Relaxation of regulations too little, too late

Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of a relaxation of the lockdown regulations to reduce the economic damage caused by the government’s excessive state of lockdown, is too little and too late for many farmers, agricultural industries and value chains, according to Dr Theo de Jager, Chairperson of Saai’s Board of Directors.

For the game industry, already crippled by the absence of trophy hunters from abroad, the incomprehensible ban on interprovincial travel for local hunters (while taxi passengers are allowed to be transported on the same routes) came as a deathblow. The traditional hunting season has almost reached its end and hundreds of game farms have been plunged into a financial crisis with thousands of job losses upstream and downstream in the value chain.

Similar job losses have already resulted in a social crisis in the wine industry, where the loss of business is not limited to the 2020 production year only. Overflowing cellars have no storage capacity in tanks and barrels and have already notified producers that they are unable to allocate 2021 quotas. “A farm cannot be closed down for a year, and very few family farmers are able to survive two consecutive years’ loss of income or turnover,” says De Jager.

Tobacco farmers and their workers who have been doomed to cash flow crises by the 20 weeks long cigarette ban are upset by the obviously deficient research and data on which the decision to ban smoking was based. The arguments and information used by Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in the court applications brought by Saai, BATSA and others to justify the ban on selling cigarettes are far removed from the reality of a demolished value chain where billions of state revenue have been lost and businesses, farming enterprises and job opportunities are unable to survive.

“To be calling now for new job opportunities to be created while affected farmers and rural businesses are struggling to retain existing manpower, especially following cries of distress addressed to the government since May 2020 to give the businesses that have been choked to death some breathing space, is very strange indeed. The rural business sector’s confidence in the government has been shattered by the unpredictability, recklessness and irrationality of the government, to such an extent that it will take a long time for investments to back new job opportunities again.”

The announcements did not come as a surprise, given the pressure exerted by the court applications in the tobacco, hunting and wine industries brought by Saai and the weak arguments and data sets the government has based its defence on.