Insiders at the meeting say the president told them business wants the country to skip level 3 and go straight to level 2
President Cyril Ramaphosa is said to have told leaders of opposition parties that he was under “great pressure” from business and organised labour to open up the economy and move as quickly as possible to lower levels of the lockdown regulations.
Two party leaders who were part of the virtual meeting with Ramaphosa on Wednesday said the president informed them of pressure from the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) to open up the economy, with business leaders having apparently proposed that the country should move directly to level 2 as the economy was taking a huge beating.
“He said there is pressure at Nedlac to move to level 2 and level 3, but business was saying you have to open up beyond level 3, and unions are also putting pressure to open the economy,” said an opposition leader who asked not to be named.
The insider said the president did not make any commitment and did not give any timeline. “But it sounded like we may move sooner rather than later,” said the leader.
Co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma also briefed the party leaders on what level 3 would entail.
This included opening up of retail, malls, construction, and lifting the 8pm to 5am curfew imposed at the beginning of level 4. Dlamini-Zuma allegedly said shebeens, taverns, gyms and other areas where people congregate in large numbers would remain closed.
“She was adamant about [the] cigarette ban, explaining the relationship between smoking and Covid-19,” said the source.
Apparently, the meeting got heated over a proposal that metropolitan municipalities should remain on level 4. The source said there was a proposal that metros could be divided into subregions and that there could be different levels within the metros.
The DA’s John Steenhuisen apparently spoke out vehemently against this, questioning how the government could say it was opening up the economy but still keep the metros shut down, as most of the country’s economic activity was happening in the metros.
Steenhuisen didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Ramaphosa had allegedly said he would take the discussions with party leaders to the Covid-19 national command council.
According to Al Jama-aha’s Ganief Hendricks, Ramaphosa did not reply to all the questions raised by the senior MPs in the virtual meeting on the pressure from business to reopen the economy, but indicated that he would leave it to trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel to address.
“Also in the next two days, they will take further advice, but he did say that he values the input and contribution of Nedlac,” he said.
Hendricks said he expected that in the next Nedlac meeting big business would flex its muscles, while trade unions would be muted because of the worry over job losses.
Another leader, who didn’t want to be named, said the meeting was more about getting parties’ wishlists, which would be considered along with those of other sectors before the national command council takes a decision.
Otherwise, the MP said there was not much clarity from the meeting, as the president spoke of how the 21-day lockdown paid dividends, but would not commit to new impetus to ease the restrictions.
“He said he was still consulting.”