Ramaphosa’s range of relief measures as SA moves to level 3 lockdown
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DURBAN - PRESIDENT Cyril Ramaphosa announced several measures to support the recovery of the economy and provide relief to the poor and vulnerable, amid the Covid-19 pandemic and the unrest that hit KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng two weeks ago.
Announcing the move to level 3 of the lockdown, which included the lifting of the alcohol ban, the easing of restrictions on gatherings, and allowing restaurants, gyms and taverns to be opened, Ramaphosa said the R350 Social Relief of Distress Grant would be reinstated and provided monthly until the end of March next year.
He said this was made possible by the slight improvement seen in revenue collection, and added that the grant would now also be for unemployed caregivers, who currently receive a Child Support Grant.
Ramaphosa said, in addition to the food relief being provided by the Department of Social Development, government is contributing R400 million to the Humanitarian Crisis Relief Fund, established by the Solidarity Fund, to assist with the immediate needs of affected communities.
Esley Philander, of the Black Sash, who called for the R350 grant to be reinstated, said the announcement was welcomed. “We are also pleased that caregivers, who receive the Child Support Grant on behalf of children, are now eligible to apply. It is concerning though that the grant was not increased to at least the Food Poverty Line of R585.
“The Black Sash will continue to campaign for a permanent social assistance programme for the unemployed. Government must now urgently develop a policy framework for the introduction and implementation of a universal basic income,” said Philander.
Khokhoma Motsi, national convener of the Assembly of the Unemployed, said the R350 grant was welcomed but it was a drop in the ocean compared with the R1 200 cost of an average food basket.
“Ramaphosa is responding to the pressure of the people in the country, and an economy that is crashing and facing disaster. Our country is in a crisis, and the recent riots and racial tensions in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng are not a result of Covid-19 and Zuma. It is a result of over 1 million people, who are unemployed, being frustrated with the government. The economy is causing pressure on the working class.
“We are busy mobilising our people on the ground for the implementation of a basic income grant of R1500,” said Motsi.
Regarding the unrest of two weeks ago, Ramaphosa said measures would be implemented to help businesses to rebuild. He said the government would ensure that state-owned insurance company Sasria, which provides cover against incidents of public violence, strikes, riots and unrest, would be able to honour all valid claims for businesses that were insured.
He added that the government was looking to extend support to uninsured businesses. “Government will set aside dedicated funds for this purpose and we will soon announce a mechanism for these businesses to apply for support,” said Ramaphosa.
There would also be re-prioritising of funding for SMMEs affected by the pandemic through a once-off business survival funding mechanism, he said.
He said the Covid-19 Temporary
Employer Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) applications for those sectors which were affected by lockdown level 4 restrictions, during the past 28 days, were now open.
He added that the UIF would also provide income support to all those employees who had lost jobs as a result of the recent unrest.
In addition, he said the government was expanding the Employment Tax Incentive for a period of four months, to include any employee earning below R6 500 and to increase the incentive amount by up to R750 per month.
“This will encourage employers to hire and retain employees, especially those in the retail and hospitality sectors, which have been worst affected.
“We will also defer payment of PAYE taxes, for a period of three months, to provide businesses with additional cash flow, with an automatic deferral of 35% of PAYE liabilities, for employers with revenue below R100 million,” said the president.
The payment of excise taxes by the alcohol sector would be deferred for a period of three months, to ease the burden on the sector as it recovered.
Professor Irrshad Kaseeram, an economist at the University of Zululand, said the assistance to small businesses was welcomed because they create employment for unskilled and semi-skilled people.
Regarding UIF, he said he hoped it would accommodate the more than 100 000 people who lost jobs due to the unrest.
While noting the boldness and bravery from government to revive the economy and assist those in need, he stressed that this would be an interim measure.
“What's important is to stabilise the economy and get the fundamentals right and demonstrate that government has the country under control. Funding these commitments come at a cost and with a shrinking tax base, government has it all to do to convince investors that it remains a desirable destination.”
Reacting to the easing of restrictions on gatherings, which was called for by some church groups, the South African Council of Churches (SACC) said it was unfortunate that the government categorisation of gatherings in churches was the same as political ones.
SACC general secretary Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said even though the given number of 50 congregants was small, it was something they could work with for now.
Epidemiologist Professor Salim Abdool Karim, speaking on eNCA, said the government had tried to strike a good balancing act.
He said the relaxation of restrictions around alcohol would lead to an increase in trauma cases, but the key thing was that hospitals were not under a lot of pressure.
“When we look at the overall strategy that the government has adopted, it is focused on increasing vaccination, reducing restrictions and enhancing health-care capacity, and we have done those things,” said Abdool Karim.