Jettisoning counterproductive policy that undermines investment, growth and job-creation must be central to South Africa’s counter-Covid-19 strategy if the country hopes to emerge from the present crisis with any reasonable hope of economic recovery and a future of growth and prosperity.

So argues the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) in a report released yesterday on wide-ranging policy proposals aimed at guiding policy makers in saving lives and livelihoods threatened by the coronavirus pandemic.

The report, Friends in Need, Covid19: How South Africa can save #LivesAndLivelihoods, argues that the outbreak presents the country with grave challenges, ‘not least because we confront the coronavirus crisis in an existing – recessionary – crisis’.

It acknowledges that ‘actions taken by South Africa’s government, by business and by civil society have for the most part been praiseworthy’, placing the IRR’s contribution squarely in the context of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s declaring that if South Africans ‘act together’ in confronting the crisis, ‘we will overcome it’.

Proposals in the report offer constructive, practicable responses to immediate, medium- and longer-term challenges across the six key areas of healthcare, income security, social stability, financial stability, economic stability and civil liberties.

It warns, however, that South Africa’s underlying economic crisis, predating the emergence of the coronavirus, must be confronted.

In particular, it cautions that policy responses such as ‘ramping up the deficit, nationalisation, or dipping into private savings’ would be counterproductive, and that ‘wealth-generating, job-creating growth’ compels the country to ‘rethink B-BBEE, to reject expropriation without compensation and to ensure that the civil service is depoliticised and properly skilled and motivated’.

It goes on: ‘It would be a profound tragedy if, weakened by recession and hit by the pandemic, South Africa wilfully compounded the damage by proceeding with policies and politics that compromised its future prospects’.

The report concludes: ‘Only if state and society, public sector and private sector, rise to the occasion in placing the people’s lives and livelihoods first, can South Africa hope to weather the storm and emerge a more caring, harmonious, trusting, and united country. The IRR is committed to developing and promoting practical and reasonable proposals on how this can be done.’

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