Business for South Africa comments on the President’s address of 13 May 2020

Business for South Africa (B4SA) welcomes the announcement last night by President Ramaphosa of the intention to ease the lockdown and reopen the economy. We are continuing to engage government to reiterate our call for the swift easing of economic restrictions accompanied by stringent health and hygiene measures in the workplace, public transport, public services and public spaces, and at all times – where practical – to limit the movement of people.

B4SA strongly supports the risk adjusted and evidence-based policy making which are informed by ever improving models created by health and economic experts. As Business for South Africa, we have been sharing our detailed risk, economic and health modelling with government and will continue to work with the state to improve our collective response.

As business, we recognise that the initial lock-down was successful in “flattening the curve”, slowing the rate of infection, and giving our public and private healthcare system a chance to rapidly increase the capacity to deal with Covid-19. Thanks to the strenuous efforts of medical and supply chain expert volunteers from business, support from the Solidarity Fund and many dedicated civil servants working in the National Department of Health, Presidency and National Treasury we have sourced many millions of pieces of PPE. These masks, gloves, ventilators and other equipment allow our frontline medical staff to prepare for the coming influx of Covid-19 patients. We commend and thank the many thousands of healthcare workers, business volunteers, NGOs and civil servants who, working together, have made this possible.

We share the President’s concern that the strict economic lockdown imperils the livelihood of millions of South Africans. Widespread hunger, despair and economic desperation are already a reality for millions. The lock-down restrictions have caused significant harm, particularly to small businesses, piece workers and the self-employed who have very few assets and savings that allow them to survive for any extended period of time.  Likewise, whole sectors of the economy have seen revenues collapse with devastating consequences for workers, communities, and investors alike.

We welcome the President’s view that, however well intentioned, some regulations are inappropriate, or misaligned, to the risk-adjusted standard. We urge the swift amendment of these regulations, incorporating evidence-based input from business, to allow for maximum economic activity so that more goods and services can be produced commensurate with hygiene, as well as health and safety protocols. We urge that the economy prepare for an orderly, clear and swift transition through levels 3 and 2 to a functioning economy. 

While we welcome the economic support from government it is clear that unless we can quickly restore people’s capacity to earn and business to function, not only will government revenue collapse, but mass job losses and business failures will become inevitable. Our fear is that law and order and the capacity to govern effectively or do business will be undermined in the face of widespread hunger, unemployment, and desperation. Only by restoring livelihoods can we retain the capacity to combat Covid-19.

All organisations and individuals must adapt to everyday life, as well as to the working practices of the health, safety, and hygiene protocols, required to combat Covid-19. We recognise the need to continue to strengthen our health defences in the face of the inevitable increase in Covid-19 cases, and protecting the most vulnerable in society, while returning the economy to full productivity on a responsible basis. In that context, we urge for comprehensive screening, testing, tracking and tracing to continue in order for decisions to be taken with full access to appropriate and relevant information.

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Business for South Africa strongly supports the announcement this afternoon by Minister Ebrahim Patel that most restrictions on e-Commerce have been lifted. These amendments are in line with President Ramaphosa’s commitment to progressively reopen the economy. Jobs will be saved and lives improved.

This decision by the minister shows a welcome willingness to respond to input by business and a commitment to continuously improve the regulations governing business based on the best evidence available.  As these amendments quite rightly say e-Commerce is a “critical enabler” of a more open economy, it reduces the density of consumers in retail spaces allowing for social distancing, it can accelerate innovation and it can support local manufacturing and increase access to goods by small business in the informal market.

We appeal to all e-Commerce providers and their staff to abide by the correct health and safety protocols and to quickly restart their businesses to serve all South Africans.

As business we will continue engaging with government to reiterate our call for the swift easing of economic restrictions accompanied by stringent health and hygiene measures in the workplace, public transport, public services and public spaces, and at all times – where practical – to limit the movement of people.

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