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‘COVID-19 presents opportunities for economic transformation’: South African President

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has said that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented the country with opportunities to transform service delivery and restructure its economy.

According to the latest figures, there have been almost 31,000 confirmed infections, just over 16,000 recoveries and 643 deaths due to COVID-19 in South Africa, with consistent large daily increases in cases over the past fortnight as interventions such as testing increased.

“If anything, COVID-19 now gives us a much stronger platform – a stronger reason if we ever needed one — to transform and restructure the economy,” Mr. Ramaphosa said during an interaction with representatives from the South African National Editors Forum in a live TV broadcast on Sunday.

The President said that COVID-19 had given a further boost to the capacity of the State to deliver things such as running water and he wanted to capitalise on that.

“COVID-19 is going to give us greater capacity and capability to reset, reposition and even repurpose our state-owned enterprises,” Mr. Ramaphosa said, as he hinted at changes at entities such as national carrier South African Airways; electricity supplier Eskom, and public broadcaster South African Broadcasting Services, who have all come under huge financial pressure in recent years, relying on repeated government bailouts.

“Our economy has been crying out for restructuring. We’ve been operating under an economy that is both colonial and racist over many years. That economy now needs to be realigned to deal with the challenges that South Africa faces right now,” the president said.

Mr. Ramaphosa said he was glad to hear that many people, including those in business, were calling for resetting the economy.

“We’ve got to make our economy to be more aligned with our inclusive growth. Those are the key priorities. It must be an economy that is going to respond to the poverty that prevails in our country. It must be an economy that is in a very direct way aimed at creating jobs,” he said.

Mr. Ramaphosa referred to the time after COVID-19 as a “post-war” situation.

“Many countries that have come out of a post-war kind of situation, like we do now, have often relied on infrastructure to bolster economic growth, and that is precisely what I would like to see.

“Infrastructure is going to be one of the key backbones of economic growth going forward and it will also lead to restructuring of our economy as well, as we will have to do local manufacture of the materials that we use in infrastructure,” he said.

Mr. Ramaphosa also appealed to citizens to assist in the fight against the pandemic as infection numbers are expected to increase exponentially when over eight million South Africans head back to work on Monday after 66 days of a severe lockdown.

From 1 June, the country moves to level 3 of a five-level risk-adjusted strategy, largely to mitigate against the huge unemployment and meltdown of the economy.

“Having used the ‘big bazooka’, the ‘nuclear weapon’ of the hard lockdown, as we ease (it) we now need to use the other tools which have been articulated to our people,” Mr. Ramaphosa said, in reference to the measures of screening testing, isolation and social distancing.

Authorities have identified five of the major metros in the country, including Johannesburg, as hotspots where there will be increased interventions from June 1, with the possibility of them reverting to higher levels of lockdown if required.

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