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

10 September 2009

Presenter: Themba Maseko, Government Spokesperson
Date: 10 September 2009
Venue: Imbizo Media Centre, Cape Town

Statement read by Themba Maseko

Cabinet held its ordinary meeting in Cape Town yesterday, 9 September 2009.

Cabinet expressed full support for the action taken by the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Ms Lindiwe Sisulu, against the members of the South African National Defence Union who participated in the illegal and violent march at the Union Buildings on the 26th August 2009.  

Although the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans will abide by the decision of the court, Government still believes that the soldiers who participated in the violent and illegal march must account for their action. They broke the law in a number of respects including:  undermining national security by marching and attempting to invade the Union Buildings, the seat of Government, which has been declared a National Key Point; defying a High Court order which declared the protest march illegal; failure to obey legal orders from the police during the march; getting involved in vandalism and violence which led to the destruction of public and private property, and importantly defying orders from their commanders.

As stated before, Government is not going to tolerate the violation of any of the laws of the land and those who break the law, in whatever shape or form, will be held accountable for their actions. While Government acknowledges that the soldiers have genuine grievances, breaking the law in the manner in which they did was totally unacceptable.

Cabinet approved the proposal to establish the National Defence Force Service Commission. This Commission will be an independent body established to provide expert advice to the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans on all matters pertaining to the conditions of service of the members of the military. Members of the Commission will be appointed by the Minister and will comprise of experts from the civil society, academia and business. In doing its work, the Commission will conduct interviews with members of the military, conduct research and embark on international benchmarking exercises to ensure that the conditions of service are broadly in line with international best practice. This decision is a clear demonstration that the Government is committed to addressing the genuine grievances of members of the military services.

Cabinet received a progress report on the international climate change negotiations that are taking place under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These negotiations are aimed at reaching agreement on the international climate change regime beyond 2012. The next round of negotiations will take place at the 15th Conference of Parties schedule for the 15th December 2009 in Copenhagen.

Although the African continent has contributed minutely to the overall global emissions, it is likely to be heavily affected by global warming through droughts, floods, water stress food shortages, among many other consequences. While South Africa acknowledges that it is a contributor to the overall global green house gases largely due to its reliance on coal powered electricity, we are committed to taking responsible action to reduce our emissions but we are not ready to agree to any targets that would undermine our growth trajectory. Like other developing nations-, we still face the major challenge of growing our economy to enable us to meet the Millennium Development Goals.  

However, Government will take responsible and measurable action to reduce our emissions over time. Cabinet has already approved the 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 views adaptation efforts as a priority at the Copenhagen talks. Economies must be transformed to enable sustainable, low emissions growth and development, and at the same time, allowing economies, communities and developing nations to adapt to climate change.

An Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) will be established to direct the formulation of a national programme for climate change, and to develop South Africa’s final mandate for the UNFCCC talks. The IMC will be made up of the Ministers of Water and Environmental Affairs, International Relations and Cooperation, Economic Development, Trade and Industry, Rural Development and of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. Government will also interact with other developing nations and the social partners to ensure that the final mandate incorporates the development agenda of alleviating poverty and economic growth.

Cabinet welcomed and endorsed the launch of the Football Friday campaign by the 2010 Communication Partnership. This campaign seeks to raise awareness about the hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Finals and to show support for Bafana Bafana. Government joins the Partnership in calling on all South Africans to support the Football Friday campaign by buying and wearing the Bafana Bafana jerseys every Friday until the World Cup finals. The principle of buying locally produced jerseys must be observed.

The meeting welcomed the good news that preparations for the launch of SumbandilaSat, the South African made satellite into space was proceeding smoothly. Sumbandila means ‘pathfinder’ in si-Venda. The R26 million low-orbit satellite is the product of a three-year satellite development programme that was commissioned by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in 2005, and was implemented by our University of Stellenbosch’s Engineering Faculty.
The satellite will orbit about 500km to 600km above the earth. It will use high-resolution cameras that will produce images to be used for agriculture, mapping of infrastructure and land use, population measurement and the monitoring of dam levels in the country. The images will be streamed to the Satellite Applications Centre (SAC) at Hartbeeshoek, near Pretoria.

Cabinet welcomed the decision by the Canadian authorities to challenge the decision of their Immigration and Refugee Board to grant asylum to a South African citizen on flawed and racially motivated grounds. The Board’s decision is regrettable. Government rejects any suggestions that white South Africans in this country are under attack from their Black compatriots.

South Africa’s response to the International Monetary Fund’s Article IV Report was discussed and approved. The Minister of Finance will publish the Government response to the IMF report this afternoon. The release of our response will coincide with the IMF’s release of the Article IV Report.  

Cabinet noted that the agreement between South Africa and the European Community amending the agreement on Trade, Development and Cooperation will be signed at the SA-EU Summit scheduled for the 11th September 2009 in Kleinmond.

The meeting approved the request for South Africa to affiliate to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The Statute of the International Renewable Agency will be submitted to Parliament to ratify the membership to IRENA as required by the Constitution.
Cabinet approved the request for South Africa to host the 2nd Conference of African Ministers Responsible for Maritime transport under the auspices of the African Union to be held on 12-16 October 2009.

The meeting also approved the request to host the 7th Session of African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) and the declaration of the Second African Water Week to be held from 9-13 November 2009.

Government’s outreach programme, Imbizo Week, will take place throughout the country from 30th October to 08 November 2009. The Imbizo Week will provide the Executive with the opportunity to interact with communities and stakeholders to discuss and receive feedback on the Government Programme of Action.

Mr Leseja Kganyago’s contract as Director General in the National Treasury was extended for a two-year period.

The following appointments were approved:

  • Mr P O’Flaherty was appointed as Executive Director and ex officio member to the Eskom Board.
  • The following were appointed as Employer Nominee Trustees to Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) Board for a period of 4 years: Ms M Mbina-Mthembu, Mr A Moloto, Mr K Govender, Mr S Padayachee, Dr ML Ledwaba, Ms M Moses, Ms C Khuzwayo and Ms F Peterson.
  • The following were appointed as Employer Nominee Substitute Trustees to the Government Employees Pension fund (GEPF) Board for a period of four years: Ms R Rasikhinya, Ms V Vumendlini, Ms VM Rennie, Mrs GB Modise, Mr J Griesel, Mr Z Sithole, Mr E Masilela and Mr J Andrew.
  • Mr J Molobela was appointed as Non-Executive Director for a three-year period and as Chairperson of the Telkom Board of Directors for a period of 1 year with effect from 1 November 2009.
  • Mr Nkosinathi Bebeza and Ms Mpho Letlape were appointed as Non-Executive Directors to the Board of the South African Post Office (SAPO), for a period of 3 years with effect from 1 October 2009.
  • The following were appointed as members of the Board of the Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA (NECSA) with effect from 1 September 2009 until 30 August 2012: Mr EM Dipico (Chairperson), Adv N Shaik-Peremanov, Dr RM Adam, Dr N Bhengu, Prof T Majozi, Ms N Noxaka, Mr P Tshelane, Mr A Minty and Mr O Aphane.


Journalist: I was slightly surprised to see that the BuaNews had a release from today’s cabinet this morning, I wondered how that happened before you have read this and whether you would read this. Now I want to ask cabinet about the Deputy President’s accident or whatever it was in Gbadolite.

Themba Maseko: Okay, BuaNews releasing the statement this morning, I am not aware of that it’s not suppose to happen, I will check with the people involved and make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Secondly on the Deputy President’s flight, the Minister of Defence, the matter was passed in Cabinet yesterday, the Minister of Defence did brief Cabinet about what happened and the agreement is that the minister will issue a statement giving details of what really happened. In short the plane was suppose to land in one of the African countries for refuelling, but on landing and just approaching the runway it was found that the fog was too heavy and the plane could not land and the plane was diverted to the DRC to land at a school airport. On arrival at that airport in the DRC, the pilot realised that the lights at the airport were not on, so he had to circle around the runway, looking for the runway, using the lights of his aircraft until the runway was found. He did have an emergency landing at the airport and that also caused a tyre burst in one of the tyres of the plane, but the Deputy President, did land very safely. On realising that they have landed, the plane was then approached, by members of the military of both the UN Force and the DRC and also the DRE armed forces, the plane was secured and the Deputy President was able to refuel, the tyre was fixed and was able to fly back safely. So that is basically what happened. The Minister of Defence will give more details.

Journalist: So did the troops try to board the plane?

Themba Maseko: No, nobody boarded the plane, they just waited until the early hours of the morning, and the members of the force just came to the plane to understand what was happening and to check if it was safe, and as soon as it was established that it was the Deputy President of the country and he was safe, the plane was allowed to refuel and proceed.

Journalist:  Themba, the Deputy Minister of Defence, Thabang Makwetla, was quoted that there is a shortage of military planes in South Africa that is why this incident happened. Was that discussed at all, what is the feeling amongst Cabinet about military planes.

Themba Maseko:  It’s a fact that the Defence, the Air Force does have planes but it doesn’t have long haul planes that can travel, from South Africa to destinations, especially overseas destinations. So whenever the Deputy President or ministers travel using military aircraft they have to stop in one of the countries on the continent for refuelling and proceeding to their destinations. So that happens. Its normal practise within the Air Force, but whether the meeting discussed the aircraft fleet of the military that was not discussed at the Cabinet meeting.

Journalist: Just looking at the National Defence Force service commission, that proposal, I just wanted to know, you said there will be experts from civil society, academia and business, what are the criteria that  the minister will look at when appointing these people, and also is there some kind of timeframe that the cabinet or ministry discussed for when they want the commission to be operational, and also it seems a bit strange  that there is  a mention for someone with a military background, or people with military, coming from the military being part of the mission, if it’s meant to be discussing issues pertaining to their service conditions and that kind of thing. Can you explain?

Themba Maseko: The criteria will basically still be finalised by the Minister. The principle was approved at the meeting yesterday, but obviously, in appointing members of the commission, the Minister will take care to make sure that its people who can provide expert advice on how the condition of the military forces could be improved in the country. So the criteria will be designed, and I do expect that when the Minister make the final appointments there will be one or two people coming from the forces, either the military, navy or the Air Force. Timeframes no specific date was set, but Cabinet agreed that this was an urgent matter. So I do expect that the commission will be set up as soon as possible, especially bearing in mind, that Government acknowledges the conditions under in which our military personnel are operating, require urgent attention, and that is why this commission was approved without to much disagreement. Is it the same issue?

Journalist: Was there any discussion about unionisation of soldiers, does government have any intention to revisit their right to be members of unions, because the Minister have spoken out strongly, saying they should not.

Themba Maseko: The matter was discussed but although no final decision was taken, it’s becoming clear that Government is gravitating more towards saying that there should not be unionisation in the military. But its something that the Minister is exploring, obviously, also looking into the fact that there is a court decision, which basically says that the members of the Defence Force are entitled to form unions. So it’s something that government is going to consider, but the policy position is gravitation towards saying let’s not have unionisation within the military.  

Journalist: On the same issue, looking at the court ruling yesterday, isn’t there a view that perhaps the Minister might have acted prematurely by issuing those letters of dismissal?

Themba Maseko: Well, Cabinet was of the view that you have to expect members of the military to display the highest level of discipline that if they have grievances existing channels would have to be used. To make sure once their grievances have been considered, you don’t have members, uniformed members of the force, behaving in a manner that is unbecoming of the uniform. So there was concern that the conduct of the members of the Defence Force who participated in the march, was totally unacceptable, and the Minister had to act, and that is why Cabinet is coming out fully in support of the action taken by the Minister. But obviously there is a court decision now and the Minister has agreed to address all the issues that was raised and decided upon by the court.

Journalist:  Themba just two questions, on this issue of the military service commission, could this issue, why is the public service commission, through a directorate, specialising in military public service issues, why are they not adequate to address this issue or established earlier we may now have reached a point where soldiers taken to the streets. And question two, did Cabinet actually watch Bafana Bafana on Tuesday, before asking us to wear jerseys, did they actually watch the second half on Tuesday.

Themba Maseko: Well if you go back to the budget speech delivered by the Minister in Parliament, you would realise there was a commitment on that point by the new minister of defence to address all the challenges that the military is facing, ranging from the conditions of services of the military. We are acknowledging that their conditions especially their pay is extremely low, that there are also issues about the equipment they are using that is outdated. So there was an acknowledgement on the part of the Minister, a lot of things needed to be done and in going back and looking at the issues that have been raised by the unions. The Minister also acknowledged and noted that in fact the idea of a commission was noted in the Defence Force, up to ten years ago, it was not acted upon. So the Minister has actually gone back to say that this is one of the recommendations, that to set up a special commission that can actually look at the condition of service in the military and the minister is now putting this on the table and saying, maybe this is the right time to actually address those concerns.

Journalist: Right, in related to that, the issue of the modernisation of the army, the overhaul, you know if you look at Russia, the question of updating equipment, you know, not an arms deal type of purchase, but the modernisation of the army, daily equipment, uniforms and all of that, is that, if agreed to, not that it’s a major thing, this is part of the decision?

Themba Maseko: The review is ongoing. When the Minister is ready to come to Cabinet with a clear recommendation it will be discussed at that point. It was not a subject of discussion at this particular meeting, but all I’m saying there is an acknowledgement that major decisions have to be taken in order to strengthen the military and make sure it becomes a truly modern military. You’re question about Bafana Bafana, whether Cabinet watched, the match happened after the cabinet meeting. So at the meeting the match was not watched, but I’m sure that all Cabinet ministers do follow sports, in general but soccer in particular. And I’m sure many of them would have watched Bafana Bafana, but I can’t express a Cabinet view on this matter, accept to say there is a general agreement in fact there is an improvement in the performance of the team except in the field of scoring goals.

Journalist: The reference to the trade deal with the EU that is going to be signed this weekend, what were those?

Themba Maseko: That matter was not discussed specifically at this meeting, it was just noted that there will be amendments, the Department of Trade and Industry could actually assist in answering that question, we can facilitate for you to get the answers.

Journalist: That would be great. When, this contract is extended until?

Themba Maseko: Its two years starting from January 2009.

Journalist: Why only two years, it’s an unusual period, was that at his (Leseja Kganyago) request that it not be longer than two years? Or was Treasury only offering two years?  

Themba Maseko: No, the extension of contracts is a matter that is negotiated by both parties, the DG and the Minister. And in this particular case it was a matter that was discussed by the minister, the DG and the agreement was that two years is appropriate. My expectation would have been that the Minister would have asked them to stay longer, but he has been in the job for long, but I can’t say.

Journalist: Sorry, when will the satellite be launched?

Themba Maseko: The satellite, the date, the satellite launches it has a lot to do with the weather, but the date of the launch is around the 15th of September, but we can check that, we’ll check and advise.

Journalist: Themba did you discuss the SADC call to have the sanctions lifted against Zimbabwe in light of the SA meeting with the EU and whether South Africa will quite strongly be asking for them to be lifted during the meeting?

Themba Maseko: The matter was not discussed at the meeting, but the President is sitting with the matter and he will be also briefing the EU about the discussion of the SADC summit recently, so not at liberty to say what exactly happened there. Let’s go to the back, I will come back to you.

Journalist: Just two things about the statement, three months down the line after the President made the commitment for 500 000 jobs. Has there been any idea on how far we are with that? Secondly on the reports of the proposal by outgoing Reserve Bank governor, Tito Mboweni, the once off tax cut for Eskom, was there a discussion about that?

Themba Maseko: No discussion on the once-off cut for Eskom, the issue of 500 000 jobs by the end of the year were also not discussed at the Cabinet meeting, but the various government clusters will be conducting briefings on the progress on government’s Programme of Action. So at that stage we will be able to say whether that matter was agreed or not. So I can’t answer that question today.

Journalist: Themba on the Copenhagen conference you are saying we are not ready to agree to any chance that would undermine our growth projectory. Could you explain on what the thinking is, are we saying no to targets of any sort, or are you saying if they would undermine growth, what is South Africa’s position on targets then applying to the relevant problems, does South Africa believe they should accept targets and developing countries not.

Themba Maseko: Basically on the targets, we think that it is premature for South Africa to agree on targets, at this particular point in time, largely because you are aware that our economy still rely, especially our indignant clients, still rely very largely on coal powered power stations and if we are to agree to targets now it will hamper our economic growth, because it means that we then have to get Eskom to slow down on its program to build more power stations. We think that our economy still requires energy and the only viable source of energy at this particular point in time is through the use of coal powered power stations. However part of the difficulties that although the African continent contributes minutely as we said in the statement to global gas emissions, South Africa is at a particular space, in the sense that we are one of the largest contributors of green house gasses globally. That has a lot to with the fact that we emit a lot of gasses and that is compared to the size of the population and because of the smaller size of the population there is always this impression created that we are one of the largest in the world whereas we are the largest gas emitter. A lot of it has to do that we have a smaller population and yet we are emitting a lot of gasses, so setting targets now will hamper our growth. So developing nations in our view has a much greater responsibility of reducing the emissions, developed nations, have a greater responsibility in our view, they have contributed to emissions for longer than any of the developing nations, and their economies have reached a certain level of growth and enable them to actually reduce their emission where the developing nations such as ourselves have a long way to go in terms of growing the economy and meeting our millennium development growth. Therefore I think it’s unrealistic to set these targets. However we are saying we want to make a commitment that will embark on reasonable measures that will make sure, that over time we are able to actually reduce our gas emissions. Investments to find alternative sources of energy are one of the areas I think we should put a lot of our energy to, and that is why we adopted the energy policy. We also came up with the long term litigation which begins to say these are the options that can be considered. In the foreseeable future we think that in fact it is not going to be possible for us to begin reducing our reliance on coal powered energy.

Journalist: As a follow up on this same issue, when exactly would a, a political decision be taken, really to say that, you know, the use of coal to power our electricity, that South Africa should actually be looking at exploring alternative energy sources, when will government be able to take such a decision. To say let’s reduce our reliance from coal, which is in the long term not very sustainable. Secondly on the white refugee, the Canadian guy, sorry the South African guy, you know, is there concern that perhaps there could be hundreds of thousands of South Africans using this same line over the world, how do you track that, how do you stop that?

Themba Maseko: We are trying to find out what is going on. Somebody coming from Johannesburg in the Star Newspaper which give numbers to many people of the world, political asylum, in a number of countries we are attracting a trend to have a better sense. But we think that when South Africans want to settle elsewhere we cannot stop that, it’s individual choices that are made, but when somebody makes an application of contact asylum or refugee status we believe those applications must be based on fact it must not actually be misleading. That application if you read the submission, you will give the impression that if you walk in the streets of our country, you have groups of young rampaging Black youngsters chasing after each and every White person in the street, which is totally, totally, misleading. The issue of crime is different matter. Crime is a challenge and this Government has acknowledged and crime is one of the major prioritise why we are putting a number of measure to make sure that we accelerate the fight against crime. So that is something that we have acknowledge, but to suggest that crime as a racial component where only Whites are a victim of crime is totally ridiculous. Crime is affecting all South Africans, that are why the South African Government is committed to fight crime against all perpetrators irrespective of their race and that all South Africa must be protected to make sure that they don’t suffer crime, irrespective of their race. It was totally an incorrect approach adopted by that individual.
Political decision on energy source as we say in the statement we have already an adopted an energy policy we have already adopted the Long Term Mitigation Scenarios. If you read those documents what becomes very clear is that South Africa needs to transform its economy over time. We have already taken concrete steps. We know that we have as nuclear as an alternative source. The difficulty with nuclear is that it is very expensive. If we were going to say that we are going nuclear the chances are that we going to have to stop spending in many other areas. So it’s an expensive alternative and it’s still an alternative that needs to be part of the energy mix. Solar and wind are also alternatives that are also mentioned it the document and we think we should also go into that direction, but science is developing in that direction. We are investing a lot of resources in that direction, we know that already the issue of regulations have already been sorted out in terms of tariffs for independent that are going to be introducing other alternative sources of energy. There are still debates on tariffs whether if they are economically viable or not, the issue is on the table. There is acceptance that we need to diversify our energy sources, but to suggest at this particular point the reliance of coal before we grow this alternative sources of energy is not unrealistic and we think that it could actually seriously hamper our economic growth.

Journalist: This in an principal part that they will be taking this to Copenhagen in December, secondly, South Africa is a leading member for the continent Africa, is this, are you, is this sort of arguments you guys are using for the African block when they are going for?

Themba Maseko: What I am explaining to you now is basically the essence of the position we are taking. We have set up a team, an inter-ministerial team that is going to look at a programme that we basically implement to diversify our energy sources, formalize South Africans negotiations positions. But also interacting with other developing nations and in the debate you will notice that there are essentially two power blocks, you can say, the developing nations and the developed nations. So what we are articulating here is a position that is shared by many developing nations to say this is the route that needs to be taken, so that as we finalise our positions. We are interacting with developing nations but we also including an a component here to say that we want to take to other South African stakeholders, business, labour and other social partners so that when we go to Copenhagen we can say that this position has been consulted upon and is supported a variety of stakeholders, and we believe that in fact that other developing nations in the continent and other parts of the worlds are likely to support this position.

Journalist: There won’t be any substantial agreements then if South Africa as a major developing county as well as an African voice doesn’t foresee any substantial agreement being reached the on climate change in Copenhagen?

Themba Maseko: It would be incorrect for us to go into negotiations with a view that says there should not be an agreement. So when we formulate our positions we will consult with other developing nations if an agreement is reached with all other players in the negations that is well and good, but by saying such a agree should not be at the expenses of the development challenges of the developing nations so we will take our position to the talks and let’s see how the negotiations go there, but vetoing decisions does not form part of our language as a Government. We believe in engaging in negotiating with all the other parties.

Journalist: You say that second conference Maritime Transport in Africa will be held on the 12-16 October 2009. Where?

Themba Maseko: I think it is in Cape Town.

Journalist: That was I was hoping.

Themba Maseko: I think it is in Cape Town, is it?

Journalist: Hi Themba, I just want to know, has our South African Government put any pressure on the Canadian Authorities to challenge this decision?

Themba Maseko: Well the decision was a decision taken by the Canadians on their own; we obviously made our position very clear that we don’t agree the reasons the Board used to take. We obviously can’t challenge the Board’s right to take any decisions they choose. We are saying the bases of decision must be proper and sensible in this case they are not. But, we have obviously interacted with the Canadian government, but we did not put pressure on them.

Journalist: Considering so much focus on climate change during this meeting, was there any discussion among Cabinet as to how they would be offsetting their carbon footprint.

Journalist: Drive few cars, less cars in a convoy that sort of thing.

Themba Maseko: No, not in a meeting.

Journalist: Was the issue of the Transnet CEO discussed? (Inaudible due to microphone).

Themba Maseko: The issue of the Transnet CEO was not discussed at the meeting. I’m sure that when the Minister is ready to bring a recommendation she will do so. The matter did not arise at the meeting, certainly on the cars also. Secondly on the cars the Task Team set up by Government to look at cost saving measure has not finalised its report, so we can’t tell you whether or not the regulations or how many cars will be amended.

Journalist: You have any idea when the report is likely to be finalised by the task team?

Themba Maseko: I can’t say. It is an urgent matter. The Minister of Finance (Pravin Gordhan) is fully aware that it is an urgent matter. Hopefully it will be tabled as soon as possible unfortunately. I can’t give a date.

Okay, thank you very much.

Themba Maseko (Government Spokesperson)
Cell: 083 645 0810

Issued by Government Communications (GCIS)