The economy contracted an annualized 2% in the three months through March, the first time since 2009 that a South African recession has lasted longer than two quarters. The slump was less than projected and economists including Kevin Lings of Stanlib Asset Management warned that the fall-off in the second quarter will be severe.
South Africa implemented a strict lockdown from March 27 to limit the spread of the pandemic. For five weeks, almost all activity except essential services was halted and most citizens were only allowed to leave their homes to buy food, seek medical care and collect welfare grants.
The restrictions were eased from May 1, allowing the phased reopening of some businesses and industries. Still, many companies have closed down permanently and some of those that have resumed operations are still limited as to which services they may offer.
The Reserve Bank sees the economy contracting by 7% this year and the National Treasury projects a 7.2% decline in output. That would be the most since the Great Depression, when GDP fell by 6.2% in 1931. The near-term economic outlook is highly dependent on the development of the coronavirus pandemic and the extent of restrictions on business activity to limit the spread, the central bank said in an annual report.