Time is of the essence, Madame Speaker, and we have run out

The Democratic Alliance (DA) takes note of the response by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise MP, to our request for the urgent re-convening of Parliament to debate the South African government’s Covid-19 vaccine plan.

On Tuesday, following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that South Africans can only look forward to start receiving the Covid-19 vaccine in the second quarter of 2021, the DA wrote to the Speaker requesting that she reconvene Parliament on an urgent basis before the end of the year in order for Parliament to consider, by way of debate, the government’s vaccine plans.

The Speaker’s response acknowledges that “the Minister of Health is still to provide details of the vaccine roll out plan” and that “the plan is a matter of ongoing concern for all South Africans and warrants the continued oversight of Parliament” – yet she draws the conclusion that it is appropriate for the matter to be pushed out to February, “in view of the fact that the vaccine will now be available in the second quarter of 2021”.

South Africa clocked over 17 000 new cases yesterday. Hundreds of thousands of South Africans have lost fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, children, teachers, neighbours, colleagues and friends to the virus. Hundreds of thousands more have seen poorly planned lockdowns and unreasonable restrictions on trade and enterprise cost them their businesses, jobs, and income. In the coming months and years, millions will suffer under the poor economic conditions brought on by the ANC government’s abysmal pandemic-response and lack of planning.

South Africans deserve to know what the details of government’s vaccine plan is – and they deserve to know immediately, because we can’t afford more waves of infection or rolling lockdowns.

As a body with oversight over the actions of the Executive, Parliament should not be content to wait on the Executive to come up with the answers in their own time. Urgent accountability is required, and Parliament fails in its duty by not demanding answers. The DA will be writing to the Speaker today, urging her to reconsider the scheduling of the vaccine debate.

Just like the second quarter is too late for the vaccine, so February is too late for a debate of this importance. The Speaker’s decision demonstrates that the ANC still fail to understand that time is of the essence, and we are out of it.

Clear communication on fishing regulations to local authorities imperative to help local tourism

The DA welcomes the announcement that recreational fishing remains permitted on all beaches, rivers and dams, including those in hotspot areas, subject to the national curfew and all health protocols being observed. Local tourism is likely to further flounder as holiday-makers are prohibited from beach-going for the remainder of the festive season. By making provision for fisherfolk with valid permits to access beaches, a draw-card in attracting holiday-makers, this may go some distance in encouraging much needed support to local tourism.

Subsistence and recreational fishing are by their nature isolatory activities and in the wake of the closure of beaches to beach revellers in hotspot areas, coastal and in-land fishing attractions could help offset a decline in demand in the tourism sector.

To avoid ambiguity and misunderstanding, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma needs to issue a clear directive to the relevant provincial authorities to ensure that law enforcement is made aware that fisherfolk in possession of a valid fishing permit are permitted on beaches. There are numerous reports of law enforcement prohibiting fisherfolk from accessing beaches despite furnishing their fishing permits resulting in unnecessary confusion and conflict.

To ensure that the tourism industry is not adversely affected by the enforcement of arbitrary rules by local authorities, which is the cause of mass confusion and uncertainty to holiday-makers thus affecting hospitality bookings, a clear communique by Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma in relation to access to all beaches, including hotspot areas, by fishing permit holders needs to be cascaded down to all municipalities.

The DA does not support the further unnecessary decimation of local tourism and livelihoods – regulations need to be communicated clearly and decisively to local authorities.

DA calls for Parliament to reconvene before New Year’s Eve in order to debate Covid vaccination plan

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has today written to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise MP, to request that she reconvenes Parliament urgently to conduct a debate of urgent national importance on South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccination-plan before or on 31 December 2020. After the “Annus Horibilis” that we have just gone through, we need to start 2021 with a clear, no misinterpreted plan. Misinforming parliament is a crime.

South Africans were initially told that vaccines covering up to 10% of the population will be administered in the first quarter of 2021. In his address to the nation last night, President Ramaphosa moved the goalposts to the second quarter of 2021.

Coupled with reports that South Africa missed its second payment deadline for the World Health Organisation’s vaccination programme; indications of large-scale PPE-corruption; and our government’s generally poor track record when it comes to delivery, it is not unreasonable to be concerned that South Africans will be left behind while the rest of the world opens up their now Covid-free economies and resume normal life in 2021.

We believe that an urgent debate of national importance will allow members of Parliament to critically engage cabinet ministers such as Tito Mboweni, Zweli Mkhize, and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on their respective Departments’ plans and the alternatives they considered (such as the DA’s proposal to halt the bail-out of SAA and redirect the money to acquiring vaccines). The debate can easily be held in a virtual plenary before the clock ticks into the new year.

As we approach the new year South Africans deserve to know the truth about the government’s vaccination plans and what awaits our nation in 2021. We can not afford to get locked into a cycle of lock-downs that damage our economy and destroys lives and livelihoods.

The DA will do everything in its power to ensure that those responsible for ensuring a Covid-free 2021 are held to account.

Convicted prisoners should not be given preferential treatment when rolling out Covid vaccine

The Democratic Alliance (DA) notes with alarm that it is proposed that amongst the first groups of people to receive vaccinations for Covid 19 will be convicted prisoners.

We trust that this proposal will not be accepted or implemented. It is acknowledged that prisons may be prime sites of the spread of the pandemic, on account of confinement and overcrowding. As such, custodial officials must be classified as front-line workers and qualify for vaccination, as and when this becomes available. Their job is dangerous enough: the least the State must do is to help to protect them from infection.

But this does not mean that prisoners can jump the queue. A person who is convicted and sentenced to imprisonment loses certain rights, and that includes the right to priority access to Covid vaccination. Nor does it seem, up until now, that there has been a higher than average infection or mortality rate in correctional centres.

There are literally millions of hard-working, tax-paying members of the public who are similarly at risk, and those South Africans deserve access to the vaccination before it is provided to prisoners.

Scrap SAA bailout and vaccinate 23-million against Covid, DA challenges Mboweni

The Democratic Alliance has today written to Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni, imploring him to scrap the R10-billion bailout allocated to SAA in the second adjustment budget passed by Parliament in early December, and to divert this funding to procuring COVID-19 vaccines instead.

The DA has also written to the chairperson of Parliament’s Appropriations Committee – the committee that approves the budget – to hold urgent virtual public hearings on whether South Africans want the bailout that has been allocated to SAA to be reallocated to mass vaccination against COVID-19. This matter is made particularly pressing as Health Minister, Zweli Mkhize, took to Twitter to complain about financial constraints hindering the country’s access to the vaccine.

The DA estimates that R10-billion could buy as many as 23-million vaccines, based on current market and exchange rates, which would cover nearly 40% of South Africa’s estimated 58-million strong population. Middle income countries (of which South Africa is considered one) such as Mexico and Costa Rica, as well as many others, have begun to procure and roll out the vaccine, protecting their healthcare workers and at-risk citizens, despite the fact that these countries have similar socio-economic conditions to ourselves.

Based on all available reporting, just over R220-million has been spent on procuring a COVID-19 vaccine for South Africa, and the first vaccinations are only expected to take place in early to mid-2021. It is also understood that this vaccine funding has come from the Solidarity Fund and not the state itself – showing how skewed the ANC’s fiscal priorities are. Meanwhile, South Africans have to endure economic calamity, rising unemployment and hunger while watching other countries leapfrog us in the only exit to this crisis – rolling out a vaccine at scale.

By failing to access the vaccine, the ANC has condemned people to early death by the virus, and millions more into poverty, hunger and despair from the economic consequences of lockdowns.

The choice comes down to this: why is the ANC choosing an airline for the elite over a vaccine for the many?

Vaccination must replace lockdown if SA is to survive Covid-19

The Democratic Alliance (DA) notes President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement this evening in which he has returned the country to Lockdown Level 3.

Aside from this announcement and its regulations, there is one crucial, and pivotal point to which President Ramaphosa has still neglected to speak with clarity and certainty: the acquisition and provision of the readily available coronavirus vaccine.

We understand that the resurgence in Covid-19 cases is dire for our country, but we knew at the beginning of this crisis that we would be grappling with the virus for 18 to 24 months. We now need to stock our arsenal with a finite solution to address this pandemic decisively and sustainably.

President Ramaphosa initially said that we would receive the coronavirus vaccine in the first quarter of 2021. This goalpost has now been shifted to quarter 2. This indecision and dithering only proves that government has dropped the ball completely on a vaccine that should have been rolled out weeks ago.

Lockdowns and bans are not a sustainable solution. They may offer extremely short-term efficacy, but they do very deep and long-lasting damage to the economy and to the livelihoods of our citizens. Poverty is the biggest killer in our country and government has to have more in its arsenal than just shutdowns and bans. There needs to be a simultaneous plan to massively improve public healthcare and get urgent access to a vaccine to begin a comprehensive roll out.

President Ramaphosa must come clean on the roll out of the coronavirus vaccine as a matter of urgency. South Africa does not need a task team for this acute need in our country, we need to know which vaccine has been approved, the date of its arrival and what the plan is for a swift roll-out. Furthermore, we need to know which South Africans will be prioritised, and we need to know whether regulatory bodies are dragging their feet to approve this groundbreaking medical development.

The truth of the matter is that while South Africa was banning the sale of cooked food and tobacco products and telling South Africans what they could wear, other governments were hard at work procuring and preparing roll-out plans for one of the four available Covid-19 vaccines.

 The vaccination rollout is continuing apace across the EU and UK. In countries such as Chile, Costa Rica, and Mexico, where the socio-economic circumstances are not dissimilar to our own, vaccines are already being rolled out nationwide at great pace. The South African government has no excuse for its negligence in this regard and owes South Africans an explanation.

South Africa has now missed two payment deadlines for the first batch of the World Health Organisation’s vaccination programme, delaying the arrival of the vaccine to our shores. How many lives could have been saved had this process not been completely and utterly bungled?

A vaccine is now the only solution, and the only alternative to lockdown which is no longer a viable or sustainable means to curb the spread of the virus in our country.  It is the only path for us to return to some form of normality and to give our economy a fighting chance at some form of recovery. The South African economy has suffered devastating losses after almost a year of crippling lockdown restrictions. It cannot endure any more.  

We are losing the fight to protect both lives and livelihoods. Instead of our people and their jobs surviving this pandemic, neither will emerge from it. There can be nothing more devastating for our country.

President Ramaphosa and his government must expedite the procurement and roll out of the coronavirus vaccine as a matter of urgency. Nothing is more important for the wellbeing of our nation and our economy at this time.

It is also unconscionable that the Government would seek to simply shut down certain industries without simultaneously announcing a single cent of relief programmes to bridge the economic devastation that this will wreak on the hospitality and restaurant industries.

If the President is as serious as he wanted to come across this evening about this response to the second wave, then a good place would be for his government to lead by example. Cancel the SAA bailout and put that money towards expediting vaccine procurement and rollout and bolstering financial relief to affected industries.

This would show true commitment to saving lives and livelihoods.

Motsoaledi must devise a plan to address Beitbridge border chaos

National Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi, must urgently devise a contingency plan to address the utter chaos at the Beitbridge border control facility where operations have grinded to a halt due to staffing shortages and the lockdown curfew.

It is reported that thousands have been left stranded for days on end, and two people have died from fatigue while waiting to cross the border to and from South Africa at the Beitbridge facility. This is absolutely unacceptable.

Government should have factored in the seasonal migration of Southern Africans across borders when formulating Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. Failure to do so has not only caused dangerous levels of traffic congestion at the borders, but the potential for super spreader hotspots where thousands are now gathered at our country’s border facilities.

The DA has repeatedly reminded government that lockdown restrictions must be factored into the operation of each and every government department. The 22:00 curfew, for example, should not apply when citizens have been waiting at border facilities for hours and days on end.

We cannot have crowds of people stranded at entry points for days on end with no ablution or sanitising facilities in dangerously hot weather. This is an incredibly dangerous oversight by government which is tantamount to utter negligence.

Minister Motsoaledi should have anticipated and planned for the effect of the lockdown curfew on seasonal migration during this time. He must ensure that the free movement of people to and from South Africa is done so swiftly and efficiently over the coming weeks or risk the creation of super spreader Covid-19 hotspots.

The festive season is far from over. Minister Motsoaledi must ensure that in adhering to lockdown restrictions, his Department isn’t unknowingly placing South Africans at further risk in the process.

DA overjoyed at victory in 18-year-long land ownership battle

Note to editors: Please find attached a video, audio file and an image.

The Democratic Alliance is overjoyed by the news that Limpopo farmer, Mr David Rakgase, will finally receive title to his farm after an 18-year-long court battle with the National Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.

Mr Rakgase approached the DA to ask for our assistance in his fight to win ownership of his land as promised in 2002. Together, we won his case in September 2019 in the North Gauteng High Court after a drawn out battle spanning over two years.

Mr Rakgase’s victory sets a vital precedent in the fight against the ANC’s policy of Land Expropriation Without Compensation, as it demonstrates government’s reluctance to truly empower, and provide redress to, the citizens of South Africa by affording them the constitutional right to land and property ownership.

I urge National Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Thoko Didiza, to start identifying farmers on state land and providing them with the option to purchase it from the state. This will free many farmers from the stranglehold of state control which does not provide any freedom or opportunity to millions of citizens.

South Africans do not want to become tenants of the state on the land which they work and have lived on for decades. This case sets out clearly the threat ANC policy poses to land ownership in our country. The DA will continue to fight for the right to property ownership even if it takes us straight to the courts.

In 1991, Mr Rakgase signed a 30-year lease agreement under the now discontinued Land Redistribution and Agricultural Development (LRAD) programme.

In 2002, he was offered an option to buy the farm for R621 000, which he accepted, subsequently signing all the necessary documentation to this effect. The ANC government later changed this proposition to an offer to lease only, removing any chance of Mr Rakgase obtaining full ownership of the land on which he has farmed for nearly 30 years.

Now that Mr Rakgase has received title to his land, it opens up the option to many other farmers who have been living and working on their land for years but have been unable to obtain ownership of it from the government.

Land reform will only be successful if all South Africans are afforded the constitutional right to land and property ownership. South Africans cannot remain tenants of the State. The DA will continue to ensure that access to land ownership is expedited to ensure adequate and just redress, and economic freedom for all South Africans.

DA Welcomes Appointment of Members to Climate Change Coordinating Commission

The Democratic Alliance welcomes the appointment of members to the long-awaited Climate Change Coordinating Commission. These appointments have been pending for over two years since the commission was first announced in October 2018. The commission must now begin working with utmost urgency to address the numerous challenges associated with climate change. This will require steps to mitigate against the impacts of climate change and adapt to the rapidly changing terrain.

The DA believes that there is enormous potential for job creation and growth presented by a shift towards new technologies and renewable energy. We cannot allow efforts to diversify the energy market to be held back by outdated misconceptions around jobs and renewable energy. If we do not begin to diversify energy production we will be left behind, encumbered by outdated infrastructure that is unable to cope with the growing demands of the country.

Eskom remains Africa’s largest single polluter and is responsible for 40% of South Africa’s carbon emissions. It is therefore worth noting the inclusion of an Eskom representative on the commission. Eskom must work with all stakeholders to drastically reduce its own carbon emissions through effective retrofitting of existing infrastructure and other measures. Coal power will remain an important part of South Africa’s energy mix going forward and proactive mitigation measures are essential to ensure that the environment is protected.

The social impact of future climate change events will continue to be felt in the years to come. The numerous drought crises that have faced South Africa over the past few years have shown how the slightest shift in climatic conditions can have a devastating impact on all aspects of society. While many areas across the country continue to struggle with severe drought events, cities like Cape Town have used the drought crisis to improve the city’s adaptability to climate shocks and put measures in place to help make the city more climate resilient. It would be worthwhile for the commission to look into the internationally acclaimed responses to the drought crisis by the DA-led City of Cape Town and the Western Cape Government as an example of how all spheres of government are able to work together to address the impacts of climate change.

The commission has been tasked with providing a “just transition” and it is vital that the President ensures that all voices are heard during this process, especially those who have been critical of the slow government response thus far.

DA notes High Court ruling on beach closures

Note to Editors: Please see attached a soundbite by John Steenhuisen.

The Democratic Alliance notes the ex tempora judgement handed down by the Western Cape High Court today regarding our case to overrule the closure of the Garden Route’s beaches.

While we are disappointed by the ruling in favour of beach closures, we welcome the amended hours of beach operation which we have managed to get changed from 09:00 to 18:00, to 06:00 to 19:00.

We also welcome the court’s awarding of 50% of our costs as per the ruling.

The DA is still deeply concerned that the blanket closure of the Garden Route’s beaches over the festive season will have far-reaching and devastating consequences for local economies, and for the livelihoods which depend on seasonal tourism during this time.

While we respect the judgement, we understand that this ruling remains a devastating blow to the thousands of small businesses along the Garden Route which are now at serious risk of collapse. This problem will not go away once South Africa emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, and we cannot ignore the risk to livelihoods which many lockdown restrictions present.

The DA will continue to act in both the interests of the lives and livelihoods of South Africans during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure that we keep citizens safe, and that we still have an economy left once the dust has settled.

South Africa’s coronavirus response must always take into account the delicate balance between lives and livelihoods. Our country cannot endure any regulations which harm the economy and cut citizens off from their means to make an honest living in a safe and secure manner.

Regulations imposed to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus must be within reason and backed up by scientific and medical advice. Anything less is a reckless assault on the livelihoods of millions of South Africans in an economy which is already on its knees.

The DA will continue to ensure that this balance is preserved and protected, and that national government does not take flagrant liberty to dominate and command the lives of free individuals in a democratic society.