Many politicians, unionists and NGOs want the Covid-19 pandemic to be harnessed so that new policies to rebuild the economy, ensure a visible decline in poverty and the growing gap between South Africa’s rich and poor.
While delivering the African National Congress’ annual January 8 statement which outlined the party’s commitments for the year, President Cyril Ramaphosa said around two million jobs had been lost and many more people now fell below the poverty line.
Numerous companies that closed or retrenched people were small businesses, according to the SA Small Medium and Micro Enterprises Covid-19 Impact Report conducted by FinFind, in partnership with the Small Business Development Department.
A total of 42.7% of the 1489 small businesses surveyed had to shut down during the first five months of the pandemic. And now that the country is back on lockdown level three, this number is likely to increase dramatically.
The Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII) released an analysis of the 2019 General Household Survey (the latest by Stats SA) this week. It includes a pre-Covid-19 baseline analysis, which highlights the impact of the pandemic on worsening inequality and public service delivery, and how it should drive the government to be more serious about aligning the post-Covid-19 recovery to the visions of global and national blueprints for inclusive development.
The focus is on women to acknowledge that feminism and gender equality are paramount to building a fairer and more progressive economy.
“The role of women has been immense in responding to the pandemic in South Africa; including through work as frontline health workers and as primary caregivers to children and other relatives. Fulfilling the role of primary caregivers, women are very often denied equitable access to high-paying jobs, which in turn translates into less women being able to afford a better standard of living in South Africa,” the report reads.
“With every rise of the unemployment rate and the deepening poverty levels, women are disproportionately affected. This is mostly due to the fact that women occupy informal sectors of labour that are not adequately supported or even recognised by formal economic structures.”
The analysis focuses on the availability of water, sanitation, health services, housing and household income.
It says women have been disproportionately impacted by the job losses due to the pandemic and lockdown. Many women caregivers rely on incomes from the child support grant (CSG), and money from informal work to generate enough income to ensure a sufficient livelihood.
Between June and October 2020, caregivers received an additional R500 to the existing CSG (R440). Although civil society asked the government to make the additional R500 permanent to ensure the grant was above the food poverty line of R565, the call was not approved.
“South Africa’s economy is currently in a depression and women who lost their jobs are struggling to find new employment and they are still expected to meet all the care-related needs of their children and sometimes other household members,” the analysis reads.
While figures differ on how many people are unemployed according to who has conducted the study, what they do all indicate is that most of those who have lost their jobs are women.
The SPII analysis is in line with remarks by Wits University development economist Professor Daniela Casale, who spoke at a webinar last year. She said good quality childcare was essential so that women could focus on their jobs and finding work. Extended family support was not always available, and women had the double burden of raising their children and attempting to earn money.