OPINION

Lifting of hard lockdown comes a full six weeks too late – John Steenhuisen

DA leader says there was no rational justification to extend hard lockdown beyond initial three weeks

Lifting of the hard lockdown comes a full six weeks too late

24 May 2020

The DA welcomes the announcement by the President that large swathes of the economy will be opened up, subject to hygiene, mask and distancing protocols, as we move to Alert Level 3 of the lockdown on 1 June. This is in line with what the DA has called for, repeatedly, for the past month. For clarity on the DA’s position on the Covid19 response and the lockdown crisis, please see our FAQ document here.

While it is critical that we now save what can be saved in our economy, it must be said that by the time Alert Level 3 comes into effect in a week’s time, it will be a full six weeks too late. There was no rational justification to extend the hard lockdown beyond the initial three weeks, and this extension has now caused irreparable damage to our economy. The resulting hardship and suffering – and ultimately, the premature deaths of South African citizens due to this – will have been largely avoidable. Government and President Ramaphosa will need to answer for this.

South Africa has now entered its ninth week of hard lockdown, which makes ours the second-longest lockdown in the world, after only Italy. By 1 June, we will have surpassed Italy. Our economy could barely withstand the initial three weeks. This extension has come at an enormous cost to millions, and there is very little to show for it in return.

For the past month and a half, South Africans have had to sit at home and watch everything they had built up fall apart. Businesses went bust, employees went unpaid, rents accumulated, home loan payments were missed and hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs. This figure will soon be millions, as the effects of this lockdown reverberate through our economy. And people did this – they sat at home and watched it collapse – because they were told this was their end of the deal. Their part of the so-called social compact President Ramaphosa speaks of.

But the other end of this deal never materialised. Government didn’t use the past five weeks to ready itself for the wave of infections. And it didn’t use the time to find and help those South Africans most in need. The additional R350 grant has still not kicked in, apart from a ten-person pilot, and many businesses have still not received a cent in TERS funding. Citizens sacrificed everything while government reneged on the deal. And there has been no comprehensive reporting on healthcare readiness, other than in the Western Cape, where Premier Alan Winde has consistently been transparent.

So while the DA welcomes this move to Alert Level 3, we must stress that it comes far too late for millions of South Africans who have already paid heavily for government’s dithering. And why should this only come into effect a week from now? This lockdown is costing our economy around R13 billion a day. The President must end it tomorrow, not next week.

And even now, at Alert Level 3, the irrational regulations and exclusions remain. There is no reason for businesses such as hair salons to remain shut, if they can operate under the same health protocols as other businesses. There is also no reason at all for cigarettes to remain banned, as most smokers have not given up smoking and are simply buying their illicit cigarettes elsewhere. We call on President Ramaphosa to provide us with the scientific justification for the continuation of this ban, which is costing our country hundreds of millions of Rands in missed tax revenue.

We also need the President to fill in the biggest missing piece of the puzzle: the plan to fix the past six weeks of economic devastation and the past decade of mismanagement and looting. There can be no more delay when it comes to spelling out the bold economic reforms we need. Due to the government's dithering, an economic depression is already baked into the cake. Unless we immediately implement structural reforms, which include selling and privatising SOEs, scrapping destructive plans like EWC and NHI, and dramatically cutting the public wage bill, an entire generation of South Africans will be left to pay the price for the six weeks that destroyed our economy.

Issued by John Steenhuisen, Leader of the Democratic Alliance, 24 May 2020