South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa and ministers will take a 33% pay cut for the next three months, and the money will be diverted towards social and economic relief measures to help the country weather the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ramaphosa on Thursday said the country would extend its original 21-day national lockdown, instituted on Mar. 27, until the end of April. “Unless we hold to this course for a little longer, the coronavirus pandemic will engulf, and ultimately consume, our country,” he said in a live address to the nation.
While one of the most developed countries in sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa has the highest number of HIV infections in the world, with about 7.7-million people living with the disease. Authorities are worried that Covid-19, which has already claimed more than 85,000 lives worldwide, will ravage the country’s vulnerable population and that its already beleaguered healthcare system will buckle under the weight of severe Covid-19 cases. To date South Africa has confirmed 1845 cases and 18 deaths from the viral disease.
However, the economic situation in the country is dire. The South African economy contracted in the last quarter of last year, and the World Bank now predictsthat the Covid-19 pandemic will push the whole of sub-Saharan Africa into a recession.
An economic stimulus package was one of the three pillars of South Africa’s Covid-19 response strategy, Ramaphosa said. The country would also intensify its public health response to slow down and reduce infections, and would increase social support to poor and vulnerable households.
South Africa’s Unemployment Insurance Fund has set aside 40 billion rand ($2.24 billion) to assist employees who cannot work due to Covid-19 restrictions, and has already paid out 356 million rand, Ramaphosa said. The state had also made 500 million rand available for small business debt relief reprioritized 1.2 billion rand ($67 million) to provide relief for smallholder farmers to contribute to national food security, he said.
Ramaphosa encouraged businesses and citizens to contribute to the Solidarity Fund, a fund to buffer the population from the effects of Covid-19. So far 2.2 billion rand had been raised, he said. Of that, 1 billion rand had been set aside to purchase sterile gloves, face shields, surgical masks, test kits and ventilators. The country has an ambitious plan to begin manufacturing ventilators locally, with a target of 10,000 ventilators by the end of June.
The president also said that he and his deputy, as well as ministers and deputy ministers, would donate a third of their salaries to the Solidarity Fund. South Africa has one of the world’s largest ministerial cabinets, with 28 ministers and 34 deputies. The US, whose population is almost six times larger than South Africa’s, has 15 Cabinet members.
Malawi’s president and his cabinet said they’d be taking a 10% pay cut to help the country fund its response the pandemic.