Maak ’n plan, ministers: Cabinet holds SA’s most crucial meeting
Saving lives and livelihoods expected to dominate the agenda plotting SA’s path through the coming tumult
The cabinet has been forced to perform a delicate balancing act as it sits to grapple with adopting an economic package that will cushion a jobs bloodbath as SA continues to fight to arrest an uncontrollable spread of Covid-19.
The refrain of saving both lives and livelihoods was set to dominate Wednesday’s cabinet meeting which was expected provide much-needed clarity on the direction government must take in the coming months.
Finance minister Tito Mboweni had said at the first Covid-19 inter-ministerial briefing – almost a month ago – that a revised budget was inevitable. On the eve of the cabinet meeting, Mboweni reportedly told journalists “we can’t wait for October, budget revisions are happening almost daily. We’ll have to make a consolidated budget statement, fully aware it’s a bit of a moving target ... I will have to come back to the country and tell how we see the figures.
“The department of health cannot be found wanting ... We must be careful not to take too much resources away from growth-enhancing things.”
Already the week has seen at least two instances where communities have clashed with the police over food parcels.
The minister also did not rule out the possibility of tabling a proposal that would see a temporary increase in the amounts received by beneficiaries of social grants. Already this week there have been at least two instances where people have clashed with the police over food parcels, indicating a growing disquiet over a lack of basic provisions. This is likely to grow in the coming months when the most vulnerable are unable to generate any income. People who earn their living as car guards, waste pickers and street vendors and through so-called piece jobs will be at the mercy of the government and donors to get by.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize revealed on Monday that this was a crucial week to indicate whether or not SA was winning the fight against Covid-19.
The country’s latest statistics have the death toll at 34 with 2,506 confirmed cases. The Eastern Cape has seen a significant increase in cases, to 199. Gauteng remains the epicentre with 930 cases, followed by the Western Cape (657) and KwaZulu-Natal (519), which had the first recorded case in the country.
The department of correctional services said on Wednesday an outbreak at an East London correctional facility alone had resulted in an increase of 49 confirmed cases, bringing the total in correctional services to 78.
The Sunday Times reported that the department of trade and industry had presented an impact study to the national command council for Covid-19 along with a number of scenarios that were likely to unfold if SA remained under lockdown.
The economic cluster’s economic package, which was brought before cabinet on Wednesday for consideration, dealt in the main with the vulnerable sectors and industries that would be unlikely to survive without government intervention.
Small businesses, informal traders and big business with zero activity during the lockdown are among those that will have to be provided for.
Small businesses, informal traders and big business with zero activity during the lockdown are among those that will have to be provided for. While the ban on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes has helped the government arrest the spread of the virus, the loss of revenue through sin tax will be a point of contention which Mboweni is also likely to raise.
The health department’s current projections have SA’s Covid-19 peak coming in around September, ruling out the possibility of an end to at least some form of a lockdown while also buying time for the government to set up the much-needed infrastructure to deal with what Mkhize has predicted will be a “heavy and devastating storm”.
Cabinet will have to emerge from their meeting with a plan that will dictate life for South Africans until a vaccine is found.
Sectors such as entertainment and tourism are likely to collapse completely in the coming months while opportunities will present themselves in the pharmaceutical and hygiene sectors, where the country could position itself as a supplier not just for the SADC region but for the continent.
Mboweni is in the unenviable position of penning the ambitious plan that will guide the country through the most tumultuous period of the democratic dispensation.