The Democratic Alliance (DA) has welcomed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that South Africa will move to level 3 lockdown on 1 June, but says the decision came “a full six weeks too late.”
Ramaphosa announced the decision in an address to the nation on Sunday. He said alert level 3 “will result in the opening up of the economy and the removal of a number of restrictions on the movement of people, while significantly expanding and intensifying our public health interventions.”
In a statement shortly afterwards, DA interim leader John Steenhuisen said there was “no rational justification to extend the hard lockdown beyond the initial three weeks, and this extension has now caused irreparable damage to our economy.”
‘2nd-longest hard lockdown in the world’
He added, “The resulting hardship and suffering – and ultimately, the premature deaths of South African citizens due to this – will have been largely avoidable. Government and President Ramaphosa will need to answer for this.
“South Africa has now entered its ninth week of hard lockdown, which makes ours the second-longest lockdown in the world, after only Italy. By 1 June, we will have surpassed Italy.
“Our economy could barely withstand the initial three weeks. This extension has come at an enormous cost to millions, and there is very little to show for it in return.”
Steenhuisen accused the government of not using the lockdown to prepare for the “wave of infections” and adequately distribute the special R350 grant to people or temporary employer/employee relief scheme (TERS) payments to businesses.
In his address, Ramaphosa said cigarette sales will remain prohibited during level 3 lockdown in South Africa, while certain businesses, such as hair salons, will not reopen because of health risks.
However, Steenhuisen said these exclusions are “irrational,” adding, “There is no reason for businesses such as hair salons to remain shut if they can operate under the same health protocols as other businesses.
“There is also no reason at all for cigarettes to remain banned, as most smokers have not given up smoking and are simply buying their illicit cigarettes elsewhere.
“We call on President Ramaphosa to provide us with the scientific justification for the continuation of this ban, which is costing our country hundreds of millions of Rands in missed tax revenue.”
Steenhuisen further called on Ramaphosa to provide his plan to fix the economy. He said the plan should include structural reforms such as privatising state-owned enterprises, scrapping land expropriation without compensation and reducing the public wage bill.
In his previous address on 13 May, Ramaphosa said the Cabinet was considering a “clear strategy for economic recovery” as part of the third phase of combatting the pandemic. The government will make announcements in due course, he added.