If government “appreciates challenging views of scientists”, why gag them?

Please find attached soundbite from John Steenhuisen MP.

The censoring of scientists by the Medical Research Council (MRC), along with a grovelling apology issued by its board chairperson, Professor Johnny Mahlangu, to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, makes a mockery of President Ramaphosa’s statement last night when he said: “We appreciate the diverse and sometimes challenging views of the scientists and health professionals in our country, which stimulate public debate and enrich our response.”

This gagging and grovelling follows a campaign of bullying of the President of the MRC, Professor Glenda Gray, after she spoke critically in an interview of aspects of the lockdown response. The bullying culminated in a letter sent from the acting Director General of the Health Department, Dr Anban Pillay, to the MRC on Friday instructing them to investigate Gray.

These actions of intimidation aimed at silencing opposing views are not acceptable in our open democracy, and particularly not in the circumstances of a pandemic response that requires constant updating and amending. We need a wide range of views to be heard. Now more than ever the principles of transparency and accountability are of critical importance. We cannot tolerate the authoritarian censorship of those who raise their concerns.

President Ramaphosa was being disingenuous when he said on live on TV that government welcomes challenging views of scientists. The exact opposite is true. Government is doing everything in its power to shut down the growing wave of dissenting views in the scientific community. The MRC members should have the freedom to express their opinions, even if these do not align perfectly with those of government. There is no point in co-opting 50 scientists onto government’s Ministerial Advisory Committee if they are all expected to hold and express the exact same view on all aspects of the Covid19 response.

Minister Mkhize was entirely within his rights to disagree with Professor Gray, which he duly did in a rebuttal piece. But for the Director General of his Department to write to the MRC instructing an investigation into her conduct, along with veiled threats of revealing other unnamed issues from unnamed sources, is simply unacceptable. It is equally unacceptable that the MRC capitulated the way they did before government’s bullying.

Government has already lost credibility in its Covid19 response by failing to supply the model and data on which it based its decision to place South Africa in the longest hard lockdown in the world – a decision that will cause untold suffering for an entire generation of South Africans. Gagging dissenting voices in the scientific community will certainly cost it whatever credibility might be left.

Click here to contribute to the DA’s legal action challenging irrational and dangerous elements of the hard lockdown in court

Lifting of the hard lockdown comes a full six weeks too late

The DA welcomes the announcement by the President that large swathes of the economy will be opened up, subject to hygiene, mask and distancing protocols, as we move to Alert Level 3 of the lockdown on 1 June. This is in line with what the DA has called for, repeatedly, for the past month. For clarity on the DA’s position on the Covid19 response and the lockdown crisis, please see our FAQ document here.

While it is critical that we now save what can be saved in our economy, it must be said that by the time Alert Level 3 comes into effect in a week’s time, it will be a full six weeks too late. There was no rational justification to extend the hard lockdown beyond the initial three weeks, and this extension has now caused irreparable damage to our economy. The resulting hardship and suffering – and ultimately, the premature deaths of South African citizens due to this – will have been largely avoidable. Government and President Ramaphosa will need to answer for this.

South Africa has now entered its ninth week of hard lockdown, which makes ours the second-longest lockdown in the world, after only Italy. By 1 June, we will have surpassed Italy. Our economy could barely withstand the initial three weeks. This extension has come at an enormous cost to millions, and there is very little to show for it in return.

For the past month and a half, South Africans have had to sit at home and watch everything they had built up fall apart. Businesses went bust, employees went unpaid, rents accumulated, home loan payments were missed and hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs. This figure will soon be millions, as the effects of this lockdown reverberate through our economy. And people did this – they sat at home and watched it collapse – because they were told this was their end of the deal. Their part of the so-called social compact President Ramaphosa speaks of.

But the other end of this deal never materialised. Government didn’t use the past five weeks to ready itself for the wave of infections. And it didn’t use the time to find and help those South Africans most in need. The additional R350 grant has still not kicked in, apart from a ten-person pilot, and many businesses have still not received a cent in TERS funding. Citizens sacrificed everything while government reneged on the deal. And there has been no comprehensive reporting on healthcare readiness, other than in the Western Cape, where Premier Alan Winde has consistently been transparent.

So while the DA welcomes this move to Alert Level 3, we must stress that it comes far too late for millions of South Africans who have already paid heavily for government’s dithering. And why should this only come into effect a week from now? This lockdown is costing our economy around R13 billion a day. The President must end it tomorrow, not next week.

And even now, at Alert Level 3, the irrational regulations and exclusions remain. There is no reason for businesses such as hair salons to remain shut, if they can operate under the same health protocols as other businesses. There is also no reason at all for cigarettes to remain banned, as most smokers have not given up smoking and are simply buying their illicit cigarettes elsewhere. We call on President Ramaphosa to provide us with the scientific justification for the continuation of this ban, which is costing our country hundreds of millions of Rands in missed tax revenue.

We also need the President to fill in the biggest missing piece of the puzzle: the plan to fix the past six weeks of economic devastation and the past decade of mismanagement and looting. There can be no more delay when it comes to spelling out the bold economic reforms we need. Due to the government’s dithering, an economic depression is already baked into the cake. Unless we immediately implement structural reforms, which include selling and privatising SOEs, scrapping destructive plans like EWC and NHI, and dramatically cutting the public wage bill, an entire generation of South Africans will be left to pay the price for the six weeks that destroyed our economy.

Click here to contribute to the DA’s legal action challenging irrational and dangerous elements of the hard lockdown in court

Help us end this lockdown crisis

Click here to contribute to the DA’s legal action challenging irrational and dangerous elements of the hard lockdown in court.

Today, the DA announced the court action we are taking to end the national hard lockdown that is tearing our society and economy to pieces.

This afternoon, our lawyers will file papers in the High Court challenging the rationality of three separate lockdown-related decisions: the night curfew, the restrictions on e-commerce and the limited 3-hour window for exercise. These cannot be justified and should be immediately reversed.

Tomorrow, our lawyers will be filing court papers challenging the constitutionality of the Disaster Management Act. Because if the Act does not meet constitutional muster, it means the decisions taken by the National Command Council under this Act are not valid.

This is an extremely important case, because it speaks to one of the most crucial principles in our democracy, the separation of powers. We have an executive branch of government (cabinet) and a separate legislative branch (parliament) for very good reason.

The State of Disaster we are currently under, governed by the Disaster Management Act, has zero provision for oversight. The secretive NCC answers to no one.

A State of Emergency, which confers sweeping executive power and is a further step up from a State of Disaster, has parliamentary oversight. So there is no logical reason that a State of Disaster would not have this. This surely could not have been the intention of the authors of the Disaster Management Act.

But right now, because of this lack of oversight, the executive is effectively doing the job of writing our laws and regulations as they please, bypassing all the debate and possible opposition that would have happened in parliament.

We have to fight this, because from here our democracy finds itself on a very slippery slope.

The DA will be asking the court to apply the same oversight provisions to the State of Disaster as to the State of Emergency. Without this oversight, petty, power-drunk, would-be authoritarians have free reign to take irrational decisions that destroy lives.

We are asking South Africans to assist us in this fight to protect our democratic freedoms. We have to do this, and we have to do this now.

South Africa cannot afford another two weeks of hard lockdown. It is destroying thousands of businesses and millions of jobs and lives.

We must fight back against being imprisoned by a night curfew enforced by armed soldiers and against the slew of irrational, petty regulations that do nothing but kill businesses, destroy jobs and turn decent people into criminals.

We must question the constitutionality of having these decisions passed down by a secretive sub-group of the Executive with no clearly defined authority.

The dual purpose of the initial 3-week national hard lockdown was to buy time to prepare hospitals (raise the line) and find a better way to slow the spread of the virus (flatten the curve).

When the President announced the 2-week extension to the initial hard lockdown, the DA warned it would be an economic disaster, and we were right.

The past 4 weeks have already baked into our economy a depression that will take a generation to recover from.

President Ramaphosa’s speech last night offered no evidence that he understands that this indefinite national lockdown is a tragic and costly mistake, no evidence that he is willing or able to end it swiftly.

The President knows as well as I do that a surge in infections is coming, whether we lockdown or not.

South Africa needs to make the best possible use of the resources of the state, to save lives. Instead of the state locking up soup kitchen workers and achar sellers, let us rather focus their attention on finding people who are at real risk and helping them to isolate.

Those with co-morbidities such as diabetes and hypertension are vulnerable and should remain locked down. Many of them cannot do so where they live, and the state can play a crucial role.

Let us put on our masks, wash our hands, keep some space around us, and then go out there and try and rescue what we can of our economy so that people can earn a living and feed their families and so that we can continue to fund and grow our healthcare system.

The threat posed by this lockdown crisis is so much greater than the threat of the virus, that we have no choice but to end the hard lockdown now and start our economy up.

And so the DA is asking people to help fund this legal process through a small contribution. Perhaps people have been feeling powerless to help. Now they can go to our website (https://donate.da.org.za/p/dacourtaction) or our Facebook page and contribute to our legal fight back.

There they can also co-sign my letter to the President asking for the hard lockdown to be lifted.

If the President is unable to make this decision, then help us make it for him. It is in South Africa’s interest that we succeed.

National hard lockdown must end

President Ramaphosa delivered a speech but said very little. Essentially, he doubled down on what has been a tragically flawed approach that has wreaked catastrophic, unnecessary and possibly irreparable damage to our country.

South Africa’s economy and society must be opened up now, to save lives and livelihoods from all types of risks, not just Covid.

We repeat our call for the national lockdown to end swiftly. It is not a rational strategy, and has not been so for weeks. It is irrational and disproportionate to the scale of the risk that Covid poses, relative to other risks. And it has not been supported by an adequate safety net for poor people and small businesses.

President Ramaphosa is attempting to defend the indefensible. This lockdown has cost more lives than it has saved. Millions of jobs and lives have been destroyed.

Ramaphosa admitted in his speech that many regulations are irrational, yet did not end them. He continues to play on people’s fears.

South Africa’s covid response must be based on facts, not fear. Here are some facts.

The virus cannot be eliminated. It will be with us for the near future. A rise and peak in infections is inevitable in the coming months, whether we lockdown or not. Lockdown can delay but not reduce the number of infections.

South Africa needs to get back to work immediately, but with measures in place to slow the spread:

  • A reasonable set of safety regulations for businesses, public transport, schools and households. All regulations must have a direct, undeniable and meaningful impact on slowing the spread of the virus. This would include the use of masks, sanitising, screening and physical distancing. Any business or school not able to comply should remain closed.
  • Anyone who can work from home should be allowed to do so. No parent should be forced to send their child to school if they do not deem it safe to do so.
  • Recommended continued lockdown for the aged and those with any of the core co-morbidities.
  • Localised lockdowns only in “hotspots”, where this is still possible.

The success of covid interventions depends on the buy-in and cooperation of citizens. The secretive, force-based, centrally-controlled ANC lockdown should immediately be replaced with this transparent, trust-based approach that puts more decision-making power in peoples’ hands. Compliance and safety will increase.

The early hard lockdown was a justifiable precautionary step, since there were many more unknowns then. But evidence that has come online since then shows that the covid mortality rate was greatly overestimated. Our approach must adjust accordingly.

The last 2-4 weeks of lockdown have not been necessary, rational or justified. President Ramaphosa is being disingenuous in suggesting that the lockdown has saved lives. It has merely delayed the peak. But the peak is inevitable whether we lockdown or not.

The DA supported the first 3-week national lockdown, to buy time to gather healthcare resources and prepare hospitals. Sadly, this did not happen, except in the Western Cape. Heads must roll.

The initial lockdown was also an opportunity to build test, track, trace capacity so that a smart lockdown (localised lockdowns) could be pursued. Sadly, this has not happened, except in the Western Cape. Heads must roll.

The scope for implementing a smart lockdown (localised containment of “hotspots” identified by smart testing and tracing) is fast diminishing. In fact, the window period for this is virtually closed, except in the Western Cape.

At the very least, we call on the government to:

  • Greatly ramp up direct cash transfers, to urgently get help to as many hungry people as possible. This is faster and cheaper than food parcels.
  • Be transparent about the assumptions underpinning the government’s response, and with all data that we have requested.
  • End the military curfew and exercise restrictions.
  • Allow unfettered e-commerce.
  • Lift the ban on cigarettes and alcohol sales.
  • Reinstate the separation of powers to enable executive oversight.

To lockdown hard and fast was the easy part. It required no real leadership, analysis or courage. The hard part, that requires brave leadership and honest analysis is to know when to end the lockdown. The DA repeats our warning that if government doesn’t end this lockdown, the people will end it for them.

Support our petition calling on the International Monetary Fund to direct the South African government to NOT use its relief aid financing in a way that discriminates: http://stopcoronaaiddiscrimination.co.za/

Address the nation, President Ramaphosa. It’s been 19 days.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) calls on President Ramaphosa to come out of hiding and address the nation on the escalating Lockdown Crisis.

It has now been 19 days since the President last spoke to South Africans about the government’s nationwide lockdown in response to Covid-19. Since his announcement of a move to Level 4 of the lockdown, he has been missing in action and has left it to a handful of ministers to communicate the questionable decisions of the National Command Council.

We call on the President to address the nation regularly – at least once a week – and that these briefings should include the opportunity to answer questions from the media. We also call on him to make public all Covid19 data, along with the NICD modelling he is using to justify the continued lockdown.

This data should include Covid death statistics by age, HIV status and co-morbidity. It should include the exact state of healthcare and hospital readiness in each district and city. It should include full transparency on what triggers a move to a different level of lockdown. And, importantly, it should include a clearly defined reason – and therefore goal – of the lockdown.

In the context of this lockdown crisis, 19 days is a very long time. Every day that our economy has remained shut has cost our country billions of Rands. Since the President last spoke, countless more businesses have had to shut their doors leaving thousands more South Africans without jobs and with no income. These past 19 days have been devastating for those already living in poverty.

Desperate and hungry South Africans have had to watch as food parcels have been hijacked by ANC councillors, and how good citizens trying to feed the poor through soup kitchens and other outreach programmes have been harassed, shut down and arrested. We have seen the steady march of an authoritarian state brutalising citizens, arresting pensioners and terrorising toddlers for the “crimes” of going about their daily lives. And still the President has remained hidden.

It is unthinkable that any country in this perilous situation should go for almost three weeks without a sign of its leader. And the vacuum left by President Ramaphosa has been filled by the petty authoritarianism of the worst of his ministers – people who seem to have very little understanding of what keeps a country afloat and how people should survive when all economic activity has been suspended.

South Africans deserve to be treated like adults, and to be told the truth. They certainly do not deserve to be told that crucial information on the virus and the country’s state of preparation is being deliberately withheld from them “for their own good”. They deserve to be shown the same trust and respect that has been asked of them by the President. When he speaks of a social compact, surely he must know this cuts both ways.

We call on President Ramaphosa to recognise that he is answerable to 58 million citizens – not subjects – of this constitutional democracy. He has a duty to appear before them and explain not only what he and his government intend to do to protect lives and livelihoods, but also why. In other words, the reasoning, the data and the modelling behind keeping the country locked down, when experts across all fields are increasingly calling for a swift end to the lockdown crisis.

If the President doesn’t immediately take South Africans into his confidence and play open cards with them, he will very quickly lose all remaining public support and compliance.

Support our petition calling on the International Monetary Fund to direct the South African government to NOT use its relief aid financing in a way that discriminates: http://stopcoronaaiddiscrimination.co.za/

We must end the ANC lockdown crisis now

The following speech was delivered by the DA Leader, John Steenhuisen MP, during his address to the nation on the Covid-19 lockdown crisis.

My fellow citizens,

I know you love this country as much as I do. There is a lot to love.

We all want South Africa and her people to succeed, and it is heart-breaking to see so many suffering in these difficult times.

We pay tribute to those who have lost their lives to the virus, and our deepest condolences go out to their friends and families.

But what makes this even more heart-breaking is the fact that much of the hardship we’re going through is unnecessary. In our efforts to fight off a very real threat, we have replaced it with an even bigger threat of our own making.

The real tragedy playing out here is no longer the Coronavirus, but the lockdown itself. Because this lockdown is going to cost many more lives than it can possibly save.

This is a hard truth to speak, and it is even harder to hear. But it must be spoken.

We have to end the lockdown crisis, and we have to do it now.

There is very little for us to gain and almost everything to lose by keeping people at home and keeping businesses shut any longer.

The only reason we entered into the lockdown was to buy some time.

We weren’t trying to stop all Covid infections. We weren’t trying to kill the virus.

We were simply giving our hospitals time to prepare. To give our healthcare workers the best possible chance of dealing with the inevitable wave of infections when it finally hit us.

We knew then, as we know now, that this wave is coming, lockdown or not. We also knew that our country’s economy could only withstand a very limited freeze.

This is why the lockdown had an end date. Three weeks is what it was going to take to source equipment, to get beds ready and to train the doctors and nursing staff in Covid protocols.

However, before those three weeks were up it was decided that a little more time was needed, and so the three weeks became five weeks.

These extra two weeks would come at a huge cost to our country, but at least there was an end date, and we could brace ourselves for the duration.

All of this had to be a very delicate trade-off: shut everything down at an enormous cost to the livelihoods of millions for a short period, and hopefully save many lives in the process.

But this is the thing about managing this pandemic – there’s not only one trade-off. You have to make them all the time.

Every day, the situation changes – the odds change – and you constantly have to reassess this trade-off.

Six weeks ago, that decision by President Ramaphosa to act quickly in shutting the country down to delay the spread was widely praised, and rightly so.

I was one of those who stood firmly behind him and supported his early call for a nationwide lockdown. The whole country did. At the time it was undoubtedly the right thing to do.

But although the President was called brave and bold at the time, that would turn out to be one of the easiest decisions he would make in this crisis.

We could all see what was happening around the world. We could do what they were doing, only faster and firmer.

It was the right thing for the President to do, but not the bravest.

Because the real bravery would be required later, when the time would come to open everything up again and face what we had been preparing for: the spike in infections.

That was the whole point of this hard lockdown: to prepare for the opening up.

I also supported the President when he announced that we would be moving into a phased approach to the lockdown. What he called a risk-adjusted model that would allow for a return to work, schools and, ultimately, normal life.

The DA had just proposed a very similar model to him, and we were grateful that some of this work had found fertile soil.

I said, at the time, that we would judge this model on the details that would follow, but in principle this was a good move.

But we were right to reserve our judgment. Level 4 of the lockdown, as it turns out, is hardly different from Level 5. In fact, in many respects it is more restrictive, not less.

We now have a curfew enforced by more than 75,000 armed soldiers, which we didn’t have under Level 5. And even shopping hours have been reduced instead of expanded.

This wasn’t progress towards a more open society and economy at all. It was simply an extension of the hard lockdown – this time with no final deadline in sight.

What the DA had proposed in its Smart Lockdown was a detailed plan, sector by sector, for how we could safely return to normality.

What the government gave us was simply a longer list of rules and a curfew.

And, as most of you have seen, or even personally experienced, the rules and restrictions under this supposed lighter level of lockdown are often petty, irrational and authoritarian.

It is little wonder then that these rules are increasingly met with resistance, and even outright civil disobedience.

If you want people on your side, you have to treat them with the respect they deserve. You have to treat them like adults.

Instead we have seen citizens treated like criminals.

We have seen people being abused and humiliated in the streets and in their properties by members of the police and the army.

And sadly we have even seen citizens die at the hands of these armed forces.

We have seen good Samaritans arrested for the crime of feeding the poor.

We have seen arbitrary rules on what may and may not be purchased drawn up with the stroke of a pen. There is no rational argument for the continued ban on cigarettes, or alcohol, for that matter.

We have seen announcements from ministers on keeping sectors of the economy shut that have nothing to do with halting the spread of the virus. Petty, irrational announcements, like the ban on all e-commerce.

We have seen the outrageous announcements from the Small Business Development Minister and the Tourism Minister that they intend to exclude some South Africans, on the basis of their race and other arbitrary criteria, from government’s emergency relief measures.

The DA has already written to the head of the IMF – where a large part of this relief funding will come from – to urge them to instruct our government not to use this money in a way that discriminates against some South Africans.

We have also instructed our lawyers to take this matter to the High Court, because it is unconscionable that government would play identity politics in a time of crisis.

We will continue to fight to overturn regulations that are either irrational or immoral, whether in court or through other means.

And we will fulfil our duty, as official opposition, of guarding against the abuse of power.

Because never before, in democratic South Africa, has the power of the state been spread wider, and yet concentrated in the hands of so few.

And all the while, South Africans have been asked to give up even more for even longer, without questioning any of it.

That has to end.

South Africans have more than done their bit. They have been asked to sacrifice, and they have done so. Many have lost all they had.

They have sat diligently in their homes as our country’s economy slowly crumbled around them, waiting for the news that the hospitals and the doctors were ready and we could resume our lives.

I don’t have to tell you how hard this wait has been.

Many of you know full well what it’s like to go week after week without any income, or to wait every day for that dreaded phone call: “I’m sorry, you no longer have a job.”

Thousands of businesses have either already closed down, or are about to. Each of these businesses was a precious lifeline for the employees and their families.

National Treasury says, best-case scenario, we stand to lose 3 million jobs. That’s if we do everything right and end the lockdown now.

Worst-case scenario it’s 7 million jobs. That’s on top of the 10 million who were already unemployed before Covid hit.

SARS says we will miss our revenue target by a massive R285 billion. That’s a fifth of our income gone. This is money meant for social grants, it’s meant to pay teachers, nurses, police officers. It’s meant to deliver water and housing.

We are not the USA. We are not the UK, or Germany or Japan. We simply don’t have the means to navigate around this kind of loss.

The effect on poor South Africans will be devastating.

This is a self-inflicted catastrophe far, far greater than anything the virus could throw at us.

Mr President, by creating this lockdown crisis, you have broken your sacred compact with the people of South Africa. You have weaponised our trust in you and turned it against us.

Instead of trusting us back, you have devastated lives and livelihoods through brutality and coercion.

And you have turned the free citizens of the Republic of South Africa into subjects of an authoritarian government.

We are no longer dealing with a Covid19 crisis. We are dealing with a lockdown crisis. An ANC lockdown crisis, to be precise.

Let me be very clear about this: There is no longer a justification to keep this hard lockdown in place. Government cannot produce this justification.

They cannot show us the modelling they use to decide when to ease and when to tighten restrictions. They cannot do this because they don’t seem to know for sure themselves.

And so every decision is shrouded in secrecy. We are told to blindly trust a body called the National Command Council – a small group of cabinet ministers who don’t answer to Parliament or anyone else.

When asked for their meeting minutes to clarify why they backtracked on lifting the cigarette ban, this National Command Council refused, claiming this was classified information.

I don’t buy that for a second, and neither should you.

The DA has filed a PAIA application to obtain not only the minutes of their cigarette discussion, but of all their other decisions relating to the lockdown.

It is crucial that we all know exactly why, according to government, we’re still in this destructive lockdown.

What we do know is that government’s very own epidemic expert, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, thinks this lockdown has already run its course and is of little more use.

In fact, this was his view already two weeks ago. Yet here we still are.

We know that the sole reason for locking the country down was to buy time to boost our healthcare response. We’ve done this. What hasn’t happened in the past six weeks will not happen now.

The only thing keeping us locked down now is fear.

And we have every right to fear the virus. We have every right to worry about the health of our loved ones, and particularly those who are at higher risk.

We have every right to feel unsure about the future, and what our world will look like three months, six months, a year from now.

But this is not a reason to remain locked down. We cannot afford to remain trapped by fear alone.

If there is a good reason for maintaining the lockdown, based on a scientific modelling of this pandemic, then we need to know what this reason is. We need to see government’s modelling.

If no reason and no modelling can be shared, then we have no choice but to suspect that government is acting irrationally, or deliberately instilling fear to further some other agenda.

Since the start of this crisis, the DA has called for all this data to be shared publicly. We have made extensive and multiple submissions to the president explaining exactly what kind of data is needed for such decisions to be made.

This must go way beyond just the number of infections, deaths and recoveries in the country and for each province.

The data has to be localised. It has to include a detailed breakdown of age, gender and co-morbidities. And, most importantly, it has to include the full, updated picture of the state of our healthcare preparations in each town and city.

It also has to include a very detailed picture of our screening, testing, tracing and tracking efforts.

Because if we don’t know this, we have no way of knowing whether the lockdown serves any purpose at all, and we have no way of knowing if and when we will ever come out of it.

We’re about to enter our seventh week of lockdown, which means we’re fast catching up with the longest Covid lockdowns in the world – Wuhan at 8 weeks and Italy at 9 weeks.

Every single day that we stay here comes at a massive cost. Because every day more businesses are closing down and families are left destitute.

But there is some good news too. As we see this virus spread through the world, we get a clearer picture of its effect. And one encouraging part of this picture is that mortality rates are not as high as we initially thought.

While still dangerous, the Coronavirus is not as deadly as we had feared.

Most people who contract it will get better, or perhaps not even know they had it. For younger, healthy people, the risks are not much higher than normal flu.

This means we have based our response on over-estimated risks. Our strategy is flawed, and we need to respond to this new information by phasing out this lockdown.

This is where the DA’s Smart Lockdown model comes in. A real phased approach that balances the flattening of the infection curve with the safe opening of the economy.

Under this approach, the three steps that we all must do – wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining physical distance – are still critical.

We then use extensive testing to identify where the virus is spreading out of control, so that we can use localised lockdowns to contain the spread.

At the same time, we protect the elderly and others who are at risk as far as possible through isolation.

And then the rest of us get back to work, where every business in every sector will have comprehensive safety regulations in place which they will have to comply with.

Every single business that can safely open, must be allowed to open immediately.

That is how we can effectively spread infections out so that our hospitals can cope, while still allowing businesses to operate safely and allow people to earn a living.

We need to do this right away, because every day we delay comes at a price we cannot afford.

We also need to end the lockdown in an orderly way before the people end it with chaos.

Millions of people are already breaking the law, not because they are criminals, but because they are hungry.

Not because they want to, but because they have to.

Not because they are bad, but because the laws are bad.

When a rule is met by mass non-compliance, it is usually because the rule is irrational. If you need an example of this, just look at e-tolls.

There is no bravery or compassion to be found in this lockdown.

The true bravery and compassion is in the mothers and fathers, the grandmothers and grandfathers, who risk arrest or death to break this lockdown, so that they can feed and clothe their families.

The true bravery and compassion, President Ramaphosa, will be in ending this lockdown.

And be warned Mr, President: Unless you come to your senses and end this lockdown crisis, millions more will start breaking the law in the coming days and weeks.

If you don’t end it, the people of South Africa will take charge and end if for you.

As it now stands, the lockdown is a tragic mistake that has already caused damage that risks dooming an entire generation of South Africans to a lifetime of destitution and suffering.

We can’t undo any of this. We can’t turn back the clock.

What we can do is act now to end this lockdown crisis and get as many of us back to work as safely as possible.

That is the only way we will ensure that, once we have defeated this virus, we have a country left to rebuild.

DA petitions IMF to stop racially discriminatory use of Covid-19 relief funds

I have today sent a written petition to the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Ms Kristalina Georgieva, opposing in the strongest terms the use by the South African government of Corona disaster relief funds in a racially discriminatory way.

As the majority of these relief funds come from a loan obtained from the IMF, I implore this international body to censure the South African government and instruct it to stop using IMF monies in a way that discriminates along racial lines, and exacerbates racial tension in South Africa.

The ANC government’s choice to use this funding to only support BBEEE compliant companies, at a time of national economic crisis, is unconscionable. The virus does not discriminate on the basis of race, and it is indefensible that government should do so when deciding who is deserving of their help and who is not.

Furthermore, the race of a business owner has no bearing on the race of the employees of the business. White-owned businesses have black employees, who in turn support families. By deliberately denying these businesses critical government relief, it is not just the owner of the business, but indeed these families who will suffer should the business fail.

I have no doubt that the IMF had no intention of fuelling racial discord in South Africa. I trust that the IMF will not hesitate in directing the South African government to not use its loan financing in a way that furthers racial discrimination.

Indeed, IMF funding has been used the world over for building, developing and taking nations forward, including ALL people in those countries. That should be its use and purpose. However, the ANC government has chosen to turn this loan funding into a racially divisive tool.

I await reply from the head of the IMF, and a censure of the South African government’s racially discriminatory practices around Corona emergency relief funds.

Support our petition calling on the International Monetary Fund to direct the South African government to NOT use its relief aid financing in a way that discriminates: http://stopcoronaaiddiscrimination.co.za/

DA instructs lawyers to proceed with court application against certain category-based economic Covid-19 relief

Please find attached soundbite from John Steenhuisen MP.

The DA has today instructed its lawyers to proceed with our application to the High Court to seek urgent relief to prevent the unlawful use of B-BBEE status, race, gender, age or disability as criteria in relation to economic or other forms of relief or assistance. This after the Minister for Small Business Development, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, missed the 17:00 deadline yesterday to provide an explanation for her department’s about-turn on the use of race and B-BBEE as evaluating criteria for government’s SMME Debt Relief Fund.

It must be noted that our case is different from the litigation filed by Solidarity because we are not merely contesting the use of race-based policies for financial relief in one Ministry, but discrimination as a whole and across each and every sector of our economy during a National State of Disaster.

We believe that under such dire circumstances, it is unconscionable for government to cherry pick who is deserving of assistance based on a set of arbitrary criteria, bearing in mind that black workers and employees will lose their jobs should their company be denied assistance purely because it is white-owned.

After intitally denying this race-based relief a month ago – calling a leaked report stipulating the B-BBEE criteria “fake news” – Minister Ntshavheni confirmed on Tuesday, during a joint meeting of the Portfolio and Select Committees for Small Business Development, that race would indeed be a determining factor. It is clear that their desperate scramble to initially quell the justified public outrage was nothing but a PR exercise.

Through this court action the DA is seeking for it to be declared impermissible and unlawful for government to use B-BBEE status, race, gender, age or disability as a criteria for determining which persons or entities will receive economic or other forms of relief or assistance. Our application will seek to establish a precedent across all sectors under the Disaster Management Act.

The DA will not allow the crisis of this pandemic, which affects all South Africans, to be used to divide our nation. We cannot have the President continuously calling for unity and asking all South Africans to contribute to the relief funds, while his ministers then hide behind B-BBEE regulations to deny certain citizens fair access to these funds.

The irony the ANC government does not seem to grasp is that businesses that are now being denied emergency relief because the owner is white employ huge numbers of black employees. These are the people whose families will be denied an income and who will face incredible hardship and hunger if the ANC gets away with this.

It is unconscionable for the ANC government to play race politics at a time like this. To ask someone’s race before deciding whether they are worth rescuing is something we never thought we’d see again in South Africa. And it is a terrible indictment on the ruling party that they have to be taken to court to be forced to serve and protect all citizens of this country equally.

Level 4: A copy and paste of Level 5, disastrous for livelihoods

Ultimately, there is not enough to distinguish lockdown Level 4 from Level 5. This will be disastrous for millions of lives and livelihoods. Government has essentially smuggled through an extension of the hard lockdown under the guise of easing restrictions.

If government had gone with the DA’s Smart Lockdown proposal, more of the economy could have been opened without compromising safety.

Government’s approach is unnecessarily blunt and restrictive, with simply no justification for many of the arbitrary rules and restrictions.

The DA proposed an incentives-driven approach in which government specifies the safety measures that must be in place before a business can open, and businesses then decide if they are willing or able to meet the required safety standards.

This empowers employers, employees and customers within a reasonable set of safety rules. Reasonableness and compliance go hand in hand. Government’s unreasonable approach may undermine the whole Covid-19 response by generating an explosion of non-compliance.

The DA’s approach incentivises businesses and people to comply, maximising jobs and tax revenue. Government’s forces many to remain closed, potentially forcing them underground – to trade illegally or die.

By way of example, no-one will now be able to legally sell or pay for a haircut, which will have devastating consequences for many working class people who run salons and barbers out of their homes to support their families. The DA’s Level 4 would allow hairdressers to operate, as long as they can meet a specified level of safety.

Some of the decisions are draconian, such as the continued ban on smoking and sale of hot food. Will sugar and fatty foods be next? The President told us smoking would be allowed in Level 4 – but the command council has now backtracked on this.

Others are simply irrational – not based on a consideration of public safety at all, which is the whole purpose of a lockdown. E-commerce (online shopping with delivery) for example is not allowed. Other countries are looking to e-commerce to keep their small businesses afloat, save jobs and service customers. Here we’ve chosen arbitrary ministerial diktat over harnessing individual creativity and decision-making.

Surely the only criterion that matters here is the risk of spreading the virus. If this risk is minimal, then the business should be allowed to trade. Any other decision is purely authoritarian.

One gets the sense that the call for comment was merely a box-ticking exercise, since little has changed from what the government proposed last week, notwithstanding the 70 000 submissions.

Except on the matter of exercise, for which the solution is incomprehensible. Government seems to have forgotten the whole reason we locked down in the first place – to ensure our wellbeing. Now citizens are told they can only exercise between 6am and 9am – as if exercising after work in the evening is somehow bad for them. If anything, this is less safe, as people will all be out at the same time.

And what of those who need to leave home at 5am to get to work? But then again, the ANC has long-since stopped caring about poor people. Or perhaps, for them, the working day doesn’t start before 9am?

Other restrictions are well-intended, such as the continued ban on alcohol, but will have severe negative unintended consequences. This will broaden business opportunities for the mafia and starve our fiscus of needed revenue. The DA suggested reasonable restrictions on times and quantity of legal alcohol sales.

The common thread running through all the restrictions is government’s fundamental lack of trust in the people of South Africa, who are being treated as children rather than adults. People are not being trusted with data or empowered with any reasonable degree of personal decision-making.

The curfew demonstrates this best of all. The DA will consider challenging its legality. President Ramaphosa’s cabinet seems to be indulging in all its nanny-state fantasies. It may soon find itself having to justify these in court, where reasonableness still prevails.

DA welcomes judgment rejecting ANC power grab in Tshwane

The DA welcomes the judgment handed down today in the North Gauteng High Court in the matter of Democratic Alliance and 3 others v The Premier for the Province of Gauteng and 16 others, in which the decision by the Gauteng provincial government to place the City of Tshwane under administration was overturned. The judgment also ordered all ANC and EFF council members to attend future council meetings unless they have a lawful reason to be absent.

This is an important victory not only for the residents of Tshwane, but for each and every citizen residing in towns and cities across South Africa, as this judgment will protect them too from the undemocratic interference of ANC-led provincial governments. Today was indeed a victory for democracy.

Next year’s Local Government Elections will no doubt see the ANC lose even more municipalities to minority governments. If they were allowed to get away with this blatant power grab in Tshwane, nothing would have prevented ANC-led provincial governments from doing the same wherever voters sent them packing.

In his scathing judgment, Judge President Dunstan Mlambo laid the reason and blame for the dysfunctional Tshwane council firmly at the feet of the ANC and EFF councillors whose continued walkouts left the council unable to conduct its business. He rightly points out that these councillors were prioritising their own party political agendas over their service to the people.

He was equally scathing of the inability of Gauteng COGTA MEC, Lebogang Maile – and by extension, the Gauteng Executive Council and Premier David Makhura – to bring these truant councillors to book despite having the power of the Systems Act Code to do so, saying that this would clearly have been a more appropriate course of action than the dissolution of council.

In the light of the judge’s devastating comments on the role Maile played in the collapse of the Tshwane council, we have no choice but to call for his immediate suspension. The DA will also now consider taking action in the NCOP, where the ANC was equally complicit in their eagerness and haste to support this power grab.

This judgment confirms what the DA has said since the start of the disruptions to the Tshwane council: that this decision to place Tshwane under administration was nothing but a poorly disguised attempt to take back, undemocratically, what the ANC had lost at the ballot box. This is why today’s judgment is a big victory for democracy, and a serious setback for those intent on undermining it.

The DA is proud of our colleagues who continued to serve the residents of Tshwane so selflessly during this trying time, and especially during the period of lockdown. We welcome this vindication, along with the cost order issued against the provincial government. The court has further ordered that council must be reinstated and that a council meeting must take place five days after level 5 lockdown has ended.

The DA is ready for this. We have never stopped working to ensure that Tshwane residents receive top quality services, and we look forward to doing so unencumbered by the undemocratic schemes of the ANC and its allies.