DA heads to court to get kids back into school full time

Yesterday, the DA submitted papers to the Gauteng High Court to get an immediate order to allow all schoolchildren to attend school full time.

Over 80% of SA schools – those serving poor communities – are still operating on a rotational basis, whereby each child only attends school half the time, on alternate days or weeks. This is to satisfy government’s 1m (primary schools) and 1.5m (high schools) social distancing regulations in what would otherwise be crowded classrooms.

The argument in favour of opening schools fully is clear and compelling. The enormous harm done to poor children by denying them 50% of their school days – to their ability to learn, access food, earn a living one day, and generally thrive – far overshadows any potential benefit. In fact, it is not clear there is any benefit at all. (Not to mention the harm done to poor parents in increased childcare costs and stress.)

This argument was already made last year by the government’s own Ministerial Advisory Committee and by the South African Paediatric Association.

Denying poor children access to education and food is a gross violation of their constitutional rights to basic education, to basic nutrition, for their best interest to be paramount in all matters concerning them, and to equality.

Therefore, the DA fully expected all schoolchildren to be able to attend school full time from the start of this school year. When this turned out not to be the case, we started a campaign to make it happen.

A letter to the president went unanswered, as did various press statements.  Hence our court action, which elicited a prompt response from the Department of Basic Education that they are waiting for cabinet to announce on this.

One wonders what is keeping cabinet from pushing the green button to reinstate poor children’s fundamental rights. We are already over two weeks into the school term for inland provinces. Over 10 million children are affected, meaning over 5 million actual school days of learning are being irrecoverably lost every weekday.

Any rate, either government revokes the social distancing regulations very soon to allow poor kids back to school full time, or they see the DA in court.

This sad matter brings to mind a quote I read recently by Thomas Sowell: “Politicians can solve almost any problem – usually by creating a bigger problem. But, so long as the voters are aware of the problem that the politicians have solved, and unaware of the bigger problems they have created, political “solutions” are a political success”.

South African voters need to get better at identifying the bigger problems being created by government’s “solutions”. These bigger problems are why SA is slipping backwards on almost every measure of human wellbeing, be it employment, education, or the environment.

(Don’t be fooled by the “improved” matric results. They ignore the 341 403 who should have written matric but who dropped out of school altogether sometime in the past two years.)

Meantime, the DA will keep trying to highlight these bigger problems. In this particular matter, of schoolchildren returning to school, we will probably enjoy the support of most voters.

But this is not the case for many of the issues we drive, because the problem being “solved” by government is usually more visible, emotive, measurable and/or immediate than the bigger problem being created (or harm being perpetrated) in the process.

In his brilliant little book, Economics in One Lesson, Henry Hazlitt summed it up perfectly: “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”

Many of our government’s Covid regulations have been downright irrational. Others have focused too sharply on the immediate risks to some groups and failed to weigh up the consequences/harms for all groups.

Huge and growing unemployment is the very worst consequence for all groups. Less measurable is the harm to children of having to wear masks all day long in the classroom, in public areas, and even in the schoolyard while playing. This is just wrong, and if this regulation is not dropped very soon, we will take it on.

But first, let’s get them back into school full time.

Ndabeni-Abrahams’s witch-hunt will hurt SMME sector

Please find attached soundbite by Jan de Villiers MP.

The DA was shocked earlier this week when the Department of Small Business Development proudly tweeted the following quote from Minister Stella Ndabeni Abrahams’s speech at their roadshow in Mpumalanga “[as] government, we have a responsibility to enforce regulatory compliance in the SMME sector and close businesses that are trading illegally.”

With the South African economy still reeling from the unscientific ANC lockdown regulations, and the unemployment rate at a record 46.6%, the last thing SMMEs need to hear is that the Minister of Small Business Development will be leading the witch hunt against business owners who don’t comply with government red tape. This strategy is in stark contrast to remarks by the President, who when speaking at an engagement with SMMEs last year said that it is critical for the government to support SMMEs with new business processes that help them recover.

The ANC government and the Minister of Small Business Development should rather focus on:

  • Immediately lifting the current National State of Disaster. There is no more scientific justification for it, and it only serves to create more business uncertainty. SMMEs want to get back to work without worrying about the next Covid Command Council regulation.
  • Focusing on supporting regulatory compliance by identifying red tape reduction opportunities and removing unnecessary regulatory hurdles for business success.
  • Encouraging small business development via targeted programmes that focus on embracing informal and uncompliant business owners as opportunities, not as threats to our economy.
  • Stopping job destroying, rigid labour legislation, such as the proposed new amendments to the Employment Equity Bill.

The DA urges the Minister and her department to refrain from their planned witch-hunt as it is their responsibility to assist uncompliant SMMEs and help them grow.

Basic Education admits it does not have any plans in place to track learner dropouts 

Please find an attached soundbite by Baxolile ‘Bax’ Nodada MP

The DA will write to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, to request a debate in Parliament on the high learner dropout rates across South African schools.

During a meeting of the portfolio committee for basic education, the Department of Basic Education (DBE)  revealed that there is no mechanisms in place to track, trace or keep learners in school in order to encourage them to return to school. Given the high number of dropouts, the DBE needs to start implementing strategies and solutions to improve learner retention in South Africa’s public schools as a matter of urgency.

Since 2010, 5 904 999 learners have fallen out the system. This number is calculated by subtracting the number of matrics who wrote their final exams from the same cohort who enrolled in Grade 10, every year since 2010.

South Africa needs innovative solutions to address this major dropout crisis. The DA has a number of suggestions to manage the crisis:

  • Develop and implement an innovative home-schooling policy: This would take a lot of pressure off an overburdened Department and solve a variety of challenges such as teacher shortages, learner transport shortages, and yearly placement difficulties.
  • Implement learner-tracking mechanisms: Work with the Department of Social Development to track learners who have dropped out of school as well as find and place learners who have never attended school.
  • Implement learner retention strategies that motivate learners to go to and stay in school.
    • In the Western Cape, the province has implemented their ‘Perform to Transform’ strategy, which includes a Growth Mindset programme for learners to improve their belief in their own abilities. The strategy also features a Change Mindset programme for teachers to drive a willingness to experiment, innovate and be more resilient in their pressure circumstances, which reflects in better outcomes for learners.
  • Adapting the curriculum: To meet the needs of the economy through annually revising key subject areas and encouraging learners to enroll for such subjects.
  • To connect students with financial support pathways: Many learners do not have the adequate financial support to stay in school. It is important to identify these learners and connect them with avenues whereby they can gain the financial support they need. This could be through a local NPO, the private sector, social welfare networks or reaching out to the local community to support learners who need it.

The causes of learner dropouts are multi-faceted and requires the political will to implement a holistic solution. We cannot allow for these learners to drop out of school as a result of factors out of their control. It is the responsibility of the DBE to provide them with the adequate foundations to succeed in the system.

Minister Creecy should explain Chinese toxic dumping in South African waters

Please find attached soundbite by Dave Bryant MP, as well as English and Afrikaans soundbites by Chris Hunsinger MP.

The DA has noted with concern reports of a large Chinese bulk carrier, the NS Qingdao, that has apparently been given the go-ahead by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment to dump at least 1 500 tons of toxic chemicals into the ocean off the fragile St Helena Bay coastline.

We call on the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, to urgently intervene. We will also request that both Minister Creecy and the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) account to the parliamentary portfolio committees on the environment and transport regarding how permission was granted and whether the potentially devastating consequences of the dumping have been properly investigated.

The intention appears to have been to dump some of the waste elsewhere originally but the owners of the Chinese vessel now appear to have decided to rather dump the waste into the pristine waters of St Helena Bay.

There are serious concerns as to how the dumped waste will interact with the powerful Benguela current which could carry it into areas where it may pose a risk to other marine life and humans. The Department needs to come clean as to how this vessel was granted carte blanche to dump such a large volume of chemicals in South African waters, especially after recent disasters such as the UPL chemical spill which destroyed all life in the Umhlanga Lagoon ecosystem.

The South African coastline is not a garbage dump for other countries. International bulk carriers should be mandated to transport their waste back to their home countries to dispose of it properly.

The ANC government should be taking steps to prevent this type of dumping, instead of actively helping to enable it.

DA files court papers to get children back into school full time

Please find attached voicenote from the DA Federal Leader John Steenhuisen MP.

The DA has today filed papers in the Gauteng High Court to enable and compel schools to open fully, immediately.

Over 80% of South African schools are still operating on a rotational basis, whereby each child only attends school half the time, on alternate days or weeks.

It defies belief and strains sanity that some 80% of South African schoolchildren are still being denied half their schooling, on the (undeniably false) assumption that this is somehow beneficial to them or to society as a whole, on a balance of risks.

Unconstitutional

Rotational schooling is being implemented in order to satisfy the government’s social distancing rule in classrooms, which is one metre for primary school children and one and a half metres for high school children. The rule is plainly unconstitutional.

The rotational system massively violates children’s constitutional rights to basic education, to basic nutrition, for children’s best interests to be paramount in all matters concerning them, and to equality.

There would need to be a very strong justification for denying children these rights.

Government has failed to provide a justification at all. On the contrary…
Government is ignoring their own scientific advice.

In July 2021, the government’s own Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) recommended that all schools should be open fully: “Ideally, all children should be at least one metre apart within classrooms, but where this is not possible, full capacity schooling should still be commenced whilst maintaining the maximum feasible physical distance.”

On 23 January 2022, six experts in infectious diseases and vaccinology stated:
“With the very high levels of asymptomatic transmission and community immunity present, there is no reason to continue restricting class sizes or children playing.”

Long-lasting, possibly irreparable, damage

It is overwhelmingly in a child’s interest to go to school.

Under the rotational model, schoolchildren’s access to basic education is being severely stunted, which will negatively impact the rest of their lives.

South African schoolchildren in no-fee schools have lost over half of their normal school days since the start of the pandemic and have learnt less than half of what they would normally learn. (More than 70% of South African schools are no-fee.)

The long-term effects on children will be lower educational attainment, lower earnings, higher unemployment, and being more likely to be in lower skilled occupations in adulthood.

The South African Paediatric Association has warned that denying children access to school results in poorer mental health, increased behavioural and developmental concerns, lack of access to play and social opportunities, increased isolation, academic impacts, child abuse, and neglect.

It further warns of the effects on parents, being poorer parent mental health, competing demands and increased stress, job losses and reduced family income.

Denies children access to food

The MAC report highlights how rotational schooling also threatens children access to food:
“Less than half of children (43%) received free school meals in February and March 2021, showing receipt is still well below pre-pandemic levels (65%), and possibly even November/December 2020 levels (49%). The leading explanation for low school meal receipt is rotational timetables where only half of children attend on any one day in most no-fee schools.”

Anti-poor

The MAC report also explains how rotational schooling prejudices poor children and their families the most, thus exacerbating existing inequalities. Poor children benefit more from schooling than wealthier children and suffer more when normal schooling is denied.

Far more harm than good

The indirect negative consequences for schoolchildren of this social distancing rule are far, far, far greater than any potential benefit that it could bring to them or to society as a whole.
School children present a low risk of contracting or transmitting Covid-19. The risk is far too low to justify these enormous harms.

In any case, the social distancing rule does little if anything to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in a school setting.

The recent statement by six experts in infectious diseases and vaccinology confirms this:
“Children experience only a very small chance of harm from infection with SARS-CoV-2, except for those under one year of age or in the presence of underlying medical conditions. Children suffer illnesses from influenza and a range of other viruses and infections too, and we sent them to school prior to this pandemic, understanding the massive benefits to child health and development.”

Grossly unfair to children

The constitution states that a child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.

Children face far greater risks from rotational schooling than from Covid. So their own safety cannot be used as a justification of the social distancing rule.

Nor can the safety of adults be used to justify it, since restrictions on even high-risk adults have been all but removed. Taxis can operate at full capacity; businesses can operate fully; there are no limits on travel.

Furthermore, teachers and other adults have had plenty of time to get themselves vaccinated. So children cannot be made to pay the cost of keeping adults protected.

This rule, therefore, amounts to a huge intergenerational injustice. Government is choosing to sacrifice those least able to defend their own interest.

Conclusion

Depriving children of their constitutional right to education will surely go down as the worst and most harmful of all the irrational rules Ramaphosa’s administration has imposed on South Africa during this pandemic. The DA hopes that the judiciary will uphold children’s rights to attend school full time.

DA calls for full reopening of sports and arts events

Please find an attached soundbite by Tsepo Mhlongo MP

As South Africa begins to emerge from the ANC-imposed hard lockdowns, the DA calls on the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa to reopen sporting events and arts and cultural events to full capacity.

The arts and culture industry has particularly been decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic as many artists have lost their sole source of income during this time. Added to this, artists and athletes alike have received little to no support from the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture.

The restrictions relating to the National State of Disaster has had a severe impact on the sports and art sectors as many events were either cancelled or extremely limited in terms of audience/spectator attendance.

As other industries are returning to some form of normalcy, the sports and arts sectors are still hindered by tight and irrational lockdown regulations.

The DA urges the Minister to fully open up the arts and cultural sector so that artists can return to the stage, practice their craft, and provide for their families. We also advocate for the return of fans to stadiums, since this will help to revitalize the industry by allowing athletes to practise their discipline in front of fans for the first time in years.

We must strike a balance in our reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic, ensuring that while protecting lives is our first concern, we do everything we can to protect livelihoods.

SIU Report: DA calls for swift prosecution of Covid funding thieves

Please find attached soundbite by Siviwe Gwarube MP.

The DA welcomes the release of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) report into government’s spending of Covid-19 funds. We have long called for this report to be made public and will be analysing it with a fine-tooth comb.

The SIU found that assets and money to the tune of R551.5 million need to be recovered, and they have yet to complete the investigation. The final amount of money pilfered is likely more than this.

This was money earmarked to procure procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other lifesaving resources during the height of the Covid-19  pandemic. Sadly true to form cadres and tenderpreneurs took advantage while vulnerable and ill people were struggling to survive the devastation of the pandemic.

The SIU investigated 5 468 contracts for the procurement of PPE of which 476 cases still need to be finalised. 2 803 contracts were identified as irregular, which implicates 1 217 service providers who inappropriately and illegally gained millions from this crisis. To date, R34 million has been recovered.

We welcome the fact that referrals have been made to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and we call on them to swiftly prosecute those who are guilty without fear or favour.

A strong message needs to be sent to those who seek to profit off and loot the State. The only way to secure South Africa’s future is to ensure that the wheels of justice continue turning.

The corrupt and greedy have tried to make the country a lawless wasteland where the rule of law and vulnerable people can be trampled. This must not be allowed to continue.

Criminals should know that the free-fall is over.

DA petition against Eskom price hike gains 30 000 signatures in 5 days

Please find attached soundbite by Kevin Mileham MP.

The DA’s petition to oppose Eskom’s application to hike the price of electricity by 20.5% has gained more than 30 000 signatures within the space of five days.

The DA rejects Eskom’s attempts to raise the price of electricity at a time when the cost of living is on the rise in South Africa. The cost of food, accommodation and transport continue to spike and an electricity tariff hike will only contribute to the financial distress faced by poor households in particular.

The overwhelming reaction to the DA’s petition highlights how callous Eskom’s application truly is. Eskom can barely keep the lights on, and to expect South Africans to pay more money for an unreliable service is completely out of touch.

We are encouraged by the thousands of South Africans who have voiced their objections to this outrageous increase. And we urge more South Africans to add their signatures by signing our petition using the following link: notoincreases.co.za

ICAO must urgently inspect SACAA and SA airports

Please find attached English and Afrikaans soundbites by Chris Hunsinger MP.

The DA will write to the chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on transport, Mosebenzi Joseph Zwane, to ask that he request the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to inspect the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) and South African airports as a matter of urgency.

This is after the partial release of a report by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) of Ethiopia regarding their investigation of the crash of a SACAA aircraft tasked to carry out a calibration flight at the George Aerodome on 23 January 2020 in which all three flight crew members succumbed.

The DA will also request that SACAA release the full report of the investigation as page 56, which contains paragraphs 19 to 30 of the conclusions, was omitted from the released report.

AAIB found a host of irregularities in the operation of the Cessna S550 ZS-CAR, including:

  • ZC-CAR’s Certificate of Airworthiness was invalid at the time of the accident due to the flight data recorder (FDR) not being updated annually;
  • ZC-CAR conducted multiple operations for several months in 2021 without the proper authorization of the Flight Inspection Unit (FIU) in place;
  • There was not sufficient graded evidence that the pilot-in-command (PIC) performed the mandatory unusual altitude recovery training on a simulator;
  • Irregularities in assigning the PIC to the flight;
  • The aircraft did not trigger the recording of all the mandatory parameters on the FDR; and
  • There was no indication of whether the installed Terrain Avoidance Warning System (TAWS) was operational at the time of the crash.

AAIB made the following safety recommendations:

  • SACAA must install FDRs capable of recording all mandatory parameters;
  • The South African Accident and Incident Investigations Division (AIID) must become independent from SACAA “and other entities that could interfere with the conduct of objectivity an investigation and conflict of interest” to ensure full accountability. The DA has advocated this and other critical changes and interventions for many years;
  • An in-depth review of FIU to ensure that operators comply with all requirements and that crew are proficient in unusual attitude recovery according to regulations.

Navigational calibration is crucial for airports and aircraft. Without these measures safety of flight crew and passengers cannot be guaranteed. That SACAA would flaunt vital compliance regulations and standards is unacceptable.

This brings to mind the dangerous SAA alpha-floor event on 24 February 2021 which SAACA seemingly tried to sweep under the rug. Serious questions regarding the safety standards of air crew and other personnel were put under the microscope.

While the AAIB report does not explicitly state that SACAA tried to influence an AIID-investigation, the recommendation that AIID becomes fully independent does indicate that there does seem to be undue influence over investigations.

SACAA’s attitude and growing ineptitude have a big impact on the country’s aviation sector with several airstrips at airports being downgraded due to safety concerns, the direct responsibility of SACAA. Downgraded airports have a major impact on our international aviation status and the flight routes through our country, tourism and the economy.

4 days to deadline day – Will Mantashe’s disastrous RMIPPP meet its (extended) deadline?

With 4 days left before the 27 January 2022 deadline to reach financial close for the repeatedly delayed Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (RMPIPP), the lack of a status update from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) raises the prospect of yet another deadline extension and a programme on the verge of collapse.

For the RMIPPP to proceed to implementation stage, preferred bidders should already have secured Environmental Impact Assessment approvals, port authorisations, pipeline agreements, power off-take MoUs and fuel purchase agreements. However, all indications are that the bidders are yet to meet some or all of these mandatory requirements.

If the bidders to the RMIPPP fail to meet the financial close deadline, the question is whether DMRE will follow through on its commitment to effect consequences on the respective bidders. In March 2021, DMRE’s IPP Office Acting Chief Operating Officer Maduna Ngobeni stated that:

“…there are consequences for a preferred bidder failing to achieve financial closure and commercial operation by the target dates. If the dates for financial closure or commercial operation are not met, the bid bond can be pulled or the power purchase agreement (PPA) can be terminated.”

Having already lost credibility due to its Stalingrad approach to renewable energy generation in South Africa, DMRE’s failure to implement an effective, transparent and sustainable programme to urgently address our electricity crisis will only serve to deepen distrust in it as an entity.

The DMRE cannot keep extending the financial close deadline in perpetuity. If the successful bidders are unable to meet the requirements of their contractual obligations, Mantashe should come clean and inform the country, and alternative plans should be put in place. What his Department cannot and should not do is to negotiate questionable environmental impact certification and project finance with the banks on behalf of the RMIPPP bidders. That would be against the contractual terms of the programme which enjoined successful bidders to assume all the risks associated with project implementation.

The uncertainty around the RMIPPP is not helped by the fact that bidders such as Karpowership are struggling to secure the requisite environmental impact certification due lack of clarity on how their operations will impact the marine environment and coastal communities. For other potential bidders, the inability to comply with local manufacturing requirements, as dictated by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, remains a problem. This is indicative of a government that places ideological concerns ahead of the urgent need to to reinforce our economy and rapidly address our electricity generation shortfall.

DMRE’s RMIPPP was meant to add 2000MW of power to the grid and help alleviate South Africa’s crippling power crisis. As things stand, the country may have to start factoring in the reality that this will never happen, as the RMIPPP may be on the verge of collapse. Minister Mantashe needs to acknowledge that this poorly planned and badly implemented programme is a handbrake on the economic potential of the country. South Africa needs electricity now, and the private sector is ready to provide – if Mantashe and his incompetent department would just allow them to do so.