'The impact on the economy is going to be quite devastating': Ramaphosa on Covid-19

President Cyril Ramaphosa says the government will have to step in to help businesses put into distress by the coronavirus. The government is expected to announce an economic relief package.
President Cyril Ramaphosa says the government will have to step in to help businesses put into distress by the coronavirus. The government is expected to announce an economic relief package.
Image: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES

President Cyril Ramaphosa says companies in financial distress will have to be helped  by the government as part of its relief programme to minimise the economic impact of Covid-19.

Ramaphosa made the announcement after  a meeting with all parties represented in parliament, which was held at  Tuynhuys in Cape Town on Wednesday morning.

During the meeting attended by 14 political parties, Ramaphosa said several proposals were made to him about what the government should do to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus.

The government, which was in continuous consultations with business leaders and other key multisectoral stakeholders, was expected to announce an economic relief package as Covid-19 takes its toll on businesses.

“All social partners, specifically government, business and labour, need to jointly develop and implement measures to mitigate the economic impact of Covid-19. Companies in distress need to be helped ... there's a proposal that has come from the leaders of political parties.

“A number of very useful and positive proposals were put forward and political leaders have also said that they want to add to some of the proposals that we need to shore up our economy, because we all realise that the impact on the economy is going to be quite devastating.

“So as government we've said we're open to suggestions.”

Ramaphosa said a UIF contribution holiday and accelerated processing of VAT refunds had also been proposed.

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The DA on Tuesday proposed that there be a pay freeze on the loans owed by businesses and families to help them cope financially, as Covid-19 directly affected their lives and operations. The DA said its proposed four months' payment holiday should cover business loans, mortgages, bonds and vehicle finance loans.

Ramaphosa also called for an end to panic bulk-buying by citizens.

“There's really no need for anyone to rush to shopping centres to go and buy a million rolls of toilet paper, sanitisers, there's no need for that.”

Ramaphosa said political parties also committed to help the government fight “excessive alcohol” consumption as one of the measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

DA interim leader John Steenhuisen also cautioned against panic buying.

Steenhuisen appealed to big business to play its part in dealing with Covid-19.

“I would like to make an appeal to the private sector and big business to get involved. This is something that requires the best efforts of all South Africans to come together to fight this virus and the effects on the economy.”

Julius Malema, the leader of the EFF, urged business leaders not to put maximum profits ahead of human lives. Malema said the EFF supported all efforts by government to fight the deadly virus.

“We call upon all businesses who are dealing with gloves, sanitisers, masks not to try to maximise profit out of this crisis. We also call upon the private hospitals, that the only way to avoid nationalisation of those private hospitals is by fully co-operating with the minister of health when he needs beds for our sick people. It's not a time to make profit.

“We also asked the president to make sure that no-one steals out [of] this. We know that these corrupt elements steal during funerals, they did so with [former] president Mandela's funeral, they did so with Mama Winnie's funeral and we don't want to see them taking advantage during this disaster.”

Pieter Groenewald of the Freedom Front Plus said the party was pleased to see that Ramaphosa's administration was not in denial about the reality of Covid-19.

Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, leader of the African Christian Democratic Party, said his party would make sure the religious community complied with government measures, including limiting church gatherings to fewer than 100 people.

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