SAA business rescue practitioners only have one option – liquidation

While the global airline industry is on life support, South African Airways’ (SAA) Business Rescue Practitioners (BRPs) have issued a statement to all affected persons stating that the prospects of further government bailouts has dimmed to zero.

The BRPs are now calling for either a process involving employees to develop a business rescue plan or in the absence of such agreement with employees, an urgent application for a court order discontinuing the BRP proceedings and placing SAA into liquidation.

It is unclear what employees may have to offer apart from their continued, and mostly hitherto valuable services, which SAA can no longer pay for – by the BRPs own admission – beyond 30 April 2020.  Moreover, any ”creative solution” as called for by the Inter-Ministerial Committee, would require – as previously stated by the Democratic Alliance (DA) – new partnerships, privatisation measures involving the airline and its subsidiaries, and regulations changed to allow foreign ownership to be in excess of the current capped level of 25%.

Whether this is possible under current Covid-19 circumstances affecting the industry is anyone’s guess. Virgin has fired more than 3 000 people including 600 Pilots, Finnair has returned 12 planes and laid off 2 400 people. Low-cost operators like You and Ryan Air have grounded 22 planes and fired 4 100 people, and grounded 113 planes and fired 900 pilots respectively.

The pattern is repeated through Etihad and Emirates and all other European carriers. It is forecast that a minimum of 8 000 planes will be grounded by September – with an average of 5.8 crews per plane (medium and long haul combined), that would make more than 90000 unemployed pilots worldwide. Many of these came from hitherto profitable airlines.

Now that taxpayers’ funds are not rolling in to prop up the failed airline, SAA’s BRPs appear to have finally seized the urgency of the matter. They were previously happy to proceed despite being required by Section 132 (3) of the Companies Act, in the event of business rescue proceedings not having ended within three months after the start, to prepare a monthly report on the progress of the business rescue proceedings and submit such reports to the Court or the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC). None were forthcoming. As a result of such inaction and dithering (whether imposed by government or not is unclear), the R5.5 billion previously advanced by government was fully drawn down and spent in one month. Now the taps have run dry.

It is now abundantly clear that SAA cannot be saved under the current circumstances affecting the aviation industry and in its utterly bankrupt form.

The pain of liquidation appears inevitable and government had better address its obligations with respect to employees and other costs associated with a prospective liquidation.

The DA looks forward to the scheduled consultation with committees on Tuesday 28 April where we will pose pertinent questions, that must be answered satisfactorily if there is any slim hope of staving off the only practical, if painful, alternative under the circumstances – liquidation.

UIF and Compensation Fund need a risk-adjusted strategy for Covid-19

Both the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and the Compensation Fund urgently need a “risk-adjusted strategy” of their own to address the monumental challenges posed by Covid-19.

So far the UIF has been dogged by seemingly insurmountable challenges in processing and paying the Covid-19 Ters benefit.

The Compensation Fund, which has been dysfunctional for 20 years, is going to be strained to breaking point as people return to work and – with the inevitable spread of Covid-19 in the workplace – start submitting claims to the Fund.

Earlier this week, the Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi, told Parliament that because of Covid-19 and the state of the economy, “we might add another million or two to the [ranks of the unemployed]”.

It is not clear how the UIF would be able to deal with such a disastrous scenario. With many workers due to be paid today, the Covid-19 Ters benefit scheme is still beset with huge problems. Many employers report not being paid by the UIF, being underpaid, receiving no payment advice, or receiving a payment advice that allocates and misallocates funds to individual employees without rhyme or reason.

Many employers are struggling to rectify these errors through the UIF call centre and website. They will face the wrath of their employees (many of whom are registered with the UIF but have inexplicably not benefited from the Covid-19 Ters scheme) who will blame the employer and not the UIF when they receive no, or insufficient, payment today.

The UIF needs to develop a risk-adjusted strategy in a hurry and present it to the Portfolio Committee on Employment and Labour.

In the case of the Compensation Fund, serious consideration needs to be given to handing over its functions to one or more of the private sector insurance companies that are fit for purpose.

Beitbridge border fence reveals true incompetence of DPWI 

South African tax payers have forked out a whopping R37 million for what is effectively a “washing line” to keep Covid-19 from reaching South Africa from Zimbabwe.

Almost R1 million per kilometre was spent on a 1.8 metre-high wire fence meant to halt illegal border crossings into South Africa along the Beitbridge Border Post.

Once referred to as the “Snake of Fire” because of the 2 800 volts that coursed through those unfortunate enough to come into contact with it, the original border fence was substantial, solid and close to impenetrable. But due to a lack of maintenance and the lackluster monitoring of the border by the SANDF over the years, it had become as porous as a sieve. This has occurred, despite there being a 3 metre high double fence on either side of the electric fence that marked the border between the two countries.

The advent of Covid-19 was supposed to address and change all that. The announcement by the Department of Public Works (DPWI) and Infrastructure Minister, Patricia de Lille, that repairs totaling R37 million would be effected to 40 kilometres of the border fence, should have signaled a new era in tackling our almost non-existent border. It would have ensured that kilometres of fencing stolen for animal kraals around the Beitbridge border area would have been replaced and restored.

According to the Minister, all emergency procurement protocols had been adhered to. A contractor had been duly appointed to do a fast-track job to secure our country against the movement of undocumented illegals with the potential to infect South Africans.

Regrettably, within days, pictures emerged of gaping holes in the new fence. Reports of stolen fence posts followed. The Minister responded that there would be increased security around the fence to ensure that there were no more breaches.

What sort of border fence did we procure that required its own security? What quality of material was used that it can barely withstand a wire cutter, and who drafted the specifications for this fence? A game fence on an ordinary game farm stands between 1.8 metres and 2.4 metres high. A border fence, such as the one erected on the Morocco-Spain border, is 6 metres high. This border fence, costing R37 million, should be impenetrable – and built to last. It clearly is not.

The Minister has subsequently backtracked on her earlier assertions that the appointment of Caledon River Properties trading as Magwa Construction was within the procurement guidelines of the declared National State of Disaster. In addition, the Department has admitted to having deviated from procurement processes by appointing Magwa Construction through a nomination process. After stoically defending the appointment, the Minister has now requested an audit into the entire project by the Attorney-General. We can only hope that their audit will also reveal the basis on which Magwa Construction was selected above other more well-known companies.

Today, I submitted questions to Minister De Lille around the appointment of the contractor, as well as around the specifications of the fence and the value for money that our tax payers have received.

If the purpose of the fence was merely a temporary cessation of the influx of illegal immigrants to protect our populace against Covid-19, then perhaps the fence built would have been sufficient. But it was not. It has been hailed as the new border fence between South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Sadly, Minister De Lille’s fence is a R37 million band-aid on a bullet wound. If we are going to protect our borders, we need a “Snake of Fire”, not a washing line costing almost R1 million per kilometre.

Risk-adjusted strategy can only work with detailed Covid-19 statistics

Please find attached English and isiXhosa soundbites by Siviwe Gwarube MP, DA Shadow Minister of Health. 

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has welcomed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of a risk-adjusted strategy that will see the move from varying stages of lockdown based on infection rates in specific areas. This is in line with DA’s Smart Lockdown Strategy.

This phased approach will balance the need to combat the Covid-19 pandemic and saving lives from hunger and destitution.

This strategy can only work if the Department of Health (DoH) is armed with detailed and region-based statistics. The strategy makes use of data obtained from the health system based on epidemiological trends and risk of infection. Areas which are deemed as hotspots are based on this information and this will guide the level of restrictions which need to be applied. This underscores the need for every single province – not just the top three provinces – to provide the following information on a daily basis:

  • Tests conducted per region;
  • Confirmed Covid-19 cases per region;
  • Number of those who have been hospitalised and those who are in intensive care;
  • Health facility and bed capacity for each region;
  • Those who have been screened through the community screening programme;
  • Health worker audit per region;
  • Personal Protective Equipment audit per region;
  • The readiness of quarantine facilities per region for those who may require quarantining away from home. This information needs to be provided by Public Works working in close concert with the DoH.

This information needs to be couched on a transparent provincial testing strategy. It is important as we progress with the community screening that we understand who is being screened and what the criteria used is.

I will be raising this matter during the meeting of the portfolio committee of health with the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, on Monday the 27th of April.

The danger of not having this information is clearly demonstrated by the crisis of the Eastern Cape which forced Minister Mkhize to send in a representative of the national Department of Health to monitor the screening and testing strategy. This means that provinces need to provide daily detailed reports not just to the Minister but to the public too. An informed public is one that makes responsible decisions.

The Minister and his team need to insist that all provinces follow the lead of both Gauteng and Western Cape in providing detailed breakdowns of Covid-19 statistics. This is an accountability mechanism for him and for the public.

If we are to move seamlessly between the various lockdown stages then we need to be guided with reliable, updated and detailed data.

DA welcomes adoption of Smart Lockdown plan

The DA welcomes the announcement by President Ramaphosa to control the spread of the coronavirus going forward by adopting what we have called a “Smart Lockdown” model.

This phased, risk-adjusted model, whereby restrictions are lifted as and when the data suggests it is safe, is critical to protecting precious jobs and ensuring that the livelihood of millions of South Africans is saved. The DA has called for precisely this approach in our Smart Lockdown Plan, released ten days ago. It is encouraging that we are able to cooperate in this way, and to know that we are on the same page as we face this daunting challenge.

And while we welcome this announcement, we await further details of how this model will affect the various sectors of our economy and society before we make further comments. It is important to establish absolute certainty around this new phased approach, and so the details must be clear and unambiguous. We cannot have the issue muddied by conflicting statements from various ministers.

What is also crucial is that any such a phased lifting of lockdown restrictions is accompanied by both a massive increase in testing, tracing and tracking, and the publishing of detailed and reliable data on a range of Covid-19 information which must include localised breakdowns of testing data, infection and mortality data and healthcare data such as ICU beds, ventilator availability and PPE stocks.

Without such transparent data in the public domain, it is impossible to know when, where and to what extent restrictions on activities are necessary. Sharing this data with the media and public is also critical to maintaining support and ensuring compliance with ongoing Covid-19 measures.

This regular data release must also cover all aspects of the economic stimulus plan, including lists of businesses applying for and receiving SMME relief, employees receiving TERS relief, details of UIF payments and details of both Covid Grant payments and Unemployment Grant payments.

The DA shared with President Ramaphosa today a detailed breakdown of the data required, as well as our latest proposals for the immediate lifting of certain restrictions.

We have long maintained that the only way to move out of a hard lockdown is to make up for whatever benefits we were getting from this lockdown with equally effective smart interventions. The better we are at implementing these smart interventions – such as increased testing & tracing, good hand hygiene and effective social distancing protocols for all sectors and business types – the less we have to rely on a paralysing lockdown.

We welcome the requirement for the wearing of facemasks on public transport and the call for them to be worn in all public areas. We reiterate our call for reusable cloth masks to be given out free to those who cannot afford them. It has been proven that wearing a cloth facemask is an extremely effective way of slowing down the spread of the virus, and it is relatively inexpensive, given the massive costs of the other interventions. We have calculated that to supply three cloth masks to 40 million South Africans who cannot afford their own would cost around R600 million, which would be money well spent. We urge the President to make this an integral part of the strategy going forward.

We also reiterate our call for certain restrictions to be lifted immediately. All stores selling essential items should be permitted to sell ALL items in their stores, including electronics, stationary, books, beauty products and cigarettes. Stores selling non-essential items should be allowed to open immediately for purposes of fulfilling delivery orders only. Similarly, restaurants and fast food outlets should be able to open their kitchens for home delivery. All e-commerce stores should be allowed to operate.

What is also urgently required, if we are to see an additional 73,000 SANDF members to be deployed on our streets, is a body of Parliamentary oversight to guard against overreach and abuse of power. We urge the Speaker of Parliament to immediately agree to our request for the formation of an ad-hoc committee to this effect.

And finally, the most important aspect of any Covid-19 strategy is one already mentioned by the President in his address on Tuesday evening: The economic reforms that must follow this lockdown period. If we don’t urgently fix the underlying structural defects in our economy – including SOE reform, labour legislation reform and energy sector reform – and if we don’t walk away from proposed destructive policies such as Expropriation Without Compensation, the NHI and asset prescription, we will not survive this crisis with our economy intact.

The DA supports the efforts of President Ramaphosa to combat the spread of the virus and to bring economic relief to those affected. And we will most certainly support him in instituting the much-needed economic reforms that will ensure that South Africa emerges from this crisis with the best fighting chance.

DA calls on Department of Agriculture to ensure regulations do not hamper food security

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is pleased to hear that the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza has finally admitted that the Covid-19 lockdown regulations for agricultural auctions are problematic and confusing.

We are inundated with complaints and questions from farmers about auctions that were stopped by police for being against regulations. There are news reports about farmers being harassed by police, whether at roadblocks or auctions.

As per our Smart Lockdown proposals, the DA believes livestock auctions should be allowed to continue. We propose that auctions should be permitted with only 100 people present following strict social distancing measures. The farming community should also look to use virtual bidding as an option to limit the number of people who gather.

Regulations around auctions must be published immediately. As must guidelines around services that are essential to the agricultural sector. The Department of Agriculture surely has experts that understand how life on a farm works. Surely the Department has some sense that without the proper infrastructure, work grinds to a halt. Why is it then that farmers travelling to maintain infrastructure are stopped from doing so? When drafting regulations, the Department should consult with experts and take their advice on board.

We have also heard of numerous instances where farmers with valid permits were forced to pay bribes in order to do their work because police officers claimed that they did not have the necessary permits to travel. The DA once again calls on the Department to open their offices to help with the issue of permits for farmers. This will ensure that they have the correct permits to travel and will alleviate extra stress in that regard.

Minister Didza needs to urgently address these discrepancies in the regulations. The third week of the Covid-19 lockdown has come and gone, and still, there is no clarity for the agriculture sector. Most farmers charged with the vital service of food security does not qualify for financial aid during the crisis. And they are being actively hampered to perform their job and access relief.

The deadline for farmers to apply for relief funding from the department was yesterday. The DA urges the Minister to re-open the process to countless farmers left in the lurch, to expand the relief effort to include farmers with a turnover up to R100 million and to ensure that all relevant farmers receive the necessary help.

The agriculture sector has already been dealt devastating blows with the drought and foot and mouth disease earlier this year. The Department should not be an extra block around the neck.

Crucial questions need answering around lockdown

The Democratic Alliance (DA) notes that there is growing and broad agreement on a gradual return to economic activity, and ahead of President Ramaphosa’s address to the nation this evening, the DA respectfully puts forward the following questions, requests, and suggestions which should be addressed in his speech. I have a virtual meeting scheduled with the President for 16:30 today, and I will put these questions to him directly. Furthermore, we have today sent the President updates to our Covid-19 response working paper, as our contribution to the national decision-making process.

1. We request clarity on the alleged statement by Prof Shabir Mahdi (of Wits University, who heads the public health subcommittee advising the President and his cabinet) revising down the expected number of SA Covid deaths to 45 000 over the next 2-3 years, from an earlier estimate of between 120 000 and 150 000 fatalities. This was reported in a TimesLive article on 21 April. We need to understand if this estimate of 45 000 deaths over 2-3 years factors in a series of lockdowns, or is the estimate before interventions. If the latter, then this revision profoundly impacts SA’s optimal response to this pandemic. A death rate of 45 000 over 2-3 years is broadly in line with SA’s current murder rate and Easter road death rate, neither of which have elicited hard lockdowns in response. Therefore, we request clarity around these alleged comments.

2. We request clarity around Prof Salim Karim’s comments reported by Rapport on Sunday, in an interview with Hanlie Retief, in which he said: “I think we’ve already reaped the benefits of the lockdown. I’m not sure how much more the lockdown can help us.” If this is the view of the government’s leading expert on the coronavirus epidemic, it is important that South Africans know how this view is guiding government’s decisions on the future implementation of a lockdown strategy.

3. We request the immediate implementation of a policy of mandatory cloth masks for all, in all public places. At least 3 free cloth masks should be provided free of charge to all those who are unable to afford masks. Assuming 40 million people require free masks, this would be 120 million masks in all, and would cost an estimated R600 million – a mere fraction of the cost to SA of a single day of hard lockdown. This is particularly important for high-density situations like on public transport and in shops, but should be mandatory in all places where people are not able to keep a 1.5 m distance.

4. We suggest that a suppress-release approach on alcohol availability should be used to relieve pressure on hospitals. This could be generalised or localised depending on circumstances.

5. We suggest that all sectors should have, and publish online, a set of social-distancing protocols in place specific to their context, before re-opening. Furthermore, all businesses should be required to complete a workplace risk assessment and mitigation form. This form must be available on the business premises and website. This will inform the public, policy makers, suppliers and customers of the risks inherent to that business and the mitigation measures which the business has put in place to deal with those risks.

6. As the economy opens up public transport will be a central nexus of human interaction. Three criteria are crucial:

  • Everyone on public transport to be masked.
  • Everyone on public transport to sanitize their hands on entrance and exit.
  • Public transport vehicles to be sanitized regularly.

7. We call for the immediate lifting of all activities listed in our attached document.

8. We request transparent, reliable and up-to-date reporting of key Covid-19 response data. In particular, we request national, provincial and area-specific data around cases, testing, hospital load/capacity and implementation of economic stimulus measures. We believe this to be an entirely reasonable request, given the massive sacrifice South Africans are making to slow the spread and minimise the impact of this disease. Only with this information can we know how best to respond.

Assuming that the expected fatality rate for Covid remains far above other reasons for mortality in South Africa, then a Smart Lockdown strategy (locking down only when, where and to the extent necessary, coupled with more targeted interventions – particularly a massive, rapid-response testing programme and free mandatory masks for all in public) is preferable to a series of hard lockdowns over the coming years. Indeed the President has already suggested that SA will be taking the smart lockdown route. A smart lockdown is simply not possible without accurate, up-to-date, localised, transparent data.

The following data should be available daily and to all:

Indicator Currently available? Available at:
Cases
Total cases (national) Yes https://sacoronavirus.co.za/
Total deaths (national) Yes https://sacoronavirus.co.za/
Total recoveries (national) Yes https://sacoronavirus.co.za/
Testing
Total tests (national) Yes https://sacoronavirus.co.za/
Average time between testing and reporting (national) No
Community health worker (CHW) infection rate (national) No
Results of continuous random testing for prevalence and symptoms classified by:
– Age
– Area- HIV status
No
Total testing capacity per day (district/area) No
Total tests performed per day (area/district) by

-Type of test (antigen vs antibody)

-Randomised vs targeted

-CHW or general public

No
Case numbers by area/district

-Daily new cases

-Total cases

-Active cases

-Total recoveries

-Daily deaths

-Total deaths

No
Hospital load/capacity
Total hospital capacity (national)

-Number of beds

-Number of ICU beds

-Number of ventilators

No
Number of patients hospitalised (national)

-All

-Covid-related

No
Number of patients requiring ICU/ventilator (national)

-All

-Covid-related

No
Number of Covid patients by area/district

-Total

-Daily new cases

-Number requiring ICU/ventilator

No
Total hospital capacity and occupancy by area/district

-ICU beds

– Ventilators

-ICU beds used by COVID patients

No
PPE
Total supply of PPE

-PPE per health worker (area/district)

-Cloth masks per person (area/district)

No
Economic support
SMME support (DSBD Debt Relief Fund)

-List of business applying

-List of businesses receiving

-Rand amount loaned per business

-Total Rand amount loaned

No
Temporary Employee Relief Scheme (TERS)

-Number employees receiving relief

-Rand amount of total relief given

-List of businesses that have received relief for employees including Rand amount

No
UIF payments

-Monthly rand amount paid out to the unemployed

-Number of unemployed receiving relief

No
Covid grant payments

-Rand amount paid per month

-Number of recipients paid per month

No
Basic Income Grant payments to the unemployed not on UIF or grants (R350 per month)

-Rand amount paid per month

-Number of recipients paid per month

No
IDC/DTI funding

-Number of firms applying for funding

-Number of firms receiving funding

No
Solidarity fund

-Rand value of assets

-Rand value and details of expenditure

No

DA calls for municipalities to submit Covid-19 Emergency Plans before accessing funding from the R20 billion Covid-19 Municipal Fund

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is calling on the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA), Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to use her presentation tomorrow, in the National Coronavirus Command Council’s response to the President’s address, to announce that, for municipalities to access the R20 billion fund set aside to assist municipalities response to Covid-19, they must:

  • submit costed Covid-19 Expenditure Plans before they can access grants from the fund; and
  • adhere to strict expenditure guidelines that CoGTA should develop and publicly make available.

The DA has taken this initiative because there are legitimate concerns that, with the dysfunction and corruption in most municipalities, the R20 billion fund could become yet another blank cheque for looting by corrupt elements.  We therefore also call on the Auditor-General to audit the full expenditure of the additional funds, R20 billion, given to municipalities so that there is full and proper accountability.

Taking a firm stand on the disbursement of these funds has become even more urgent in view of the relaxation of Public Finance Management Act and Municipal Management Act regulations by the Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni, in response to the declaration of the State of Disaster. Relaxation of municipal finance management regulations could yet turn out to be the loophole that will lead to the abuse of the R20 billion fund.

It has become necessary to take precautionary measures on the use of the Fund because of the ANC’s willingness, at local government level, to hijack economic relief interventions for its own political goals. Over the past few days, disturbing stories have emerged chronicling how food relief packages have been plundered and diverted away from their intended beneficiaries.

If corrupt politicians are willing to take food away from the mouths of hungry South Africans, nothing will stop them from diverting service delivery funding, from the R20 billion fund, for their own personal use.

We simply cannot allow this to happen.

Minister Dlamini Zuma has an obligation to ensure that adequate oversight mechanisms are put in place to protect the integrity of the R20 billion fund and its use for the provision of services to residents.

DA asks Education Ministers to pull out all the stops to Save the Year

On Friday Ministers Blade Nzimande and Angie Motshekga will hold a joint press conference on common issues in Higher and Basic Education – all related to the ongoing lockdown and its possible partial lifting in the future.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) acknowledges the enormous amount of work already put in by these Departments into the management of the lockdown – particularly in respect of the extensive online options being developed and the provisions made for students without clearcut access to digital means of learning –  and its possible future lifting.

We have a range of  further suggestions for how the two Departments could develop the country’s approach to the matter.  We respectfully invite the two Departments to consider our suggestions which will be sent in detail to the respective Ministers.

Above all, we believe that the teaching year needs to be saved, if not for everyone then for those in crucial years and courses.

If this is not done, then Grade 7s will not be able to advance to Grade 8, Matrics will not be able to advance to University or College, and schools and students in crucial professions and programmes will not be able to graduate. Schools, Universities and Colleges will be thrown into disarray.

For these crucial years, our assessment is that if the teaching year is not re-started by early June, it might be too late to rescue it.

Thus we suggest that as soon as possible – subject to the advice of Health specialists and to the “staged” re-opening of the economy – all educational institutions be partially and gradually re-opened.

We advocate that if reopening does occur, the following categories of learners and students be re-introduced into schools as well: all those doing courses based in laboratories and on practicals; all postgraduates, and all children of parents who have to return to work as part of “essential industries”.

Accompanying this reopening must be a carefully planned set of initiatives to protect learners, teachers, students and lecturers – including screening, testing, social distancing and hygiene. In addition the financial and other indirect implications of the lockdown and reopening need to be reconsidered. As only a small proportion of learners and students will be re-admitted when institutions open, there will be space and time to make use of such measures.

There should also be ongoing work on the provision of online education for those unable to attend institutions, including such initiatives as:

  • the use of libraries and community halls as access points for those unable to access IT at home
  • the establishment of “banks” of computers for loan to students using their fee accounts as surety
  • the use of “WiFi trucks” as possible hot spots for particular areas
  • the printing of course content and the delivery thereof to students at home

Our detailed recommendations on these matters are in the document we are sending to Ministers.

To assist in the smooth operation of schools, colleges and Universities, both now and in the longer run, textbooks need to be urgently exempted from the lockdown while the gazetted requirement that online educational content be zero-rated should be urgently implemented.

In the long term, the online initiatives already developed need to be expanded and consolidated, so that all teaching in our educational system moves towards a “blended” mode, where online and face-to-face teaching are combined. This will be to the benefit of all – providing an enriched and contemporary experience for all who are studying.

DA calls for clarity on Social Development school feeding scheme

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has written to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba, to convene an urgent joint portfolio committee meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Social Development. It is critical that the Departments of Basic Education and Social Development brief Parliament on the National School Nutrition Programme’s (NSNP) role in ensuring that the 9 million children who depend on school feeding schemes do not go hungry during the Covid-19 lockdown period.

The Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, stated at the beginning of the lockdown that the Department of Social Development (DSD) will take over the school feeding programme during the lockdown. The Minister has never detailed how this was to happen, and as a result millions of children are left to wonder where their next meal will come from.

While it is the DSD’s responsibility to provide social relief during a disaster, the reality is that its implementing agent, the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), is completely overwhelmed, under-capacitated and lack the funds to prevent a full-scale food crisis in South Africa. It is therefore critical that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) come to the table with viable solutions to ensure that poor and vulnerable children receive decent meals during this time.

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has already filled the gap left by the DSD with its emergency school feeding scheme for vulnerable learners. The Western Cape Provincial Treasury has allocated approximately R18 million in additional funding to the WCED for the scheme.

The DA reiterates its call for all provincial Education Departments to step up to the plate and do the right thing by providing meals for the children who desperately need it.

Numerous reports in the media and from communities show how dire the situation has become. Food scarcity in our communities is not a problem that will solve itself without direct and urgent intervention. More people are becoming dependent on food relief parcels from SASSA and community outreach organisations. Already the amount of food parcels are woefully inadequate to cater to all of those in need.

While we welcome the President’s announcement of increases to SASSA grants, there are a number of children that won’t benefit from this. Emergency school feeding schemes can therefore serve as a net to provide those doubly vulnerable children with food.