Ramaphosa explains why "lockdown could not go on forever"

18 June 2020 - 16:40
By Kgothatso Madisa
President Cyril Ramaphosa
Image: ESA ALEXANDER President Cyril Ramaphosa

Lockdown could not go on forever as the country does not have enough resources to continue supporting its citizens.

This is according to President Cyril Ramaphosa who during oral questions and answers explained in parliament why the government decided to ease the lockdown. He said the continuation of lockdown would have resulted in the economy being completely destroyed. Since lockdown was effected over 80 days ago, the government has had to support a lot of citizens who either lost their jobs or companies had cut their salaries or those who relied completely on government through welfare grants.

“When we introduced or announced the R500bn assistance package, we knew that for the most part it was going to be a stop gap measure. It was going to help to stabilise the lives of our people,” Ramaphosa said.

“It could not go on forever and that is why even with the social grants they were time based, they were not additions to social grants, including the Covid-19 R350, It is not forever because we don’t have the resources. But we knew that we needed to act and to come in and support the livelihoods of our people.”

He explained to members of the national assembly that there was no government in the world that could support its citizens forever as that meant pumping more money into the economy.

Ramaphosa said this would be difficult as the closure of business activity under the hard lockdown meant that the government was not making any revenue from taxes on things like alcohol, cigarettes, and value-added tax among others.

“As it is now, as a result of the economy having been closed, the revenue base or the taxes that need to be paid right across the board … have gone down and the big hole that we now have is now almost R300bn that we could have had to support services to support our people.

“It was a sacrifice that all of us had to make. We’ve made the sacrifice, continuing to close the economy would have meant that we completely wipe out the tax base that we’ve got and possibly even destroy it because some of the companies will not be able to reopen … some of the companies will be closed down for good. That is a huge price to pay because it impacts on livelihoods.”

Ramaphosa was speaking during oral questions and answer session in parliament where members questioned him on some of the decisions government took in the fight against the novel coronavirus. He explained that the government did not “thumb suck” any of its decisions which has seen lockdown being eased from level five to level three, resulting in millions of people being able to go to work and schools being reopened.

He said their decisions were based on the epidemiological advise given by the scientists on the ministerial advisory committee including the decision to ease the lockdown.

“I say this with a heavy heart, many people are going to lose their jobs. And it is this that this government needs to manage. We were elected to manage precisely this, and Honourable Speaker this is what I am determined to manage,” Ramaphosa said.