New labour fiat a knockout punch for restaurant and catering industry

The Democratic Alliance (DA) condemns the decision by the Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi, to extend an agreement with the Bargaining Council for the Fast Food, Restaurant, Catering and Allied Trades to all employers and employees in the industry.

The extension of this agreement, and its enforcement, will deliver the death-blow to an industry that has been battered over the past year and is already on its knees.

The Minister’s extension of the collective bargaining agreement is irrational and ill-advised. It comes at the worst possible time. The coronavirus pandemic, the stringent lockdown regulations that have caused many small businesses to close, and the rolling blackouts that make it incredibly difficult for small-scale fast food outlets, restaurants, and caterers to operate, have all constituted a series of blows. Now Minister Nxesi has delivered a sucker punch.

In terms of the collective bargaining agreement  all employers in the fast-food, restaurant and catering industry will have to:

  • Implement a mandatory increase in hourly wages for various categories of workers and a 1.5% increase over and above inflation on those wages from 1 May 2021onwards.
  • Provide employees who work for 12 consecutive months with one week’s wages as an annual bonus during December, and those working for 24 consecutive months or more with 2 weeks’ wages as a bonus.
  • Provide a stipend of R17.50 per week to employees if they are required to wash their own uniforms.
  • Pay various levies including a levy for ‘Council expenses’ (R5 per month per employee); a ‘general’ levy (R25 per month per restaurant); and a ‘dispute resolution levy’ (R3 a month per employee)

For many employers in the industry, this is simply unaffordable. Many of the fast food outlets, restaurants, and caterers that have remained open only barely survived the hard lockdown. The extension of this agreement may very well result in the complete closure of their businesses. Thousands of workers will lose their jobs as a consequence.

Minister Nxesi urgently needs to reconsider and revoke his latest fiat, lest he wants to become the Minister of Unemployment.

Deputy President Mabuza incapable and unreliable to oversee the vaccine rollout plan

The Democratic Alliance (DA) notes the appointment of Deputy President David Mabuza by President Cyril Ramaphosa to head up the inter-ministerial task team to oversee South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout plan.

We do not believe that Deputy President Mabuza is a competent and reliable figure to oversee this process as he has a history of failure in governance:

  1. As Premier of Mpumalanga, Mabuza ran the province like his own personal fiefdom where corruption, political violence, and the complete collapse of the State is still a lasting legacy in the province.
  2. He currently serves as the Chairperson of the Political Task Team on Eskom, a position in which has has failed dismally. South Africa is nowhere close to energy security since Mabuza has been brought on board, in fact we have been plunged further into darkness.
  3. Mabuza has effectively been an absentee Deputy President since the beginning of Covid-19 crisis. While South Africans were looking to government to show leadership, Mabuza has been in hiding for the past 10 months.

It is, therefore, unconscionable that President Ramaphosa would entrust one of the most monumental tasks of South Africa’s democratic dispensation in the hands of a man who is not only allegedly corrupt but who is clearly incapable of overseeing a programme of this magnitude.

David Mazuba is simply not the right man for the job.

The fact that the President has made this move proves that South Africa’s Covid vaccine plan is now no longer about saving lives. It is about his political alliances within the ANC. This is evidenced by the fact that the President made this announcement via Zoom during the ANC’s Progressive Business Forum, as opposed to an announcement via the appropriate government channels in his capacity as the Head of State.

It is also unclear why, of all the people in the Executive, he would choose somebody who has not done an iota of work on this crisis. This is nothing more than ANC factional battles playing itself out.

The South African government has fundamentally failed the people of South Africa, by their own admission, in their bungling of this vaccine process. And the appointment of David Mabuza is yet another example of this government not prioritising the health and safety of its people.

Crucial oversight visits must continue as planned

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will write to the chairperson of the public enterprises portfolio committee, Khaya Magaxa, to appeal that the committee exercise their constitutional mandate and exercise proper oversight by re-evaluating the decision to cancel three important upcoming oversight visits.

The committee was set to take the following oversight meetings in the next weeks:

  • 27 January: Oversight visit to the Port of Cape Town (Transnet Port Terminal and Property)
  • 28 January: Oversight visit to Transnet Freight Rail and Transnet campus Bellville
  • 2 – 5 February: Alexkor, Alexander Bay Northern Cape

The committee has decided to cancel these oversight visits citing the Covid-19 pandemic as reason. The DA laments this postponement of the first order of business of the committee after a long period of inactivity, particularly as the issue is topical given the revelations at the Zondo Commission. Both Transnet and Alexkor have had damming evidence given against them in the past two weeks at the Commission regarding mass fraud and corruption.

In light that the home affairs committee did oversight visits to investigate the humanity crisis developing at our borders, I cannot see why the Department of Public Enterprises has cancelled their planned oversights.

This postponement certainly seems like an attempt by government to hide something. Parliamentarians must be allowed to do their duties – they hold permits as essential workers. Or are they simply collecting their salaries while questions go unanswered?

No, every moment wasted is another opportunity for the rot of corruption to eat away further at once proud institutions. The only disinfectant is truth through thorough oversight.

Did Mabuza mislead Parliament on the completion of the Medupi power station?

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will ask Parliament’s Ethics Committee to issue a caution against Deputy President, David Mabuza, over misleading statements he made on the completion of Medupi Power station. 

In June 2020, while addressing an oral question session in the National Assembly, Mabuza stated that “Eskom has committed to completing Medupi and Kusile power stations by the revised dates of 2020 …and 2023 respectively.” 

In September 2020, Mabuza continued with his disinformation campaign while answering questions in the National Council of Provinces when he gave false assurance to the effect that, “South Africans must be confident that we are going to get out of this problem. Why am I saying so? There is a new build programme [and it will bring in] additional capacity … from Medupi and Kusile.”

Far from this being the case, for months down the line, South Africa has been plunged into a crippling loadshedding schedule from Eskom. These misleading statements from Mabuza are a clear indication that the government is simply fumbling in the dark with no clear plan on how it intends to address the power crisis.

At a time when South Africans need complete honesty from government on efforts to address the ongoing energy crisis, ANC functionaries have chosen to be economical with the truth in the vain hope that it will cover up the true extent of their failures in handling the crisis.

South Africa is currently in the grip of a deadly second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing threat of loadshedding is placing patients in ICU units, access to power for oxygen, and the storage of anticipated vaccines at risk. Our call to the Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, to give absolute certainty that medical facilities and vaccine storage facilities will be protected against loadshedding has been ignored.

It is incomprehensible that South Africans are being asked to bear the burden of ANC incompetence places on their lives and livelihoods. The least that Mabuza can do is to be honest about the full extent of the energy crisis instead of using the parliamentary platform to give false hope by peddling misleading information. The DA demands a full and transparent explanation of the reasons for the continued failures at Medupi and Kusile which are currently responsible for our continued fiscal burden and ongoing blackouts.

DA calls on Treasury to disclose how municipalities spent R20 billion Covid-relief money

The Democratic Alliance (DA) calls on National Treasury to disclose the details of how each of the country’s municipalities spent its share of South Africa’s R500 billion Covid-19 relief package.

This information should be published on the Treasury website, similar to how Covid-19 tenders from national and provincial governments were published in August 2020.

R20 billion of the R500 billion was earmarked for assistance to municipalities – to relieve the strain of the lockdown on municipal revenues and to slow the spread of the pandemic.

But the lack of collated information, which National Treasury can obtain by issuing a Treasury Instruction, has allowed many mayors and municipal managers to fly under the radar of public accountability.

National government cannot wash its hands off this issue by leaving it to the municipal councils concerned. In rural municipalities with ANC supermajorities the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) is routinely ignored and opposition councillors struggle to obtain clear and accurate financial reports.

In July 2020 the DA called on Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to appear before the Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs to account for the spending of municipal Covid relief funds.

While National Treasury is the custodian of the MFMA, we expect the minister responsible for monitoring and supporting local government to take an active role in matters of municipal service delivery and governance.

The minister having ignored our request, the DA will write to the Director-General of National Treasury, Dondo Mogajane, to ask for a comprehensive account of municipal Covid-related expenditure.

The DA believes that the public deserve to know what happened to the following cases as well as how many more such cases will be discovered if the details of municipal Covid-related transactions are made public:

  • The Chris Hani District Municipality in the Eastern Cape paid R175 per 500ml bottle of sanitiser and R50 a piece for surgical face masks. The owner of one of the municipality’s PPE suppliers, IC Bane Trade, reportedly has ANC connections.
  • The Modiri Molema District Municipality in the North West spent a staggering R90 million on Covid-related transactions. Here too the municipality paid ridiculously inflated prices for items such as sanitiser.
  • The OR Tambo District Municipality, a pilot site of the government’s District Development Model, was fraudulently invoiced R4,8 million for a so-called door-to-door Covid awareness campaign.
  • The City of Tshwane, then under administration of the ANC Gauteng provincial government, was invoiced R82 million for catering services at homeless shelters. An internal report leaked to the DA indicated that the “charges per invoice was grossly overstated, the food is the equivalent to 5-star executive and luxurious catering”. Mismanagement by officials created a “field of pillage”.

We also want to know what National Treasury and the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs have done to assist the SIU and law enforcement authorities to hold responsible officials to account.

Disability grants: DA welcomes Parliamentary meeting, demands full transparency from Minister Zulu

The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomes the decision by the Chairperson of the Social Development Portfolio Committee, Mondli Gungubele, to schedule a briefing by the Department of Social Development (DSD) and its entities regarding temporary disability grants. This comes after two requests from the DA for an urgent meeting in light of the confusion around the lapsed grants as well as long queues outside South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) offices.

Last month, SASSA suspended more than 200 000 temporary disability grants and care dependency grants across the country. Due to SASSA and the DSD’s poor planning, thousands of disability grant beneficiaries have had to queue outside of the Agency’s offices for hours, and in some cases overnight, to simply apply for these much-needed grants.

Just yesterday morning we received reports from outside the SASSA Johannesburg Office of long queues and applicants being turned away. (See picture) And on Friday, the nation was horrified by images and videos of the police using water cannons to enforce social distancing measures outside the SASSA Bellville Office. Many of those in the queue were elderly and disabled beneficiaries who had been waiting in the rain for hours. The Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, then decided to address these applicants from a police Casspir, once again proving how out of touch she is.

This meeting is therefore critical in not only holding SASSA and the DSD accountable but also Minister Zulu as she is ultimately responsible for this debacle. Her poor leadership is to blame for her department and entities bungling the temporary disability grants and care dependency grants process.

The DA will demand full transparency from the Minister, DSD and SASSA on the following issues:

  • Why SASSA did not extend the temporary disability grants and care dependency grants knowing that they had institutional challenges which would delay assessments;
  • Why more doctors had not been brought on board to assess applicants – a national plan to fast track the assessment is required as only 32 people are being seen by a doctor per site; and
  • Why SASSA failed to capacitate its offices with adequate staff to assist with the influx in applications?

Had SASSA and the DSD shown any foresight, these long queues and inhumane treatment of the poor and vulnerable could have been avoided.

The absolute bungling of the temporary disability grants process cannot be sugar coated and we trust that every member of the Social Development Committee will hold the Minister and those who report to her fully accountable for their failures on Wednesday.

Stop the back-peddling and blame-shifting, and deliver the vaccine!

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will not retract or apologise for the statement we issued last week on the Department of Health’s (DoH) suggestion that National Treasury had caused delays in vaccine procurement.

We note the statement issued today by the DoH in this regard. We can only conclude that the attempt by the DoH to shift blame has been met with an angry response from Treasury, and they are now trying to back-peddle.

We do not care about the petty intrigues of Cabinet squabbles. What we do care about is government’s unforgivable failure to secure a supply of vaccines for South Africa, and the lives this will cost. This delay, dithering and blame-shifting would not happen under a DA government.  The DoH should spend less time fighting with the Treasury and the DA, and spend more time delivering the vaccine! 

For the record, the DoH’s statement conveniently ignores the quotes from the Financial Mail (which the Department incorrectly identifies as the Financial Times) story which make their position clear: 

A big challenge for SA’s efforts to secure the vaccine, in Pillay’s (Anban Pillay, Deputy Director General, DoH) view, has been risk aversion in the Treasury.

It is deeply dishonest of the DoH to leave this paragraph out of their statement. 

Indeed, this was the only possible interpretation of Pillay’s statement. Rapport, this weekend, came to the same conclusion: “Pillay die blaamvoor die tesourie se deur gelê” (Pillay lays the blame at Treasury’s door). 

South Africa urgently needs the vaccine. That is where the DoH’s focus should be. They should not expect the DA to back down in fighting for vaccines for all South Africans.

Nelson Mandela Bay increases investment by more than a billion rand

Within the first month of taking office Nelson Mandela Bay’s new Coalition of Good Governance has managed to increase the Metro’s investments by more than a billion rand.

This follows after National Treasury released R1,4 billion in grant funding to the Municipality after the election of a permanent Executive Mayor on 4 December 2020.

The Municipality’s investment portfolio – which stood at R2,14 billion at the end November 2020 had increased to R3,5 billion by 31 December 2020.

This money has been invested and will be used to ensure service delivery to residents.

The previous ANC government did all in its power to not have a permanent mayor elected, even though the election of a mayor was a prerequisite required by National Treasury to release the R1,4 billion in grant funding.

In November 2020 it was announced that the Metro had permanently lost R503 million when National Treasury refused the rollover of unused grant funding from the 2019/2020 financial year. These funds were earmarked for, amongst others, infrastructure development and drought mitigation measures.

The previous ANC government must take full responsibility for this devastating financial blow that was dealt to residents.

The Coalition of Good Governance will now ensure that the recently received R1,4 billion in grant funding will be spent on stabilising Nelson Mandela Bay by making budget available for service delivery.

This funding is also earmarked for, amongst others, urban settlement development, financial management, infrastructure skills development, integrated city development, the public transport network and the expanded public works programme.

Service delivery budgets were insufficient and this government will be topping up these budgets to improve the lives of residents.

Positives steps have already been taken. Prime example is the budget virement of R8,2 million I signed off last week to repair 8 000 to 10 000 potholes over the next two months, traffic lights that are being fixed and road markings being painted. Funds are also being made available to buy new lightbulbs for streetlights and water and electricity infrastructure is being repaired across the metro.

We will also ensure that previously marginalised communities – such as the Northern Areas, Uitenhage and Despatch – will get the care and services they deserve.

We will ensure that the contractors appointed deliver services at market rate and that the Municipality gets value for money.

Good governance and accountability have returned to the Metro.

Together we can take Nelson Mandela Bay forward again!

Only the big, meaningful interventions can help us now

Please find attached a soundbite by John Steenhuisen MP here

My fellow citizens,

We stand here at the start of a brand new year, and I am sure for many of you it is the most daunting new year you have ever faced.

None of us are sure how it will unfold and where we might find ourselves twelve months from now.

It is a scary time throughout the world, and the suffering and loss that many people experienced this past year would not have been imaginable a year ago. Our thoughts and deepest condolences go out to all who suffered tragic loss in this time.

If 2020 has taught us one thing it is to expect anything. To be prepared to fight battles you never thought possible.

And so we find ourselves looking ahead at 2021 with a slightly different mind-set than in the past. We’re a little more battle-hardened, perhaps a little more cynical. Certainly more prepared for what we might encounter.

But while we’re looking ahead at all the possible threats and challenges of 2021, we should also take some time to look back at the year that has just passed. Because we need to learn lessons that have become apparent with the passage of time.

We need to look carefully and critically at every decision we made and every action we took over the course of the year, because we now have the opportunity to weigh them up objectively and rationally.

When you’re in the middle of a crisis, you tend to react to the threats you can see immediately around you. You take decisions based on partial information and projections.

You often fear the worst, and then err on what you believe is the side of caution.

You weight your decisions towards the immediate threat, even though you may know that there is a more ominous threat heading down the road. That is part of human nature.

But we can now look back and see those decisions and those actions from a wider perspective. We have enough distance in our vantage point to realise that Covid infection isn’t the only – or even the biggest – threat we face.

By now we can see the other threats too – the suffering, the hunger and the death caused by a collapsed economy. And we must realise that many of these were self-inflicted.

If we want to fight this, we have to fight all the threats, and not just the one that is new and frightening and on everyone’s lips.

We will have to take decisions that might be scary and we will have to do things that are hard, and not only focus on that which can be accomplished by the stroke of a pen and the gazetting of a regulation.

We cannot do things just for the sake of being seen to be “doing something” about the virus. We have to be effective.

Every single decision we take, every regulation we publish, every activity we ban, has to be rationally weighed up on a cost-benefit scale.

We have to learn to park our egos and let go of some of the control that a State of Disaster has given us. This is not a time to be flexing muscles and testing the boundaries of power.

It is a time for real leadership.

I want to draw your attention to something called the Pareto Principle. Some people call it the 80/20 Rule. This principle says that, in many instances, 80% of results will come from 20% of actions.

So when you have limited resources and limited time, you need to identify the areas that have the biggest potential for positive impact – the 20% – and focus almost all of your attention there.

We haven’t been doing that these past ten months. We’ve been tinkering with hundreds of bureaucratic interventions that have made ministers look busy and in control, but we’ve ignored the 20% that would’ve made almost all the difference.

And that’s because the 20% is hard. These are things that cannot simply be resolved with a curfew, a ban or an arrest. They are things that take insight, planning and complex execution.

So what is this 20% that our government should have been focusing on instead of shutting down soup kitchens and school feeding programmes, closing beaches and arresting surfers?

It comes down to just three things: building healthcare capacity, rolling out a proper testing and tracing programme, and procuring vaccines.

If our national government had done these three things right, our country would have looked very different today. And we certainly wouldn’t have suffered the tremendous self-inflicted harm of ten months of economic shutdown.

As far as our country’s healthcare capacity is concerned, we all know that this was the first big failure. The sole reason given for the initial lockdown was to buy time to put an adequate healthcare response in place – to source equipment, to repurpose hospital wards, to build temporary field hospitals and to redeploy staff.

Outside of the Western Cape this simply did not happen in any meaningful way, and the chaos you now see in hospitals in places like the Eastern Cape and KZN is a direct result of this failure.

The second failure was our testing and tracing programme. In countries where this was done early, thoroughly and systematically they managed to put out the fires of community transmission as they flared up, saving their citizens much death and suffering.

It soon became clear that we were not one of those countries, and the big holes in our testing and tracing programme allowed the virus to run rampant through communities.

But it is the third failure that might still prove to be the deadliest, and that is government’s inexplicable dereliction of its duty to acquire sufficient vaccines.

This will exact a very heavy price.

To achieve herd immunity we need to vaccinate two-thirds of our population – around 40 million people – and government has boldly committed to doing so by the end of this year.

Even if we already had every single vaccine we needed, government would have no chance of rolling out such a massive programme in this timeframe. They’d have to vaccinate, at the very least, 115,000 people every single day for the next 347 days, but possibly far more as some vaccines require multiple doses.

The chairperson of government’s own Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19 says it’s impossible. Professor Shabir Madhi described the target as “not feasible by any stretch of the imagination.”

But here’s the thing, we don’t even have the vaccines. There is not one single Covid vaccine in the country yet. Other countries have already vaccinated millions of their citizens and we are yet to vaccinate a single person.

We don’t have them because when every other country was phoning and meeting and negotiating with suppliers as far back as May last year, our government put all its eggs in the WHO’s Covax basket, where we could barely get enough vaccines for 10% of our people.

And then they did nothing more until just the other day.

The Israeli Prime Minister personally spoke to the Pfizer CEO 17 times over the course of many months last year in order to secure his country’s supplies. They aim to have every citizen over the age of 16 vaccinated by the end of March. We’d be lucky if our programme has started by then.

Our government dropped the ball in the worst possible way, and President Ramaphosa knows it. That’s why he was on TV last Monday, scrambling to make a number of big but ultimately vague promises about vaccine deliveries.

He threw around numbers like 20 million doses secured, and spoke of hopefully having most of these in the first half of the year.

A few days later he told us of 270 million doses that had been secured for Africa through an AU programme, but not which vaccines these are, how many we’ll get and by when.

Earlier we were told of 1.5 million doses ordered through the Serum Institute of India, two-thirds of which are supposedly for delivery this month still.

But none of these numbers add up. In fact, it seems most of it is little more than wishful thinking and dishonest spin.

A Health Department spokesperson has admitted to the Rapport newspaper that the 20 million doses are still being negotiated, and it turns out even the deal for 1.5 million doses from India only had its heads of agreement signed a week ago.

No one has any idea where the AU pool of vaccines is supposed to come from, and this also seems more a case of fantasy than fact.

But even if these orders did exist, we have no idea which companies they’re supposed to be coming from, when they’ll get here, how much we’re paying for them, whether they’re single or multi-dose vaccines, who will get them first and how they will be stored and distributed.

If government can’t tell us any of these things, we have no reason to believe that they have indeed secured these orders.

The shocking truth is that our government has been caught napping on their most important task of this entire crisis. The cost of their failure will be immense.

It will cost us many, many lives, but we will also pay the high price of keeping our country in a permanent state of limbo – half locked down, half opened up – unable to ever recover from all this devastation.

The death and suffering caused by this broader economic failure thanks to on-going lockdowns will, over time, dwarf the losses suffered to the virus itself.

If ever there was an example of the 80/20 rule, it is the procurement of Covid vaccines.

This is true whether we’re talking about the money it will cost or the effort it will take. Procuring vaccines early and in large quantities is the 20% that would make the 80% difference.

And it appears government blew it.

I know government has spoken about the affordability of certain vaccines, as though budget constraints might have played a role. But we need to put that idea to bed very quickly.

Money was never the issue.

To put it into perspective, the full cost of vaccinating two-thirds of our population would be somewhere between R8 billion and R16 billion, depending on the vaccine type.

Every day that our country was on level 5 lockdown cost our economy R13 billion. That’s the cost of a full vaccination programme every single day.

The liquor industry estimates that the alcohol ban costs the government in the region of R2.5 billion every week in lost tax revenue. Six weeks of cigarette ban cost us around R3 billion in missed taxes.

These could have paid for a full vaccination programme several times over.

And consider that government is still going full steam ahead with the latest bailout of the failed South African Airways, this time to the tune of R10.5 billion. That’s another full vaccination programme right there.

And let’s not fool ourselves here. The R10.5 billion isn’t going to save SAA anyway, as the airline needs closer to R16 billion. And even if they were to get that, the chances are they will just fall back into bankruptcy again.

Money for vaccines is not the issue at all. And even if it were, the private sector would make up the shortfall in a heartbeat if it meant opening the economy up again.

The issue here is priorities.

Government stood before its greatest test yet, and it was asked to prioritise both the lives and the livelihoods of its citizens. It was asked to beef up our healthcare, it was asked to track and isolate the virus and it was asked to purchase vaccines for our people.

It did none of those things. Instead it sent police helicopters after kite surfers, it halted school feeding programmes, it closed down community soup kitchens and it shut down the one place where the virus struggles to survive: the great outdoors.

When the police minister boasts about having made over 300,000 lockdown arrests, while real crime spirals out of control in every single community, you know you are dealing with a government that has lost all sense of its priorities.

A country lacking leadership.

Countries with real leadership are vaccinating their citizens, as we speak, by the tens of thousands – even hundreds of thousands – every day and not waiting for scraps and leftovers from the world’s vaccine table.

Countries with real leadership didn’t quibble about the price of a vaccination programme, because they knew that whatever the cost may be, it would be a tiny fraction of the cost of inaction.

Countries with real leadership didn’t think twice about putting the safety of their people first.

Fellow citizens,

None of this is going to get any easier this year. Unless we make radical changes to both the way we respond to the Covid pandemic, and the way we respond to the economic crisis, 2021 will be as bad, if not worse, than 2020.

So let’s deal with the healthcare response first.

As our number one priority, we have to secure vaccines for 40 million South Africans, and we have to get a considerable portion of these in the next few months. Getting the bulk by the end of the year will be too late.

We’ll need to be done with the priority groups and on to the mass part of our rollout by April, or May at the very latest, to avoid a third wave as we head into winter.

So getting 20 million – or even 200 million for that matter – by the end of the year is not an achievement, it’s a failure.

This means getting vaccines through whichever channel we can. National government has already shown that they cannot perform this function – or at least not on their own – and so they will have to let go of the reins a little.

In the Western Cape, the provincial government has already started to explore its own procurement process. Not because it wants to go against national government, but because it has a sworn constitutional duty to protect its citizens by providing healthcare. And that is what they’re going to do.

But they’re certainly not alone in wanting to augment national government’s vaccine procurement. The private sector is also ready and able to step into this arena, and there is no reason why they shouldn’t.

We need every last vaccine, and it doesn’t matter who brought it in.

Then we will need absolute clarity from government on how they intend to manage the vaccination programme. No more double speak and spin.

We will need to know, in full detail, where our shipments of vaccines are coming from, how many doses will be in each shipment and when they will arrive. All of this will have to add up to the numbers government has been passing around.

We will need to know exactly what happens when these vaccines get here. How will they be stored and distributed, who will receive them first, and how will government communicate all of this?

We are now heading towards the end of January, and none of this has been made public. If the President does not provide a full plan that covers all the quantities and timelines, we will have no choice but to ask the courts to compel him to do so.

Our lawyers have already written to the President setting out the extent to which government’s strategy does not meet the constitutional requirements for a comprehensive vaccine rollout programme, in that it violates several constitutional provisions.

The failure to provide one or more Covid-19 vaccines timeously when these vaccines are available is a violation of people’s rights, in terms of Section 27(1) of the Constitution, to have access to healthcare services.

It is also a violation of government’s obligation in terms of Section 27(2) to take reasonable measures to achieve the progressive realisation of the right to access healthcare, as well as a violation of the right to life, as enshrined in Section 11 of the Bill of Rights.

This failure will no doubt be used by government to justify the extension of the State of Disaster and its regulations, which infringe on almost every right in the Bill of Rights, including the rights to human dignity, freedom of the person, privacy, free practice of religion and culture, freedom of movement, free practice of one’s occupation, property and education.

And finally, Section 1(c) of the Constitution enshrines the Rule of Law as a fundamental prescript, which requires that decision making be rational. There is no rationality in government’s failure to secure sufficient vaccines despite knowing early on how important they’d be and having had access to them.

In our letter we asked the President to reply within seven days explaining why, in his view, government has not infringed on these constitutional provisions.

We have also asked him, for the sake of transparency, to set out the details of government’s negotiations with vaccine suppliers. This reply must include the dates and the minutes of all the meetings with suppliers.

We also need to see a breakdown of government’s budget for both the acquisition and the rollout of the vaccines, covering public funds, private funds, donor funds and loans.

The President’s reply will have to provide the full rollout and administration programme, which has to include all the vaccine types, number of required doses, the dates that these will be available as well as how these will be stored and transported.

If the President provides satisfactory answers to all the questions put to him in the letter, we will work together with him to ensure that the programme has the best chance of success.

But if he fails to answer – or if his answers are lacking detail or evasive – we will take further legal action, as is our constitutional duty.

Government knows what it is like to be on the wrong side of such a legal challenge.

Two decades ago they were forced to provide – and then comply with – an anti-retroviral rollout plan for their HIV programme after also initially refusing to divulge the details.

We will not hesitate to go that route again.

What government will also have to do is launch a comprehensive communication plan on the importance of Covid vaccinations.

Already we are seeing a lot of misinformation and conspiracy theories around the safety and efficacy of vaccines, and some of it even spread by irresponsible politicians and judges.

Vaccines that have passed medical trials and have been certified safe and effective by our authorities are our only ticket out of this pandemic. We cannot afford to have this critical programme compromised by lies and fake news.

Government needs to step up and lead here.

But fighting the virus is only one part of the challenge. The other part is rebuilding our shattered economy. And this will require a commitment to reforms that we have not yet seen from the ANC government.

You may have heard plenty of stories about what the lockdown and all its restrictions have done to our economy, but it is only when you see the rows and rows of shuttered businesses in our towns and cities that you truly realise the extent of the carnage.

I recently passed through the Small Karoo towns of Montague and Barrydale on the R62, and the devastation of these towns’ economies just takes your breath away.

Barrydale used to be the most vibrant, tourist-friendly stop on the R62, with all its wonderful little eateries and shops lining the road. It now resembles a ghost town, with shop after shop and restaurant after restaurant boarded up, never to open again.

Each of those places represents not only someone’s dream and their life’s work, but also the livelihoods of dozens of employees and their families. And you can multiply Barrydale by hundreds of towns across the country.

Lives have been shattered, and mostly people ask me: For what? They want to know what exactly we gained when we sacrificed all of this. And I cannot give them an answer.

Undoing all that damage is not simply a case of flicking a switch back on. Lifting restrictions and permitting businesses to trade again with the stroke of a pen is the easy part.

The hard part is creating an environment in which they can give it their best shot. And right now we don’t have anything close to this kind of environment.

We’re back into rolling energy blackouts across the nation. And this in the middle of the summer and with economic activity severely reduced. There is no way we will rebuild our economy if Eskom cannot keep the lights on in the easiest possible circumstances.

What happens if the economy wants to pick up and businesses want to reopen? Where must those Megawatt-hours come from? What happens at the end of the summer when the cold spells hit?

If Eskom cannot cope now, they will never cope. And that is why they should be the first big reform undertaken by the ANC government. The alternative is simply not sustainable.

Many people have tried to calculate the cost of load-shedding to our economy over the years. One of the most conservative of these, by the CSIR back in 2019, put this at R60 billion for that year alone. Others have estimated it to be far higher.

That is money we cannot afford.

And now consider that we’ve had these rolling blackouts for a full 15 years already. It was supposed to be a temporary inconvenience, but you now have young people going into matric who can’t recall a time without load-shedding.

Eskom, as one giant, centrally controlled parastatal, simply does not work, and it will drag our country down with it.

The ANC has to stick its pride and its ideology in its pocket for once and do what every energy expert and economist is telling it to do: Break the utility up into separate generation, transmission and distribution entities, and let the state only hang on to the transmission grid.

Only by opening up the energy market to real competition will we be able to navigate this crisis and save our economy.

We have run out of all other options and wiggle room. The latest projected revenue shortfall in our budget is well over R300 billion. That is an oncoming train in a tunnel. Even the ANC must realise this by now.

There is no investment road show or talk shop that can stop this train. No serious investor will touch our economy when the spectre of rolling blackouts looms daily.

We are a country that has run out of money.

Already the president has had to tell the owners and employees of businesses stricken by the lockdown regulations that government has no more money with which to assist them.

We’re also hearing about District Municipalities that can’t pay wages until June.

Next comes basic service delivery, and then social grants. That’s how this movie ends. We have to change the script while we still can.

We cannot let all these things become the accepted normal in our country, as we have with load-shedding. We still have an opportunity to pick a path that takes us out of here, but not for much longer.

So let us choose this path with our children in mind. What exactly do we want them to inherit?

Should they inherit our R3.5 trillion national debt? No, they should not.

Should they inherit our dysfunctional power utility with its daily rolling blackouts? No, they should not. We have to reform Eskom now, so that energy production is normalised by the time they’ve grown up.

Should they inherit a broken education system where standards are lowered and results manipulated to create the illusion of success? No they should not, which is why we should stop bending the knee to unions like SADTU and send our kids back to school at the end of this month.

Should they inherit a fragile democracy that is open to manipulation by the government of the day? No, they should not. Which is why we cannot allow elections to be postponed this year.

If other countries can manage safe elections in these times, then so can we.

We have to, as a country, start doing the things that count. The 20% of actions that make the 80% of difference.

We can no longer hide behind the excuse of the pandemic.

We can no longer hide behind our country’s past.We can no longer hide behind outdated ideologies.

have a net negative effect.

Our situation is so precarious and so immediately threatening that only the big, meaningful interventions can help us now.

For the most part, the ANC government knows what these interventions are but they choose not to use them.

Boxed in on all sides by their ideology, their alliance partners and their culture of patronage, they choose to disregard the only actions that can save our country.

That choice must carry consequences.

This is a year in which voters get to judge all these failures and all these poor decisions.

Let this be the year in which citizens teach government where the power in a democracy lies.

Thank you.

Tax hikes are a slap in the face of hard-working South Africans

The Democratic Alliance (DA) strongly opposes the tax hikes mooted by Treasury Director-General (DG), Dondo Mogajane, to pay for the Covid vaccine programme. Higher taxes would be a slap in the face of hard-working South Africans. The proposal is callous and shows an extraordinary insensitivity to the financial suffering of so many families right now.

The total cost of a comprehensive vaccine rollout is estimated at just over R15 billion at most. This amount would be comfortably affordable for the government, were it to reprioritise wasteful programmes and cancel wasteful bailouts. The admission that tax hikes must be considered now, is an admission that government did no forward planning for the vaccine rollout last year.

On Sunday, Mogajane was quoted as saying that the country would not take Treasury seriously should they not be able to find money for vaccines but were nevertheless able to find money to, yet again, bail out South African Airways.

The DA takes no pleasure in pointing out the obvious to the DG: The National Treasury, and the Executive branch in general, has lost public trust a long time ago, and will certainly not regain it by hiking taxes.

South Africans already have to bear a high tax burden with vanishingly little to show for it in the form of public service delivery.

In the context of an unprecedented economic crisis, Treasury’s suggestion of tax hikes is not only morally indefensible, but bad economic policy as well.

It is not the hard-working public’s fault that government has allowed South Africa’s fiscal problems to spiral out of control. Instead of punishing citizens even further, it would be best for Treasury to find the funds necessary for adequate vaccine procurement through reprioritisation of funds in terms of the Public Finance Management Act, starting with cancelling the SAA bailout.