President Cyril Ramaphosa has answered on a number of key issues currently facing South Africa, including the extension of Covid-19 grants and the rollout of vaccines.
In a series of interviews over the weekend, the president also spoke on the issue of alcohol sales and some of the measures that government is considering around the sale of liquor going forward.
Stricter alcohol laws and taxes
Ramaphosa told the Sunday Times that the ANC national executive committee has called for the introduction of stricter alcohol laws in South Africa.
The president said that the temporary restrictions that were introduced under the adjusted level 3 lockdown have demonstrated the extent to which abuse of alcohol fuels violence, trauma and reckless behaviour.
“The legislative part is something that we need to look at very closely to see how do we begin to … reduce the abuse of alcohol,” he said.
“It could revolve around things like age limits; we need to deal with age limits, to raise the age limit. Or do we need to look at trading hours for the purchase of alcohol, do we need to look at things like taxation?”
New Covid-19 grants in 2021
Ramaphosa told 702 that South Africa does not have the money to provide the same kind of relief packages which the government offered during the first wave of the pandemic.
“We do not have the money, that is the simple truth,” he said. “We are constrained from a financing point of view.”
“The relief measures we announced last year amounted to about 10% of our GDP, which is quite big for a little economy like ours.
“Right now we are at a stage where we have to fund the vaccines, which is going to amount to a lot of money as well. We are constrained,” he said.
Vaccine rollout and ‘crooked people’
Ramaphosa was also asked how the government would ensure that the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines would not be impacted by state corruption as seen in South Africa’s initial Covid-19 response in 2020.
The president said that he ‘regretted’ the corruption around the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) process. He said that the Treasury and Auditor-General had both put measures in place to stop corruption, but that these had been circumvented by ‘crooked people’.
“When you deal with crooked people they find all manner of loopholes and ways to crook the system. The other weakness, of course, is that we were doing everything at an emergency basis and people just ‘threw away the rule book’. ”
Ramaphosa said that investigations are ongoing and that money lost unjustifiably will be brought back. He added that the vaccine process will be different and have tighter controls.
The president said that the government will be the main acquirer of Covid-19 vaccines for South Africa, while the private sector will help with funding and distribution.
“With the vaccines, we are going to be able to have proper management. We have learnt a lot of lessons and have learnt from lessons in the past.”
Damaged economy and lockdown restrictions
Ramaphosa acknowledged that the economy was not growing at acceptable levels before the pandemic started. He said that this has been further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic which has directly impacted revenue collection.
“We have a R300 billion shortfall in revenue collection which is quite a lot of money. But at the same time, there have been quite a lot of problems at our state-owned companies where quite a lot of money has gone to waste.”
Ramaphosa said that while blame could be apportioned (to the ANC government) it was important now to deal with the problem going forward.
“My focus now is how do we get South Africa out of this hole? Rather than being at the bottom of the hole and saying ‘you are to blame’, we want to build a ladder and get out of this hole.”
The president was also asked if he had failed some South Africans by shuttering their businesses using lockdown restrictions, but failing to provide adequate financial support.
The president said that the government had an obligation first to save lives, but also an obligation to protect livelihoods, and that the restrictions aimed to balance these two issues.
He added that he felt sorry for these South Africans and everyone who has had to sacrifice due to the pandemic, but noted that it was still important to even have an economy after lives have been saved and restrictions lifted.