Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Co-operative governance & traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Wednesday hit back at those who criticised her handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic also displayed the inequalities confronting us. While the majority are struggling to survive, a few have poured millions into court cases to challenge our response to the pandemic,” Dlamini-Zuma told a joint sitting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces to debate President Cyril Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address.

In 2020, Dlamini-Zuma was criticised when the government announced a temporary ban on all tobacco products during level 4 of the Covid-19 lockdown. Dlamini-Zuma was taken to court by British American Tobacco SA (BAT) and the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) for her handling of the matter.

“These [Covid-19 and gender-based violence] pandemics have placed in our face the stark realities which confront the vast majority of our citizens. These realities include hunger, poverty, unemployment, low income, inequality, sexism, unequal access to basic service and underdevelopment,” she said, adding that the pandemic had worsened the country’s struggling economy.

However, she said, lessons had been learnt.

“It has also taught us that our government can and has worked in a more co-ordinated and integrated way, thus showing that the three spheres are interdependent and interrelated, and can be agile and responsive,” she said.

She said the government needed to ramp up its communication campaigns and “deepen our initiatives that are aimed at building resilience, cohesion and prosperity in our communities so that they can survive future pandemics, disasters and calamities”.

Dlamini-Zuma said the pandemic also confirmed that SA desperately needed national health insurance, “because when the hospital beds were full those on medical aid and those in the public health system were equally affected”.

On challenges facing municipalities, she said: “In the past we have detailed to parliament the challenges confronting our municipalities. These have included governance and political challenges which have in some instances led to infighting, and an inappropriate interface between the political, administrative and private sector segments in our localities.”

She added that municipalities had been confronted by high vacancy rates, inappropriate placements and the lack of consequence management.

This, she said, led to substandard service delivery and, to make matters worse, the National Treasury needed to channel funds towards fighting the pandemic.

“The upcoming local government elections offer all political parties the opportunity to remedy this,” said the minister, stressing that officials needed to cease interfering in the administration and supply-chain processes.

“We must ensure that we send our most capable and capacitated to the local sphere, because it is the sphere closest and most important to our people. The elections offer all of us the opportunity to renew the energies at the local level as we reconstruct the destroyed local economies,” she said.

Dlamini-Zuma said the government intended reviewing the organisational structures at local government level.

“This will be complemented by our inputs to the national skills development plan,  which will ensure that it becomes specifically responsive to the needs of the local sphere of governance.”

She said the local government sphere required far more support and capacity.

“Unless something drastic and radical is done service delivery will continue to favour the more privileged. To this end, we are working with the National Treasury to consider how we can revise the current funding model, which makes many of our municipalities unviable and vulnerable.” 

She said the government was hard at work with new projects worth billions of rand, including water, sanitation and roads.

“We are also hard at work to turn eThekwini into a liveable and smart port city. Among the actions we have undertaken with the city and province is the implementation of Operation Good Hope which seeks to ensure the city is more responsive and professional.

“We are improving the efficiencies at the Durban port and are addressing the service delivery challenges by upgrading services in 581 informal settlements,” said Dlamini-Zuma.

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