Transcript: Post-Cabinet media briefing

12 June 2008

Date: Thursday, 12 June 2008
Venue: Imbizo Media Centre, 120 Plein Street, Cape Town

Themba Maseko (reading Cabinet statement): Cabinet held its ordinary meeting in Cape Town yesterday, 11 June 2008.

The Inter-Ministerial Task Team reported on the latest developments regarding the attacks on foreign nationals. The report indicated that a total of 62 people lost their lives during the senseless violence. 21 of the 62 people who died were South Africans. The majority of the deaths (53) were in Gauteng.

On behalf of South Africans, the government would like to express its condolences to the families and friends of the victims of this senseless violence. The Inter-Ministerial Task Team is considering the possibility of a declaring a national day of healing to enable the nation to pay its respect to all those who lost their lives during the violence. The details will be announced at a later date.

Cabinet noted the process of placing the victims of the violence in shelters was proceeding according to plan. So far in Gauteng, about 6 164 of the displaced people have been moved from police stations to temporary shelters, and at least 13 000 of the 20 000 who were displaced in the Western Cape have been placed in shelters. Government will continue to work with international agencies such as the UNHCR, Oxfam, Doctors without Borders, the Red Cross and a number of South African NGO’s to ensure that the shelters comply with minimum international standards.

The services provided at the temporary shelters include tents, showers, toilets, food, water, mobile health facilities, blankets, sleeping bags and in some cases, clothing has also been provided. South Africans continue to donate a number of goods to the displaced shelters.

The next key challenge is the re-integration of the victims of violence back into the communities within two months. Whilst Government acknowledges that this is a very complex process, this is unavoidable as the existence of shelters in the open fields and in community halls is unsustainable. Government will work with all stakeholders to ensure that ideal conditions are created for the re-integration process which will involve dialogue and consultations with and between local communities and the displaced foreign nationals. The re-integration process is quite advanced in the Western Cape and involves professional mediators and conflict-resolution specialists.

On the security front, the meeting noted that the security measures that were put in place to provide security to South Africans and the foreign nationals in the affected areas, was proving to be effective. The violence has effectively ceased. This is largely due to the efforts of the police, defence force and the role played by communities and their leaders who stood up against the violence.

Government acknowledges and conveys its gratitude to the South African public and the many NGO’s, civil society and the private sector for their role in supporting the victims of the violence. A special word of thanks also goes to the members of the various communities that were affected by the violence for their role in preventing a further escalation of violence.

Cabinet approved the Nuclear Energy Policy for the Republic of South Africa. This approval follows the consideration of public comments that were received after the policy was published in August 2007. The objective of this policy is to increase the role of nuclear energy as part of the process of diversifying our primary energy sources to ensure energy security. The policy will also ensure the reduction of our over-reliance on coal which contributes to South Africa being among the highest emitters of greenhouse gases. The Department of Minerals and Energy is finalising an implementation plan in consultation with key stakeholders.

Cabinet discussed the fuel levy proposal and noted that South Africa’s levy was a specific tax which was adjusted once a year and remains constant irrespective of changes in the fuel prices. This differs from a percentage-based duty that would fluctuate along with the changes in fuel prices. The current levy on diesel is 111 cents, and 127 cents on petrol per litre; the Road Accident Fund Levy is 46.5 cents per litre and the SACU levy is 4 cents per litre. These levy amounts remain the same for a full year, irrespective of changes in the price of fuel. The meeting resolved that the Ministers of Finance and Minerals and Energy should consult further with a view to identifying the most desirable, practical and possible ways of mitigating the impact of the rising cost of fuel on food prices and other goods and services. The Ministers will present a package of proposals to Cabinet in the near future.

The National Framework for Sustainable Development (NFSD) was approved for publication. The framework seeks to promote the vision of sustainable development for South Africa. The NFSD proposes the integration of sustainable development principles in all national policies and programmes, whilst defining specific areas of intervention to enable the country to move closer towards achieving the goals of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).

The draft National Policy on the Secondment of South African Public Service Employees was approved. The policy creates a framework for the secondment of South African public servants to multi-lateral bodies and to other countries. The proposed interventions to improve the Human Resource (HR) management function within the Public Service were approved. These interventions include:

  • redesigning of the HR components in departments;
  • a competency framework;
  • a review of training courses; and
  • the determination of a set of key performance indicators.

These interventions are meant to enable departments to utilise their human resources as strategic assets to realise the goal of improving service delivery. The implementation of the proposed interventions will be led by the Department of Public Service and Administration in partnership with heads of HR in the various departments.

The African Youth Charter was approved and will be submitted to Parliament for ratification.

The following appointments were approved...
The following bills were approved...

[End of statement].

- Questions and Answers -

Themba Maseko: Thank you, end of a very brief statement. And we’ll take a few questions. We’ll start in front.

Journalist: The Day of Reconciliation or whatever it is you’re calling it, is it going to be a separate public holiday, bringing the total to whatever it is… 13 this year or 14 maybe. Or is it going to be just a day off?

Themba Maseko: It’s the latter, it’s not a public… it’s not going to be a public holiday but it will be a national day that will be declared. As people go to work they will also be asked to show some kind of concern for what has happened in the country, so no, not a public holiday. Take the hand at the back.

Journalist: Themba, the fuel levy, is it my understanding that in fact what Cabinet is saying is that there is going to be no cut in the fuel levy, but that it will look at other proposals?

Themba Maseko: Yip.

Journalist: Okay, thank you.

Themba Maseko: Sweet and short.

Journalist: Thanks, Themba. Back to the Day of Healing, government passes condolences and then has the opinion, is an issue of compensation for the families of those who were affected or killed in the violence. Was it raised?

Themba Maseko: No, no. The issue… there’s a firm government view that there will not be any compensation for the victims, all government efforts will be on making sure that the shelters are provided with all the necessary equipment and resources and relief efforts. And the next focus is just going to be on reintegration, but no compensation was considered.

Journalist: Just with regard to the 21 people who were killed who were South Africans, the rest of them, any indication where the others were from? The other people who died in the violence?

Themba Maseko: Ja, we’re still compiling figures, but they’re coming. At this stage the majority, I think it’s about 11 Mozambicans, and I think about five Zimbabweans and about three Somalis, the unfortunate thing is that about 21 or 22 bodies are still unidentified at this stage. So we’re working very hard to ensure that we identify all the bodies that are lying in the morgues and as soon as we have done that identification, we’ll then be able to release the final figures of where the people came from.

Journalist: Did Cabinet discuss this COSATU strike and rolling mass action?

Themba Maseko: No, unfortunately not. It wasn’t discussed. Yes, Sir?

Journalist: Just to get some clarity on the fuel levy issue. Is Cabinet considering coupling it to the fluctuating price of petrol so that it fluctuates with that, or not?

Themba Maseko: No, no. We’re just explaining that this is how it works in this county, and it’s not going to change. That’s how it’s going to stay.

Journalist: Themba, just with the unidentified bodies, why is it taking so long to identify them?

Themba Maseko: Well, the fact of the matter is that if there’s a body in a morgue and nobody comes to identify it, and the person who’s dead does not have any form of identification with him or her, it’s difficult to identify those bodies. So every attempt is being made to talk to communities and get them to assist in the identification process. But the fact of the matter is that nobody has come forth to say this body belongs to X or this person was… name is X. So that’s the difficulty.

Journalist: Themba, what about those people who do not want to be reintegrated? There’s quite a strong contingent of Somalians who do not want to be reintegrated. How is government going to deal with that after the two months expire and they don’t want to go into their old communities? Or back home?

Themba Maseko: Well, a lot of the people who were displaced, quite a substantial number, we don’t have figures yet, have already left the country going back to their countries of origin. And government view is that there will be an end state and that end state will be the removal of the shelters. So everything will be done to talk to communities or the displaced communities to impress on them the need to be part of the process of reintegration. We’re aware that there’s a sizeable number of Somalis who are refusing reintegration and in fact we are appealing to the United Nations to be evacuated to Europe and other countries. We are in consultation with the United Nations, UNHCR, who have indicated that in fact they have no plans of evacuating anybody from South Africa, and therefore reintegration is supported by the international agencies, so the Somalis are going to have to be part of the process of reintegration because these shelters are not going to be a permanent feature of South African society. So they’re going have to agree to integration.

Journalist: [Unclear], are you saying that shelters will be removed come sort of hell or high water?

Themba Maseko: We… [unclear] has given… let me just say we should not be romanticising the process of reintegration. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to require a lot of hard work, a lot of dialogue between the communities where the violence took place. It requires dialogue with the displaced people. It will require a dialogue between communities and the displaced people and the issue of security, yes, is going to be one of the major issues raised. It’s already been raised by the displaced individuals, but ultimately we believe that with enough work being put into this, and especially looking at the model implemented in the Western Cape where you even bring in professional mediators to come onboard, we think that in fact an environment will be created for communities to say we want to welcome the foreign nationals back to our communities. So yes it’s going to be tough, but we remain confident that in fact it will work. Are these follow-ups to this question? Let’s stick with it.

Journalist: Themba, this is a follow-up. I mean a lot of the Somalis are saying that they lost their livelihoods, you know in the process of all this looting and they don’t have the money to… even if they had the will they don’t have the money to reintegrate. I mean, is government not even as part of this reintegration effort, is government not considering extending maybe a helping hand in the form of limits, not compensation but some sort of you know, cash help just to… you know, just to help them reintegrate. Given that Minister Pahad with great fanfare last week handed over 1.5 million rand for Chinese earthquake victims. Could charity not begin a little bit more at home?

Themba Maseko: No compensation is being considered at this stage. We’re working with the international bodies to ensure that the process of reintegration begins earnestly and that everything possible is being done to assist these communities. So at this stage from the national fiscus there is no plan, there are no resources to compensate the victims of this violence. Well, part of the difficulty is that this government does not have a history of providing compensation for people who have been displaced, even South Africans, for a variety of reasons. Fires destroying homes of victims, we hardly compensate South Africans. There are often floods that take place in many parts of the country which lead to the displacing of many South Africans and no compensation is given. So it is government’s view that in fact it is not the best way to intervene at this stage. A follow-up question… oh, it’s a follow-up, yeah.

Journalist: But after those two months you know a lot of the Somalis have said that you know they can’t go back home, we know that there is war, and here in South Africa you say you’re giving them two months in the shelters. After two months but they don’t want to reintegrate. Those who actually don’t want to do that, what do you do with them? Do you leave them to UNHCR; do you send them to an alternative country? What do you do with them?

Themba Maseko: Well, the option of an alternative country is out of the question at this stage. I mean, this is what the UNHCR itself has said, they will not consider that option. The process of evacuating citizens from one country to another is a long process. The UNHCR has indicated to us. So it’s not an option. So there will be… there are already discussions with the representatives of Somalis to explain the situation and to try and persuade them to agree to reintegration. And what’s also emerging is that in fact there are sections of the Somali community that is already saying they will support reintegration and that there needs to be more discussions between themselves and government. So focus effort will be to work with them to ensure that reintegration is achieved. And as I said earlier on, there will still be difficulties but it’s something that we’re going to work on religiously with the Somalis to make sure that they support the solution.

Journalist: Just to distinguish, you’re talking about flood victims in South Africa that aren’t compensated, but those are natural disasters. I mean, this was a human disaster perpetrated by South African citizens against other citizens, so [unclear] that comment. The Minister of Home Affairs has declared a sort of an informal moratorium on the arrest and repatriation of refugees affected by this. Can we assume that at the end of this two month grace period that process will then continue and if so those refugees who have now been documented in these areas, I mean, I’m just trying to understand how it works, the day after the two month period is over. I’m assuming we now have details of these foreign nationals, where they’re living and whether they’re here legally or illegally. Will the process of [unclear] and repatriation then continue?

Themba Maseko: Let me just explain…we can get Home Affairs to give more details on this. What basically has happened is that since the violence started and people were displaced we initiated a process of registering all the victims in all the shelters. They were given some form of temporary documentation and during that period government decided that there will not be any deportation. But we’re now in the process of analysing that data to establish how many of these were in South Africa legally. How many of these are refugees, how many of these foreign nationals… remember, some of them have permanent residence status. Some of them are South African citizens already. The fact that they originated from other countries is neither here nor there. So as soon as that detail is available government will then decide what to do with those who are found to be in the country illegally. So deportation still is a possibility at a later stage, but at this stage the focus is just to make sure that we compile the data, analyse it with a view to taking decisions. But at the end of this period the normal laws of the country will apply. Anybody who is in South Africa illegally will face deportation at the end of this period.

Journalist: When does the two months expire?

Themba Maseko: Well, we start two months from the time when the displacees got into the shelters. So it differs from one province to the other. But Gauteng and - in fact Western Cape started with the shelters earlier than Gauteng. KZN started much later, so it’s going to be a point of saying these shelters are in place for two months. So it depends on when the shelters were established. Okay, we’ll take that.

Journalist: It’s not a follow-up, Themba. I don’t know if you’re still doing follow-ups, but it’s…

Themba Maseko: Follow-ups are welcome, it’s fine.

Journalist: Ja, okay. Themba, it’s on a different matter, I see it’s not on your document but…

Themba Maseko: Oh, okay, can we just deal… is there any follow-up to this question? We’ll come back… okay, there isn’t, ja, go ahead.

Journalist: Okay, I see it’s almost two weeks now before the follow-up Zimbabwe elections and I see it‘s not on your document, but just to say are South African observers there already, and if they’re not when are they going to…

Themba Maseko: As far as I’m aware the SADC observers are already in Zimbabwe. And South Africans are part of the SADC observers, as far as I’m aware. Okay, Michael.

Journalist: Do you have any of that useful information about the Intellectual Property Bill?

Themba Maseko: Ja, my team is going to give it to you at the end of this…

Journalist: Did the President give… or did any of his special envoys give the Cabinet a briefing about their negotiations with the parties in Zimbabwe?

Themba Maseko: Unfortunately no report was given at yesterday’s meeting on the situation in Zim.

Journalist: Did the President attend?

Themba Maseko: The meeting was chaired by the Deputy President.

Journalist: Themba, I wanted to know if the saga around Cape Judge President John Hlophe was at all raised in Cabinet, and was the Justice Minister there?

Themba Maseko: The matter of Judge Hlophe was not discussed at the meeting, understandably so. The Judicial Service Commission is dealing with those kinds of issues. So it would not be proper for Cabinet to discuss that matter. Okay, final questions, it looks like we’re almost done.

Journalist: Themba, just in terms of the fuel levy the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Minerals and Energy are going to look at other measures. Is there any idea what those might be?

Themba Maseko: Remember, we’re still expecting a report on the food prices, and I’m aware that the task team is exploring the possibility of exempting some foodstuffs from VAT. So when that package comes onboard I think that all of these will be considered with a view to making sure that we mitigate the impact on the… of the rising cost of living on the poorest of the poor. So when that report comes, we’ll be able to give you details. Oh, okay.

Journalist: Does that mean that the options that are busy exploring have got nothing to do with fuel at all? These are just other measures, so fuel is untouched?

Themba Maseko: Well, I mean as I’ve said the fuel levies is not likely to be part of the package that’s presented to Cabinet. So it will be other options, other measures, excluding the issue of fuel levies.

Journalist: I want to find out, was the contract of Jackie Selebi discussed and will it be extended at any stage?

Themba Maseko: The National Commissioner’s contract was not discussed at the meeting, and whether it will be extended or not, it’s something that will possibly be brought to Cabinet at a later stage, but not discussed at this meeting. Okay, if there are no further questions, thank you very much. We’re adjourned.


Themba Maseko (Government Spokesperson)
Cell: 083 645 0810

Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)