First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
Unless the Covid-19 vaccines are rolled out at speed and scale, South Africa will not recover lost economic ground, never mind the restructuring the government talks about.
Or as President Cyril Ramaphosa wrote in his Monday newsletter: “We have to both recover the ground that we have lost due to the coronavirus pandemic, and to gain new ground by placing our economy on a fundamentally different growth trajectory.”
The From the Desk of the President missive was about how 600 business executives rated South Africa first in business process outsourcing (BPO) – bluntly put, call centres and IT hotlines – and how that’s a sign of things turning around.
And it is, in limited ways.
Cape Town and the Western Cape, which are central to the BPO sector, have created 7,354 additional jobs in the past year, according to Western Cape Finance MEC David Maynier. Last week, he said 1,166 young people had secured permanent jobs from among the 1,700 youths on the job-training Work and Skills programme.
Covid-19 has boosted working remotely, and the sort of job opportunities that come with that.
But elsewhere, the Covid-19 pandemic has wiped out more than a million jobs and even more livelihoods, given that every worker supports between four and eight people.
Tourism is particularly hard hit.
It accounts for 1.49 million direct and indirect jobs – roughly one in 10 jobs – according to official figures. In 2019, tourism contributed 2.9% of gross domestic product (GDP), but with a total of R425.8-billion spent, it contributed 8.6% to overall economic activity.
Covid-19 has pretty much wiped that out. Never mind the 2019 ambition to increase international visitors from 10.5 million to 21 million by 2030.
South Africa is on no-fly/red-fly lists the world over. It will not be a destination of choice until Covid-19 vaccines are rolled out to 67% of adults for population immunity at speed and scale.
The government’s sweet words and promises do not matter, nor do pretty promos. It’s cold, hard considerations of public health and money.
For, say €770, a tourist from Germany, Britain, France or the Netherlands, which traditionally are central to South African tourism, instead can fly long-haul to Thailand – without quarantine.
Or to Rwanda, which has been declared a “safe country” by the Netherlands and doesn’t seem to feature on Germany’s lists of restricted countries. In the case of the UK, Mauritius was recently removed from the red-fly list. But travellers returning from South Africa must quarantine for 10 days at their own cost. That’s an additional £1,720 at a UK quarantine hotel.
That means maybe only the rich and privileged who, say, have invested in coastal properties, can ditch the European and US winters. That Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi moderated Covid-19 entry restriction to allow stays of up to three months for those visitors with property is an indicator of that.
But that’s not the backbone of South Africa’s tourism industry. And given the prices for accommodation, adventure and attractions, a domestic tourist’s “sho’t left” often struggles to take off.
International tourists’ spending power driven by euros, dollars and pounds is key to tourism’s revival – and South Africa’s economic recovery.
And for the government’s much-promised protection of lives and livelihoods to become reality, what’s needed are not more pretty pledges, but Covid-19 vaccinations at speed and scale. To date the Covid-19 vaccination programme has been marred by procurement flops, ever-flexible inoculation deadlines and missed targets. The government has acknowledged delays – how could it not? – but it has also downplayed the situation.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on Wednesday blamed “onerous”, “difficult” and “sometimes unreasonable” conditions by Covid-19 manufacturers for the delays. Except, no fault compensation and no late delivery penalties are standard internationally.
It’s all about jabs in arms. Nothing else. And no recovery, economic, ideological or otherwise, can be claimed until sufficient jabs are in enough arms – across villages, dorpies, leafy suburbs and urban shacklands. DM168
Marianne Merten has been writing about Parliament for Daily Maverick since 2016.
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.
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