South African Red Cross Society and Legal Protection of Certain Emblems Bill: briefing

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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


23 January 2007


Chairperson: Ms J Masilo (ANC) [North West]

Documents handed-out
South African Red Cross Society and Legal Protection of Certain Emblems Bill [B25-2006]
Dept of Health presentation on the South African Red Cross Society and Legal Protection of Certain Emblems Bill

The Committee was briefed on the contents of the South African Red Cross Society and Legal Protection of Certain Emblems Bill.

Members raised questions that included the following:
-Whether it was the department of Health or Defence that had the jurisdiction to act whenever the Red Cross had requested some assistance.
- What were the functions of the Minister of Defence in terms of the Bill?
- Whether the Bill was repealing any legislation that addressed matters similar to those addressed in it.
- The extent to which the Red Cross responded catastrophes and its it-s role in disaster management?


Prof. R Green-Thompson (Advisor: Minister of Health) and Mr S Ramasala (Director: Legal Services), Mr P Fuhri (Director: 2010 World Cup Unit) and Mr H Smuts (State Law Advisor). Mr Fuhri gave a background to the Bill and Mr Ramasala took the Committee through the Bill clause by clause. (See documents attached for briefing).

Mr M Sulliman (ANC) [Northern Cape] asked if the Department of Health or the Department of Defence had the jurisdiction to act whenever the Red Cross was in need for assistance. Did the two departments have equal jurisdiction?

Mr B Tolo (ANC) [Mpumalanga] asked if it was correct to mention the Minister of Defence in the clauses of the Bill. Clause 1 limited the definition of "Minister" to the Minister of Health. What were the functions of the Minister of Defence in terms of the Bill? It was not for the first time that South Africa was making legislation that addressed issues similar to those addressed in the Bill. He asked if the existing legislation had been repealed. The department could not come up with a new legislation whilst the existing legislation had not been repealed. The Bill did not indicate if it was amending the existing legislation?

Mr Ramasala replied that Government Notice No. 837 of 30 August 1915 was still in force and would be repealed once this Bill became an Act.

Mr J Thlagale (UCDP) [North West] said that all sections of the society were quick to respond whenever there was a disaster in informal settlements. To what extent did the Red Cross respond to such catastrophes and what was its role in disaster management?

Mr Fuhri replied that he did not have comprehensive statistics on the extent to which the Red Cross responded to disasters. The Red Cross had always been one of the role players in disaster areas nationally and internationally. This was one reason why the department was closely looking at creating the Red Cross as an auxiliary of the State. Rural communities were the most affected and there was a dialogue taking place in relation to programmes that could be established in the communities to deal with disasters.

Ms N Madlala-Magubane (ANC) [Gauteng] said that the title of the Bill was the "South African Red Cross Society and Legal Protection of Certain Emblems" but the objective was the legal protection of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent emblem. It seemed that there was some confusion.

Mr Ramasala replied that the long title of the Bill suggested that there were other emblems that were not covered in the Bill. One good example was the Red Crystal that was adopted in 2005. SA had not yet adopted the protocol in relation to the emblem and it was deemed appropriate not to protect the emblem until such time that the protocol had been ratified. Should the title be too specific, the department would be required to amend the title should
there be recognition of new emblems.

Mr Smuts replied that the long title of the Bill was normally kept very general so that the legislation could be easily amended in future without amending the title itself.

Mr Tolo noted that clause 5(1) provided that "if so requested, the society may place its medical personnel and resources at the disposal of the State". This suggested that it could refuse to help. He wondered if the clause should say "may" or "must".

Mr Ramasala replied that the Red Cross could assist in two ways, if so requested. It could assist the army at times of war. The Minister of Health would not have much to say in relation to defence issues. Disaster management and health issues were the responsibilities of the Minister of Health. The two ministers could individually or jointly ask the Red Cross to assist. The State had no authority to force the Red Cross to place its medical personnel and resources at its (State) disposal. The Bill was introduced at the request of the Red Cross with the view that they could be formally recognised and protected by the laws of the country.

The Chairperson said that there were Red Cross community based projects in the Western Cape, Northern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces. She asked what was happening in other provinces. Was there any funding from the government to assist in running those community based projects?

Mr Fuhri replied that the Western Cape only operated a rotor wing (helicopter service) in relation to the Air Mercy services. Provincial governments funded the majority of the services. The Red Cross did not simply sit and wait for money from the government. It provided training and had an enormous volunteer base.

Prof. Green-Thompson replied that each local authority should have a disaster management plan. The Red Cross usually worked closely with the provincial and local spheres of government and sourced money from institutions other than the government. They responded to disasters in a way that supported the activities of government. In KwaZulu-Natal, it assisted with the movement of patients and health care workers and this had proved beneficial to the province given the long distances that had to be travelled. The health care workers who were often government workers were transported by the Red Cross. People in private service also made themselves available to the Red Cross as community service. It also assisted with the transportation of donated organs.

Mr Sulliman said that there were financial implications that arose from being a signatory to a convention. The Bill indicated that there would be no financial implications to the State. He asked if this was entirely correct.

Mr Ramasala replied that the Bill did not create direct financial obligations for the State.

Mr Tolo used a hypothetical example wherein South Africa had declared war against Lesotho and there was actual fighting between the troops of the two countries. The Red Cross would not be acting impartially should it agree to go and treat South African soldiers and not Lesotho soldiers wounded in the war.

Mr Fuhri replied that one of the cornerstones of the Red Cross's humanitarian actions was neutrality. This was a sensitive issue even in countries where there were conflicts taking place because the Society had to side with one of the parties in order to get the support through. The local Red Cross would not become involved in a conflict situation at all. Any humanitarian support offered would be within the borders of South Africa.

Prof. Green-Thompson replied that it was important to distinguish between the international Red Cross and the South African Red Cross. The international society would always be the parent body and would normally step in whenever there was a conflict between countries. It could use its sibling to assist in the conflict.

The meeting was adjourned.


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