Deja Vu as Basic Education speaks on ECD reopening – DA calls on Minister Zulu to clarify

In July 2020, the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, released regulations which affected the reopening of Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres and pre-Grade R centres linked to schools. This created countrywide confusion and uncertainty as the Minister for Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, was slow to clarify the reopening of private ECDs and partial care facilities.

Yesterday, we seemed to go down the same road as the Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Dr Reginah Mhaule, announced that ECDs and pre-Grade Rs linked to schools will only receive learners on 15 February 2021.

South Africa cannot have a repeat of last year’s debacle. The Democratic Alliance (DA) therefore urges Minister Zulu to urgently provide clarity on private ECDs and partial care facilities opening in 2021 which falls within the ambit of Social Development.

ECDs have been successfully following the Covid-19 Health and Safety regulations as well as the Department of Social Development’s(DSD) Covid-19 Standard Operating Procedure which was implemented last year.

The DA reminds Minister Zulu and the National Corona Command Council (NCCC) that the best interest of the child must be upheld first and foremost as stated in the Children’s Act, 38 of 2005 and section 28 of the South African Constitution, as well as of Judge Fabricius’ North Gauteng High Court ruling that ECDs are to reopen as soon as possible while adhering to Covid-19 Health and Safety guidelines issued by (DSD).

While the DA is cognisant of the surge in Covid-19 cases across the country, the ECD sector simply cannot afford irrational prolonged closures. The ripple effect of keeping private ECDs and partial care facilities closed are far reaching – affecting parents who must to go to work; ECD practitioners and staff who must earn an income to put food on their tables; and most importantly, the children who need education, safety and nutrition.

Mr. President, it’s time to end the alcohol ban with immediate effect

The Democratic Alliance (DA) calls on President Cyril Ramaphosa and his government to end the economically crippling alcohol ban with immediate effect.

After today’s announcement by South African Breweries (SAB) that they have cancelled another investment of R2.5 billion along with their earlier cancelled investment of R2.5 billion, all being a direct result of the ban on alcohol sales, it is abundantly clear that this ill-thought ban is having devastating economic consequences for South Africa.

So far it is estimated that 165 000 people have lost their jobs due to successive alcohol bans.

In a country that has record unemployment, it is unthinkable that we are forcing people not to work because the government failed in every respect to use the initial lockdown in March 2020 to build extra hospital capacity.

South Africans are paying with their lives and their jobs because President Ramaphosa and his Ministers have not done what they promised us they would do.

For how much longer do wine farmers, craft gin and beer brewers, restaurants and so many other people and industries that rely on the alcohol industry have to suffer because of this governments incompetencies? To make matters even worse, there is zero financial support for these businesses because government choses to bail out Eskom and SAA over our businesses.

The time has come for President Ramaphosa to show leadership over this unfolding economic crisis, solely created by him.

South Africa has already lost billions of Rands in revenue during the last two alcohol bans which contributes to funding hospitals, nurses and doctors. Surely we can’t afford to starve out country of any more revenue?

Liquor legislation has been sitting with the  President Ramaphosa and Parliament for the last 6 years. The DA has made progressive and sensible comments and proposed workable solutions to combat alcohol abuse directly to the Department of Trade and Industry, however, the Cabinet and the President are found wanting when it comes to expediting this legislation. Their concerns of the harms of liquor ring hallow when the facts from Parliament paint a different story.

It’s time to end the ban, get MPs back to work to finalise liquor legislation and to increase hospital capacity as we have been promised. Anything short of this by President Ramaphosa and the Government will continue to cost people their lives and livelihoods.

DA asks Deputy President Mabuza to reconvene Parliament  

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has written to Deputy President David Mabuza, in his capacity as Leader of Government Business, to ask that Parliament be reconvened so that its members can take up their rightful place of executing their sworn oath of office and get back to work.

After exhausting various avenues and numerous requests to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Ms. Thandi Modise, for Parliament to reconvene on urgent matters, I have now reached out to the Deputy President for his intervention.

South Africa is currently facing a barrage of challenges, and Parliament has a duty and resources to address the many issues concerning South Africans. These include:

  1. Confusion, frustration and uncertainty regarding the vaccine programme;
  2. A Home Affairs Department that has been instructed to stop their basic functions such as issuing smart identity documents, marriage licenses and other critical services;
  3. A humanitarian crisis at our borders;
  4. A South African Police Service that has been deployed to stop surfers and anyone trying to enter the sea or estuaries. This, while women and children continue to be raped and murdered at alarming rates;
  5. A hospitality industry literally on its knees as hundreds of establishments shut their doors and cause massive unemployment and permanent economic devastation;
  6. A social grants system that has all but collapsed, and has left the most vulnerable of society treated with indignity, humiliation, and pain;
  7. Car licensing collapsing resulting in many breaking the law due to no fault of their own;
  8. Learners who are terrified of what the academic year ahead holds for them;
  9. Hospital facilities around the country completely unable to assist the ill due to a failure of the Health Department to use the initial hard lockdown period to prepare the system;
  10. Further rolling blackouts which can kill the few businesses that managed to survive the lockdown period, even though the President himself promised the country that blackouts and the effects of the failures at Eskom would be a distant memory for South Africans over five and a half years ago;
  11. An energy sector that remains in the clutches of those who seek to hold on to a monopolistic and outdated system created by Eskom and who refuse to move into a new era of energy supply;
  12. Municipalities across the country unable to deliver the very basic of service due to corruption and incompetence of public servants; and
  13. A Parliament whose Speaker refuses to see the importance of Members of Parliament being called together to act in the best interests of South Africans; call urgent meetings to debate these issues and start the process of rectification before it is literally too late to do anything.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit South Africa’s shores, the DA expressed its willingness to assist the government in its response. This offer is not off the table, and we have consistently given inputs where government was lacking and criticism where the government had failed.

South Africa urgently needs non-partisan solutions and cooperation to assist the government in dealing with this long list of challenges.

Parliament is the vehicle to achieve this. We have a job to do and we should not be stopped from robustly executing our role.

Lack of doctors continue to hamper SASSA’s disability grant applications

Please find attached English soundbite and video by Bridget Masango MP, Afrikaans soundbite by Alexandra Abrahams MP and pictures here, here, here and here.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) once again calls on the Department of Social Development (DSD) to urgently increase its efforts to recruit more medical doctors to assess disability grant applicants.

This follows an oversight inspection at Mitchells Plain South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) Office in Cape Town today with my colleagues DA City of Cape Town Mayco Member for Community Services and Health, Alderman Zahid Badroodien, and DA Member of the Portfolio Committee on Social Development, Alexandra Abrahams MP.

It is clear that the lack of doctors to assess disability grant applicants is one of the major reasons behind the recent inhumane queues and waiting hours outside SASSA offices across the country.

In December last year, SASSA suspended thousands of temporary disability and care dependency grants across the country. Due to the Agency and the DSD’s poor planning, hundreds of applicants descended on various SASSA locations across the country to reapply for these grants and to make other grant-related queries.

This morning at the Mitchells Plain SASSA Office, we found that things are still very much the same despite Minister Lindiwe Zulu’s visits to various SASSA offices in Cape Town yesterday.

The Minister’s visit was clearly just a PR stunt as no tangible changes have been implemented this past week to assist the hundreds of vulnerable disability grant applicants and other grant recipients in desperate need of assistance.

The DA encountered a long queue of applicants and beneficiaries waiting in the rain outside the Mitchells Plain Office. Many had been waiting in the cold for hours.

The Office’s management raised the following challenges:

  • The suspension of temporary disability grants has placed a massive strain on the office;
  • They receive between 150 to 200 clients per day;
  • Closure of certain service centres during the lockdown has contributed to delays and long queues;
  • Government regulations stipulate that only 50% of staff are at the office;
  • The lack of doctors available to assess applicants exacerbating the issue;
  • Lack of doctors at clinics means that applicants must wait even longer to reapply for an assesment dates; and
  • Assessment bookings with doctors are full until the 11th of March.

The backlogs in assessing disability grant cases have been a historic issue within SASSA which has been brought on by the major shortages of doctors contracted by the Agency.

Since last year, before the disability grants crisis turned into this nightmare, the DA appealed to the DSD and SASSA on numerous occasions to bring more doctors into the system to clear the backlogs in assessments. We also called for an extension of the expiring grants until March 2021, to avoid a crisis. These calls fell on deaf ears and now thousands of South Africa’s most vulnerable are in despair.

The DA again urges Mondli Gungubele, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Social Development, to ensure that Minister Zulu be brought before Parliament to account for her department’s mishandling of the temporary disability grant crisis.

February school reopening not in the best interest of learners, health experts must brief Basic Education Committee

The Democratic Alliance (DA) does not support the announcement by the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, that the reopening of schools has been pushed back by two weeks to mid-February 2021, and which has left more questions than answers, including when regulations regarding the reopening would be published.

We strongly believe that the health and safety of learners and teachers should be prioritized, however, we do not believe delaying the start of the academic year will achieve this.

Instead of halting schooling for two weeks, the Department of Basic Education (DBE), in conjunction with school districts should have used the time during the school holiday wisely and worked meticulously to equip schools with proper Covid-resources to keep learners and teachers safe.

The DA is concerned about the impact that this delay could have on the psychological and academic development of learners. The year was already set to start quite late and a further delay could cost learners dearly, with no plan to recover the lost time in learning.

The DA therefore again calls on the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education to be briefed by relevant health experts, the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) and the Departments of Basic Education and Health to ensure that the delay of the reopening of schools was indeed based on empirical proof and not political whim. Further guidance should also be given on the best way to safely reopen schools for both teachers and learners.

Many learners are still coming to terms with the disruptions to the previous academic year, and to suffer through another chaotic school year could have devastating long-term effects on the learners. Particularly those in poorer, less-resourced communities, where children also depend on the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) to provide them with regular, healthy meals.

This delay could also have consequences on school administrators who now have to go through the extra strain of finishing the curriculum in a now shortened school year.

The DA believes that a differentiated approach led by the provinces should be employed in this regard as they are not equally affected by the spread of Covid-19, with secondary waves of infection set to hit different parts of the country throughout the year until enough people are vaccinated to provide herd-immunity. A nation-wide shutdown of schools when certain areas are more highly affected would be highly illogical and damaging to learners. Instead, provincial departments of education and health should work together to determine when and if schools in the various provinces should close for a period of time.

The DBE should also communicate clear regulations as a matter of urgency to ensure that schools have enough time to comply. These regulations should stipulate the exact conditions under which schools could safely reopen, such as:

  • The proper implementation of social distancing protocols at schools.
  • Access to safe PPE, clean water and proper sanitation.
  • An emergency health plan at all schools in response to positive cases.
  • Clear plans to continue schooling for those teachers or learners who suffer from comorbidities.

The DA is of the view that schools that do not adhere to the above-mentioned regulations, cannot reopen until such time that they are compliant.

No mention has been made on the impact the delayed reopening of schools would have on parents who have structured their holidays to take care of their children, but now might struggle to find someone to look after them they return to work.

The DA would also encourage the DBE to urgently engage with the Department of Social Development regarding the reopening of Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres which are vital to communities in terms of child safety, child development and nutrition.

Finally, the DBE should work closely with the Department of Health to prioritise plans around the vaccination of teachers.

The delay in the reopening of schools is unfortunate and will hamper learners’ education careers rather than help them, and therefore an immediate plan to extend the school day must be considered.

Post Office on the brink of collapse… again

Despite R8 billion in bailouts since 2014, the South African Post Office (SAPO) is once again staring bankruptcy in the face, with reports emerging of unpaid rentals and desperate suppliers, postal backlogs and broken ICT systems.

It comes as no surprise therefore to learn of the resignation of the recently appointed CFO, Ms Khathutshelo Ramukumba, after barely two months on the job, in which time the discovery of the shocking state of financial affairs at the SAPO would make any professional think twice.

It was revealed in a court judgement last year that that the SAPO had lost R1,066 billion as at 31 July 2020, putting it well on track to post double that sum. In the absence of any further funding and expenses far exceeding revenue, the SAPO is resorting to the only means to stay afloat – stop paying creditors.

Suppliers are once again being ‘parked’ in a queue for payment, despite all processes required to effect payment followed, including quotation, purchase order, service delivered and invoice presented. All that’s missing is the money to pay them.

Owners of post office buildings leased by the SAPO are once again not being paid, with reports of rentals outstanding for more than 120 days, even as the SAPO starts selling land and properties – its family silver.

IT systems, including the essential on-line ‘track-and-trace’ service, remain non-functional, so customers have no idea of the status of their parcels or mail – registered or otherwise, while the SAPO’s website is a collection of pretty pictures rather than a useful business tool.

Covid protocols are virtually non-existent, especially during the peak grant payment periods, putting the health and welfare of staff and customers alike at risk. And there are no solutions in sight as executives jump ship and staff morale plummets.

It is abundantly clear this lame-duck SAPO cannot fly. Yet unlike SAA, the post office really is an essential lifeline to the outside world for many people, especially in rural or remote areas, and with the largest footprint in the country to boot.

If the SAPO is to be saved, government needs to stop talking about Public Private Partnerships or social compacts with business and actually start implementing them. For an experienced operator with capital to invest, the SAPO can work; part or complete privatisation is the only alternative to bankruptcy.

The Department of Communications needs a new Minister and the SAPO a new owner. If ever there was a moment to hang the sign “Under New Management”, that time is now.

Minister Ntshaveni should fact check herself before she wrecks herself (and the economy)

The Democratic Alliance (DA) call on the Minister of Small Business Development, Khumbudzo Ntshaveni, who is apparently so focused on the importance of facts, to provide not only the DA, but the entire country, with a detailed and up-to-date report that lays out exactly how relief funds allocated to small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) were spent as well as withheld from those both in dire need and deserving of those monies.

This comes after she disputed the DA’s claims around her department’s dismal allocation of the Covid-19 relief funds for SMMEs. Her attempt to grandstand, rather than address the real issue, failed dismally.

The Minister is not famous for her due diligence when it comes to performing the duties associated with her portfolio. As with any Ministerial portfolio, one such duty, if not the most crucial one, is making sure that one relays the facts to those that pay one’s bloated salary.

In fact, relaying the truth to South Africans is not just some unwritten ethical imperative. It is a constitutional duty as per section 195(g) of the Constitution.
It is here, in the realm of distinguishing between facts and fiction for purposes of abiding by the Constitution, where the Minister fails so dismally that her incompetence beggars belief.

The DA recently pointed out that merely R107 million out of a budget of R1.404 billion allocated towards support to qualifying SMMEs affected by Covid-19 has been spent, a meagre 8%.

Whilst these figures are indeed accurate as per page 19 of the Auditor-General’s report, it is at this point that we as the DA, a party that takes pride in our adherence to the principles of accountability, transparency, and overall good governance, must admit to our initial omission of three things:

  1. Mentioning that these figures were accurate as of 30 September 2020, as per the Auditor-General’s second special report into Covid-19 relief funding, and that any new data produced would inevitably differ due to the time that has since elapsed.
  2. That the abovementioned R1.404 billion excludes a further R360 million allocation to SMMEs that are funded by the Department of Trade, Industry, and Competition through the manufacturing competitiveness enhancement programme, along with savings and reprioritisation across the small business portfolio. Of the latter amount, R202 million has been spent.
  3. Of the total amount of R1.764 billion (R1.404 billion plus R360 million), R308.7 million has been spent in support of SMMEs, equaling 17.5%. Whilst this value is admittedly 9.5 percentage points higher than the 8% reported on page 19 of the AG’s report, this is due to the larger proportional disbursement of funds ring-fenced as part of the R360 million, which has the effect of increasing the weighted average of funds spent. Of the R1.404 billion allocation, 92% still remained unspent as of 30 September 2020, however, with total unspent funds thus at 82.5% after including the smaller supplementary allocation.

However, none of this mitigates the Minister’s gross dereliction of duty. What is most discombobulating is Minister Ntshavedi’s reliance on outdated data from 22 May 2020, as per her own Department’s outdated website:

In her response to the DA’s initial press statement along with the letter written to her office to ask that she accounts to the portfolio committee for her omission to execute her duties, the Minister, in a bout of ironic confidence, made the claim that the Department of Small Business Development had only managed to reprioritise R500 million for SMME Debt Relief (she later contradicts herself by stating that it was, in fact, R513 million, as per the aforementioned outdated website).

Yet, the DA never claimed that R1.4 billion was reprioritised for debt relief funding. Instead, the DA merely cited the AG’s figure of R1.404 billion that was allocated towards support to qualifying small, medium and micro enterprises affected by Covid-19, as per page 21 of the second special report, notwithstanding a further allocation of R360 million.

Luckily, on page 222 of the AG’s report, a condensed breakdown of the debt relief finance scheme is given. As of the end of September of last year, the scheme had a budget of R484 billion, not R513 million, with R290.7 million having been disbursed.

At this point it has to be asked: will the Minister order her own department’s website to be updated for the first time in almost 8 months so that it reflects the figures of the Auditor-General, or is the Minister in disagreement with the Auditor-General’s findings even though she lays claim to her support in her retaliatory press statement?

Even after our own adjustments of the figures to include the smaller allocation, the facts still do not bode well for the Minister, with 82.5% of funds not having been spent as of September 2020. What makes this all the more worrying is that a recent study by FinFind showed that 42.7% of small business having shut their doors during the first 5 months of the initial lockdown, with 60% of full-time jobs lost, 76.8% of part-time jobs lost, 54.4% of casual jobs lost, and 41.4% of consultant jobs lost. These figures pertaining to job losses also serve to render the Minister’s claim to having saved many jobs as misguided at best and downright arrogant at worse.

Government lockdown powers must be curbed in 2021

The Democratic Alliances (DA) takes note of the criticism levelled by Human Rights Watch against the South African government and its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The DA believes that the findings underscore our own view that the power of government to impose and prolong states of national disaster, on full display in 2020, has to be curtailed in 2021.

In a report released on Wednesday and covered in Business Day, Human Rights Watch pointed to the government’s mistreatment of vulnerable groups, the prolonged closures of schools and the interruption to the National School Nutrition Programme during the lockdown.

To the list of lockdown-related human rights abuses the DA would add the use of excessive force, including the killing of Collins Khoza, and irrational restrictions on business and work that made it difficult for people to put food on the table.

Post-Covid the ANC will be remembered for three things: one of the world’s longest and hardest lockdowns, the theft of disaster relief funds, and the failure to focus public resources on gaining early and widespread access to a vaccine.

But the risks of SA being governed under a perpetual state of national disaster, with little parliamentary oversight and no parliamentary veto, go beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.

The health and wellbeing of ordinary South Africans should never again be made to depend on the whims and mercies of a corrupt and incompetent governing party.

This is why the DA is challenging the constitutionality of section 27 of the Disaster Management Act in court, but this issue should also be brought to the floor of Parliament.

Depending on the timelines and the outcome of the court case, the DA will this year prepare draft legislation to amend the Disaster Management Act to bring a future lockdown under parliamentary control.

DA calls for urgent Parliament Basic Education Committee meeting on reopening of schools with Health Experts

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has taken note of Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga’s briefing taking place tomorrow in light of swirling rumors and reports suggesting that the government may consider pushing back the reopening of schools.

While we are pleased by the Minister’s imminent address, the DA calls for an urgent meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education to be briefed by relevant health experts and the Departments of Basic Education and Health on the best way to safely reopen schools for both teachers and learners; what the recommendations of the Ministerial Advisory Committee are regarding schools; the consequences of school closures on the learners; and the effect on their future education.  In addition, we need to know the facts regarding the effect of Covid-19 on teachers as opposed to other professions, and what measures are being put in place to ensure that teachers are vaccinated as soon as possible.

Parents and schools need certainty that any decision on schools reopening will be based on empirical evidence – not based on the whims of government.

The prioritization of the health and safety of learners and teachers cannot be undermined, however, the DA does not believe that pushing back the reopening of schools would be wise.

In fact, we believe that such a decision will only do more harm than good.

Every day that children are out of school exacerbates the education crisis in a country already far below international best practice and standards. It further creates inequalities as those who have access to online learning opportunities, whether schools are open or not, will continue to learn, whilst the poor and vulnerable sit at home.

Pushing out the start of the academic year can also have adverse consequences on learners, especially on their psychological and academic development.

Many learners are still coming to terms with the disruptions to the 2020 academic year, particularly as it relates to their physical safety, access to school feeding schemes, and the pressures of distance/hybrid learning where online resources are lacking.

Instead of possibly delaying the reopening of schools, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) should have used this period to ensure that all schools have proper Covid-resources and regulations in place to welcome back teachers and learners. These include:

  • The proper implementation of social distancing protocols at schools.
  • Access to safe PPE, clean water and proper sanitation.
  • An emergency health plan at all schools in response to positive cases.
  • Clear plans to continue schooling for those teachers or learners who suffer from comorbidities.

The DA is of the view that schools that do not adhere to the above-mentioned regulations, cannot reopen until such time that they are compliant.

In addition to this, not all provinces are equally affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, and instead of delaying the reopening of all schools, the DBE should consider a differentiated approach, where Provincial Education Departments should decide, in consultation with their Provincial Health Departments, whether schools need to close or not for a period of time. This will prevent a nationwide shutdown of schools when there is a peak in cases, in individual provinces.

In the meantime, the government must also work on its plans around the vaccination of teachers, as announced by the President earlier this week.

It is for this reason that the DA has called for an urgent meeting between the experts, the Ministerial Advisory Committee, and the Departments of Education and Health in order to get clarity on the above-mentioned concerns.

Load shedding: DA concerned over hospitals and vaccine storage

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has serious concerns about the consequences of the recent series of rolling blackouts announced by Eskom late this morning. In particular, we fear the impact that these blackouts could have on hospitals where people are fighting for their lives on ventilators as well as the repercussions it could have on the administration and the storage of vaccines when they arrive on our shores.

We call on the Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, to give absolute certainty that medical facilities and vaccine storage facilities will be protected against Eskom and his governance incompetence.

It has been 15 years since South Africa first encountered Eskom’s load shedding in 2006, and we have again been dealt this blow by the beleaguered power utility, this time in the middle of South Africa’s deadly Covid-19 second wave.

The Coronavirus pandemic that has had devastating consequences on our health system, and loadshedding will just add to this burden. Just like with the Covid-19 virus, South Africans are now clearly in a double fight for their lives and livelihoods.

Loadshedding will further acutely affect our already limping economy. Businesses which barely survived the devastating effects of the ANC hard economic lockdown, now face the very real possibility of completely shutting down the longer these blackouts continue.

With the extended level 3 lockdown, some companies have opted for their employees to work remotely. How can the government expect anyone – from entire industries to small businesses – to continue to be productive without a stable electricity supply? How can the government expect an economy reeling from its history of poor leadership and strangling lockdown regulations to thrive?

Adding to frustrations, government has instituted a curfew and restricted most outdoor activities. Due to loadshedding, activities at home – where we are now confined – are also being limited.

On 2 September 2015, Cyril Ramaphosa promised: “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”.

Today, after announcing yet another series of rolling blackouts, it is still much the same. We need government to take the energy crisis at Eskom seriously and the latest rounds of loadshedding, together with its 15 year history, is indicative that the ANC is twiddling its thumbs.