DA: We must all reject the racialisation of COVID-19 relief measures

The Democratic Alliance has rejected the application of racial criteria in determining eligibility for government relief for businesses affected by COVID-19.

John Steenhuisen

DA leader John Steenhuisen said: “We call on President Ramaphosa to immediately instruct the ministers in his cabinet to comply with his government’s own assurances given on March 24 that assistance to Covid-stricken businesses will be available to all South Africans.”

It has now emerged in a letter written by the Minister of Tourism, Minister Kubayi-Ngubane, to mayoral committee member for economic opportunities in the City of Cape Town, James Vos, that her department will indeed be guided by the BEE codes in administering the Tourism Relief Fund. There are also indications that relief in the agriculture sector will exclude commercial farmers and will only be available to emerging farmers.

It is fast becoming apparent that race was always going to one of the deciding criteria when applying for government assistance

When news broke almost two weeks ago in a leaked draft document by the Department of Small Business Development of government’s intention to racialise the relief effort, they quickly tried to backtrack. First this document stipulating a 51% black ownership requirement was called “fake news”, but it soon emerged that it was a legitimate, albeit earlier, draft of government’s SMME relief plan. Government immediately set about reassuring South Africans that these relief measures would be available to all, regardless of race.

“However, it is fast becoming apparent that this was never the intention, and that race was always going to one of the deciding criteria when applying for government assistance,” Steenhuisen said. “This would perhaps explain why we never received a reply from Trade and Industry Minister, Ebrahim Patel, after DA Shadow Minister of Trade and Industry, Dean Macpherson, wrote to him March 19 requesting a moratorium on BEE to ensure that all South African businesses have access to emergency funding.

It is unconscionable that even now, in the time of our country’s greatest crisis, identity should trump the true need for relief

“It is also unlikely to be a coincidence that government’s hasty public backtrack on race as criteria happened as they were busy fundraising for this relief fund, but now that the money – billions of Rands from private companies and individuals – is in the bank and the disbursement is about to begin, the race criteria is suddenly back,” he said.

“It is unconscionable that even now, in the time of our country’s greatest crisis, identity should trump the true need for relief. The bitter irony is that it is employees who will suffer the effects of this folly more than employers, and that the overwhelming majority of the former will be black. But even in the face of this undeniable fact, The ANC cannot bring itself to do what is right. They still consider the race of the employer more important than the plight of the employee,” he continued.

“We cannot play political ideology games at this time. Government cannot threaten the livelihoods of thousands of desperate South Africans for the sake of ensuring a hollow victory for racial nationalism. The DA calls on President Ramaphosa to do the right thing here, and to bring his cabinet and their departments onto the same page.”

Questions remain unanswered on small business relief during lockdown

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