A Tale of (Many More than) Two Cities – Life and Times in South Africa during COVID-19

A Tale of (Many More than) Two Cities – Life and Times in South Africa during COVID-19

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens’ words would ring true today

Charles Dickens wrote this historical novel in 1859. It depicts the lived experiences of the people of London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. So why am I taking you back to one of your set work books at school or university?

Because tonight, as I write this, I am aware of the gravity of the situation, the potential for chaos and suffering, for hardship, but also for the dawning of a new, more equitable, responsible and caring way of living in the world. This is not only true for South Africa, but also the world. We are facing challenges that could quite possibly affect us year from now. How we respond to these will send untold ripples far into the future – we are writing the curriculum that our children’s children will learn about in school.

Before we continue to look at the key elements of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address to the nation, let me say this: history tends to repeat itself – for better and, sadly, for worse. As the human race and, in particular, as a country, we stand on the precipice of history. The next move is ours.

The current situation

According to the South African President, at the time of his last address to the nation on the 15th of March 2020, there were over 160 000 confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide. Today, on the 23rd of March 2020, over 340,000 cases have been confirmed across the world. Eight days.

You may wonder what the fuss is about, since in South Africa only 402 cases have been reported so far, with zero deaths amongst them. Think about this – the number of confirmed cases has increased six-fold in just eight days. I am not an expert in epidemiology, but even a simple calculation of 402 x 6 will give us 2 412 in eight days’ time. A further eight days (just in time for the Easter weekend) at a six-fold increase will bring the number to 14 472.

The President rightly said that the next few days will be crucial. Without decisive action, the number of people infected will rapidly increase from a few hundred to tens of thousands, and within a few weeks to hundreds of thousands.

Though the majority may only become mildly ill, a significant number will need in-hospital care. Our health care system is woefully under resourced, even during relatively ‘uneventful’ times. Though it is true that the number who may pass away due to the illness has been shown to be relatively low, the data available is mostly from first world countries as well as countries with good infrastructure.

In South Africa there is a large number of people with suppressed immunity because of HIV and TB. Many people live in economically depressed, high density communities where malnutrition and lack of basic services are rife. The implications are dire and higher mortality rates can be expected. Many may suffer long-term health challenges.

National Coronavirus Command Council announced a nation-wide lockdown

The nation-wide lockdown will last for 21 days with effect from midnight on Thursday 26 March and will continue to be enforced until midnight on Thursday 16 April.

All South Africans, other than those providing essential services, will have to stay at home. A list of those entities deemed essential will be published.

Lockdown blues – what you can and can’t do in this time

  1. You may leave your home to:
  • Buy (essential) groceries
  • Seek medical care and obtain medication
  • Collect a social grant
  1. You may NOT leave your home to:
  • Engage in ‘panic buying’ sprees (I believe Dickens would concur that this would be an symptom of ‘the age of foolishness’)
  • Congregate with others for social, sporting, educational or religious purposes
  • Go to work if you can work from home or aren’t offering an essential service
  1. The following shops and businesses will remain open:
  • Pharmacies
  • Laboratories
  • Banks
  • Essential financial and payment services, including the JSE
  • Supermarkets
  • Petrol stations
  • Health care providers
  1. Companies that are essential to the production and transportation of food, basic goods and medical supplies will remain open.
  1. No business may sell goods at excessively high prices. (It is sad that mentioning this and its remedies mentioned below is necessary. Dickens won’t be remiss to cite this as evidence of ‘the season of darkness’.) Regulations have been put in place to prohibit unjustified price hikes, ensure shops maintain adequate stocks of basic goods and to prevent people from ‘panic buying’.
  1. To support the enforcement of the above, the NPA has been tasked to act immediately and arrest those who are found to engage in corruption. Such cases are also to be brought before the judiciary, which will expedite these cases and make sure the guilty go to jail.

Public sector interventions

  1. The South African National Defense Force will be deployed to support the South African Police Service in ensuring that the measures we are announcing are implemented.
  2. A public health management programme will be initiated which will significantly increase screening, testing, contact tracing and medical management. Community health teams will do screening and testing where people live. They will start in high density and high-risk areas.
  3. To make sure that hospitals are not overwhelmed, a system will be put in place for ‘centralised patient management’ for severe cases and ‘decentralised primary care’ for mild cases.
  4. Emergency water supplies – using water storage tanks, water tankers, boreholes and communal standpipes – are being provided to informal settlements and rural areas.

Economic relief

This virus is not only taking its toll on people’s health across the globe. We face a potentially deep economic recession that will cause many businesses to close. Many may lose their jobs because of it. In collaboration with the business sector, measures are being put in place to mitigate the economic impact of the disease and the economic after effects associated with it.

  1. Solidarity Fund

South African businesses, organisations, and individuals, and members of the international community can contribute to this fund, which will complement the efforts of the public sector. The Fund will focus on strengthening efforts to combat the spread of the virus, help with tracking the spread thereof, provide care for those who are ill and support those whose lives are disrupted.

Towards this end, the Rupert and Oppenheimer families have donated R1 billion each to assist small businesses and their employees affected by the pandemic.

  1. Special dispensation for companies

The government and other stakeholders are in consultation on a proposal for companies that are in distress because of COVID-19. Through this proposal employees will receive wage payment through the Temporary Employee Relief Scheme, which will enable companies to pay employees directly and avoid having to retrench workers. Should an employee fall ill through exposure at their workplace, such an employ will be paid through the Compensation Fund.

  1. Tax system relief

Using the tax system, we will provide a tax subsidy of up to R500 per month to businesses so that these entities may be able to pay employees earning below R6 500 a month and therefore ensure some income for over 4 million workers.

  1. PAYE delays for tax compliant businesses

Should your business turnover be less that R50 million, you will be allowed to delay 20% of your pay-as-you-earn liabilities for the next four months without incurring penalties or interest over the next six months. Though minimal, it will offer some relief to over 75 000 small and medium-term enterprises.

  1. Temporary reduction on contributions to the Unemployment Insurance  and Skill Development Funds

A contribution reduction for both employer and employees is being considered for the former and so, too, a reduction for employers for the latter.

Should you become unemployed and you have contributed to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) your application to the fund will be fast tracked to ensure relief as soon as possible.

  1. The Department of Small Business Development

This department has, with immediate effect, made over R500 million available to assist small and medium enterprises that are in distress and now face imminent closure as a consequence of these rules. A simplified application process for this has been put in place.

  1. The Department of Tourism

The above-mentioned department has made an additional R200 million available to assist SMEs in the tourism and hospitality sector who are under particular stress due to the new travel restrictions. This will however, translate into very little relief in practical terms.

  1. Repo rate cuts (last week)

In line with its Constitutional mandate, the South African Reserve Bank cut the repo rate by 100 basis point. This translate to a 1% drop. This will offer relief to both consumers and businesses. For each Million Rand debt you had last week – interest will R833 per month. Home loan, car loan, credit card, personal overdraft and business as well. There will probably be a further cut.

How Northwood Financial Services cc are responding

To all our old and prospective clients, NFS will remain open, though staff will work from home. Our pledge to you is that all your concerns and questions will be attended to, but extend us the common curtesy of patience! It may take us a little longer to answer and crises will be given priority.

I ask that you do not call me. Even if you do get hold of me, I would most likely not be prepared or able to give you the attention you need. Help me to help you.

Please make use of WhatsApp or email us instead.

  • Our office WhatsApp number is 083 298 3070
  • You can email us on:

Send us a brief message, including your name and surname, indicating any specific questions or comments you may have. We will phone as soon as possible.

It is up to us to decide how our story will turn out. What we do know is that we have individually and collectively faced and overcome great obstacles, even if it takes a time and sacrifice. We should not strive to only survive these challenging times. We can thrive again. We can learn the lessons this virus brings and become stronger and wiser because of it.

This, too, shall pass and as the President said: ‘may God be with us all.’

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