Keeping national unity intact

Geoff Jacobs, president, Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry

President Cyril Ramaphosa is to be commended for imposing a 21-day lockdown in an attempt to slow down the progress of the Covid-19 virus and eventually to flatten the contagion curve. His firm and decisive action, and particularly his success in making all sections of society realise that we are all truly in this together, are to be commended.

He will require all his proven consensus-building skills and public support in the coming months. Keeping national unity intact will be vital as the pandemic takes hold.

If there is any criticism about the emergency measures taken so far, it is the delay in making the announcement and postponing the implementation to midnight on Thursday. This gives a subliminal message about the urgency of the situation.

A second criticism is that we may be underestimating the devastating effect these measures will have on businesses, and especially small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs). Details around support for businesses and revitalisation programmes are high-level and vague. We would have preferred to see specific details about payment holidays and deferring of bond, rates and lease payments.

It is our view that our financial service institutions and local government should have been more specific and more intentional about the steps they will be taking to soften the blow on the economy. Perhaps these steps will emerge as the implications of the lockdown become clearer to all of us.

We understand that the fragile nature of our economy is such that the president doesn’t have too many options, and that he is forced to play a balancing act. We support him fully and commend him for the strong leadership he and his government are providing in the face of this global crisis.

As a chamber of commerce and industry, representing over two thousand businesses, we are in this fight for survival together, and we’ll do our bit to ensure that this lockdown has the desired effect.