Transcript: Post-Cabinet briefing by Government Spokesperson, Themba Maseko

23 September 2009

Presenter: Themba Maseko, Government Spokesperson
Date: 23 September 2009
Venue: Imbizo Media Centre, Cape Town

Statement read by Themba Maseko

Cabinet held its ordinary meeting in Cape Town this morning, 23rd September 2009.

The successful launch of the Sumbandila satellite into space via the Russian Soyuz Launch vehicle was noted and welcomed. The meeting agreed that the Department of Science and Technology must revive the programmes that will provide access of space related skills to underprivileged and previously disadvantaged youth as part of the National Space Programme.

Over the next two months, South Africa will be participating in various multilateral fora around the world. These fora include the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Climate Change Summit, the Group of Twenty Summit and the Africa-South America Summit. Our participation will be informed by the need to support the developmental objectives of the developing countries. President Jacob Zuma is participating in his first UN General Assembly since his inauguration.

On global warming, Cabinet would like to correct the wrong impression that had been created that South Africa was opposed to targets being set on global warming. The correct position is as follows: South Africa was not in favour of supporting targets that are imposed by developed nations on developing nations to reduce carbon emissions. We are committed to setting targets that will take our developmental needs into account. As stated in the last Cabinet statement, South Africa will take responsible and measurable action to reduce our emissions over time.  

We support the need for a comprehensive international programme on adaptation that is able to deliver the necessary resources to enable all developing countries to adapt, recognising the particular needs of the poorest and most vulnerable. It must be noted that developing nations will require resources if they were to participate effectively in such a programme.

Cabinet has already approved an energy policy and the Long Term Mitigation Scenarios (LTMS) that take into account the potential opportunities presented by science in pursuance of a low carbon and green future. South Africa’s strategic framework is based on the fact that our emissions are to peak between 2020 and 2025, stabilise for a decade, before declining in absolute terms towards the mid-century.

Cabinet expressed its disappointment with the manner in which the Caster Semenya issue was handled by the sports bodies. Cabinet calls on the sports bodies to do all in their power to ensure that Semenya’s rights are respected and that she and her family are provided with all the necessary support during this difficult time.  

The international cooperation between the South African law enforcement agencies and their British counterparts, which led to one of the biggest drug busts in South Africa and the United Kingdom, was welcomed as a sign that the war against criminal syndicates was gaining momentum. We will not allow our country to be used as a haven for criminals.

The Ministers of Finance and Public Enterprises were directed to prepare a report on the state of State Owned Enterprises with particular reference to shareholder compacts, the state of their finances and turn-around strategies. The Minister of Public Enterprises was also directed to re-institute the Inter-Ministerial Committee on State Assets to oversee the functioning of these entities.  

The following appointments were approved:

  • Mr Busani Ngcaweni was appointed to the post of Deputy Director General in the Deputy President’s office.
  • The following were appointed to the Board of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC): Professor R Hassan; Mr TP Masobe; Ms P Ntombela-Nzimande (Interim Chairperson); Prof L Qalinge; Dr S Zinn; Prof P Zulu; Prof A Lourens; Prof P Naidoo; Prof EC Webster and Prof A Sawyer.


Journalist: Can you tell us what Government knows about the US Embassies and consulates being closed because of this undisclosed threat. And what sort of message is that sending about the country, elsewhere, whether there is any level of concern about that. Does Cabinet take a dim view?

Themba Maseko: We are aware of the decision taken by the US authorities, and that at this particular point in time the relevant agencies are in touch with the US government agencies in this country to understand the nature of the threat and to see what can be done in cooperation with them to address that particular challenge. The closure of embassies in our country is not necessarily good because it creates a particular impression that we are not a safe country. We just want to reassure the country that South Africa is indeed a safe country. All citizens from other embassies who are in this country do and must continue to feel safe. However as far as the US embassies are concerned, we will continue working with the US authorities to deal with this particular problem they are experiencing.

Journalist: So it’s a real threat, it’s not some loony tunes as suggested by a source?

Themba Maseko: At this stage we don’t know if the threat is real or not. But the US authorities themselves believe that there was a threat that they had to address. And we will work with them to make sure that their concerns are addressed.

Journalist: Can we assume that they didn’t get the information that caused this concern from South African intelligence?

Themba Maseko: Let’s just say they received information, but we can’t confirm what their source was. They got the information from their own sources. We are cooperating with them in trying to understand what the nature of the threat is and what we can do to address their particular concerns.

Journalist: Regarding the State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and the Inter-Ministerial Committees, is that particularly focussed on the issue of Mr (Siyabonga) Gama and Transnet, and resolving that issue. And are we any closer to Cabinet taking a decision on the new CEO of Transnet. Why is this issue of the finances particularly an issue of focus in the Cabinet at this stage?

Themba Maseko: The issue of the Transnet CEO didn’t arise at this meeting. But the Minister of Public Enterprise, when she is ready to bring recommendation to Cabinet it will be tabled. The matter never arose. Basically Cabinet is of the view that we have a lot of State entities operating in the country. Some of them seem to be experiencing some financial and governance difficulties. It was Cabinet’s view that we needed to come up with a structure that will enable Government to have an insight of how these entities are operating and what their challenges are. Particularly because as and when they run into financial difficulties, they come to Cabinet for funding to address their financial difficulties. Cabinet is setting up this task team to make sure that we can begin to have early warning signs to say, in this particularly entity there could be problems and intervention is required at an early stage so that we can intervene in a much more pro-active manner that we have been doing in the past.

Journalist: Can you give us an idea on who the Ministers are on this Inter-Ministerial Committee, including the Ministers of Public Enterprises and Transport.

Themba Maseko: The core of this Committee at this stage are Public Enterprises, Finance, Transport and there maybe a few others that might be added. But the core of the Committee will be those Ministers.

Journalist: We are reviving the IMC, why was it put out to pasture? Is the SABC likely to be part of this mandate?

Themba Maseko: The IMC was setup by the previous Cabinet. The elections came and a number of structures were in place. So this is one of the structures that were in place in the previous Cabinet. Let’s resuscitate it to make sure that it can deal with this matter. This is dealing with all State-owned entities. If there are issues that require attention, even from the SABC, those will be dealt with by this Committee. The mandate is much broader to say, all entities that fall under the State.

Journalist: Did the initiative come from Minister Hogan? Might it relate to her earlier statement that perhaps some of the SOE’s should be sold off, An could a consequence of this be a rationalization of state owned enterprises that the decision might be that the state owns too many enterprises and that they should be merged or sold off?

Themba Maseko: The recommendation arises from of a Cabinet committee dealing with this kind of issues. It’s difficult to say which Minister came with this proposal; it’s a proposal coming from the Cabinet Committee. Its mandate is to look at the current state of affairs in these entities. It may or may not make certain recommendations about the number or the size of these entities and whether they should be merged or not. That’s a discussion that the Committee is going to have to look at. The mandate of the Committee has not been defined to that extend. At this stage, it’s still open.

Journalist: President Zuma is overseas and he has met with the Indian Finance Minister on the MTN/Bharti deal. What is Cabinet’s endorsed mandate that Zuma is taking to the Indians? And what is Cabinet’s position on the deal. Does it support the deal, what are the reservations?

Themba Maseko: At this stage I can tell you that a number of Ministers are dealing with this issue, particularly National Treasury. The matter has not served before Cabinet. There is no collective Cabinet position on the Bharti deal at this particular stage. As the matter proceeds, it could be brought to Cabinet. But as we are sitting, there is no Cabinet position.

Journalist: Does Cabinet feel that the Athletics South Africa boss should be fired?

Themba Maseko: That matter was not dealt with specifically. Cabinet’s view is that the sports authorities both locally and internationally have a responsibly to deal with this matter as speedily as possible because the interest of an individual here has been completely undermined. We do not at this particular stage want to pre-empt what decision the sports bodies need to take. We believe the way this matter has been handled has been less than satisfactory. But no specific view on the future of the chair of the sports body.

Journalist: The Sport Ministry has said that Leonard Chuene should go. Does Cabinet support that Sports Minister?

Themba Maseko: Cabinet is aware of the statement issued by the Department of Sports but Cabinet is of the view that sports bodies must be given the chance to deal with the matter first. We are satisfied that the sports bodies will take the right decisions that they need to take. So there is no need for Cabinet to take firm positions on that particular matter at this stage.

Journalist: What was Cabinet’s stance regarding the release of the crime stats. Is there consensus that there should be more firepower to police?

Themba Maseko: Cabinet noted that the stats were released yesterday and welcomed the steps the Police Ministry is putting on the table to ensure that we take the fight against crime to the criminals. So we are satisfied with the plan by the Police Ministry to deal with the scourge of crime.

Journalist: My question relates to the issue of the recent wage settlement in the Public Sector. As you know Government has settled at 11%. Has the issue come up at this or at a previous Cabinet meeting? We understand that the Minister settled at a level that was above what was budgeted for. What is Cabinet’s take on this settlement on government spending? Is it correct that the Minister had to apologise for acting outside of Cabinet mandate and will there be action taken against the Minister, or will the Minister be fired for acting out of Government mandate.

Themba Maseko: There is no decision to fire anybody at this stage. The matter of negotiations with the unions is a matter that is tackled by the mandate committee which is a sub-committee of Cabinet. The negotiations took place with the unions. A lot of those issues were discussed at the mandating committee of Cabinet. Cabinet is regularly briefed on developments at the mandating committee. So at this meeting Cabinet was briefed about the negotiations that took place with the unions at this meeting. So Cabinet was briefed. The process is that there is then an internal process that takes place within Government where the mandating committee briefs Cabinet. The matter is then taken to the Minister’s budget committee to look at the financial implications of any wage deal that is sealed and that process is still unfolding. So the matter will still come back to Cabinet to see what the financial implication of the wage deal is. You are talking about two processes taking place at the same time, one is the current wage deal but there are also a number of OSD processes that have been unfolding. So a lot of these things have been happening at different places in the different sectors within Government so all of this needs to be put on the table to make sure that we have a global view of the implications of all of these agreements. So the matter was discussed and noted at this meeting.

Journalist: If I can go back to the US Embassy issue, it has been over 24-hours that this security threat has been out there in the public domain. I don’t understand why it’s taking so long for SA security agencies and the Americans as well to be able to tell us what this security threat is.

Themba Maseko: I don’t know what the normal time is it takes to investigate a threat, if ever there is one. All we can say at this stage is that there is contact at the highest levels between the Americans and the South African Government and they are dealing with the matter and as soon as they are satisfied that the matter has been dealt with to their satisfaction then decisions will be taken about when the offices will reopen. At this time it’s too early to say anything further. The decision as to when to open these offices will be taken by the US government obviously in consultation with the South Africa Government and as soon as they are ready that process will unfold. At this stage there is very little I can say on the matter.

Journalist: On climate change, this is a fundamental reversal of the last position. Last time the statement said South Africa is not in favour of setting targets, now South Africa is committed to setting targets that will take our developmental needs into account. Did somebody get a phone call was there an international reaction to the last one. And what will come out of this, what will South Africa take to Copenhagen, a proposal? Will South Africa be getting other developing nations to draft a set of targets that will be suitable for developing countries, how does this get put into global debate?

Themba Maseko: The reason why we are putting this thing in the statement today is not as a result of any phone call or any bilateral, its simply to state what the position is. If you recall what we said at the last Cabinet meeting, the issue is that we agreed to the setting of targets but we believe that the needs of developing nations need to be taken into account. I gave the example of our particular case. We are an economy which relies on the use of coal powered stations, but we did say we have our own targets that take our developmental requirements into account. So we just thought that in explaining our position we could have created the impression that we don’t want targets at all. So what Cabinet is saying is that targets are important but what is more important is that we should not allow a situation where developed nations come an impose targets that could place developing nations at a major disadvantage. So it’s an attempt to clarify that position. The next step is that there will be extensive discussions. There is a Cabinet committee that will look at the final mandate proposal. We explained that at the Cabinet meeting and that mandate proposal will then be taken to Copenhagen and if a deal can be reached in Copenhagen, we think it’s going to be good for everyone else. But this deal must make sure the needs of developing nations are taken into account and the fact that they still have to develop and grow their economies and if we need to reduce the omissions, there is going to be extensive allocation of resources to this nations to enable them to actually continue to growth while at the same time reducing their own carbon emission. So that is basically the issue at hand here.

Journalist: Does that mean South Africa would like to see out of Copenhagen one set of targets for developed countries they must cut by 50% and a different set of targets for developing nations.

Themba Maseko: Developed nations have a greater responsibility to cut their emissions and they should be able to cut their emissions in larger percentages much quicker than developing nations. But that doesn’t necessary imply that developing nations have no responsibility not to cut. They have to cut but in cutting we need to make sure that the developmental requirements and needs are taken into account and in cutting they will have to be assisted by developed nations to make sure that as they reduce their emission that doesn’t lead to slowing the growth of their own economies.

Journalist: Are you saying that you will only accept binding targets for developing nations if they are subsidised.

Themba Maseko: There is already an agreement among the negotiators that subsidisation is an essential component of that. So all we are saying is that all nations must agree to the cuts but at the same time developing nations, their needs and requirements must be taken into account. And as they cut there has to be a greater commitment on the part of developed nations to fund and help support developing nations to move quicker to reduce emission while at the same time being able to grow their economies. The issue of subsidisation have been accepted globally in the talks, so you cut but developed nations have a responsibility to support developing nations.

Journalist: Have developing nations agreed to binding targets?

Themba Maseko: That is what the current summit in the UN is about, to say developed nations need to take a stand to agree to targets by 2012. The current agreement on global emission expires in 2012 as you aware. So the Heads of States are meeting in Washington and current indications are that there is support for the position taken by the General Secretary of the United Nations to say that targets are indeed required and our expectations are that developed nations will agree to the targets, but again this is still subject to negotiations. Final agreements will be reached at the December Summit.

Journalist: What is Cabinet’s view on the Auditor-General’s (AG) report on the SABC which uncovered hundreds in irregular spending?

Themba Maseko: The SABC AG report was not specifically discussed at this meeting but we do expect the interim board of the SABC to take all the necessary actions to make sure all the concerns raised in the AG report are dealt with. It is very clear that not all recommendations of the AG could be dealt with the interim board so the reality is that the newly appointed board will have to take some of the AG’s report forward as soon as they take office.

Journalist: It seems to be the general contentious of the ANC members of the Communications Committee that a task team be set up with the police and the NPA, Auditor General Office much in the line of the arms deal investigation, the tri-partite grouping. Was that proposed by Cabinet, is that the way to go with the investigation?

Themba Maseko: The matter was not tabled in Cabinet. So as soon as the matter is put on the table I’m sure Cabinet will apply its mind to it, but that proposal did not serve before Cabinet.

Journalist: Going back to the US Embassy threat is there any threat to ordinary South Africans, given you have the Americans in a state of panic, closing embassies left right and centre, boosted security for personnel. What should the ordinary South African citizens’ response be?

Themba Maseko: South Africans have no reason to worry there is no threat that Government is aware of, pertaining to South Africans or indeed any citizen working in this country. However the law enforcement authorities, police including intelligence agencies assist with this kind of matters so if there’s a threat we will deal with it. At this particular time we are not aware of any threat to South African citizens.

Themba Maseko (Government Spokesperson)
Cell: 083 645 0810

Issued by Government Communications (GCIS)