Business groups launch new petition against South Africa’s lockdown – here’s what they are calling for

A group of business organisations have launched a new petition calling for a complete end to the South Africa’s lockdown.

Signatories currently boast more than 50,000 members, including the LWO Employers Organisation, National Employers Association of South Africa, Restaurant Association of South Africa, the Southern African Agri Initiative (SAAI), and Sakeliga.

Called ‘Business for Ending Lockdown’, the campaign says that the lockdown is a ‘humanitarian disaster’ and a grave threat to lives and livelihoods. It also holds the view that the harms will far exceed even the most pessimistic Covid-19 scenarios.

“Advocates for lockdown failed to consider that the economy is our most important life-support system – shutting it down does grave harm to life, health and human well-being.

“Forced and sustained lockdowns have fast become one of the biggest threats to the future of the country.”

The group has called on the government to:

  • End the lockdown immediately;
  • Lift the state of disaster;
  • Allow people and organisations to manage their unique risks by converting all Covid-19 regulations into non-compulsory recommendations.

The group also posted a list of potential harms which could be averted by lifting the lockdown. These include:

  • PovertyHundreds of thousands of people in South Africa risk falling into devastating poverty from which escape will be extremely difficult. The government has insufficient resources to support everyone who needs help – only a restoration of jobs and economic activity can support people and save them from losing hope.
  • Lives lostPoverty causes more hunger, malnourishment, disease, and social ills which lead to more loss of life. The risk of death and shortened lifespans from lockdown far exceeds the risks associated with Covid-19.
  • Jobs lostA million to three million jobs are under serious threat. Many jobs may be lost forever. South Africa had an employment crisis before Covid-19 – it simply cannot afford to lose more jobs.
  • Economic declineReasonable estimates foresee declines in economic output of more than 10% for 2020, the largest depression in living memory. The lockdown has damaged years of economic progress, and will continue to do so until it is abolished. Investment plans by large and small companies have been scrapped or greatly reduced, further undermining future growth potential. Ending lockdown improves clarity for companies and will raise investment levels.
  • Business closuresMany businesses, small and large, formal and informal, have lost nearly all income over the period. They cannot afford to pay staff, suppliers, and other costs. Some businesses may never open their doors again. Other businesses are being forced to reduce costs and shrink operations to survive. Many are restricted on the products they may sell, harming incomes. The government cannot bail out companies – it must now allow them full freedom to operate and repair the damage already done.

Level 2 restrictions

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is set to ease lockdown restrictions, including the possible scrapping of an alcohol sales ban Bloomberg reports, citing sources close to the matter.

The country will move to so-called alert level 2, although details of which curbs will be retained are still being worked out, said four of the people, asking not to be identified because the information hasn’t been made public.

Two said a decision had been taken to allow alcohol to be sold, two said the tobacco-sales ban would be scrapped and one said travel restrictions would be relaxed.

“The measures that we have put in place have been working, and we are seeing a tapering off of the number of infections,” said Lungi Mtshali, a spokesman for the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Ministry, which administers the lockdown rules.

“The numbers are going down, and regular assessments will be done to open up the economy when ready.”

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a radio interview on Wednesday that the lockdown rules should be eased because there have been declines in cases in the four most-populous provinces.

In addition, doctors are now expecting fatalities to be lower than previously feared.

The lockdown has had a devastating effect on Africa’s most industrialised economy, with both the central bank and National Treasury anticipating it will contract more than 7% this year.

A study by a group of 30 academics and researchers estimated that 3 million people lost their jobs between February and April, while 1.5 million others were furloughed.

Read: Big increase in retrenchments across South Africa

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Business groups launch new petition against South Africa’s lockdown – here’s what they are calling for