South African president pledges to help most vulnerable citizens under lockdown

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa pledged on Monday to find sustainable solutions to help the most vulnerable citizens under a nationwide lockdown over COVID-19.

“We will scale up welfare provision during this period to help households living below the poverty line,” Ramaphosa said in his weekly presidential address.

He acknowledged that the provision of support to the country’s most vulnerable citizens has been slower than required, and that lapses have occurred following the lockdown which started on midnight March 26 and was later extended by two more weeks until the end of April.

“Over the past three weeks, we have been confronted with distressing images of desperate people clamoring for food parcels at distribution centers and of community protests against food shortages,” Ramaphosa said.

He also pointed to “disturbing and disgusting” allegations that callous individuals, some of them allegedly government officials, are hoarding or selling food parcels earmarked for the needy and destitute, or diverting them to their friends and families.

“If there is found to be substance to these allegations, we will deal with the individuals concerned harshly,” the president warned.

There can be no greater anguish than that of a parent whose children cry out to them for food, but they have none to give, he said.

There can be no greater injustice than a society where some live in comfort and plenty, while others struggle at the margins to survive with little or nothing at all, said Ramaphosa.

These are the residual effects of a fractured and unequal past and also a symptom of a fundamental failing in the post-apartheid society, he said.

“The nationwide lockdown in response to the coronavirus has gravely exarcerbated a long-standing problem,” the president said.

Imposing a nationwide lockdown at very short notice presented several challenges, he said.

“We have had to weigh up the proportionality of the national response and the extent of restrictions we would need to impose,” he added.

The government ultimately “chose to err on the side of caution,” he said

The lockdown has successfully slowed down the rate of infection and, more importantly, bought time for the country to prepare for a probable surge in infections in the coming weeks and months, Ramaphosa said.

He said the cabinet will finalize a set of measures to respond to the impact of the lockdown on the livelihoods of the people.

This has been preceded by a range of engagements with a number of stakeholders including business, labor, religious organisations, civil society and the Presidential Economic Advisory Council, according to Ramaphosa.

The social partners have put forward a number of proposals on interventions that could address the immediate vulnerability of the poorest of the poor, most of whom rely on social assistance to survive, he said.

Food support is a short-term emergency measure and will need to be matched by sustainable solutions that help the most vulnerable citizens weather the difficult times that are still to come, the president said.

“As government we will this week be providing information on the direct interventions we are taking to shield our most vulnerable citizens from the grim prospect of starvation,” said Ramaphosa.

Alleviating hunger is not an act of charity but an imperative for any society that is founded on respect for human rights, he stressed. Enditem

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