Ramaphosa speaks out on poverty in the face of lockdown

20 April 2020 - 12:03
By Kgothatso Madisa
Cyril Ramaphosa
Image: Supplied Cyril Ramaphosa

Lockdown has revealed a true picture of the poverty lines in the country. This is according to President Cyril Ramaphosa who, in his weekly newsletter, acknowledged that the need to lockdown the country in order to save lives from the coronavirus pandemic exposed the true state of poverty and inequality in the country.

He said the images of thousands of hunger-stricken South Africans queueing for food parcels while others lived in comfort laid bare the deep-rooted inequality in the country. He said although these were still the effects of apartheid, they were also a symptom of a fundamentally failing post-apartheid society.

“Our lockdown has revealed a very sad fault line in our society that reveals how grinding poverty, inequality and unemployment is tearing the fabric of our communities apart. There can be no greater anguish than that of a parent whose children cry out to them for food, but they have none to give.

“There can be no greater injustice than a society where some live in comfort and plenty, while others struggle at the margins to survive with little or nothing at all,” Ramaphosa said.

He also broke his silence over allegations that government officials were taking advantage of the state-sponsored relief measures by selling food parcels earmarked for the needy.

Describing the allegations as disgusting, Ramaphosa promised to deal “harshly” with the individuals concerned.

“We have also had to contend with allegations both disturbing and disgusting. A number of provinces have received reports that callous individuals, some of them allegedly government officials, are hoarding or selling food parcels earmarked for the needy and destitute, or diverting them to their friends and families,” Ramaphosa said.

According to Ramaphosa, the cabinet meeting today will finalise how the government responds to the impact of the lockdown on the poor and unemployed as well as those whose jobs were at risk during this time. This will be done by looking at some of the proposals made by various social partners on how the government can help the poor during and post the lockdown.

He said that the government was looking into scaling up the assistance provided to those living below the poverty line. There’s been various proposals including the increase of social welfare grants as well as cash relief of up to R1,000 to lower-income groups and the unemployed for up to four months.

“Even when the nation-wide lockdown is lifted, its effects will continue to be felt for some time to come. Those fortunate to have a steady income will be able to return to their jobs; but for millions of others this will be a lost month where they would otherwise have found temporary work, done business in the informal sector or saved money earned to meet their family responsibilities.

“Food support is a short-term emergency measure. It will need to be matched by sustainable solutions that help our most vulnerable citizens weather the difficult times that are still to come,” Ramaphosa said.