President Cyril Ramaphosa has said that all public schools will be closed from July 27 to August 24. The president addressed the nation on Thursday, July 23 night.

Ramaphosa said, that as South Africa approaches its peak of COVID-19 infections, we must take the cautious approach to prevent schools from becoming sites of transmission.

Some exceptions are to be made for matric pupils and teachers, who will be given a break of one week. They are expected back at schools on August 3. He also said the school year will have to be amended to accommodate the time lost due to the pandemic.

Grade 7 learners will have a two-week break, and will return to school on August 10.

“I want to thank all of our teachers and other staff at schools across the country who have been on the frontline during this pandemic under conditions of great difficulty,” he said.

“We have taken a deliberately cautious approach to keep schools closed during a period when the country is expected to experience its greatest increase in infections,” the President said. “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. I am aware that this arrangement will disappoint many learners who want to be back at school and may cause inconvenience and difficulty for many families who need to make alternative childcare arrangements.”

“We ask you to do this because we believe it is important to ensure that schools do not become sites of transmission at a time when infections are rising fast,” he added.

In April, President Ramaphosa announced a historic R500-billion social relief and economic support package to direct resources towards the country’s coronavirus response and assist businesses, workers and households.

“The resources for this package come from the reprioritisation of funds within the budget and through the mobilisation of loans from funders,” he said. “These funders include multilateral development banks, who have heeded the call to support their member countries during this crisis.”

The R500-billion package has several parts and focuses on giving the greatest assistance to those in greatest need. Firstly, it redirects resources to fund the health response to coronavirus.

This includes additional expenditure on personal protective equipment, community screening, increased testing capacity, additional beds in field hospitals, ventilators, medicine and staffing. Secondly, it provides direct support to households and individuals for the relief of hunger and social distress.

By the end of this month, an additional R15-billion will have been paid out to social grant recipients. Over 4.4-million people have now received the special COVID-19 grant, which assists those who are unemployed and do not receive other forms of support.

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

There were delays in paying this amount but future payments will be made more quickly now that the necessary systems are in place.

“As we announced, this grant will continue to be paid over the full six-month period,” Ramaphosa said. “This special COVID-19 assistance has provided essential support to the most vulnerable people in our country.”

Thirdly, the package provides assistance to companies in distress and seeks to protect jobs by supporting workers’ wages.

For the months of April, May and June, the UIF’s special COVID-19 benefit has paid out R34-billion, helping over seven-and-a-half million workers and preventing retrenchments in a number of companies.

“This scheme has now been extended by another 6 weeks to 15 August 2020. We continue to provide assistance – in the form of loans, grants and debt restructuring – to small businesses, spaza shop owners and other informal businesses,” the President said. “Special assistance has also been provided to businesses in the tourism, sports and creative industries. To date, a total of R1.5 billion in support has been provided to all these businesses.”

This is making a real difference in the lives of millions of people and is providing vital support to thousands of companies in these very difficult times.

“But what concerns me, and what concerns all South Africans, are those instances where funds are stolen, where they are misused, where goods are overpriced, where food parcels are diverted from needy households – where there is corruption and mismanagement of public funds,” Ramaphosa added.

Increasingly, Government is hearing allegations about fraudulent UIF claims, overpricing of goods and services, violation of emergency procurement regulations, collusion between officials and service providers, abuse of food parcel distribution and the creation of fake non-profit organisations to access relief funding.

“From the outset of our response to the pandemic, we have been quite clear that there should be no scope for corruption in the use of these resources,” Ramaphosa said. “National Treasury issued regulations to ensure that emergency procurement of supplies and services meet the constitutional requirements of fairness, transparency, competitiveness and cost effectiveness.”

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.

The Auditor-General has also adopted special measures to safeguard funds committed to the fight against COVID-19. Special audits have been undertaken to detect and prevent misuse of these funds and to identify risks in the system.

In addition to all these measures we have established a collaborative and coordinating centre to strengthen the collective efforts among law enforcement agencies so as to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute COVID-related corruption.

This centre brings together nine state institutions.

These are the Financial Intelligence Centre, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Hawks, Crime Intelligence and the SAPS Detective Service, the South African Revenue Service, the Special Investigating Unit and the State Security Agency.

“We commend those provincial governments and municipalities that have already started taking disciplinary action against officials accused of improper conduct and, where appropriate, have reported them to the law enforcement agencies.”

Picture:  Twitter

Article written by

Lucinda Dordley

Lucinda is a hard news writer who occasionally dabbles in lifestyle writing, and recent journalism graduate. She is a proud intersectional feminist, and is passionate about actively creating a world which is free of discrimination and inequality.