COVID-19: From relief to recovery

Monday, February 15, 2021

President Cyril Ramaphosa says South Africa's collective efforts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic must now shift from relief measures to deliberate action to aid economic recovery. 

This, the President said in his weekly newsletter on Monday, will require cooperation and contribution from every citizen. President Ramaphosa said the country was able to provide a lifeline to its citizens due to the already-existing social security safety net in the form of the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) and the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). The two bodies were respectively able to provide relief to vulnerable citizens and those whose livelihoods were compromised by the pandemic and resultant lockdown. 

"We need to make sure that these relief measures provide a firm foundation for a broader recovery without driving the country deeper into debt. Unless we can bring our national debt down to sustainable levels, no meaningful economic recovery will be possible.

"Many workers lost part of their income as their work hours were reduced with many being retrenched. Several businesses have incurred heavy losses from scaled-back operations. Others have had to close. People working in the informal sector have also suffered

“This is why the extensive relief measures we put in place were both necessary and urgent. Now that nearly a year has passed, we can say that these measures have proved effective.

“We would not have been able to roll out these measures in such a short space of time if we had not had an extensive social security infrastructure already in place.

“We were able to respond to this huge and immediate need in our society thanks to the substantial nationwide infrastructure and systems of the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) and the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF),” President Ramaphosa said.

The President said the support provided by the UIF was a lifeline to struggling businesses and employees. "It made the difference between companies remaining open and being forced to close, between jobs saved and jobs lost. Employees in dire straits were able to receive a portion of their salaries.” 

While these relief measures were designed to be temporary, the economy, the President said, will continue to feel the effects of the pandemic for some time to come.

“Even as lockdown restrictions have been eased, many companies are struggling to cope with the fallout of months of diminished operations and lost revenue.

“It is for this reason that following extensive discussion with social partners at NEDLAC, the COVID TERS [temporary employer-employee relief scheme] benefit has been extended until 15 March 2021 for sectors that have not been able to fully operate.

“Our focus now must be on creating an enabling environment for businesses to recover, and for economic growth that spurs job creation and attracts investment.” 

President Ramaphosa said companies will need to be innovative in driving methods and processes that secure their sustainability and profitability, with job retention being their foremost consideration. –