GCIS Communication Strategy on COVID-19; with Ministry in the Presidency

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08 May 2020
Chairperson: Mr B Maneli (ANC) and Mr T Matibe (ANC, Limpopo)
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Meeting Summary

Video: JM: PC on Communications and SC on Public Enterprises and Communication, 8 May 2020
Audio: GCIS on its Covid-19 related programmes and projects and related issues

COVID-19: Regulations and Guidelines
Schedule of Services to be phased in as per COVID-19 Risk Adjusted Strategy
President Cyril Ramaphosa: South Africa's response to Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic

The Portfolio Committee and Select Committee on Public Enterprises and Communications had a joint virtual meeting with GCIS to discuss their Communication Strategy on COVID-19. The Minister in The Presidency, responsible for GCIS, provided a brief overview before starting the discussion. The GCIS Director General vacancy was close to being filled and was awaiting Cabinet approval. GCIS was responsible for making the nation aware of what is happening during the pandemic, the various levels of lockdowns, and the reasons behind the various levels.

The ensuing discussion included: communication strategies and policy of government; GCIS operational plan changes; budget allocation; volume of print communication in all official languages; allocation of advertising revenue; transforming the media and ensuring its independence; reaching audiences in rural areas and townships; National Coronavirus Command Council; media platforms; community radio sustainability; supporting print media and ensuring sufficient advertising; distribution of Vuk'uzenzele newsletters and pamphlets; safety measures around distribution of print media; message inconsistency; fake news; impact assessments; following of communicated decisions; timeous arrival of the President when addressing the nation; more frequent communication from the President; ban on tobacco, e-commerce and alcohol; communication by provincial governments; amalgamation and capacity of GCIS; inter-government relations; Western Cape pronouncements and interventions; and the distribution of food parcels.

Meeting report

Mr B Maneli (ANC), Portfolio Committee Chairperson, welcomed the Minister in The Presidency, Mr Jackson Mthembu, and Deputy Minister, Ms Thembi Siweya, to the first full virtual meeting of this committee. It was a joint meeting with Select Committee on Public Enterprises and Communications. Time allocation did not permit for long meetings and the oral presentation would give only the highlights. It was taken that committee members had already gone through the presentation and could now engage on it rather than spending time listening to the presentation itself. It was agreed that committee members be limited to two questions each so GCIS had the opportunity to respond.

Mr T Matibe (ANC), Select Committee Chairperson, remarked that some Members were still struggling to join in but that IT was seeing to this.

Minister's opening remarks
Minister in The Presidency responsible for the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) portfolio, Mr Jackson Mthembu, extended appreciation for being part of this very extraordinary virtual meeting. As requested, GCIS would present what they had done as part of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic that has infested the country. Firstly, it could be noted that there had been a void in the leadership of the GCIS administrative arm. The Committees can be assured that they had since concluded the interviews for GCIS Director General. This matter was now before Cabinet and would be concluded in due course. Secondly, it was known that the country was part of the war against Covid-19. This war started long before the first person had been infected in the country. GCIS had worked with the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) and the Department of Health (DOH) on the repatriation of those who were held up in Wuhan, China, where the whole matter had started. GCIS was part of the communications for the repatriation of South Africans. After the President had declared a National State of Disaster in our country because of the coronavirus, GCIS has lead in the area of communication in making the nation aware of what is happening during the various levels of lockdowns and the reasons behind the various levels. He introduced Ms Phumla Williams, GCIS Acting Director-General, to take the Members through the actual activities engaged in.

The Acting DG indicated that she could hear but for some reason her microphone was not working. She asked that someone else be allowed to start the presentation while IT addressed the sound issue.

The Minister said that the Acting DG was the only person to present. He asked that Members bear with them as the technical difficulties were attended to.

The Chairpersons discussed noting attendance of Members so long.

Ms P Van Damme (DA) noted that almost 30 minutes had passed and the Committee only had two hours. On the side of the Microsoft Teams App it could be seen who was in the meeting. It was assumed that everyone had read the presentation. If anyone had questions so long, could they ask the Minister these questions? She asked that the time be used constructively as half an hour was gone due to logistics and administration. She was sure many Members had awaited this opportunity and asked that it not be wasted

Chairperson Maneli noted Ms Van Damme wanted to use the suggestion he had said he would use in future – which was to note that the presentation had been read and head straight to questions.

Chairperson Matibe agreed that Members could go straight to asking questions as they had received the document on time. Any other issues could be dealt with when answering questions.

The Minister thought that GCIS would have been ready by now.

Chairperson Maneli told the Minister that there was a suggestion to take the meeting forward, on the basis that Members would have gone through the presentation. He asked if Members could proceed with asking questions and if they would be able to get responses. If there was an opportunity to come back to the presentation, they would come back. By that time there will probably be connection and if there are matters to highlight, it would be highlighted as part of the responses.

The Minister said that GCIS was in the Chairperson’s capable hands and hoped that, as this was done, everyone was together in fighting the pandemic as this was what GCIS was called to speak on. He hoped that the questions would be related to the matters that they had been called to deal with.

Chairperson Maneli confirmed that the questions would be based on the presentation that had been sent.

Ms M Mokause (EFF) asked, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, what changes would be made to the GCIS operational plans to ensure that people right across the country were well informed. Currently, if you did not have a television set you cannot get the information from government. Could the volume of print communication from GCIS perhaps not be increased in the language that suited all communities across the country? One of the GCIS objectives was to transform the media through allocation of advertising revenue. How has this been done so far? What are the struggles between transforming the media and ensuring that it remained independent?

Ms L Bebee (ANC) asked what measures GCIS had put in place during the Covid-19 National Lockdown, to reach its audience in predominantly rural areas where there was no wi-fi connection, since newspapers could not be distributed at the moment. How was GCIS working together with the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) to ensure that South Africans received a single unified message at all times?

Ms Van Damme thanked Minister Mthembu for taking up the task of taking care of GCIS. It was a very critical time in the country and ministers needed to be leading the charge to fight against the pandemic. Communication was a very important aspect of the pandemic as people needed to be communicated with about safety measures and everything related to the pandemic. Purely in terms of communication, from what she had seen, communication through media platforms was good. The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) as a public broadcaster had done a really great job and had a channel now dedicated to education. On this aspect, it at least appeared that on face value things were being done well. In terms of communication from Cabinet, there had been really heavy message inconsistency which has caused a lot of confusion. In a crisis communication needed to be very clear and there should not be contradictions – of which there had been so much. She knew that GCIS could not solely be responsible for ensuring that ministers sent clear messages – but wanted this taken up as a very serious issue. In general, the President would say one thing and then there would be briefings by ministers who would say different things. The regulations would say one thing, and then there would be ministers who wrongly interpret regulations. For example, the ban of hot cooked foods was not in the regulations and then ministers made their own rules which were not linked to the regulations. Has there been communication with ministers to say that they should please stay on message and not make their own announcements? Ministers could not suddenly just make rules without it being in the regulations to say, for example, that they shall henceforth ban braais. Ministers were just making up their own things, it was not in the regulations, and they caused serious confusion. Has this conversation happened? Going forward, she asked that it be ensured that there is message consistency. This was perhaps something that the President needed to take charge of. The Minister in the Presidency needed to convey the message that the President needed to ensure that ministers stayed on message.

Ms N Kubheka (ANC) thanked GCIS for the manner in which they were trying to work harder because it could be seen that they were indeed on the ground. How was fake news being dealt with within GCIS? It could be seen that fake news ran faster and caused damage on the ground.

The Minister started with Ms Mokause’s question on what transformative actions GCIS had taken in the media space. He was sure that everyone was aware that there was a big drive to ensure that the community radio sector was alive and supported. Even when GCIS held press conferences, at the same time that they spoke there were 65 radio stations that were connected to the same message being delivered to the nation. As ministers, or specifically the Minister of Health who was the lead minister on health matters, GCIS made sure that messages were packaged to reach community media – including community print media. The Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) tasked with ensuring that the media space is transformed, has given a lot of financial injection to community media – community print media and a few community television stations. GCIS was thus quite happy but, of course, they could do more if they received more funding in this area. With what they had, GCIS was doing their best.

A question asked by many colleagues was about how GCIS reached out to communities in rural areas around Covid-19. The SABC radio stations had a wonderful footprint that even reached rural communities, so GCIS has made use of this good footprint linked to community media to reach out to rural communities. Colleagues would know that, apart from relying on television stations, SABC radio stations and community radio stations, GCIS was working together with the DOH and crafted pamphlets that had been made available to various parts of the country in the languages spoken there, so that the Covid-19 messages could reach people.

On the single unified message of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), he explained that almost all ministers were now part of the NCCC lead by the President. Therefore, the chairperson of the NCCC was the President. Whatever decisions were taken in the NCCC were the decisions then either announced by the President or the various ministers. Of course, some of the announcements needed to be agreed to by Cabinet before they are made because the NCCC was not a structure elected by the people of the country – the elected structure was the Cabinet. Decisions made by the NCCC which are of such a nature and need to be agreed to by Cabinet, such matters are elevated to a Cabinet that needs to virtually agree to what has been agreed upon by the NCCC as part of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Van Damme asked a question about some ministers who did not seem to be staying on message. He asked for the Committees’ assistance and asked that they touch base with the ministers, as they had not been aware of such circumstances. Where the Committees came across ministers who might not be on message, they were to touch base with the ministers so that they could deal with the interpretations of messages that came from government. Ms Kubheka had asked whether GCIS was able to deal with fake news. On this question he would like Ms Khusela Diko who is responsible for the broader communication working together with the DG, to answer that.

Ms Khusela Diko, Acting Deputy Director-General: GCIS, replied that that the GCIS, working together with the Department of Communication and Digital Technology (DCDT), had set up a command centre responsible for the monitoring of fake news. This brought together a number of private sector companies that were working with GCIS, including the technology platforms Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp in particular. There was a proactive monitoring of fake news and, as and when it is received, it is verified through Real411 as well as Media Monitoring Africa which are GCIS partners. A manual process of stamping these as fake news has been implemented and they sought the responsible departments or other organisations to clarify the matter. It was not yet a perfect process and, to a large extent, a lot of it was manual. However, GCIS was working to strengthen their capabilities to respond to fake news in the future.

The Minister added about rural communities that GCIS was not working alone as they were working with province, districts and municipalities. It was known that there were many municipalities using loud hailing, with mayors and councillors going out to massify the message that was to go out to people. Loud hailing was being used in various parts of the country to put out a message around Covid-19 to rural communities in particular.

Ms Phumla Williams, GCIS Acting Director-General, apologised for the glitch but thought that the Minister and Acting DDG had really tried to touch on the presentation. She wanted to emphasise on the area of rural communities. The Minister was correct in saying that the collaboration that GCIS has done during this period had helped a great deal to reach even rural communities through the core teams that had been set up. The core teams comprised of GCIS, the provincial communicators, and the district communicators. She also should emphasise that all the media briefings that GCIS done were beamed directly to community radio stations. GCIS has collaborated to ensure that all the inputs by ministers during the media briefings are translated into all 11 languages. Using the core teams, GCIS would be able to distribute the content provided by the ministers in the languages that the communities can understand. Through cooperation with provincial leadership, GCIS was also able to secure some of the talk shows at community radio stations, where they further unpack what the story is all about in fighting the coronavirus so that it is understood in communities.

Through the loud hailer and the drones, GCIS has also tried to use the local leadership as the voice of that community. This has worked extremely well in Limpopo, where the loud hailers and the drones have used the language of that particular community or village as well as the mayor of that particular district. GCIS wants to continue exploring all avenues of making sure that communities are reached. The pamphlets that were being distributed have also been simplified and put in the particular language of that community in a particular area. The advertisements that GCIS wanted to flight for Members to see today, had also been done and flighted in all official languages – including the Khoisan language.

Ms P Faku (ANC) welcomed the presentation and thanked the Minister and Deputy Minister for the sterling work they had done for the country. One must appreciate that what they have done was not easy, especially under the conditions they were in. It was the first time that coherence could be seen when it came to communication from government. This was a lesson for everyone and she hoped that it could be continued. The way that they had been communicating decisions was very good and informative and she saw that they had used many platforms to communicate these decisions. She therefore said well done to the Minister and his team. Generally South Africans were fully aware of what was happening in the country, as they had been there communicating decisions in each and every sector.

Ms Faku said that of course, as the President had said, part of the process was to learn as there would be baby steps. Sometimes when communicating decisions, especially ministers, she hoped that as the President communicated decisions that the decision would be followed. An example would be the social grants for the unemployed, which was raised by the President that people would receive R350 but GCIS was not there in terms of communication and processes. She understood that everyone was working under pressure and that this was new for everyone, but it was an area that needed to be improved on. She had seen that people were even receiving SMSs and appreciated that this was received every day as it could be seen that the private sector was playing a big role in assisting GCIS. As decisions were being communicated by GCIS, especially with the DOH, and how they worked together, it gave one hope that the pandemic will be killed and achievements met.

Mr C Mackenzie (DA) mentioned that the Minister and himself belonged to a very exclusive club: the gunshot survivors club. He echoed Ms Faku’s comments that GCIS has done an excellent job in communicating on Covid-19. He requested that the President please appear on TV at the time announced and not make everyone wait. This concerned reliability. When going through the presentation, which was very effective, he knew that the temptation to use one’s party political colours in advertising campaigns was almost irresistible because it added to a party’s brand value. However, he noticed that, in these campaigns, government had used the national colours and not ANC colours, so again he congratulated GCIS on their spirit of nationalism.

The Minister interrupted to say that national colours were always used.

Mr Mackenzie knew that Tourism South Africa had been running quite a strong social media campaign on ‘Visit South Africa’ just as the coronavirus unfolded and assumed that there were several government departments involved in similar types of campaigns. He presumed that the ‘Visit South Africa’ campaign would have to be postponed. Have GCIS suppliers been receptive and cooperative to the postponement and cancelling of campaigns? In terms of loss of revenue to GCIS, did GCIS think that any revenue had been lost? The instruction for all South African websites to carry the Coronavirus website ribbon was another very effective thing that GCIS had done and has worked well at very little cost to government. He congratulated GCIS on this too. On community radio, he stated that this was a very appropriate time to use community radio effectively to reach communities in rural areas, while at the same time ensuring the sustainability of these smaller radio stations that were battling financially.

Ms Z Majozi (IFP) thanked GCIS for a job well done on what had been seen so far. Her concern was when changing Covid-19 regulations, that communities especially townships and rural areas, to at least have newsletters where people would be able to see what regulations are for Level 4 and what is expected of them. When telling people to stay at home, while they are at home, they are at the same time receiving and interpreting information in their own way. It would be much better if they could receive a newsletter that actually spoke to them so that they could clearly understand what should be taking place at that present moment. It was not that people were not adhering to the lockdown regulations as she thought that it was a matter of interpreting what had been said by ministers when presenting. When you had a newsletter, you would at least have all of the time to sit down and read what it is that is expected of you as a South African. Secondly, she wanted clarity on the post office services as there were people who were relying on letters. On Level 4 it was not quite clear whether postal and courier services were permitted to transport medical products only, or when they would open. Would they be opening for people to receive letters, whether locally or internationally?

Chairperson Maneli appealed that Members ask questions on the GCIS presentation. There would be an opportunity to engage the Department in the following week.

Ms Van Damme thought that it was a great opportunity for the Committees to take the opportunity to ask the Minister questions that related to communication because Members needed to communicate this back to their constituencies. She echoed her colleagues on supporting the media, and particularly print media, as it was known that a number of magazines had had to shut down. These were jobs, and everyone needed to do as much as they could to save jobs. She asked if it could be appealed to government to ensure that there is sufficient advertising in print media. This was very important as the sector needed to be kept alive and jobs needed to be saved in the media environment.

She noted that the President’s spokesperson was also present. In a crisis it was important that there was transparency as it was a crisis, people were panicked, and they needed to be able to get answers from government. There needed to be clear communication from government and people needed to be reassured that government was taking the right decisions. People needed to be taken on board. Rules could not just be made top-down and expect people to accept them. There needed to be a social compact with people and saying that government was doing something because of reasons 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. This has not happened of late. It happened in the beginning when there was clear communication but now there is not any of that.

There were a couple of matters that we not clear: Who all served on the NCCC? Could a full list be provided of who those people are? There are challenges with the ban on tobacco, e-commerce and alcohol, which had not been explained sufficiently. The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) said that 2000 people said do not lift the ban on tobacco and therefore they did not. This was simply not good enough. It needed to be explained in detail in a democracy. It was more important right now to take people on board and explain to them why things were being done. She noted that the NCCC minutes on the tobacco ban would not be made public. This was utterly bizarre. Why not? It needed to be explained to the people of South Africa how the decision was taken. Why could the three sets of minutes on the tobacco, e-commerce and alcohol ban not be made public? It did not make any rational sense to the people of South Africa. It needed to be explained in detail and the minutes needed to be made available.

Mr M Nhanha (DA, Eastern Cape) asked GCIS if it had taken note of the adverse impact the pandemic would have on service delivery – especially on projects due to be implemented but could of course not be done due to the pandemic. How would GCIS and government ensure that post-Covid-19 service delivery sped up? The second question was a bit controversial. Presidents or prime ministers of other countries were directly communicating with their people on a daily basis or every other day. Today was the 15th day since the country had heard from the President. He asked the Minister what his message was to people like himself, who wanted to hear or see the President communicating with the nation often during this difficult period. He noted the GCIS Acting DG comment that they were working with provincial and local leadership in to ensure that GCIS messages were transmitted and got through to communities. However, he emphasised that NCOP Members were from provinces. He was from the Eastern Cape, where there was the problem that the provincial government hardly communicated. He asked GCIS and Minister what their relationship with provincial governments was concerning provincial government communication. Did they have a plan to beef up communication of provincial governments? In the Eastern Cape this was virtually non-existent and they were lucky if they even got to speak to the premier within two weeks.

Ms W Ngwenya (ANC) asked what was the GCIS plan to partner or empower public representatives with information so Members can empower their constituency with Covid-19 information such as leaflets and pamphlets. She referred to the amalgamation of GCIS. On slide 24 it was reported that there were 30 vacant posts. When was GCIS intending to fill these vacancies? Slide 22 indicated that 8 employees could not be merged. What would happen to them? Would they be reskilled in careers that they do not like or would they be given the option to move? Was the communication strategy in line with the communication policy of government? The presentation was silent on the policy. Does the Covid-19 communications strategy cater for all official languages as per the Constitution and Use of Official Languages Act? In terms of people with disabilities who use braille, sign language and audio formats, were they catered for in the communications strategy? If not, why? What is the budget for the government communications strategy on Covid-19?

Mr A Arnolds (EFF) thanked the Minister and said that they were all together in fight against the Covid-19 pandemic but in winning the fight they needed to pull together and in terms of communication, they needed to communicate effectively in their mandate. He raised the Western Cape government had previously made announcements on their own terms for the sale of cigarettes. Did GCIS meet and engage with the Western Cape government about its pronouncement, as it is only national government that can pronounce on the regulations? This was sending out very contradictory messages that were not in line with the messaging. What was the outcome of that engagement if there was an engagement? He asked about the capacity of GCIS especially during this crisis time. This was very important as it could not be business as usual. GCIS mentioned that there was a process for the appointment of the DG. Could GCIS provide an indication of when this would happen? If they did not have people with the right skills in the right places, then he did not think that communication could ever be done effectively.

Mr A Cloete (FF+) said that he heard the word 'pamphlets' earlier. He had asked this question to the Free State provincial legislature when the Minister was in the Free State, as the Minister had stated that thousands of pamphlets were being printed for distribution. He quoted a Forbes magazine article which stated: It was known that the spread of the coronavirus occurred when an infected person emits small droplets from the nose. A study showed that the virus could potentially live on surfaces for a few days and potentially up to a week on plastic. His question about pamphlets was were they not busy with a Trojan horse here, because it took only one person to cough on the 500 or 1000 pamphlets being distributed. Did GCIS or Cabinet actually think this through? What measures were in place to ensure that the distributed pamphlets were not infected?

Ms T Modise (ANC) said she had been covered by Ms Ngwenya as her question was about people with disabilities such as the blind and the use of braille.

Ms Mokause mentioned that it could be agreed that over the years there had been a drastic decrease in print media distribution, especially in rural communities and in their own languages. Is GCIS planning to phase out the Vuk'uzenzele newsletter? Were there any challenges with the newsletter? Previously there had been a lot of them in GCIS offices but currently one could not find any, especially in rural provinces. Has government conducted an impact assessment across the board on the impact these newsletters make in communities?

Ms Mokause said that it looked like the ruling party had taken advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa. A lot of contestation and competition was seen with food parcels. The President had actually said in his speech that politicians are not to be seen distributing food parcels but it looked like this message had been disregarded. There were currently a lot of such incidents in the country, particularly in the Northern Cape. Is this message being communicated to the Minister’s own people as these were the people who constituted the teams in provinces. They closed everybody out and populated the teams themselves, so that the shenanigans kept on continuing. Opposition parties could not be policing such things when the President said that no politician should be seen with food parcels. Was this not disregarding what GCIS and the President communicated and instructed? The EFF had made the call that they did not want people making it their own campaign ahead of local government elections.

GCIS Acting DG response
Ms Phumla Williams, GCIS Acting DG, responded to some questions and would leave others for the Minister and Deputy Minister. On the adverse impact to service delivery, she believed that the situation would differ from department to department. Indeed GCIS had had an Annual Performance Plan (APP) and they had been able to tell Members that they had to adjust some of the focus areas. One of the APP focus areas was on the seven priorities, more importantly around anti-corruption and gender-based violence. This has taken a backseat but it was the intention of GCIS to phase in some of the critical areas that they wanted to interact with communities as they continued with the year. There would be some delays but this would differ from department to department.

On the distribution of pamphlets, she confirmed that GCIS did not just distribute pamphlets and hope that it would reach the people. GCIS physically went to houses and used what they called ‘knock and drop’ as they delivered to houses and put the pamphlets in letter boxes. With this it could be guaranteed that it did reach some of the audiences targeted in those vicinities. Vuk'uzenzele was one of the flagship programmes in talking to communities. It came out both in English and the language predominant in that particular area. Research had been done and it was known for a fact that Vuk'uzenzele remained the most popular publication GCIS sent out to people as it was free. Research after research that GCIS had done has shown that communities looked forward to it. This was why GCIS even increased it. Initially, it used to come out once every two months. Research told GCIS that it remained popular, and they then made it once a month. Currently it was coming out twice a month and remained a very popular publication. The content now was on Covid-19, and there was no plan of removing it as a medium sent out to people.

What GCIS had scaled down as it came out in all the languages except for braille. In the early stages GCIS used to produce Vuk'uzenzele in braille but with the budget cuts this had stopped. GCIS did not want to mislead Members by saying they had enough budget. The progress GCIS was sharing with Members on what they had done to date remained unfunded. GCIS had made a request to National Treasury, saying that this war can be won only by GCIS investing in informing society. What was expected was a behavioural change. Therefore, GCIS needed consistent information sharing with South Africans to ensure the behaviour change. This still awaited National Treasury to fund it. She did not think they could win with the manner in which they had been operating. As a team, GCIS did not have this budget.

The reason GCIS has been able to track the distribution of Vuk'uzenzele was because they had a company which also ensured the knock and drop. This company got audited to monitor if they were doing what they were paid to do in distributing the newsletter. There was a distribution plan, so they knew if it was distributed and received by the relevant people. She had covered the questions that she was able to cover and the Minister and Deputy Minister could assist with those questions she had missed.

Deputy Minister's response
Deputy Minister Thembi Siweya noted that everyone had found themselves in a pandemic which they had not prepared for. There was work that they had been able to do in a short space of time, from the day the lockdown had been announced. She was making this point so the Committee could understand that how they were reporting was not the usual or normal way where they state in the APP they would do something and have not done it. Their responses should be taken in this light.

The very important thing that GCIS kept pushing for was the dissemination of materials and information. GCIS made sure that they utilised the MDDA, which was in control of community media. GCIS has given them a relief fund for the duration of the three months or so and created platforms in different languages to talk to people about staying at home. There are platforms in the community media space where one would hear these advertisements. Advertisements from government could also be seen on TV which had been coordinated by GCIS. Together, GCIS worked closely with Brand SA because they dealt with the international front. In giving the Committee the report, as it was not a normal situation, GCIS requested that if the Committee saw situations where they thought GCIS could improve, that they bring these to the attention of GCIS. For example, there was a concern around food parcels that was raised by a Member. Ministers, even if part of GCIS, were in charge of planning, monitoring and evaluation. The question was what instruments GCIS employed to ensure that food intended for people and food banks actually went to those people and that the mark was not missed. CSIR was assisting GCIS in collecting data on where the virus was spreading. GCIS was also in the process of discussing, as the country downgraded from level to level, what the communication message would be when hopefully passing from Level 4 to Level 3. GCIS was able to and was doing work in all languages. She confirmed that community media platforms were being used and that they had dedicated a lot of resources to these and had also printed materials. Ms Williams had also noted that the monthly publication had become twice a month to ensure the message reached communities.

She repeated that this was not a normal situation where they had planned what they would do in the first and second quarter and worked to meet those APP targets. To be honest, the GCIS APP did not cover what they were being faced with. However, there were the NCCC regulations which needed to be adhered to ensure that the pandemic is curbed. GCIS agreed that they needed to go to the ground floor and expand their platform and the message should clearly state at which point they were: “We are on Level 4 which means that to be safe put on your mask when going out onto the street”. Of course, GCIS needed to engage with Social Development, Health and other entities, which must be able to give people these masks because they do not have them. So, GCIS engages on this.

She hoped that she had provided answers and the Minister would provide a holistic approach to the other questions. What was important for GCIS, and which they liked, was the physical monitoring done by GCIS in terms of actually going out. Post offices were also doing something along these lines and have communicated with GCIS that they also wanted to do in assist in curbing the curve and how it could be reduced. There was some collaboration between the two and with the Department of Social Development (DSD) to ensure that GCIS assisted in flattening the curve.

Minister's response
Minister Mthembu had previously lost his connection. He apologised and said there was a glitch with his Microsoft Teams App. He knew what his colleague had covered and thanked everyone for the compliments. GCIS was working with all role players including, as everyone would know, the President who had also done consultations with all political parties in terms of what the response would be as a country. He was part of those meetings where the President had indicated that they might have to take drastic steps such as a lockdown. He assured Members that political parties, in partnering with government and various stakeholders including churches, also agreed that government was do everything that it could to save lives. Members were to understand that all of the responses taken by government to deal with Covid-19 were meant to save lives and deal with the impact of lockdown – particularly on people who were vulnerable. This was why there had been an increase on various social grants, as well as the R350 that has been crafted as a new social grant for those who were unemployed. At the moment, this coming Sunday, the NCCC would be speaking to the Social Development team who would help the NCCC in terms of how they were going to craft a criteria for those who could access the R350 grant for the unemployed and how they were distributing other matters that should be distributed to those that needed them – particularly food. He agreed with the Members that indeed, they could do better. This is why the NCCC team has asked all those tasked with the distribution of food, new grant for the unemployed and additional amounts that had been put on current grants, to come to the NCCC and explain how they were doing these things. Certain pictures that had been seen were not encouraging.

He agreed with Mr Mackenzie that GCIS would do everything it could to ensure that when the President says he will be speaking to the country at 8 o’ clock, that he speaks to the country at 8 o’ clock. In most instances where the President was late it was because of those who were providing support to the President. He took the full blame but at times the support that needed to be given, including figures that needed to be added to the statement, came a little bit late. This made the President address the nation 10 or 15 minutes later. He apologised to South Africans on behalf of the President and assured them it would not happen again.

Members had asked if revenue had been lost as a consequence of tourists not coming into South Africa. It was not only South Africa; and definitely revenue had been lost. However, he did not have the actual figures at this point. Many websites had been zero-rated where people could get information about the coronavirus, including the government website and coronavirus website. Ms Majozi had mentioned that GCIS should perhaps come up with newsletters. There was already a newsletter and he hoped that the Acting DG had spoken about the Vuk'uzenzele newsletter. What perhaps needed to be done was to increase the numbers produced of the Vuk'uzenzele newsletter – particularly during this time. However, for GCIS to increase the numbers, money would be needed. GCIS would therefore first have to speak to National Treasury to get the money, so that there could be more Vuk'uzenzele newsletters going to all areas, including rural areas and townships. He disagreed with Ms Majozi that those people did not adhere to the lockdown due to ignorance. It was quite clear, as per the Human Sciences Research Council, which said that through government communication GCIS has reached more than 90% of the country. However, those people who have been reached through community radio, SABC radio, TV, and pamphlets, are the people who are not staying at home and not listening to the message. GCIS has therefore asked the Statistician General of StatsSA to get them the reasons why people were not staying at home when they have been requested to stay at home. This was a behavioural matter, as Members had been saying. A change in behaviour was needed as the war could not be won through forced behavioural action. There would be times when the requisite means of changing the behaviour of people would need to be found. In this instance, GCIS needed to work together with parliament, traditional leaders, churches, community leaders, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), non-profit organisations (NPOs), and community-based organisations (CBOs), so that everyone was in the war against Covid-19. Of course, when he said that GCIS would have to work with Members in parliament, he meant the parties represented in parliament and political parties that were outside of parliament in order to win the war against Covid-19.

When the country was at Level 5, the Post Office could only be open for essential services, including medicine and anything that needed to go to hospitals and clinics. At this point in Level 4, the Post Office and the Post Bank were open. People could go to any Post Office now and receive whatever has been sent. People could also use the Post Bank.

Minister Mthembu appreciated the support from Ms Van Damme. GCIS would continue to place their advertising to assist print media. Print media was going down and GCIS would continue to do what they should do within the financial strength that they could command, particularly for print media in the community media space. Ms Van Damme said that it was not clear who the people were that served on the NCCC. There were about 20 ministers, but even the whole of Cabinet when a matter affected a particular department. He would therefore just translate the whole of Cabinet to be the NCCC because the leader was the same leader, being the President or Deputy President. This was an appointed structure by the President, and the number was 20 as it was known that Cabinet consisted of 28 members. When ministers who served in Cabinet but were not necessarily NCCC members came to the NCCC, nobody said that they could not attend. He could therefore safely say that Cabinet has transformed itself into the NCCC led by the President.

The Minister noted that Ms Van Damme questioned the ban on alcohol, tobacco and e-commerce. The reality was that this was a disease which attacked one’s respiratory organs. If one were to allow the sale of certain products which were not good for the respiratory organs, justice would not be done to the campaign against the coronavirus. Again, there were certain parties who had made this political when government was not being political. They were not being moralists; they were saying that due to health reasons it was not opportune at this stage. South Africa does sell cigarettes under normal circumstances, but South Africa was not under normal circumstances now as it had a health emergency. The health emergency said that people should not come into contact with one another. He used to drink but now one could not drink. Even when one drank alone in one's house, the drinking would cause you to go out and find someone else to drink with. It was difficult. If drinking was allowed in public places and restaurants, what was this saying about contact between people? This would lead to infections and he did not think government would be acting responsibly if they were to allow liquor outlets to be open or for people to drink wherever they wanted to. Nobody said that, if you had your own stash of liquor in your house, that you could not drink in your house. The difficulty was when one has taken those particular ingredients and go out onto the street. This was when you would come across somebody in street, Mr Bheki Cele, Minister of Police, for example, and find yourself asking him what he is doing because everyone was expected to stay at home. When you have taken a few shots, these safety messages disappear from your head and you would go out to friends – this was not helpful.

In response to Mr Nhanha, there were a lot of projects that would be delayed not only within GCIS but within government as they were all now focusing on the coronavirus. All of government was in the fight to save lives. When they were done with fighting the emergency, another programme he was charged with was the Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) and departments would then have to come back and, with the seven government priorities, question whether their MTSF indicators and outputs are still relevant. The departments would report to parliament and say that they spent the whole of the first quarter and probably the second and third quarter, fighting Covid-19, therefore they had not done anything they had planned to do because the emergency had just cropped up. Led by the President, the departments are likely to put new MTSF plans before parliament, that would guide the work of government after Covid-19. He could assure Members that it would be a different environment, so considering how to deal with this environment and which priorities would arise after the Covid-19 war would need to happen.

A comment was made that the President had not spoken to the country for 15 days. The President spoke to the country when it was necessary. The President addressed the country when he spoke about South Africans coming from Wuhan, when he introduced the National State of Disaster in the country, when he introduced the first lockdown, when he introduced Level 4 of the lockdown, and it could be assured that the President would speak to the country when it was absolutely necessary. The routine followed was that after the President has spoken, the ministers come in with regulations and directives to implement what came from the President. COGTA Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had put in place regulations that were guiding the country now at Level 4 of the lockdown, and she has spoken to those matters. When circumstances arose for the country to go to Level 3, he could assure Members that the President would speak. The President would also praise South Africans on how they had done at Level 4 and why they were going to Level 3. Mr Nhanha was not worry as the President would speak to the country at the appropriate time. There were other countries whose presidents were on TV or radio almost every day – South Africa was not those countries. South Africa was a country that where the President spoke, he gave broad guidelines after which the minister would come in with regulations and other ministers would then come in with directives flowing from those regulations as it pertains to their various portfolios. He came in with directives pertaining to the GCIS portfolio.

On the problem in the Eastern Cape, he has seen the premier loud hailing in the Eastern Cape. GCIS was in touch with all provinces, including the Eastern Cape, in the war against Covid-19. Of course, if Members thought GCIS could do better, he always said that they could do better with the Members' wisdom. GCIS was always receptive to a Member’s advice.

In response to Ms Ngwenya on the empowerment of constituencies by GCIS, the pamphlets produced, including the Vuk'uzenzele newsletter and DOH pamphlets on Covid-19, went to all constituency offices. There might have been a difficulty where the post office was not working optimally, which was probably why the pamphlets might not have reached all areas during Level 5. Under Level 4, Members could be assured that the pamphlets would reach every place.

The Minister replied that the questions on the vacancies would not be answered now as they spoke to the Department not GCIS – this would be spoken to when they came to that. Mr Arnolds said that the Western Cape had made conflicting announcements on cigarettes and tobacco. GCIS had communicated with the Western Cape who agreed that they should not have done what they did. South Africa was one country and did not have many countries inside it. The Western Cape appreciated that South Africa was one country and that if there were directives or regulations that this applied to all provinces. The Western Cape Premier was spoken to through the President and the omission was corrected. No part of the country was now selling cigarettes, including the Western Cape.

The appointment of the GCIS DG was just awaiting Cabinet’s approval. The interviews had been concluded, and there were recommendations that were now waiting to be finalised by Cabinet. On Mr Cloete’s question about what measures were in place to safeguard South Africans against being infected by the pamphlets, this was quite an important point. To be honest, this was an area that he would have to investigate and see if the measures in place were in keeping with the safeguards against Covid-19. In response to Ms Mokause, the volumes of Vuk'uzenzele would be increased. There were certain people, not just in the governing party, who thought that it was an opportunity for them to make some riches and collect some food for their friends and families. This was food meant for those who were most vulnerable. It was known that, as a party, all of those who had been involved in this were being disciplined. It was immaterial which province they were in and whether they were councillors or just ordinary members. He thanked the Gauteng province for their clear determination and decision that no councillors would be involved in the distribution of food. This was a good approach by the province and many provinces could learn from Gauteng so that food is distributed by those who should distribute to people that were hungry. DSD, working together with the provincial departments, NGOs and CBOs, has done wonderful work in this area. Perhaps those who are able to do this work should be allowed to do so without interfering politicians – whether national, provincial or local level.

There were 161 South Africans who have passed on as a consequence of the disease and there were over 8 000 South African who had been infected to date. All that he was requesting from colleagues was to hold hands and work together because they had been told that the country had not yet reached its peak in infections. DOH and those experts on Covid-19 and related pandemics have said that South Africa was likely to reach its peak by September. GCIS would be reporting to parliament on a regular basis on what it is that they are communicating and how they are communicating. Where GCIS went wrong, he asked that Members please advise them. At the same time, he said that GCIS would like Members to join hands with them as government as they fought the pandemic – particularly as the Members were their colleagues in parliament. Members were to use their constituency offices and their political parties in assisting South Africa to fight the war. There were other countries that have had thousands and thousands of people die. America, Italy and Spain were examples. South Africa would not want to reach those numbers. Could GCIS and Members work together? This was all that they were requesting.

Apart from GCIS communicating on the whole of government's response to Covid-19 and the President leading this communication, South Africa has had the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, speaking almost every day, telling us how many people have been infected, screened, tested, and of course how many people have lost their lives in this war. There has communication on all health containment and health measures taken. GCIS would come to the Committee at any minute that they wanted them to be held to account for how they were dealing with communication on Covid-19. GCIS could benefit from Members' wisdom and where they thought that GCIS was running short, they would step up. Where Members thought that GCIS had done well, they would say thank you – as they were doing now.

Chairperson Maneli suggested that if Members still wanted to ask further questions, they could send those, including suggestions, to GCIS. He thanked Members for the cooperation they had received as co-chairpersons as well as the responses from GCIS. GCIS was assuring South Africans that everything possible was being done to ensure that the nation was not being left behind in fighting the pandemic.

Chairperson Matibe also thanked the Members for the cooperation they had received as co-chairpersons and hoped that further engagements as a joint meeting would move in this direction. He thanked GCIS for the responses that Members received.

The meeting was adjourned.

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