Right now, under the conditions of a terrible pandemic exacting a heavy human and economic toll on most societies, these are the decisions that are best for the country.
The Covid-19 pandemic is changing the world negatively and positively. There is no doubt it is wreaking havoc on economies, no country is immune.
US finance house JP Morgan has projected that the US economy is going to shrink 40%, leaving that country in its worst economic position since the Great Depression of 1929. This clearly shows that the pandemic has not spared any of the world’s economies. South Africa is no exception.
It is against this background that the raft of economic measures announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa amounting to over R500 billion must be judged. These are not measures to make the country immune to the pandemic, it’s simply a case of the government trying to do the best it can under the circumstances.
The pandemic has magnified SA’s fault lines where hunger and poverty meet, but the government’s comprehensive response is worth of the ironic adage: “never let a good crisis go to waste.”
The country’s readiness to meet the day-today demands of its poorest citizens will receive a major boost through the current drive to register all those that fell through the net meant to cover the employed.
The Covid-19 grant that every unemployed citizen can register for and receive for the next six months will provide truly tangible evidence of the scourge of unemployment not based of estimates.
Targeted responses can now be designed to deal with unemployment post the pandemic.
Over the years, so much has been said about how the local spaza-shop business in the townships have been taken over by foreign nationals, without bothering to quantify the extent of the takeover or even how locals can be assisted to begin to compete.
The pandemic has forced the government to begin the process of defining the informal business space.
There are indications now that spaza shops will be forced to have bank accounts but, most importantly, their ownership will require a local component.
Traditional spaza shops are by size far too small to broaden the tax base, but their registration onto the government’s database will net the government some tax revenue through the registration of existing larger shops in the hands of foreign nationals.
There are already insinuations that the temporary basic grants provided by the government for the unemployed are creating a dependency on the state. Even worse, there are murmurs that the recipients of these grants will feel really hard done by when the grants stop in six months’ time.
There is no formula to predict what the future holds for social and economic stability in the country, but there is clear evidence that instability was already brewing in many poverty-stricken communities which have been hardest hit by the lockdown.
The extraordinary budget rearrangement to help the country best fight the pandemic is not an optional nice-to-have intervention, it is borne out of the necessity to shield the country from massive loss of human life.
It may well be that when the pandemic is over, the country would be in a terrible state. As politics usually turns out, fingers may be pointed at President Cyril Ramaphosa and his government for having made interventions that left the country worse off.
What people need to remember and appreciate at all times are the conditions under which decisions were made. Right now, under the conditions of a terrible pandemic exacting a heavy human and economic toll on most societies, these are the decisions that are best for the country.
And this is because, as one social media commentator says: “Nobody knows what’s coming, but things are never going to be the same again.”
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