DA files court papers to get children back into school full time

Please find attached voicenote from the DA Federal Leader John Steenhuisen MP.

The DA has today filed papers in the Gauteng High Court to enable and compel schools to open fully, immediately.

Over 80% of South African schools are still operating on a rotational basis, whereby each child only attends school half the time, on alternate days or weeks.

It defies belief and strains sanity that some 80% of South African schoolchildren are still being denied half their schooling, on the (undeniably false) assumption that this is somehow beneficial to them or to society as a whole, on a balance of risks.

Unconstitutional

Rotational schooling is being implemented in order to satisfy the government’s social distancing rule in classrooms, which is one metre for primary school children and one and a half metres for high school children. The rule is plainly unconstitutional.

The rotational system massively violates children’s constitutional rights to basic education, to basic nutrition, for children’s best interests to be paramount in all matters concerning them, and to equality.

There would need to be a very strong justification for denying children these rights.

Government has failed to provide a justification at all. On the contrary…
Government is ignoring their own scientific advice.

In July 2021, the government’s own Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) recommended that all schools should be open fully: “Ideally, all children should be at least one metre apart within classrooms, but where this is not possible, full capacity schooling should still be commenced whilst maintaining the maximum feasible physical distance.”

On 23 January 2022, six experts in infectious diseases and vaccinology stated:
“With the very high levels of asymptomatic transmission and community immunity present, there is no reason to continue restricting class sizes or children playing.”

Long-lasting, possibly irreparable, damage

It is overwhelmingly in a child’s interest to go to school.

Under the rotational model, schoolchildren’s access to basic education is being severely stunted, which will negatively impact the rest of their lives.

South African schoolchildren in no-fee schools have lost over half of their normal school days since the start of the pandemic and have learnt less than half of what they would normally learn. (More than 70% of South African schools are no-fee.)

The long-term effects on children will be lower educational attainment, lower earnings, higher unemployment, and being more likely to be in lower skilled occupations in adulthood.

The South African Paediatric Association has warned that denying children access to school results in poorer mental health, increased behavioural and developmental concerns, lack of access to play and social opportunities, increased isolation, academic impacts, child abuse, and neglect.

It further warns of the effects on parents, being poorer parent mental health, competing demands and increased stress, job losses and reduced family income.

Denies children access to food

The MAC report highlights how rotational schooling also threatens children access to food:
“Less than half of children (43%) received free school meals in February and March 2021, showing receipt is still well below pre-pandemic levels (65%), and possibly even November/December 2020 levels (49%). The leading explanation for low school meal receipt is rotational timetables where only half of children attend on any one day in most no-fee schools.”

Anti-poor

The MAC report also explains how rotational schooling prejudices poor children and their families the most, thus exacerbating existing inequalities. Poor children benefit more from schooling than wealthier children and suffer more when normal schooling is denied.

Far more harm than good

The indirect negative consequences for schoolchildren of this social distancing rule are far, far, far greater than any potential benefit that it could bring to them or to society as a whole.
School children present a low risk of contracting or transmitting Covid-19. The risk is far too low to justify these enormous harms.

In any case, the social distancing rule does little if anything to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in a school setting.

The recent statement by six experts in infectious diseases and vaccinology confirms this:
“Children experience only a very small chance of harm from infection with SARS-CoV-2, except for those under one year of age or in the presence of underlying medical conditions. Children suffer illnesses from influenza and a range of other viruses and infections too, and we sent them to school prior to this pandemic, understanding the massive benefits to child health and development.”

Grossly unfair to children

The constitution states that a child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.

Children face far greater risks from rotational schooling than from Covid. So their own safety cannot be used as a justification of the social distancing rule.

Nor can the safety of adults be used to justify it, since restrictions on even high-risk adults have been all but removed. Taxis can operate at full capacity; businesses can operate fully; there are no limits on travel.

Furthermore, teachers and other adults have had plenty of time to get themselves vaccinated. So children cannot be made to pay the cost of keeping adults protected.

This rule, therefore, amounts to a huge intergenerational injustice. Government is choosing to sacrifice those least able to defend their own interest.

Conclusion

Depriving children of their constitutional right to education will surely go down as the worst and most harmful of all the irrational rules Ramaphosa’s administration has imposed on South Africa during this pandemic. The DA hopes that the judiciary will uphold children’s rights to attend school full time.

DA calls for full reopening of sports and arts events

Please find an attached soundbite by Tsepo Mhlongo MP

As South Africa begins to emerge from the ANC-imposed hard lockdowns, the DA calls on the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa to reopen sporting events and arts and cultural events to full capacity.

The arts and culture industry has particularly been decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic as many artists have lost their sole source of income during this time. Added to this, artists and athletes alike have received little to no support from the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture.

The restrictions relating to the National State of Disaster has had a severe impact on the sports and art sectors as many events were either cancelled or extremely limited in terms of audience/spectator attendance.

As other industries are returning to some form of normalcy, the sports and arts sectors are still hindered by tight and irrational lockdown regulations.

The DA urges the Minister to fully open up the arts and cultural sector so that artists can return to the stage, practice their craft, and provide for their families. We also advocate for the return of fans to stadiums, since this will help to revitalize the industry by allowing athletes to practise their discipline in front of fans for the first time in years.

We must strike a balance in our reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic, ensuring that while protecting lives is our first concern, we do everything we can to protect livelihoods.

SIU Report: DA calls for swift prosecution of Covid funding thieves

Please find attached soundbite by Siviwe Gwarube MP.

The DA welcomes the release of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) report into government’s spending of Covid-19 funds. We have long called for this report to be made public and will be analysing it with a fine-tooth comb.

The SIU found that assets and money to the tune of R551.5 million need to be recovered, and they have yet to complete the investigation. The final amount of money pilfered is likely more than this.

This was money earmarked to procure procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other lifesaving resources during the height of the Covid-19  pandemic. Sadly true to form cadres and tenderpreneurs took advantage while vulnerable and ill people were struggling to survive the devastation of the pandemic.

The SIU investigated 5 468 contracts for the procurement of PPE of which 476 cases still need to be finalised. 2 803 contracts were identified as irregular, which implicates 1 217 service providers who inappropriately and illegally gained millions from this crisis. To date, R34 million has been recovered.

We welcome the fact that referrals have been made to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and we call on them to swiftly prosecute those who are guilty without fear or favour.

A strong message needs to be sent to those who seek to profit off and loot the State. The only way to secure South Africa’s future is to ensure that the wheels of justice continue turning.

The corrupt and greedy have tried to make the country a lawless wasteland where the rule of law and vulnerable people can be trampled. This must not be allowed to continue.

Criminals should know that the free-fall is over.

DA petition against Eskom price hike gains 30 000 signatures in 5 days

Please find attached soundbite by Kevin Mileham MP.

The DA’s petition to oppose Eskom’s application to hike the price of electricity by 20.5% has gained more than 30 000 signatures within the space of five days.

The DA rejects Eskom’s attempts to raise the price of electricity at a time when the cost of living is on the rise in South Africa. The cost of food, accommodation and transport continue to spike and an electricity tariff hike will only contribute to the financial distress faced by poor households in particular.

The overwhelming reaction to the DA’s petition highlights how callous Eskom’s application truly is. Eskom can barely keep the lights on, and to expect South Africans to pay more money for an unreliable service is completely out of touch.

We are encouraged by the thousands of South Africans who have voiced their objections to this outrageous increase. And we urge more South Africans to add their signatures by signing our petition using the following link: notoincreases.co.za

4 days to deadline day – Will Mantashe’s disastrous RMIPPP meet its (extended) deadline?

With 4 days left before the 27 January 2022 deadline to reach financial close for the repeatedly delayed Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (RMPIPP), the lack of a status update from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) raises the prospect of yet another deadline extension and a programme on the verge of collapse.

For the RMIPPP to proceed to implementation stage, preferred bidders should already have secured Environmental Impact Assessment approvals, port authorisations, pipeline agreements, power off-take MoUs and fuel purchase agreements. However, all indications are that the bidders are yet to meet some or all of these mandatory requirements.

If the bidders to the RMIPPP fail to meet the financial close deadline, the question is whether DMRE will follow through on its commitment to effect consequences on the respective bidders. In March 2021, DMRE’s IPP Office Acting Chief Operating Officer Maduna Ngobeni stated that:

“…there are consequences for a preferred bidder failing to achieve financial closure and commercial operation by the target dates. If the dates for financial closure or commercial operation are not met, the bid bond can be pulled or the power purchase agreement (PPA) can be terminated.”

Having already lost credibility due to its Stalingrad approach to renewable energy generation in South Africa, DMRE’s failure to implement an effective, transparent and sustainable programme to urgently address our electricity crisis will only serve to deepen distrust in it as an entity.

The DMRE cannot keep extending the financial close deadline in perpetuity. If the successful bidders are unable to meet the requirements of their contractual obligations, Mantashe should come clean and inform the country, and alternative plans should be put in place. What his Department cannot and should not do is to negotiate questionable environmental impact certification and project finance with the banks on behalf of the RMIPPP bidders. That would be against the contractual terms of the programme which enjoined successful bidders to assume all the risks associated with project implementation.

The uncertainty around the RMIPPP is not helped by the fact that bidders such as Karpowership are struggling to secure the requisite environmental impact certification due lack of clarity on how their operations will impact the marine environment and coastal communities. For other potential bidders, the inability to comply with local manufacturing requirements, as dictated by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, remains a problem. This is indicative of a government that places ideological concerns ahead of the urgent need to to reinforce our economy and rapidly address our electricity generation shortfall.

DMRE’s RMIPPP was meant to add 2000MW of power to the grid and help alleviate South Africa’s crippling power crisis. As things stand, the country may have to start factoring in the reality that this will never happen, as the RMIPPP may be on the verge of collapse. Minister Mantashe needs to acknowledge that this poorly planned and badly implemented programme is a handbrake on the economic potential of the country. South Africa needs electricity now, and the private sector is ready to provide – if Mantashe and his incompetent department would just allow them to do so.