Move over lockdown, SA is getting back to (some) business

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Move over lockdown, SA is getting back to (some) business

Restrictions have been relaxed for key sectors, a sign the executive fears the approaching financial pinch

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Minister of mineral and energy resources Gwede Mantashe. Government announced at a briefing on Thursday that all mines supplying Eskom would operate at full capacity during the lockdown.
GOOD NEWS GUY Minister of mineral and energy resources Gwede Mantashe. Government announced at a briefing on Thursday that all mines supplying Eskom would operate at full capacity during the lockdown.
Image: Jairus Mmutle/GCIS

As SA moves into the fourth week of a crippling national lockdown in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, the state has begun to ease biting restrictions on businesses in a move aimed at propping up the economy.

Department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Thursday announced amended lockdown rules that will apply until the end of April, as doubt about when the shutdown would end loomed large.  

This move, economists said, was informed by ratings downgrades and the near collapse of the national economy, and is an important step in the return towards normalcy.

A key sector that would see a tempered return to productivity was mining, also critically important to SA’s commodity export market.

Other sectors that would see relaxed restrictions were call centres, warehousing facilities and trades such as plumbers and electricians.

The minister also said the flow of traffic at ports would resume and that the movement of goods was important to decrease congestion.

Dlamini-Zuma, speaking at a meeting of the National Command Council, said rules may be relaxed further in the days to come and that this was “essential”.

“When we do stop the lockdown, we cannot do it abruptly. We have to phase in, so there is an orderly move towards normality,” she said.

When we do stop the lockdown, we cannot do it abruptly. We have to phase in, so there is an orderly move towards normality. 

On mining, she said: “All the mines that supply Eskom must be opened. The refineries will have to be opened at full capacity to make sure we don’t run out of fuel. They will start operating at 50%.”

Dlamini-Zuma said warehouses for essential supply services such as water and water tank installations could be opened.

“Vehicles used by professionals who offer essential services must also be assisted in these warehouses. Citizens in private homes must be able to call plumbers or electricians if they need their services,” she said.

Economist Dawie Roodt said it appeared the easing of restrictions had been aimed at the beginning of the value chain.

“I think they are getting concerned about the distribution chain and what they are trying to achieve is ensuring that we don’t start to run out of anything.

“The other reason is that they know they need to support the economy and the lockdown is doing untold damage,” he said.

Political economist Daniel Silke said restrictions were eased out of necessity.

“Across the world they [restrictions] are having a hugely damaging effect and the bottom line is that this cannot be sustained.

“The first reason for this is the economy and the second is that there will be a fatigue among citizens who want to begin a process of returning to normalcy. Scaling back is psychological in a sense so people can see some light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Across the world restrictions are having a hugely damaging effect and the bottom line is that this cannot be sustained.

Miners returning to work was of vital importance as the export of metals and minerals could help SA’s economy, he added.

“Mining is a key foreign-exchange earner for SA and as we see the Chinese economy showing a little bit of life, the demand for metals and minerals could help. We have to be mindful of our key export partners and what is happening with the reopening of their markets,” Silke said.

Another easing came from minister of international relations and co-operation (Dirco) Naledi Pandor, who said the process to repatriate South Africans stranded abroad was continuing.

She said 600 South Africans had returned home. 

“We have people in Namibia, Botswana and Lesotho whom we have been able to repatriate. Sometimes it runs to 200 a day.”

The department was negotiating with other countries through diplomatic channels, said Pandor.

President Cyril Ramaphosa extended the lockdown, which would have ended on Thursday night, by two weeks in a bid to halt the spread of Covid-19.

SA has recorded 2,506 infections and 34 deaths.

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