Ramaphosa told me to reopen economy slowly, says Dlamini Zuma
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Parliament – Co-operative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma on Tuesday told the National Council of Provinces it was President Cyril Ramaphosa's instruction that the economy be reopened slowly from the lockdown as the country continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic.
"As we eased the lockdown, the president said we must not ease it in a rushed manner because when we get a surge (in new infections) we will not be able to deal with it," the minister said, defending the phased resumption of economic activity against the backdrop of business closures, job losses and food shortages.
"We have to save lives... we don't want to have massive deaths. This country, during the Spanish flu, lost more than 300 000 in almost six weeks… We don't want to have that situation so we have to balance saving lives, but at the same time, we have to balance livelihoods."
She then quoted Ramaphosa, who likened the handling of the health crisis to crossing a river.
"You read it as you cross, sometimes you slip and falter," Dlamini Zuma said during debate in the chamber on the government's response to the pandemic.
"We have been very flexible, our regulations have been changing, amended according to the challenges that we face."
Dlamini Zuma said the many court challlenges – she told the chamber there were 90, although her prepared speech put the number at 55 – that she and other departments faced around the regulations governing the lockdown showed there were conflicting views as to whether the government had been too strict or not strict enough.
"Interestingly now, there are those who say we should not have used the laws we used," she said, referring to criticism that the government should not have declared a state of disaster but rather a state of emergency because it would have meant stricter parliamentary oversight.
"But on the other hand there are those who are saying we moved too fast, we should not have moved from level 4 to 3 (lockdown stages) so it is an interesting combination now."
Dlamini Zuma added that the crisis had left municipalities with severe revenue shortfalls as ratepayers were no longer able to pay for services.
She said the economic hub of Johannesburg, in particular, had lost "a lot of its revenue" whereas it had payment rates of about 80% before the country went into lockdown in late March.
"This is going to be a big challenge," Dlamini Zuma warned.