Government to partially open e-commerce sector

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 30 Apr 2020
Trade, industry and competition minister Ebrahim Patel.
Trade, industry and competition minister Ebrahim Patel.

South Africa’s e-commerce sector will be opened “incrementally”, says Ebrahim Patel, minister of trade, industry and competition.

Patel made the comments yesterday evening during a media briefing by members of the National Coronavirus Command Council, outlining the regulations relating to the COVID-19 level four restrictions.

Over the course of the lockdown, Patel has drawn criticism from local online businesses for restricting e-commerce activities, with South African logistics and e-commerce businesses writing the minister an open letter, requesting home deliveries of non-essential goods to be allowed during the lockdown.

While the minister remained resolute on the issue, saying e-commerce activity during the lockdown would promote “unfair competition” and may result in the spreading of the coronavirus, he seemed to have adopted a slightly different stance last night.

Patel said public representations allowed government to make adjustments to the regulations published at the weekend, adding that a number of persons raised issues around e-commerce in relation to online selling and home deliveries.

E-commerce will be expanded incrementally, he stated. “As an immediate step, deliveries of a larger list of products will be possible and it will be expanded further during level four.

“It will now include products like winter clothing and bedding, and a longer list of personal toiletries, hot foods for delivery, products like stationery and educational books and computers and cellphones.”

Gradual economic activity

Government has decided to lift lockdown restrictions from level five to four, beginning 1 May. This, said president Cyril Ramaphosa, is in linewith gradually easing the country’s economy back into activity.

The lockdown regulations, introduced last month, aim to slowdown the spread of the coronavirus, which has already infected 5 350 South Africans, with the death toll rising to 103 as of Wednesday.

While the entire agriculture sector will be allowed to operate, the same can’t be said for other sectors.

For example, only half of the mining and manufacturing sectors will open, with retail, professional and personal services following suit, said Patel.

According to the minister, the retail sector will increase its level of activity. “This will cover stores, spazas, e-commerce as well as informal traders. There will be a wider list of personal toiletries in the new regulations and shops selling children’s clothing and winter clothing, together with shoes and bedding, will be able to operate as will stores selling stationery and educational books as well as computers and cellphones, and other office equipment.

“Information and communication technology services will now be open for all private and business customers. This covers things like repairs of equipment, data processing and activities, and software consulting and supply.

“In the media sector, production for TV, radio and other broadcast will be open, and live streaming sessions with the creative sector is provided for.

“Call centres will be able to expand their services to international customers on a wider scale but with strict health protocols and social distancing arrangements in place.”

Patel concluded by saying that if all the shops and commercial operations were opened, allowing for 16 million citizens to be able to have all the normal access, this would result in a massive spike in the infection rate.

“That’s what we learned from Italy or when other countries opened too fast. In South Africa, we are trying to limit the number of people who died and that means that not everything can open immediately. As soon as it is safely possible, it is in our interest as government to do so.”