The following remarks were delivered by the DA Leader, John Steenhuisen MP, following the televised address by the President on 23 March 2020.
The DA welcomes the President’s announcement this evening of a nationwide lockdown and the deployment of the South African National Defence Force. These measures are of critical importance in our efforts to combat the spread of the Coronavirus through our communities and contain, as much as is possible, future COVID-19 infections. We also welcome the announcement of a Solidarity Fund to support the vulnerable in the wake of this crisis, and thank the patriotic South Africans who made extremely generous donations.
Locking down our country and deploying the SANDF is something no South African would ever want to see in peacetime, but given the severity of our challenge it is absolutely the right thing to do. The threat of this virus is akin to a wartime situation, and this requires of each of us to make sacrifices in our daily lives, and to some of the liberties of our democratic society.
It is important to bear in mind that this lockdown has been scheduled for a period of 21 days. While this could possibly be extended should the circumstances call for it, it is not an indefinite situation. Three weeks of drastic measures now can save us many lives and buy us critical time for our healthcare professionals to deal with the unfolding crisis. If we don’t make this sacrifice now, we will pay a far greater price in the long run.
What is important right now is that every South African recognises the gravity of the situation. This is not something that happens far away and to other people. It is not something that might happen to us somewhere down the line. It is here already, and the full impact will hit us very soon. Already the most recent number of confirmed COVID-19 cases – 402, as announced by the Ministry of Health this afternoon – shows that our country has not been spared, and that our rate of infection looks to mirror that of countries currently battling hard to treat their citizens and prevent loss of life.
This is the biggest threat our country has faced in its 26 years of democracy. It will test our healthcare system and it will test our ability to withstand an economic onslaught like nothing before. But above all, it will test the resolve of our people, and this is where we can take great strength. We have been through tough times before, and we have overcome our obstacles. We can do it again, as long as we are in the fight together.
I would like to reiterate to the President my offer of the DA’s support in this fight. He and his government cannot do it alone. My Shadow Cabinet has already made this offer, along with constructive suggestions, to their counterparts in the President’s Cabinet. I urge him to take up this offer and bring on board as many people as he can.
I also urge him to consider our proposals put forward for an Economic Recovery Package to deal with the devastating effect of this virus on households, businesses and jobs. We have to put in place, right away, the measures to rebuild our economy and shield employers and employees from the worst damage.
And finally, to the people of South Africa, I ask that you focus on what needs to be done and comply with everything that is required of you. Our efforts to beat this virus are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. Everyone has to be 100% on board and committed. Every measure is essential. Stay at home, avoid gatherings, maintain your hygiene and cooperate with law enforcement and the SANDF. These will be trying times, but we must show restraint and peaceful cooperation in everything we do. That is the only way we will win.
The next three weeks of lockdown, and the months that follow this period, will be our greatest test as a nation. We can get through this if we stand united against our common enemy.