IMF forecasts economic tumult for South Africa with a contraction of 8 percent in 2020 amid COVID-19 pandemic

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Monday forecast an economic turbulence for South Africa in 2020 with growth shrinking by 8 percent amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. The projection is more than three times worse than the April forecast when the IMF projected a contraction of 2.2 percent.

In its latest economic outlook for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, IMF forecast that the economy of South Africa would modestly rebound in 2021 by 3.5 percent, provided the coronavirus outbreak is contained and a second wave of the deadly virus is avoided.

Just last April, the IMF was projecting the economy of South Africa would contract by 2.2 percent and shrink by just 0.5 percent in 2021 due to the novel coronavirus.

But between then and now, many things have changed. Coronavirus has continued to accelerate in South Africa, prolonging lockdowns and shutdowns and worsening the economic activity in the country.

At least 144,264 people have contracted the coronavirus in South Africa, 70,614 have fully recovered and 2,529 have died, according to the latest tally by the Africa Center for Disease Control. With a total of 393,305 infections in Africa, 186,807 recoveries and 9,879 deaths, South Africa now account for more than 25 percent of all the deaths and over 30 percent of all the cases in Africa, data from the CDC released on Tuesday morning show.

With the economic turmoil, South Africa has approached international creditors for loans. It is seeking $4.2 billion loan from the IMF to beat COVID-19 pandemic, a request that goes against the ruling African National Congress’ long-held resistance to borrowing from the IMF.

The $4.2 billion loan is the country’s maximum entitlement at the IMF under its special drawing rights and would be payable over 3.25 to five years at an interest rate of just over 1 percent.

In all, South Africa is seeking $7 billion loan from multilateral lenders and development finance institutions to support its fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The New Development Bank, which serves the BRICS nations, has approved a $1 billion facility and the country plans to ask the World Bank for up to $2 billion, according to Dondo Mogajane, the National Treasury’s director-general, per Bloomberg.

The IMF said discussions with South Africa over that $4.2 billion loan to support its fight against the coronavirus pandemic are taking place at a “measured pace”.

“The key is not so much urgency in us providing financing but rather because we are able to provide much cheaper financing than would otherwise be the case,” Abebe Aemro Selassie, Director of the IMF’s African Department told reporters Monday in a virtual press conference. Selassie said under the rapid financing instrument the country “would be able to access this financing at very low interest rates — almost negligible interest rates — relative to the higher cost of borrowing that South Africa faces”.

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva at the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IFMC) Plenary meeting held at IMF Headquarters during the 2019 IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings, October 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. Ryan Rayburn/IMF Photo 
IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva at the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IFMC) Plenary meeting held at IMF Headquarters during the 2019 IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings, October 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. Ryan Rayburn/IMF Photo

Elsewhere in Africa

IMF said regionally, Sub-Saharan Africa’s economy is now expected to contract by 3.2 percent in 2020 amid COVID-19 pandemic; double the contraction expected in April.

IMF said poverty will rise and the poorest segments of the world’s population would be affected the most as the crisis expands and countries grapple with the best ways to ease lockdowns while protecting lives at the same time.

“This is a fast-moving crisis,” said Abebe Aemro Selassie, Director of the IMF’s African Department. “And recent developments suggest that the downturn will be significantly larger than we had anticipated only 10 weeks ago. The risks we highlighted in April all continue to be a concern, but the deterioration of the global outlook has been particularly striking. In line with this new outlook, and consistent with local high-frequency indicators, output in Sub-Saharan Africa is now projected to shrink by 3.2 percent this year, more than double the contraction we had outlined in April. Again, this is set to be the worst outcome on record.”

International Monetary Fund Director of the African Department Abe Selassie holds a press conference at the IMF Headquarters during the 2020 IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings April 15, 2020 in Washington, DC. IMF Photo/Joshua Roberts 
International Monetary Fund Director of the African Department Abe Selassie holds a press conference at the IMF Headquarters during the 2020 IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings April 15, 2020 in Washington, DC. IMF Photo/Joshua Roberts

“This crisis is unprecedented. Our members need us now more than ever. And our efforts today will have significant consequences down the road, not only in helping our members offset the immediate tragedy of the crisis, but also in ensuring that peoples’ lives and livelihoods are not destroyed forever,” Selassie said.

He added: “Given the region’s already-stretched healthcare capacity, the immediate priority is still to protect lives and to do whatever it takes to strengthen local health systems and contain the outbreak.”

“On economic policies, sub-Saharan African countries have acted swiftly and aggressively to support the economy. Monetary and prudential policies have been eased, with countries adopting a mix of reduced policy rates, added injections of liquidity, greater exchange-rate flexibility, and a temporary relaxation of regulatory and prudential norms, depending on country circumstances.

“On the fiscal side, however, country responses have often been more constrained. Even before the crisis, debt levels were elevated for many countries in the region. In this context, and in light of collapsing tax revenues, the ability of governments to increase spending has been limited. To date, countries in the region have announced COVID-related fiscal packages averaging 3 percent of GDP. This effort has been indispensable. But it has often come at the expense of other priorities, such as public investment, and is markedly less than the response seen in other emerging markets or advanced economies.

“Also, authorities in sub-Saharan Africa face a distinct challenge in getting support to those who need it most. Around ninety percent of non-agricultural employment is in the informal sector, where participants are usually not covered by the social safety net. Moreover, a large proportion of this activity centers on the provision of services, which have been particularly hard hit by the crisis.

“Further, informal workers typically have few savings and limited access to finance. So staying at home is often not an option; complicating the authorities’ efforts to maintain an effective lockdown.

“In response, many authorities have done what they can to temporarily expand their safety nets; using home-grown, often innovative approaches to ensure that transfers reach as much of their population as possible. But again, resources are limited, and these efforts cannot hope to offset the full impact of this crisis.

“In sum, many authorities in Sub-Saharan Africa face a particularly stark set of near-term policy choices; concerning not only the scale of support they can afford, but also the pace at which they can reopen their economies.”

Against this backdrop, Mr. Selassie pointed to a number of policy priorities going forward.

“First and foremost, the immediate priority remains the preservation of health and lives. But as the region starts to recover, authorities should gradually shift from broad fiscal support to more affordable, targeted policies; concentrating in particular on the poorest households and those sectors hit hardest by the crisis.

“Looking even further forward, and once the crisis has waned, countries should refocus their attention on transforming their economies, creating jobs, and boosting living standards— clawing back some of the ground lost during the current crisis. “

“As before the crisis, part of this effort will require putting put fiscal positions back on a path consistent with debt sustainability; which will in turn require a renewed determination to implement revenue-mobilization, debt-management, and public financial management reforms.

“In addition, sustainable, job-rich, and inclusive growth will require private-sector investment, along with a business environment in which new ideas and projects can flourish, and where new opportunities (such as from the digital revolution) can be developed fully.

“None of this will be easy, particularly in light of the scale of the crisis and its longer-term consequences. The region cannot tackle these challenges alone, and a coordinated effort by all development partners will be key.

“The IMF has modified the Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT) to provide immediate debt service relief for its poorest and most vulnerable members, and has also doubled its emergency lending facilities.

“So far, 29 countries in the region have received around $10 billion in funding through these facilities, or through expanded access under existing programs.

“In April, the G20 also announced the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), which allows the world’s poorest countries—most of them in Africa—to suspend up to US$14 billion of debt service payments due between May and December this year.

“Nonetheless, more international support is needed urgently. This year alone, countries in the region face will additional financing needs of over $110 billion, and despite the efforts outlined above, $44 billion of this has yet to be financed.”

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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