Minister & Deputy on Disaster Management Regulations and their amendments
21 April 2020
The Portfolio Committee held a virtual meeting for a briefing by the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, on the unintended consequences of the Disaster Management Regulations. Accompanied by both Deputy Ministers, the Minister spoke on the introduction on the lockdown regulations, their consequences and reasons for amendments to the regulations.
She stated that government had constantly amended regulations because it had taken into consideration the feedback received by stakeholders. She referenced examples such as the movement of children between parents as well as relatives and the sale of baby clothes was now allowed. Warm, cooked food was no longer allowed to be sold in grocery stores or by informal traders. The purchase of winter clothing, blankets and heaters may be relaxed soon given that winter is approaching.
The Minister clarified that lockdown regulations would be relaxed in stages and some areas may experience certain lockdown regulations for a longer period of time, particularly where the infection rate has been high. Each municipality was required to have quarantine and isolation sites for those who cannot do so at home.
She acknowledged South Africa’s existing challenges such as hunger, poverty and inequality have been particularly pronounced during the lockdown and the Solidarity Fund will aid the vulnerable and needy. Government through the Department of Social Development and through other means is working hard to ensure that no one will die of hunger.
The sale of alcohol and cigarettes is still illegal. She spoke about the evidence linking alcohol consumption to domestic violence, child abuse, stabbings and gunshot wounds. This would place a strain on emergency services and hospital beds intended for COVID-19 patients.
The Minister stressed that the lockdown was not intended to punish people but was implemented for their protection. She implored South Africans to be mindful of their actions as this could potentially affect others and said that the COVID-19 should be viewed as a collective challenge requiring collective sacrifices.
Committee members raised concerns about councillors issuing permits at a cost to businesses that are not allowed to trade during lockdown; about traditional leaders giving their essential service permit to people in rural communities to travel into town; and about the non-uniform implementation by police of lockdown regulations. Concerns were raised about arrests for breaking lockdown regulations and if offenders will have criminal records; illegal evictions during the lockdown; food parcels not being delivered and the non-response by SASSA phone lines; water tanks being set up on private property and not reaching their intended destination; the taxi industry bypassing checkpoints and transporting people across provinces and not adhering to regulations on number of people per taxi. Committee members warned that if the lockdown measures implemented by government were seen to be irrational and could not be properly justified, citizens who have mostly been understanding of the measures will become frustrated and revolt.
Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs briefing
The Chairperson commenced with brief comments on technical issues and then handed over to the Minister.
Minister Nkosazana Dlaminini-Zuma stated that the world was grappling with COVID-19 and that South Africa was not alone in its struggle. COVID-19 was causing such serious consequences which the world had last faced during the Great Depression. She pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic was exposing many fault lines in South Africa such as poverty, hunger, unemployment and inequality. While we are all facing difficult circumstances, we should not be overwhelmed and should treat this pandemic as a challenge that we should meet as opposed to a threat that we should fear.
The Minister stated that the COVID-19 pandemic began with a group of ten people from Italy who had a gone skiing and upon their return home had contracted the virus. The challenge faced with the virus was that a number of people could be infected, but remain asymptomatic and in this instance would still be able to infect others. For younger people and children, the virus manifests with slight flu-like symptoms without becoming a serious health issue unless the person has an underlying condition. The virus poses a serious risk to senior citizens such as people over the age of sixty and the mortality rate has proven to be higher for people in this age cohort. When someone becomes infected with the virus and is suffering from an underlying condition such as cancer, asthma or diabetes, they would require hospitalization and ICU treatment. If the health service was overwhelmed by a large number of critical cases, it would not be able to cope. As a country, South Africa implemented restrictions at a point when it only had 66 confirmed cases of infection in the country. However, the virus began to spread at a rapid pace with the numbers doubling every three days. This made it clear that South Africa needed to implement more stringent measures to ensure social distancing was being practiced. Without a lockdown South Africa would have been in a dire situation at present.
A lockdown meant that everything needed to be shut down except for essential services such as hospitals, pharmacies and grocery stores. Fast food outlets needed to be closed down as they sell hot, prepared foods. Even informal traders were required to sell only cold, uncooked foods. If cooked food is sold, even at grocery stores, all fast food outlets would then have to be allowed to do so. Having these fast food outlets would not be appropriate for social distancing and would effectively undermine what we have tried to achieve with the lockdown. The point is to limit movement to flatten the curve so that our health system is not overwhelmed and thereby we are able to prevent many deaths.
The Minister clarified that water and electricity are essential services. Transport is a supportive service to essential services and this has been allowed, albeit on a limited scale only for taxis, e-hailing and private vehicles. The number of passengers travelling at one time have had to be limited. At this point trains are still not in operation. Initially we had only closed some borders to South Africa as cases were coming from outside the country, but when the lockdown was implemented, all borders were closed which included land, air and sea ports, except for the export of essential goods as neighbouring countries rely on these. Flights had to be suspended as all airports were closed except for the transportation of essential cargo.
At this point we realised that South Africans were stranded in other countries and some had wanted to return home. However some of these countries were already in lockdown and our borders had been closed. Some South African students were in Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus, and some of these students had completed their studies and wanted to return home. We made arrangements for these students to be brought back as well as others who wanted to return home. Upon their return they needed to remain in quarantine for 14 days to ensure that if they tested positive for the virus, it would not be spread. Many foreigners had visited South Africa and were still in the country at the time of its lockdown, but our borders were closed except for South Africans who were returning home or foreigners who were being repatriated.
We realised that baby clothes needed to be classified as an essential good hence we keep amending regulations. As a country we have never been in this situation before. Government realised that it catered for certain repairs for essential services, however it did not communicate information about private or domestic repairs thus we have now allowed for this. For example if one has a burst pipe, one is able to request a plumber to fix this. The regulations were being amended each time a new situation arose.
Interprovincial travel has been limited as some provinces had a high rate of cases and to prevent this being a source of infection for other provinces, government had to implement this regulation. It became clear that this could not be completely limited hence government allowed for close relatives to travel to another province to attend a funeral, however only under specific conditions. The number of people attending a funeral had to be limited to fewer than 50 and night vigils are not permitted. There are regulations for burial of those who pass away after COVID-19 infection. They have to be buried within 72 hours and the body is not allowed to be touched, and funeral services should be shorter.
The Minister highlighted that there would come a time when there is uncertainty on whether someone has died from COVID-19 or an underlying condition and in this case all funerals will have to be treated the same way as they encourage the spread of the virus. Large gatherings will remain limited for some time to come and this includes religious services and weddings as the risk for infection in these settings is high. This had been proven dangerous as one person in Korea had gone to a church gathering and buffet and had spread the virus not knowing she was infected resulting in 1600 people being infected. This exact scenario played out in a number of places including the Free State in South Africa and France. Schools cannot be opened as yet as younger children in particular would not be able to practice social distancing and while they may recover easily from the virus, they will likely infect older persons at home which could be fatal.
The Minister stressed that alcohol and tobacco are not essential goods. Alcohol encourages irresponsible behaviour and if this is allowed to be sold we would be undermining the efforts of the lockdown and what we have achieved thus far. If allowed, it would increase the number of people in stores as people would be allowed to purchase alcohol at any time. South Africans should remain mindful of the fact that alcohol consumption has been linked to violent crimes and this affected murder rates, individuals being admitted to hospitals with stab wounds, gunshot wounds, and rape cases. Crime statistics prove this. These emergency cases would require the same hospital beds in the ICU which COVID-19 cases would require and these beds will then be in short supply due to the strain of alcohol related admissions. She urged South Africans to view this as a collective challenge which required collective sacrifice. Not purchasing alcohol should be seen as a small sacrifice to save a nation.
During the lockdown we have attempted to limit homelessness and we have tried to get those living on the streets into shelters. Home evictions during lockdown would essentially add to this issue as it is unrealistic for landlords to expect tenants to be able to move to somewhere else during this time. Everyone should be staying at home during this time. Home evictions are illegal during the lockdown. The Minister warned that this should not be seen as an opportunity to occupy land illegally as anyone who does this will be arrested.
Divorced parents who share custody of their children were not allowed to move their children between their respective residences. This regulation was then amended. Parents were allowed to move children between their residences provided they could produce a court order showing shared custody and those parents who were never married needed to be able to prove a relationship with the child or children in question, for example, by providing a birth certificate. Government also realised that children could have been visiting relatives when the lockdown took effect and the movement of these children is now permitted.
Goods that have been locked down in ports should now begin to be moved so that when companies begin to manufacture goods for export again the ports should not be overwhelmed with goods.
Government was informed by individuals who have experience with mines that when abandoned, rocks may fall and during the lockdown there would have been no reinforcement of underground pillars or any other such processes. It became clear that besides coal mines operating under Eskom, other mines needed to begin to operate, however under very strict conditions. When workers are called back to the mines, they need to be tested for COVID-19 first before resuming their duties and if they need to be in quarantine, the employer needs to provide this space. Mine workers need to adhere to social distancing which means people need to be 1.5 metres apart at minimum, they need to be equipped with PPEs, hand sanitizer and testing for COVID-19 should be done regularly. Workers should be screened for their temperature. All mine workers cannot return at the same time.
The Minister said when the lockdown ends, everything will not immediately return to normal and regulations would be relaxed in stages. For example Gauteng, where COVID-19 cases are high, would possibly have more stringent lockdown conditions than a district where there are no or very few cases. Lockdown regulations for funerals and gatherings would remain the same for some time even after lockdown ends. At this stage figures have shown that infection rates are no longer doubling every two days as they did before. When the lockdown is lifted there will be a peak in cases and depending on how rapid this is, government will decide what to do. When taking public transport, commuters will still have to wear masks and it will still operate at 70% of capacity. However trains and airplanes will have to be introduced gradually. South Africa’s borders may probably remain closed for some time.
Winter will soon set in and government realises that people need winter clothes, blankets and appliances for their well-being - and not specifically health or the economy - therefore this will be allowed for purchase, however it may be for a limited amount of time. She stressed that when these regulations change, it is not because government was not thinking at the beginning, but rather because regulations need to be amended to adapt to new situations.
The Minister said lockdown regulations had nothing to do with punishing people, but was more concerned with protecting them. She urged South Africans to be mindful of their actions as what they do might lead to someone else’s death. Our lives are highly dependent on one another and therefore people needed to act collectively in the sacrifices they make.
Government through the Department f Social Development and other means is working hard to ensure that no one will die of hunger. Ministers have offered to have their salaries cut by a third for three months starting in May to contribute to the Solidarity Fund which will aid vulnerable and needy South Africans.
She encouraged Members of Parliament that were allowed to be classified as essential workers to assist councillors and other essential workers, to raise issues that have not been brought to the government’s attention so that they could be resolved. She added that every municipality was required to have quarantine and isolation sites for those who cannot do so at home.
Mr M Hoosen (DA) asked if the Committee could engage in discussion with the Minister first since she needed to leave the meeting early for another engagement.
The Chairperson noted that the Committee had received the presentation documents just before the meeting had begun and thus did not have time to familiarise themselves with the contents, but suggested that questions on the presentation documents be directed to the Director General or Deputy Director-General.
Mr Hoosen thanked the Minister for her hard work during COVID-19 as it was an unprecedented situation that the country had never seen before. He acknowledged her comments about the frequent amendments to the lockdown regulations. He thought the majority of South Africans have understood the need for the lockdown. It was evident after two or three weeks of the lockdown that increasing numbers of South Africans began to show their frustration over some decisions made and contained in regulations. He referred to hot, cooked food not being allowed for sale and the Minister saying that this would prevent people from staying at home. He pointed out that this was not the case over the last few weeks. Grocery stores have been selling hot, cooked foods throughout the lockdown period until most recently when it was stopped. The majority of what has been purchased is goods that consumers still need to cook at home. Very few people have actually purchased hot, cooked meals. He appealed to the Minister to reconsider this regulation. It did not make sense that grocery stores could sell cold foods, but not hot foods.
He highlighted that when the regulations become unreasonable, South Africans will recognise this and will eventually protest disregarding the lockdown regulations and social distancing. He disagreed with the Minister as a grocery store selling a hot pie would not have any effect on the virus. Essential workers do not have the time to prepare food at home and hot food from grocery stores was needed for them to sustain themselves. This regulation created the impression that government was beginning to become heavy handed and people will start to lose confidence in the spirit with which the lockdown measures were initially implemented. The same applied to regulations on other items such as cigarettes, stationery and sanitary towels which have been declared as non-essential. He asked the Minister to explain the rationale behind these decisions. People viewed these regulations as unreasonable and unjustifiable and people will begin to seek relief from the courts. Such regulations were ambiguous and SAPS was implementing these as they saw fit. Some of these items could be purchased in one grocery store or other essential store, but this might not be the case in another store. He appealed to the Minister to reconsider some regulations and said South Africans would forgive government for this as they know some were made in their best interest.
He asked if the Minister intended to give any directives for relief packages for people in the various municipalities. He asked if people would be able stagger their municipal rates over a period of time or if there would be disconnections over the next 3 to 6 months. He asked how residents would be able to apply for relief from municipalities given that many people have been unable to work and will struggle to pay their bills. He asked for guidance from the Minister on when South Africa would see the easing on some of the lockdown regulations so that people could start preparing for it.
The Minister replied that the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) worked with all ministers and issues raised by committee members are handled by the other departments and not only COGTA. She acknowledged that South Africans have mostly appreciated the lockdown regulations and have cooperated with government. She stressed that there are regulations that allow sanitary towels and medicines to be sold and she has never heard of police preventing the sale of these. The Minister of Police should be informed of this and where it was taking place so that the situation could be remedied. On the relief package that municipalities would give to people unable to keep up with their bills, the Department was in discussions with government about this as municipalities should be accommodated by the relief funds as the municipalities would need this assistance to pay salaries. Those people who could afford to pay their bills should do so. She could not confirm if municipalities would receive these packages as yet, but the Department is in the process of engaging on this matter.
Ms H Mkhaliphi (EFF) thanked the Minister for her comments and said the EFF supported the government in its efforts against fighting the COVID-19. It was unacceptable for the Committee to receive a presentation document a few minutes before the meeting started. The Committee was the custodian of what was currently happening in the country and the presentation required more scrutiny which could not be done in such a short space of time. She asked for clarity on cooked food. She then spoke in her vernacular language [01:03:02]. South Africa was currently faced with two enemies, the COVID-19 and poverty. While the Department of Social Development (DSD) had announced relief measures for the needy, there has been an outcry from communities about food parcels. It was not clear how these parcels should be obtained and asked if the Minister was in contact with her DSD counterpart. She spoke in her vernacular language [01:04:53]. The role of the municipality and SASSA on food parcels was not clear as they were unable to provide any information on the food parcels. When people called and sent WhatsApp text messages to the numbers provided to enquire about this, they do not receive any response. This will cause people to leave their homes and revolt due to their frustration about this.
The Minister replied that the President would make an announcement on how to deal with all the issues the country is presented with. Social Development does assist, but some people are not recorded on the system. The department has been trying its best to deliver food parcels. However how to carry out these deliveries has been an issue because if people are asked to go out and queue it would not be in line with social distancing. We have discussed whether the parcels should be delivered to homes.
Mr B Hadebe (ANC) welcomed the presentation by the Minister and said he appreciated her tireless efforts together with the Cabinet led by the President. He pointed out that the COVID-19 had only served to further highlight the inequalities in our society. He asked about municipalities who have evicted people during the lockdown and if they would face the full might of the law. He asked if these families would be compensated as it was poor families who were evicted and it would be difficult for them to rebuild their structures illegally demolished by the municipalities. He referred to the regulations relating to cooked food and those selling it at taxi ranks and tshisanyamas as informal traders. They were not registered to receive support from the economic support packages put in place. He asked how the government would ensure that the missing middle would be assisted in terms of compensation. He asked about water tanks and if these were sent to all the locations identified and if this did not take place, what were the challenges being faced on this. Government needed to do better in distributing food parcels and he asked what steps were currently in place for its distribution. He asked about payment holidays from banks and the payment of school fees. Parents were buying data, teaching their children and doing most of the work. Were these parents still expected to pay school fees to public schools as this would be unfair?
The Minister replied that small businesses and informal traders are allowed to trade vegetables and uncooked food. Tshisanyamas were closed as fast food outlets were as well. This situation will not last forever. The lockdown will end next Thursday 30 April and a lot of things might change then to phase out the lockdown. She was aware of how deep South Africa’s fault lines of poverty, hunger and inequality were and particularly now that the country is faced with COVID-19. After the pandemic ends an increase in unemployment is expected and government is in talks on how to deal with this. Even if government had not implemented a lockdown, the COVID-19 pandemic would have depressed the economy to a greater extent that it already has and therefore we should not see the lockdown regulations as the cause of depressing the economy. When the virus reached South Africa, its economy was already depressed and in addition to this rating agencies has downgraded the country to junk status. The Minister said she was not in a position to answer if parents would be compensated for teaching children and said perhaps it should be seen as an extension of homework. The Deputy Minister should perhaps speak further on the matter.
Mr C Brink (DA) said that South Africans were willing to make sacrifices, but these needed to be rational and it needed to do the least amount of harm to people’s livelihoods. He agreed with other Members' comments and suggested that informal traders should then be able to sell cold foods if not hot, cooked meals. He asked if the Minister would consider speaking to the Minister of Transport to reconsider the ban on the transportation of alcohol as this has negatively affected the export wine industry in South Africa and as a result it is losing its market share. There was a debate to be had on why alcohol cannot be sold, but this regulation should not apply to exporting alcohol. This was affecting jobs and economic activity which have been jeopardised for no apparent reason. He referred to the phased out approach that will take place after the lockdown and noted that Prof Abdool Karim, the COVID-19 health expert, was quoted in a newspaper as saying that the benefit of the lockdown had effectively been used and that he did not believe that South Africa would gain much more from the lockdown. He asked how government would deal with advice of this nature. Ideas and alternatives needed to be discussed in relation to the hard lockdown South Africa was currently experiencing. Detailed discussions needed to be had. There needed to be less obsession about hot and cold foods and more engagement on how to exit the lockdown and get the economy going without being faced with a health risk.
Mr I Groenewald (FF+) thanked the Minister and Deputy Ministers for their hard work during this time. He had engaged with them several times during the lockdown and was assisted. He referred to the amended regulations in Government Gazette No 43148 in Annexures B and D. Municipalities, traffic officers and police are misinterpreting this as they are currently penalising and closing businesses which do not have a municipal permit. He noted that such businesses do not necessarily have the CIPC certificates to be regarded as essential as per Annexure B of the regulations. Some municipalities and councillors were distributing permits to anyone willing to pay for them. Some permits were being sold for R900. This has resulted in some business trading even though they were initially not allowed to and this undermined the efforts of the lockdown and was abuse and corruption. He suggested that an urgent circular should be sent to all authorities to clarify which businesses are essential and which permits they should have to prove this.
He referred to regulations pertaining to speakers in towns. No speaker may make regulations for people residing in those towns. They should only clarify the local government role in their implementation. There are provisions for travelling across municipal borders to attend a funeral or for the movement of children between parents. He suggested that all details and personal information of the parties concerned should be filled out in a form which could be rejected if all the information is not provided, however no such form exists. Regulations are silent on people who need to travel to other provinces for medical care and procedures and the people who need to assist them in doing so. Some officials believe essential service workers require a Form 2 from the magistrates for approval to travel to other provinces. Clarity should be provided on all of these matters and what the requirements are.
He raised stationery which is not regarded as an essential product and said this should be sold to learners and students as an essential good for them to carry on with their studies at home. Childcare for children who have both parents as essential workers is a problem as these children cannot be transported to daycare or to family members as the lockdown has implemented movement restrictions. Such provisions should be made.
On farming and agriculture, livestock auctions were prohibited due to a disease over the past three months and not allowing these auctions to continue would be severely detrimental to the agricultural sector and will eventually threaten food security. There is confusion in the agriculture sector on what is and is not essential. Many small scale farmers in the agriculture production chain have been refused, fined and even arrested by law enforcement. These issues need clarity in the regulations. Neighbourhood and farm watches should be allowed to operate as most SAPS members were directing their attention to enforcing the lockdown regulations leaving communities in a vulnerable position. This caused schools to become a target for criminals as there was no patrolling by neighbourhood watches who could play a crucial role in preventing these crimes if allowed to patrol while observing the necessary social distancing measures.
There was a loss of tax revenue for cigarette sales. The consumption of alcohol and cigarettes have not necessarily declined during this period and there was a lot of evidence showing these goods are being traded illegally. The illicit trade of alcohol was estimated at R12.9 billion. He pointed out that the ban on these items is fuelling the illicit trade. The amount of duty tax on liquor and tobacco products lost to the budget should be considered. The projected duty tax revenue for 2020/21 was more than R45.5 billion and the loss incurred will be more than R3.5 billion for the lockdown period as a result of the prohibition. This can be prevented by providing limited hours for the sale of alcohol as well as online sales. He referred to ICT services now being essential and asked for clarity on whether they were able to sell replacement ITC equipment or if it was limited only to repairs.
The Minister replied that if councillors were selling permits this was a criminal matter and should be reported to the police so they could be arrested. She confirmed that speakers could not issue regulations in terms of the National Disaster Management Act. This meant that provinces could not do as they saw fit, but municipalities needed to work together. Provincial borders remain closed and the person who travels needs to be in possession of a permit. The regulations did not cater for movement across provinces for general health issues, however if a province normally sends its patients to another province, these arrangements will be made. There are no forms which would allow individuals to travel to other provinces because they would prefer to seek medical attention there.
The Minister replied that stationery being an essential good would be addressed. Compensation for farmers and small businesses will be addressed through the funds, however COGTA cannot do the work of all other departments even though it is the custodian of the funds. On the movement related to childcare, when the lockdown began we had a regulation on childcare services which stated that this was allowed as essential and for social relief of distress. This was to be provided to older persons, mentally ill persons, the sick and children. There was no law baring the care of children. On agricultural value chains, the regulations state that all things related to production, manufacturing, supply, logistics, transport, delivery, critical maintenance and repair for the rendering of essential services including the components is catered for in the regulations. She would discuss with the Minister of Agriculture about the auctions. The Minister reiterated that goods including wine which were at the ports will be exported now including goods that will still come. Food parcels and Jojo tanks will be addressed by the relevant Ministers.
Mr K Ceza (EFF) said the EFF supported the lockdown and asked if the Minister had considered working with the institutions of traditional and religious leaders in popularising the COVID-19 regulations in their localities. Farm dwellers are easily destitute and do not have a mode of accessing transport and food. The municipality was quiet on these issues. He referred to a volunteer, Thabiso Zwane, who had communicated to him that he was not receiving any assistance from the municipality in which he resides. This means the municipalities do not know how to communicate with people. He contacted these municipalities to ask how they assisted people with food in their wards. He was told there are people who were assisting in their private capacity and he wanted to commend a pastor in Mamelodi who had assisted in this.
He asked if the Minister would consider working together with other entities to curb COVID-19 and hunger such as issuing food parcels. He read about the Municipal Systems Improvement Grant amongst other allocations in the municipal space and asked for information on this. He commended the Minister on the alcohol regulations and said South Africa should come out of this victoriously. He mentioned the Municipal Beer Act of 1908 and what it sought to achieve in terms of municipal beer halls for black people to consume alcohol without a sense of focus into the real issues that they are confronted with. To this extent he commended the Minister for the liquor regulations.
He referred to water tankers and Jojos and suggested that the Minister look into where the water tanks are placed and where the boreholes are drilled and if this revealed any political interference. If this was the case, appropriate action should be taken to remedy this. Everyone in a municipality should be able to access the water tanks and therefore they should be geographically spread across municipalities. He asked if the Minister had engaged the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in terms of the migration of Africans across the borders and how to curb the spread of COVID-19.
COGTA Minister's response
The Minister replied that the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, Lindiwe Sisulu, has presented figures on the distribution of water tanks and not every area has received this. Some have not yet been delivered and some have been delivered, but have not yet been installed for water to be put in. On tanks being stolen, it has a stamp to identify that it comes from government and if anyone knows about any of the tanks being stolen it must be reported to the police. This is theft and should not even need to be discussed by the Portfolio Committee. Those who have tanks at their homes and those who have given it to them should be dealt with by the law.
Communication with SADC countries works through individual departments. SADC needs its goods which is why trucks are allowed to operate across borders, but not normal traffic.
Ms P Xaba-Ntsahaba (ANC) welcomed the presentation by the Minister. She referred to the Jojo tanks and food parcels. Distribution of food parcels was being done by SASSA. SASSA has distributed its telephone number to people within communities so that they can call when they need food parcels. However when people attempt to call they are unable to reach the officials. The poor people in rural communities were suffering. People could not stay home if SASSA was not accessible and not delivering on promises. The Minister of Human Settlements should monitor the water tanks as some tanks did not reach their intended destination. She heard some Jojo tanks were set up at private homes.
Ms M Tlou (ANC) thanked the Ministers and Deputy Ministers for the work they were doing. She asked how those who did not have accommodation, particularly the poor in Mamelodi would be assisted and commended the Baptist church pastor there for all his assistance. She asked what the plan of action was for the Eastern Cape health system due to its lack of preparedness for COVID-19 patients. There was no equipment, nurses were not well trained and there was a shortage in testing kits. These issues should be taken seriously. The distribution of food parcels had to be sorted out. She asked what measures were in place to fill the basic service delivery backlog during the lockdown period. She referred to the unintended consequences of the failure to adhere to lockdown regulations as many South Africans were wondering about this. Regulation 11B of the Final Lockdown Regulations which is aimed at restricting the movement of South Africans created new offences where one is arrested and convicted. However, in the event of people being arrested, will they be given the opportunity to pay an admission of guilt fine? Will they be able to get legal representation and make bail without having to appear in court and will the offender now have a criminal record which would have negative consequences for their future employment and travel? Has bail has been granted to these offenders and at what cost? What relief measures to access basic necessities will be put in place for those severely affected by disasters such as the flood in Mamelodi where people have now been accommodated in the church. She asked who was monitoring the challenges people are experiencing, particularly those who have been arrested for breaking lockdown regulations.
The Minister replied that government was setting up temporary hospitals and mortuaries, because the reality was that our country was not completely ready for this pandemic and at this stage we cannot speculate on how many hospital beds we will need. However, spots have been identified for this. The Minister noted that the Minister of Justice would deal with bail and fines and at the same it would depend on what the person has done, but they would have to go to court.
The Minister concluded by saying that if the sale of cooked food was allowed, it would have to be implemented across the board. Meanwhile government will be in talks. Another meeting could be arranged with the Committee if need be. In the meantime the Deputy Ministers would be able to address the Committee’s questions.
At this point the Minister left the meeting for another engagement and the Chairperson asked Deputy Minister Bapela to address the questions which the Minister was not able to.
Deputy Ministers' response
Deputy Minister Obed Bapela replied about municipalities issuing their own regulations which is causing confusion. This matter has been taken up with the National Disaster Management Centre and we are formulating a list of municipalities which do so. If there are more doing this, we should be informed about it. The message to all municipalities should be the same and they should localise government regulations instead of contradicting them. Carrying out municipal services such as electricity, water and refuse collection is very important and not all municipalities were carrying out these duties due to financial distress and other challenges. Municipalities who have not been providing services have been contacted and workers have been told to return to work as those services are essential. Workers have now raised concerns about personal protective equipment (PPE) saying that they are exposed to COVID-19 daily being out on the streets and we are in talks about providing this equipment.
Deputy Minister Parks Tau said one needed to be mindful that as regulations are introduced, they will need continual review based on the feedback the Department receives from stakeholders, civil society and business groups. It was very conscious of this reality. There have been various industry groups that have made requests for specific concessions for their respective industries and the majority of motivations are quite compelling. Government will need to apply its mind with regard to how industries are affected. On the point Mr Brink and other Members have made, the Department will look at all submission we have received. We are in talks with the senior management team so that we do not have to wait for committee meetings so that members can raise concerns with us as some issues are of a serious nature and need to be dealt with immediately.
Deputy Minister Bapela said the Department was working with religious leaders and other sectors. The President and Deputy President have led these meetings. Religious leaders were sent to do consultations and another meeting with them took place two weeks later. All provinces have voluntarily suspended initiations for this season except for the Eastern Cape which has requested to do further consultations with the government of the Eastern Cape. We are hoping that they will announce the suspension of initiations during the course of this week or early next week. Government, however will be taking steps to put regulations in place to ban initiations for the season.
Deputy Minister Bapela said that there had been compliance with regulations in most areas, but there were complaints about cancelling traditional cleansing ceremonies such as for widows and widowers which had already been planned a long time in advance. The Department warned that care should be taken when this is done. In quite a number of rural areas funeral regulations are strictly adhered to as there is a group there who usually monitor funerals in graveyards. This was the case even prior to the lockdown. We are experiencing challenges with funeral regulations in townships and we need to ensure that municipalities send officials to ensure that regulations are adhered to. Religious leaders and the President will remain in contact. Currently there are no religious activities taking place except for very small services, but these people have been caught by police including a wedding which was interrupted by the police who arrested both the bride and groom.
Mr Hoosen noted that the KZN MEC was issuing permits to NGOs for the distribution of food parcels. Only those permits which are contained in the national regulations are allowed. He asked if Deputy Minister Bapela was aware of this and if he could take corrective action and put an end to it.
Ms Mkhaliphi asked who issues permits, particularly for small businesses and informal traders. We have received information that ward councillors issue permits, but this has become very confusing. In Mpumalanga some people are saying their municipalities have not given them permits, and that they have had to pay R1300 for their business license since the start of the lockdown regulations. She asked for clarity on this. She said people were losing their jobs and the Department needed to come up with a clear plan for how people would access water in the event of losing their jobs. She was referring to people who may not have access to water because they have been unable to pay for municipal services.
Mr Hadebe commented on the illegal eviction of people living in informal settlements. The Minister misunderstood his question and thus was unable to respond. He clarified that he was asking whether compensation would be given to families that have been illegally evicted. He asked what consequence management has been taken against municipalities who allowed the illegal evictions. The Strandfontein camp for the homeless which the City of Cape Town had offered goes against the regulations on social gathering. He asked if the Department will act against this swiftly. The Minister had again misunderstood his question about school fees. Could there be payment holidays for school fees as there was with banks. He was not asking that parents be compensated for teaching their children. He asked if informal traders could be considered for economic support packages.
Mr Ceza asked if there was consequence management for premiers who have found to be involved in political interference where these services rendered should have been in place to protect our people against the COVID-19 pandemic. The Mpumalanga Premier declared the legislature a no go area. What are the consequences for this in terms of the law. Are there measures in place to start a post-disaster recovery plan to ensure the protection of citizens against imminent threats.
Mr G Mpumza (ANC) referred to the essential permit given to traditional leaders, however there are allegations that some leaders have sold these permits for people in rural areas to travel into town. This issue had not been addressed. He referred to the chairperson of the Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders who had disregarded funeral regulations as this was setting a bad example for communities in the area. What was missing was aggressive educational awareness for rural communities. In rural communities people were still travelling and ignored the lockdown. This must be followed up. Transport regulations are a problem as there are taxi industries which travel between provinces and there are still a large number of people travelling from Gauteng and some travelling to Gauteng. They are bypassing the checkpoints and they are not complying with regulations on the number of passengers allowed. There needed to be relief in terms of food parcels and assistance for informal traders.
The Chairperson said councillors disregarding regulations and issuing permits had not been addressed. She asked if there was any consequence management for this. Food parcels are not being delivered to those who need it and some people have not received them as they are not on the SASSA database. How are informal traders who do not qualify for social grants being supported in terms of receiving food. She referred to the alcohol regulations and asked if the Department discussed the impact it would have on women and children abuse.
Mr Groenewald asked about the implementation of partial load shedding in the Govan Mbeki municipality which affects Kinross and other areas. He asked for feedback on this.
The Chairperson requested Deputy Minister Tau to respond to the questions raised by Members.
Deputy Minister Tau response
Deputy Minister Parks Tau said that the Acting Director General, Themba Fosi, who also sat on the NATJOINTS Committee, and the Head of the Disaster Management Centre, could elaborate on questions that dealt with technical matters.
Deputy Minister Tau stated that before leaving the meeting, the Minister had indicated the role of COGTA in the entire disaster management process, particularly the Covid-19 pandemic. The responsibility of the Department, through the Minister, was to declare the national disaster, as pronounced by the President. The process of determining and declaring there was a national disaster in terms of the National Disaster Management Act and all its administrative processes were undertaken by COGTA. The Act also provided that affected ministries could issue directions to indicate what should be complied with by society, departments, and institutions during the national disaster period. The Minister issued a set of instructions that dealt, in particular, with matters to do with cooperative governance, traditional leaders and others matters within the scope of her Department. Other ministries issued directions such as the Minister of Transport issued these on transport matters and the movement of people and goods. The Minister of Small Business Development was responsible for issuing directions about small businesses, informal traders and related support mechanisms and interventions.
The Deputy Minister made it clear that COGTA did not usurp the responsibilities of other departments but enabled them to issue directions that took forward the objectives set out in the disaster proclamation. He noted that many of the questions asked by Members would be best placed with the relevant ministries. While COGTA was the repository of all directions issued, it could not claim to be a specialist on all the directions issued in the specific areas in terms of the Act. COGTA might, therefore, not be able to provide a detailed response for another department, except to say that a particular direction or proclamation had been issued. COGTA could not respond to some of the consultations that had led to the decisions taken by line ministries. There might be certain questions where the Members might want a detailed follow-up and he asked that Members send a note. Members were welcome to bring issues to the attention of the Ministry and it undertook to follow up on such matters.
Deputy Minister Tau was aware that in KZN, a set of proclamations was issued that said the Premier was issuing certain controls because of the distribution challenges in the province. Those controls allowed the province to manage the situation and to mitigate anything negative in the distribution of food parcels. The province could respond to the details. However, it had been found that even people who expressed goodwill and went out into the street to help the poor, did not always subscribe to the proclamations and might not adhere to lockdown or practice social distancing. It meant that there was not a repository of who was doing what to avoid duplication. There was a need to know what was happening in each province and coordinate, so that the impact of the public and non-governmental sectors in their interventions was optimised.
He informed Ms Mkaliphi that the processing of licences for informal traders was a municipal responsibility. The actual municipality processes the licence so if a councillor issuing licences outside of the municipality that was a contravention of the code of conduct and would not be allowed. The Ministry had initially stated that councillors could be involved but that had created all sorts of problems. Councillors did not have the correct papers to issue to the traders so the decision had been changed. Traders had to get permits directly from the municipality while councillors played the role they normally played by assisting people and directing them towards the services that they needed from the municipality.
The Deputy Minister said that municipalities are able to utilise the indigent policy of the municipality with regard to free water and electricity. There were differences between provinces and municipalities in that regard. For example, it might be a blanket provision or people might have to apply and it might or might not include other services such as refuse removal. However, people did qualify for the indigent policy.
He assured Mr Hadebe that the Ministry had noted all the evictions that had taken place and it would be following up on those and the circumstances involved.
The questions on school should be addressed by the Department of Basic Education. There were relief packages for small businesses but the Department of Small Business Development was best placed to deal with that matter.
Deputy Minister Tau replied that he did not have an immediate response about the premier who had declared the provincial legislature a no go area. He would have to check with the province. Even in a disaster, one should not take away the role of the legislature in holding the executive to account in the same way that Parliament was holding the Executive to account. Legislatures should hold the executive to account in the same way that mayors should be held to account. As a starting point, MPs should get their counterparts at the appropriate level to hold their colleagues to account. However, if there was a need for the Ministry to intervene, certainly it would intervene.
He informed Mr Ceza that there were two points he needed to make about the disaster. At the time of the proclamation, the Minister had raised two critical questions: How did the Ministry improve its preparedness for a national disaster because the reality was that the financing was sometimes inadequate for the disaster? Secondly, the regulations were inadequate, as was the speed with which Ministry responded to the disaster. Before the lockdown period, the Committee had asked the Ministry to report on how it had addressed the drought disaster and the delays experienced in the period between the declaration of the disaster and the point at which the provinces had raised concerns. Members had also asked how long it took between the declaration of a disaster and resources being disbursed, as well as processes that had to be engaged in. It was an issue that both the Executive and Parliament had asked the Ministry and the Department to apply their minds to so as to see how the Ministry could improve the way that disasters were dealt with.
The Deputy Minister’s sense was that the Ministry and Department were better prepared to deal with natural disasters such as fires and droughts, but they did not have the same level of experience in epidemiological disasters and were having to learn very fast how to deal with the reality. There were other potential disasters that needed consideration for the issues faced in some SADC countries, such as low costs and the impact on agriculture. The Ministry had interacted with the countries on how SADC collectively responded to disasters that affected all SADC countries.
Deputy Minister Tau admitted that he had not responded to all the questions but he had been working as a team with the Minister and Deputy Minister Bapela, so he did not want to monopolise the responses.
Deputy Minister Bapela response
Deputy Minister Obed Bapela agreed with Deputy Minister Tau that certain questions belonged to other ministries and departments and their job was to take note and forward these to them. The points were very helpful to government to ensure that it succeeded.
Replying to Mr Hoosen, he stated that the regulations determined which issues related specifically to provinces and municipalities. However, when a particular responsibility was assigned, such as issuing of permits, a standard was developed on what permits should look like and the conditions for issuing permits, so there were national norms and standards for municipalities to issue permits so that permits were not different. However, in Johannesburg, a scam had been uncovered where fake permits were being issued. Scams will always be there but the police could identify the fake permits and acted.
On the municipality in Mpumalanga that was charging R1 300 for a permit, the Deputy Minister asked that she provide the name of the municipality and more information so the Department could find out the facts of the situation. The issues raised by Members would be investigated so he needed full information. Some of the queries would be forwarded to the provincial centres.
Deputy Minister Bapela stated that the Ministry was currently discussing post-Covid19 measures and the impact as a result of the poor and the unemployment figures that might go up with the collapsed economy. At that point, the Ministry would be able to talk about what would happen about free water and electricity for those that could not pay. The issue was definitely in the spotlight.
Deputy Minister Bapela assured Mr Hadebe that some of the issues that he had raised would be followed up, including the concert that was held. Deputy Minister Tau had dealt with the illegal evictions taking place. However, some illegal evictions were carried out by private owners of properties in the townships. They were evicting people en masse because they could not pay and then those people ended up on the streets and then engaged in illegal occupations. Those were some of the issues that had to be weighed up. That was happening in Johannesburg, but also in the Western Cape, and the Ministry would follow up with the provinces.
He added that the Minister had addressed why cooked food was not allowed. However, people from spazas and hawkers could apply for assistance from the Department of Small Business Development.
Deputy Minister Bapela addressed the essential services permits. He agreed that traditional leaders and councillors, in particular ward councillors, had been issued essential service permits as they had to be able to move around to assist communities, especially if there were hot areas. However, if they were selling the permits, the Ministry would have to investigate. The activities of a traditional leader at a funeral that he had attended would also be investigated.
Hee addressed the concerns of the Chairperson about the Integrated Development Plans (IDPs). The Ministry had engaged National Treasury on the difficulties and challenges that municipalities would have in holding the IDP meetings because even after the lockdown, large gatherings would be prohibited. A regulation had been issued that all IDP public engagement sessions would be waived for the current financial year. It would be impossible to call people to meetings and the local communities did not have 4IR gadgets to meet online as did Members of Parliament. The Minister was writing a circular stating that within 30 days of the lockdown, municipalities had to begin to push their budgets. The information from those IDP sessions that had been held, even if all meetings had not been completed, should be utilised. That information would be provided.
The Deputy Minister assured Mr Groenewald that the Govan Mbeki municipality partial load shedding would be investigated.
COGTA presentation on Implementation of Disaster Management Regulations on Covid-19
The Chairperson suggested that the secretary show the presentation on the screen so Members could refer to the presentation when asking their questions. There would be no presentation of the document. Members had raised concerns as it was a parliamentary requirement that a presentation be submitted 24 hours before a meeting. She had tried to call the Director General to raise this with him. As one could see from the questions, Members were playing their oversight role. She ruled that Members could raise questions on the presentation but those who could not were permitted to submit written questions which should be answered by the Director-General by 23 April at the latest. She expected him to do better for the next meeting.
Ms G Opperman (DA) noted the national profile of Covid-19 cases on slide 7. The number of cases in the Northern Cape had been stagnant at 16 cases for the past ten days. She was concerned whether that was a true reflection of the statistics in the province. There had been a mass cancellation of screening and testing in Sol Plaatje municipality in the past week but Sol Plaatje was the most populous area in the Northern Cape. In her own constituency in the Northern Cape, three COVID-19 cases were reported by a doctor in the previous week alone. She believed that more screening and actual testing was required to update the number of cases daily in the Northern Cape. Her concern was that people might become complacent and abandon social distancing if they saw the lull in case-finding in the Northern Cape.
Ms Opperman moved on to slide 16 on the Northern Cape Command Council and the Premier was its head. The Deputy Minister had just said that legislatures had to hold the executive to account. She and her colleagues had been unable to get hold of the Northern Cape Premier since Day 1 of Lockdown and she needed an urgent intervention. He did not respond to emails or WhatsApp messages. She pleaded with the Deputy Minister to find out what was going on so she could filter the information to people on the ground.
Ms Opperman referred to the identification of quarantine sites by districts on slide 17 of the presentation. Two of the sites were in her constituency but they had not been functional for the past three years. Who had compiled the site suitability reports? The sites had not been operational because there had been a shortage of personnel. There was no catering, no beds or medical equipment on the sites. One of the sites was in her hometown, Louisvale. That site had not been operational for three years so how was the Department of Health going to quarantine people in facilities that were not up to date.
Ms Opperman added that there were allegations that there was a lack of test kits in Namaqualand. She wanted a transparent and true answer. If it were true that there was a lack of testing, could people say that was the case so that something could be done about it.
Mr Hadebe informed the Chairperson that he had not been able to read the presentation before the meeting so he would ask send follow-up questions, if he had any.
Ms Mkaliphi stated that she had also received the presentation very late and asked why the DG had punished Members by submitting the document so late. The Committee should, in actual fact, refuse to engage with the document. Her question might be stupid as she had received the document very late. She referred to slide 13. It stated there were two draft Bills published for comments. The Bills were the Draft Disaster Management Tax Relief Bill 2020 and Draft Disaster Management Tax Relief Administration Bill 2020. How did the Bills fit in with Covid-19?
Moving on to slide 16 on institutional arrangements per province, Ms Mkaliphi noted that the DG was to chair the operational committee that carried out the Command Council’s directions. How was the DG to chair a meeting in each province at the same time? She did not follow that point.
Ms Mkaliphi said that there was no mention of the municipal manager contracts that had expired during the lockdown. Lekwa-Teemane local municipality in North West had appointed an Acting Speaker 7 days before lockdown. What should the municipality do about that acting position? What was COGTA doing about this? For the municipal manager contracts that had come to an end, how were municipalities meant to cope with such a situation?
Ms Mkaliphi noted that the briefing document referred to emergency procurement. What procedures should be followed if a Mayor or a Speaker is not permanently in place? There would be a lot of money involved in dealing with Covid-19 and she was worried that there would be a lot of corruption. Those whose contracts had expired could not take responsibility and sign documents. She foresaw huge cases of corruption and people would blame the acting positions during lockdown.
Mr Ceza was concerned about the corrupt activities that had been seen but he was happy with the way in which the EFF had addressed the corruption.
Mr Groenewald said that all the documents referred to the Government Gazette regulations but the Committee had not received this. It would assist if the DG could forward this to Members. Everyone was looking to the Members of this Portfolio Committee for advice and it would be helpful for Members to receive the information as quickly as possible.
Mr Hadebe referred to the state and private facilities identified for quarantine on slide 23. He referred to the Western Cape. There were no state quarantine facilities or beds. He was concerned and perplexed as he knew of several patients who had tested positive but were struggling to find a quarantine centre, given the densely populated area where the people were identified. Why was it that the Western Cape did not have state quarantine facilities? If anything needed to be done, it should be done as soon as yesterday. There were people in the townships who could not self-isolate in those areas.
The Chairperson referred to the Gazette dated 16 April 2020 where paragraph 14(f) of the Regulations speaks of an amendment: “the addition in Part B of the following paragraphs after paragraph 33: "34. Trades necessary for the rendering of emergency repair work, including plumbers, electricians, locksmiths, glaziers. roof repair work; 35. Trades necessary for emergency automobile repairs for persons rendering essential services; 36. Information and Communication Technology services rendered to entities and institutions engaged in delivering essential services in terms of these Regulations.”
Prior to the meeting, she had received calls stating that companies that should repair the cars of essential service personnel were not open. They were quite concerned. She had gone to a local shop but the shop management was not aware of the amended regulations. She asked who informed businesses or service providers that they could open. There was a lot of confusion.
The Chairperson asked if the Ministry could add more detail to its reports, such as the actual names of districts and not simply say “five districts”. Some figures did not tally but Members could address that when they did their oversight visits.
The Acting Director General, Mr Themba Fosi, profusely apologised for the late submission of the presentation. He would ensure that all written questions would be responded to by 23 April. He would provide additional information as the Department received the information on an ongoing basis.
Mr Fosi replied that all the regulations and directions were posted on the sacoronavirus.co.za website as soon as they became available as noted on slide 12. The website included a long list of all documents since the initial declaration of the disaster.
The DG referred to the quarantine facilities. He would follow up on the facilities where no state facilities had been identified but it was probably a case of where the authorities were finalising decisions on quarantine facilities. It was not the case that there were no state quarantine facilities in a province. Information was updated as it was received.
The Chairperson stated that the DG was opening a can of worms. What was the turnaround time for supplying the information? The other provinces had supplied the information. A disaster had been declared and everything should be done timeously.
Mr Hadebe added that the Western Cape was the second leading province for the coronavirus. He knew of people who had been told to go home and isolate. Those patients had not been given the opportunity to go into a quarantine facility. There were 48 state facilities in the provinces. What was the logic in them not being open?
The Chairperson agreed that only private facilities were open in the Western Cape. What were the poorest of the poor to do?
The DG replied that the information was received from the Department of Public Works and the Department of Health. Municipalities identified the sites but the function of verifying that the sites met the health and safety standards fell to the Departments of Public Works and Health. He committed to obtaining that information for Members. He would, in particular, look for the information on the Western Cape, but he would update all information. The data in the presentation was as at 19 April 2020.
The Chairperson reminded the Acting DG that his Department was the lead Department and he had to set regulations and get all the information. The country was dealing with a disaster but there were no timelines and no follow-ups. It was a single country and all provinces had to commit to the same timeframe. They were talking about the lives of ordinary poor citizens who could not go to a private hospital. The Acting DG needed to take the matter seriously.
The Acting DG noted the Chairperson’s remarks and he assured her that he would follow up and obtain the information timeously. He addressed Ms Mkaliphi’s question on the Disaster Tax Bill. The Bills had been developed by National Treasury and, although they had wanted to introduce the Bills, they had been put on hold and would not be introduced. As far as the structures in the provinces were concerned, there would be two structures: one with the Premier and the MECs and, on an operational level, there was a structure consisting of DGs of the departments in the province, known as a PROVJOINTS. Those structures could include national or provincial police and disaster management officials. The structure was chaired by the provincial DGs.
Ms Mkaliphi thanked the Acting DG for making it very clear. She had thought that he had to chair all the provincial structures.
The Acting DG noted the points that Ms Opperman had raised. The number of cases and deaths had been provided by the Department of Health and he had not received any updated information but he would interact with the Department of Health. The most important point raised by Ms Opperman was the need to increase screening so that there was an understanding of the cases and what was happening. He noted that slide 16 was about sharing information. He explained how quarantine sites were identified. Municipalities would identify sites, such as the Louisvale site, and then the Departments of Health and Public Works would go in to identify any issues to do with medical resourcing, beds, foods, refurbishment, security, etc. He would check with the provincial command centre on the verification of those sites.
Dr Mmaphaka Tau, Head of the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC), stated that he had taken note of the comments on emergency repairs of motor vehicles used by essential services personnel. As pointed out, it was necessary to ensure that everyone was aware of the regulations and he would ensure that on the morrow, the economic work stream, should informed the retailers and the public.
Deputy Minister Bapela asked that Members refer to the Ministry any issues that they become aware of. The Department had teams working from 7am to 7pm Monday to Sunday to filter issues to the provincial disaster centres and the municipal disaster centres for prompt action. He observed that everyone had to be counted in to fight the Covid-19 virus and defeat it. Mr Groenewald had been doing very well at it. He had informed the Department of dirty water coming out in Madibeng, which had been addressed, and the closure of the refuge centre in Matlosana had been prevented.
Deputy Minister Bapela admitted that the regulations were not always perfect but it was the first time the country has had to deal with something like Covid-19. However, everyone should not wait until Portfolio Committee meetings start again to fight the war against Covid-19.
Ms Mkaliphi said that she had not received a response to her question on the municipal manager contracts.
Deputy Minister Tau replied that there were areas where the Ministry did not have information. It was understood that all acting appointments remained in place but the Ministry would have to come up with a set of guidelines so that the position was not misinterpreted. He believed that the Committee had had quite a productive session but he wished to acknowledge the work being done by other departments such as Human Settlements and the private sector, in getting the Ministry ready and helping the Ministry to respond to the disaster.
Mr Hadebe asked for an undertaking that the Deputy Minister and the DG would follow-up on the state facilities for isolation and quarantine. He would also forward the cases of patients who were requesting the availability of state quarantine sites. What would the turnaround time be? He wished to play an active oversight role monitoring the situation. The families he was referring to were those living in two-bedroom houses with more than nine family members. He, therefore, wanted an undertaking that the Department would speak to the relevant department which would attend to the matter expeditiously. The country was on Day 26. It should not be that some facilities were still undergoing verification. What had been done for the last 26 days?
Mr Ceza was happy that the question of the initiates had been mentioned but he was unhappy with the reaction of the Eastern Cape because there was always a problem with initiates in the Eastern Cape. There could, potentially, be more deaths among initiates because of the province’s refusal to adhere to the disaster management regulations. He believed that the Department should have looked at the conditions of Black people who live in extended families and so cannot resist going out. The Department should have looked at that situation in totality and the disaster management regulations should have spoken to those conditions. However, having said that, the lockdown had revealed a lot in terms of such issues.
Mr Ceza asked the Committee Secretary to communicate with Members well in time when there was to be an engagement and to provide the documents timeously. He also asked that the Secretary provide the contact number where irregularities could be reported.
Ms Mkaliphi noted the donations to traditional leaders in 41 municipalities in the nine provinces - on slide 22. The packs were confirmed as received. She asked that Nkosi Luthuli, as a traditional leader, confirm that he had received the donations. Her concern was the monitoring of those donations because the Committee had been raising that some municipalities were not cooperating with Members of Parliament in provinces. Municipalities were working in silos and she was concerned whether those donations would reach the communities. The Deputy Minister or DG should give a report in the future.
Ms Mkaliphi was happy that Deputy Minister Bapela was saying that Members could speak directly to the Deputy Ministers as they were in the centre. Members had felt that they were in the dark and quite useless because they did not know where go to when there were crises in their wards. The Deputy Ministers could now expect calls from Members as they were activists and would be calling them. The Minister of Social Development had announced the new regulations on the fetching of a child from another province. As soon as she had made that announcement, a person in Gauteng went to the police station to get a permit to fetch his child but the police told him that there was no such thing. She asked the Deputy Ministers how the regulations were conveyed to the relevant departments. The man had ended up not fetching his child because he was scared to go despite the fact that the child needed to be home for online learning. She had phoned the Minister’s office and been told that the website would be updated and she had taken it upon herself to call the police station where she had been told that he did not need a permit but should take the child’s birth certificate. However, when he drove to fetch his child, he was nearly locked up for being without a permit.
She added that she had seen Minister Mbalula on television, while in Durban, conducting a road block. At the beginning of the lockdown, his Department had said that all vehicle licences would be extended as they could not be renewed during lockdown. However, she had seen the Minister himself say that a person had to be arrested and the car impounded because the licence had expired. She asked that the Ministry attempt to ensure that Ministers did not add to the confusion.
Mr Hoosen addressed the mass screening and testing. He understood that the Department of Health was doing mass screenings in communities where they spoke to residents and asked them if they had any symptoms. They moved on if the person did not have any symptoms. He was concerned about asymptomatic persons who might be carriers of the virus. Why was the country doing mass screening and not mass testing as the screeners could be passing thousands of people who could be positive but would not be tested? Should the Department not be doing mass testing?
The Chairperson said the meeting was moving towards closure and asked the Deputy Ministers to wrap up.
Deputy Minister Tau responded to the question on screening. Amongst other challenges, there were infrastructure challenges. Lancet and other laboratories were used for testing. The question had been raised at the NATJOINT and the response was that government would keep on improving the testing capability as they were seeing the value of people being tested. The Ministry would, however, raise the matter further and enquire how the laboratory capacity in the country could be improved. The DG of the Department of Health had explained that the professionals were also looking at other testing technologies that could provide results from a swab in a very short period of time. However, at the moment, testing was dependent on the laboratories.
DG Fosi promised to follow up on all the points raised, including the metro structures and he committed to providing the information timeously.
Deputy Minister Bapela stated that it was disappointing that the Eastern Cape had not complied with the initiation regulations but he would follow up this week to ensure that the Eastern Cape was now in line with all the other provinces on initiations. A regulation was being prepared that would ban the initiation season completely for the current year, particularly as one saw that infections were rising in the Eastern Cape.
Deputy Minister Bapela concluded by addressing the lack of information. Once an announcement was made by a Minister, it took some time before that instruction could reach every agent or police station. Even the announcement on attending funerals in other provinces had caused problems because the information had not yet reached the police stations when people were already wanting to go. Once an announcement had been made, it had to go to the printers and then be forwarded to each police station. People did not take that lag into account and rushed to funerals immediately.
Deputy Minister Tau referred Members to the slide that gave the website link to all the regulations. That was an important link as it was a resource Members could use to interact with the regulatory agents, although he stressed that there was a slight lag between announcements and regulations reaching the regulatory agencies.
Deputy Minister Bapela added that he would provide information about the donations having arrived at the municipalities and municipal councils. That information was available.
The Chairperson asked if the donations had ended up in the intended communities and not remained in the municipalities, as was normally the case with the councillors. Someone had to monitor that.
Deputy Minister Bapela replied that he had been involved in the distribution in Rustenburg together with the MECs and ward councillors. The intention had been to do ten houses as an example and then leave the councillors to complete the distribution, but the MECs had indicated that they did not trust the ward councillors and so had completed the distribution with the councillors. He would have to check whether things had been properly managed in Mfuleni and other areas which had received donations.
The Chairperson reminded the Deputy Minister that this virtual meeting was open to the public and members of the public would be quick to report if they had received these or not.
Summary and closing remarks
The Chairperson addressed the Acting DG and Dr Tau. They needed to improve communication for heightened public awareness of the regulations gazetted as they did not reach the people who should receive them. Matters were gazetted to improve the lives of people but some communities were not getting services. The country was a unitary state but things were happening in one province and not another. The issue that had surprised the Minister, that sanitary towels were not allowed to be sold in some provinces, was a reality. They had to explain the regulations to users, especially those who enforce them. That was key and was where one of the challenges lay.
The Chairperson noted the failure of the Department to submit the documents 24 hours before the meeting meant that some Members had been unable to engage in the conversation. Members would be given an opportunity to submit questions by the following morning and written responses were required by the afternoon of 23 April. COGTA played a key role in coordinating the disaster in the country so in those meetings that the Department held, the DG should be accountable. The Deputy Ministers had a responsibility to monitor the Department.
Moving forward, she wished to consider joint meetings with other committees. Nothing prevented the Committee from inviting the Minister of Water and Sanitation in a joint meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Water and Sanitation to address the concerns of Members. The written responses from officials should include responses from all departments, where necessary.
The Chairperson confirmed the attendance of Members and thanked the "fish for swimming". She thanked everyone for attending and forming a full complement. She appreciated the attendance of the Deputy Ministers. She warned Members to do oversight and not to interfere in the work of the officials. Members could enquire how many donations had been made to a community and then confirm that those community members had received them because some distributors were keeping the donations for themselves. The Committee condemned anyone who took parcels intended for the poor.
The Chairperson commended all Members. There might be follow up meetings.
The meeting was adjourned.