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South Africa plans $2.4 billion relief measures over COVID-19, riots

07/28/2021 | 10:54am EDT
South African Finance Minister Tito Mboweni reacts as he arrives to deliver his budget speech at the parliament in Cape Town

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -South Africa plans about 36 billion rand ($2.4 billion) of relief measures to support businesses and individuals affected by unrest this month and by COVID-19 restrictions, the finance ministry said on Wednesday.

The interventions would be funded by better government revenues and by shifting around some spending, senior officials told a news conference, expanding on measures announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday.

The government tightened lockdown restrictions at the end of June as coronavirus cases spiked, but they have since been eased. An economic recovery drive was dealt a big blow by arson and looting triggered by the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma this month.

"We are funding this package within available resources currently. We are not going to be going for borrowing," National Treasury Director-General Dondo Mogajane said.

Edgar Sishi, acting head of the budget office, said increased revenue linked to higher commodity prices meant 36.2 billion rand of new spending could be accommodated "so long as those measures are temporary".

The largest component of the relief package is the reinstatement of a 350 rand-a-month social relief grant until the end of March 2022, which will cost 26.7 billion rand, an annexure released later by the National Treasury showed.

State insurer Sasria will get 3.9 billion rand to help pay out claims related to the unrest, 2.3 billion rand will be spent on helping businesses not covered for civil unrest, and a tax incentive will be expanded by 5 billion rand to encourage employers to hire and retain staff.

More than 2.6 billion rand of spending will be reprioritised.

REASSURING INVESTORS

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said one estimate of the damage during the riots was 50 billion rand.

He said an extra 250 million rand would be allocated to the police and 700 million rand to the military, and that Sasria - which covers against risks including civil unrest - would start paying out claims immediately.

The Unemployment Insurance Fund has set aside 5.3 billion rand in new support, he added.

Mogajane said he had reassured investors that the country's economic fundamentals were intact and reforms were happening.

Sporadic protests erupted in Zuma's home province after his imprisonment for contempt of court and then escalated, with violence fuelled by the poverty and inequality that persist almost three decades after the end of apartheid.

($1 = 14.7817 rand)

(Additional reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; Editing by Alex Richardson and Timothy Heritage)

By Alexander Winning and Wendell Roelf


ę Reuters 2021
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