President Cyril Ramaphosa has said that he will focus his energy this year in rebuilding South Africa’s economy and fighting the deadly coronavirus pandemic which has greatly contributed to the country’s current socio-economic crisis.
Delivering his 2021 State of the Nation Address in the National Assembly in Cape Town on Thursday night, Ramaphosa described the year ahead as a time of rebirth for the country.
“This is no ordinary year, and this is no ordinary State of the Nation Address. I will, therefore, focus this evening on the foremost, overriding priorities of 2021,” Ramaphosa said.
“First, we must defeat the coronavirus pandemic. Second, we must accelerate our economic recovery,” he said.
He added: “Third, we must implement economic reforms to create sustainable jobs and drive inclusive growth. And finally, we must fight corruption and strengthen the state.”
The economy has seen the loss of 11 million jobs due to the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic has killed nearly 48,000 people since the first case was recorded in March 2020.
In spite of this, Ramaphosa said his government has been able to provide relief payments of US$3.8 billion to over 4.5 million workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
Ramaphosa also announced an extension of special Covid-19 grants of US$23.30 per person to the jobless by three months.
The much-needed grants were slated to end in February but an outcry from the recipients has led the South African leader to extend the measure.
During the pandemic, Ramaphosa’s government has had to impose several lockdowns, where stringent restrictions of daily life have made it virtually impossible to carry out normal activities in all fields of development.
These lockdown measures over the 11-month period have devastated the economy and messed up lives at the same time, he noted.
This has led to the current malaise in all spheres of social activities, where gatherings are limited to small numbers under the now extended National Disaster Management guidelines, he added.
Ramaphosa said in the coming weeks his government would announce measures to address the other challenges facing the country, apart from the economy and the pandemic.
These measures would include improving the challenges facing the country’s under-performing electricity supplier Eskom in order to boost the economy, cutting crime, tackling corruption, and fighting rampant gender-based violence and femicide -- which Ramaphosa described as the country’s “second pandemic” after Covid-19.
"Gender-based violence will only end when everyone takes responsibility for doing so in their homes, in their communities, in their workplaces, in their places of worship and in their schools," the president said.
So far, a private sector-driven initiative has raised US$8.53 million for the newly-set up Gender Based Violence and Femicide Response Fund to be used in fighting the scourge, he told the National Assembly.