President Cyril Ramaphosa said resuming learning was a matter of great debate for South Africans, adding that teachers’ unions had come forward to recommend that schools be closed after several teachers and pupils became infected with the Covid-19 coronavirus.
“It is a matter that is being debated and discussed with the respective organisations and it will be given consideration by the National Coronavirus Command Council,” he said.
Ramaphosa was speaking on Wednesday night during the second virtual presidential imbizo, which aims to engage communities on the pandemic and its impact on society.
The president said he was aware of concerns from all affected stakeholders and that government was “engaging them and listening to the concerns they are raising”, referring to parents, teachers’ unions and student organisations.
He said the decision to open schools – particularly for grades 12, 7 and R – was based on input from the education department that completing the school year for these grades would open space for incoming pupils next year.
Pupils who complete and pass Grade R would open space for young ones being readied for school, while those who pass Grade 7 would move on to high school and those who pass Grade 12 would be elevated to tertiary institutions.
“We are crossing the river by feeling the stones. Sometimes we put our feet on slippery stones or rocks and sometimes on firm ones. We are seeking to work together with our people.
“I’ve come to learn that not everyone will agree with something that needs to be done because we are diverse and that is the richness of us being South African,” Ramaphosa said.
Despite this, he added, the aim should be to reach a consensus on the reopening of schools.
The president said another important issue that needed discussion was citizens changing their behaviour to maintain the defence against contracting the virus.
“If we change our ways we will be able to have a great defence – by social distancing; by avoiding, as much as we can, human contact; and by ensuring that we wear our masks.”
He reminded the nation to wash their hands regularly, as set out by the World Health Organisation.
“I’d like to urge our people to protect ourselves as we protect those near us and those we love because it is only when we do so that we will be able to defeat Covid-19.”
Ramaphosa weighed in on the economic damage caused by Covid-19 and the subsequent national lockdown, which has resulted in job losses as companies embark on massive retrenchments.
“We have received news that many more people have lost their jobs. We have up to 3 million people who would have lost their jobs and Covid-19 is having that devastating impact around the world.”
He said government had a task to devise a robust response to avoid worse socioeconomic effects as a result of the job losses, which add to the country’s high unemployment rate.
“We are now in the midst of Covid-19 and this is what we are having to deal with. Our response has to be robust; it’s got to be pointed so that we can protect our people as we move forward,” he said.
Meanwhile, more than 300 000 South Africans have been infected with Covid-19 and about 4 500 deaths have been linked to the pandemic.
“[Had the country not gone into lockdown], the spate of infections would have been a lot higher and many more people could have died. It is acknowledged that the lockdown did help and, as we can see, lockdowns around the world are helping to reduce the height of infection.
There are attitudes that are ingrained in the behaviour of men in our country, such as the patriarchy which makes men feel that they own women, that they can control women and that they can do whatever they like to women. That needs to be addressed
President Cyril Ramaphosa
“It also gave us an opportunity to prepare our health facilities to be able to cope with the rising infections,” he said.
Ramaphosa said the 49% recovery rate was impressive, but urged South Africans to obey imposed regulations as they are aimed at protecting people from getting infected.
The president once again expressed great intolerance for gender-based violence amid continued femicide in the country.
“There are attitudes that are ingrained in the behaviour of men in our country, such as the patriarchy which makes men feel that they own women, that they can control women and that they can do whatever they like to women. That needs to be addressed,” he said.