18 times government misled SA about Eskom and rolling blackouts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mantashe must go!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The DA mourns the passing of Jackson Mthembu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all about priorities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the DA doing about all this?

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

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

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

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

DA calls for Parliamentary ad hoc committee to oversee Deputy President’s vaccine rollout team

Please find the attached soundbite by Siviwe Gwarube MP.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will write to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise, to request the urgent establishment of a Parliamentary ad hoc committee, in terms of Section 253 of the Rules of the National Assembly and Section 42.3 of the Constitution, to perform oversight over the interministerial committee (IMC) headed by Deputy President David Mabuza that has been announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

It is important that Parliament starts to play its oversight role effectively. The DA has previously called on the establishment of an ad hoc committee to perform oversight over the Executive during the lockdown. The Speaker held at the time that the Portfolio Committee on Health could perform such a function. However, now that an IMC on the rollout of the vaccine plan has been established, a multi-party, multi-portfolio ad hoc committee which will have direct oversight over this IMC is vital.

It is critical now more than ever that the Deputy President and this IMC are directly accountable to Parliament and the people it represents for the life-altering decisions it will be making.

Included in our letter to the Speaker will be a call that the ad hoc committee meets every week with multi-party representation where the IMC can report on their decisions. This will ensure the IMC’s transparency.

Up until now, government has yet to be transparent with the rollout plan of the vaccine. Reports today indicate that the South African government will have to spend double what some other countries are paying for their vaccines – a direct consequence of the fact that government did not plan properly and did not start the negotiations in time. This is why transparency is crucial. We need to have a detailed vaccine rollout plan presented to Parliament for scrutiny and input.

During this important phase of vaccine acquisition, we are yet to know from government how much is being spent on the various vaccine facilities; where the budget is being sourced from and whether the requisite procurement processes are being followed.

Parliament is not just simply there as an inconvenient stakeholder which needs to be briefed on decisions that have already been made. It is there primarily to scrutinize these plans and to represent the people of South Africa fairly and effectively. We cannot do our job of holding government to account if the response to this pandemic is Executive heavy and has absolutely no oversight.

Government’s response to the first wave of the pandemic proved that without proper oversight holding it to account, any plans would simply descend into corruption and looting of public funds as was meant for personal protective equipment (PPE) and other related products. This resulted from the fact that Parliament had no direct oversight on how much money was being spent, how much money was being allocated to provinces or some of the accountability mechanisms for departments.

All that is left of the billions of Rands meant as aid in a devastating worldwide pandemic, is stagnating and obsolete investigations that will not yield the punishment of those who have stolen public money. We cannot allow the same thing to happen again. We cannot allow government to not be held accountable.

We also need to make sure that government is prepared. It’s one thing to acquire a vaccine, it’s a whole other thing entirely to ensure that the vaccine is distributed; is stored well; that it’s not wasted and that it gets to every single corner of the country. This is why it would be crucial for the IMC to report weekly to Parliament on the various stages of the rollout plan.

It’s time for Parliament to truly flex its muscles as the national legislature and oversight body in this country.

No money for Covid vaccines, but cadres demand 10% salary hike

Following recent reports that the ongoing looting of the state means that National Treasury has no money left to pay for life-saving Covid vaccines, it is appalling that some public sector unions are nonetheless demanding that their salaries be increased by as much as 10%. In the current context of profound suffering and rapidly accelerating economic decline, which was engineered by decades of ANC misrule and the government’s heavy-handed lockdown, this demand demonstrates callous disregard for the people of South Africa.

Public sector union leaders appear willing to bankrupt our country as long as they are able to siphon even more money into the pockets of millionaire cadres.

They seem entirely oblivious to the fact that public sector wages have already increased by 66% during the past decade, thereby crowding out funds for productive investment and contributing to the more than 11 million people who are unemployed and the over 30 million people still trapped in desperate poverty.

They appear to simply not care that the state has already lost over R300 billion in tax revenue due to irrational economic fiats issued by their ANC alliance partners.

This demand in the midst of the current crisis has exposed the fundamentally parasitic nature of the ANC elites who have captured the state.

Some of the very same cadres demanding a 10% raise were recently busy destroying our economy through bans on cooked chicken and open-toed shoes while other countries were negotiating to procure life-saving vaccines. The same cadres who demand a 10% increase are simultaneously threatening citizens with even higher taxes after failing to prioritize funds for vaccines over SAA. The same cadres who continue to destroy South Africa’s hospitality and alcohol industries now want to be rewarded with a 10% higher salary.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) will not let them get away with it. We will be writing to Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu, asking him to publicly reject this demand and committing to cutting the wage bill during the upcoming negotiations. We will also use the precedent established by the recent ruling of the Labour Court, which declared the previous 2018 wage agreement unlawful. The court noted that:

Under the present circumstances, it does not appear to be just and equitable to…expend significant and scarce financial resources on employees whose jobs are already secured and salaries have been paid in full, particularly in circumstances where the imperative exists for the recovery of the economy to the benefit of millions of vulnerable people.”

The DA agrees and, if needs be, we will use this same court precedent to defeat this latest attempt by self-serving cadres to bankrupt South Africa.

Minister Zulu hides behind childish accusations to avoid answering critical questions

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is shocked that the Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, avoided answering our questions in a Social Development Portfolio Committee meeting by hiding behind a baseless allegation.

The Minister – who was meant to answer critical questions such as SASSA’s lack of capacity, the lack of doctors to assess disability grants applicants and why she did not issue a ministerial direction to extend the Temporary Disability Grants (TDGs) after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the return to level 3 given the fact that the beneficiaries of this grant are in the high risk category – resorted to obfuscation to distract from her department’s bungling of the disability grants crisis.

The Minister refused to answer questions by claiming that I had called her a prima-donna in a previous statement. The DA has never resorted to calling the Minister a prima-donna in any statement, but we do agree that the Minister’s description, that she pulled from her own imagination, is an apt one.

She certainly fits the definition of “a very temperamental person with an inflated view of their own talent or importance” to a tee. If only she would use her talent or importance to better the lives of those desperate and unfortunate beneficiaries in her care, instead of hiding behind lies to avoid accountability for the atrocities perpetrated by her Department against them.

If the Minister does wish to attribute such an insult to a member of an opposition party, Honourable Bantu Holomisa from the UDM called the Ministers collectively prima-donnas in a 2020 interview with 702. It’s clear that Minister Zulu feels this shoe fits.

Minister Zulu must stop playing childish games and focus on finding an urgent solution to the humanitarian crisis playing out on her doorstep. The Minister today dithered and dodged any and every opportunity she had to face accountability and wasted Parliament and the people’s time.

Unless she sorts out the disability grants-catastrophe, the blood of the people that have died from hunger (and the death of the man shot at a SASSA queue this week) will be on her hands.

She should hang her head in shame, or better yet, President Ramaphosa should fire her.

Government and the President’s deadly vaccine lies must stop now

Please find attached a soundbite by John Steenhuisen MP

President Ramaphosa’s solemn assurance that his government has been negotiating for the supply of Covid-19 vaccines for the past six months is fast being unmasked as a damage-control lie. The latest exposure of this lie comes in the form of a recorded phone conversation between a Pfizer employee and a Northern Cape businessman in which it is revealed that the pharmaceutical company tried, over and over for many months, to enter into talks with the SA government, to no avail.

Aside from an initial conversation in July last year and one subsequent meeting with the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines (MAC) – which provided no further guidance on government’s vaccination plans – government showed no interest in pursuing negotiations until it was far too late.

And Pfizer is not the only example of this. Earlier it was revealed by Johnson and Johnson – who have been testing and producing vaccines right here in SA in partnership with Aspen Pharmacare – that government showed no initial interest in pursuing their vaccine and even cancelled their scheduled meeting back in August. By the time government finally sprang into action, it was too late as all 300 million doses had been snapped up by other countries. And I know of yet another reputable manufacturer who confirmed a similar story to me.

It is clear that President Ramaphosa has now embarked on a desperate mission to soften this narrative in order to exonerate his government of its biggest and deadliest failure of the entire Covid crisis. Compare the ANC government’s repeated shunning of Pfizer’s attempts to enter into talks with that of the Israeli government, whose prime minister had personally spoken to the Pfizer CEO 17 times over the course of several months last year to secure vaccines. Israel is now on track to have all its adult citizens vaccinated by the end of March. We don’t even have a single vaccine in the country yet.

This is a shameful failure, on par with government’s delay in rolling out life-saving antiretrovials (ARVs) for HIV positive South Africans two decades ago, which resulted in an estimated 300,000 premature deaths. It is a failure that should – and elsewhere would – bring down a government. Consider that the entire Dutch government resigned last week following a scandal over child benefits. Their Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, took full responsibility for the scandal on behalf of his cabinet and said they had no choice but to collectively resign.

I have seen commentators in the media and on social media wryly joking about the Dutch cabinet resignation in comparison to our own government. But it is no joke. We have to demand the same level of accountability from ours. We cannot simply say “this is the ANC, so don’t expect the same”. The Pfizer revelation cannot remain a solitary news report, after which we wipe the slate clean and brace for the next scandal. Every watchdog in our society – from opposition parties to civil society to the media – has to demand real accountability, and not stop demanding it until it happens.

This is why the DA instructed its lawyers to write to President Ramaphosa on Monday demanding that he respond, within seven days, with the full timeline and minutes of government’s dealings with all vaccine suppliers. He must also provide a detailed rollout plan for the vaccination programme including vaccine type, confirmed quantities of each, delivery dates of each, storage and transport arrangements, rollout priority, and their plan to communicate all of this to citizens.

We have informed him that should he not respond within seven days, or should his response be unsatisfactory, we will be left with no choice but to approach the courts to compel him to do so. It will not be the first time the ANC government finds itself on the wrong side of such a legal challenge, as their delayed and secretive ARV programme two decades ago was met with a similar, successful court action.

Our country cannot afford another year like 2020. We have no reserves to absorb the economic impact, and it is clear we have already run out of money to mitigate the effects of lockdowns. Our only ticket out of this is the fast and widespread rollout of a vaccination plan. The ANC government has botched this, and they will have to bear the full responsibility – both legally and electorally.

But right now they also have to do everything they can to make up lost time and to get our delayed vaccination programme back on track. And the first step is to come clean on all the lies and give South Africans the unvarnished truth. If they want cooperation from citizens in this critical programme, they cannot deceive them any longer.