South Africa’s Response to Covid-19

Mark Bannister

Mark Bannister is with the South Africa Department of Water & Sanitation. He is the Chief Engineer for Water Services & Local Water Management. Mark is responsible for developing policies, guidelines, legislation documentation; guiding resolution of disputes between Water Service Authorities and Water Boards; providing engineering solutions to issues at a local and national level and providing technical support to the Minister of Water & Sanitation.

Mark is also a specialist in issues pertaining to disability and environmental access issues. He is a Chartered Engineer with a B.Eng. (Hons) in Mechanical Engineering from Loughborough University (UK). He has some 27 years’ experience in planning, design and implementation of multi-disciplinary water and sanitation, health, and education related programs. Mark’s experience has afforded him knowledge pertaining to water services’ delivery from ‘source to tap’, from National to Local Government, from urban to rural community level, culminating national legislative requirements, engineering and financial disciplines, social, human rights, gender, and disability issues. In 2005, he also published a book entitled ‘Eyes Wide Open’, which relates his own experience of disability to educate and motivate others.

The following questions were discussed:

  1. What additional help, if any, is the South African government providing to municipalities specifically to help them mitigate the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic?
  2. What new regulations have been put in place, if any, that impact the municipalities?
  3. How is South Africa addressing water and sanitation in high-density/informal settlements differently due to the Pandemic?
  4. Have South African lockdown measures positively impacted these municipalities?
  5. Municipalities will see a substantial drop in revenue. Is the South African government helping them with this situation?
1. What additional help, if any, is the South African government providing to municipalities specifically to help them mitigate the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic?

As some background, South Africa declared the COVID-19 pandemic to be a national disaster on Sunday 15 March 2020. The country has been on informal lockdown since 26 March 2020. As of 19 May 2020, South Africa had 17200 cases of COVID-19, 312 deaths and 7960 recoveries.

Since the national disaster was announced the sector has been very active to get emergency water and sanitation services to vulnerable areas. The Municipalities are key to getting these services to the people as the Water Service Authorities (WSA). There are 144 WSAs in South Africa.

It is not just the WSAs pursuing this objective – it is a sector-wide effort with a combined effort from National to Local Governments, utilities, parastatals, private sector, civil society etc – it is “all hands on deck” to curb the virus and minimise the contamination.

Financially and specific to the Municipalities, the Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) is one of the key Municipal funding streams aimed at providing all South Africans with at least a basic level of service through the provision of grant finance to cover the capital cost of basic infrastructure for the poor.

It is part of the government’s overall strategy to eradicate poverty and to create conditions for local economic development. Projects identified within MIG are currently being reprioritised to maximise the fight against COVID-19. Previous underspending by Municipalities is also being unlocked to maximise the implementation of infrastructure and services against the virus

The Ministry initially identified just over 2 000 communities across the country that need urgent attention and the Water Department has been working closely with the Municipalities and other key stakeholders to ensure  they can address the water and sanitation needs of South Africans and curb the virus as best as possible.

The governments interventions with regards to water and sanitation have been covering the following:

    1. Ensure water supply to communities not yet served by formal water service. This will include providing communal water storage with water collection points, which will be filled using water carting in the interim.
    2. Providing hand-washing facilities in public places (such as taxi ranks, community halls etc.)
    3. Health and hygiene campaign which goes together with the provision of sanitation.
    4. Interim containerised sanitation systems have been provided in the targeted highly dense areas as identified by the Department of Human Settlements, which will be implemented by the Metros with USDG funding.

So far, the Water Department has delivered more than 19,000 water storage tanks across the country and over 1,200 water tankers. This is done through working together with provinces, municipalities, business sector and Non-Governmental Organizations.

South Africa has also established the National Ventilator Project to rapidly mobilise the technical and industrial resources of the country to manufacture non-invasive ventilators, which can be used to support patients afflicted with the disease. Other projects are focusing on increasing the local manufacture of protective face masks, hand sanitizers and pharmaceutical products which can be used by health care workers and the public at large.
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2. What new regulations have been put in place, if any, that impact the municipalities?

South Africa declared the coronavirus pandemic to be a national disaster on Sunday 15 March 2020.  As such the Disaster Management Act 57 0f 2002 came into effect together with 60 accompanying Directions and 20 Disaster management guidelines and notices. Specific details can be reviewed on the South African Government website

South Africa has avoided a rushed re-opening that could risk a spread, which could result in a need to have another hard lockdown. The government must balance the need to resume economic activity with the imperative to contain the virus and save lives.

This lockdown has impacted the Municipalities negatively in terms of their local economy and provision of services, hence the need to reopen in line with the Governments guidance. The Municipalities are responsible to assist in the implementation of the lockdown levels within the areas of their jurisdiction.

As part of this re-opening of the economic approach, the government has adopted five coronavirus levels. South Africa has been in Level 4 since 1 May 2020:

Level 5 means that drastic measures are required to contain the spread of the virus to save lives.

Level 4 means that some activity can be allowed to resume subject to extreme precautions required to limit community transmission and outbreaks.

Level 3 involves the easing of some restrictions, including on work and social activities, to address a high risk of transmission.

Level 2 involves the further easing of restrictions, but the maintenance of physical distancing and restrictions on some leisure and social activities to prevent a resurgence of the virus.

Level 1 means that most normal activity can resume, with precautions and health guidelines always followed.

To ensure that the government’s response to the pandemic can be as precise and targeted as possible, there is a national level and separate levels for each Province, district, and metro in the country.
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3. How is South Africa addressing water and sanitation in high-density/informal settlements differently due to the Pandemic?

Informal settlements and high-density areas prove to be a very high risk when it comes to implementing social distancing and effective sanitation practices, which is why the sector has been busy bringing additional services to these areas, and where necessary moving people to safer spaces where possible. Besides, homeless people have been accommodated in 154 shelters.
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4. Have South African lockdown measures positively impacted these municipalities?

The following is a positive example. As part of the lockdown regulations Government has banned the sale of cigarettes and alcohol.

Cigarettes – since it contributes towards lung infections and could negatively impact a person who has COVID-19.

Alcohol – since it contributes to domestic abuse and violence. For example, in December 2019 alone, 1390 people lost their lives on South African roads many of whom were alcohol related.  Outside of the festive season the numbers indeed reduce, however, the figures remain high compared to other countries. The ban on alcohol reduces not only domestic violence but also the number of alcohol-related deaths on the road, takes the pressure off the front line healthcare responders and saves the country money.
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5. Municipalities will see a substantial drop in revenue. Is the South African government helping them with this situation?

The South African Government has identified several ways to help financially through the COVID-19 pandemic – not just to provide infrastructure but to assist small businesses and individuals.  To highlight a few initiatives the following can be said:

Social Relief and Economic Support Package:

In terms of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement on 21 April 2020, as part of the second phase of measures taken by the South African Government, this social relief and economic support package will comprise of R500,000,000,000, (approx. $27 billion) which is 10% of the GDP.

Solidarity Fund:

South Africa has also initiated a Solidarity Fund – which was established to mobilise resources from companies, organisations, and individuals to combat the coronavirus pandemic – has so far raised around R2.2 billion. It has already allocated around R1 billion to buy sterile gloves, face shields, surgical masks, test kits and ventilators. It will also allocate funds for humanitarian relief to vulnerable households, in addition to the R400 million set aside by the government for Social Relief of Distress grants.

Industrial Development Corporation (“IDC”) Support:

The IDC and the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition have compiled a more than R3,000,000,000 ($163 million) package for industrial funding to help vulnerable businesses.

The IDC has set aside R3,000,000,000 for the procurement of essential medical supplies.

The Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF):

The UIF has set aside R40 billion to help employees who will be unable to work, as part of the effort to prevent jobs losses because of the lockdown. This funding will help towards ensuring that the underlying economy continues to function and to focus support on those small businesses that need them.

Continental efforts:

As a Continent, Africa leaders are discussing a coordinated continental effort to combat the coronavirus and support our people and our economies. The government has established an AU COVID-19 Response Fund to mobilise the resources necessary to support this effort

Other Initiatives:

The Small Enterprise Finance Agency has approved the postponement of loan repayments for 6 months.

The small business debt relief and business growth facilities are currently adjudicating applications for assistance. There is a total of R500 million available in support.

Government has reprioritised R1.2 billion to provide relief to smallholder farmers and to contribute to the security of food supply.

In addition to these expenditure measures, the Reserve Bank has also lowered interest rates and has taken measures to inject liquidity into the economy.
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