NLC’s Letwaba and Huma must go

Recent revelations by the Mail and Guardian have now shed light on the fact that Johannes Letwaba, the brother of Phillemon Letwaba, Chief Operating Officer of the National Lotteries Commission (NLC), registered a private construction company, Upbrand, in January 2016, which seems to have been involved in extremely corrupt deals with the NLC and some of its board members over the years.

Ten months after being registered, Upbrand made two dubious payments totaling R2 million to advocate William Elias Huma, a non-executive board member of the NLC, within the span of less than two weeks. Huma seems to have received a further kickback of R15 000 four months later. These kickbacks coincided with money being transferred to Upbrand.

Phillemon Letwaba also received a kickback from Upbrand to the value of R100 000 in July 2017. But before this kickback, payments totaling over R1.9 million were made by Upbrand to Letwaba Energy in November 2016, of which Phillemon Letwaba was also a shareholder at the time.

Upbrand has secured contracts from various NPOs, including I Am for God’s Glory (IAM4GG), which secured several funding grants in excess of R55 million from the NLC. All the kickbacks occurred after IAM4GG secured the grants.

Some of these grant monies seemed to have made its way to Upbrand. GroundUp revealed that IAM4GG received an R11 million grant from the NLC to build an integrated sports facility in Limpopo, R2 million of which was then paid to Upbrand.

Overall, IAM4GG has received numerous grants from the NLC, and then proceeded to contract Upbrand to do work that was never finished, even though Upbrand paid millions in kickbacks to NLC members.

The Chairperson of IAM4GG, Lesley Ramulifho, is also directly linked to the now-infamous NPO, Denzhe Primary Care, which he fraudulently took over according to GroundUp. Denzhe has received a total of R27.5 million from the NLC to build a still-unfinished drug rehabilitation and sports centre. The R15 million building contract was awarded to Upbrand.

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU), which has been investigating the NLC, has flagged several payments to commission members and people connected to Upbrand over the years.

Phillemon Letwaba has been on ‘special leave’ as COO since March of 2020 due to credible allegations of corruption against him, with an exorbitant annual remuneration package totaling R3.35 million that he is still receiving. In essence, Letwaba is being paid to do nothing on top of apparently receiving kickbacks.

The financial rot within the NLC has reached levels that render it the VBS equivalent of the public-private non-profit sector. The NLC serves an extremely important role in the funding of various NPOs with above-board operations, and the opportunity costs of corrupt and wasteful expenditure is felt most heavily by the marginalised communities within South Africa, and it cannot be allowed to continue.

In light of the above, the DA formally requests Minister of Trade and Industry, Ebrahim Patel, to execute the following actions:

  • Instruct the NLC to remove advocate Huma from the interim board of the NLC with immediate effect;
  • Instruct the NLC to fire Phillemon Letwaba as he has brought the institution into disrepute;
  • Make available the report into Mr Letwaba’s conduct to the Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry; and
  • Instruct the NLC to immediately cut all ties with IAM4GG.

Minister Patel has failed dismally at dealing with corruption in his ranks. He has made little to no effort to reassure the public or Parliament that he has a strategy to turnaround this failing institution. He cannot stand idly by while public finances are abused by those who have scant regard for their mandate which is to assist the most vulnerable in our society.

Mr President, time is up for tabling the vaccine plan

Please find the attached soundbite by Siviwe Gwarube MP.

The Democratic Alliance’s (DA) lawyers wrote to the Presidency seven days ago making the case that President Cyril Ramaphosa has a constitutional obligation – as does his entire Executive – to be transparent about the vaccine acquisition and distribution plan. We committed to approaching the courts for relief should this not be done within seven days. Time is now officially up. Should the President and his team not publicly table a detailed, costed and practical vaccine acquisition plan by day end, we will proceed with the court action.

Approaching the courts for relief is the last resort since, despite numerous calls by the DA, civil society and the public for government to showcase their plan for rolling out the life-saving vaccine, this has not been done. We are now relying on the precedent that was set during the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) case of 2002 against the department of health where the courts determined that transparency was key in matters of public health like this one.

Furthermore, we are now in an unenviable position where South Africa is meant to receive its first batch of vaccines before the end of January – in effect this week – but we are still none the wiser about when exactly this batch is due to arrive and how the allocation to the provinces will be handled for its healthcare workers.

In addition to the glaring questions which remain unanswered about this process, there is now clear evidence that the Department of Health was asleep at the wheel. A letter from Treasury states that the DoH only applied to them for deviation from the normal procurement processes for the acquisition of the vaccine on the 7th of January 2021. This the clearest confirmation that the Executive has been slow-footed in the process of acquiring this vaccine as such we are now scrambling; being charged exorbitant fees and still nowhere near getting the volume of vaccines that we so desperately need.

South Africa has no clarity on the exact timelines of the vaccination process including the acquisition, logistics and distribution. Provincial departments of health are hamstrung from bedding down concrete plans for the storage and distribution of the vaccine because they too, have no clue when and how many doses of the vaccines they will receive. This is breathtakingly poor form from government; one which will continue to cost us lives and livelihoods. We must do everything in our power to ensure that we reach frontline workers and those who are vulnerable to this pandemic with a vaccine. We take our role as the official opposition seriously in this crisis and that is why we cannot allow this to go unchallenged.

DA calls on police to arrest and fine Mpumalanga Premier

The Democratic Alliance (DA) calls on the South African Police Service (SAPS) to arrest and fine the Premier of Mpumalanga, Refilwe Mtsweni-Tsipane, following her non-compliance to wear a mask.

It is ridiculous that the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, has now called for an investigation. Mtsweni-Tsipane’s failure to wear a mask at the funeral of the late Jackson Mthembu, was broadcasted live on national television in full view of all South Africans – there is no need for an investigation. Had this been an ordinary citizen, they would have already been arrested and fined, without any investigation.

The DA condemns the blatant double standards that is on display when it comes to the treatment of ordinary South Africans compared to the treatment of ANC cadres during this lockdown.

Premier Mtsweni-Tsipane must be subjected to same treatment as any South African – she should be arrested and fined R1 500, payable in her personal capacity.

The weak excuse by the Premier’s Office that she did not notice her mask fell off (“she was oblivious of that when it fell”) is an insult to the intelligence of South Africans.

We also call for Mtsweni-Tsipane to appear before the Portfolio Committees on the Premier’s Office; Finance; Economic Development and Tourism in the Mpumalanga Legislature. She will simply not get away with a slap on the wrist.

If immediate action is not taken against the Premier, the DA will be left with no option but to open a case against her.

Non-extension of Ters: UIF must account to Parliament

Reports that the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) has decided not to extend the Temporary Employer-Employee Relief (Ters) scheme will come as a severe blow to cash-strapped workers in sectors of the economy hobbled by the adjusted level 3 lockdown.

This is especially true for the tourism, hospitality and liquor industries.

The UIF’s about-turn on the extension, after weeks of seemingly positive talks at Nedlac, is apparently informed by a report compiled by the Fund’s actuaries.

I have therefore written to the chair of the Portfolio Committee on Employment and Labour, Mary-Ann Lindelwa Dunja, asking for the report to be tabled before the committee. The committee needs to be briefed urgently by the UIF on both the financial sustainability of the Fund and how it intends to assist tens of thousands of workers who are unable to earn their full income – or in some cases, any income – because of the lockdown restrictions.

The DA maintains that for as long as the government prevents people from participating in the economy, it has a duty to mitigate the devastating economic impact with financial assistance. It is a matter of principle. The ANC claims to be a social democratic party, but it is all too ready to abandon the principles upon which functional social democracies rest.

In recent days, some UIF officials have suggested that employees affected by the current lockdown could apply for ordinary UIF benefits, which would be paid out subject to the individual worker’s available UIF credits. This is a bad idea. It risks prematurely depleting workers’ credits and leaving them high-and-dry in the event of retrenchment. It also means that the minimum payment made under the Ters scheme would no longer be applicable.

So far, the UIF had disbursed roughly R56 billion in Ters benefits for the period from the end of March to 15 October 2020. We know there is still money in the UIF pot. A written reply to a DA parliamentary question last year indicated that the UIF was sitting on a total investment portfolio of R114 billion as at 31 March, with R60 billion in liquid assets and R54 billion in illiquid assets. By most accounts, it would cost between R2 billion and R3 billion per month to extended the Ters scheme under the current lockdown restrictions.

The UIF’s funds belong not to the government, but to the employers and employees who have contributed them.

The UIF needs to be open and transparent about its reasons for not extending the Ters scheme. And it must come with a viable proposal to support desperate workers. That is why the DA is asking for the UIF to account to Parliament post-haste.

18 times government misled SA about Eskom and rolling blackouts

It has been 15 years since Eskom’s rolling blackouts brought inconvenience and economic decline to South Africa. And, 15 years of repeated empty promises by an incapable ANC government vowing to fix this crisis.

Today, the Democratic Alliance (DA) will expose the 18 times the government misled South Africans on its efforts to turn things around at Eskom and to bring an end to rolling blackouts.

  1. November 2007- Eskom says Medupi and Kusile will be completed by 2015 and will play an important role in solving South Africa’s energy challenges. Current forecasts indicate that Medupi’s completion date has been extended to 2021, with Kusile expected to be completed in 2023. Even so, it is unclear if these new completion dates will be met.
  2. January 2009 – Eskom CEO Jacob Moraga says that the first unit of the Kusile coal power plant would start adding electricity to the grid in 2013. But, the first Kusile unit did not enter commercial service until August 2017, and only three of the six Kusile power stations are currently in sync with the national power grid. 
  3. July 2013 – Eskom CEO Brian Dames assured South Africans that they will not experience power cuts going forward, adding that the power utility was confident it would not resort to loadshedding. 
  4. March 2014 – The then Water and Environmental Affairs Minister says Eskom had assured the government that loadshedding was temporary. And attributes the power cuts to wet coal and handling issues, refusing to acknowledge that there was a major energy supply issue. 
  5. December 2014 – Eskom CEO Tshediso Matona claims that “There is no crisis at Eskom.” He said, it is the way Eskom gets reported on that creates the perception of a crisis. 
  6. February 2015 – Energy Department Director Wolsey Barnard tells the media that the power crisis at Eskom was expected to be resolved in 20-30 months. Barnard remains a Director at the Department of Energy till this day. 
  7. May 2015 – Eskom CEO Brian Molefe says that there would be no loadshedding during the winter season, as maintenance work was done in summer. But, it did not take long for that promise to be broken, as stage 2 load-shedding was implemented on 8 June 2015. 
  8. June 2015 – Molefe also stated on 14 June 2015 that the power utility’s new plan was “maintenance without loadshedding”. Despite this plan, Stage 1 and stage 2 loadshedding continued regularly from June to August 2015. 
  9. September 2015 – Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa say “In another 18 months to two years, you will forget the challenges that we had with relation to power and energy and Eskom ever happened.” [He had been tasked by Cabinet in 2014 to turnaround SOEs and was reporting on his progress to the NCOP] 
  10. May 2016 – President Jacob Zuma meets with Eskom management on 6 May 2016 and assures South Africans that they will not experience load-shedding ever again. “I am going to tell people there will never be any loadshedding, I have been here, I have seen it,” Zuma said. 
  11. August 2016 – Eskom CEO Brian Molefe confidently tells Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises that Eskom was on firm footing. “Plant availability is 80% and more, which is almost a miracle, considering where we were a year ago,” he said. 
  12. February 2019 – President Ramaphosa says during SONA that “Eskom has made much progress in implementing its nine-point plan, ensuring better maintenance of its general fleet, reducing costs and ensuring adequate reserves of coal.”
  13. March 2019 – President Ramaphosa, says, when South Africa was hit by ongoing loadshedding again, “We are addressing the Eskom issue every day. I’m saying to the whole nation let’s not panic let us join hands, close ranks and work together. That is why we are addressing it on an urgent basis. There is nothing much more urgent than restoring the power.” 
  14. April 2019 – From August 2016 until June 2018, South Africans did not suffer any loadshedding. Stage 1 loadshedding was implemented in June and July 2018, and power cuts became more frequent in November 2018. After the return of loadshedding and its acceleration in February and March 2019, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan revealed Eskom’s plan to fight loadshedding in South Africa. Gordhan said Eskom’s goal was to ensure there would be no more load-shedding from 3 April 2019. This was proven wrong when Eskom implemented stage 2 loadshedding on 16 October 2019.
  15. June 2019 – President Ramaphosa, while responding to the SONA debate says “We want to put Eskom on a sustainable operational path and we have seen great improvements. We are closely engaged with the situation at Eskom, with the implementation of the nine-point plan, strengthening the board and setting out a road map for the future.”
  16. December 2019 – President Ramaphosa promises South Africans that there would be no loadshedding over the holiday season. Eskom implemented loadshedding on 4 January and 8 January 2020.
  17. January 2020 – South Africa is plunged into stage 2 load shedding. This despite the President’s promise early in December 2019 that there wouldn’t be loadshedding from December 17 until January 13 after he announced that there would be no leave for Eskom’s top brass during the festive season. 
  18. February 2020 – During his SONA address, Ramaphosa promised to “fundamentally change the trajectory of energy generation” in South Africa “over the next few months”. He laid out 7 key reforms to “significantly increase generation capacity outside of Eskom” which included procuring additional power from IPPs.

The statements above are not only misleading but are proof that the President, his government and Eskom never had any political will or a clear plan to address the power crisis. Instead, they have allowed a corrosive culture of no accountability, patronage, maladministration, and corruption to bring Eskom and our country to its knees.

Now more than ever, South Africans need complete honesty from government on efforts to address the ongoing energy crisis. Especially in light of the devastating economic lockdowns which brought our economy to a grinding halt. Continued disruptive power outages could be fatal for businesses which barely survived the lockdown. We are also concerned about the impact it could have on health facilities battling to keep South Africans alive and Covid vaccine facilities.

The DA maintains that Eskom, as one giant, centrally controlled parastatal, simply does not work. We have for years proposed that Eskom be broken up into separate generation, transmission and distribution entities. The generation entity should be privatised in an effort to break Eskom’s monopoly on the production of energy, and to allow Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to compete on an equal footing in the generation sector. This will not only diversify South Africa’s energy mix, but it will also ensure a cleaner, more reliable and cheaper energy future for the country.

Click here to read more about the DA’s plan to drive the cost of electricity down, introduce competition into the energy sector, and diversify the country’s energy sources to introduce more renewables, as well as our record of action on the electricity crisis over the last 8 years.

Mantashe must go!

Reports that the Gwede Mantashe Foundation may be involved in money laundering must be fully investigated and the Minister’s role in this scandal clarified. According to the reports, a Bidvest subsidiary, Voltex, allegedly made a number of dubious payments to Ntlokholo Investments, a company of which the Chief Operating Officer of the Foundation, Caswell Mokoena, was a director. While this in itself would not be unorthodox, the problem arises in that at least one of the payments, for an amount of R935 000, was intended as a donation to the Foundation, and was receipted by the foundation as such.

Further muddying the waters is the fact that another Bidvest subsidiary, RoyalMnandi Duduza, was the beneficiary of a catering contract in excess of R600 million to feed workers constructing the Medupi and Khusile power stations. Mantashe’s wife, Nolwandle Mantashe, was a director of RoyalMnandi. Minister Mantashe’s own involvement with these power stations is equally questionable: he was Secretary-General of the ANC during the Chancellor House/Hitachi scandal – wherein the ANC’s investment arm, Chancellor House held a 25% stake in Hitachi, a company that was awarded the tender to provide the boilers for the two beleaguered power stations, now long overdue and billions over budget.

The coincidences don’t stop there, however. Voltec, the company at the centre of the current scandal, claim in court papers that the payments to Mokoena were related to the National Solar Water Heating Programme – a project that is administered by the Department of Energy (Mantashe’s own department), and which is also the centre of much controversy. But the company to which Voltex made the payments – Ntlokholo – is not involved in the solar water heating tender.

All of these coincidences raise serious questions about the man in whose orbit all these dodgy deals keep happening: Minister Gwede Mantashe. With this in mind, President Ramaphosa would be doing the country a great service by removing him from any position, including that of Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, where he can influence tenders or where his involvement in any way calls into question the legality and ethical management of government funds.

Click here to read more about the DA’s plan to drive the cost of electricity down, introduce competition into the energy sector, and diversify the country’s energy sources to introduce more renewables, as well as our record of action on the electricity crisis over the last 8 years.

DA calls for urgent clarity from SASSA on lack of funding for disability grants

The South African Social Security Agency’s (SASSA) recent admission that it does not have enough money to reinstate and extend the temporary disability grants that lapsed at the end of December is a massive cause for concern. According to SASSA’s executive manager responsible for grants administration, Dianne Dunkerley, the Agency only has R411 million of the R1.2 billion needed to extend the grant payments.

SASSA’s problem to continue to extend disability grant payments is one of its own making. Since the announcement of a continued Covid-19 lockdown, after the initial lockdown of three weeks, the Agency should have foreseen the extension of lapsing disability grant payments and planned accordingly. The Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, is on the National Corona Command Council (NCCC) after all. But instead of ensuring that South Africa’s most vulnerable receive continuous financial aid essential to their health, well-being and survival, the Minister busied herself with regulations that sought to hamper vital aid reaching millions of people.

Had SASSA shown more haste in early 2020 to process applications and ensured that their offices were fully capacitated and that all posts for medical personnel to do the assessments were filled, the crisis could have been contained. But once again, it knowingly walked into a preventable situation – maybe because the SASSA CEO, Busisiwe Memela-Khambula, and the Minister rarely have to face the consequences of their ineptness and callousness.

SASSA needs to urgently reach out to National Treasury to seek a solution, because those reliant on social grants do not have days or weeks to wait. The grants they receive are often the only source of income and takes care of whole families. To put it bluntly; without their grant payments many people will starve. They cannot survive without it and the fear that they might have to because of SASSA’s impotence is beyond cruel.

While we welcome Minister Zulu’s announcement that she will table a plan in the next two weeks – a promise that we will most definitely hold her to – the Minister must consider that while she’s working away on her plan, some people might go hungry in this time. SASSA’s has known about the expiration for months now. Why is the Minister only looking for a solution now? This calamity was completely preventable and is 100% on the Minister and SASSA’s hands.

The Minister’s plan has to be more than vague placations so characteristic of the ANC government. It must be detailed and answer crucial questions on:

  • The number of beneficiaries being assessed in each province and how to increase the capacity to process each application;
  • The amount of applications that will be processed each day to deal with the backlog and how long it will take to clear it in its entirety;
  • The number of doctors and medical personnel that have been hired in each province and whether this will be sufficient to effectively deal with the backlog;
  • The employment of easy and easily accessible online applications for those able to access the internet;
  • The redeployment of the promised volunteers and community activists to assist those unable to access online platforms so that they don’t have to expose themselves to a dangerous virus to stand in line at SASSA offices; and
  • How SASSA plans to cover the financial cost of eradicating the backlog.

Let’s be clear, the solution cannot include under any circumstances the non-payment of disability grants to beneficiaries. SASSA dug this hole, and SASSA must suffer the consequences – not the grant recipients who have spent days in the wind and the rain in the hopes of being one of only 50 to be allowed entry in the offices to try and solve their desperation, and are too scared to return home because they have to face the hunger of their children.

They might not have a crumb to eat and little prospect of finding alternative funding to buy food. Has the Minister ever felt the unending ache of being truly hungry and knowing that there is nothing to be done about it? If she had, she might have had more empathy for those in her care. She would surely not have just stood by and watched as vulnerable people were sprayed with water cannons outside SASSA offices.

SASSA and Minister Zulu is a blight on society. They are a plague as insidious and dangerous as Covid-19, and as uncaring about their victims. Minister Zulu should have been fired a long time ago.

The DA mourns the passing of Jackson Mthembu

I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of ANC stalwart and my former parliamentary colleague, adversary and friend, Jackson Mthembu. The news of his death this afternoon comes as a great shock, and I can only imagine the devastating impact this must have on those who were close to him.

On behalf of the DA, I would like to extend our sincere condolences to his family, his friends and his party. You have lost a generous man with a big heart and an even bigger sense of humour. To say that Jackson was much loved would be some understatement.

During the time that we served opposite each other in the National Assembly as chief whips of our respective parties, I came to know him well and I saw a side to him that explains why he was such a revered figure in the ANC.

I knew him as a man of integrity, and someone who managed to see the bigger picture and the greater cause. He was always prepared to do what it took to find solutions to whatever impasse we might have been facing in the House. If this meant meeting up long after the working day was done to thrash out the details of an agreement, then Jackson would do so in a heartbeat.

His passing will be mourned by all who knew him and everyone who worked with him, whether in his party, in cabinet or around the parliamentary precinct. I pray that his loved ones find strength and comfort in this difficult time.

DA calls on Minister Motsoaledi to intervene in queue chaos outside Home Affairs offices

The Democratic Alliance (DA) calls on the Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi, to implement urgent queue management measures outside of Home Affairs offices to keep citizens safe.

Despite scenes of citizens huddled in long queues outside of Home Affairs offices across South Africa, with no social distancing measures in place, no apparent action has been taken. Instead the ANC government sends battalions to the beaches to arrest surfers.

Although Home Affairs have slashed available services, queue marshalls stationed at Home Affairs offices throughout South Africa as part of the failed ‘war on queues’ initiative seem incapable of carrying out their role effectively.

The ‘war on queues’ was announced as a ministerial priority in 2018 and in 2019 measures hot spotting long queues, a ticketing system, special queue for online systems and an app to allow renewals to be processed without applying in the office were announced by Home Affairs. To date, all these initiatives have been false promises.

Citizens are driven to Home Affairs offices due to a lack of birth registration facilities at hospitals and a lack of effective mobile units to take basic Home Affairs services to the people.

The staff usually positioned in the Home Affairs offices that are now sitting at home while these people queue outside for hours could be allocated to assist with queue management outside of the offices. Queue marshalls could be monitored to ensure effective queue management. The SAPS could be called on to provide monitoring services. But doing nothing is not an option.

The DA will write to the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs to demand a plan be tabled by the Minister as he appears unmoved by scenes outside of Home Affairs offices.

We will continue to fight for the rights of South Africans to be treated with dignity by the Government that is supposed to serve them.

Vaccine rollout would have been well underway with a DA national government.

This is my first newsletter of the year. On behalf of the Democratic Alliance, I wish you and your family a healthy, happy 2021.

Last year was exceptionally dark and this year is looking darker still. Lives continue to be lost, businesses continue to shutter, and investment drains away, while our heavily indebted government claims to have no money to compensate households suffering the worst ravages of lockdown restrictions.

But the development of a safe, effective vaccine for Covid-19 means there is light at the end of this tunnel.

There is no higher priority for South Africa this year than to roll out vaccines. We are in a race against this virus, which is mutating as it transmits, and we will only win this race with a swift, efficient vaccine rollout. Specifically, frontline workers and the most vulnerable among us need to be vaccinated by end April to avoid the worst ravages of a third wave as we head into winter.

Had the DA been in national government, we would be vaccinating thousands of people each day right now, as is underway in many other middle-income countries.

But our incapable ANC government has massively dropped the ball on acquiring an adequate supply of vaccines, failing to place orders with manufacturers on time, even as it insists on being the sole procurer. So thousands of lives, millions of jobs and billions of rands of tax revenue will be lost unnecessarily this year and next as the government continues to use the blunt instrument of blanket restrictions to slow the spread of the virus.

Ever since Covid-19 hit our shores, the DA has been calling on government to focus on the big, high-impact interventions, given South Africa’s precarious situation of limited resources and wiggle room.

It’s all about priorities.

As I set out in my speech on Monday, the three biggest interventions are building healthcare capacity, rolling out a proper testing and tracing programme to isolate the virus, and rolling out vaccines. Government has failed on all three while going all out on often petty, meaningless lockdown restrictions. Only in the DA-run Western Cape province was healthcare capacity boosted and an efficient testing and tracing programme undertaken.

The DA understands that when it comes to vaccines, no effort is too great nor price too high so that we can fully reopen our economy. Consider that a full rollout programme is estimated to cost R8.6 to 16.4 billion, about the cost of one day of hard lockdown – R13 billion – and a fraction of the R389 billion of economic output lost in 2020 due to lockdown.

Yet Ramaphosa’s government has shown unforgivable disinterest (see here and here) in acquiring vaccines, with the result that South Africa is now at the back of the queue and scrambling to pick up any scraps we can, at double the price. As a group of eminent scientists put it:

This lack of foresight will visit on us the consequences of the greatest man-made failure to protect the population since the Aids pandemic, when we refused to provide life-saving medicines out of choice and against the desperate pleas of horrified medical and humanitarian agencies here and abroad and directly caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. A high probability of a reprise of this is a monumental and unforgivable failing.

To make matters worse, government initially sought to cover for their failure by downplaying the importance of vaccines. This is grossly irresponsible, given that 53% of adult South Africans are already suspicious of the vaccine. Fortunately, government retracted after a swift backlash from top scientists (see here and here).

Given the unconscionable corruption in PPE purchasing last year, we should not disregard the possibility that government’s reluctance to negotiate with vaccine manufacturers is because the politically connected are hoping for kickbacks from contracts with Russian and Chinese suppliers.

But perhaps they simply got their priorities wrong and were too focused on their (net harmful) blanket bans on alcohol, beaches and freedom of movement that have so distracted Police Minister Bheki Cele from doing his real job of fighting real crimes that contribute to real pressure on our trauma units.

Or perhaps they failed to prioritise funding and so missed the first two Covax payment deadlines and avoided direct negotiations with suppliers. Indeed, the national department of health offered lack of funds as the reason, blaming National Treasury for their reluctance to pay deposits.

In a damning interview last week, President Ramaphosa claimed that government’s failure to secure vaccines was because they couldn’t afford the risk of losing deposits if trials proved unsuccessful. Yet this is an outright lie, since the advance market commitments required to secure a supply of vaccines promise a refund for unsuccessful trials, as noted by Professor Shabir Mahdi, who headed up the vaccines trials in SA.

Whatever the true reason, the fact remains that President Ramaphosa was lying when he claimed government has been negotiating for the past six months, when in fact they only started serious negotiations this year. No matter how he spins it, he is fast losing people’s trust at a time when trust in his government is all important to secure a swift rollout once we receive a supply of vaccines.

He was also lying when he claimed in his address to the nation on 11 January that government has a comprehensive plan to vaccinate 40 million people this year. This is no more than wishful thinking, and virtually impossible to attain. Even 20 million will be an extraordinary undertaking.

Yet more evidence of the ANC government’s rank failure to prioritise vaccines is that corrupt, incapable Deputy President David Mabuza is heading the vaccine task team responsible for the rollout.

On The Inside Track yesterday, DA national spokesperson Siviwe Gwarube brilliantly unpacked the vaccine issue in discussion with WC Premier Alan Winde, health economist Professor Alex van den Heever, and DA shadow minister of finance, Geordin Hill-Lewis.

What is the DA doing about all this?

Firstly, we are applying maximum political pressure, which has succeeded in prompting the government to finally get serious about vaccines.

Secondly, in the Western Cape we are taking steps to acquire vaccines directly and readying for a swift rollout once we get supply.

Thirdly, we are pursuing legal action to compel government to provide a full, detailed vaccine procurement and distribution plan against which we can hold them accountable, like the mechanism by which they were finally forced to roll out HIV treatment.

Perhaps most importantly, we are preparing to contest the 2021 local elections, to offer South Africans an alternative to the incapable, uncaring ANC. Breaking the news this week of a vaccine tax hike, government said people will just have to “bite the bullet”. Well, most taxpayers don’t have bullets, but they do have ballots, and 2021 is the year to make them count.