JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa will increase welfare provision to help poor households suffering because of a nationwide lockdown aimed at containing the coronavirus outbreak, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday.
In a weekly newsletter to the nation, Ramaphosa said the lockdown had revealed “a very sad fault line in our society that reveals how grinding poverty, inequality and unemployment is tearing the fabric of our communities apart”.
He cited images of desperate people clamouring for food parcels at distribution centres as the lockdown leaves millions who are unemployed, working in the informal sector or in low-paid jobs struggling to support themselves.
Ramaphosa did not specify how the government would lift welfare provision. Some economists and labour unions have called for social grant payments to be topped up.
After a virtual meeting of senior party officials, the governing African National Congress (ANC) called for a stimulus package to beef up the country’s response to the crisis.
The government should consider an “income support grant” for those who don’t receive other types of social grants, the ANC said in a statement.
Africa’s most industrialised country is one of the world’s most unequal, with starkly different living conditions for those at the top and bottom of the income scale.
It has the most confirmed coronavirus cases in sub-Saharan Africa, at 3,158, with 54 deaths from COVID-19. Ramaphosa said the government was preparing for a probable surge in infections in the coming weeks and months.
His cabinet was meeting on Monday to discuss new measures to cushion the economic and social impact of COVID-19, among them whether to close down ailing South African Airways, a major drain on state resources in recent years.
He said in the newsletter that the government would this week announce interventions to shield people from starvation.
“Even when the nationwide lockdown is lifted, its effects will continue to be felt for some time,” Ramaphosa said.
“Food support is a short-term emergency measure. It will need to be matched by sustainable solutions that help our most vulnerable citizens weather the difficult times that are still to come.”
(Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Nick Tattersall)