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South Africa’s first online rhino horn auction ends in risky impasse

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Private rhino horn owner John Hume recently held South Africa’s first online rhino horn auction, a major event in the ongoing fight by private rhino owners to be able to sell legal horn stocks. But in a statement released on Hume’s behalf it was admitted that there were very few bidders for the 264 horns.

The auctions result is a setback to achieve a legal, commercial trade in horn to replace poached horn in supplying demand in the main markets. Hume’s official statement tried to put a brave face on it, saying he had triumphed and that a legal and sustainable supply has been established. He stills hopes to attract more buyers – horn will still be available for private sales as long as permits are available.

The auction website had been translated into Vietnamese and Chinese in a bid to attract more bidders. Vietnam and China are the main markets for rhino horn – supplied currently by the huge level of poaching of rhinos in South and southern Africa.

But with very few bidders taking part and one presumes little horn sold, it has done little to decisively advance the cause of establishing a legal, regulated market that both John Hume and Pelham Jones, chair of the Rhino Owners Association (PROA) believe can replace poaching, and provide funds to promote the breeding, protection and ultimate survival of rhinos.

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There’s confusion over what comes next, made worse by the inconclusive result of the online auction, which has neither put a nail firmly in the coffin of legal trade nor shown a massive domestic demand that would put pressure on the government or provide economic incentives for more auctions or private sales.

This is the worst of both worlds and will only encourage further poaching, as demand shows no sign of lessening.

Controversy remains

The situation does not help clear the mess of a three way fight between private owners who favour trade, the government which seems not to know or want to say what it wants to do, and the strong and vocal lobby totally opposed to trade. Groups such as the Endangered Wildlife Trust, for example, are against trade mainly on ethical grounds.

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The biggest block to the success of the auction was that horns legally purchased cannot be exported legally for sale. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, bans this. Without lifting the ban or changing their regulations, CITES members like South Africa, China and Vietnam cannot trade any horn. Vietnamese or Chinese buyers can buy horn in South Africa but cannot take it out of the country.

Earlier this year, South Africa’s Constitutional Court definitively overturned the 2009 government ban on the domestic trade in rhino horn. The decision caused confusion over how horn would be sold, what permits were needed and whether the department would provide the permits. The ability of the government to develop a viable regulatory system for horn is also in question.

The department set conditions on issuing permits for Hume’s sale, which he agreed to comply with fully. Only permit holders can sell to other permit holders. The permit does not allow international trade. Part of the conditions was that the department must have access to the auction to do the necessary monitoring.

This would appear to be a first step in providing some sort of regulatory framework for domestic sales. It meets South Africa’s need to be seen to be complying with the 40-year-old CITES ban on the international commercial trade in rhino horn, but at the same time obeying the court order that domestic sales be permitted.

Confusion over what happens next

Earlier this year the South African government published draft legislation on horn sales that would allow owners of horn (South African or foreign) to take two horns out of the country as personal property but not for commercial sale and as long as the owners had the proper permits. The department then held consultations with interested parties, including private rhino owners, but the proposed legislation has not been released for consideration by parliament.

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Molewa and the department haven’t said anything about next steps. They have however released a statement affirming South Africa’s commitment to CITES regulations. This puts emphasis on the fact that commercial international trade on rhino horn remains prohibited. The department denied that the new draft regulations were meant to circumvent CITES but they did confirm that it would allow limited horn exports.

This has set alarm bells ringing that a pseudo trade could develop, with foreign buyers coming to South Africa, buying horn legally, then taking it out of the country after. Monitoring what happens then would be impossible.

There is no single solution or silver bullet to put an end to poaching, but the present impasse will only make things worse. – Written by Keith Somerville, Visiting Professor, University of Kent

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Current Affairs

The Sale Of Alcohol Will Be Allowed In South Africa As Country Moves To Level 3 Of Lockdown On 1st June, Cigarettes Still Prohibited

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South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation announcing that the country will be placed on ‘Level 3’ on June 1st.

The president further stated that alcohol will be sold for home consumption. The sale of tobacco products will remain prohibited due to the health risks associated with smoking.

Here’s the full speech below:

ADDRESS BY PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA ON SOUTH AFRICA’S RESPONSE TO THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC, UNION BUILDINGS, TSHWANE 24 MAY 2020

Fellow compatriots,
Ri perile, Dumelang, Sanibonani, Molweni, Ndi madekwana, Gooie naand, Good evening.
It is exactly 10 weeks since we declared a national state of disaster in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Since then, we have implemented severe and unprecedented measures – including a nation-wide lockdown – to contain the spread of the virus.
I am sorry that these measures imposed a great hardship on you – restricting your right to move freely, to work and eke out a livelihood.
As a result of the measures we imposed – and the sacrifices you made – we have managed to slow the rate of infection and prevent our health facilities from being overwhelmed.
We have used the time during the lockdown to build up an extensive public health response and prepare our health system for the anticipated surge in infections.
Now, as we enter the next phase of our struggle against the coronavirus, it is once again your actions that will determine the fate of our nation.
As individuals, as families, as communities, it is you who will determine whether we experience the devastation that so many other countries have suffered, or whether we can spare our people, our society and our economy from the worst effects of this pandemic.
We know that the most effective defence against this virus is also the simplest.
Washing our hands regularly, wearing a face mask, keeping at least a 1.5 metre distance from other people, avoiding touching our faces with unwashed hands and cleaning surfaces we touch regularly.
It is through diligently and consistently observing these basic practices that we will overcome this pandemic.
There are now 22,583 confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa.
Around half of these people have recovered, either because their symptoms have been mild or because of the care they have received in our hospitals.

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Tragically, some 429 people have died.
To their families, friends, and colleagues, we offer our deepest sympathies.
Your loss is our loss.
There are now just over 11,000 active coronavirus cases in the country.
Of these, 842 patients are in hospital and 128 of these are in intensive care.
The number of infected people could have been much higher had we not acted when we did to impose drastic containment measures.
We are consequently in a much better position than many other countries were at this stage in the progression of the disease.
As a result of the drastic containment measures we have taken, we have been able to strengthen our health response.
As of today, we have conducted over 580,000 coronavirus tests and more than 12 million screenings.
There are nearly 60,000 community health workers who have been going door-to-door across the country to identify possible cases of coronavirus.
In preparation for the expected increase in infections, around 20,000 hospital beds have been, and are being, repurposed for COVID-19 cases, and 27 field hospitals are being built around the country. A number of these hospitals are ready to receive coronavirus patients.
At the same time, we have experienced several challenges, including a shortage of diagnostic medical supplies as a result of the great demand for these supplies across the world.
This has contributed to lengthy turnaround times for coronavirus testing, which in turn has had an impact on the effectiveness of our programmes.
The scale and the speed of the public health response to this emergency has been impressive, but there is still much more that we need to do.
We have known all along that the lockdown would only delay the spread of the virus, but that it would not be able to stop it.
Until there is a vaccine available to all, the coronavirus will continue to spread in our population. This means that we must get used to living with the coronavirus for some time to come.
There is a massive global effort to develop a vaccine, of which South Africa is part.
Government is supporting and funding several research projects, including a plan to locally manufacture coronavirus vaccines as soon as candidates are available. We will use the skills, expertise, infrastructure and organisations within the vaccines industry to produce and distribute the vaccine.
We have argued that should a vaccine be developed anywhere in the world it should be made freely and equitably available to citizens of all countries.

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As scientists had predicted, the infections in our country have now started to rise sharply.
One-third of the cumulative confirmed cases were recorded in the last week alone.
And we should expect that these numbers will rise even further and even faster.
Various models have been built to predict the trajectory of the virus and help to inform our planning and budgeting.
These models tell us two important things.
Firstly, that the coronavirus pandemic in South Africa is going to get much worse before it gets better.
Secondly, and most importantly, they tell us that the duration, scale and impact of the pandemic depends on our actions as a society and on our behaviour as individuals.
By following basic defensive practices, we can reduce both the number of infections and the number of deaths.
When I last addressed the nation, I said that we would undertake a process of consultation to guide the actions we must now take.
Since then, we have met with the leaders of political parties represented in Parliament and with business, trade unions and the community constituency.
We have met with Premiers, mayors, representatives of the South African Local Government Association, traditional leaders and representatives of interfaith communities.
As we have done from the start of this crisis, we have also sought the advice of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19, who are a group of highly qualified, respected and experienced scientists, clinicians, epidemiologists and public health experts.
We are extremely grateful for the work they have done and continue to do to ensure that our response is informed by the best available scientific evidence.
We appreciate the diverse and sometimes challenging views of the scientists and health professionals in our country, which stimulate public debate and enrich our response.
We have also been guided by advice from the World Health Organization and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
As we are dealing with a pandemic that affects the lives and livelihoods of all South Africans, it was important that we consult as widely as possible.
These consultations have been both necessary and worthwhile in that we received several constructive suggestions.
They have enriched the thinking in government, providing a direct view of the challenges that our people in different constituencies confront.
The groups we consulted are as diverse and as varied as the South African people themselves, and all agree that we acted appropriately and decisively to slow the spread of the virus.

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They are all united in their insistence that our central goal must be to save lives and protect livelihoods.
While there are several areas of difference, all of these groups are in broad agreement on the approach we need to take to build on the gains we have made thus far.
While the nation-wide lockdown has been effective, it cannot be sustained indefinitely.
We introduced the five-level COVID-19 alert system to manage the gradual easing of the lockdown.
This risk-adjusted approach is guided by several criteria, including the level of infections and rate of transmission, the capacity of health facilities, the extent of the implementation of public health interventions and the economic and social impact of continued restrictions.
It is on the basis of these criteria – and following consultation – that Cabinet has determined that the alert level for the whole country should be lowered from level 4 to level 3 with effect from 1 June 2020.
Moving to alert level 3 marks a significant shift in our approach to the pandemic.
This will result in the opening up of the economy and the removal of a number of restrictions on the movement of people, while significantly expanding and intensifying our public health interventions.
Even as we move to alert level 3 it is important that we should be aware that there are a few parts of the country where the disease is concentrated and where infections continue to rise.
We will have a differentiated approach to deal with those areas that have far higher levels of infection and transmission.
These areas will be declared coronavirus hotspots.
A hotspot is defined as an area that has more than 5 infected people per every 100,000 people or where new infections are increasing at a fast pace.
The following metros have been identified as coronavirus hotspots: Tshwane, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Ethekwini, Nelson Mandela Bay, Buffalo City and Cape Town.
The other areas that are hotspots are West Coast, Overberg and Cape Winelands district municipalities in the Western Cape, Chris Hani district in the Eastern Cape, and iLembe district in KwaZulu-Natal.
We are particularly concerned about the situation in the city of Cape Town and in the Western Cape generally, which now has more than half the total infections in the country.
We are attending to this as a matter of urgency.
The list of hotspot areas will be reviewed every two weeks depending on the progression of the virus.

In dealing with the virus in these areas we will implement intensive interventions aimed at decreasing the number of new infections

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We are putting in place enhanced measures of surveillance, infection control and management.
We will assign a full-time team of experienced personnel to each hotspot.
This team will include epidemiologists, family practitioners, nurses, community health workers, public health experts and emergency medical services, to be supported by Cuban experts.
We will link each hotspot to testing services, isolation facilities, quarantine facilities, treatment, hospital beds and contact tracing.
Should it be necessary, any part of the country could be returned to alert levels 4 or 5 if the spread of infection is not contained despite our interventions and there is a risk of our health facilities being overwhelmed.
In time, however, through our efforts, it will be possible to place areas where infections are low on levels 2 or 1.
The implementation of alert level 3 from the beginning of June will involve the return to operation of most sectors of the economy, subject to observance of strict health protocols and social distancing rules.
The opening of the economy and other activities means that more public servants will be called back to work.
This will be done in accordance with provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and as guided by the Department of Public Service and Administration working together with all other departments in government.
We appreciate the work that continues to be done by public servants especially those in the front line in the fight against COVID-19.
The safety of all workers, including public servants, is a matter of concern to us.
We will continue to make all efforts for the adequate provision of personal protection equipment to ensure safety for everyone while at work.
Our priority is to reduce the opportunities for the transmission of the virus and create a safe environment for everyone.
We are therefore asking that those who do not need to go to work or to an educational institution continue to stay at home.
People will also be able to leave their homes to buy goods or obtain services including medical care.
People will also be able to exercise at any time during the day, provided this is not done in groups.
The curfew on the movement of people will be lifted.

Alcohol may be sold for home consumption only under strict conditions, on specified days and for limited hours.

Announcements in this regard will be made once we have concluded discussions with the sector on the various conditions.

The sale of tobacco products will remain prohibited in alert level 3 due to the health risks associated with smoking.

All gatherings will remain prohibited, except for funerals with no more than 50 people or meetings in the workplace for work purposes.

Any place open to the public where cultural, sporting, entertainment, recreational, exhibitional, organisational or similar activities may take place will remain closed.
We have had fruitful discussions with leaders of the interfaith religious community on their proposals for the partial opening of spiritual worship and counselling services subject to certain norms and standards.

We have all agreed to have further discussions on this issue and are confident we will find a workable solution.
We wish our Muslim compatriots well for Eid.
They have all gone through a period of sacrifice, which should ordinarily be followed by a celebration.
We wish to thank them for making the necessary adjustments to this celebration as we continue to fight this pandemic together.
In opening up the economy, we will rely on social compacts with all key role players to address the key risk factors at the workplace and in the interface between employees and the public.
We will therefore be finalising a number of sector protocols and will require every company to develop a workplace plan before they re-open.
According to these plans, companies will need to put in place sanitary and social distancing measures and facilities; they will need to screen workers on arrival each day, quarantine those who may be infected and make arrangements for them to be tested.
They also need to assist with contact tracing if employees test positive.
Because of their vulnerability, all staff who are older than 60 years of age and those who suffer from underlying conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer should ideally stay at home.
Employees who can work from home should be allowed to do so.
Subject to these measures, all manufacturing, mining, construction, financial services, professional and business services, information technology, communications, government services and media services, will commence full reopening from 1 June.
Appropriate restart and phasing in arrangements will need to be put in place for every workplace.


Wholesale and retail trade will be fully opened, including stores, spaza shops and informal traders. E-commerce will continue to remain open.

Other sectors that opened previously, such as agriculture and forestry, utilities, medical services, food production and manufacture of hygiene products, will remain fully opened.
To ensure that we maintain social distancing, certain high-risk economic activities will remain prohibited. These include:

  • Restaurants, bars and taverns, except for delivery or collection of food. – Accommodation and domestic air travel, except for business travel, which will be phased in on dates to be announced. – Conferences, events, entertainment and sporting activities. – Personal care services, including hairdressing and beauty services.
    The return to work will be phased in so that the workplace can be made coronavirus-ready. It must be done in a manner that avoids and reduces risk of infection.
    We have held discussions with the tourism, hotel and restaurant industry regarding the challenges and hardships these sectors are experiencing.
    They have made several proposals, regarding the measures they intend to put in place when their sectors are opened. We are giving consideration to the proposals.
    There are many companies that have gone beyond what is required by regulation to support the coronavirus response, including those who already provide screening, testing and even isolation facilities for their employees.
    We will be discussing with larger employers how they can make quarantine facilities available for their workers.
    We applaud those companies that have contributed to the Solidarity Fund and in other ways to our response. These include companies like Volkswagen, which is building a field hospital in an unused factory in Nelson Mandela Bay that can accommodate 4,000 beds.
    One of the greatest challenges we will face with the move to level 3 – which will enable the return to work of up to 8 million people – will be the increased risk of transmission in public transport.
    We need to have a partnership between commuters, taxi and bus operators, business and government to keep our people safe.
    Commuters will always need to wear masks, to wash their hands before and after they have travelled and avoid touching their faces with unwashed hands.
    Commuters will also need to keep a safe distance from other commuters.
    Taxi and bus operators need to observe the regulations to be announced by the Minister of Transport, including ensuring that their vehicles are regularly sanitised.
    A number of businesses have advised us that they are looking at how they can reduce congestion on public transport, including through staggering working hours and providing transport for employees. 8
    Our national borders will remain closed except for the transport of goods and repatriation of nationals.
    Another difficult challenge that we had to confront is the reopening of schools.
    Our priority is the health and well-being of learners, students, educators and workers in these institutions.
    We are also concerned about the growth and development of our children and that an entire generation of learners should not be permanently disadvantaged by this pandemic.
    We are therefore taking a cautious and phased approach to the re-opening of schools, guided by medical advice and in consultation with all stakeholders.
    We will be resuming classes for grades 7 and 12 learners from 1 June.
    Strict infection control measures and, where necessary, additional water and sanitation infrastructure are being put in place to enable social distancing, regular hand washing and learner safety.
    Measures are also being put in place to ensure safety as children access the school nutrition programme and learner transport.
    The school calendar will be revised, and the curriculum trimmed so that we can still recover the 2020 school year.
    It is understandable that there is some concern about the re-opening of schools, and I must stress that no parent will be forced to send their child to school if they are worried about safety.
    But if we all work together, if we diligently follow all the precautions and protocols, we will be able to keep our schools safe.
    We are also taking a phased approach to the resumption of learning at institutions of higher learning.
    From 1 June, all public universities are expected to implement remote teaching and learning strategies to ensure that all students are given a fair opportunity to complete the 2020 academic year.
    With the start of alert level 3, no more than a third of the student population will be allowed to return to campuses on condition that they can be safely accommodated.
    Institutions will open up further as the coronavirus alert level changes.
    As we mobilise our health resources to meet the expected surge of coronavirus cases, we must make sure that we do not create the space for the emergence of other health crises.
    Routine health services should therefore be fully opened and continue to provide services with attention to childhood immunisation, contraceptive services, antenatal care, diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis and HIV, management of chronic diseases and support for survivors of gender-based violence. 9
    We need to consistently affirm that the rights of all people to life and dignity stands at the centre of our response to the coronavirus, and that we must stand firm against any actions that infringe on these and other basic human rights.
    Fellow South Africans,
    We have witnessed the courage of those who have continued to work throughout the nationwide lockdown, caring for those who are sick, providing food and basic services, working to keep our country going under difficult conditions.
    The burden of the lockdown has been most severe for those least able to bear it.
    Now it is time for most of us to return to work and to resume parts of our lives that have been on hold since the lockdown began.
    However, I want to emphasise that the easing of some restrictions does not mean that the threat posed by the coronavirus has passed or that our fight against the disease is over.
    In fact, the risk of a massive increase in infections is now greater than it has been since the start of the outbreak in our country.
    Now is the time when we must intensify our efforts and deepen our cooperation.
    Now, we look once again to you, to your actions and to your sense of responsibility.
    We look to you to uphold the sanctity of life and the dignity of all people.
    We look to you to protect the weakest and most vulnerable among us.
    We look to you to demonstrate the solidarity and compassion that has characterised the response of the South African people to this crisis.
    In meeting this grave challenge, we will move ahead as one people, united in action, and determined that we will surely overcome.
    At this time, more than any other, we are reminded of the words of Madiba, when he said: “It is now in your hands.”
    May God bless South Africa and protect its people.
    I thank you.

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Heroes & Survivors

A Day In The Life Of A Taxi Driver In Lockdown

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Tshepo Ralephata; images by Motlabana Monnakgotla

Tshepo Ralephata has been plying the roads to ferry essential services workers during the Level 5 lockdown in South Africa.

Modern heroes don’t wear capes; they either only don blue scrubs or show the willingness to offer a public service in the time of crisis.

In the time of Covid-19, today’s heroes are the men and women next door, and those on the streets, such as taxi owner, Tshepo Ralephata, who has been plying the roads to ferry essential services workers since the stringent days of the Level 5 lockdown in South Africa.

Ralephata has been working in the taxi industry for over 10 years now, but has never worked under “such life-threatening circumstances” as he is now, he observes. But he has to do so also to look after his family.

“I don’t think about being infected with the virus when I’m on the road because I have to make money, I need to pay rent, the kids have to eat any my partner is unemployed making me the only bread-winner, so I don’t have a choice, I have to work,” says Ralephata.

As a FORBES AFRICA photojournalist looking for great street images, I joined Ralephata in his taxi to document a day in his life in the time of lockdown. His blue Toyota Hiace minibus taxi is his mobile office and the permit to drive during the lockdown sees him working every two days; which has admittedly affected his daily earnings, which has come down from R1,400 to R650.

“We are only allowed to work from 5AM to 10AM and from 4PM to 8PM, the breaks are also an inconvenience. I can also only load 10 passengers at a time, while on the other hand, I buy my own sanitizers to make sure passengers maintain hygiene.”

Indeed, that is what Ralephata did after picking me up at a busstop. He leaned over with a disinfecting sanitizer and sprayed it on to my hands before I entered.

A kilometer into the trip, a young lady entering the taxi refused to be sanitized insisting that she had sanitized at home.

“This is what I deal with some days,” rues Ralephata.

On arrival at a taxi rank, I saw dozens of commuters going about their daily working lives wearing facemasks and gloves, hopping from one taxi to another.

The taxis at the rank are sanitized twice, but Ralephata laments they are not getting much support from the government because they have to buy their own protective gear.

As we wait for the second load of passengers, Ralephata keeps his sanitizer close at hand and stands by the sliding door, spraying every passenger coming in.

On our way home, he tells me about his daily fears.

“When someone coughs or sneezes, I get scared and think that’s the virus. I just wish that the person is not carrying the virus,” he says.

The young entrepreneur is aware that his job could put his family at risk.

“When I go home after work, I sanitize my hands before holding the door handle, then I go straight to the bathroom for a hot bath and only then, can I bond with the kids.”

Covid-19 is crippling his business and he prays for a vaccine soon because his liquor store business has also been affected.

Ralephata is not reaching his daily targets but helping the community is as much an important motive for him.

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Current Affairs

#Coronavirus: Ramaphosa Says ‘Kissing A Thing Of The Past’ As He Announces Level 3 For Most Of South Africa At The End Of May

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South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation announcing that the government will further ease the restrictions of the “risk adjusted strategy”.

Most areas of the country will be placed on ‘Level 3’ at the end of May.

READ: #Coronavirus: What You Need To Know About South Africa’s ‘Level 4’ Restrictions After 

Ramaphosa said the goal is to “steadily increase economic activity while putting measures in place to reduce the transmission of the virus and provide adequate care for those who become infected and need treatment.”

He added that hugging, the shaking of hands, and kissing is a thing of the past.

You can read the full speech below:

STATEMENT BY PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA ON SOUTH AFRICA’S RESPONSE TO THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC, UNION BUILDINGS, TSHWANE, 13 MAY 2020

My Fellow South Africans,

This week, our country reached a sad moment in the progression of the coronavirus pandemic, as we recorded our 219th death from the disease.

Every life lost is a tragedy.

These 219 people who passed away had families, they had dependents, friends and colleagues.

Their lives were cut short by a virus that has caused human and economic devastation across the world.

In recording and reporting on the daily figures of new infections, deaths and recoveries –– we can too easily lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with human lives.

This coronavirus is taking a heavy toll not only on the health of our people, but also on our people’s ability to earn a living, to feed themselves and their families, to learn and to develop, and to enjoy many of the basic freedoms that we daily take for granted.

This evening, let us keep in our thoughts and prayers all those who have been infected by the coronavirus, all those who have lost loved ones, and also those who have endured – and continue to endure – great hardship because of the pandemic.

It is nearly 7 weeks since we implemented a nation-wide lockdown.

During this time, South Africans have demonstrated great courage, resilience and responsibility.

I once again thank you for the sacrifices you have made thus far.

I would like to say, as I have said before, that despite its duration and its severity, the lockdown was absolutely necessary.

Without the lockdown the number of coronavirus infections would have soared uncontrollably, our health facilities would have been overwhelmed and many thousands more South Africans would have died.

From the very beginning, our response has been guided by advice from world-leading experts from our own country and across the globe.

We have also benefited from the guidance from the World Health Organisation.

The experiences that other nations have been through have also given us invaluable insights.

There have been several projections about the possible path the disease would have taken without our swift and decisive action.

As more data has become available, these projections have been updated and refined.

The best current estimate is that, without the lockdown and the other measures we have taken, at least 80,000 South Africans could have been infected by now.

And the death toll could have been at least 8 times higher than it is.

As it stands, there are 219 people in South Africa who have succumbed to this disease.

By contrast, at a similar stage in the progression of the disease, the United States had recorded over 22,000 deaths and the United Kingdom over 19,000 deaths.

We should never forget that the purpose of the lockdown was to delay the spread of the virus and prevent a huge surge of infections.

So far, we have been successful in the manner we as South Africans have responded and dealt with this virus.

The percentage of cases identified out of all the tests conducted – what is known as the positivity rate – has remained low and stable.

The level of confirmed infections in South Africa is around 181 people per million of the population.

By contrast, countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and Singapore have between 2,400 and 4,600 coronavirus cases per million people.

It is significant that out of the 12,074 confirmed cases in South Africa, we have recorded 4,745 recoveries.

By delaying the spread of the disease, we have been able to strengthen the capacity of our health system and to put in place wide-ranging public health programmes to better manage the inevitable increase in infections.

We now have nearly 25,000 additional beds available for quarantine.

We have been able to source and produce substantial quantities of personal protective equipment for health workers, vital medical equipment and other supplies.

Using the valuable time which the lockdown gave us, we have managed to significantly expand our screening and testing programme.

In all, our field workers have now screened over 9 million people, and we have conducted nearly 370,000 coronavirus tests.

This is the largest and most extensive public health mobilisation in the history of our country.

It has been made possible by the hard work and dedication of thousands of community workers, nurses, doctors and other health workers.

They made enormous sacrifices to ensure the success of the lockdown.

By answering the call to stay at home and stay safe, you, the people of South Africa, have helped us to save many lives.

As we have strengthened our public health response, we have introduced several vital measures to support the companies, workers and households that have been severely affected by the lockdown.

We have introduced an economic and social relief package worth over R500 billion to help companies in distress, to save jobs and to provide some income to informal workers and poor households.

Since it was established, the special COVID-19 relief scheme of the Unemployment Insurance Fund has paid out over R11 billion to 2 million employees employed by over 160,000 companies in distress.

This will help to keep companies afloat and save millions of jobs.

The various funds that we established to provide support for small businesses, including the initiatives of the Department of Small Business Development, the Department of Tourism, the Industrial Development Corporation and the South African Future Trust, have provided direct assistance to over 27,000 enterprises.

As of today, the R200 billion COVID-19 Loan Guarantee Scheme, which is guaranteed by the government, has begun to process applications from small and medium-sized businesses.

At the beginning of this month, government paid out an additional R5 billion to social grant recipients to assist poor households at a time when other sources of income have been disrupted.

We have opened applications for the special COVID-19 grant of R350 a month for unemployed South Africans who receive no other form of assistance from government.

By the close of business today, some 3 million South Africans had already applied for this assistance.

These temporary measures will be in place for six months.

We will spare no effort to ensure our most vulnerable citizens are supported and protected during this difficult time.

The scale of the measures we have taken, including tax relief and interventions by the South African Reserve Bank, is historic.

The Solidarity Fund, which was set up to support the coronavirus response, has raised around R2.7 billion in commitments from over 175,000 individuals and more than 1,500 companies and foundations.

We are grateful to the many governments and organisations that continue to generously support our coronavirus response.

In addition to those that I have previously recognised, I wish to express our appreciation to the government and the people of the United States for the donation of 1,000 ventilators.

I also want to recognise the commitment of the ELMA Group of Foundations of R2 billion to mitigate the impact of coronavirus on vulnerable communities in Africa.

This includes an immediate contribution of R250 million to South Africa’s Solidarity Fund.

We are determined that our response matches the proportions of the crisis and helps to ensure that the foundations of our economy are protected.

There have been very disturbing reports of increased levels of gender-based violence since the lockdown started.

The scourge of gender-based violence continues to stalk our country as the men of our country declared war on the women.

We have developed an emergency pathway for survivors to ensure that the victims of gender-based violence are assisted.

One of the interventions we have made is to ensure lockdown regulations be structured in a manner that a woman can leave her home to report abuse without the fear of a fine, intimidation or further violence.

Now, two months after we declared a national state of disaster, we are ready to shift to a new phase in our response to the coronavirus pandemic.

On the first of May, we moved to Alert Level 4 and began the phased easing of the national lockdown.

This was in line with our risk-adjusted strategy through which we  sought to slow down the rate of infection and flatten the curve.

We are now preparing for a further easing of the lockdown and a gradual opening of the economy.

I will repeat what I have said before: if we lift the lockdown too abruptly and too quickly, we risk a rapid and unmanageable surge in infections.

We will therefore continue to proceed cautiously, informed by the best available evidence and guided by the advice of local and international experts.

Our goal is to steadily increase economic activity while putting measures in place to reduce the transmission of the virus and provide adequate care for those who become infected and need treatment.

When I last addressed you, I outlined the five level alert system that we have introduced to guide this process.

At the time, the country was at alert level 5, which has the most stringent restrictions on movement and economic activity.

Alert level 4 – which is the current level across the country – retains most of the lockdown regulations but permits the gradual opening up of certain parts of the economy.

Alert levels 3 to 1 allow a progressively greater relaxation of restrictions.

As I indicated then, some areas of the country may be designated at a particular alert level, while others may be designated at other levels.

This would be done according to the rate of infection in an area and the state of readiness and the capacity of its health facilities to cope with treating infected people.

For now, infections are mostly concentrated in a few metropolitan municipalities and districts in the country.

it is important that we maintain stringent restrictions in these areas and restrict travel out of these areas to parts of the country with lower rates of infection.

We will immediately begin a process of consultation with relevant stakeholders on a proposal that by the end of May, most of the country be placed on alert level 3, but that those parts of the country with the highest rates of infection remain on level 4.

We will make further announcements after the completion of the consultations

In the coming days, we will also be announcing certain changes to level 4 regulations to expand permitted business activities in the retail space and ecommerce and reduce restrictions on exercise.

Some have questioned whether our approach in dealing with the coronavirus has been at the expense of the livelihoods of our people.

Our strategic approach has been based on saving lives and preserving livelihoods.

Our key objective has always been to slow down the infection rate through a number of interventions in our coronavirus prevention toolbox.

Each of these prevention measures are crucial and non-negotiable. They are:

–              Lockdown (to achieve extreme social distancing)

–              Social distancing

–              Adopting hand hygiene practices by washing hands regularly with water and soap or sanitiser

–              Cough etiquette including coughing into your elbow or a tissue

–              Wearing cloth masks whenever you are in public places

–              Use of personal protection equipment by all health workers

–              Frequent cleaning of the work environment and other public spaces

–              Symptom screening

–              Testing, isolation, quarantine and contact tracing

It is in the implementation of all these preventative measures that we will overcome this disease.

The success of our efforts to limit transmission of the virus depends on finding those who are infected as early as possible, tracing their contacts and isolating them so they cannot pass on the virus to others.

Our door-to-door screening campaign in vulnerable communities across the country resulted in over 100,000 people being referred for testing.

This gave us a good indication of the extent of the infection among the population, but we now need a screening and testing programme that is targeted to areas where people are more likely to be infected.

This will involve the identification of infection hotspots using a combination of technology, surveillance data and epidemiological mapping, enabling the rapid deployment of dedicated screening and testing teams to these areas.

Those found to be positive should either self-isolate or be isolated in suitable and independently inspected facilities.

Most importantly, this new phase will require each of us to change our own behaviour in profound ways.

There needs to be a fundamental shift in our thinking and our way of life.

We need to take personal responsibility for our own health and the health of others.

Let us remember that although the lockdown has slowed down the rate of transmission, the coronavirus is very much still present – and will be present among us for a long time to come.

We have been warned that infections will inevitably rise as the lockdown measures are eased, as has happened in many countries.

We also know that the coronavirus will continue to be a global health threat for some time to come, and that the fight against COVID-19 needs to become part of our daily lives.

Our success in overcoming the coronavirus will ultimately be determined by the changes we make in our behaviour.

As restrictions are eased, we will need to observe social distancing even more carefully, wear face masks whenever we leave home, wash hands regularly with soap and water or sanitiser, and avoid contact with other people.

I have been encouraged that so many people are wearing face masks in public since the start of Alert Level 4.

We will need to re-organise workplaces, schools, universities, colleges and other public places to limit transmission.

We will need to adapt to new ways of worshipping, socialising, exercising and meeting that minimise opportunities for the virus to spread.

It is our actions now that will determine whether the advantage we gained through the lockdown can be sustained.

It is our actions now – individually and together – that will determine whether the great sacrifices that people have made over these last two months will ultimately save the lives of thousands of South Africans and spare our country from the huge devastation that this pandemic can cause.

The transition to the next phase of the coronavirus response will in many ways be more difficult than the present one.

The risk of infection outbreaks will increase as more people return to work.

This calls for vigilance, responsibility and discipline from all of us.

My fellow South Africans,

Over the last 7 weeks, you have been asked to endure much and to sacrifice much.

On more than one occasion, I have stood before you and asked you to accept stringent restrictions on your daily lives, knowing that these will bring great hardship.

You have heeded these calls, firmly convinced that these measures are necessary for the health and the well-being – indeed the survival – of our young nation.

In return for everything that is being asked of you, there are a few fundamental things that you ask of us, your leaders.

And that is why we must acknowledge that as we have confronted this unprecedented challenge, there may have been times when we have fallen short of your expectations.

Some of the actions we have taken have been unclear, some have been contradictory and some have been poorly explained.

Implementation has sometimes been slow and enforcement has sometimes been inconsistent and too harsh.

This evening, I want to reaffirm my commitment and the commitment of the government I lead to take whatever action is necessary to safeguard the life, the dignity and the interests of the South African people.

The last time I addressed you, I said that we will soon be embarking on the third phase of our economic response to the coronavirus crisis by outlining a clear strategy for economic recovery.

Cabinet is seized with this issue and will be announced when the work has been completed.

We are determined and committed:

to ensure that all government decisions are taken in good faith, that they are reasonable and based on empirical evidence, and that they do not cause more harm than good;

to be transparent, to take the nation into confidence and to do so regularly;

to continue to be forthright on the state of the pandemic. You want to know when things are bad, and be told when they could get worse;

to continue to engage and consult with you;

to ensure that we continue to mobilise every resource at our disposal to support the most vulnerable, and to give the greatest support to those most in need; and,

to make sure that the funds that are dedicated to our coronavirus response are not wasted and are not stolen.

Above all, I pledge once again to ensure that your rights are respected and upheld, especially by those who have been entrusted with this responsibility.

As your President, as this government, we are firmly committed to meeting the expectations you rightly have of us.

Where we have disappointed, we will continue to make amends.

Where we make mistakes, we will continue to correct them.

Our collective struggles over the past months have taught us much about ourselves and about each other.

We have also learnt a lot about this virus.

Although there may have been differences and disagreements, there has also been kindness, empathy and compassion.

There has been courage and solidarity.

A very different South Africa and world awaits us.

The greatest test will be our willingness to embrace change.

Let us rise to meet this challenge.

Let us stand as one family and one nation to build a new and stronger society.

The days before us will be difficult.

But we will draw strength from what we have achieved.

We should recall the words spoken by President Nelson Mandela 20 years ago when our country was being devastated by another pandemic.

He said:

“In the face of the grave threat posed by HIV/AIDS, we have to rise above our differences and combine our efforts to save our people.

“History will judge us harshly if we fail to do so now.”

As I end, let me offer the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, delivered at a difficult time in the life of his own country:

The state of this nation is good

The heart of this nation is sound

The spirit of this nation is strong

The faith of this nation is eternal.

May God bless South Africa and protect her people.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE PRESIDENCY OF THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA

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