Cyril Ramaphosa lockdown cost 2

Photo: PresidencyZA

Cyril Ramaphosa explains how much SA’s lockdown has cost so far

It seems you can put a price on an enforced lockdown, and it’s predictably eye-watering. But could South Africa’ coronavirus bill hit the 13-figure mark?

Cyril Ramaphosa lockdown cost 2

Photo: PresidencyZA

It was a very different atmosphere for Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday, who took part in his first Parliamentary QnA in over three months. Answering questions from home, the president was put on the spot by a myriad of opposition leaders and cross-party politicians. He certainly had some explaining to do about our lockdown.

Julius Malema makes ‘Marikana’ jibe towards Ramaphosa

Ramaphosa was eventually grilled by Julius Malema, who did not hold back the venom in his line of questioning:

“What leader can sit next to his fireplace, and allow children to go to school? You sit there comfortably in your own home, whereas the youth must go and fight this disease on the street… but how many people are expected to die because you are solely chasing profits? You have the history with Marikana…”

Julius Malema

Cyril Ramaphosa explains lockdown decisions

Anticipating this response, Ramaphosa fell back onto his initial decision to implement a lockdown hard and early at the end of March. He denied ‘chasing profits’, and instead suggested all decisions were ‘properly assessed’.

“We weren’t the only country who went for lockdown immediately. We did this knowing that we weren’t able to bring transmission under control by the time we had to ease lockdown. Instead, it gave us time to strengthen our health system and put a response plan in please going forward. This was supported by the WHO.”

“Our transition through the lockdown levels involved a lot of discussions with businesses, politicians and religious leaders. The NCCC will always consult widely with our stakeholders. We haven’t used thumbsuck figures, everything was properly assessed.”

Cyril Ramaphosa

How much money has lockdown cost South Africa so far?

But the biggest revelations came after Ramaphosa was challenged on the government’s decision to allow alcohol sales at Level 3 of lockdown. He explained that South Africa needs to rebuild its income base because, in his own damning words, the lockdown has cost South Africa R300 billion in lost revenue

“We have been advised by top scientists and we’ve benchmarked our efforts against other countries. We also went further and restricted things other nations didn’t. But we cannot stay in lockdown forever. It’s impossible. Everyone else is also dealing with this challenge. We cannot completely wipe out our tax base this way.”

“I’ve already explained myself on alcohol and tobacco. The discussions have been robust and decided to move forward by adjusting our risks. Of course, these elements have their risks, everything does. Livelihoods also need to be preserved.”

“Right across the board, from personal income, company income, VAT, excise duties, and taxes on things like tobacco have gone down. All of this has created a big hole, and that cost is R300 billion.”

Cyril Ramaphosa

But wait, there’s more…

Sjoe, that’s not an easy number to digest. That figure is independent of the R500 billion the ANC committed towards saving the economy from a coronavirus-themed implosion earlier this year. Accounting for further economic damages and an incoming wave of job losses, we could easily be looking at a trillion-rand bill to fix the damage caused by COVID-19 and our subsequent lockdowns.

Despite the horrors of the disease, South Africa is currently between a rock and a hard place. If disease doesn’t kill some of our citizens, poverty certainly will. Ramaphosa is sticking to his guns on the law of lockdown, and judging by the gaping hole in our economy, each new lockdown level feels like a point of no return.