July 16, 2020

New report demonstrates how a Just Recovery from COVID-19 in South Africa can build resilience to future crises

Johannesburg, South AfricaA new report unveiled today by the environmental group 350.org and researched by the Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ) shows that a just recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to restructure South Africa’s economy to be more sustainable and resilient and to prioritise the needs of ordinary people.

A just recovery would ensure economic systems are people-centred and not profit-centred, and takes account of the intersecting crises that have hampered our public health response to COVID-19 as well as caused inequalities and large-scale ecological damage. A just recovery revolves around five principles: putting people’s health first, providing economic relief directly to the people, helping workers and communities not corporate executives, creating resilience for future crises and building solidarity and community across borders. The report includes examples of how these principles could be acted upon.

The adoption of just recovery principles underlines the view that climate justice and social justice are intersecting struggles.

Glen Tyler-Davies, the South Africa Team leader of 350.org said:

“The South African government was initially praised for taking proactive and aggressive steps to flatten the curve. However, the gains made by the public health response have been undermined by the economic management of the crisis and the underlying economic and social problems that impact many South Africans. There is a desperate need to ensure that our recovery path prioritises not a return to normal but a transformative vision for our society.

South Africa is at a crossroads where the decisions that are made regarding how we attempt to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic will have implications for generations and on our response to other crises like climate change. If we follow the logic of market-based solutions and reducing the scope of the state, we will have to face the consequences of not having created resilient political, social and economic institutions. This will mean that inequality widens alongside all the social ills that accompany it. It means our emissions profile will worsen, contributing further to the global climate crisis and leading to more frequent and greater climate shocks. It also means we will be less able to handle them and more people will suffer. A similar, if not worse, outcome arises from a continuation of the status quo whereby we bail out Eskom and other SOEs without insisting on their transformation into public-serving, democratically-controlled institutions geared towards a renewable-energy transition.”

James Irlam who sits as the chairperson of the Public Health Association of South Africa’s Climate, Energy and Health Special Interest Group said:

“As a group with a special interest in the links between climate and energy systems and public health, in a national association of public health professionals and advocates, and in a country both historically responsible for, and increasingly vulnerable to, climate change, we call for strong state and public health leadership on finding shared solutions to the converging crises of the immediate coronavirus pandemic, and the growing pandemic of climate-health impacts in South Africa. We fully endorse the report’s analysis and call for a people-centred recovery: a well-funded public healthcare sector and low-carbon energy system are both essential to putting people’s health first in a just recovery.”

For South Africa to achieve a just recovery it must implement both short-term and more medium- and longer-term proposals. The report highlights examples of these and they include: reclaiming and rebuilding public services to promote public affluence, complementing the “Green Economy” with the care-focused “Purple Economy”, transitioning to a low-carbon energy system, pursuing structural transformation not structural reforms, changing ownership structures throughout the economy to reconfigure power relations, and building a new internationalism to overcome global inequalities.

The report outlines that a COVID-19 fiscal stimulus package that supports the proposals highlighted above needs to be financed from resources available both locally and internationally. In addition to direct state financing, local development banks and investment corporations – such as the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) and Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) – can play a greater, more strategic role. The recent announcement by the DBSA of a R150m COVID-19 Response Programme is a good example of how these institutions can respond to this crisis, however a broader response that addresses the multiple crises we face is needed in the long term.

So far the government has not been effective in providing widespread social security to the most vulnerable populations. A recent survey shows that about 3 million South Africans have lost their jobs during the country’s nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19 and an additional 1.5-million workers have lost their incomes as a result of the lockdown. More needs to be done to change the trajectory of the South African economy to address the urgent needs of the South African people.


Read more: the Just Recovery report can be accessed here: https://350africa.org/just-recovery-south-africa/

Media Contacts: Glen Tyler-Davies and Robert Magori