President Cyril Ramaphosa has been reduced to the role of seemingly helpless spectator as a faction in his government moves to consolidate power in an unconstitutional manner, opposition leader John Steenhuisen said on Wednesday.
Steenhuisen singled out cooperative governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, saying she was using the Covid-19 crisis to entrench the hold of a centralised command structure over local and provincial governments.
His remarks follow the leaking of a draft document which the Democratic Alliance (DA) says sets out how the minister plans to erode the power of local government structures.
Dlamini-Zuma's ministry has declined to confirm the authenticity of the 45-page document, which is marked "top secret" and titled "SA Economic Recovery Plan for Municipalities in Response to Covid-19".
The document states that the district health system has been successful in fighting the coronavirus and should be used as a model for centralising all government decision-making and ensuring implementation at local government level.
"The exemplary response by South African government to the Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the institutional strength of the district health system and the importance of centralising operations, decision making, policy making and project planning through the Command Council.
"To give effect to the economic recovery of the country, a mirroring of this institutional form would be required. A centralised policy making, programme and project planning, operations and tactical decision-making council would have to be established."
The document further says that a "centralised developmental council" will be established to ensure coordination and implementation of projects, and reprises remarks repeatedly made by Dlamini-Zuma about the difficulties foisted on local government structures by the pandemic, including her call for government not to "waste this crisis" in reconfiguring how delivery is affected.
Steenhuisen said the document had at its heart a plan by the minister to extend the centralised command system, as represented by the controversial National Coronavirus Command Council, beyond the health crisis.
"Simply put, it is a bold play to try and centralise provincial and local government power in the hands of a few."
"To call this unconstitutional is an understatement. It is tantamount to a coup, as it attempts to put unelected national politicians in charge of provincial and local government functions, against the wishes of those who voted for these governments."
He said this was the so-called radical economic transformation faction of the ANC flexing its muscle against the president.
"And they feel comfortable doing so because they recognise weak leadership," he added.
"They are using the Covid crisis as cover to pull the rug of government from under the president’s feet, and he seems incapable of stopping it."
Steenhuisen said national government was severely critical of the efforts of the Western Cape, which is governed at provincial level by the DA, to combat Covid-19, but as infections rise dramatically in other provinces, it is silent on the failings of provincial governments.
"Now that provinces like the Eastern Cape and Gauteng are collapsing, national government is strangely silent."
This was leaving citizens vulnerable against the disease, and Ramaphosa had a duty to ensure that this was not the case and that there was strong intervention, rather than petty regulations that served no purpose to stem the infection rate.
"What do you say to vulnerable people – the elderly or those with co-morbidities – in places where the system clearly cannot cope? But even more importantly, what will our president do about it?
"President Ramaphosa, if you’re in charge, and not Minister Dlamini-Zuma, then you need to stop being a spectator to all of this and step up to the plate."