City of Cape Town on its COVID-19 response plans: follow-up meeting
11 June 2020
In the presence of Mr Parks Tau and Mr Obed Bapela, Deputy Ministers of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), the Deputy Mayor of Cape Town and his delegation provided the Portfolio Committee with details of the City’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Committee was interested in the City’s costed and detailed plans regarding the enforcement of social distancing and the lockdown regulations in communities experiencing high COVID-19 infection rates.
The City stated that in response to job and income losses, it had made arrangements to cushion the impact on residents, such as allowing payment arrangements and creating quicker application processes for indigent status. It was monitoring the impact of additional expenditure because of COVID-19 mitigation processes, increased debt impairment, reduced revenue and some reduced expenditure, amounting to a projected net impact of R2.1bn. To accommodate the reduction in cash, the City had re-allocated some funds into its capital replacement reserve, and the presentation outlined some of the assistance the City required to manage this period. The Deputy Mayor asked for some flexibility in the regulations to allow more effective work by the local government.
The presentation outlined the City’s progress on priority 2 of its COVID-19 response plan relating to providing water and water tank installations. The City said that phases one and two, in partnership with the Department of Water and Sanitation, had been rolled out to install water tanks in identified informal settlements. The City had provided a total of 41 million liters of water through this programme.
Members expressed their unhappiness about the absence of the Mayor for the second time, and found the presentation had not adequately addressed their call for a costed and detailed response plan. They expressed concerns on the enforcement of COVID-19 regulations, and asked that the City inform the Committee on the number of City law enforcement officers deployed per area, and the number of people serviced with water and sanitation services in its efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19. Members asked which national government regulations were limiting the local government’s functions, as claimed by the City. The Committee also asked for an update on water and electricity disconnections, as well as clinics that were closed down. It criticised the lack of inclusion into provincial and municipal command councils for Members of the Committee within their respective provinces and metros.
There was general disappointment expressed over the evictions in ward 74 of Hout Bay that had occurred in the week during this pandemic and during harsh weather conditions. When the City replied that the evictions had taken place in the context of politically motivated land-grabs, Members made it clear in strong terms that no one should be evicted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Committee also questioned the City on why Members of Parliament had been denied access for oversight purposes into the Strandfontein site. It asked that the City list the COVID-19 hotspots in their jurisdiction, as well as the privately-owned quarantine facilities. The City was also questioned on its progress with conditional grants, the implementation of the District Development Model and its contingency plans for the harsh winter weather conditions.
The Chairperson opened the meeting by announcing that she had received apologies from Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), and Mr Dan Plato, Executive Mayor of the City of Cape Town. The Chairperson contextualised the meeting by saying that this was a follow-up meeting with the City of Cape Town on their COVID-19 response plans. At the last meeting there were outstanding issues that needed to be addressed and the City had sent in their revised presentation which should have addressed Members’ concerns raised at the last meeting.
COVID-19 Financial Impact: Revenue Collection
Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson took the Committee through the revised presentation, addressing the financial impact of COVID-19 on the City’s revenue collection. He outlined the City’s budget and billing for March, April and May, and said that from the billing side, the income had not changed substantially. The difference had been in the collection rates per service, which the presentation outlined for property rates, electricity, water, sanitation and refuse revenue. The billings in the presentation were based on estimates and should be more accurately presented after another month, now that meter dial readers were able to continue physical operations.
COVID-19 response and impact
Mr Neilson explained that the new budget starting on 1 July had been revised in light of COVID-19 circumstances. The numbers in the presentation were estimates and were likely to be revised again during the course of the year. The lower collection rate projections had significant implications on the City’s debt impairment, and the presentation outlined the debt impairment values as a result of under collection. It outlined how the City was dealing with under collection in respect of property rates, water revenue, electricity revenue and refuse revenue. In considering the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in job and income losses, the City had created mechanisms such as allowing payment arrangements and creating quicker application processes for indigent status. The City was also monitoring the impact on companies which were experiencing liquidation, although it was still too early to observe a clear impact. Because most customers of the electricity service use pre-paid meters, the impact on electricity was not as significant as it had been on water. The City had seen a lower collection rate in refuse collection, and the City would continue to manage this. To accommodate the fall in cash, the City had taken out provisions previously allocated for cash to go into the capital replacement reserve, to ensure that the City could get through the financial year without a cash problem.
Through estimates, the presentation showed that the broader impact on the City’s next financial year was quite substantive in three areas. First was the COVID-19 related requirements of additional expenditure that had to be incurred on expenses such as additional personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers, additional services in water and sanitation for informal settlements, and assisting provincial government on health aspects. This additional expenditure amounted to R903m. Increased debt impairment and the reduction in revenue was also very likely to impact on the next financial year significantly. The total impact on the City’s new financial budget was R3.8bn, and because of some R1.7bn was projected under expenditure, the net impact came to R2.1bn, which Mr Neilson confirmed had been factored into the budget adopted by the City Council at the end of May. The City planned to accommodate the customers in line with National Treasury recommendations and with the relevant adaptations. One of these forms of assistance from the City was an increase in the threshold for the rates rebate for indigent people by R1 000, to R7 000.
COVID-19 assistance required
The presentation closed with the Deputy Mayor Neilson outlining the assistance it said was required from the provincial and national government. Part of this assistance included the finalisation of the R20bn allocation announced by the President to assist local government. He said that the sooner there was access to this allocation, the better for managing the impact of COVID-19. He emphasised that spheres of government needed to take responsibility for their own constitutional mandates. Often state departments did not fulfill all their responsibilities, and this ended up at the door of local government to fulfill. In these circumstances, and with the significant growth in health requirements, the City was calling on national government to fulfill their requirements on health. Financially, it was difficult for the City to take on additional costs. One way government could contribute was to get capital projects going. This would assist in rejuvenating the economy, so it was important that these conditional grants continued to flow to the local government.
On the issue of getting PPE for staff, Mr Neilson said he had seen that there were suppliers charging excessive amounts. The City refused to pay these exorbitant amounts, and he hoped that National Treasury would deal with those suppliers trying to take advantage of COVID-19 circumstances. The City was appealing for flexibility in regulations to allow the City to perform better, saying also that local government should be given adequate time to respond to the draft proposals in the new regulations.
Status of water tank installations to informal settlements
Ms Xanthea Limberg, Mayco member for Water and Waste Services, said the City’s COVID-19 response plan consisted of three priority areas:
- the maintenance and enhancement of the existing services in recognised informal settlements;
- emergency provisions and temporary services to underserved areas; and
- additional health and hygiene measures within informal settlements to mitigate the spread of the virus especially in vulnerable communities.
The second presentation by the City focused on the second priority dealing with water tank installations.
Mr Llast Mudondo, Head: Informal Settlements Basic Services within the water and sanitation department, said that as the COVID-19 pandemic spread, the City urgently needed a response to improve hygiene practices in informal settlements. It had identified informal settlements that had not been served, and collated a list of 107 settlements as a priority. Some of these settlements were on City-owned land, and some on privately-owned land. The settlements on privately-owned land posed a challenge as the City needed to get consent from private owners, which could be a lengthy process. 16 areas on City-owned land had been identified, and the City initially planned to roll out 250 water tanks, but this had had to be revised to 93 tank installations for phase 1 due to budgetary restrictions. The City had been approached by the national Department of Water and Sanitation (NDWS), which had offered the provision of 214 tanks, and the roll out of these tanks was planned for phase 2. Using water trucks came at a high operational cost, so there was an attempt by the City to reticulate these tanks.
The presentation tabled the City’s initial priority list of informal settlements for water tank installations. The highest structure count was in Monwabisi park in Khayelitsha, where more than 7 500 structures had recently invaded the area, taking the population size to about 24 000 people. The list of 16 priority areas were further cut down to four priority areas, including Monwabisi park, Msindweni-Makhaza extension, Congo in Mfuleni, and Nkhandla in Wallacedene. The City had also revised the number of tank installations.
The findings from site investigations and challenges encountered were highlighted. In consultation with community leaders and service providers, there was not consent from communities to make space for the installation of these water tanks.
Mr Mudondo was pleased that phase 1 had been completed and the City was currently using 28 trucks daily to service and refill these tanks, and also to provide water to those without access to these tanks. The list had since grown to 173 informal settlements.
Phase 2 began on 6 May after the City received 214 of the 244 tanks from the NDWS, and was completed by 7 June, with 199 tanks installed. The City had planned to complete all 214 tank installations by 12 June. Despite the challenges of community unrest and administrative delays, the City had managed to install all the tanks planned for, and to date there were 307 installed tanks and the City had distributed 41 million liters of water via water trucks. Space constraints in dense communities remained a challenge. Some of the setup costs and operation costs would be recovered from Rand Water.
The presentation outlined the anticipated setup and operational costs for water tank provision against what was recoverable from the NDWS. The setup costs involved a budget of over R4m, and operational costs of over R10m per month. The amounts to be recovered from the NDWS in terms of operational costs were still being discussed.
The presentation outlined the number of water tankers and volume of water planned and actually supplied. The City was using service providers accompanied by City depot Members to distribute this water. Positive COVID-19 cases amongst staff Members had caused a reduction in the number of water tankers for areas served by the Hillstar depot.
The presentation closed by highlighting operational issues on water tankers. Amongst these issues was that on average it cost R200 000 to use water trucks, trucks were sometimes targeted by criminal elements, delivery was difficult in the context of civil unrest, and the road conditions in informal settlements were not conducive to sustaining this programme.
Ms P Xaba-Ntshaba (ANC) raised a concern that Gugulethu and Khayelitsha informal settlements were not getting services, and said the City was providing services only to Members and voters of the Democratic Alliance (DA). This was a lovely programme, but the programme was not reaching everyone in need in Cape Town. She asked that there be an update on those evicted previously -- where they were and if they were receiving water and sanitisers. She emphasised that land grabbers were people of South Africa and had a right to the land. She asked that the City answer why it was excluding people staying in informal settlements, particularly those who were not Members of the DA.
Mr K Ceza (EFF) referred to the slide on priority lists, and asked for clarity on the specific details of the location of sites of tanks. He said that mentioning 214 tanks in Monwabisi did not give the Committee a sense of which areas were without access, and the plan for those without access. On the issue of water tanks being targeted by criminal elements, he asked whether the City had considered collaborating with the community police forum (CPF) to deal with this safety issue. He also raised a concern on Witzenberg, saying that there were seven informal settlements there without the necessary water and sanitation, and asked what the plan was there. When was the City going to develop its informal settlements, as there were 437 informal settlements in the city, with only 292 having been served. What was going to happen to the remaining 145 informal settlements regarding water provision? Some of the households within the 437 informal settlements were there during apartheid, and the City had not recognised the permanent residents and addressed the lack of occupation. The City should not speak about immigration and other subservient issues, as the City was also responsible for taking people from the Eastern Cape when it was convenient during the harvest season, and paying them meagre salaries. He said that s26 of the Constitution provided that everyone had a right to adequate housing, but this was not reflected in the City of Cape Town. As Cape Town was experiencing rainfall and harsh weather conditions, evictions were still taking place, which came across as bias favouring and protecting those in the suburbs and opulent areas.
Mr G Mpumza (ANC) commented on the challenge of revenue collection against the projected billing and how this may indicate an increase in the loss of jobs. He asked the City to inform Members on what plans it had put in place to cushion the adverse effect of job losses and the increase in the number of the indigent population. Had the City established some form of a food bank for distribution and provision to the needy and the destitute? He asked that the Deputy Mayor give further details on his comment that some of the COVID-19 related regulations were having limiting elements on the performance of the municipality.
Mr Mpumza said Councilor Limberg had indicated that the City had made provision for 50 000 toilets, and asked for clarity on the number of standpipes that the City was installing in informal settlements. On water tanks installation, he raised a concern at the fact that the City had established and planned for 16 priority areas, but this had been cut down to four areas because of the difficulty in accessing some areas. He asked the City to answer what alternatives had been put in place to ensure the provision of potable water in densely populated areas, to arrest the spread of the virus. He emphasised that this was an emergency matter requiring urgent action to protect and save lives. He asked for clarity on whether the 41 million liters reported as being provided by the City would account for one or two months. How often were water cut-offs being conducted by the City? While the good work was appreciated, he was seriously disappointed to see that the councilors of the DA had abused their powers by continuing to evict people, even as regulations had restricted evictions.
Ms H Mkhaliphi (EFF) concurred with Members that she was very disappointed about the evictions happening in ward 74, Hout Bay, and asked why this was happening, and for the City address the Committee on these evictions. Even outside of the current circumstances, evictions were not acceptable, but as leadership of the City, these evictions should be stopped. She commented that recently the Minister of Human Settlements, Lindiwe Sisulu, had flown to Cape Town to take a closer look at this issue of evictions and the court case. She said those who were evicted were black women and children, and the municipality was showing itself to not care about black people’s lives. She was also concerned that answers were not provided on Strandfontein, and the news later reported that the City had misled the homeless people involved by promising a relocation before dumping them under a bridge. The City had to account on the closure of Strandfontein. The presentation seemed to be a public relations (PR) exercise that did not reflect the reality on the ground. The lives of black people did not matter to the City, and it was unacceptable to fail to provide leadership and say that communities were not allowing the water to be provided. The presentation was also unclear on how people living in backyards would access this water tank programme. She asked that the City clarify how it was going to ensure that there were clean toilets in informal settlements, as the presentation had focused on water.
Ms Mkhaliphi asked that the City inform Members where its quarantine sites were for people who tested positive, since Cape Town was the epicenter of COVID-19 in the country. On the current collections, she asked how the City had managed to maintain a relatively high collection rate even under the circumstances of many people having lost their jobs. On the assistance of consumers, she asked whether the City had planned on assisting people through loans, who would qualify, and over what period. She raised a concern that these loans would be putting people into more debt. The reduced rate option and the arrangement for no interest for certain categories of people seemed commendable and she asked how these arrangements might be accessed by those who had lost their jobs. She asked the City to comment on the longstanding issue of safety and the crime crisis in Marikana, as well as illegal electricity connections in ward 114 in Mfuleni as a safety issue.
Ms Mkhaliphi said that Members had received complaints about an increase in water, electricity and service tariffs, and asked that the City comment on this. Did the City include other councilors from opposing parties in governance issues, so as to make informed decisions? Regarding school infrastructure, she says that Delft had a flooded school. In its response the City might make the claim that this was not within their jurisdiction, but it was within the municipality and if there was a disaster, this should be reported by the City. She asked that the City comment on the unconfirmed reports that several teachers who had been in contact with learners had tested positive for COVID-19. The MEC had previously stated that Cape Town was ready to open schools, and she asked that the City comment on this issue and its plan to curb the spread of the virus.
Mr H Hoosen (DA) raised issues on behalf of Ms G Opperman (DA), who was experiencing connectivity issues. Ms Opperman had noted that in the report, there was R10m per month allocated to water tankers and she asked how the City was going to ensure a more sustainable way of providing this service, considering the mentioned challenges. Where and why had it experienced community unrest? How would the City mitigate against the increased homelessness, given poor weather conditions? In respect of previous disconnections and in light of the new regulations, how many water and electricity reconnections had the City done since the lockdown? Which national and provincial departments was the Deputy Mayor referring to in saying that there were departments which had not fulfilled their responsibilities, and what further details could be provided in this respect?
Mr Hoosen, on his own account, commented that the Committee was genuinely concerned about the increase in the COVID-19 infections, and asked that the City comment on what it could attribute this increase to, and what the City was doing within its mandate to try and reduce these infections. In comparison to other municipalities, the City’s infection rates were very high. Was the infection rate’s increase caused by possibly inadequate work from the municipality, or some other issues? On informal settlements, given their density and difficulty regarding social distancing, he would expect that municipalities would make better efforts, stronger investments, and additional measures for informal settlements. The only people that those in the poorest communities had to turn to were government officials at all levels. He asked what the City was doing to ensure that the numbers in the informal communities were reduced, to protect the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable. He commented that the net impact of R1.2bn was a significant amount for a municipality, and asked how this was going to affect it in respect of service delivery, even post-lockdown, and what plans were in place to ensure the continued provision of necessary services.
Mr B Hadebe (ANC) said it was the second time that the Mayor was not present, and expressed his disappointment. The last time an apology had been sent and it was later shown that he was distributing food parcels, but today there was no explanation. Over and above the R20bn that would be made available to municipalities from the national government, he pointed out that regulation 399 required that municipalities develop a COVID-19 response plan and make resources available for implementation. In the previous meeting with the City, the Committee had raised its dissatisfaction with the City’s plan, particularly on the basis that it was not costed. The presentation today suggested that the City required additional funding. He said that that this R1.2bn planned to be redirected for COVID-19 did not clarify where the City would be using the additional funds, and was not adequately detailed.
At the time of the last meeting, there were six clinics in poor and disadvantaged communities that were closed due to COVID-19 challenges, and he asked for an update on these clinics and the steps being taken to prevent a reoccurrence. The regulations required local governments to make available and identify sites for accommodating homeless people, and since the City had closed the Strandfontein site, he would like know why this had happened. When Members of Parliament had gone to Strandfontein to conduct their oversight duties, they were denied access, and he asked for clarity on why this was so. He reminded the City that it was a constitutional requirement for each and every Member of Parliament to exercise oversight, and that South Africa did not operate on a federal state basis.
Mr Hadebe also raised serious concerns about ward 74 in Hangberg, Hout Bay, and the recent unwarranted evictions. He said that if the structures were not occupied, there would be no need for police to use force such as rubber bullets. The court had declared the eviction actions of the City in ward 94 unlawful, and he wanted to know why the City was disregarding the regulations prohibiting forceful evictions during the National State of Disaster. There were unconfirmed reports of R5m being approved to provide 7 400 food parcels, yet the distribution process was not clear. He said the majority of ward councilors in Khayelitsha, Philippi and Gugulethu had been given 30 food parcels, and asked the City to clarify the mechanism used for distribution and whether this happened across wards. He also raised a concern on the R8.4m tender awarded to supply masks, at approximately R50 per mask, and asked whether the City could safely and proudly speak of any value for money in this respect. What measures did it have in place, particularly in overpopulated areas like Mitchells Plain and Nyanga, to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by ensuring the enforcement of COVID-19 regulations within its mandate. He said that within all municipalities there was a crime prevention plan and a directorate responsible for safety and security, hence the regulations required measures aimed at minimising the spread. In his experience, even under lockdown Level 5, it had been business as usual and there were no metro police and law enforcement agencies to enforce the regulations.
Ms M Tlou (ANC) welcomed the presentation and appreciated the City’s effective work. She raised a concern on the issue of evictions during harsh weather conditions despite the regulations restricting evictions, particularly as Cape Town was reported to be the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic. What urgent intervention measures had been put in place to ensure that people who were evicted could return to where they were staying? If people were evicted, it meant they were homeless and likely to be without food, so follow-ups on evictions should be accompanied by food parcels. She also raised a concern about people living in backyards, saying this was unacceptable and asking why these people were not being accommodated.
On the water tankers costing the City R10m monthly, Ms Tlou asked the City to clarify whether there was an expenditure problem. Were there any mechanisms put in place to make sure everyone had access to clean water? She said the City had not updated the Committee on its quarantine sites, and asked that it clarify what steps it had taken to ensure that those who were affected were getting PPE. On the issue of people who had lost their jobs, she asked what measures were in place to develop a programme to accommodate those who had lost their properties, and to apply for indigent status. What was the City’s urgent intervention on the issue of food parcels? Looking at the current level of access to service delivery, the Committee needed an accurate picture of what was happening with institutions of finance in the City’s municipality. Was there readily available information to allow the Committee to see what had led to the infrastructure expenditure grants being reported as being below 30%, and could the City update the Committee on all conditional grants? She noted with concern that municipalities continued to underreport on the conditional grants. The plea for access to the R20bn allocation from government should be in line with what was needed urgently for the City, so that when the funds were allocated there was some direction on what the money was needed for.
The Chairperson commented that the City had engaged in various litigation proceedings on COVID-19 regulations, and asked for an update on the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) case, where she noted that the judge had clearly been unimpressed with the City. She asked how many shelters the City had, and where they were. She also asked the City to provide a detailed business plan supporting the redirection of the funds amounting to R1.2bn in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deputy Mayor Neilson replied that often Committee Members would say something along the lines of, ‘this information was not provided,’ but the time given was too short, and the Committee should permit at least two hours and provide the required details ahead of time. The presentation had given an outline and included what fitted in the time given. The level of services was very high across all of Cape Town, including poorer areas, and said Members should be careful not to believe party propaganda. The City had in place detailed plans for the provision of all services. He said that 99% of households had direct access to potable water, and Members’ questions were not taking this into account. He disputed completely claims that generally water pressures were high in opulent parts of the city and low in poor areas. There were sometimes local problems, but he assured Members that when these came up, they were dealt with. He asked that Members provide the City with the exact places where these issues existed so that the City could conduct the necessary investigations.
Regarding evictions, Mr Neilson replied that the City had not gone against the lockdown regulations. The City had not evicted people in houses that were occupied before the lockdown. There had been politically motivated invasions of land -- people had attempted to use this period of lockdown opportunistically to illegally invade land and set up structures to achieve their political objectives. It was not appropriate and acceptable to allow for such opportunistic political actions, and the City was dealing with illegal invasions. He said that what had happened today in Hout Bay had been carried out by the South African Police Service (SAPS), who dealt with incomplete and unoccupied structures. It had been the local Hangberg community that had requested action against these illegal structures. He said that one must be careful when believing people trying to send a political message, and saying that the City was breaking the law. The City was not going to apologise for dealing with illegal invasions, and they were not the only municipality in the country which had done this. Members should be careful when pointing fingers, because three fingers were pointing back at them.
Mr Hadebe was allowed by the Chairperson to speak on a point of order.
Mr Hadebe said that he was previously deployed to the Hout Bay area for over seven years, and knows that those structures were occupied. He repeated his point that if the structures were truly unoccupied and incomplete, police would not have used rubber bullets to forcefully remove people. It was not only SAPS operating, but there were City officials given the mandate to evict people. The questions from Members had been raised with no intention to insult and with no political motivation.
Mr Ceza was allowed by the Chairperson to speak on a point of order.
He asked the Deputy Mayor to avoid patronising the Committee Members by mentioning party propaganda. He reminded him that he too was politically affiliated, but what was being discussed was about people not parties. He asked that the Deputy Mayor speak to the presentation, and emphasised that the details Members had asked for were not in the presentation. He rejected the explanation given by the Deputy Mayor on time constraints, saying that as a Deputy Mayor, it was his job to know these details.
The Chairperson calmly asked with the Deputy Mayor to focus on the questions asked, and to avoid going off on political tangents. She said the Committee was not in the business of politicking, and was doing its oversight work. The Committee was the lead committee responsible for the National Disaster Management Act, and was the custodian.
Mr Neilson replied that he would do his best to focus on the questions, but he had responded in the same way that the questions had been posed to him. He had experienced the questions as being politically motivated.
The Chairperson again asked him respond to the questions directly and take the questions in good faith. She explained that the Committee worked collectively and not along party lines.
Mr Neilson replied that it was fine -- he had made his point.
Mr Hadebe interjected to say that there was no remorse from the Deputy Mayor, and this was not an appropriate way to conduct meetings.
Mr Ceza also expressed great dissatisfaction with the responses the Committee was receiving from the Deputy Mayor.
The Chairperson said that she understood Members’ anger and frustration, but asked that there be order and a raising of hands for points of order. The Members apologised to the Chairperson for not having done so.
Mr Mpumza appealed to the Members to allow time for responses so there was time for follow-up questions as well.
The Chairperson said that the Deputy Mayor would continue with responses politely, keeping in mind the points of order raised.
COVID-19 impact and response plan
Mr Neilson responded to the question on Witzenberg by reminding Members that Witzenberg was not part of the City of Cape Town, so the City was not able to answer this.
He replied to the question on whether there was adequate housing by saying that there was inadequate housing nationally. Housing was one of the issues where departments under-performed, creating issues for municipalities. The extent of funding for housing was very low, and the City would be able to do more if resources were made available.
Replying to the question on the plan to cushion the loss of jobs, he said that this brought up a range of issues. The government needed to get the economy going again to address this problem so that people got their jobs back and had an income. In order to cushion the impact, the City had focused strongly on assisting poor people. The City had always had a strong process in place for the provision of resources to poor households, costing around R3bn a year. The City was able to expand on this.
Looking at the constitutional responsibilities of local government, he said that there was not a responsibility for major social intervention, except through provided services. The South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) had failed to provide food and support, and the City had stepped in beyond its own constitutional mandate to assist those communities as far as possible within limited resources. The City’s mayor had made this a strong priority, to ensure that food was distributed as broadly as possible. A detailed answer would be provided to the Committee on where the food was provided.
Mr Neilson said that his comments on regulations limiting local government performance applied broadly to government regulations in place, and not merely those related to COVID-19. As an example, he said that supply chain management (SCM) regulations made it difficult to put contracts together, as even a minor thing such as a tap could fall foul of these regulations. His comment had asked whether these regulations could be drafted in a manner that provided for greater flexibility in achieving the objectives sought.
Replying to the questions on quarantine sites, Mr Neilson said that this was a key priority of the provincial government. The City had done a lot of work in investigating possible sites and making City sites available to the provincial government.
On the question on rates collections between April and May, he explained that in May there was an improved collection from April, but the real comparison should be made from March, showing a drop to 77% from 95%. The fall-off from banks in terms of banking transactions published yesterday was also around 20%, which indicated that the City’s experience was in line with that of banks.
Replying to the question on loans, Mr Neilson said that local authorities may not assist people with loans. Some of the requests made from the public would effectively be loans, and the City was not in a position to provide such assistance. Those who had lost their income had been prioritized for assistance from the CIty. If anyone no longer had an income of more than R7 000, they could qualify for the indigent benefit and get the benefits for rates rebates, access to cheaper tariffs and other benefits available in the City’s indigent policy. Previously, the City had required three months of income as proof for indigent status, but this had been taken down to one month so that effectively, a person could apply for indigent status immediately after a job loss.
On the question of flooding in Delft, he said that this information could be provided, and said that the provincial government should account. On the impact on the opening of schools, he said that those questions should be directed to the provincial government, as schools were beyond the City’s mandate. On increased homelessness, he said the City did not have exact numbers, but had a number of sites across the city, which were not full and had spare spaces. Anyone within its jurisdiction needing shelter was recommended to go to these shelters.
On the impact of national government departments that had failed to come to the party, Mr Neilson mentioned the issue of refugees, social services and health provision. The refugees’ issue was a responsibility of national government departments which had completely neglected this issue, despite it being raised by the City many times. On issues related to homeless people, the national government department responsible for social services had not been seen to be making an impact. On the health aspect, he said that the City runs over 100 clinics, even though this was not a local government function. Around R700m a year was allocated from the City’s budget as an unfunded mandate. The burden of primary healthcare was even higher under the present pandemic circumstances, creating significant additional costs.
On the R2.1bn shortfall and its impact on the City, Mr Neilson said that this meant that money that could be used for other purposes now had to be used to fill the R2.1bn hole. If the national government could assist the City in any area, it would be best in meeting this shortfall so that there was not an impact on any other services provided to people on the ground.
On the City’s COVID-19 plan, he replied that he was informed that the plan had been presented in detail at the previous meeting, and that the City would be able to provide the Committee with a costed breakdown.
On Strandfontein, he said that the City had not been properly approached beforehand to arrange access for elected officials. What had happened was that groups had turned up and the people responsible for ensuring security to avoid a spread of infection could not simply let anyone in. He said that the groups had arrived and could not be identified as Members of Parliament, or allowed entry.
On the enforcement of lockdown regulations, Mr Neilson said that the South African police services had been dramatically cut in Khayelitsha over the years. SAPS had the primary responsibility for enforcing COVID-19 regulations, and that the City provided assistance where it could. There should not be a denial of the key and primary organisations which failed to fulfill their responsibilities.
On the issue of the SAHRC being denied access to the Strandfontein site, he said that the City did not have a problem with the Commission carrying out its responsibilities, but it had appointed monitors who were not Members of the SAHRC who had turned up at Strandfontein, attempted to interfere with operations and created a dangerous situation. The City had no problem where the SAHRC made plans to visit the site. The case could have been dismissed, because the Strandfontein site had been closed down and the City was happy to have the case dismissed, but the SAHRC had decided to take it forward.
On water tank installations
Ms Limberg replied that the informal settlements in priority 1 of the City’s response plan addressing the maintenance and enhancement of existing water and sanitation services, was dedicated to close to 500 settlements permanently serviced either through toilets, taps, electrification or refuse removal services. She echoed Mr Neilson in saying that StatsSA had confirmed that the City of Cape Town had some of the highest access to basic services within informal settlements. She explained that the City also had janitorial services providing cleaning and cleansing services, which had been enhanced as part of priority 1.
Priority 2 focused on the emergency provision of temporary services to settlements that were either not serviced or had limited services. These were generally newer settlements formed in the context of recent unlawful land occupations, where communities had settled on land that was not suitable for habitation. Priority 2 included the installation of water tanks, and there were 27 trucks providing daily water delivery services to 173 informal settlements. Priority 2 also included the two phases of water tank installation.
Ms Limberg said that the first phase of water tank installation had comprised of 93 water tanks, and was fully funded by the City of Cape Town. The second phase included the 214 water tanks provided by the NDWS, with which the City had been collaborating quite successfully in relation to the implementation of this particular programme. As part of the tank installation programme, the City had had to revise its initial list of 16 informal settlements to four because of space constraints. Where the City had not been able to install tanks, those communities were still serviced on a day-to-day basis through the delivery of water via the City’s water tankers. She assured Members that the City was not in any way disregarding any particular community as all of these communities were being serviced during this period through temporary and emergency measures.
At its budget council meeting a few weeks ago, addressing the financial year budget 2020/21, the City had set aside a just over R200m towards priority 2. She explained that priority 3 involved the additional health and hygiene measures which the City was implementing as a multi-departmental programme, which involved the City’s health department, the national Department of Health (DOH) and other role-players. Priority 3 included programmes such as community awareness campaigns.
On the cost of both operations and capital, and the plans to reduce that cost in the long run to ensure more sustainable and a continuous supply of services to informal settlements, Ms Limberg said that the City intended connecting the water tanks to the formal water reticulation infrastructure where this was feasible. Settlements that had not been able to receive a tanker would potentially be receiving standpipe setups, and there was a process under way to investigate this.
On the provision of water to the 173 informal settlements, she replied that there was a significant amount of effort going towards ensuring drinking quality standards, and a number of control measures were being put in place to ensure health and safety compliance requirements were met. City staff had been trained to ensure adherence to all of the necessary health and social distancing requirements.
Community unrest and crime
Ms Limberg said that one of the issues being monitored which was preventing the continuous servicing of certain areas, included unrest based on access to food and other resources where the City saw some communities stoning and damaging vehicles. There had also been criminal elements involving attacks, robbery and hijacking attempts. The City had reached out to community members during this time, and many of them had been of great assistance, but this had not always prevented criminal activity. The City had put alternative measures in place to ensure that residents were not severely impacted and wherever possible services were resumed almost immediately. She clarified that the 41 million liters reported was the number to date.
On the questions relating to Marikana, Ms Limberg replied that it was important to note that Marikana was a settlement that was located on land belonging to multiple private owners, and also that it was a flood prone area. The City’s disaster management and informal settlements management departments had responded by providing relief in different forms. Prior to the rainy season starting, the City also had a transversal winter readiness programme that removed any matter that could constrict and cause flooding. This programme also focused on ensuring that the City assists informal settlements in preparing for rain and flooding, and its response teams operate on a 24-hour basis.
Ms Limberg responded to the question on water and electricity disconnections and reconnections, and said that the City did not disconnect water supplies -- it restricts water supply for debt purposes. This restriction essentially allowed a resident to receive approximately 750 liters of water per day at 2.4 bar pressure, which was the minimum pressure in the City. The City had suspended restrictions on both water and electricity for debt purposes in the middle of March, before the lockdown commenced. The City had been assisting residents who had reached out to the City for full reconnection and unrestricted supply of water, and the City had been incredibly flexible in making the necessary arrangements. She was willing to commit herself to providing the exact data on the number of reconnections to the Committee.
On the enforcement of lockdown regulations, she said the City had reinforced the national COVID-19 regulations, and the national Police Minister had acknowledged that the City and the province had implemented these regulations far more diligently that anywhere else in South Africa. It was for this reason that the City had the highest number of fines in relation to the current regulations. In Khayelitsha there had been multiple loud hailer events involving the disaster management officials and other departments. The City staff had visited taxi ranks, transport interchanges and supermarkets as part of the efforts to ensure that there was general compliance. She assured Members that these efforts had been multiplied across different parts of the city that had been identified as hotspots.
On the question of people living in backyards, Ms Limberg pointed out that the City was the only city that she was aware of that had an ongoing backyarder service upgrade programme providing for inclusive basic services to backyarders that were on city rental property. The City was not permitted to install these services on private property, and where there were settlements that were on private property, the City provided services to the best of its ability, usually on the periphery of the property.
On the amount of water supplied to residents when they were restricted for debt purposes, she said that the amount was far above what the World Health Organization sets out as a health requirement, which showed the City’s dedication to ensuring a caring and sensitive approach to rendering basic services.
Cape Town as the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic
Dr Zahid Badroodien, MMC: Community Services & Health, responded to Members’ concerns on the high numbers of COVID-19 infections in the City of Cape Town. He replied that, unlike other provinces, the approach of the City’s municipality and the provincial government of the Western Cape had been very strategic. He explained that the Western Cape had focused on high-risk individuals, so that when there was a positively identified COVID-19 patient, a number of role-players in the team contacted that individual to identify whether or not they had access to quarantine isolation facilities, and to identify the patient’s contacts. This strategic approach was very important to keep in mind because unlike other provinces, the City and the Western Cape province had led the approach in terms of the bushfire model espoused by the Minister of Health. It was also important to note that at one point, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) statistics had shown that the Western Cape specimens made up at least one quarter of all lab tests that were conducted nationally. He emphasised that this supported his assertion that as a City and as a province, the Western Cape had been very proactive to identify potential positive cases. He said that around mid-April, the very same statistics showed that 1% of Gauteng’s COVID-19 tests had come back positive, whilst the Western Cape saw about 12.1% of its tests coming back as positive. It was also important to keep in mind the quality of the tests that were being done.
Dr Badroodien said that this proactive approach was very important, especially very early on, because there may have been seeding in this province long before any other province received any number of asymptomatic COVID-19 cases on their side. It went without saying that because this province welcomed a number of international visitors in its entire tourism industry, and other citizens to access education and other opportunities such as employment, it was likely that the City had been exposed to a higher risk of the virus.
On the question of clinics being closed, he replied that since the rate of local transmission had been so high, residents and frontline workers faced a higher risk to COVID-19. The City had been very proactive in its approach to make sure that the number of clinics that were closed as a result of exposure and risk assessment was being minimised. It had launched a decanting project, where up to 80 clinics were being kitted out with additional decanting facilities to facilitate access to chronic medication and remove symptomatic patients from the general patient population into an area where they could be screened, tested and managed accordingly. Phase one of the project was being concluded next week on Tuesday, and phase two was starting at the same time as the contractors were able to move their services, so that there was not a lag between the two phases.
On the sanitizing and deep-cleaning of the City’s facilities, he replied that unlike other cities, Cape Town was very serious about making sure that all of its facilities remained open where possible so that residents’ access to services were not compromised, creating later consequences, particularly when it came to accessing treatment.
Homelessness and COVID-19
Regarding homelessness in the City, Dr Badroodien said that according to the Constitution, homelessness did not fall into the ambit of local government. The South African Local Government Association (SALGA) had already written to the national Department of Social Development (NDSD) on 16 April through the Acting Director General, Mr Mzolisi Toni, to advise that according to the constitution there was a concurrent mandate between provincial governments as well as national governments, to ensure that homeless people were looked after adequately. The Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) Department had also instituted regulations, clearly stating that it was the state’s responsibility to identify shelter space where homeless people could be evacuated. Nonetheless, the City had acted proactively to ensure that its homeless community could be sheltered in a safe space when the appropriate Department on a national level was not forthcoming with the required assistance.
Dr Badroodien said the City had moved to identify a macro site where the City offered a number of services to its homeless people, including daily clinic services involving up to 15 doctors, nurses, volunteers and pharmacists. The City had achieved phenomenal success, as over 1 500 individuals had accessed some form of care, including identifying medical conditions people were unaware of, and were now controlling previously uncontrolled conditions. Every single homeless person who accessed the site had been screened at least three times by the time the facility had closed, and those who required access to quarantine and isolation facilities were helped into those facilities.
More success stories that came out of the Strandfontein site included that not a single homeless person at Strandfontein had tested positive, and over 120 individuals had been reunited with their families when they chose this as an option. The City was able to offer psychosocial rehabilitative services through its partners. The City was also able to help homeless people to four meals a day, hot showers, mattress beds and a number of other services that had made this site unique and unlike other cities. Strandfontein had been closed as a result of lockdown Level 4 regulations, which clearly provided that the State must provide shelter for homeless people.
Before the close down of the site, the City’s Social Development Department and the street people unit had acted proactively to engage with every single homeless person, to offer them either reintegration, reunification or shelter space. The City had been assisting about 300 or so homeless people into a shelter, and the suggestion by one of the Committee Members, as informed by the media, that the City had simply dumped people under a bridge was incorrect. He explained that those people who had found themselves under the bridge had opted to go to the facility under the bridge, where the City was preparing its third safe space site for the city. He emphasised that every single individual who chose to go to the City’s Culemborg space which was still being organised, had chosen to do so under their own volition, rejecting the City’s assistance into a shelter where they would still be able to access a bed, food and showers.
On the question of what the City was doing to address those who were still on the street, Dr Badroodien replied that it was wrong to assume that all homeless people wanted access to shelter. What people did not take into consideration was the fact that the City’s homeless community was a non-homogeneous group of people who were exposed to traumatic circumstances, were dependent on substances, had psychiatric conditions, were frail and required access to other services like rehabilitation and frailty services. He emphasized that the City’s street people unit was active across the city and engaged daily with all homeless people to offer them access to shelter, as the City today had about 100 spaces spare in shelters. The City’s approach when helping homeless people was a holistic one, not simply aimed at providing shelter but also upscaling opportunities, access to employment, and access to rehabilitation with the City’s partners.
Dr Badroodien said that it was very likely that Cape Town was the only city in the country that, in its adjustment budget that had just been approved, had allocated R20m for shelters and related service providers. Where there were shelters, the City was erecting prefabs to inject up to 300 additional beds. It was implementing more safe spaces across the city, to assist homeless people holistically as a project that was currently under way.
On the question of MPs having been prohibited from entering shelters, he replied that the biggest risk at Strandfontein were those individuals who came from the outside to try and introduce the virus into the community. He emphasized that the regulations were very clear that these spaces needed to be considered quarantine facilities, and for that reason access had to be strictly regulated as a protection measure.
Dr Badroodien referred to the litigation proceedings that the City had undertaken involving the Human Rights Commission, and said that it had in no way questioned the roles and responsibilities of the Commission. Nonetheless, it could not allow monitors who had bullied City nurses at Strandfontein to the point of tears to go unaddressed. On the City’s interpretation, there was not an automatic transfer of powers that were given to a commissioner over to a monitor. Initially, when the matter was before the court, the court had supported this and noted that the individuals who were stated in the court action initially were not allowed on to the facility. He highlighted that the City’s undertaking of the court action did not aim to inhibit the functioning of the responsibilities of the Commission, but rather, in light of the responsibilities of the Commission being so serious, any monitor connected to this Commission should conduct themselves responsibly and respectfully.
Quarantine facilities for vulnerable communities
Dr Badroodien said that the province was leading in the management and implementation of quarantine and isolation facilities. He assured Members that the City had made available all the facilities that the province had identified as quarantine and isolation facilities, especially for vulnerable communities. The City’s resorts from Nomzamo, all the way to Khayelitsha and the False Bay coastline, had been identified for this purpose.
The inclusion of all councilors
What he had taken away from the Committee at the last sitting was that notwithstanding the fact that Council was in recess, the City had to do more to include and inform councillors. The City now presented a weekly briefing, led by Dr Badroodien to all councilors, where he shared weekly updates on the City’s actions and plans so that they were equipped with the information to educate their communities. In the past three or four briefings that he had hosted, about 100 councilors had attended those briefings, and a number of questions were asked, and the City then presented answers at follow up meetings.
Progress of conditional grants
Mr Kevin Jacoby, Chief Financial Officer: City of Cape Town, addressed Members’ questions on the progress of conditional grants, saying he had been able to obtain the most up-to-date spending figures. The City had spent 97% of its Energy Efficiency and Demand Side Management Grant as at the first week of June; 60% of its Expanded Public Works Programme Integrated Grant; 100% of its Finance Management Grant; 50% of its Informal Settlements Upgrade Partnership Grant; and 97% of its Infrastructure Skills Development Grant. He added that the City had spent 67% of its larger Integrated City Development Grant; 99% of its Municipal Disaster Recovery Grant; 78% of its Public Transport Network Grant (PTNG); and 64% of its Urban Settlements Development Grant (USDG). The underperformance in the Neighborhood Development Grant had been addressed, with contracts tendered accordingly.
He stressed that he was grateful to the national government for assisting with COVID-19 response plans because National Treasury, together with the line departments responsible for the PTNG -- typically transport orientated -- and the USDG -- cutting across all services -- had allowed the City to convert capital grants to extract certain components for operational purposes, to help municipalities respond to the pandemic. A lot of what had been presented from Water Services was funded from the USDG, and a lot of the City’s cleansing in taxi ranks and public transport interchanges was funded from the PTNG. The City was extremely grateful for the level of assistance from national government.
PPE acquisition and cost of Masks
Mr Jacoby said he agreed with Mr Neilson about some national decisions limiting local government work, and explained that through lockdown Levels three and four regulations allowing the bringing back of staff in particular areas, the City faced such a challenge. The City was required to provide staff with cloth masks and required 40 000 cloth masks so that every staff member would receive two cloth masks. He explained that the service providers that the City engaged with could not source the exact material that was required for face masks that would measure up to the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) standard to have the material locally manufactured or put together. The only way the service provider could access that material was to import it, but because of the local content rule, the City could not go ahead with that acquisition. He said that under the emergency procurement allowances, even under the COVID-19 pandemic space, the local content rules still operated in a very inflexible way. The City fully appreciated the fact that it needed to add to the benefit of the economy, but there were certain times where there may be a need for a relaxation on what might be within a regulation. He emphasised that the City did not dispute the entire clause but was merely seeking to highlight such challenges in rendering services.
He agreed that paying R50 for the masks was not ideal. National Treasury had sent out a price list for these masks, which were N95 and FFP2 masks that were typically made for doctors and nurses and frontline staff, so there clearly was a market shortage. Across the entire PPE need that the City had as an organisation, it was experiencing the impact of shortages in the country. It had sent its request for quotations, had over 40 responses and was quite satisfied that what the City had eventually settled on was market related in its fullest sense. In the end, it had settled with its price whilst finding itself between a rock and a hard place, as the performance of duties by nurses and doctors, safely and with PPE, was valuable and in line with the City’s moral and regulatory mandate. The City was quite satisfied with its supply chain management practices on PPE acquisition, and had got it watertight. He said that the City allowed for competitive space and when it deviated from the National Treasury pricing and when the market could not perform within the official threshold that had been created, it reported every one of those eventualities to the City manager as part of good governance. As soon as the disaster management period was over, the City was mandated to report all of these deviations from the circular up to Council, so that the whole process remained transparent.
Mr Jacoby said he had seen some very disturbing instances in the market, as the City engaged with the market in a very honest way, but sometimes the market could be dishonest. The market would accept orders from the City after a full supply process from the City had been undertaken, and once they had received the order, other organisations would buy out that stock and then the City would be informed that the order would not be arriving, which was very disruptive to the City’s functions. It had kept track of every behavioral pattern of every service provider that it had tried to engage with across all the PPE spectrum, and would be reporting them all to National Treasury, especially those that had been exploitative as far as pricing was concerned.
Ms Mkhaliphi said that some of her questions had been left unanswered, and asked again for clarification as to how the City had managed to collect more revenue, even under pandemic circumstances. She explained that she was trying to observe the different practices in different municipalities, and find the best practices. On assisting consumers, she asked that there be details provided on slide 12 regarding the provision of loans. She said that the Deputy Mayor had displayed an arrogant attitude in answering the issue of evictions, and thanked the Chairperson for reprimanding him and reminding him about the role of the Portfolio Committee. The City should not send him to Portfolio Committee meetings if he was going to be arrogant. When the Committee was asking Mr Neilson in his capacity as Deputy Mayor, he should be accountable in that capacity rather than through party persuasions.
She said it was not true to say the evictions involved unoccupied structures, as she knew that those people were the residents of Hout Bay from 11 years ago. She pointed out that even the Mayor of Johannesburg had been confronted on the same issue, and emphasised that government should not be heartless, particularly during this pandemic. In ward 95 they had made a similar argument about evictions, and that case had been decided against the City. The councilor was doing interviews in public and misleading the nation with the argument that people had erected new houses. Even if this argument from the City was taken as the truth, there should be an element of being a human being when considering evicting people in such horrible weather. She was aware of the history of Cape Town when it came to evictions, and alluded to the recent matter regarding the group of foreign nationals, where the court had ordered that the City find an alternative venue, and the City had disregarded this order. She said that the City should provide leadership and provide clear answers, to allow Members of Parliament to play their role of oversight.
On access to the Strandfontein site for Members of Parliament, Ms Mkhaliphi repeated that the mandate of oversight should not be prevented, and Members should not be treated as children, because Members knew how to use a mask and adhere to social distancing. She warned the City delegation against wrongfully uplifting politicking issues. She noted Dr Badroodien’s assurance that the City was meeting with councillors weekly, and said that she was going to follow up with councillors on whether they were being included in governance matters. On the issue of water, she said it seemed to her that the City was presenting a lip service to the Committee. She said the City initially planned to have 250 tanks, and had reduced this number to 93, and then called this a successful phase one. In Monwabisi park, household structures may house a number of people within one household. What was important to report was how many water tanks there were for how many people. The City did not care about poor people in informal settlements, and she recommended that the delegation should go back to their plans, make clearer plans and come back to the Committee to satisfy Members that people were safe in the epicenter of this pandemic. She agreed with Mr Hadebe that it was unacceptable that the Mayor was once again absent for his role in accounting to the Committee.
Mr Hadebe said that all the questions asked by Members, except for those on the masks and food parcels, had been asked at the previous meeting, where the Committee had requested a detailed plan with cost allocations for each programme from the City. The questions from Members were in the interest of the public, and should take into account the seriousness of the issue, as Cape Town was the epicentre of the COVID-19 crisis. He said that Mr Neilson had not answered specifically as to what regulations passed by the national government were impeding the City from executing its powers, and why he had gone further to suggest that Parliament should give local government more time to comment on regulations. What Mr Neilson was saying seemed to suggest that the regulations were contravening s151(4) of the Constitution, preventing national government from impeding or prohibiting local government from exercising its functions. The Committee would want to take this up and look into these regulations, but it could not generalise and create an impression that there were certain regulations contravening s151(4) without details. He requested that the City provide a clear and accurate response into the specific regulations.
Mr Hadebe also alluded to the practice where councillors were being briefed and participating in the municipal command council. He said that in the City of Cape Town, all councilors from other political parties did not participate in what all municipalities across the country should be doing in facilitating a joint command council, which constituted all political parties in the city. He asked that the City answer why they were only resorting to informing councilors, and not allowing them to be part of the command council. He reminded Members that a letter had been written to the municipal manager and premier requesting that Members of this portfolio Committee who were residing in the Western Cape be invited to these command councils, yet to date there had been no such invitations.
On the issue of Strandfontein, Mr Hadebe said he was disappointed that three Members of Parliament, including the leader of the official opposition, who was also a councillor of the City of Cape Town, were prohibited from accessing the site, yet the City had the audacity to organize a gospel festival of more than 20 people. He emphasised that these were the facts. He noted that within taxi ranks and public transport interchanges, the City had used marks and lanes for social distancing, and asked that the City answer to what measures have been put in place to ensure the enforcement of these regulations. The City had law enforcement agencies, metro police and transport law enforcement. He reminded the delegation that the regulations compelled the City to put measures in place to reduce the spread of infection through enforcement. He urged that the City not shift the responsibility to SAPS and national government, but rather answer specifically how many law enforcement agencies were deployed in Mitchell’s Plain, Manenberg, Delft, Khayelitsha and Gugulethu. Shopping complexes in these townships were full and without adherence to social distancing, which was why the Committee was interested in where these law enforcement agencies were deployed. He asked why there was a preoccupation on affluent areas, and not poorer areas. On the closed clinics, he made the example of Nolungile Clinic, were staff Members had to protest against the lack of PPE and the clinic had been closed down after 15 positive cases of health care workers. He asked again that the City respond specifically on whether these clinics had been reopened, and what their status was.
Mr Hoosen said that the existing regulations did not allow for sufficient oversight of the lockdown regulations in general, as well as for Members of the Portfolio Committee in their respective provinces. He appreciated the Chairperson’s efforts to engage with the different provinces. He said that in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and eThekwini, he had raised the concern that neither Ms Mkhaliphi or he had been allowed to attend the KZN and Thekwini command councils. He asked that this matter be taken up with the leader of government business. As a matter of principle, Members of Parliament should be able to conduct a level of oversight over the different command councils. There were some grey areas on the extent to which MPs were allowed to do so, and the matter therefore had to be taken up, and Members of the Executive Council (MECs) should be encouraged to engage on this. MPs’ role of oversight was critical in the context of the lockdown regulations. He appealed to the City of Cape Town that wherever it was possible and for the sake of transparency, the City should allow for oversight from opposition parties, provided that the aim was for different MPs to make some positive contribution in the public’s interest.
The Chairperson commented that the Disaster Management Act regulations under s27, 41 and 55 did not require consultations, because they were of an emergency nature meant to address emergency situations. Only normal regulations under s59 required consultations. She asked that the City answer to how it was applying the district development model approach in dealing with COVID-19, and what partnerships existed, because the report was not clear on this. On privately-owned quarantine facilities, were there any people from townships accommodated in these privately-owned quarantine facilities? Had the City designated COVID-19 hotspots in the City, and what were the local measures in place? What was the City’s contingency plan for the current and worsening weather conditions? What was the City’s progress with its ongoing drought relief intervention?
Responses to follow-up questions
Deputy Mayor Neilson replied that the point on providing loans as assistance had been misinterpreted, and confirmed that the City was not providing any loans. On the question on collections, he said that collections had remained relatively manageable, because the City had a high-level of e-billing, with 270 000 customers having registered for e-billing. On evictions, he interpreted what Members had said as debating points, rather than questions, and said that he believed there had been a comprehensive response to these questions.
Dr Badroodien responded to the question of MPs being prevented from accessing the Strandfontein site, and said the City tried actively to prevent people from accessing the facility. The City implemented COGTA regulations on the nature of the facility, which were very clear that the site must be deemed a quarantine facility where individuals using the site were considered high risk, and not be exposed to conditions unnecessarily. He had not intended to have his reply seem as likening MPs to children, and apologised if this was how it had been received, saying that the City simply implemented what the national government regulations required. The issue was not as simple as donning PPE, because PPE was not a 100% guarantee for the prevention of either contracting the virus and or spreading the virus to other vulnerable individuals. He stressed that the individuals at the Strandfontein site were high risk for a number of reasons, including medical conditions like tuberculosis, chronic lung diseases and so on, which may predispose them to contracting the virus from any number of healthy MPs who may visit that site.
On the comment about the gospel festival, Dr Badroodien said that the visit by the religious leaders was a request specifically made to the mayor's office, to allow the religious leaders on the site so that the spiritual component a number of homeless people would like to have had support from, was addressed. The religious leaders did not engage with the homeless, and were simply placed at the site where there was an easy view of them for individuals at the site. Any number of individuals could have made these same necessary arrangements beforehand with the mayor’s office. It was not good enough to arrive at the front gate and push in to the facility, like a number of opposition Members in the province and the City had attempted, as well as other individuals connected to other organisations. In no way had the City tried to politicise this issue. Using the example of the monitors connected to the Human Rights Commission, he said that these monitors had leaked the report to the media without allowing the City to engage on the document, and to also inform these monitors what efforts had been undertaken to address some of these concerns, which they had not taken into consideration when making the findings public. He said that the Department of Defence and a representative of the Minister of Police’s office had all visited the facility, had been highly impressed with the operation at Strandfontein, and had commended the camp manager and other staff at the site for the way in which they worked with the homeless people at the facility.
COVID-19 Response governance and enforcement
On the issue of weekly councillor briefings, Dr Badroodien replied that he found it surprising to hear that there were councillors who did not know about this invitation, as it was a standing invitation in every councillor’s diary. It was important to note that it was not a compulsory meeting, and the purpose of the meetings was not simply for councillors to take the information, but also engage with the information. As an example, he said that councillors were very proactive in making recommendations that identified where the reporting done by officials may not be in keeping with their experience in a particular ward. These recommendations would then be shared in the disaster coordinating team and the joint operations committee through the relevant officials.
Referring to the issue of the high infection count in the City, Dr Badroodien said he hoped to make it very clear that the City’s numbers were reported as higher because of the strategic way the City tests, isolates individuals, and identifies any contacts with a particular focus on high risk vulnerable groups in hot spot areas. The question on the clinics that were closed was a difficult one to answer, because the assumption that was being made was that the doctors, nurses and pharmacists were exposed only to COVID-19 in a clinic, and that was incorrect. Any health professional in a facility had access to the PPE, and Mr Jacoby had made it very clear that health professionals were prioritised when it came to access to PPE. It should be borne in mind that in the city, and especially in some of its hotspot areas, the risk of contracting the virus in any of the risk areas, including shopping centres, public transport interchanges, police stations and post offices was high now that a number of other facilities had been reopened.
He said that the list of clinics which were closed could change on a daily basis because of the exposure that was reported by clinics through the officials on the ground and the risk assessment conducted, explaining that the necessary quarantine of those exposed and deep cleaning of the facility was organised to allow reopening when appropriate. In the particular case of Nolungile, Mr Hadebe had been correct in saying that a large number of nurses had been exposed to the virus, but he could not say whether, after the risk was promptly assessed, the facility was closed appropriately. He would follow up the issue of nurses protesting on reasons related to a lack of PPE, but he thought it was very unlikely because he spoke to the area manager in charge of that particular area on a daily basis, and PPE was not a matter that had been brought to his attention.
In answer to the Chairperson’s questions, Dr Badroodien replied that the hot spot model was a proposal that the provincial government had made very early on to its counterparts in other spheres of government, to address the risk quite strategically. The hot spot model was actually being implemented in a number of areas across the city, including Imizamo Yethu, Hangberg, Klipfontein and the Tygerberg regions. The hot spot model insists that the City works in a transversal nature regarding the number of departments that have input into the City’s efforts when addressing the mitigating measures that were being implemented. He made the examples of the 490 Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) members who would form part of the City’s education team that goes into communities to inform people about quarantine, isolation and how to avoid the virus; the Solid Waste Department, that comes in to clean the public facilities; and the City’s law enforcement officers working with the 490 EPWP members.
On the enforcement of lockdown regulations, Dr Badroodien replied that the City was continuing to encourage councilors, especially in high risk areas, to let them know what measures were available to them. He was part of the Khayelitsha COVID-19 Committee’s WhatsApp group, and had made it very clear to the councillors in the Khayelitsha area that they did have the opportunity to register volunteers for disaster risk teams that were assisting there. Neighbourhood watches had been able to function again, and this number of individuals who were part of the City’s enforcement processes would increase and allow collective and collaborative work across the City’s departments and civic associations.
The Chairperson said her questions on identifying hotspot areas had not been addressed.
Ms Mkhaliphi also asked for clarity on which councillors were invited to the briefing meetings.
Dr Badroodien replied that the hotspots had been identified in partnership with the Department, and he had mentioned some of those identified as including Klipfontein, Hangberg, Imizamo Yethu, Khayelitsha and Gugulethu. He emphasized that there were a number of focused interventions that involved testing, quarantine and isolation facilities. Members should not be surprised when the numbers increased, as it would be because of this targeted approach. The backlog in the national health department’s laboratories made it even more difficult to implement this focused approach. The provincial department was investigating other alternatives and the use of private facilities to test the specimens.
He assured Ms Mkhaliphi that absolutely all councillors were invited, including ward councillors and proportional representation (PR) councillors. If there was an anomaly where councillors had not received the open invitation, she should inform Dr Badroodien so that the situation could be rectified.
The Chairperson asked that the City also submit in writing contingency plans for the ongoing worsening weather conditions, in line with the pandemic conditions and the City’s progress on ongoing drought relief interventions. She said that a detailed business plan that was costed would also assist the Committee to monitor the City’s response plan. She assured the City that the Committee would also engage with the provincial government, particularly on the health and school aspects. She asked that Committee Members submit questions by 10:00 tomorrow morning.
The meeting was adjourned.