Covid-19 disrupts government in SA

The government has put stringent measures in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and the National Assembly, provincial outreach programmes and municipalities have had to comply.

The South African government is enforcing stringent preventative measures to try to limit the reach of the coronavirus, particularly in the country’s more remote areas, which are already strained by ailing state health facilities and insufficient water supply.

After the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 rose to 150 on Thursday 19 March 2020, Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille identified 37 sites across all nine provinces to be used as isolation and quarantine facilities. There were 202 confirmed cases the following day.

The government plans to erect a 40km-long fence at the Beitbridge border post within the next month to prevent undocumented or infected people from crossing the border into South Africa from Zimbabwe and vice versa. De Lille said the project will cost about R37.2 million.

Having already shut down all sporting and cultural events, state officials are now scrambling to try to limit disruptions to the legislative bodies that oversee the administration of the country.

Municipal disruption

While these bodies review ways to keep the country up and running, continued social restrictions might pose a threat to local municipal budgets. Councils have until 30 May to pass their budgets, but officials say the government’s ban on gatherings of more than 100 people may prevent them from sitting to table their budgets.

Council members have a grace period of 30 days, until the end of June each year, to comply with the budget deadline. Otherwise they risk being dissolved, forcing political parties to participate in by-elections.

The Metsimaholo Local Municipality in the northern Free State had to hold by-elections in 2017 when its coalition council failed to approve its 2017-2018 budget in time, resulting in the council’s dissolution.

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Free State Department of Cooperative Governance, Traditional Affairs and Human Settlements spokesperson Zolile Lobe conceded that the coronavirus pandemic is going to disrupt council meetings. “We are concerned that the pandemic might disrupt the tabling of budgets, but we will assess the situation as it unfolds,” Lobe said, stressing that contact between officials will be minimal in line with the national government’s directive on social distancing.

Residents of municipalities already in crisis, such as Maluti-a-Phofung in the eastern Free State and Makana in the Eastern Cape, are at the mercy of municipal officials to supply much-needed water to counter the spread of the virus.

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Despite a cancelled plenary sitting of the National Assembly on Tuesday 17 March, the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) met on Thursday 19 March to endorse Gauteng Premier David Makhura’s decision two weeks ago to invoke Section 139 of the Constitution and dissolve the Tshwane council. The metro has been running without a mayor or municipal manager as several attempts to elect a new mayor have descended into chaos.

Parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said “every activity, public hearings and committee meetings included, are suspended” in line with government measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The NCOP cancelled public meetings in three Gauteng municipalities that formed part of the three-day report-back session of the council’s flagship programme, Taking Parliament to the People.

The North West provincial legislature has shut its doors to the public. “All outreach programmes of the legislature are suspended with immediate effect and will be resuscitated after 14 April 2020,” it said.

Lobe said on Thursday 19 March that Thembeni Nxangisa, a Free State member of the executive council for cooperative governance and traditional affairs, was heading to QwaQwa to find ways to make water available to residents to improve hygiene. It has taken a life-threatening pandemic to get the government to respond to the area’s 10-year-long dry spell.

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The government plans to release water from Maluti-a-Phofung’s main water source, the Fika-Patso Dam, to give residents a fighting chance, said Lobe. “From today, Thursday to Sunday, the municipality is opening water to the people for hygiene purposes to curb Covid-19. We will also increase water tankers.”

Adhere, or face charges  

On Thursday 19 March, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma stressed the importance of adhering to the Covid-19 regulations the government has put in place. She added that the government will be taking action against those who refuse medical treatment or take part in mass gatherings and intentionally infect others with Covid-19.

Minister of Police Bheki Cele has vowed to clamp down on alcohol consumers and traders who do not adhere to the new restrictions Dlamini-Zuma has gazetted, which limit trading hours and customer numbers.

Political parties are also taking heed of social restrictions. The EFF and ANC have cancelled major gatherings and events, and the DA’s federal executive has postponed its policy conference that was scheduled to take place on 4 and 5 April.

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