Silke Stadtmann has been office director in Pretoria since summer 2019. Here she reports on the Corona situation in the country and the new daily routine in the KfW office.
On 5 March 2020 the first case of Covid 19 was reported in South Africa: An infected South African came back from a trip to Italy. Just two weeks later, President Ramaphosa announced the first measures to contain the virus: Travellers from a risk country were not granted entry permits, schools and universities were closed, etc. After another two weeks, the whole of South Africa went into a total lockdown (risk level 5): all-day curfew (leaving the apartment was only allowed for important reasons such as shopping for food or a visit to the doctor). The borders were closed, national and international flight operations were discontinued, and only systemically important companies were allowed to maintain their operations. The aim of the lockdown was to contain the virus and at the same time prepare the South African health system for the outbreak of Covid-19. At that time there were only 554 infected.
After a total of 5 weeks with one of the strictest curfews in the world, the first loosening of the restrictions was finally achieved. On 1 May, when everyone was allowed to leave their homes, it was like a public festival. Finally out the door again! One was allowed to leave the house between 6 and 9 o'clock in the morning for sports activities. After another 30 days, and due to strong economic and public pressure, the restrictions were further relaxed to risk level 3 and almost all sectors of the economy were allowed to reopen under strict rules. The distance rule of 1.5 m as well as the obligation to wear masks in public places also apply in South Africa, social contacts outside the family are prohibited, restaurants and hotels are not yet allowed to resume operations. The national borders are still closed. Travel between districts is permitted only for important professional reasons. Only when level 2 is reached will there be domestic flights again, from level 1 on international flights will be possible again.
The restrictions and their consequences:
The government's response to the first cases was calm, transparent and considered. All parties, unions and churches stood united behind the president and the government. This support was unique by South African standards. The government also received much praise and recognition for its crisis management in the international context. After more than 11 weeks of lockdown, criticism from political parties, industry and associations is growing.
While in other countries the easing was implemented at a time when infection rates had stabilised, the South African government is easing restrictions considerably in some regions, while case numbers are rising sharply. Especially in the townships, where social tensions are growing. The queues for food are getting longer and longer and often there is not enough food for everyone. Here people live together in very confined spaces, have to share toilets with other families and fetch water at public standpipes. Distance and hygiene rules (constant hand washing etc.) are already difficult to apply here.
South Africa was already in a poor economic situation before Corona, and the pandemic will exacerbate this. The government is trying to counteract this with a fund for the purchase of medical equipment, a solidarity fund into which rich South Africans, companies and members of the government have paid in by waiving their salaries, and an economic stimulus package worth EUR 25 billion. It is particularly difficult for the informal sector, tourism, small and medium-sized enterprises and other disadvantaged groups. The country already suffers from an unemployment rate of 29%, of which about 55% are young adults, and this will certainly increase dramatically. Moreover, the energy crisis, drought and recession add to the burden.
KfW Office in Pretoria
The KfW office was closed at the end of March. We work, just like our partners, in the home office. Thanks to KfW's good technology we can work almost "normally". One virtual meeting replaces the next. Every morning we make a "daily call: what's up? what's new? This helps the team spirit and we see each other on video.
Also in level 3 all are encouraged to continue working from home. The requirements for returning to the office are high: first the entire office must be disinfected by a specialist company, fever measurements taken when coming and going, and everything must be cleaned again after work.
Impressions of Lwazi Mdlopane, responsible for the health sector and education in the KfW office:
The Covid 19 pandemic has made it clear that all people have the same fears for their health and future. It has brought issues of governance and cohesion to the fore. As a South African, I was pleased with the leadership of the President and the Minister of Health. Their quick response and their measures to close down the country have led to the support of the government by the citizens. All over the country people respect the rules of disinfection and wear masks. On the other hand, it is sad to see the pictures of our townships and informal settlements, where most people have difficulty feeding their families and abiding by the rules. Social inequalities have been exposed, including access to quality health care and poor labour legislation.
FC commitment in the crisis - Contract handover in the supermarket
In order to assist the country and the government, KfW has committed a grant of EUR 2.14 million on behalf of the Federal Government. This is intended to support the South African Ministry of Health in the procurement of urgently needed medical equipment. The pandemic particularly affects people with weakened immune systems and pre-existing conditions, including in South Africa, where HIV/AIDS rates are particularly high. Since we were still in Lockdown 5 at the time the contract was signed and were only allowed to go to the supermarket, we met in the supermarket to hand over the contracts. This was the only possibility, as there was no courier service or postal service.
What happens next?
As expected, the number of infections is rising continuously. The number of people tested for Covid-19 was around 17,000 infected and 577 dead on 29 May 2020 shortly before opening to risk level 3. Barely two weeks later, the figures are around 66,000 infected and 1,423 dead. The Eastern Cape and Gauteng provinces, but above all the Western Cape and the City of Cape Town are particularly hard hit. The Western Cape currently accounts for two thirds of all cases and more than three quarters of the country's deaths. Experts are still discussing the causes and whether this situation is an indicator of how the pandemic could soon spread throughout the country.
The number of infected doctors and nurses is also increasing, and testing capacities have been ramped up at an astonishing pace, but there is a delay in the evaluation of the tests of about two weeks. With the rising number of infected people, criticism from the opposition, the economy and the population is also increasing. At the beginning of June, the Supreme Court in Pretoria declared the imposed restrictions under levels 3 and 4 to be unconstitutional. Now some of the urgently needed experts from the government will have to spend days or weeks on the procedures - which will not necessarily reduce the uncertainty in the population as to what is allowed and what is prohibited.