KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government on its COVID-19 response plans
Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs
02 September 2020
Video: PC on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, (National Assembly) 02 Sep 2020
In this virtual meeting, the Committee was briefed by the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government on its COVID-19 response plans. The presentation, which was led by the Premier, covered the programme of the KZN Provincial Command Council and the plans and strategies implemented by each department to assist in mitigating the spread of the virus in the province.
Members acknowledged the province’s success in achieving a decline in the infection rate. However, they expressed deep concern over the corruption and mismanagement of the COVID-19 Disaster Grant. They therefore asked the Premier for an update on the lifestyle audits of provincial officials and sought clarity on the disciplinary actions in place. They referred to the rape of a 12-year-old learner who had been sent home to fetch her mask, and asked what measures the Department of Education had put in place to ensure that such an incident did not recur, and whether the rapist had been found and prosecuted. They also voiced their suspicions surrounding the COVID-19 expenditure in certain municipalities. The province was asked to address the Committee urgently on the problematic billing system currently utilised within the province. Clarity was sort on the measures being used to monitor that the Disaster Grant funds were being spent on their intended purposes.
The Premier had been asked to comment on the deployment to the KZN legislature of the former EThekwini mayor, who was facing serious corruption charges,. However, members of his delegation advised the meeting that he could not respond on the virtual platform due to load-shedding. This was met with some scepticism, and heated exchanges between opposing party Members. A suggestion by the delegation that Addington Hospital should be moved because its proximity to the sea was resulting in high maintenance costs – including rust problems putting the hospital’s lifts out of operation – also attracted negative comments.
Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson greeted the Committee and thanked Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for her attendance, and welcomed Mr Sihle Zikalala, Premier of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). The Minister said she would be in attendance only until 8pm, due to load shedding.
The Chairperson thanked the Premier for attending the meeting and for his early submission of the report on KZN’s COVID-19 response plan, as it allowed Members to peruse the report prior to this meeting. She welcomed the promising trend the Premier had displayed towards the decrease in the infection rate, and appreciated the hard work the Province had done to mitigate the spread of infections. However, the Committee believed there was still work to be done to ensure that there was no second wave. The Province needed to ensure that the people adhered to the COVID-19 regulations as just earlier today, she had seen the extent of the struggle in the province when a group of 35 artists and entertainers had blocked the M3 highway to stage a concert. There was also a need to enforce transparency and accountability measures in the province to ensure that the COVID-19 funds were monitored and spent on their intended purposes.
She also extended her appreciation to the Premier for the work done to address the issue of procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE). The Auditor-General (AG) had noted that the COVID-19 relief package had landed in a weak control environment which needed to be addressed immediately. The Committee had been made aware of the media reports on the investigations into the alleged corruption in the Department of Social Development and Education. The investigation indicated that officials had taken advantage of the National State of Disaster declaration during the purchasing of the PPE and blankets in the wake of COVID-19. She was pleased to see that the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) was still looking into the matter. She also acknowledged the province’s publication of its COVID-19 expenditure amounting to R2.9 billion, as it was a step towards increased transparency and accountability.
Covid-19 response plan for KZN
Premier Zikalala said the Covid-19 response plan for KwaZulu-Natal covered the following areas:
- Programme of the KZN Provincial Command Council;
- Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs;
- Department Human Settlements;
- Department of Education;
- Department of Health -- particularly the Provincial Health Covid-19 Plan, including the health promotion, prevention, containment and treatment and quarantine facilities, and the use of the Department of Public Works’ facilities for activation and isolation.
Programme of KZN Command Council
The first COVID-19 case in the province of KZN had been recorded on 5 March 2020. It was first declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 12 March, which had triggered a health emergency in the country. The KZN preparedness and response plan was immediately activated to contain, manage and mitigate the spread of infection, and a Provincial Command Council was established and tasked with the following responsibilities:
- Ensuring that the health care system was geared to respond comprehensively to the COVID-19 pandemic, to minimise the risk to health care workers, and maximise good patient outcomes;
- Capacitating emergency medical services to respond to reported cases;
- Establishing and maintaining screening capacity;
- Continuously informing the public of Covid-19 health risks and ensuring that measures were in place through risk communication and community engagement; and
- Adopting a continuous, consistent communication approach and using it to heighten awareness and minimise panic in society
The Premier said that as at 31 August, KZN had 627 041 confirmed cases. There had been 14 149 deaths and 54 923 full recoveries. He gave details of the distribution of cases by reporting date and district, and said evidence indicated that female cases continued to dominate, with approximately 60% of the confirmed cases. The data also indicated that the number of cases decrease with the increase in age in both male and female cases. The majority of cases were between the ages of 30 and 39 years. Statistics on admissions to private and public hospitals, and to intensive care units (ICU), field hospitals and quarantine sites, were provided.
By 27 July, KZN had spent an amount of R2.929 billion on COVID-19 related expenditure. Of this, the provincial departments had spent a combined R2 billion. The municipalities spent R925 million, and public entities had spent the balance of R4 million. Of the R2.9 billion spent so far, a total of R1.140 billion (57%) had been spent on infrastructure programs. These were projects that related to upgrades and alterations to health facilities, and for the establishment of quarantine facilities. Many of these were infrastructural projects in schools, hospitals and communities. The full report on the KZN COVID-19 expenditure had been made accessible to the public.
Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA)
Premier Zikalala said KZN had formulated a very comprehension response plan to COVID-19. All departments’ mandates found expression in the plans, and for the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), it had resulted in the following interventions that were within its mandate:
COVID-19 structures aligned to the District Development Model
All district COVID-19 structures were meeting weekly, with the participation of Ministers. Clusters had been established to support the Command Council, and these were operating effectively to deal with response plans -- economic, infrastructure and employment issues, as well as social, governance, finance and justice and safety issues.
Circulars to Municipalities
Several circulars had been issued by the COGTA Inter-Governmental Relations (IGR) unit to ensure regulations were communicated with municipalities, to enable these organs of state to adhere to regularity compliance when establishing the required relief interventions, such as homeless shelters.
Communication and business continuity
To ensure business continuity, virtual platforms had been utilised to convene the provincial meetings of the Department with the municipalities, such as MuniMec, where the Members of the Executive Council (MECs) meet with districts. Beyond this, communication channels had also been established through the utilisation of social media platforms such as WhatsApp, to ensure instant communication with Mayors and Municipal Managers in the province.
Post-lockdown recovery plans
KZN COGTA had developed a post-lockdown recovery plan for the Department, in line with its mandate to support local government, guided by the national and provincial imperatives (legislation, policy guidelines and the ministerial regulations). The plan had been adopted by the provincial Cabinet on 20 May. COGTA had also engaged with all 54 municipalities as a sector to develop their own individual plans, and these had been submitted to COGTA.
The Department was working on the installation and distribution of static tanks and water tankers, with the Department of Education spearheading the borehole water programme.
Approvals had been sought and obtained to amend the Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) business plans to focus on COVID-19 relief projects. The grants were being monitored by COGTA in 11 municipalities at both a local and district level. The Committee was also provided with details of the provincial water master plan, the procurement and distribution of PPE, the identification of burial spaces, and the sanitation and waste management protocols introduced.
Local government economic recovery approach
The KZN economic recovery plan was structured into 12 streams. These were clothing and textiles, informal economy, health and innovation, the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), information communication technology (ICT) and innovation, tourism, trade and investment, infrastructure development, agriculture and agro-processing, the creative economy, the informal economy, “red tape” and delays in the regulatory environment. The recovery plan for each sector described the proposed short, medium and long term strategies to sustain the sector under the new norm that had been triggered by the pandemic.
As means to institutionalise the way in which municipalities provide support towards the Informal economy, circulars had been sent to all municipalities.
The Department had also established a Business Continuity Management (BCM) committee for COVID-19. The committee meets daily to monitor the occurrence of COVID-19 related incidents and implement measures to combat the spread. Furthermore, the committee ensures the business continuity in terms of the provision of tools of trade, the decontamination of facilities, and the reporting of cases in the Department and municipalities. The BCM also advises the accounting Officer on any potential risks which may arise due to the pandemic
Role of Traditional Leaders
During the lockdown alert levels, from 5 through to 2, the Department had allocated permits to all executive committee members of the local House of Traditional Leaders, to ensure that the AmaKhosi was still able to carry out mandatory work relating to curbing the spread of the virus. Accordingly, the provincial House of Traditional Leaders had decided to suspend cultural initiations to eliminate and reduce the infection rate. The Department of Health, working with COGTA, continued to train traditional leaders to mainstream awareness and education on COVID-19. As such, the Traditional Councils (TCs), through izinduna, were assisting by prohibiting community members from having gatherings such as cultural events/activities, imicimbi and sports tournaments during the lockdown period.
The Premier pointed out the effects of budget cuts on the Department’s projects, including service delivery.
Department of Human Settlements
The COVID-19 pandemic interventions from the Department of Human Settlements were informed by the following factors:
- Over-crowding in the informal settlements;
- High risk areas, or settlements where the virus was likely to spread rapidly;
- Areas with limited or no access to clean water.
To deal with these factors, the Department had rolled out community-wide sanitisation programmes, as well as mobilisation and education campaigns.
Department of Education
Premier Zikalala said that upon the reopening of schools, Grades 12 and 5 had returned on 8 June. However, due to increased infection rates, the National Coronavirus Command Council had given a directive for schools to close on 27 July. On 3 August, Grade 12 learners had once again returned to school, followed by Grade 7 on 11 August. Grades 1 through 11 (with the exception of Grades 5 and 8) had returned to school on 24 August, with Grades 5 and 8 joining them on 31 August. With the return of learners and staff, the Department had ensured that the system had prepared safety guidelines that needed to be adhered to, and established safety committees who were trained at schools, circuit, district and head office levels. PPE was provided to each school, which included cloth face masks, face shields, hand sanitisers, disinfectants, thermometers, liquid soap and gloves to reduce the risk of infection.
As part of the non-negotiables for the re-opening of schools, the Department had ensured that all schools were provided with cleaners, and that all schools were deep cleaned and the grass cut. The Department appointed 6 320 screeners to ensure that the proper screening protocol at each school was adhered to prior to the entry on to school premises.
A total of 467 schools had been vandalised in the province in the various districts through forced entry into classrooms and offices, and 401 (88%) schools had been repaired to date, with 66 currently being repaired.
As hygiene was the number one requirement to avoid the spread of the virus, it was important to ensure that the Department provided water tanks and water stations to all schools with no access to water. Therefore, service level agreements (SLAs) were signed with municipalities and Randwater to supply water, which had provided 3 480 water tanks to schools. Furthermore, to ensure that sanitisation regulations were upheld, the Department had supplied 1 060 chemical toilets where needed. The Premier said that 2 352 374 learners were being provided with a hot meal during school. Social distancing regulations indicated that classroom capacity should not exceed 15 to 20 learners, but as there was a shortage of classrooms in the province, the Department was considering implementing desk shields as a temporary solution
Department of Health
The current response plan assumes that human-to-human transmission may be amplified in specific settings, including healthcare facilities, households and communities that had direct contact with infected individuals. The response strategy emphasised education and awareness first, as part of health promotion, in order to create enabling environments for people and communities to adopt COVID-19 infection preventive behaviours, as well as the rapid identification and close monitoring of contacts of affected persons.
Mr H Hoosen (DA) extended his appreciation towards the Premier for his availability. He had hoped the Premier would have addressed the Portfolio Committee earlier, as they were the lead Committee for the COVID-19 response and the disaster management in the country. He expressed gratitude towards all officials for the update on the progress made within the province. Since the onset of the lockdown, evidence indicated that there had been extensive work done in a number of areas, and he commended the officials and the departments who had assisted in mitigating the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
He was encouraged by the Premier’s closing remarks, stating that various cases of fraud and corruption were being investigated, as these were not minor cases that could be easily dismissed, such as the R22 million blanket scandal which had previously been discussed. The Premier had commented that investigations were under way, but he sought clarity on whether these individuals were being held accountable and if they would be suspended from their positions, as well as how many had already been suspended. He asked if the Premier would reveal the names of the companies which were being accused of fraud and corruption. In a public statement, the Premier had announced that he would personally undertake the process of getting to the bottom of all corrupt activities evident in the Department of Basic Education (DBE), Social Development, and municipalities across the province. However, the Premier in a passing comment, had articulated what had been done, but Mr Hoosen argued that it was not enough information for the Portfolio Committee to effectively conduct oversight of KZN. He said that the Premier had a responsibility to provide the Committee with the necessary information, and asked if it could be made available. Additionally, on 13 August, the Premier had reassured the public that lifestyle audits would be conducted throughout the province. He asked for an update on this matter, specifically if the process had been initiated yet and when the Committee could expect a report on these audits.
Regarding the catering scandal which had taken place within the Premier’s Department, he asked what progress had been made on the issue, and if officials were being held accountable and if they had been suspended.
He referred to the matter of the 67-year-old gentleman who had unfortunately passed away at Northdale hospital, and asked if the Premier could provide an update. He was aware of the officials who had been suspended, but he sought clarity on what action had been taken regarding the specific incident where a patient was treated in a car park at one of the hospitals in KZN, as well as how far along the investigation was, and an estimate of when it would be concluded.
Regarding the expenditure of municipalities in the province, Mr Hoosen said he understood why eThekwini would have the highest expenditure, given the size and density of the province. However, the second highest expenditure was the rural municipality of uMkhanyakude, which was arguably suspicious. He asked the Premier if he was of a similar view, or if he was satisfied with this. He also queried if there were other municipalities the Premier believed needed to be looked at more closely.
KZN had recently come under fire for fraud and corruption plaguing the province. He argued that the provincial government was not providing citizens with a sense of comfort or reassurance that they were serious about eradicating these issues. He referred particularly to the recent appointment of the former Mayor of eThekwini, Ms Zandile Gumede, who was currently on trial for fraud involving R430 million. He invited the Premier to make a statement on the matter, and to explain how he could see it acceptable to appoint someone in his province who was facing such allegations, and expect the public to believe that his government was serious about fighting and rooting out corruption. Commenting that she would continue to receive a salary from taxpayers’ money, he asked the Premier if he would end her appointment to ensure she did not get paid while placed on leave.
Ms H Mkhaliphi (EFF) asserted that according to the COVID-19 Disaster Management Act, the Premier was not only accountable in his province, but also to the Portfolio Committee. She said the Chairperson had written a letter to the Premier directing that she and Mr Hoosen be accommodated in their COVID-19 Command Council, to which no response had been received. She asked why they had not been invited to be a part of the Command Council. The Premier had mentioned that the SIU had been invited to the Province, and asked for more information on the matter. She also asked if the Premier would provide an update on the lifestyle audit.
She asked how the province was ensuring the contact tracing of COVID-19. Despite the decline in cases, she had received numerous calls from individuals complaining about COVID-19 issues. For example, there was a worker in Phoenix who had tested positive for the virus at his work and was told to return home, and had taken a taxi, thus putting all passengers at risk. She asked the Premier how he was managing instances such as this. Addington Hospital was the province’s designated COVID-19 hospital, but it was not up to standard to be dealing with these issues, as it struggled under normal circumstances. What had been done to assist the hospital? When she had met with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the hospital and the Head of Department (HOD), she had been told that over the last five years, only one lift was functioning, and it had been reported that there were no staff members. She asked if the Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for Health could respond on this matter, and on another case where a woman needed to be referred to a different hospital for treatment for stitches still causing pain after 15 years. She asked wanted the MEC to elaborate on a report discussed in the media regarding the open hospitals.
She highlighted the responsiveness of the Department of Education’s MEC and HOD when contacting them about issues. There was a case she was dealing with yesterday regarding a school in Phoenix, which the Department had already assisted her with. However, the province needed to explain to the Committee why they were still encountering challenges in KZN with transport. When she travelled through the rural areas, the school governing bodies indicated that transporting learners to schools remained an issue. She remembered that the MEC had stated that some learners were having to walk great distances to get to school, and risked their lives having to cross rivers.
She wanted to check with the MEC of Human Settlements what the specific role of the provincial authorities was. Various communities had written petitions to the Speaker’s Office, which had been referred to this Committee, alleging that municipal structures were not responsive to the needs of people. She referred to the Brooks Farm Project, where the community alleged that no action had been taken to remedy problems, and there had been no follow-up regarding any progress. One could not allow someone to work for the Department and the community who ignored issues that had been raised, refused to provide feedback when requested, and treated members within the affected communities with such an attitude, as anyone taking on a public service position would know that such behaviour was unacceptable.
She said that the MEC of COGTA must address the Committee regarding the large number of municipalities within the province currently under administration, as it did not appear that the province was making progress in this area. She emphasised that as a resident of eThekwini, the fight against corruption within the province must not be hindered, as the community was fed up with the lack of action. The Premier would be aware of how the eThekwini community had revolted after the announcement that the ANC KZN provincial executive committee had decided to deploy the former eThekwini mayor to the provincial legislature, despite the fact that she had been charged, and was still engaging in numerous court cases regarding her alleged corruption. She also called on the MEC of COGTA to address the Committee urgently on the problematic billing system currently used within the province. The existing reports produced by the City Council, under the leadership of the former Mayor, stated that numerous individuals within the community had been billed incorrectly for their utilities. This should be treated as an exceptionally urgent matter. As the national lockdown regulations state no households water or electricity should be shut off unjustly, and considering that many people had lost their livelihoods due to COVID-19, overcharging their accounts would place unjust strain upon the poorest of the poor, leading to the eventual disconnection of essential utilities during the pandemic.
Lastly regarding the video post to various social networks of a water tank parked in the middle of the road that was leaking large amounts of water, she requested that the MEC for Water and Sanitation explain to the Committee who had been contracted to provide this service, what steps had been taken for them to receive this tender, if it was a private company, if it was listed, and lastly if there was evidence that this company had incorrectly benefited from public funds.
Mr I Groenewald (FF+) referred to the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), which stipulates that all outstanding amounts must be paid within 30 days, and asked if the Premier would ensure that this was achieved. He observed that Newcastle was rated one of the worst municipalities by Ratings Africa, and that it had approved unfunded budgets over the last few years. He asked if any monitoring control had been implemented with regard to the capital budget.
The Chairperson called Mr Groenewald to order, and reminded him that the Committee would be meeting with the MECs from the provinces at a later stage. These matters were not COVID-19 related, and he suggested that Mr Groenewald put his questions in writing.
Mr Groenewald agreed, and asked the Premier how he would ensure that Newcastle did not waste the additional R20 million awarded to their Unemployment Insurance Fund to assist those citizens in need.
Mr B Hadebe (ANC) voiced his appreciation for the Premier’s appearance at the Committee. As illustrated in the presentation slides, there were currently 10 470 active COVID-19 cases and 2 152 deaths. He stated his frustration that out of these active cases, only 150 individuals were in quarantine sites and 1 049 admitted to both public and private hospitals, thus leaving 9 421 individuals in self-isolation. He sought clarity from the Premier on whether KZN was having challenges with those affected having adequate places to self-isolate, given the nature and demographics of the Province. This was worrying, as KZN was one of the country’s hotspots, and in order to reduce the spread of the virus, isolation spaces were of great importance, especially considering that 90% of the positive cases were in self-isolation.
It had been reported that R2.9 billion had been spent on COVID-19 related goods and services, with R925 million spent by municipalities. He asked how many small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) had benefited from this money. In order to achieve radical socio-economic transformation and remove the stigma that black was associated with corruption, it could not be associated with maladministration. He asked if the Premier would be able to indicate to the Committee, as per the National Treasury regulations, that all the procurement of goods and services had been reported to Treasury within 30-days after the transactions took place. Additionally, upon their assessment of the reports that had been submitted on a regular basis, were there any incidents which suggested that there was an attempt at price inflation, corruption or maladministration?
Mr K Ceza (EFF) said the Premier had spoken about engaging with traditional leadership regarding public awareness campaigns pertaining to COVID-19, and asked what similar engagement he had made with religious leaders, and what joint actions had he embarked on. Regarding matters of human settlements, evidence indicated that there were 670 informal settlements around eThekwini with 22 200 households residing in them, despite the fact that these families were suffering from fires, natural disasters and crime. He asked what densification measures and developmental programmes the Province had implemented to eradicate informal settlements and replace them with adequate housing. Furthermore, what measures had the provincial Department of Health implemented to assist in reducing the stigma and misconception surrounding those infected with COVID-19? He was pleased that the Premier had mentioned the SIU with regard to the digital thermometers procured by the KZN Department of Education. He asked if the Premier could explain in detail what had occurred and who the supplier was.
Ms D Direko (ANC) asserted that not too long ago, a Grade 7 learner had been raped after being sent home to go and fetch her mask. What measures did the Department of Education have in place to avoid such unfortunate situations from recurring? How were they dealing with such situations, where a learner forgets her mask, especially in rural areas where learners have to walk long distances. Commenting that the lockdown had negatively affected municipalities, especially in terms of revenue collection, which in most of the municipalities was currently very low, she asked if there was any post-COVID provincial government plan to assist them in this regard. Regarding COVID expenditure, she asked how many quarantine sites and homeless shelters KZN had established, how they had spent on these facilities, and if they had followed the Treasury’s regulations. Lastly, she asked if the backlog of access to water and sanitation in schools was an issue in the province, and what they intended to do to address the situation.
The Chairperson commended the province for being relatively on top of the COVID-19 preparations, but said there was still room for improvement. She applauded them for not spending the entire provincial Disaster Grant, but with the municipalities at only 17%, it was worrying as it affected the national Department of COGTA in their reporting, as the grant was awarded from the Committee. The MEC of COGTA should look into these issues. The Committee needed to be reassured that the grant funds were being used for their intended purposes, and that the community was benefiting. The provincial Disaster Management Act Section 38 outlined the mandatory plans provincial HODs needed to have in place, and she asked when they would be developed, if they had not yet been put into action. She asked if the Province had a COVID-19 economic recovery plan in place, and if details could be provided, as well as the commitment of the private sector towards ensuring its implementation, which should also be expressed in the Integrated Development Plan (IDP) of the municipalities.
As KZN attracted a lot of tourists, she asked what the plan to monitor tourism compliance with the COVID-19 protocols was. What would the Department of Health in the province consider to be their flagship COVID-19 response project, for long term improvement for the provincial health system?
Ms Peggy Nkonyeni, KZN MEC: Human Settlements, said that the Department had been working as a team within the Command Council of KZN to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and that she had been appointed as the Chairperson of Social Protection and Human Development. There had been many clusters dealing with various issues, but the main aim was to ensure that they worked together to stop the spread of the virus. She claimed that the Province had done the best of their capabilities, and the evidence indicated that the spread had decreased.
She apologised to Ms Mkhaliphi, and said that in future she should contact her directly, as she did have her personal contact details. She realised that Ms Mkhaliphi had been communicating with eThekwini through an official, and unfortunately these issues had not been forwarded to the Department. She agreed that maybe they needed to improve their communication with regard to issues of human settlements in the metro.
She explained that according to how they had structured the Department, the metros were actually managing the development and implementation of the human settlements programmes. As the provincial department, they were responsible for receiving the budget and making sure that the business plans presented by the metros were supported financially. The Department thus embodied the role of monitoring the progress of these projects.
Regarding the Brooks Farm project, she said there had been continuous challenges, and that it was first established as a rectification project. In other words, there had been a housing project in that area and things had gone wrong, so the Department had revisited the plan and attempted to rectify the mistakes. She had recently been made aware that out of more than 400 units, many had in fact been rectified. There were also land-related issues that were being resolved by eThekwini metro through facilitation that was currently taking place.
Regarding the de-densification programme, she explained that they had experienced challenges in finding a parcel of land on which to build high rise buildings which was not far away from where people were residing currently, in order not to dismantle the community. Within informal settlements, people formed communities and it became difficult to relocate them to faraway places, so there were always these factors to consider.
She said the province’s decontamination programme had actually borne positive results, as people assumed that the majority of infection transmissions would take place in rural communities. However, due to their proactiveness, they had been able to implement these programmes very early on, which had led to not one rural community being declared a COVID-19 hotspot.
Regarding engagement with religious leaders, she said she had been personally deployed to various district municipalities as the MEC, and it had been decided that all stakeholders, such as traditional and religious leaders, the business sector and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) would be involved in assisting in spreading information about COVID-19 protocols. They had greatly assisted in controlling peoples’ movements in communities to assist in flattening the curve.
At some stage, KZN had been affected by stigmatisation, and there had been a situation where people in the province had supported the notion that if one wanted to die, one should enter the hospitals. The health care facilities became severely stigmatised. Therefore, as a Department, they had discussed the matter and decided to implement various intervention programmes, such as promoting oxygenation more than ventilation, and had explained what it meant and when was it supposed to be applied.
Mr Kwazi Mshengu, KZN MEC: Education, responded on the matter of scholar transports. He said the Department was on record for saying that they were severely underfunded as far as scholar transport was concerned. Education received a grant of R250 million per financial year from the national Department. Taking into account the landscape of the province, which was mostly rural, he asserted that the funding was not enough, as 74% of the province’s schools were in rural areas. With the history of deliberate underdevelopment in these areas, they were bound to face numerous challenges, and the underfunding made it difficult to address them. Currently, the Department was able to transport around 58 000 learners across the province, but an additional 117 000 learners had applied for scholar transport who could not be assisted due to underfunding. This may not even be the true number, as he believed there were some learners who had not yet applied for transport assistance. Knowing the distances these learners needed to walk each day, he would appreciate support for more funding to expand their transportation program.
The Department had tended to the learners who were crossing rivers to get to schools, despite the financial constraints. Funds had been reallocated to provide safe transport for these learners. However, the solutions remained unsustainable going forward as a result of underfunding. The provincial Treasury had given the Department R100 million, which was a once-off funding. The Department would be asking for more funding next year so that they did not need to terminate scholar transport in other areas.
The Department had dealt with the matter of the learner who had been raped returning home to fetch her mask. He said that all learners were given two sets of masks, and they expected parents not to allow their children to leave their homes without their masks. He called for an active and visible role from the parents to help the Department manage such situations. In order to ensure that such incidents did not recur in the future, they had amended the regulations to indicate that if learners came to school with no masks, they should be provided with a spare mask from the school if available, otherwise they should be given any cloth that could be used to cover their nose and mouth. If neither was available, the learner must be kept in the isolation rooms and the parents must be called to bring them a mask or fetch their child from school. These were the measures the Department had put in place to ensure that such occurrences did not happen, and was also providing schools with extra masks.
He commented that there were a number of challenges as a result of recklessness. As learners were aware that there were extra masks at school, they had been showing up without one, knowing that they would receive one upon arrival. This was going to cripple the intervention, as schools would run out of supplies. He would continue to plead with parents to ensure that learners did not leave home without their masks.
He said that there were districts such as Zululand which were facing challenges with water provision. As schools were also in these communities, they would be affected and the Department relied on the municipalities to ensure that water was available at schools. It had embarked on borehole programmes to provide water to schools, and 600 schools had been identified to benefit from this project. The Department had conducted studies throughout the province to recognise which schools were in need of water and to check the availability of underground water.
The Chairperson asked the KZN officials to find out if the Premier was available, as it seemed that he was no longer present at the meeting, and Members demanded that he answer their questions.
Ms Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu, KZN MEC for Health, said she had received a message from the Premier to advise that he had been hit with load shedding, and had lost connectivity.
Regarding the Northdale hospital issue, she said that due to the confidentiality clause, they could not reveal the cause of death of the patient who had passed away. However, engagements had taken place between the Department of Health and the family, where the cause of death and the reason why the patient had been brought into the facility was explained. Around April, the Minster of Health had instructed all facilities to create flu clinics with the intention of screening individuals and staff at the gates of each facility. If a patient showed symptoms of COVID-19, the flu clinics would re-direct them to a hospital, where a full health investigation would take place. This was meant to be a structure placed outside hospitals at the main entrance to screen individuals prior to entering the hospital. All facilities were instructed to create these spaces, but a few had reached out to provincial management and indicated that due to bad ventilation, they were unable to move patients around the hospital and thus could not create these spaces for the flu clinics.
When she had reached out to Northdale Hospital, they had indicated that they did not have the resources to create these flu clinics, but upon meeting with the staff, it became clear it was an issue of mismanagement. If they did not have the capacity, it was their responsibility to report to the district head office, as the Department was willing to do this themselves as part of the COVID-19 intervention. The Department had since suspended the acting CEO, the head of medical management, as well as the nursing manager. She said the preliminary report had stipulated that there might be a need to take disciplinary action against the manager of human resources. A team had been put in place to take over the management of the hospital until the Department was able to bring all systems back into order. She added that no one had been taking responsibility for the patients at the hospital, or how they were being treated, so the Department had immediately issued a statement noting that they had received the report, but were waiting for the final investigation report before taking drastic measures.
Contact tracing had been a challenge in the province, particularly in eThekwini, due to the size of the population in the area. However, the Department had engaged with the Provincial Command Council and social clusters, where it had been decided that an intervention strategy would be implemented. This strategy noted that upon finding out that a patient was positive, it was the Department’s responsibility to ensure that all patients were spoken to within 12 hours. This was done to find out whether they had the capability at home to self-isolate -- if not, they would be brought to the provincial quarantine sites. The Department lacked the vehicles and teams needed for contract tracing, so around May they had employed more staff and reached out to local municipalities to provide the necessary vehicles.
Addington Hospital was not a COVID hospital, as it had only about eight isolation wards, which was the situation in other hospitals. However, if a hospital did not have isolation wards, a referral system was in place to ensure the patient could be moved to a different location. Regarding the complaint about the lifts, she asserted that this had been disputed on the spot. There continued to be challenges at this hospital, but of the ten lifts, five were operation and at worst three, which was constantly being addressed. The Department had met with the service provider in charge of maintenance, and it had been discovered that they were not doing their job effectively. The Department had agreed to readvertise the tender to the public to address the matter. She said the lifts would continue to be an issue due to the location of the hospital, as the salt air that came from the ocean was causing the lifts to rust. As a result, they were looking into moving the hospital further away.
Regarding the patient suffering from bad stitches, she suggested that Ms Mkhaliphi give the Department her name and the contact details so they could follow-up.
Referring to the issue of stigmatisation and quarantine, she said the data indicated that towards the end of August, patients coming into the quarantine sites had decreased immensely, as communities had started stigmatising the individuals entering these sites. Upon returning home, they would be subjected to harsh treatment from others. If there was a patient willing to come to the facility, they would ask the Department not to stop in front of their gates but rather three roads down, as they did not want the neighbours to see them getting into the Department of Health vehicles. The Department had therefore decided to run a media campaign to assist communities in understanding that COVID-19 should not be shunned. Regarding quarantine sites in the province, it was decided that every district must have their own quarantine sight, with usually more than one.
On the matter of the legacy projects that COVID had helped put in place, she pointed out that KZN faced challenges with infrastructure, so they had decided against creating field hospitals and instead to upgrade existing facilities. As a result, all districts had at least one hospital under renovation. In eThekwini, the Clairwood hospital had been converted into a COVID-19 facility, allowing them to bring in equipment they had previously lacked. The Department had come up with a plan as to how this hospital would be utilised after COVID. When the Province was expected to initiate the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme, all public hospitals would be accredited to the NHI site by an independent body, which was dependent on the facilities’ infrastructure.
Mr Sipho Hlomuka, KZN MEC: COGTA responded on the issue of poor collection of revenue. He said that in the Premier’s presentation, he had indicated that as a provincial government, they had developed an economic recovery plan which invited all municipalities in KZN to state how the Department could assist them with recovery. The plan had been presented to the Cabinet and the Command Council, and he could provide the report on this matter to the Committee.
The grant from National Treasury had been received only in June, and had been transferred directly to the municipalities, and they had up until the end of September to spend this grant. COGTA was receiving monthly reports which could be provided to the relevant structures if necessary. With regard to the uMkhanyakude expenditure, they had disputed the expenditure presented, and the Department was engaging with the district to assist them in creating an accurate report that could be delivered to the Executive Council.
The Department had appointed service providers to drill boreholes for schools across the province, but it was impossible to provide the expenditure to date, as the legislature had not yet been provided with an invoice. As soon as this was done, the Committee would receive a report.
Regarding the water tanks in Zululand, the service provider who had wasted water had been disciplined, but COGTA could not do much as there was a contract between the district and the service provider which had since been terminated. The Department’s role was to investigate what happened and for the district to provide a report on the matter.
Ms Nelisiwe Vilakazi, HOD: KZN Provincial Department of Social Development, answered the question regarding the officials implicated in the PPE scandal. She said that eleven officials were involved and had been placed on precautionary suspension. This included one official at an executive level, five chief directors, and the acting directors responsible for supply chain management. The Department had requested support from the Office of the Premier, as they felt that due to some officials being senior managers, they would not have the capacity to actually manage the process. The Department had also reached out to the State Attorney for assistance and would provide the Committee with a full report on their progress.
Ms Mkhaliphi thanked Ms Nkonyeni, and acknowledged that she did have her number and would contact her.
She was pleased that the MEC was familiar with the Brooke Farms project, as it was old and had experienced many challenges over land issues. The matter had come to the Committee after the ward had petitioned the municipality to come and explain the progress to the Committee, so she would follow up with the Department’s office. The project was trying to build around 400 houses, but there was not enough land for construction of 55 of them. As this project was around 20 years old, she asked the Department why no plan was in place to speed up the process. A team which had been dispatched by the Mayor was currently on the ground, and had noted that they could not continue with construction until the municipal surveyors had completed their work. She was not satisfied with the answers that had been given by the MEC, as this issue had affected the elderly within the community.
Regarding the child that was raped, she was not pleased with the response that the MEC had provided. It seemed as if he was attempting to shift the blame on to the parents, but in this case the child did not have a mother -- the child’s mother had died when she was only two years old. The reason why she had to move from KwaMashu to iXopo was because the father of the child had not taken care of her for a long time, and she did not have a birth certificate. The family had therefore taken the child back to iXopo so that they could apply for her birth certificate, and it was during this process that the child had been raped. The father did not have a wife and was working far away from their home, and as a result the child was living with the neighbours. Looking at this case, it was unfair for the MEC to call for parents to play their role, as this child not only did not have a mother, but also unfortunately an absent father. Ms Mkhaliphi said she had taken the child back to KwaMashu personally to ensure that she received a birth certificate. Therefore, despite the responsiveness of the MEC’s office, she called on the Department to establish school programmes which looked beyond purely academic matters, and helped children with problems emerging at home. In this specific case, it would be good for the Office of the MEC to follow-up to check if her rapist had been arrested, and if not, how far the proceedings had progressed to show the family that the Department cared.
She reiterated her calls for the MEC of Education to address the matter of bridges. Although the MEC had committed the Department to addressing this issue when assuming office, a very bad picture of the Department had been painted in the media, citing the numerous cases of children falling into rivers and drowning on their way to school. She found it particularly egregious that the HOD had failed to respond to her, despite the fact that each and every night mothers were calling, heartbroken and grieving the loss of their child.
Ms Mkhaliphi requested that the MEC of Health provide her with the contact details of someone within the Margate District with whom she could liaise. Although she had contacted the Margate Clinic and spoken with one of their deputies, no one had been able to assist with obtaining a referral so that the mother, still affected by her stitches 15 years later, may be transferred to the Potchefstroom hospital. Speaking to the MEC of Health as a fellow mother, she pleaded with her that this mother, who could no longer continue to work as a domestic worker to provide for her family due to the pain, be assisted and that cases such as hers should not to be left in the shadows.
She thanked the Department for their response regarding Addington Hospital and the fact that they were currently looking for an alternative sight. However, there were numerous issues that plagued the hospital, and not just the faulty lifts, such as human resources staffing issues that had resulted in no one being assigned to do the laundry and ultimately a cleaner, who had no training on how to use the machines, had been tasked with doing it. Allegations of racism had been raised against a particular matron who originally began working there under apartheid, operating within the hospital’s theatre. While others had tried to intervene on this issue, the matron had not changed her behaviour and had in fact taken the matter to HR and got those who complained against her suspended during this COVID period. There was a need for a concrete plan on how deal with issues such as the lack of correct staff and allegations of racism, among others issues, would be managed.
She called on the MEC to respond urgently to the billing system problems that the people of eThekwini were facing, as those within the municipality had indicated that no clear plan existed to remedy the situation.
Mr Hoosen raised the issue about the Premier disappearing, and said he did not believe that he had been hit by load shedding. He explained that on the Chairperson’s screen one could see the meeting conversation that displayed exactly when someone had left and when they had joined. Ms g Opperman (DA) had joined the meeting at 20:34, and the Premier had left just as she joined. He knew that load shedding took place on the hour, and argued that the Premier was not hit by load shedding, but rather by fear -- the Premier did not want to answer the questions. If he was wrong, then the Premier would return to the meeting and answer the questioned raised.
He asserted that the Premier was afraid to answer the question about Zandile Gumede. He expressed his disappointed, stating that one would expect that the Premier of the most corrupt province in the country would make the effort to actually provide an explanation and give the Portfolio Committee the hope that he was doing something about these matters, instead of running away. He said the Committee would never receive answers, as the Premier did not want to account for them.
Referring to the rusty lifts at Addington Hospital, he commented that if Members went to the Durban beachfront they would see every single building had lifts, some up to 30 stories high. He asked the MEC how it was that all of these buildings were able to have functioning lifts, but a government Department could not its their own hospital lifts working. It made no sense, and was the most absurd thing he had heard to date. On top of this, the MEC wanted to move the hospital when it had just been refurbished a few years ago, with hundreds of millions of rands spent -- but they were considering moving it because of non-functioning lifts. This was the craziest thing he had ever heard in his life. He would like to hear from the MEC of Health what the justification was for moving this hospital. The hospital had been in that location for decades, and the Department could not consider moving it before they attempted to refurbish it, as it would unnecessarily cost additional hundreds of millions of rands.
He reminded the MEC of COGTA that he had not responded to his question about municipalities being flagged for COVID-19 expenditure that they were concerned about. He said that if the MEC had this information available, he needed to share it with the Committee or report on the matter when he next met with the Committee.
He was encouraged by the information shared by Ms Vilakazi regarding the suspension of officials involved in the blanket scandal. It was comforting to know the Department would take quick action when such instances occurred, and that individuals had been suspended and held accountable. However, this was not the only scandal that had rocked this Department, and there were many others in numerous departments that the Committee had not heard from. He asked all departments what action they were taking against officials who were associated with these COVID-19 scandals in the province. There was a lot of corruption taking place in KZN and instead of addressing it, the Premier had run away.
The Chairperson asked about the issue of the Municipal Disaster Grant that was standing at 17%, and said that the spending was too low as the money had been deposited on 6 May, and Treasury had indicated that they had only three months to spend the grant for their intended purposes and ensure that citizens were receiving the services needed.
She asked whether the province had a COVID-19 economic recovery plan and, if so, she asked the MEC to divulge the details. She also wanted to know what the commitment from the private sector towards the implementation of the plan was, and if it was expressed in the Integrated Development Plan (IDP) of the municipalities.
She asked that all the other questions Members had directed to the Premier be divided amongst the KZN officials, and answered.
MEC Hlomuka began by correcting the narrative that the Premier had run away. He said that the Premier really had been affected by load shedding, and unless Mr Hoosen was able to scientifically prove that this was incorrect, he could not make such accusations.
Regarding the reprioritisation of the Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG), he explained that National Treasury had approved the transfer of these funds to municipalities in June, and not in May. The provincial COGTA was managing the progress of this disaster grant, but there had been challenges as some of the funds were approved later due to late submissions from the municipalities. The Department had systems in place to monitor the expenditure of the MIG, and could provide a detailed report from all municipalities which had received the disaster grants.
He said the province did have an economic recovery plan, which the Premier had presented earlier in the meeting. The Department had not been aware that the Committee expected a detailed report on this plan, as it would be more than 200 pages long.
MEC Mshengu also dismissed the allegation that the Premier had run away.
Mr Hoosen interjected and demanded that the officials disclose the Premier’s location to Members so that they could pull up the province’s load shedding schedule and decide whether the Premier was in fact truthful.
MEC Mshengu said he would not disclose the Premier’s location.
Mr Hoosen interjected once again, demanding the location of the Premier.
MEC Mshengu said that even if the allegations were based on hogwash, the Premier and the province were known to not shy away from debate. He argued that these allegations were spurious and must be understood as such, and that it was unfortunate that the meeting had been turned into a political attack.
On the issue raised by Ms Mkhaliphi, he explained that as parents and guardians they had to exercise responsibility over their children. However, he acknowledged the circumstances of this specific child, as explained by Ms Mkhaliphi. He said that they needed to face the realities, and that parents as well as guardians needed to exercise the same level of responsibility towards their children. If the child had been allowed on to the school premises and got infected, or infected others, then the responsibility would have been placed on the teachers. Without turning the matter into a discourse, he reiterated that he condemned what happened to the child. He added that the neighbours had been irresponsible in allowing the child to attend school without a mask. He was not differing with Ms Mkhaliphi, but was rather observing the reckless behaviour that had taken place which was separate to the case of rape. He called on parents to heed the call, and to try and manage the situation.
MEC Nkonyeni apologised for the Premier’s absence. She told Ms Mkhaliphi that she could come to her office at any time, and said that they were trying to deal with the Brooks Farm project. The province was about to complete their interventions in order to assist members of the community.
She reiterated that KZN had developed the provincial economic recovery plan and had identified sectors that would assist in stimulating the economy. It was working alongside the KZN Economic Council, the NGO sector, as well as other stake holders, to aid the province in developing an implementation strategy.
MEC Simelane-Zulu said she wanted to align herself with the issue of the Premier’s absence. She told Mr Hoosen that she herself had been disconnected from the meeting earlier due to connectivity issues, and was aggrieved that he was attempting to push his biased narrative. Had the Premier not been willing to respond, he would not have presented to the Committee in the first place. She argued that Mr Hoosen was not acting in an honourable manner, especially when he accused KZN as being the most corrupt province in the country. She said that he had brought his own prejudices to the Committee, and it was out of order, as the province had made itself available to the Committee to engage on improving the lives of KZN citizens. She added that if Mr Hoosen had an issue with the province, he should voice this on the appropriate platforms.
She had heard Ms Mkhaliphi’s cries, and would take the matter up with the HOD and would avail her contact details to her. She indicated that the Department looks forward to working with Members who were interested in bettering the lives of the KZN people.
She said that staffing was a challenge all over the province, which COVID-19 had exacerbated. Regarding a legacy project, the outbreak of the virus had aided the Province to employ staff needed at an assistance level. The facilities were understaffed, as the province was underfunded, but the Department was working with the Office of the Premier on programmes to address these matters. On the racism issue, she would follow-up with the HOD, as she was under the impression that the matter had been resolved.
She argued that had Mr Hoosen listened to her response on the issue of the lifts, he would have heard her explain that the service provider had not been delivering services of an appropriate standard. It was unfortunate that he was twisting the words of the province to suit his agenda.
Mr Groenewald called for a point of order on the grounds that the MEC was attacking Mr Hoosen.
The Chairperson recognised the point of order, and allowed Mr Groenewald to proceed.
Mr Groenewald thanked the Chairperson and noted that Mr Hoosen was being answered to directly by every MEC, which was coming off as an attack from the province, and asked if this was being allowed. Mr Hoosen was a Member of this Committee who voiced his perspective on certain issues, and should thus be protected.
Mr Hadebe supported the point of order, and said that Members of the Portfolio Committee reserved their constitutional right to voice a perspective, as well as having that right protected by the Chairperson. Whether the Chairperson disagreed or not, she needs to ensure that the Member was not attacked on a personal basis. There was no need to be defensive over provinces -- officials just needed to answer the questions posed.
Mr Hoosen asked to be seen.
The Chairperson recognised him and asked him to proceed.
Mr Hoosen said he had not once mentioned any political party by name, so if the MEC saw it as a political attack, he extended his apologies. However, he was not surprised by the reaction he received, as he believed that the province was not used to answering difficult questions.
MEC Simelane-Zulu called for a point of order.
The Chairperson said that the MEC would have an opportunity to respond, but asked if Mr Hoosen could be awarded the opportunity to respond.
Mr Hoosen continued that at the beginning of the meeting, when the Premier finished his address, he had made it a point to recognise the good work being done in the province. However, he argued that the officials could not take criticism, as seen on ENCA, when the Premier had been asked a difficult question and had lost his cool. These officials were supposed to be mature politicians, but they could not remain calm under pressure.
He returned to the issue on load shedding and asked all the MEC’s who came to the defence of the Premier to tell the Committee the location where he had conducted the presentation. Furthermore, he asserted that none of the MEC’s would divulge this information because they knew that the Committee would find out the location and would know whether he truly was affected by load shedding. He said that if he was in fact incorrect, he would apologise to the Premier and the MECs.
MEC Hlomuka angrily interjected and called for a point of order, stating that they could not accept this statement as they did not know his location.
The Chairperson pleaded with Members to remain calm and not to interject, as everyone would have the opportunity to speak. She called for all to respect the decorum of the House -- it was late, and the meeting needed to continue. She asked Mr Hoosen to finish off his statement.
Mr Hoosen said that he did not want to make the matter any more difficult, but reiterated that if the MECs believed that he was wrong, they needed to tell the Committee the location of the Premier. The Premier could not behave as if he was running a courier company, where he came to deliver a package and then left. He believed the Premier was afraid to deal with the issue of Zandile Gumede, and challenged any one of the MECs to respond on the matter. He asked for an answer as to why the most corrupt mayor in the country had been appointed in the most corrupt government. KZN owed the country an explanation, and they could not run away from it.
MEC Mshengu replied that they would always refuse to be abused, and it was an abuse that Mr Hoosen would have the audacity to make such spurious allegations. The officials had addressed the Committee to account on the issues that had been raised in the agenda, and had been honourable in responding to questions, particularly to those from Members who were showing willingness to be objective on matters. He argued that Mr Hoosen had launched a personal attack on the Premier, and as his government, they were within their rights to protect him. He was of the belief that KZN was not the most corrupt province and refused to remain quiet on the matter, as it insinuated that all MECs present were corrupt.
MEC Hlomuka said that he had responded to all the questions raised, but argued that it was important to defuse the narrative that the Premier had run away. They had never asked anyone their location because it was not necessary. The issue of network was a global challenge, not solely a South African one. The province had responded to the questions asked to the best of their abilities. He repeated that the province was not corrupt, but if these allegations were true, he would welcome Members opening a case at a police station so that these corrupt activities could be investigated.
MEC Simelane-Zulu said that just because they had been elected as Members of the Provincial Legislature and not the National Assembly, it did not mean that they were sub-human, and they deserved to be treated with respect. She argued that Mr Hoosen had called her crazy when she articulated that they had plans to relocate Addington Hospital, and none of the Members had come to her defence. He had stated that Addington had been refurbished a few years ago, which she argued was a lie. The suggestion to relocate was premised on the fact that it was costing the province R350 million a year to effectively up-keep and maintain the hospital
The Chairperson said that the meeting had completely derailed from the approved agenda. She had initially allowed Members to speak on the matter, as they had a right to do so. In the past, she had never come to the defence of any individual, as it was not her responsibility and she was expected to remain impartial throughout the meeting. However, Mr Zikalala was only the second Premier to stand before the Committee, while the rest had extended their apologies. She was not coming to the defence of the Premier, but noted the unlikelihood of the Premier coming to present and then exiting on false grounds. At the end of the day, when Members spoke on any matters, it was imperative to maintain the decorum of the house.
The meeting was adjourned.