By Fakir Hassen
Johannesburg, Dec 28 (PTI) The coronavirus outbreak negatively impacted South Africa's economy with the GDP falling to -51% year-on-year, but officials ensured to keep the momentum forward in business interactions and bilateral ties with India by holding virtual events and meetings, a new normal in the year of the pandemic.
South Africa in March imposed one of the earliest and toughest lockdowns in the world to curb the spread of coronavirus.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact on the South African economy, especially during the total lockdown in the second quarter of 2020.
According to Statistics South Africa, the gross domestic product (GDP) fell to -51% year-on-year, the worst figure in six decades.
Household spending slumped by 49.8 per cent due largely to the closure of restaurants and tourist accommodation facilities as well as the total ban on tobacco product and alcohol sales, traditionally some of the biggest earners for the government income.
Statistics SA said the formal sector jobs decreased by 671,000 in the second quarter, year on year. Full-time jobs decreased by 541,000 quarter-on-quarter, whilst 568,000 jobs were lost compared to the same period last year.
After an initial lull of a few months, the new style of virtual meetings ensured the resumption of activities organised in South Africa by various government trade promotion agencies.
Among them were virtual meets between the business and cultural sectors in not just South Africa, but also ones that included participation from other countries in the southern and eastern African region, bringing a new dimension to trade interactions.
Indian Consul General in Johannesburg, Anju Ranjan, despite contracting the COVID-19 infection ensured that the pandemic did not affect relations between India and South Africa as she hosted a number of such events.
An avid social media poster, Ranjan’s daily updates as she spent time recovering at home were keenly awaited by a huge number of followers.
Leaders in the fight against COVID-19 in South Africa included internationally-acclaimed South African Indian-origin professors Salim Abdool Karim and his wife Quarraisha, whom Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates hailed as heroes.
Among the hundreds of deaths from COVID-19 complications included a number of leading South African Indians.
Satish Dhupelia, the great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, died of COVID-19 related complications after he contracted the disease in the hospital where he had been under treatment for a month for pneumonia.
Gandhian enthusiast and Gujarati community leader Chotubhai Makan, the last surviving person in South Africa to have witnessed Mahatma Gandhi's famous Salt March in 1930, died in his sleep aged 96.
Two renowned Indian-origin brothers from the Sayed family in Johannesburg, who led a family steeped in social welfare, charity, educational and religious projects for nearly five decades, succumbed to COVID-19 within a day of each other.
Indian expatriate organisations such as the India Club and the Telangana Association of South Africa teamed up with the Indian missions in South Africa to arrange repatriation flights for almost two thousand Indians who were stranded in the country due to the lockdown and restrictions on international travel.
Several flights arranged by them supplemented three Vande Bharat flights of the Indian government.
On October 2, as two years of celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi ended, High Commissioner Jaideep Sarkar welcomed the announcement by the South African government to declare the Phoenix Settlement established in Durban by Mahatma Gandhi a National Heritage Site.
The Phoenix Settlement is the place where Gandhi established a commune, started his experiments with Satyagraha, and printed his newspaper ‘Indian Opinion’.
November 16 marked the 160th anniversary of the arrival of the first indentured labourers from India to work on the sugar cane plantations of South Africa.
“We honour the courage, sacrifice and struggle of those 152,000 women, men and children. They spawned 1.5 million proud South Africans of Indian heritage,” Sihle Zikalala, the premier of KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa, said at a commemoration of the event in Durban.
Diwali, usually celebrated by tens of thousands of people from all communities at public events, was hugely scaled down due to the risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Johannesburg, Consul General Ranjan was joined by Johannesburg mayor Geoff Makhubo to officially open an exhibition of a range of medicinal plants used in Ayurveda, as Diwali coincided with National Ayurveda Day in honour of the founding father of the ancient health system, Dhanvantari.
Indian-origin South African jurist Dr Navi Pillay, a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, received an award from the Madras Development Society (MDS) at its inaugural International Conference on Peace and Development in the name of former South African President Nelson Mandela.
As the year neared its end, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a raft of new restrictions as the country entered a second coronavirus wave, with infections expected to rise further over the festive season.
The president warned that the resurgence threatened to overwhelm the South African health system, noting that, “if we do not act urgently and if we do not act together, the second wave will be more severe than the first wave.” PTI FH NSA AKJ NSA