President Cyril Ramphosa’s 13 May Speech: 5 Things You Need to Know

– by Luke Kannemeyer

Contrary to the many memes being shared about our President’s speech not containing any useful information, there were a number of very important points made on Wednesday night. While we all may have wished for greater detail on some topics, here are the five things I think you should know.

ONE – Why the national lockdown was “absolutely necessary”

Without the lockdown, we would have seen an uncontrollable rise in coronavirus infections which would have completely overwhelmed our healthcare facilities. The best estimates predict that at least 80 000 South Africans would have been infected by now without a lockdown and our death toll would have been at least 8 times higher than the 219 who had lost their lives to the illness as of Wednesday.

In contrast, the UK at a similar stage in the progression of the disease had recorded over 19 000 deaths in a population of a similar size to South Africa.

By delaying the spread of the virus, South Africa has bought valuable time to strengthen the capacity of our health system, with an increase of 25 000 additional beds available for quarantine. This time has also allowed us to source and produce substantial quantities of personal protective equipment for health workers, vital medical equipment and other supplies. The President also expressed gratitude to the United States for donating 1000 ventilators.

TWO – When we can expect to reach level 3 lockdown

Ramaphosa stated that most of the country can expect to be on level 3 by the end of May but that parts of the country with the highest rates of infection may remain on level 4. He announced a shift in testing strategy from door-to-door screening to hotspot identification. During the speech, the map below was shared showing the prevalence of COVID-19 across South Africa.


While many interpreted this to mean that large parts of the Western Cape are likely to remain on level 4, the earlier adoption of a hotspot-based testing approach in the area may have resulted in an over-representation of the relative infection rate when compared to other regions.

THREE – What we need to do to ensure we decrease in lockdown level

The President emphasised that the purpose of the lockdown is to slow down the infection rate. Only with a slow-down in infection rate will we see a continued reduction in lockdown level. He re-iterated a number of crucial prevention measures such as hand hygiene and social distancing.

Interestingly, Ramaphosa went off-script to emphasise the need for hygiene and cleanliness of our home environments. This is of vital importance as we have learnt that the presence of other illnesses can lead to increased susceptibility to COVID-19 infection as well as increase the severity of symptoms which can result in death or long-lasting organ damage. Getting sick may also mean a visit to a healthcare facility where there is an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission.

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FOUR – What is happening between now and level 3?

Many were frustrated that the President was light on specifics but this should not be a surprise. It is clearly stated in our Constitution that Ministers are responsible for the executive powers and functions assigned to them. It is in this spirit of collective governance that I believe it was appropriate that Ramaphosa left the relevant Ministers to fill in the blanks.

However, the President did give us a general direction that in the coming days, certain changes to level 4 regulations will be announced to expand permitted business activities in the retail space and eCommerce and reduce restrictions on exercise. We already found out on Thursday afternoon that all restrictions on eCommerce will be lifted (except for the sale of tobacco products and alcohol). We now eagerly await news on the exercise restrictions and we expect to hear more about the opening of schools early next week.

FIVE – A reminder that we are all in this together

What I feel we can all deeply appreciate from the President’s speech is his expression of gratitude towards the sacrifices of all South Africans, especially healthcare workers. He also acknowledged and apologised for the times our government has fallen short of our expectations and committed to correcting any mistakes which have been made. In my opinion, had Ramaphosa’s speech consisted of these points alone, there was value in him addressing us on Wednesday night.

Finally, the President warned us not to get complacent about the figures we see updated on a day to day basis. Each reported death is a real person who has lost their life. He asked that we keep in our thoughts and prayers all those who have lost loved ones, all those who have been infected and also those who have endured – and continue to endure – great hardship because of the pandemic.

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