Statement of the Alliance Secretariat:Let’s win the war against Covid-19 and turn around our economy.

The Secretariat of the Alliance met on Thursday, 2 April 2020, to discuss the global emergency of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19), its impact on South Africa, and the economy. The meeting was held virtually due to the national state of disaster and nationwide lockdown caused by the global and national spread of Covid-19.

Support for measures to flatten the Covid-19 curve

Alliance formations the African National Congress (ANC), South African Communist Party (SACP) and Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) expressed their support for the measures announced by government aimed at containing and stopping the spread of Covid-19, as well as ensuring treatment for those affected.

The Alliance is encouraged by, and commends, the positive response by the millions of our people who have heeded the call to stay home and responded to the injunction: ‘Protect yourself, defend each other, let’s do this together!’

Regrettably, there have been exceptions which underscore the need to redouble our efforts, communicate with and mobilise our entire society, especially young people.

The Alliance is calling upon every person in our country to comply with the state of national disaster and nationwide lockdown regulations, as well as to co-operate with public safety and defence authorities to stop the spread of Covid-19. All authorities should perform their work diligently, and without let or hindrance.

The Alliance commends all workers in the front line of the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, in particular public sector health care workers. Adequate personal protective equipment is essential, and should be made available to protect the workers.  

The Secretariat meeting welcomed the inclusive and consultative manner in which government, under the leadership of President Cyril Ramaphosa, has brought together the broadest range of social forces – government, labour, business, civil society, faith-based communities, traditional leaders, and many others.

The Alliance emphasises the importance of government consulting labour within the framework of the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) and other mechanisms of social dialogue.

The Covid-19 pandemic affects the entire world. As a member of the United Nations Security Council and Chairperson of the African Union, South Africa has a special responsibility to provide leadership in the regional, continental and international response to the pandemic.

The Alliance commended Cuba for the assistance it has offered to South Africa. Government should accept the solidarity medical support offered by Cuba and in turn seek to strengthen Cuban capacity and collaboration with Cuba. 

Essential social services and hygiene standards

The Alliance noted the social impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and urged government to ensure water and sanitation are provided to poor communities, especially informal settlements and rural areas.

Food security must be ensured through among others the provision of food relief as well as allowing spaza or tuck shops and informal traders to operate in conditions consistent with the nationwide lockdown and regulations put in place in terms of the national disaster law.

Steps must be taken to ensure the maintenance of physical (“social”) distancing and dignified treatment of the elderly, people with disabilities and other social grant recipients at payout points.

Furthermore, consideration should be given to ways in which the taxi industry, which transports an overwhelming number of workers and community members, can be supported.

The alarming reports of an increase in gender-based violence during the lockdown require urgent and concerted action, not only by law enforcement agencies but also by government and society.

Economic turnaround

The Alliance is deeply concerned about the serious economic and wider social implications that the Covid-19 pandemic has on millions of the unemployed and poor, as well as on lower strata of the middle class. The legacy of uneven development in our country, especially underdevelopment in rural areas, informal settlements and townships, is compounding these challenges.

This dire situation has been exacerbated by the decision of Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings to downgrade South Africa’s credit rating to a sub-investment position.

The Alliance expressed concern regarding the impact of the pandemic on State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), SAA and ESKOM in particular, and urged consultation in the finalisation of the SAA business rescue plan which has now been extended to 29 May 2020.

The Secretariat is very concerned by the suggestions, conveyed through the Minister of Finance, that South Africa should approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) (or the World Bank) for ‘assistance’. The suggestion is rejected. Instead, the Secretariat reaffirms the need to safeguard South Africa’s democratic national sovereignty, the fundamental right to self-determination, our independence – which are non-negotiable, even in the midst of a crisis. Our struggle for liberation and social emancipation fought for the achievement of these rights and their strict protection in a democratic South Africa.

Pronouncements that will subordinate our sovereignty to the dictates of the IMF and the like also serve to underscore the importance of a coherent and disciplined approach to communications during these difficult times when unity amongst social partners especially the motive forces of the national democratic revolution is of paramount importance.

The South African Reserve Bank as the central bank of the Republic is called upon to play a vigorous developmental role towards the turnaround of the economy. The Reserve Bank can fulfil this mandate directly and indirectly in collaboration with public development finance institutions (DFIs), in consultation with the National Treasury as provided for in our constitution.

Government should evaluate and explore all sources of domestic finance, including industrial retirement funds, as well as policy instruments to tap into the resources in a mutually beneficial manner to turnaround South Africa – in the interest of all the people, especially the working class and poor, the overwhelming majority.  

To the extent it is necessary government should explore approaching the New Development Bank established by BRICS. In the same vein, consideration should be made to strengthen bi-lateral co-operation and mutually beneficial assistance with China and Russia in the areas of finance, industry, science and technology, as well as with regard to the supplies needed to win the war against Covid-19. Any terms involved in such co-operation and assistance must be clearly understood, negotiated and consulted on with social partners, and none should undermine our democratic national sovereignty.

In particular, government should seek low and/or solidarity rates in terms of finance, in the letter and spirit of co-operation, and in the interest of advancing our national development. Engagements should include trade and investment in other strategic areas that South Africa will need to emerge from the structural stagnation and Covid-19 induced economic crisis.

In the context of the structural economic and Covid-19 induced crisis, government should consider increasing publicly-held stake in strategic sectors of the economy. The history of the Great Depression shows that strategic state intervention, including well managed SOEs, have a crucial role to play in achieving economic turnarounds.    

The Alliance Secretariat noted the economic interventions announced by government and various state institutions. Whilst these interventions are to be welcomed, they must be extended to encompass well co-ordinated set of measures directly aimed at assisting the poor, unemployed, wage labourers and lower strata of the middle class.

Alliance Economic Task Force

The Alliance Secretariat decided to establish an Alliance Task Force to make proposals to respond to both the immediate, medium- and long-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The proposals will include mitigating the effects of the pandemic as well as preparing the response for an economic turnaround. The response will include but not be limited to infrastructure development and re-industrialisation, taking into account the need to foster sustainable methods of production and consumption in order to protect the environment and act against climate change.

The team will be convened by Cde Jessie Duarte, ANC Deputy Secretary General and comprise members of the Alliance Secretariat and Chairperson of the ANC NEC Sub-Committee on Economic Transformation. In making its proposals, the team will draw on inputs from progressive social scientists, including economists and policy development practitioners, constituted as a Progressive Economic and Social Policy Think Tank of the Alliance, and supported by a technical team drawn from Alliance structures and their nominees.

Not unrelated, the Alliance Secretariat noted the proposals contained in the Open Letter recently penned to the President by a number of economists, analysts and policy activists. In performing its work, the Alliance Economic Task Force should critically engage with the proposals, as well as those put forward by government departments, including the National Treasury, and consider appropriate industrial policy and macro-economic framework to achieve national development targets and goals.

The team will work urgently to formulate proposals to present to government.

Corruption and private profiteering

The Alliance expressed serious concern at reports of alleged corruption, irregularities and private profiteering arising from the national state of disaster.

The Secretariat calls upon government to punish severely those elements that see the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to privately profiteer and enrich themselves through exploitation of state procurement and looting of public resources.

National Health Insurance and role of the private health care sector

The Covid-19 pandemic necessitates accelerating the implementation of National Health Insurance (NHI) and immediate implementation of its key principles. The Alliance is concerned that the National Treasury has postponed the allocation of resources for NHI implementation and calls for this decision to be reviewed urgently.

A successful national response to the pandemic will require of us as a nation to marshal all available health care resources in the face of a national state of disaster. 

Accordingly, the private health care sector, with over 40 000 beds and a number of critical and intensive care unit beds, must be an integral part of our national effort to slow the spread of Covid-19 and bring the pandemic to an end.

The private health care sector is called upon to reinforce the public health care system in tracking, testing and treating those infected with the virus.

Whilst the participation of the private health care sector like that of all others should be sustainable, it must ultimately and fundamentally be based on national interest and informed by humanitarian principles, rather than driven by profit. Human life and the well-being of the nation must be placed before profit.

Therefore, government is called upon to robustly engage the private health care sector, to reach agreements but also, where necessary, to enforce national state of disaster and emergency measures aimed at ensuring that private health care facilities are made available to all people who need treatment for Covid-19, not only those who can afford to pay.

Furthermore, government must ensure that the resources of both the public, SOEs and private sectors are mobilised for the manufacture of essential health equipment, in particular hospital ventilators, as well as personal protective equipment. The manufacturing localisation of the ventilators is crucial for the needs our people in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. The manufacturing should also be used as a platform for the development of our domestic productive capacity and support for the Southern African region, the African continent and other parts of the world in the fight to win the war against Covid-19.

Communications and media

The Secretariat commends the proactive and transparent manner in which government has communicated around the Covid-19 pandemic. However, these efforts must be intensified and sharpened.

Government must lead and co-ordinate a coherent and focused communication campaign involving all social partners emphasising solidarity and community values.

Messages must be clear, accessible and conveyed in all official languages. Messages must focus on preventing the spread of the virus and adhering to the lockdown. Particular emphasis should be placed on communicating more effectively with young people and the elderly in the language and forms of communication they best understand.

Communication content development, especially messaging, should be centralised – that is, ambiguous and confusing messages must be avoided altogether.

Regular briefings by government ministers are important and welcomed. However, these briefings must be tightly managed to avoid contradictory messages. Ministers and government communicators should focus on and adhere to key messages. Briefings must also be complemented by shorter, more accessible and popular means of communication such as loud-hailing and social media.

Particularly concerning is that the SABC, our public broadcaster, appears to be not performing well in fulfilling its mandate during these challenging times. The SABC should vigorously marshal all resources at its disposal and play a more active and leading role in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic in the media industry. In particular, the people need more educational, informative and consistent broadcasting on the virus, including live coverage of key events on SABC free-to-air television stations.

Having made the above point, the Alliance Secretariat commends the SABC radio leadership for their efforts to do their best, especially in reaching out to our people in their own languages.

The Alliance Secretariat strongly condemned the fabrication and dissemination of fake news about Covid-19. Those involved in such despicable acts are urged to stop it with immediate effect. Members of society should report them to relevant authorities for appropriate action to be taken.  

Members of the public should allow SABC and other media workers to perform their work freely and without any form of obstruction.

Issued by the Secretariat of the Revolutionary Alliance 

Ace Magashule: Secretary-General

African National Congress

Solly Mapaila: First Deputy General Secretary

South African Communist Party

Bheki Ntshalintshali: General Secretary

South African Congress of Trade Unions