Re-emerging from the ruins of the economy-crippling COVID-19 pandemic presents South Africa with an opportunity to arise with a renewed economy that addresses the country’s social deficiencies.
This was the potent message delivered by President Cyril Ramaphosa in a livestreamed address on Workers’ Day.
“South Africans will have to dig deeper than any other moment, since the advent of democracy, to rebuild our nation,” he said.
“Beyond this grave health emergency, we should see this as a time of possibility and opportunity for renewal. It is a time to work together as South Africans to create a more just and inclusive country.”
He said the pandemic has illustrated the generous spirit of South Africans to succeed against what was seemingly insurmountable odds and difficulties.
“Let’s work together to emerge from this pandemic with a more humane society marked by an economy that is more inclusive, more equitable and where South Africans prosper,” said the President.
He said labour, business and civil society must join with government in a new social compact for national reconstruction, saying the country needs to put in place a comprehensive and far-reaching economic recovery programme that does not merely return the economy to where it was.
“It needs to produce a new, transformed economy, more inclusive and a more people-centred economy that focuses on social outcomes. It must be an economy that prioritises worker participation and ownership, it must be a gendered economy that bridges the great material divide between men and women, creating opportunities for women in all parts of the economy.”
The President added that infrastructure is going to be a key part of the country’s recovery, saying it will drive investment in local production, local job creation, and demand for SMMEs and expand the capacity of the economy.
“We are called upon to consider unorthodox ways to revive our economy,” he said.
He conceded that achieving would be hard but not impossible.
Government has over the past few weeks unveiled risk adjustment measures and economic relief interventions. These are aimed at easing the impact of the virus on South African businesses and citizens.
“These efforts have been bolstered by efforts of many South Africans who have come across in many formation in the lengths and breadths to identify and assist those who are in need,” said the President.
He applauded the leading role of labour movements in calling for bold action to assist workers, informal traders and the unemployed.
“Trade unions have looked beyond the needs of their members to the needs of those in society and are most vulnerable. As we respond to the health and economic impact of Coronavirus, we must also address social effects, from students being out of classrooms for prolonged periods to the potential in the rise in gender-based violence,”
All indications are that the Coronavirus will be with South Africa for many more months and that its effects will be with the country for a very long time. This, he said, calls on the country to adjust its way of living and working to this reality.
“We are a resilient and resourceful people but much will be asked of all of us to overcome this pandemic. We are grateful to all the people of this country for action they have taken and the sacrifices they’ve made to safeguard the health of our nation. We are particularly thankful to the working people of this county. We thank you and we salute you,”