President of the World Economic Forum, Mr Børge Brende,
Distinguished Participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish to thank the World Economic Forum for the kind invitation to deliver these remarks on the state of the world as we confront the devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Today, humanity is facing an unprecedented global health, social and economic crisis.

The pandemic has triggered a global economic downturn of massive proportions, which has not been seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The World Bank has reported that extreme poverty is expected to rise globally for the first time in over 20 years as the disruption caused by the pandemic exacerbates the effects of conflict, climate change and underdevelopment.

It is clear that the world is at a crossroads.

We are facing a common threat and must therefore act together.

While we must unite in defeating this disease, the challenges we must confront were not created by the virus.

They were created by us.

These challenges – from poverty to the destruction of our environment, from conflict to inequality, from illiteracy to famine – are all the result of our actions and, too often, our inaction.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated these problems, deepened these inequalities and set back our efforts to overcome them.

Our task is therefore not to restore the world to where it was when this pandemic struck, but to forge a new path towards a world that is just, peaceful, cohesive, resilient and sustainable.

It is only through multilateral action that the world can solve its challenges.

It is in our collective interest that the United Nations is strengthened as we work together to advance the global agenda for people, planet and prosperity.

The pandemic has underscored the vital importance of multilateral institutions in facilitating coordination, cooperation and common responses.

Beyond COVID-19, there is perhaps no area of human endeavour that requires common global action more than our response to climate change.

It is essential that we each honour our commitments under the Paris Agreement to Combat Climate Change, with a specific focus on means of implementation support and adaptation efforts.

This is a key priority for Africa, as our continent is disproportionately affected by climate change despite releasing the lowest carbon emissions.

Over the course of the last 10 months, the African continent has demonstrated its capacity for united action.

As the current chair of the African Union, we had to refocus our priorities towards addressing the immediate challenges presented by the pandemic.

The AU moved quickly to develop a continent-wide COVID-19 response plan.

This plan include technical assistance to national health systems, setting up regional collaborating hubs, and deploying community health care workers to support testing and treatment.

One of the most significant innovations was the establishment of the Africa Medical Supplies Platform, which enables all AU member states to secure vital health supplies at preferential rates.

We also established a COVID-19 African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team to secure and find sources of funding for sufficient vaccines for the countries of the continent.

To date, the Task Team has secured a provisional 270 million doses for African countries directly through vaccine manufacturers. This is in addition to the 600 million doses that are expected from the COVAX initiative.

Through its participation in these continental and global initiatives, South Africa continues to promote the need for universal, fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

We are deeply concerned about the problem of ‘vaccine nationalism’, which, unless addressed, will endanger the recovery of all countries.

Ending the pandemic worldwide will require greater collaboration on the rollout of vaccines, ensuring that no country is left behind in this effort.

Here in South Africa, as in most countries, the pandemic has taken a heavy toll.

With the greatest burden of disease on the continent, South Africa has recorded around 1.4 million COVID-19 cases and more than 40,000 people have lost their lives.

The current economic downturn follows a decade of weak economic growth, which adds complexity and difficulty to South Africa’s economic recovery path.

Over the course of nine months, and with the support of our social partners, the South African government rolled out a comprehensive set of measures to limit the social and economic impact of the pandemic.

We massively expanded social protection on an unprecedented scale, providing a temporary increase in monthly social grants to around 17 million beneficiaries, and implementing a monthly Special COVID-19 Grant, which has reached six million unemployed people.

Other relief measures included a wage support scheme through the Unemployment Insurance Fund, a loan guarantee scheme administered by South Africa’s banks and the deferral of the payment of certain taxes.

While these relief measures have proved vital in keeping many businesses afloat, saving many jobs and keeping millions of South Africans above the poverty line, our attention has now shifted to rebuilding our economy and restoring employment.

Working together with business, labour and civil society, we have developed an Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan.

This Plan aims to boost confidence, restart the economy and drive urgent reforms to promote faster, more inclusive growth and employment.

The plan has four immediate priority interventions:

Firstly, a massive infrastructure build programme.

This will focus on social infrastructure such as schools, water, sanitation and housing, but also on economic infrastructure such as ports, roads, rail and telecommunications.

Secondly, we are rapidly expanding energy generation capacity.

This will be done with a focus on significantly increasing the contribution of renewable energy, battery storage and gas technologies.

These measures aim to bring on an additional 23 per cent of new generation capacity into the system by 2022.

In addition, measures are being taken to restructure South Africa’s primary electricity supplier, Eskom, into separate entities for generation, transmission and distribution to enable a more competitive, sustainable and efficient energy system.

Thirdly, we have begun to create additional jobs and support livelihoods through an employment stimulus.

This stimulus creates opportunities for unemployed young people as school assistants, in the maintenance and construction of municipal infrastructure and rural roads, as community health workers and nursing assistants and for small-scale farmers, among others.

Fourthly, we will be intensifying our drive for export-oriented industrial development.

We aim to significantly grow local manufacturing and production, and make South African exports much more competitive.

Over the last three years, we have mobilised R774 billion – which is around US$51 billion – in new investment commitments.

Around one-fifth of the committed value has already been invested in projects for construction and essential equipment for mining, manufacturing, telecommunications and agriculture.

These interventions will enable South Africa to better realise the potential of the African Continental Free Trade Area, which became operational on 1 January 2021.

The free trade area will foster integration, increase trade and accelerate the build-up of productive capabilities and infrastructure in Africa to meet growing demand.

South Africa will benefit from greater exports to the continent, and domestic sectors such as steel, automotive production, mining and manufactured products are set to benefit, materially boosting economic growth.

We are pursuing each of these interventions with an urgency and resolve that matches the proportions of the challenge.

As we battle a second wave of coronavirus infection here in South Africa, we are in no doubt that the road ahead will be difficult.

However, we draw hope and encouragement from the way that the people of South Africa have come together to confront this disease, and by their determination to rebuild our economy and our society.

In the face of an unprecedented crisis here in South Africa and around the world, we have the opportunity to build a new economy that will be more just, more inclusive and more sustainable.

If the last year has shown us anything, it is that collaboration, partnership and solidarity are the most effective instruments we have to build a better, fairer and more prosperous world.

I thank you.