In brief

Countries around the globe are facing unprecedented and rapid change due COVID-19. South Africa is no exception, with the government introducing various relief schemes and new regulations in response to the devastating socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic. These developments have important implications for businesses and individuals in South Africa.

Relief Interventions

Employment relief schemes

The nation-wide lockdown has seen many businesses having to shut down operations. The lockdown drastically impacts all businesses across every sector. Even businesses allowed to operate (essential services) have had to alter operations and staffing requirements in line with increasing regulations issued as government comes to grips with the pandemic.
The aftermath of the lockdown is expected to have lasting consequences. Employers and government alike are having to manage the disruption caused to business operations and in effect, the economy.
The employment law landscape has undergone a number of changes, and remains fluid as the crisis continues. These articles outline the various employment relief schemes available to-date:

Beyond COVID-19: Guide for South African employers under Alert Level 4

Guidelines to monitor and manage employees with symptoms of COVID-19 and related infections

COVID-19 – Important update to employment relief scheme

Unemployment Insurance Fund will pay for annual leave days taken during COVID-19

Concessions to address immigration issue

Due to the escalating impact of COVID-19 and the growing restrictions on travel, employers and their workforce are facing travel restrictions globally. The Department of Home Affairs in South Africa has issued guidance on how visa applications will be handled during the crisis. These measures will remain in effect until 31 July 2020. Further details are available here.

Small business relief schemes

A number of government-backed and private debt relief finance schemes have been introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly to assist Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) in South Africa. Distressed businesses are being provided support by way of loans, grants and/or tax relief. More details on the various schemes are available here.

Tax relief schemes

The National Treasury in South Africa issued the draft Disaster Management Tax Relief Bill in March 2020. The draft Bill, together with its explanatory memorandum, provided clarity with regards the tax relief measures announced by the government.  The initial relief measures are summarized here.

In April 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced further tax measures to assist businesses and their employees through the difficult COVID-19 period. The details of the new and amended tax measures are available here.

Changes to regulations

VAT exemption and duties rebate for essential goods

When the South African Government declared the national disaster on 15 March 2020, Item 412.11 of Schedule 1 of the Value Added Tax Act came into effect. Item 412.11 provides that goods imported for the relief of distress of persons in cases of famine or a national disaster will be exempt from VAT on importation. To find out which goods qualifed for this exemption, read our Insight here.

New export control regulations in South Africa (COVID-19)

In light of the operation of a 21-day national lockdown and President Cyril Ramaphosa’s declaration of a state of national disaster, the Department of Trade and Industry in South Africa introduced new export control measures, which came into operation on 27 March 2020. For further details, read our Insight here.

The current position on the movement of goods from ports in South Africa

The nationwide statutory lockdown in South Africa has resulted in uncertainty in the transport industry relating to the movement of goods from ports of entry.  Recent amendments to the Disaster Management Act  were implemented to help remove decongestion at ports of entry and allow the movement of essential and non-essential goods in South Africa. Further details can be found here.

Competition & antitrust regulations

The Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition in South Africa has issued various regulations in response to the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic as a national disaster by the South African Government and to strengthen its programmes designed to fight COVID-19. These regulations, which will remain effective until the national disaster status is rescinded, are: the COVID-19 Block Exemption for the Healthcare Sector Regulations, the Consumer and Customer Protection and National Disaster Management Regulations and Directions; the COVID-19 Block Exemption for the Banking Sector, 2020 Regulations; and the COVID-19 Block Exemption for the Retail Property Sector, 2020 Regulations.

These regulations are explained in more detail here.

Changes to mining operations regulations

On 16 April 2020, Government issued amended regulations under the Disaster Management Act.  In terms of Regulation 11K, mining operations are now able to increase their operation capacity to 50% during the lockdown period. This capacity will be increased following further directions to be issued by the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe. Certain conditions relating, inter alia, to the screening and testing of COVID-19 are to apply to the starting and increasing of operational capacity of mines.

In terms of Regulation 11J, colleries that supply Eskom are required to continue operating at full capacity and refineries must similarly operate at full capacity in order to ensure an adequate supply of fuel. This includes smelters, plants and furnices. The amended regulations can be accessed here.

Conclusion

It is clear regulations, relief schemes and developments published during the COVID-19 national disaster are having sweeping and large-scale effects on many businesses and individuals throughout South Africa. As these are fluid times, these legal developments are likely to change in order to adapt to an ever-changing situation. We will keep you informed of any developments that might affect your business.