ANALYSIS | The cracks inside Ramaphosa's 'consultative government'

President Cyril Ramaphosa chairing an AU meeting with South Africa's neighbouring countries.
President Cyril Ramaphosa chairing an AU meeting with South Africa's neighbouring countries.
GCIS
  • The lifting of alcohol ban lifted the lid on Ramaphosa's consultative Covid-19 response.
  • NCCC blanket regulations do not work, provincial and local government leaders say.
  • They also believe the district level response will be more effective.


Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane's announcement that he would petition national government for the reinstatement of the alcohol ban in the Eastern Cape has exposed cracks inside President Cyril Ramaphosa's consultative response to Covid-19.

Mabuyane on Monday told News24 the lifting of the alcohol ban had seen a resurgence in alcohol-related incidents in the province, which has prompted the provincial command council to call for the reinstatement of the ban.

On the other side of the country, EFF leader Julius Malema declared he would no longer be part of Ramaphosa's regular consultations with political parties.

This is as Ramaphosa consistently referred to his administration as a "listening government" - allowing for lengthy consultation before making decisions related to the government's response to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Malema claimed Ramaphosa has used these consultations to neutralise the opposition, while implementing regulations which undermine opposing suggestions.

This is a far cry from Malema's initial sentiment during the early phase of the nationwide lockdown, where he supported the government's decisions as necessary.

Speaking to the media, Malema said: 

The president doesn't listen to us. He is calling virtual meetings to neutralise us and pretend to be listening. The issue of alcohol, we raised it sharply in the meeting and we demonstrated why it is dangerous to open alcohol (sales).

Ramaphosa had extensive consultation every time a big decision related to the lockdown had to be taken – often to the frustration of many.

He had several meetings with leaders of opposition parties, where they were each given time to ventilate their views and opinions on different regulations.

But that goodwill from political parties and lobby groupings has run out.

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde has spoken about the need for upfront consultation from Ramaphosa and his executive if they have any planned intervention in the Western Cape.

READ MORE | Covid-19 epicentre: Winde in the dark on deployment of top ANC ministers to Western Cape

The Sunday Times recently reported that a decision by Ramaphosa to deploy ministers to the Western Cape had many DA insiders fearing the governing party was attempting to use the Covid-19 crisis to stage a political comeback in the province.

The publication reported that Police Minister Bheki Cele, Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs Minister Barbara Creecy would be among those deployed to the province.

Speaking to News24, Winde said he welcomed any support from the government, but he needed to be consulted first.

The Western Cape has been the hardest hit, with 61% of the country's infections recorded in the province.

Cracks within the government's consultative processes were also manifest when it was recently embroiled in a bitter public fight with the scientific fraternity after one of the leading experts in HIV vaccine research, Professor Glenda Gray, criticised the government for its regulations, saying it was unscientific.

READ MORE | Mkhize on Glenda Gray matter: 'Let's leave the issue at that'

Gray is a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) and chairperson of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).

Later, another allegation emerged from another leading scientist, Professor François Venter, also in the MAC, that the government had not consulted experts on some regulations.

News24 spoke to three high-profile government officials, who raised concerns over what they called "broad consultations".

Two of the government officials, who sit on provincial command councils, said they were initially dissatisfied with the composition of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC).

A government leader from North West said:

Some of us felt and we still feel there should be a representation of provincial excos in decisions that are made in the NCCC. We are in the frontlines of our respective provinces and one regulation may work for one province and not for the other.


Another government leader said regulations were solely dependent on what individuals in the NCCC were thinking and some provinces were left in the cold.

"For instance, the NCCC opened up flight routes in three provinces, Cape Town, KwaZulu-Natal and Johannesburg. What about other airports? You have routes like Port Elizabeth, which should have been considered. These provinces have investors as well. These are the gaps that we have identified."

Meetings

The president initiated engagements with stakeholders, including business leaders, political parties, faith-based leaders and premiers, as well as metropolitan mayors, under different forums.

The regular meetings, held virtually, consist of relevant Cabinet members and also include Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.

An ANC mayor, however, said the issue was that the Presidential Coordinating Council (PCC) - which premiers and some mayors attend - was only privy to a "summarised version" of the regulations.

The PCC consists of ministers, premiers, executive mayors of metropolitan municipalities, and the leadership of the SA local government association.

"Premiers and mayors get a broad overview of regulations during these consultations and that is going to be a challenge. We are the [coal] face of this pandemic. We know our resources and our limits. The district model in responding to the virus is something I believe will work."

While they criticised some aspects of Ramaphosa's consultative process, they all agreed that the president was doing a good job in keeping provincial and local government in the know. 

On 18 April, the president said: "The PCC is an invaluable platform that allows us to assess the extent to which our response to this pandemic has fully embraced the principles of cooperative governance.

"Fundamental to all the work we do to combat the coronavirus is the interface between different spheres of government, each of which has particular responsibilities for effective implementation."

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