South Africa should move quickly to implement a recovery plan for an economy pummelled by the country’s Covid-19 lockdown after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a further easing of the restrictions, a key business leader said on Thursday.

Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) chief executive officer Busi Mavuso said increased economic activity as the country shifted to level 1 of the lockdown would provide the ideal foundation for the recovery plan.

PRESIDENT Cyril Ramaphosa says life after the lockdown eases will not be the same as we knew it before. GCIS

In his latest national address on Wednesday evening, half a year after declaring a national state of disaster in response to the Covid-19 pandemic which paved the way for a level 5 hard lockdown shutting down all but essential services, Ramaphosa said it was now time to remove as many of the remaining restrictions as was reasonably safe to do.

This included opening international borders which would give a much-needed boost to the tourism sector, one of South Africa’s greatest economic drivers, the president said.

“We are ready to open our doors again to the world, and invite travellers to enjoy our mountains, our beaches, our vibrant cities and our wildlife game parks in safety and confidence,” he said.

He noted that after several weeks of engagement, participants at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC), the vehicle by which the government, labour unions, business and community organisations seek to cooperate, had made tremendous progress on an ambitious economic recovery plan.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announces lockdown measures to restrict the outbreak of coronavirus disease spread, is pictured at a mobile phone in Cape Town. Picture: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Cabinent would finalise the plan in coming weeks, Ramaphosa added.

On Thursday, Mavuso said it was imperative that the framework be implemented as soon as possible, warning that each day it was delayed pushed the recovery further out.

“It’s essential that Cabinet backs the plan and while we are loathe to comment on matters pertaining to the internal dynamics of the governing party in the ANC (African National Congress) and its alliance partners, we hope they back it as well,” she added.

South Africa’s main opposition Democratic Alliance said while the country’s move to a less restrictive level 1 of the Covid-19 response had come far too late, it welcomed the move.

Now that the coronavirus was in retreat, the party would call for a parliamentary debate and ad hoc committee to assess the government’s management of South Africa’s response, DA leader John Steenhuisen said.

“President Ramaphosa and his government must be held to account for the avoidable socioeconomic devastation which is the net impact of lockdown,” he said.

South Africa – Cape Town – 16 February 2020 – President Cyril Ramaphosa delivering the keynote address at the Ubuntu Awards 2020 hosted at the CTICC. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

“Ramaphosa’s government can only rescue the situation now by implementing wide-ranging pro-growth economic reforms to roll back mounting poverty, a pandemic much more deadly than Covid.”

The Inkatha Freedom Party cautiously welcomed Ramaphosa’s announcement but said South Africa must monitor its responsiveness to the possibility of a second wave of Covid-19 infections, as had happened in other countries.

“Our plea to South Africans is that we continue to take extraordinary precautionary measures to safeguard our families and loved ones against Covid-19,” IFP spokesman Mkhuleko Hlengwa said in a statement.

“Our call to South Africans is to exercise maximum discipline, and not to act recklessly, in contravention of the law, and thereby place the lives and health of others in jeopardy.”

-ANA, Editing by Stella Mapenzauswa