S Africa budgets USD712 million for vaccination

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa plans to spend USD712 million to vaccinate some 67 per cent of its 60 million people to control the country’s COVID-19 battle and get the economy to rebound from its decline of 7.2 per cent last year.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said the vaccination drive will help South Africa’s economy, the most developed in sub-Saharan Africa, to rebound by 3.4 per cent this year.

Mboweni announced the annual budget on Wednesday, a day after the country’s unemployment rate reached 32.5 per cent, according to the national statistics agency.

The unemployment rate among the youth is more than 60 per cent, a staggering figure in a country where more than 16 million people receive welfare grants. South Africa’s economy was already in recession before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the government imposed a strict two-month lockdown.

The shutdown and continuing restrictions caused a serious economic contraction in 2020. An estimated two million jobs have been lost, according to the country’s official statistics.

Protestors and police clash over inequality and job cuts during South African budget speech. PHOTO: AP

“With this framework we provide the budget for South Africa’s vaccination campaign. This campaign allows us to emerge from the restrictions to economic activity. We are allocating more than ZAR10 billion (USD712 million) for the purchase and delivery of vaccines over the next two years,” said Mboweni, delivering his budget to Parliament.

Mboweni said the vaccines would be given to all South Africans free of charge and his budget did not have any tax hikes for businesses or individuals in order to stimulate the economic recovery.

South Africa is the country hardest hit by the pandemic in all of Africa, with a cumulative total of more than 1.5 million confirmed cases and nearly 50,000 deaths.

As the finance minister presented the budget, members of the South African Federation of Trade Unions staged a protest near parliament over growing inequality and looming job cuts in various sectors.

Police reportedly used stun grenades to disperse a crowd that attempted to make their way to Parliament.