We must all reject the racialisation of COVID-19 relief measures

Please find attached soundbite from John Steenhuisen MP.

The Democratic Alliance rejects the application of racial criteria in determining eligibility for government relief for businesses affected by COVID-19. We call on President Ramaphosa to immediately instruct the ministers in his cabinet to comply with his government’s own assurances given on the 24th of March that assistance to Covid-stricken businesses will be available to all South Africans.

It has now emerged in a letter written by the Minister of Tourism, Minister Kubayi-Ngubane, to Mayoral Committee Member for Economic Opportunities in the City of Cape Town, James Vos, that her Department will indeed be guided by the BEE codes in administering the Tourism Relief Fund. There are also indications that relief in the agriculture sector will exclude commercial farmers and will only be available to emerging farmers.

When news broke almost two weeks ago in a leaked draft document by the Department of Small Business Development of government’s intention to racialise the relief effort, they quickly tried to backtrack. First this document stipulating a 51% black ownership requirement was called “fake news”, but it soon emerged that it was a legitimate, albeit earlier, draft of government’s SMME relief plan. Government immediately set about reassuring South Africans that these relief measures would be available to all, regardless of race.

However, it is fast becoming apparent that this was never the intention, and that race was always going to one of the deciding criteria when applying for government assistance. This would perhaps explain why we never received a reply from Trade and Industry Minister, Ebrahim Patel, after DA Shadow Minister of Trade and Industry, Dean Macpherson, wrote to him the 19th of March requesting a moratorium on BEE to ensure that all South African businesses have access to emergency funding.

It is also unlikely to be a coincidence that government’s hasty public backtrack on race as criteria happened as they were busy fundraising for this relief fund, but now that the money – billions of Rands from private companies and individuals – is in the bank and the disbursement is about to begin, the race criteria is suddenly back.

It is unconscionable that even now, in the time of our country’s greatest crisis, identity should trump the true need for relief. The bitter irony is that it is employees who will suffer the effects of this folly more than employers, and that the overwhelming majority of the former will be black. But even in the face of this undeniable fact, The ANC cannot bring itself to do what is right. They still consider the race of the employer more important than the plight of the employee.

We cannot play political ideology games at this time. Government cannot threaten the livelihoods of thousands of desperate South Africans for the sake of ensuring a hollow victory for racial nationalism. The DA calls on President Ramaphosa to do the right thing here, and to bring his cabinet and their departments onto the same page.

DA welcomes arrest of a man accused of spreading fake news and offers a fake news check service for the public 

Please find attached soundbite by DA Shadow Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Phumzile Van Damme MP

The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomes the arrest of the Cape Town man who distributed a video in which he alleged that the “test kits” or screening equipment used by health workers during the rollout of the nationwide community screening programme was contaminated with Covid-19.

Yesterday the DA laid criminal charges (Case number 05/04/202) against him for sharing disinformation about Covid-19. His comments are in contravention of the Covid-19 Disaster Management Regulation 11(5), which prohibits and criminalises the spread of fake news pertaining to efforts of combating this pandemic.

This is indeed a victory in the fight against disinformation which has marred screening and testing programmes in various communities, with reports surfacing that many people are refusing to get tested, saying that the swabs used to test for the novel coronavirus are contaminated.

Reports that there have been incidents where there was a refusal to be tested for Covid-19 due to fears of contamination of testing kits are very concerning. Mass screening is a crucial tool in ascertaining the true extent of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa and to ensure that those who are infected receive treatment.

The DA trusts that this arrest will send a strong message to South Africans that the spreading of fake news is a serious offense with equally serious consequences.

To help the public deal with the prevalence of fake news, the DA has launched a campaign aimed at educating the public about what disinformation and fake news is, how to identify it, report it and where to find the correct information about Covid-19.

We are offering the service to South Africans to contact myself via my social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter should they come across instances of disinformation, misinformation and fake news. Clarity about the authenticity of information that may appear to be untrue may also be sought.

The DA is committed to supporting efforts in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. However, we remain resolute in ensuring we protect citizens against the spreading of harmful fake news during this time.

That is why we will continue to avail ourselves through various online platforms including our social media pages to verify all news pertaining to the novel coronavirus

DA to seek urgent answers on lack of regional breakdown in provincial Covid-19 statistics

Today I was informed that the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) request for the Health Committee to meet had been granted and that it will take place imminently.

This is good news and the DA will use this opportunity to seek urgent answers about the lack of provincial statistics with their regional breakdown from the provinces.

With the exception of the Western Cape Department of Health, we are yet to see a clear and accurate breakdown of Covid-19 cases and daily infections by regions in the other 8 provinces, which can be done by geo-mapping technology. 

See an example of the Western Cape breakdown here.

This raises the serious question of whether this information does exist in the various provinces and if it does not, does this threaten the integrity of the national statistics?

While certain information can be kept from the public due to clinical sensitivity, there is no reason why the other provinces cannot publicize this information like the Western Cape does daily. It is a useful tool for public education and aids in the efforts of keeping citizens informed.

It is also in the public interest to know where the outbreak is most severe, where it is declining and where it may be rising. We should also be updated every day how many people are hospitalized with Covid-19 in each province.

Another key questions that the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, will need to answer will be on the critical shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline health workers and the capacity levels for each province to deal with this pandemic. In my letter to Minister Mkhize on the 31st of March addressing the shortage of PPE across the country, I urged him to have greater oversight on the provinces and their capacity levels. We can ill-afford mistakes and shortcomings.

In addition, all DA members of provincial legislatures have requested urgent meetings from the Chairpersons of Health portfolio committees. While some have received positive feedback, others are still waiting. We are monitoring this closely. 

The health response in this pandemic has been commendable and continues to be. However, we remain concerned about provincial health departments’ capacity to deal with rising numbers of infections, fatalities and the equipping facilities and healthcare workers sufficiently to deal with this pandemic. This is why this meeting of the portfolio committee will be critical to ascertain these details. This is an important step in the fight against this pandemic. The legislative arm of our country must exercise its crucial role of representing the people of this country.

Spaza shops, informal traders, self-employed still in the lurch on relief assistance from government

Please find attached English and isiZulu soundbites by the DA Shadow Minister of Small Business Development, Zakhele Mbhele MP.

Halfway into the national lockdown, there have still been no support measures or economic relief assistance interventions for spaza shops, informal traders and the self-employed announced by the Minister of Small Business Development, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, or the Department and its entities.

When President Ramaphosa announced the implementation of the national lockdown, he stated that a safety net would be developed to support persons in the informal sector, where most of the economic distress is being suffered as a result of the shutdown.

It was then promised on 31 March that the Minister would announce separate and tailor-made facilities for the informal sector, spaza shops and the self-employed on 2 April.

However, apart from a relaxation of the lockdown regulations enabling spaza shops and informal food traders to operate, nothing of this nature has come to light.

That is why yesterday I wrote to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Small Business Development requesting the virtual convening of the Committee via video-conferencing in order to interact with the Minister, Acting Director-General and senior management of the Department, as there are urgent issues that require attention and interrogation by the Committee. This includes the clarification and elaboration of relief assistance for self-employed individuals (sole proprietorships) and micro-retailers, especially informal traders.

We look forward to a quick and favourable response from Chairperson Siwela to our request.

The DA understands that the Department is navigating uncharted waters during this unprecedented time and scrambling to get a grip on the situation with limited resources. That is why we had previously encouraged the Minister and the Department of Small Business Development to spearhead talks between government and business to facilitate public-private partnerships that can leverage private sector resources to contribute to efforts to increase small business resilience and protect SME and informal sector jobs during this Covid-19 pandemic and in its aftermath.

It remains imperative that social partners work together in order to face this difficult time in our country because it will take nothing less than a “whole of society” approach for all of us to get through this.

The ANC must stop squabbling and go to the IMF

The ANC’s internal squabbling over whether or not South Africa should approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is jeopardising the Covid-19 relief efforts.

The fact is that the government has very little money, and urgently needs as much money as is available to fund the Covid-19 relief effort and to support the economy. We should be getting funding wherever we can, especially if it is at the very low interest rates that global financial institutions are now offering.

To stop the government from approaching the IMF would be to put petty ideological objections above the urgent needs of the relief effort. Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni, and President Cyril Ramaphosa should end this damaging squabbling and make it clear that South Africa needs urgent financial help, and that there should be no objection to approaching the IMF.

We need more money urgently for health care workers, for protective gear, for equipment, and for support for small businesses and employees who have lost their job.

In a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa, in addition to rejecting a Word Bank/IMF bailout, the ANC’s Ace Magashule, COSATU’S Bheki Ntshalintshali, and SACP’s Solly Mapaila proposed a ruinous interference in the South Africa Reserve Bank (SARB), a raid on pension funds and a state led economic development model.

If there is one takeaway from the current economic crisis, it is that the Magashule-led radicals in the ANC have learnt nothing, and are intent on continuing a policy direction that has collapsed the economy and left the state all but impotent to respond in this time of crisis.

The anti-growth recommendations contained in the letter are a repudiation of Cyril Rampahosa’s statement to Mboweni that “We now need to move more boldly on the structural reforms programme.”

South Africa needs genuine economic reforms that are cognisant of our tenuous national debt position, unsustainable expenditure levels, and rising unemployment. Anything less will be an exercise in futility.

DA calls for daily dashboard of UIF claims and payments

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is calling upon the government to publish a daily dashboard of claims received and processed in terms of the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF)’s Covid-19 Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) benefit.

A clear and accessible communication channel providing daily updates will constitute an important monitoring and evaluation tool to assess whether the UIF is coping with the immense administrative stress it is under. A daily dashboard will enable additional resources to be deployed swiftly to the UIF if necessary. And it will also help to ease the disquiet of many employers and employees who are concerned about whether they will be able to put food on the table at the end of the month.

A vast number of small business owners, in particular, are unable to pay their workers’ salaries during the 21-day national lockdown. UIF’s Covid-19 Ters benefit, which pays towards the salary costs of employees on a sliding scale, is the only hope and salvation of many employers and workers alike.

Many employers are confused and uncertain about the application process. The UIF is under huge pressure on account of the high volume of applications, and it is unclear whether claims are being received and processed as expeditiously as they should.

A daily dashboard, hosted on the Department of Employment and Labour’s website, or the portal https://www.gov.za/Coronavirus, will go a long way to creating a clear and professional line of communication.

It will also help to establish very quickly whether the UIF is fit for the purpose of processing and disbursing the benefit, or whether – as it has been reported might happen – this function should be transferred to the South African Revenue Service to administer.

DA calls for extension of application deadline for Arts and Sports Sector Relief Funding

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has written to the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, to request an extension of the application period for athletes and artists to access support funding from the Arts and Sports Sector Relief Funding.

Today marks the deadline for athletes and artists to apply for funding and the DA has requested that the deadline be extended to 17 April 2020, a day after the lockdown.

Our request follows several complaints of technical challenges such as continued system errors and emails bouncing due to the mailbox being full. These challenges have created great confusion and tension because it has prevented artists and athletes from accessing the system and have made it difficult for them to meet the current deadline.

The arts and sports sectors have been among the hardest hit industries by the outbreak of the Covid-19, which resulted in cancellations or postponement of almost all major sports events and arts festivals across the country and worldwide.

This has had a negative impact on the livelihoods of our men and women in arts and sports and it has become increasingly clear that these technical problems will prevent them from getting their much needed relief if the deadline is not extended to 17 April.

We call for the deadline for submissions to be extended until after the lockdown. This is a fair and rational call to make, and if granted, it will allow artists and athletes a fair opportunity to access relief that will lessen the impact caused by virus on their pockets.

DA joins fight against COVID-19 Fake News

Please find attached soundbite by DA Shadow Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Phumzile Van Damme MP

The Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams is asleep at the wheel while dangerous and life-threatening fake news and disinformation about COVID-19 run rampant.

As such, the DA will be using its resources and reach to identify, correct and report fake news as well as educate the public about it.

We will be launching a campaign to educate the public about what disinformation and fake news is, how to identify it, report it and where to find the correct information about COVID-19.

We also appeal to South Africa’s media to ensure it does not publish and thus spread fake news. The media has an important role to play at this time as it is the source of information for many.  Extra steps to verify information before it is published is an absolute necessity while not only South Africa but the world is dealing with a global pandemic that has killed almost 70 000 people.

Although they have subsequently apologised, News24’s publication of story suggesting that the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation will test a COVID-19 vaccine in Africa is inexcusable and must never happen again.

We also appeal to political leaders not to engage in irresponsible behaivour spreading fake news, paranoia and bizarre tin-foil hat conspiracy theories about COVID-19. The President of the African Transformation Movement (ATM), Vuyo Zungula’s nonsensical “letter” to President Cyril Ramaphosa published this morning about various COVID-19 conspiracy theories is such an example. We trust that President Ramaphosa will be firm in his response to Zungula and admonish him for his irresponsible conduct.

The DA reminds the public that while the country is faced with a momentous battle against COVID-19, disinformation and fake news carries a jail sentence or a fine. According to the Disaster Management Act:

5)Any person who publishes any statement, through any medium, including social media, with the intention to deceive any other person about—

(a) COVID-19;

(b) COVID-19 infection status of any person; or

(c) any measure taken by the Government to address COVID-19, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months, or both such fine and imprisonment.

The DA looks forward to making positive contributions to the fight against COVID-19 to ensure that the public has the correct information in order to protect themselves, their families and communities against the virus.

DA lays criminal charges against man for spreading dangerous fake news on Covid-19 test kits

As South Africa prepares to roll out a nationwide community screening programme in various communities today, this important step in the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic has been marred by the spreading of harmful fake news.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has been made aware of a video that is being circulated by a Cape Town man alleging that the “test kits” or screening equipment that will be used by the community health workers in various communities are contaminated and will infect people with Covid-19.

The DA has laid charges (Case number 05/04/202) against the man this morning for his inaccurate, misleading and harmful comments. Spreading fake news, as this person has done, is against the Covid-19 Disaster Management Regulation 11 (5) which prohibits and criminalizes the spread of fake news pertaining to efforts of combating this pandemic. The regulations are clear that transgressors can be jailed for up to six months.

Laying these criminal charges is meant to send a strong message to South Africans that the spreading of fake news will not be tolerated.

The mass community screening which is being rolled out in various parts of South Africa today are an important step towards understanding the true extent and reach of our local transmissions. The Department of Health needs to reach people where they are in order to screen them and refer them to the nearest health facility for full testing. It is not true that the community health workers will use swabs or draw blood. Their work is to screen those South Africans who may be showing symptoms and to bring the services closer to where they are.

Mass screening will also guide on whether people are able to self-isolate and whether they need to be isolated in government provided facilities in order to stop the further spread of Covid-19. This will assist those South Africans who live in densely populated informal settlements and cannot afford to self-isolate and protect their loved ones from further spread.

Turning people against this measure is destructive and criminal.

While this is not the first and possibly not the last case of fake news, it is critical that we make a stand against this destructive pattern. It is important that the South African Police Service investigate this matter without delay.

We have already alerted our colleagues in the DA-run City of Cape Town who have confirmed that they are aware of this video and will too be taking action against the perpetrator who is known to the City officials.

The DA calls on South Africans to be responsible at this time and to only share facts coming from reputable sources. This extends beyond members of the public. This also includes public representatives, news platforms and all other stakeholders. We cannot afford to be derailed by fake news in the fight against this pandemic.

DA launches online platform to link Government and local manufacturers to source critical protective gear for health work

Today, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has launched an online service to link local manufacturers that produce personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators and other much-needed resources, with national and provincial governments in an attempt to resource South Africa’s healthcare facilities with life-saving equipment.

Several reports today not only indicate chronic shortages of PPE, but also other essential resources such as testing and screening equipment across the country for our frontline health professionals. We have heard countless accounts of nurses, doctors and those who are working to test and treat Covid-19 patients having been left to fend for themselves in some areas due to the global shortage of material to manufacture PPE.

Examples of this include employees of Livingston Hospital, which is one of the two key testing and treatment sites in the Eastern Cape, downing tools due to the shortage of PPE. The Gauteng Health Department has, upon realization of the crisis, called for donations of PPE to their health facilities. This is because various facilities in the province do not have the basics such as gloves, masks, sanitizers and protective gowns. In addition, KwaZulu-Natal which has the 3rd highest number of infections and the most number of fatalities is hit hard by the shortages of PPE for critical frontline staff.

In the spirit of working together with the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, in the valiant fight against this pandemic, the DA wrote to him last week to make proposals for dealing with this catastrophic shortage. One of the key proposals was for the department to develop local manufacturing capacity for these critical products. We called on the Minister and his team to bring together manufacturing companies and give them the brief on the products that are most needed, have these approved by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) and roll them out to provinces and facilities that need it most.

Already, the DA has secured through the DTI a zero duty rating on masks being imported into the country which is a welcome development. However this needs to be extended across more PPE lines. This will allow Government to import these goods to fill the immediate gap that currently exists while local suppliers are able to build up stock.

The Party has received thousands of offers from local manufacturers, distributors and suppliers of this equipment who are willing to work with the South African government to deal with this local shortage, and have requested ways in which they can be in touch with the Departments of Trade and Industry and Health in order to supply this much needed equipment.

What is becoming clearer each day is that there seems to be little coordination between Government departments in procuring this life saving equipment. That is why the DA has come forward with this online platform to gather information from potential manufactures and then make this information available to various governments, including the DA-run Western Cape Provincial Government.

Government’s response to this pandemic has largely been commendable, however, if we are to beat Covid-19 then we need to make sure that we protect our front-line staff in process. They are our greatest resource. That is why the DA is playing its part in these efforts to ensure that we make a contribution in this regard. The DA will once again write to the Minister of Health and his Director General to bring this platform to their attention. When South Africans from all sectors pull together in fighting this pandemic, it is only then that we will win.

The DA calls on all eligible manufacturers to contact us on the following website: https://www.da.org.za/supply-critical-goods.