Conscience of a Centrist: Further relief measures crucial

Johannesburg – “It’s the economy, stupid,” famously quipped James Carville, who was a strategist for Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign. But visionary leadership matters too.

South Africa is in the midst of a storm, and the anchor is not holding.

We have a distracted government in the time of a war situation.

The economic relief measures announced in April should have been seen as a down payment for further economic and social relief.

The president has completely taken his eye off the ball and seems removed from the realities faced by South Africans – vaccines will not put food on the table for people who have been out of a job for months with no help in sight from their government.

Economic and social relief. These are two concepts that have escaped President Cyril Ramaphosa’s vocabulary in recent “family meetings”.

This is as many households drown in poverty and businesses struggle to keep their doors open.

The government has a strong role to play in providing economic relief to the most vulnerable by stemming the economic downturn while protecting public health, and in devising ways to stimulate the economy in the near-term and over the next one to two years of economic recovery.

The crisis faced by the country needs a bold and decisive leadership, with the livelihoods and health of the people at the forefront of every government effort.

The incoming president of the US, Joe Biden, has demonstrated what a caring government is all about. He announced this week his blueprint to provide economic relief to millions of Americans.

His American Rescue Plan is anchored on direct cash payments to Americans, rent relief, food assistance and aid to small businesses.

It is important to note that Biden’s plan is one of several rescue packages the US government has rolled out since the outbreak of the pandemic.

The R500-billion package announced by Ramaphosa many moons ago has not gone far enough to extend help to South Africans. Corruption and the looting of Covid-19 funds have also not helped the cause.

Ramaphosa needs to, as a matter of urgency, announce further economic and social relief measures with pointed assistance to the most vulnerable in society. South Africans deserve government’s help.

This is not a crisis of their making and this administration needs to have a more humane face.

Small businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector, need help to stay afloat in the face of restrictive regulations.

One way we can increase resilience to future shocks is by supporting a growing, inclusive and productive private sector. The government needs to do better.

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