DA welcomes move to Alert Level 1, but requires far more detail on government’s vaccine rollout.

The DA welcomes the announcement that the country will move to lockdown to Alert Level One, along with the easing of restrictions on alcohol sales and gatherings and the shortening of the curfew. Our sole focus, as a country, should be on rolling out a comprehensive vaccination programme and rebuilding our economy.  We cannot substitute these with destructive lockdowns.

It is critical that we greatly accelerate our vaccination programme, and that government provide clarity on where these vaccines will be coming from, in what quantities, and by when. Receiving tiny batches of 80,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines at a time is not the success government is making it out to be. Similarly, claiming to have secured millions of doses means little if there is no committed delivery date. “Quarter two” is not a date.

While we welcome tonight’s announcement, it has to be said that it comes too late for thousands of businesses owners and their employees who have lost their livelihoods due to these ongoing restrictions. Without the means to assist affected businesses, government’s decision to shut down the entire hospitality and tourism sector cannot be justified. These businesses were effectively forced by government to shut their doors, with almost no access to financial relief.

It is also imperative that lockdowns don’t become South Africa’s new load-shedding – switching them on and off and moving up and down between levels as our situation changes. Our economy cannot withstand these fluctuations and, more than anything else, business owners require some level of predictability and stability if they are to be able to plan ahead. No business can survive the uncertainty that the threat of a return to lockdown presents.

Our only aim should now be to rebuild what this lockdown destroyed.

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DA welcomes suspension of Arts Council CEO and CFO

The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomes the suspension of Rosemary Mangope, the CEO of the National Arts Council (NAC), and its CFO, Clifton Changfoot, pending an investigation of the Council’s management of the Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme (PESP) meant as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic and its devastating effect on the arts and culture sector in South Africa.

The DA called for the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, to launch an urgent independent investigation after the NAC announced that it does not intend to honour contracts with more than 600 artists for projects that have already commenced, and that the Agency expected these artists to renegotiate contracts for only half the rate they had initially agreed on.

The DA expects the investigation to be fully transparent and that the report should be tabled before the Parliamentary portfolio committee on sports, arts and culture as soon as possible after the investigation’s completion.

The arts and cultures sector are bleeding as never before. Every person in that sector is hanging on by a thread – many people are literally starving, and instead of supporting the sector, the NAC has consistently added to the worry and pressure of the industry with its incompetence and bureaucracy. This cannot be allowed to continue. The NAC should have all its dead wood chopped off. It’s time to let people who are competent and compassionate take the wheel.

Millions of Rands and thousands of animals lost to stock theft in SA

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has put through a raft of tough questions to the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, regarding rapidly increasing instances of stock theft.

Unchecked stock theft is fast becoming one of the gravest challenges to South African farmers, as they wake each day expecting to find hundreds of their cattle or sheep or goats have been stolen. This on top of murderous farm attacks, the drought, and the constant threat of expropriation of their farms with zero compensation has our farmers at breaking point.

Between July and September last year, there were 7 339 cases of stock theft countrywide, which saw over 26 300 sheep and 14 000 cattle stolen.

In one area of Gauteng alone, it is costing farmers R1 million a month. Reports are flooding into the DA from every province in the country as stock theft soars. Sadly, such is their lack of confidence in the South African Police Service (SAPS) today, that frequently farmers don’t bother to report the thefts.

In the Eastern Cape (EC) during December, it has been reported that 36 farms suffered thefts of hundreds of animals, and it is known that syndicates are operating from Queenstown to East London. Again, few farmers bother to inform the police of their losses. Why? Because arrests are rare, recoveries of the animals negligible and convictions are barely a blip on the syndicates’ radar. Add into that mix the constant references to links between the syndicates and SAPS members, and that distrust of the SAPS is understandable.

80 EC farmers reported mass stock thefts over the four months from October last year to the end of January this year.

As the commercial farmers spend more and more on security cameras and patrols through the night, so the syndicates turn to stealing from emerging farmers whose livelihoods and lives are at equal threat as those of commercial farmers.

There are similar reports from the Free State – although it seems the SAPS there have clamped down on giving out any detection or conviction rates.

KwaZulu-Natal has 15 of the top 30 stations in terms of dealing with major stock theft – with 8 in the Eastern Cape, 2 in the Free State and 1 in the North West. These 30 stations represent over 20% of all stock theft in the country. 12 towns in Free State reported the highest stats in last 5 years, with the border towns reflecting the highest number of thefts.

Gauteng farmers are experiencing an explosion in stock theft, with the Hekpoort/Magalies area losing around R1 million each and every month.

This year the trend has skyrocketed, and the horrific numbers in Gauteng prove this. In Tshwane last year there were 51 cases of stock theft reported. In just the first 45 days of this year, there have been 45.

On the West Rand there were 38 cases in 2020, and there have been 28 cases in just the first 45 days of this year.

Compared with last year, for example, when the Minister of Police finally admitted that stock theft was a nightmare and swore that he would improve the situation, things have gone from bad to worse.

To put it into perspective, according to the National Stock Theft Prevention Forum, livestock to the value of R1.24 billion has been stolen in South Africa during the 2018/2019 year.

In Mpumalanga, there were 865 cases opened involving stock theft in the last quarter, while in North West Province a farmer hired a helicopter to track down his stolen bull to a farm owned by a man who works at the Department of Education as Director-General. On that same farm other cattle were found which belonged to three different owners, and hundreds of other cattle and calves were seized.

This only happened because the farmer took it upon himself to search for his R120 000 bull.

By highlighting this issue to the Minister, the DA hopes that SAPS may be moved to step away from their interminable in-fighting, and deal with the crime that is hitting our farmers so hard here in South Africa.

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Exclusion of oral submissions by the Section 25 Ad-hoc committee is a violation of the Constitution 

Democratic Alliance (DA) members of Parliament (MPs) on the Section 25 ad hoc committee, tasked with the 18th Constitutional Amendment Bill, will submit a statement of objection to the Chairperson of the Committee, Mathole Motshekga, on his unconstitutional ruling denying a request by organisations which had requested to make oral submissions before the committee on the Bill. We will ask that this statement of objection be read and put on record in the Ad-hoc committee’s next scheduled sitting.

In his rush to meet deadlines, Motshekga is short-circuiting parliamentary processes and denying South Africans their right to be heard on one of the most consequential pieces of legislation since the dawn of democracy. Today, with the support of the EFF, he erroneously made a ruling based on procedure to deny a request by interested organisations to make oral submissions on the Bill before the committee.

Motshekga’s actions are inconsistent with Constitutional provisions on public participation and Parliament’s obligations on public involvement in its processes. Section 56 of the Constitution enjoins the National Assembly to “receive… representations or submissions from any interested persons or institutions”, while section 59 requires the “National Assembly to facilitate public involvement in the legislative and other processes of the Assembly and its committees”.

By denying interested organisations from making oral submissions, Motshekga has wilfully violated the Constitution and contaminated the whole public participation process on the proposed amendment. The DA’s statement of objection will make it clear that Motshekga, the ANC and the EFF should bear full responsibility for this blatant violation of the Constitution.

The DA reiterates its position that we will not allow this committee to railroad us into a rubber-stamping exercise that negates the voices of our compatriots. Failure by the committee to validate the public participation process will only invite judicial contestation on the resultant legislation.

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Creecy’s court action will delay the awarding of fishing rights once again

The Democratic Alliance (DA) notes the decision by the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbary Creecy, to approach the Courts to review and set aside the process for the awarding of small-scale fishing rights in the Western Cape.

This decision will again delay the Western Cape’s traditional fishing communities from access to fighting rights.

According to the Department, this step was taken by the Minister following complaints regarding the validity of the process. Whilst it is imperative that these processes are undertaken in a transparent and fair manner, it is a huge blow for those who have participated in the process thus far.

The DA does not believe that the current steps taken by the Department to address the needs of small-scale fishers are adequate and challenges remain with the implementation of the cooperatives system.

The allocation of small-scale fishing rights works best when fishers are able to fish close to their own communities.
It is becoming clear that many of the attempts to resolve issues relating to fishing allocations by national government continue to be fraught with administrative problems.

The DA would welcome an open discussion on the possibility of the Western Cape government taking on certain responsibilities from national government with regards to fishing right allocations. We also believe that local law enforcement agencies can be given more authority to help deal with poaching along our coasts.

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DA seeks transparency over SAA’s vanity vaccine flight to Brussels

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will submit a parliamentary question to Pravin Gordhan, the Minister of Public Enterprises, in order to obtain full details of the costs and reasons for the use of a massive SAA jetliner to fly to Brussels to collect a very small consignment of apparently only 80 000 Covid-19 vaccine doses.

It would clearly have been considerably cheaper to use the services of a normal commercial freight carrier from Brussels than the estimated cost of some R5.5 million of sending an empty jetliner all the way to Belgium and to return with a payload that could apparently be carried in a one-ton bakkie.

Whilst Nonny Mashika, Deputy Director-General for Aviation at the Department of Public Enterprises, has apparently claimed that the flight to Brussels was carrying freight it seems that this freight was not of a commercial nature and consisted of spare parts for the aircraft being used in order to avoid delays if the aircraft needs repairs en route or in Brussels.

This flight clearly has two main purposes:

  1. To pass more taxpayer funds to SAA as yet another bailout; and
  2. To create an event to “relaunch” SAA into the sky.

Whilst the estimated amount of R5.5 million that the Brussels flight will cost the taxpayer is relatively small when compared with the R31 billion bailouts over the current three years contained in the SAA business rescue plan, it must be compared with the desperate needs of businesses failing and jobs being lost as a result of the ANC imposed and irrational Covid-19 lockdown regulations.

We anticipate that the arrival of the SAA vanity vaccine flight from Brussels on Saturday, 27 February 2021, will be greeted with great fanfare and media attention. The message will clearly be that, despite SAA apparently not being in a position to legally fly any aircraft, the airline will be touted as being “back in business.”

The SAA flights to and from Brussels are possibly unsafe and are apparently being undertaken without following all air traffic regulations. Apparently, some of these contraventions are:

  • Flight crew that was apparently not given the legally required training by an accredited training facility. They were supposedly given training at huge cost, apparently exceeding R100 000, at an unaccredited training facility owned by an SAA pilot who is not locked out by the Business Rescue Practitioners (BRPs). The accredited SAA flight training facility could not be used as the pilots accredited to do the training have been locked out by the BRPs.
  • Although apparently only required for passenger flights, the obligatory test flight of the aircraft used was not undertaken as all SAA accredited test pilots have been locked out. What this means is that any “relaunch” of SAA passenger flights will be a farce unless the accredited pilots are reinstated.

A great deal of pressure was allegedly brought to bear on Poppy Khoza, Director of Civil Aviation (SACAA), to issue exemptions for the SAA Brussels flight and she apparently issued 13 exemptions that made the SAA Brussels flight possible.

Whilst the first touted SAA flight to fetch vaccines was prevented from being undertaken for regulatory reasons, the SAA Brussels flight is apparently being undertaken despite the reasons for the first flight apparently being blocked seemingly existing for the Brussels flight. We have been told that the SAA General Manager who correctly blocked the first SAA vaccine flight was severely reprimanded by Minister Gordhan for doing so.

In addition to the aviation regulations that have apparently not been adhered to, it seems that the provisions of the PFMA were ignored in the process of awarding the tender for the Brussels vaccine trip to SAA.

Whilst the DA will submit parliamentary questions to the Minister to obtain the facts surrounding the SAA Brussel vaccine flight, we don’t anticipate a full disclosure but instead a likely obfuscation that has become Gordhan’s trademark.

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DA undertakes oversight tour to assess progress in interventions on Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will undertake a national oversight tour of all 9 provinces to assess the implementation, success and shortcomings of government’s interventions as they relate to Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities.

We will assess progress in the sphere of youth unemployment. Young people continue to be unemployed irrespective of their education level. More alarming is that the rate of unemployment of young people between the ages of 25-34 years is more than double that of people in the age bracket of 45-54 years old. National and local government must ensure that job creation and youth empowerment is at the forefront of their agenda and that they are equipped with the necessary entrepreneurial skills to build businesses and employ more young people.

The oversight will also focus on gender-based violence and femicide and the implementation of the National Strategic Plan (NSP) in Provinces and local governments.

The DA will be visiting Thuthuzela Care Centres, victim support centres, the Commission of Gender Equality and community organisations to assess the roll-out of the government interventions on GBVF and its implications on the ground. In order to assess if the NSP is working for the womxn of South Africa, it is imperative that the DA is on the ground and visit sites that directly work in its implementation of programmes directed at eradicating violence against womxn, children and the LGBTIQA+ community.

Finally, the oversight tour will look at NGOs and disability centres in order to raise awareness about the challenges that persons with disabilities still face in this country and find out if these centres are well maintained by provincial governments.

The oversight programme is as follows:

Western Cape – 26 & 27 February 2021:

  • Centre for disabled persons, womxn shelter and LGBTQI+ shelter in Cape Town

North West – 1 March 2021:

  • Visit to the Maarifa Project
  • Disability Centre Kanana Township

Free State – 8 March 2021:

  • Thuthuzela Care Centre and NYDA Office in Bloemfontein

KwaZulu-Natal – 15 March 2021:

  • CGE Offices in Durban
  • Mzamo Child Guidance and Training initiatives

Limpopo – 22 March 2021:

  • CGE offices in Limpopo

Mpumalanga- 26 March 2021:

  • Mpumalanga victim support centre for abused women in Middleburg

Northern Cape- 19 March 2021:

  • NYDA Office in Kimberely

 Gauteng – 29 March 2021:

  • NYDA Head Office
  • Youth for Survival Project

Eastern Cape – 2 April 2021:

  • NYDA Office in Port Elizabeth
  • ERAP Disability Centre in Port Elizabeth

At the end of the oversight tour, the DA will table an action plan to the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities based on our findings.

The DA has and continues to fight tirelessly to put forward alternative plans to alleviate joblessness, poverty and violence. Our duty is to take this responsibility, own it and see this dream realised together.

DA asks Minister to investigate NAC contract breaks with more than 600 artists

Please find attached soundbite from Veronica van Dyk MP.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will write to the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, to ask that he urgently institutes an independent investigation into the National Art Council’s (NAC) announcement that it would only pay artists half of the funds for contracted projects.

Last year, contracts were reportedly signed with 613 artists, of whom many have started with their projects and who have contracted people to work on said projects.

The NAC’s U-turn is a slap in the face of the arts and culture sector that has been brought to its knees. Many people that work in these sectors have to decide to spend what little money they have on either expenses to travel to rehearsals or food for the day. They do not have enough funds to do both. They have lost homes and loved ones to the Covid-19 pandemic, and few have received more than broken promises from government.

This latest transgression to the industry is not just insulting, it also constitutes contract break. The outgoing NAC board, whose term ended at the end of December 2020, knew exactly how much money would be provided by the Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme (PESP). They decided the terms of the contracts and artists signed those contracts and started their projects in good faith. The new NAC board, whose term started in January this year, can surely not hope to get away with the illegal breaking of these contracts.

One of the NAC board members, Dr. Sipho Sithole, reportedly said that the council knew that artists would be unhappy and that they expect some will try and take the council to court. Is the NAC so casual about legal prosecution because they know that few in the industry can afford lengthy and expensive court action?

The NAC might try to spin this contract break as intent to fund more projects, but the fact of the matter is the council is leaving artists that have found gainful employment from already established projects in the lurch. They are once again allowing artists suffering and stress, after giving them a glimmer of hope.

The NAC’s reputation has been suffering for years, and rightly so. Unfortunately, the council is not just destroying its own legacy; the livelihoods, and by extension the lives of artists are going up in flames as well. And all because of the incompetence and hubris of a few.

Minister Mthethwa’s own hands are dripping with the blood of an entire industry. He can start atoning by ensuring a speedy and independent investigation and ensuring that artists do not get the short end of the stick again.

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Cuts to social grants to bail out failing SOEs are morally indefensible

The announcement of cuts to budget allocation for social expenditure in the 2021 Budget is proof that the ANC government cares more about vanity projects than poor people.

These cuts will see expenditure on grants decrease substantially over the next three years. It is morally indefensible to be cutting funding from pro-poor spending programmes, in order to bail out defunct State-Owned Enterprises (SEOs) like South African Airways (SAA), Eskom and the Land Bank.

The meagre 1% increase in social grants below inflation rates will disproportionately push the poor deeper into poverty. The poor and most vulnerable should not pay the price for years of bad government and profligacy. Government spending on the poor should be protected from cuts at all costs.

The ANC government’s obsession with vanity projects comes at a huge cost to poor communities who rely on social grants to put food on the table for their families.

The Democratic Alliance’s (DA) alternative budget on the other hand budgeted for social grant increases of R30.1 billion over three years. And no new bailouts for SOEs as these will come at the cost of cuts to basic service delivery and that is exactly what has happened.

This shows our commitment to protecting inflationary increases in social grants, health, and education, something the ANC’s budget has failed to do.

When compared to our alternative budget, the ANC’s budget shows that they do not care about the poor.

It is unconscionable to throw money and valuable resources down a bottomless pit.

Last year has been a particularly tough one for most people, millions of South Africans lost their jobs due to Covid-19, and this decision to cut social expenditure will disproportionately push the poor deeper into poverty.

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Make a national state of disaster subject to the same procedural constraints that already apply to a state of emergency in our law

We must have parliamentary oversight and make a national state of disaster subject to the same procedural constraints that already apply to a state of emergency in our law. After all, the risks of the abuse of power under a state of national disaster are similar to those historically associated with a state of emergency.

Every time the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, extends the national state of disaster without consulting Parliament, we are being habituated to a new constitutional convention.

This convention holds that the proper response to anything deemed by government as a national disaster is to shut up and comply with the ensuing ministerial diktats, finish and klaar.

The Disaster Management Act leaves Parliament with no formal and direct supervisory role over these decisions, even as it transfers extensive legislative powers to the national executive for indefinite periods of time. So much for the legislative authority of Parliament.

Opposition MPs are free to ask ministerial questions and call for reports in portfolio committees. But we have had to go to court to get crucial information such as the reasoning behind lockdown regulations and the details of the government’s Covid-19 vaccine roll-out plan.

Recently, the penny dropped for a few free-speech activists when they realised, with horror, that in this election year, all political events are currently banned. Even if the ban is lifted in the coming weeks, it can readily be reimposed by the stroke of a ministerial pen, regardless of whether there are less restrictive means to curb a third wave of the pandemic.

This command-and-control mode of government does not accord with the open and democratic society envisaged by our Constitution. And so, the DA has gone to court to challenge the constitutionality of section 27 of the act, the lynchpin of government power under a national state of disaster. Depending on the outcome of the case, we will also table amendments to the act in Parliament.

Our goal is not to tie national government’s hands behind its back. Of course, governments need temporary, extraordinary powers to deal with temporary, extraordinary circumstances such as emergencies and disasters. Our case is against the lack of substantial checks and balances on how national disaster powers are exercised – an enormous loophole for the abuse of power that will not magically close after Covid-19 has been defeated.

In terms of the act, the power to declare a national state of disaster is in the hands of one person – the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. The incumbent in that job isn’t famous for her love of accountability. But in the near future we might have an even worse minister: someone like Jessie Duarte, perhaps, serving in something like an Ace Magashule administration.

What constitutes a national disaster is so vaguely defined that the decision almost amounts to a discretion. Once such a national state of disaster is declared, the self-same minister then obtains the power to make regulations and issue directions concerning vast swathes of ordinary life – and to authorise others to do the same. And before the national state of disaster expires, the same minister has the power to extend such a national state of disaster for a period of one month at a time, ad infinitum.

The DA’s solution? Make a national state of disaster subject to the same procedural constraints that already apply to a state of emergency in our law. After all, the risks of the abuse of power under a state of national disaster are similar to those historically associated with a state of emergency.

More specifically, we want the minister to table a declaration of national disaster in Parliament as soon as possible after it has been gazetted, along with all regulations made and directions issued under such a declaration. We want the declaration to include reasons the disaster in question cannot be dealt with under existing legislation.

We want Parliament, not the minister acting on her own, to have the power to authorise the extensions of a national state of disaster. And, most importantly, we want the National Assembly to have the power to vote down any subordinate legislation made under such a declaration following a public debate.

What’s the use of a parliamentary debate and vote, especially given that the president and the minister’s party is likely to have a majority in Parliament? At the very least, the public will have prior notice of the measures the government intends to take to curb an event deemed a national disaster, and a prior explanation as to why these measures are necessary.

If such parliamentary supervision existed in our law, maybe the defects in the research and reasoning behind the cigarette ban would have been discovered before the ban was imposed, and not months down the line in the Western Cape High Court.

And maybe if Parliament had insight into deliberations of the National Command Council, government would’ve been prompted, months ago, to make the procurement of the vaccine its top priority.

But the most compelling argument for giving Parliament a supervisory role in a national state of disaster concerns the future, not the past. SA is not immune to new strands of authoritarianism.