South Africa

Parliament

Covid-19 ‘a dark cloud with a silver lining’: A post-war style of state-led economic reconstruction

Covid-19 ‘a dark cloud with a silver lining’: A post-war style of state-led economic reconstruction
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photos: GCIS / Baba Jiyane and Gallo Images | Rapport / Deon Raath)

President Cyril Ramaphosa described the Covid-19 pandemic as a reset, likening it to post-war state-led reconstruction. The presidential replies at Thursday’s parliamentary Q&A seem to have left the door open to an indefinite State of Disaster Covid-19 lockdown.

Thursday in Parliament did not start out too well for President Cyril Ramaphosa. MPs took exception to his statement during the previous evening’s address to the nation that Parliament should speedily process legislative amendments related to gender-based violence, that the president described as another pandemic.

National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise told the programming committee she’d write to the Presidency on this matter, but also to the ministers responsible for actually tabling such legislation.

“If we are beaten for bills that are not yet before us, we need to crack the whip,” said Modise, adding later:

“I will go a step further to follow up with the members (ministers) that were meant to have submitted the bills.”

While Parliament would not tell another sphere of state, the executive or Cabinet, how to draft the bills ministers would like to see go through the national legislature, it was important to correct any misconceptions.

“We need to clear our name in public as Parliament. We also need to crack the whip on those who have dragged our names…”

DA Chief Whip Natasha Mazzone had raised the matter of how the presidential comments had created an impression that Parliament had somehow been negligent, or derelict in its duties.

“Not only as a woman parliamentarian, but also as a woman South African, I will certainly make sure a gender-based violence bill would be processed speedily.”

Fact is, there’s nothing for Parliament to process without delay or otherwise. 

That much was already ascertained on Wednesday night as the presidential commentary about Parliament had senior officials conducting some initial research late that night. And it was confirmed on Thursday morning when Parliament’s legal services said the closest thing to any draft legislation was a briefing Justice Minister Ronald gave on 18 May 2020 to the justice committee on amendments to three laws, the Domestic Violence Act, Criminal Procedure Act and the Criminal Law Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Act.

The tabling of these amendment Bills in Parliament has not yet happened. It is understood the amendments are ready to go before Cabinet in July. 

…the National Assembly programming committee agreed to delay its mid-year recess to ensure a debate on gender-based violence is scheduled first.

A broad sweep of lawmaking trends shows it takes on average upwards of a year for draft legislation to arrive in Parliament after ministers start talking about it. Some of this delay relates to departmental public comment periods and limited drafting capacity within the state, but also Cabinet processes, such as collective responsibility, that require all bills be approved by the whole Cabinet.

On Thursday, Ramaphosa’s parliamentary counsellor Gerhard Koornhof tried to run interference. MPs had misunderstood the president, he told the parliamentary programming committee, adding that the president had not actually referred to “bills in Parliament”.

It was a narrow, technical view of Ramaphosa’s statement during his Wednesday evening address to the nation, when the president said:

“Legislative amendments have been prepared around, among other things, minimum sentencing in cases of gender-based violence, bail conditions for suspects, and greater protection for women who are victims of intimate partner violence. I urge our lawmakers in Parliament to process them without delay.”

It was that last bit – “I urge our lawmakers in Parliament to process them without delay” – that created the perception that lawmakers had some urgent business to attend to. But whether it’s called prepared legislative amendments, or bills, none can be processed until they are before Parliament. And right now, nothing is before the national legislature to consider.

However, the National Assembly programming committee agreed to delay its mid-year recess to ensure a debate on gender-based violence is scheduled first.

“BEE is here to stay,” a visibly frustrated president insisted after speaking for the need of all South Africans to be part of the country’s future.

The Thursday afternoon Q&A session in the House also didn’t go as smoothly as Ramaphosa may have hoped.

Some of it was about the optics. A quick shift of camera focus came after the EFF criticised the background to his virtual platform participation. Suddenly gone was the flag next to the presidential desk under the official emblem, with flowers draped in the flag and a folksy fire going. Instead, for the rest of the parliamentary question session, Ramaphosa was in close up with the flag to his right.

Some of it was about presidential buttons being pushed. As happened when Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald yet again asked when black economic empowerment would end.

“BEE is here to stay,” a visibly frustrated president insisted after speaking for the need of all South Africans to be part of the country’s future.

However, for much of the more than three-hour Q&A in the House Ramaphosa stayed on message in a heavy Covid-19 session.

The decision to lock down hard was the right one, in the balancing of lives and livelihoods. The decision was taken on the back of scientific advice, to flatten the curve and prepare the health system for the numbers of anticipated Covid-19 patients.\

“It was not thumb-sucked. It was properly discussed and it was properly assessed and benchmarked against the advice we got from the WHO (World Health Organisation)…” said Ramaphosa about the Covid-19 lockdown.

“I happen to believe, yes, we have to reset the structure of our economy. We need to relook the way we have been doing things. This is the moment that should herald new things… Covid-19 is a dark cloud, but with a silver lining,” said Ramaphosa, later adding:

“I have often said we need to look at the post-Covid economic landscape as equivalent to a post-war economic landscape… The state has to play a critical role… The post-war situation must be state-led…”

Little was said on Thursday that had not been said before, either by Ramaphosa in one of his addresses to the nation or by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, Co-operative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma or any other minister.

“It was not thumb-sucked. It was properly discussed and it was properly assessed and benchmarked against the advice we got from the WHO (World Health Organisation)…” said Ramaphosa about the Covid-19 lockdown.

DA interim leader John Steenhuisen did not let Ramaphosa off the hook, repeatedly calling for an end of the lockdown and asking what the State of Disaster had allowed the government to do that could not have been done ordinarily.

Ramaphosa’s reply gave the strongest signal yet that the Covid-19 lockdown is set to remain in place for an indeterminate period.

“The lockdown is being managed downwards from Level 5 to Level 1 finally and the Disaster Management Act is the tool government has to manage the lockdown,” said the president.

“The Disaster Management Act gives us the optionality and authority to craft the rules and regulations (to) continue to manage the virus in the way we manage it.”

Already, the government has extended by a month the initially permitted maximum three-month State of Disaster period that expired on 14 June. When Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu earlier in June announced a one-month extension of the national State of Disaster to 15 July, he appeared to allow for the possibility of further extensions.

“If there is a need for us to extend again in July, based on scientific evidence, we will do so. Because the law allows us to extend month by month,” said Mthembu then.

The Disaster Management Act is vague on how often a State of Disaster may be extended by a month. The law is being challenged in the Constitutional Court by the Helen Suzman Foundation and the DA and in the Pretoria High Court by the Freedom Front Plus.

According to government’s risk-adjusted strategy released on 25 April, Level 1 is still part of the lockdown regimen — with masks, physical distancing, hygiene and some restrictions on movement although “people may travel to perform and acquire services only where such services cannot be provided from the safety of one’s home”, according to the document.

Crucially, any Covid-19 lockdown only ends when Level 1 ends. And from Ramaphosa’s replies on Thursday, that does not seem to be on the cards anytime soon – lockdown downward management notwithstanding. DM

Gallery

"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.