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Here's my coronavirus panic shopping list for South Africa

Published Mar 23, 2020


That total national lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 is coming soon. Until then and beyond, we all have our panic shopping lists. Here is mine. 

As a preface, though, let me pay tribute to the government of South Africa.From President Cyril Ramaphosa declaring a National State of Disaster and subsequently, gazetting applicable regulations, to various departments monitoring and fighting the spread of the virus, while constantly updating the nation, appreciation is in order.

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Since we do not know how long this state of disaster will exist, we need a special campaign to prevent an economic meltdown.

The South African Reserve Bank cut the repo rate by 100 basis points; good, but that will not do.

The Department of Small Business Development's SMME Support Intervention, including a Debt Relief Fund, to “assist entities to acquire raw material, pay labour and other operational costs” is something - but insufficient. It is easier to talk from the grandstand and imagine that one can do better; this is no such affront to very committed government officials and professionals battling this unprecedented hardship.

If the coronavirus could hear me, my message would not be, “Spare my people's lives”, but “please, do not finish off my country's frail economy”.

Our economy needs heightened activity. Equally logical, to contain Covid-19, a shutdown is inevitable. South Africans, most of whom are already not well paid, if at all economically active, suffer acute anxiety and depression as it is. They do not fear infection or death as much as they dread foreclosure if businesses fail to sustain salaries and wages to maintain aggregate spending.

Month-end is in under two weeks. Debit orders will be rattling the collective national reverie of South Africans. Banks are going to demand bond, loan, credit card and vehicle repayments. These will increasingly be dishonoured, incurring massive penalties. Medical aid for those who are lucky to have cover - but likely to need healthcare in the next three months - will be cancelled for non-payment. This, in a country whose public health-care system is already buckling? Not ayoba!

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Our economy can ill afford this implosion. An urgent national pact is due: to offer all South Africans - individuals, small and big businesses - a debt payment holiday. This is not debt or bill cancellation - just a deferment for about three to six months.

When people are no longer scared of losing property, insurance cover, rented office or residential space, water and power supply, mobile connectivity so their children can study from home, they will co-operate with authorities to control Covid-19. 

Knowing that they can work from home and, if they are employed, continue getting their salaries, while their employers are assured of being able to continue paying them without pressure from creditors will help us join hands and curb the spread of the virus - until a cure or vaccine comes. Show me an entrepreneur who is opposed to these suggestions!

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We will emerge from this with a more efficient service delivery machinery, national cohesion and human solidarity.

* Victor Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business and public speaker on African business affairs.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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