EXPLAINER | From schools to corruption: 10 things you need to know about Ramaphosa’s address

  • Public schools will close for four weeks, but those in Grade 12 will take a one-week break and Grade 7 pupils will remain home for two weeks.
  • A new unit will prosecute Covid-19-related corruption.
  • Here’s what else you need to know about President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address to the nation on Thursday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Thursday evening that all public schools would close for a four-week period as the country continued to battle Covid-19 and that the state would establish a new unit to prosecute Covid-19-related corruption.

In a televised address to the nation, the president said the “coronavirus storm” had arrived in the country and that provinces such as Gauteng, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal were experiencing a rapid rise in infections.

“South Africa now has the fifth-highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world and accounts for half of all the cases in Africa,” Ramaphosa said.

He said that as of Thursday evening, the country had 408 052 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 6 000 fatalities. Half of the infected people have already recovered.

He said: 

South Africa continues to have one of the lowest case fatality rates in the world, experiencing far fewer Covid-19 deaths than many countries with similar or even lower numbers of infections.

Here is what else you need to know about Ramaphosa’s address:

The Western Cape might have reached its peak of Covid-19 infections

Ramaphosa said the Western Cape had experienced a levelling-off of infections since the third week of June.

The development provided some hope that the province had passed its infection peak, although it might be too early to tell, he said.

“However, we need to remain cautious and vigilant – and continue to follow strict prevention measures – to avoid another rise in infections.”

All public schools will close for four weeks

Ramaphosa said as the number of infections increased in several parts of the country, there were growing calls for schools to close again.

He said the Department of Basic Education, therefore, met with more than 60 organisations representing parents, school governing bodies, principals, educators, independent schools and civil society organisations to discuss closing schools.

Ramaphosa said while it was difficult to reach consensus, what everyone agreed on was that the health, academic and social development of pupils should remain foremost concerns.

He said World Health Organisation (WHO) officials said the best and safest way to reopen schools was in the context of low community transmission.

He said: 

Taking into account the views of the various stakeholders and expert bodies, Cabinet has decided that all public schools should take a break for the next four weeks.

Schools would be closed from 27 July and would reopen on 24 August.

Grade 12 and Grade 7 pupils will return sooner

However, pupils in Grade 12 and their teachers would only take a one-week break and return to school on 3 August.

Grade 7 pupils would take a two-week break and return to school on 10 August. Specific arrangements would be made for different categories of special schools.

Ramaphosa said: 

As a result of the disruptions caused by the pandemic, the current academic year will be extended beyond the end of 2020.

He said the Minister of Basic Education would provide details on the remainder of the school year.

“Throughout this period, the National School Nutrition Programme will continue to operate so that all learners or their parents can collect food directly from schools.”

More than four million people received special Covid-19 grants

Ramaphosa said by the end of July, an additional R15 billion would have been paid out to social grant recipients.

He said more than 4.4 million people received the special Covid-19 grant which was intended for unemployed people and those who did not receive other forms of support.

He said: 

So far, an amount of R2.2 billion has been paid out to these recipients.

Ramaphosa added that there were delays in paying the grant but assured that future payments would be made faster now that the necessary systems were in place.

“As we announced, this grant will continue to be paid over the full six-month period.”

More than R30 billion paid out through the UIF’s special Covid-19 benefit

Ramaphosa said for the months of April, May and June, the Unemployment Insurance Fund’s (UIF) special Covid-19 benefit paid out R34 billion.

This helped more than seven-and-a-half million workers and prevented retrenchments in a number of companies, he said.

“This scheme has now been extended by another six weeks to 15 August 2020.”

Ramaphosa said R1.5 billion had been provided to support tourism, sports and creative industries.

He said in partnership with the banks, through a R200 billion loan guarantee scheme, financial support was provided to more than 8 600 small and medium-sized companies to the value of R12 billion.

Ramaphosa said: 

The rules of the scheme have been adjusted to expand the eligibility criteria and increase uptake, making it easier for businesses to access finance during this period.

He added more than R70 billion in tax relief had been provided to companies.

National Treasury set out regulations to stop Covid-19 related corruption

Ramaphosa said he was concerned about allegations of corruption, such as fraudulent UIF claims, the overpricing of goods and services, collusion between officials and service providers, and the abuse of food parcel distribution.

He said the National Treasury therefore issued regulations to ensure that emergency procurement of supplies did not occur fraudulently.

The Auditor-General also adopted special measures by undertaking special audits to detect and prevent the misuse of these funds and to identify risks in the system. He said regulations were put in place to prohibit unjustified price hikes and ensure the availability of essential goods.

He said: 

Since the declaration of the national state of disaster, the Competition Commission has investigated over 800 complaints of excessive pricing.

“It has so far, prosecuted or reached settlements with 28 companies, imposing penalties and fines of over R16 million.”

Ramaphosa said now more than ever, “corruption puts lives at risk”.

New anti-corruption co-ordinating centre established

The president said a collaborative and co-ordinating centre to strengthen the collective efforts of law enforcement agencies to fight Covid-19-related corruption had been established.

The centre included nine state institutions: the Financial Intelligence Centre; the Independent Police Investigative Directorate; the National Prosecuting Authority; the Hawks; Crime Intelligence; the SAPS Detective Service; the South African Revenue Service; the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and the State Security Agency.

He said the centre was investigating allegations of corruption in the distribution of food parcels, the provision of social relief grants, the procurement of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies, and the UIF special Covid-19 scheme.

He said: 

At least 36 cases are currently at various stages of investigation and prosecution.

Ramaphosa said the state was determined that every instance of alleged corruption should be thoroughly investigated, that alleged perpetrators should be prosecuted and that all money stolen or overpriced should be recovered.

The SIU has been authorised to investigate all corruption

In order to speed up and strengthen the process of dealing with corruption, the president signed a proclamation authorising the SIU to investigate any form of corruption during or related to the national state of disaster in any state institution.

He said: 

If the SIU finds evidence that a criminal offence has been committed, it is obliged to refer such evidence to the prosecuting authority.

“It is also empowered to institute civil proceedings for the recovery of any damages or losses incurred by the state.”

Ramaphosa said to ensure that action was taken speedily, he would receive interim reports on investigations every six weeks.

A new social compact is being formed for economic recovery

Ramaphosa said the nation could not wait until the Covid-19 threat passed because the virus would not continue to be part of the country for some time to come.

“We need to work now on a social compact for economic recovery, growth and transformation.”

He said as a government, they were engaging with all social partners on a common economic recovery programme to unlock growth and create employment.

Ramaphosa said: 

We see a great deal of alignment across the various plans and proposals that have been put forward by various groups in society, and we are building a consensus on the practical measures we need to take now and in the coming months.

The next few weeks

Ramaphosa said the weeks ahead would put the country’s resources and resolve “to the test as never before”.

He said South Africa was able to delay the spread of the virus, saving many lives and giving the country time to improve its health response.

“Across society, people have changed their behaviour, observing social distancing, wearing masks and observing hygienic practices.

“As a country, we have never before faced such a severe crisis or such an abrupt disruption of our lives.”

He added that even under the most challenging conditions, the country’s response as a nation was remarkable.

He said: 

Even as we may have made some mistakes, we have shown an extraordinary capacity for innovation, for solidarity and for collective action.

“I call on all South Africans to remain strong, to remain disciplined and above all, to stay safe.”

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