DA to seek legal advice on challenging race criteria for Covid-19 relief

Issued by John Steenhuisen MP – Leader of the Democratic Alliance
08 Apr 2020 in News

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will today consult its lawyers to seek legal advice on the legality and constitutionality of the racialisation of government’s Covid-19 financial relief measures. This follows the announcement that the Department of Tourism will follow B-BBEE codes in allocating emergency relief for businesses affected by Covid-19, as well as a letter sent out by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries encouraging only black, coloured and Indian farmers to apply for assistance.

It is not only unconscionable that critical financial relief in this time of distress for thousands of businesses and commercial entities is racialised, it is most likely illegal too.

The DA will not allow the ANC to use this crisis to further divide our nation, and we will use every avenue available to us to fight for the right of all South Africans, black and white, to benefit from emergency assistance.

We will only overcome the virus and begin charting our country’s recovery if we are truly united as a nation. These measures by the Tourism and Agriculture Departments will only create division at a time when we should be fostering a spirit of togetherness.

The ANC’s shambolic handling of this matter has undone much of the goodwill that existed in our nation around standing united in this challenge. When it was first revealed, via a leaked document, that race would be a deciding criteria for financial assistance, government quickly denied this and tried to backtrack from the leaked document. This was at a time when they were fundraising for this relief fund. South Africans were assured that government’s emergency financial help through this fund would be for all.

But less than two weeks later – and with the relief fund now several billion Rand strong – it has become clear that this was never the case, and that race and B-BBEE codes were always going to be used to determine who government would help and who it wouldn’t. This makes a mockery of the President’s televised pleas for South Africans to unite in fighting this common enemy.

The reality is that the skin colour of an employer does not determine the true victims of this crisis. Most of these businesses and farms, which will be excluded from government assistance on the basis of race, employ an overwhelming majority of black employees. It is these people who will lose their jobs and their ability to look after their families if government gets away with its race-based relief effort.

Over the past two weeks the DA has been inundated with pleas for help from business owners who say they have been shut out from applying for assistance by race requirements. Some of them have already had to close their doors, and for many more this is now imminent. All their employees, black and white, will soon be unemployed if they cannot access emergency financial relief.

The DA will not stand by and let this happen. While we explore our legal options in this matter, we call on President Ramaphosa to do the right thing here – to reverse the decision to racialise these relief measures and to instruct his cabinet ministers to assist each and every South African who needs help in this time.