The ANC failed to outline a detailed vaccine plan after a three-day lekgotla which set its priorities for the year.
And it appears that the National Executive Committee (NEC) did not discuss the Integrity Commission finding made in December 2020 that it should instruct Secretary-General Ace Magashule to step aside. Magashule is due back in court in February on corruption and other charges.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said, “Many people are looking to this lekgotla to provide direction on the actions we must now take to rebuild our economy and our society”, but then failed to rise to the occasion.
The lekgotla statement mentions a vaccine twice, but provides no further details of an inoculation timetable, financing or how South Africa will fill the promise of 40 million jabs that Ramaphosa made this month. The first mention was: “This lekgotla has placed the defeat of Covid-19 as our overriding and most pressing responsibility for 2021, which requires both an intensive vaccination programme…”.
He did not outline the details of an intensive vaccination programme. The government’s strategy has been characterised by heat and opacity, not light and transparency, since the president and the Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize, unveiled it early in January. The vaccine is widely regarded as the only way to end the pandemic substantively.
Ramaphosa’s second mention of a vaccine was that South Africa had to develop its own vaccine manufacturing capacity to create African solutions to African problems. Biovac, the partially public-owned company that will distribute the first tranche of vaccines, took 16 years to manufacture a six-in-one paediatric vaccine launched last year.
One positive development is that the ANC and its Tripartite Alliance partners will mount a national and nooks-and-crannies campaign to counter vaccine hesitancy and vaccine misinformation. Surveys have shown that vaccine hesitancy is significant and the Sunday Times reported on January 25 that health workers are also nervous. Some churches are stoking fear about vaccines as did Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng last year. ANC leaders have spread vaccine misinformation too.
“We need to build broad acceptance among our people of the vaccine programme and to tackle misinformation and misunderstanding vigorously. To do this, we must ourselves be disciplined in our own public pronouncements, ensuring that we speak accurately and clearly.”
Magashule did not step aside at the lekgotla, and it is not clear if the guidelines the NEC has drawn up were put on the table.
Magashule is said to be gearing for a legal fight if he is made to step aside. This is despite an ANC resolution, reaffirmed at its Nasrec conference in 2017, that any member charged with corruption should step aside from leadership positions until they are cleared. The resolution is said to be at odds with parts of SA’s labour laws, Parliament’s, and even with the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of association.
Other notable decisions of the NEC lekgotla:
- The government will consider extending the Covid relief grant, which expires at the end of January, but Ramaphosa said this depended on state finances. The Covid grant needs an “exit strategy”, he said.
- The National Loan Guarantee Scheme by which the state guarantees bank loans or payment relief to businesses must be “fundamentally restructured to improve its accessibility and should enable the participation of non-bank SMME funders”. The scheme has largely failed to reach those businesses it targeted.
- The government will convene an economic summit to look at the Covid-19 impact on poverty, equality and unemployment. It will also hold a workshop on climate change.
- Cheaper broadband is still a long way off. The ANC is still debating the “correct configuration of public and private participation in this sector”. It has toughened the black empowerment criteria for participation in the spectrum auctions.
- To speedily pass the amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution, which allows for land expropriation without compensation. The ANC said: “Land redistribution must be expedited. Land in the hands of government must be released.”
- An ANC Electoral Committee will be established to select candidates for the local government election this year.
- The party will act against unequal pay for work of equal value by women.
The lekgotla outcome was fragmented and disjointed, but that may be because the party buried a beloved cadre in the midst of its meeting, Cabinet Minister Jackson Mthembu, the most senior ANC leader to succumb to Covid-19. DM