The Democratic Alliance (DA) notes with concern the announcement by the Premier of the Free State, Sisi Ntombela, that while the rest of the Free State may soon be downgraded to level three, she will recommend that Mangaung Metro Municipality remains on the current level four. The DA has already written to the Premier requesting the downgrading of the whole Free State to level three or even two.
Mangaung remains the largest contributor to the provincial economy and this decision will result in further economic decline and more job losses. The DA has indicated that lives must be balanced with livelihoods. Lockdown in the Free State was meant to give our Department of Health enough time to prepare for the worst-case scenarios regarding the coronavirus, it was never meant to be a permanent livelihood destroying feature in the province. The recommendation to keep Mangaung under lockdown level four is not in line with proposals in provinces such as Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal to move to level three when the statistics are compared. While Bloemfontein has the highest incidences of the coronavirus in the Free State, the further spread of the virus must be managed without manhandling the local economy.
Before lockdown, the Free State had the second-highest unemployment in the country at 35%, which increases to 42,3% under the expanded definition. Out of almost 2.9 million people in the province, 1.1 million were already recipients of social grants before the lockdown social relief was announced. In 2018 the number of taxpayers in the Free State who contributed towards our national tax base was 249 868 which subsequently dropped to 218 943 in 2020. This implies that every taxpayer in the Free State was already supporting five grant recipients and all service delivery. Further lockdown in Mangaung or the rest of the province will have disastrous economic implications and destroy thousands more livelihoods in the province with devastating social and further health implications.
Since so many people are already suffering in the province, the DA believes that it will be inevitable that the salaries of politicians and civil servants in the provincial government and Free State municipalities will have to be cut commensurate with the private sector, during the entire lockdown period. Some people in the Free State have already lost their jobs, livelihoods and taken salary cuts while continuing to pay various taxes that are used to pay these salaries.
The DA is already challenging various aspects of the Disaster Management Act and its regulations in the courts at a national level and, like the rest of the country, we eagerly await the outcomes of these in the Free State as well.