JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa now faces two pandemics, COVID-19 and the violence against women and children that has risen sharply since alcohol sales were allowed again on June 1, the president said Wednesday as he announced further easing of lockdown measures.
Twenty-one women and children have been killed since the sales of alcohol resumed since the start of the month, said President Cyril Ramaphosa in a national address.
South Africa has between a third and a quarter of all coronavirus cases on the African continent — more than 80,000 — and half of those cases have been confirmed over the past two weeks, said Ramaphosa said in a broadcast.
“What was once a distant disease is coming much closer,” he said of COVID-19.
But he announced further easing of lockdown measures under pressure from business leaders and informal workers, many of them women, who have said the 100 days of restrictions have inflicted enormous financial pain.
Restaurants will now be able to offer sit-down meals. Hotels, cinemas and hairdressers can operate. Non-contact sports like golf and tennis can resume.
Ramaphosa did not give comprehensive data on the jump in violent crime since June 1, when alcohol sales returned and South Africans lined up to buy. But he said cases of abuse of women and children have “increased dramatically.”
“It is with the heaviest of hearts that I stand before the women and the girls of South Africa this evening to talk about another pandemic that is raging in our country: the killing of women and children by the men of our country,” he said, calling it a “brutality that defies any form of comprehension.”
South Africa has long had a serious problem with such violence, but Ramaphosa drew a direct connection between it and alcohol abuse.
“Of course, it is not alcohol that rapes or kills woman or a child, rather it is the actions of the men of our country,” he said, adding “we need to draw lessons from this lockdown and protect our society from the abuse of alcohol.”
He said he believes that both pandemics can be overcome.