corrupt comrades and could not resist the temptation to hold on to power in an irrational manner”.
Many social media users have said there’s no point reacting just yet – “Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma will change all the President’s plans tomorrow.”