A call to government to put people first post Covid-19

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SANDF was deployed at Soweto during a raid as they try to get communities to stay home, during lockdown regulation of the Corona Outbreak. Picture: Nokuthula Mbatha/African News Agency(ANA)

The Covid-19 pandemic that is sweeping through the world, wreaking havoc, is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today. South Africa is not immune to this phenomenon and this was demonstrated by government’s decision to declare a National State of Disaster according to the National Disaster Act as enacted by Parliament. This enabled the President to call for a national lockdown and deploy the SANDF to assist the SAPS in enforcing it.

The lockdown has amplified many social ills that are faced by majority of people in the country, especially those in the townships and the informal settlements. These challenges include, but are not limited to: poor sanitation, poor and lack of proper housing, overcrowding, unemployment, poor healthcare, poor infrastructure development and crime. People being forced through the lockdown to remain in these conditions has made the lockdown doubly hard for people living in these areas.

The speed with which government has moved since the lockdown in procuring water tankers for people in vulnerable communities, granting relief to companies, individuals, and to a lesser degree informal trader, as well as deploying the police and army to enforce the lockdown shows that the state has capacity to deliver services speedily. The state also has the capability to deploy the security services to secure the country. What has been lacking has been the political will to do so.

Post Covid-19, we call on government to treat the provision of services and the securing of the country as a National Disaster. This will allow the government to move with the same urgency it did for the national lockdown. Truth being that the conditions that most people endure daily are akin to a national disaster. Therefore, the improvement of these conditions through service provision and deployment of security services should be a high priority for the state.

We urge the government to use the Covid-19 national lockdown urgency to prioritise the three evils: poverty, unemployment and inequality. The three evils are interlinked, and therefore the fight against them should be coordinated.

 Poverty alleviation in the short-term should include unemployed youths (graduates) being included in social welfare grants. These would aid them in searching for employment, as well as enabling them to start small businesses that could help them put food on the table while looking for formal employment. Some of these businesses could end up growing to a point where they begin to employ other people as well. This is where a more focussed government intervention through the Department of Small Business Development, through training and funding, would go a long way towards eradicating poverty and unemployment. 

In the long term, poverty will be eradicated through the reduction of unemployment and inequality. Prioritising procurement at SOEs to reflect the demographics of the country, as well as prioritising the funding and development of SMMEs will assist in reducing unemployment as well as closing the inequality gap. Currently, most SOEs are still procuring more than 80% from white owned companies. This great developmental tool at the disposal of government is not being properly utilised to empower the black community.

Government should therefore be in the forefront of demanding that all SOEs procurement spend should reflect the demographics of the country. 80% of government spend should go to black suppliers. Any industry that has a lack of such suppliers should see funding and incentivisation of the involvement of black suppliers. All barriers that keep black suppliers out should be addressed. This includes the practice of politically connected individuals being given all black empowerment contracts. The aim should be to empower as many suppliers as possible, to spread the procurement spend to as many black owned SMMEs as possible.

 Fast-tracking ‘land expropriation without compensation’ (EWC) will mainly assist with combating inequality and unemployment. Availing land to the dispossessed majority will allow them to use the land for agriculture, residential as well as business purposes. This rollout should be accompanied by the availing of funding for all the different utilisations for the expropriated and redistributed land. The Land Bank should be properly utilised to fund the projects resulting from the redistribution.

Rural land already in the hands of blacks should be targeted as a catalyst to spark rural development. Agriculture is labour intensive. Most rural areas have fields that are already used for farming. These fields need to be adequately equipped, and the villagers be trained on modern farming to enable them to produce good quality produce. This would also encourage the many unemployed graduates to go back to the rural areas to assist in the production and management of these farms.

The benefit of this is that urbanisation would be halted as more people in rural areas would be able to develop and realise their economic aspirations in the areas they come from, instead of needing to go to the cities to do this. This would ease the pressure that urbanisation puts on the cities, and it would also help to reduce unemployment.