President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Thursday evening that all public schools would close for a four-week period as the country continued to battle Covid-19 and that the state would establish a new unit to prosecute Covid-19-related corruption.
“South Africa now has the fifth-highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world and accounts for half of all the cases in Africa,” Ramaphosa said.
Here is what else you need to know about Ramaphosa’s address:
The Western Cape might have reached its peak of Covid-19 infections
Ramaphosa said the Western Cape had experienced a levelling-off of infections since the third week of June.
The development provided some hope that the province had passed its infection peak, although it might be too early to tell, he said.
“However, we need to remain cautious and vigilant – and continue to follow strict prevention measures – to avoid another rise in infections.”
All public schools will close for four weeks
Ramaphosa said as the number of infections increased in several parts of the country, there were growing calls for schools to close again.
He said the Department of Basic Education, therefore, met with more than 60 organisations representing parents, school governing bodies, principals, educators, independent schools and civil society organisations to discuss closing schools.
Ramaphosa said while it was difficult to reach consensus, what everyone agreed on was that the health, academic and social development of pupils should remain foremost concerns.
He said World Health Organisation (WHO) officials said the best and safest way to reopen schools was in the context of low community transmission.
Schools would be closed from 27 July and would reopen on 24 August.
Grade 12 and Grade 7 pupils will return sooner
However, pupils in Grade 12 and their teachers would only take a one-week break and return to school on 3 August.
Grade 7 pupils would take a two-week break and return to school on 10 August. Specific arrangements would be made for different categories of special schools.
He said the Minister of Basic Education would provide details on the remainder of the school year.
“Throughout this period, the National School Nutrition Programme will continue to operate so that all learners or their parents can collect food directly from schools.”
More than four million people received special Covid-19 grants
Ramaphosa said by the end of July, an additional R15 billion would have been paid out to social grant recipients.
He said more than 4.4 million people received the special Covid-19 grant which was intended for unemployed people and those who did not receive other forms of support.
Ramaphosa added that there were delays in paying the grant but assured that future payments would be made faster now that the necessary systems were in place.
“As we announced, this grant will continue to be paid over the full six-month period.”
More than R30 billion paid out through the UIF’s special Covid-19 benefit
Ramaphosa said for the months of April, May and June, the Unemployment Insurance Fund’s (UIF) special Covid-19 benefit paid out R34 billion.
This helped more than seven-and-a-half million workers and prevented retrenchments in a number of companies, he said.
“This scheme has now been extended by another six weeks to 15 August 2020.”
Ramaphosa said R1.5 billion had been provided to support tourism, sports and creative industries.
He said in partnership with the banks, through a R200 billion loan guarantee scheme, financial support was provided to more than 8 600 small and medium-sized companies to the value of R12 billion.
He added more than R70 billion in tax relief had been provided to companies.
National Treasury set out regulations to stop Covid-19 related corruption
Ramaphosa said he was concerned about allegations of corruption, such as fraudulent UIF claims, the overpricing of goods and services, collusion between officials and service providers, and the abuse of food parcel distribution.
He said the National Treasury therefore issued regulations to ensure that emergency procurement of supplies did not occur fraudulently.
The Auditor-General also adopted special measures by undertaking special audits to detect and prevent the misuse of these funds and to identify risks in the system. He said regulations were put in place to prohibit unjustified price hikes and ensure the availability of essential goods.
“It has so far, prosecuted or reached settlements with 28 companies, imposing penalties and fines of over R16 million.”
Ramaphosa said now more than ever, “corruption puts lives at risk”.
New anti-corruption co-ordinating centre established
The president said a collaborative and co-ordinating centre to strengthen the collective efforts of law enforcement agencies to fight Covid-19-related corruption had been established.
The centre included nine state institutions: the Financial Intelligence Centre; the Independent Police Investigative Directorate; the National Prosecuting Authority; the Hawks; Crime Intelligence; the SAPS Detective Service; the South African Revenue Service; the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and the State Security Agency.
He said the centre was investigating allegations of corruption in the distribution of food parcels, the provision of social relief grants, the procurement of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies, and the UIF special Covid-19 scheme.
Ramaphosa said the state was determined that every instance of alleged corruption should be thoroughly investigated, that alleged perpetrators should be prosecuted and that all money stolen or overpriced should be recovered.
The SIU has been authorised to investigate all corruption
In order to speed up and strengthen the process of dealing with corruption, the president signed a proclamation authorising the SIU to investigate any form of corruption during or related to the national state of disaster in any state institution.
“It is also empowered to institute civil proceedings for the recovery of any damages or losses incurred by the state.”
Ramaphosa said to ensure that action was taken speedily, he would receive interim reports on investigations every six weeks.
A new social compact is being formed for economic recovery
Ramaphosa said the nation could not wait until the Covid-19 threat passed because the virus would not continue to be part of the country for some time to come.
“We need to work now on a social compact for economic recovery, growth and transformation.”
He said as a government, they were engaging with all social partners on a common economic recovery programme to unlock growth and create employment.
The next few weeks
Ramaphosa said the weeks ahead would put the country’s resources and resolve “to the test as never before”.
He said South Africa was able to delay the spread of the virus, saving many lives and giving the country time to improve its health response.
“Across society, people have changed their behaviour, observing social distancing, wearing masks and observing hygienic practices.
“As a country, we have never before faced such a severe crisis or such an abrupt disruption of our lives.”
He added that even under the most challenging conditions, the country’s response as a nation was remarkable.
“I call on all South Africans to remain strong, to remain disciplined and above all, to stay safe.”