It would be amiss of me to not extend heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones during this pandemic.
In the past four months the country has experienced one of the most destructive and deadliest pandemics in recent history.
As we gather here today, there are people who are languishing in hospitals; fighting for their lives in their homes and over 3500 people who have lost their lives.
To many, these are not just fatalities.
It is a family member; it is a friend or a colleague.
All the while, healthcare workers are throwing their bodies on the line, working in the most impossible conditions.
Siyababulela ngomsebenzi wabo.
Inzingqi zabo ziyavakala.
However, our strategy of fighting this virus cannot simply be about ‘hoping for the best’.
Government strategy has to be grounded in concrete plans which will force the curve of infections down.
This begins with proper resourcing of the health response in order to ensure that provinces are ready to handle the rising numbers of infections.
So that those who require medical help are afforded a bed that is fully kitted with staff and the requisite equipment.
This is not being done.
The Minister of Finance tabled an adjusted budget two weeks ago which painted a grim picture.
The announcement that was made by the President several weeks ago of the R20 billion allocation turned out to being the reprioritization of existing provincial budgets.
Simply put, provinces are now forced to find money to fund their additional needs using existing conditional grants meant for other services.
The President has repeatedly stated that money should not be an obstacle and that government will make available financial resources that would build field hospitals; appoint additional healthcare workers; fill critical vacancies and provide life-saving PPE for healthcare workers.
This has not been done.
Additionally, resources can only assist where there are strong systems in place.
Without competent administrative and political leadership, these resources will be squandered.
This pandemic found the country’s health system already on its knees.
It is now dissipating even the parts of our system that were salvageable.
The Department of Health should have taken the lead on stress-testing the provincial systems; augmenting them and ensuring that our prevention strategies were sound.
Make no error, the explosion of cases isn’t just because of an inevitable health crisis, it also because our prevention strategies were found wanting.
When we gathered here to debate the state readiness for this Coronavirus pandemic on the 5th of March, I pledged our conditional support to government efforts to fight this virus.
We vowed to stand by you as long as you placed the wellbeing of the people of South Africa first.
That was the condition.
It was never a blank cheque.
It was always about the people that we serve.
You have let them down and we have withdrawn our support.
The social contract that the South African public signed with its government was clear.
They agreed to stay at home - at the expense of their life’s work and livelihoods – and government would build health system capacity.
That contract has been breached.
Government failed spectacularly to build healthcare capacity and uphold its end of the agreement.
Minister Mkhize, the analogy you make about the storm that is coming suggests that we are merely subjecting ourselves to destruction that we are seeing across the country.
As though we are lambs to the slaughter.
That is simply not good enough.
If we are to have a fighting chance to save lives there are urgent steps that must be taken to arrest the freefall.
These steps need not wait for more lives to be lost.
They require political will and strong systems to be in place.
They can be done today:
You can begin by placing the Eastern Cape under administration according to section 100 of the Constitution. The Constitution makes it clear – where a provincial department cannot fulfil its core mandate, a section 100 intervention must be used. The Premier of the province has admitted that they have lost the battle against this virus. Hospitals in the province has long reached the full capacity; healthcare workers are getting infected and those who are left to hold the fort do so at a great cost to their lives; people are fighting each other for mere oxygen in hospitals; all the while the provincial government invests tens of millions of rands on glorified scooters that you personally endorsed.
Secondly, you can go back to the drawing board with national treasury and commit funds to provinces so that they can begin mounting a decent response to the pandemic. Places like the Nasrec facility will become white elephants if they are not staffed and well equipped in a way that can save lives. Simply having beds is but the beginning of the process.
Thirdly, money allocated must be accompanied by strong operational plans and strategies – per province. It is simply not good enough to wait for explosion of cases when it might already be too late. Those plans must make provision for additional critical care beds, additional staff and testing and tracing capacity. This must be done even if it means setting up a parallel system that by-passes the dead wood in these departments. This is not the time to choose political allegiances. It is time to save lives.
Lastly, without adequate contact tracing, sibethwa sibotshelelwe. Much fanfare was made about making use of cellphone location services which would be used in conjunction with the community health – worker programme. This seems to have been a non-starter.With results taking up to 10 days to be communicated back to people and virtually no contact tracing being done, we are failing.We are only at the beginning of this battle, testing, tracing and tracking must still be the cornerstone of government strategy.
Minister Mkhize, we may not have been able to prevent this pandemic from arriving at our shores, but we can minimize its destruction.
We can save lives.
There are interventions that you can make today to stop the bleeding.
However, you have got to have the courage to choose the people of South Africa over what may be politically expedient.