Transcript: Post-Cabinet media briefing

18 February 2009

Presenter: Themba Maseko, Government Spokesperson
Date: 18 February 2009
Venue: Imbizo Media Centre, Cape Town

Statement read by Themba Maseko

Cabinet held its ordinary meeting in Cape Town this morning, 18 February 2009.

The meeting took note of the recent reports regarding the arrest of crew members of the South African Airways (SAA) who were arrested on allegations of possession of narcotic substances. Cabinet is extremely concerned about this development which is causing untold damage to the reputation of the national airline, the country and its people. This development is totally unacceptable and must be condemned by everyone. Anyone found responsible for these criminal acts must and will face the full might of the law.

The Minister of Safety and Security Mr Nathi Mthethwa, was mandated to take urgent steps to ensure that stringent security measures are implemented at all our airports with immediate effect. In this regard, the steps already taken by the airline to set up a joint task team with the airports company and the crime intelligence services of the South African Police Services (SAPS) to address this problem were welcomed. However, this task team should ensure that additional security measures are introduced immediately to prevent any further abuse of the existing security checks for the airline crew.

We call upon the crew of the national airline not to allow themselves to be used by criminal syndicates and to cooperate with the authorities by exposing anyone, including their colleagues, who is involved in these illegal activities.

The United Kingdom’s (UK) decision to introduce visa requirements for South Africans travelling to the UK was noted. Although the decision was regrettable, the government remains confident that measures are on track to introduce stringent security measures in our passport production procedures. The Department of Home Affairs will brief the media on the progress made in the implementation of the turn-around strategy.

The South African Government will be participating in the 53rd session of the Commission on the status of women at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York (NY) from 2-13 March 2009. The Minister in the Presidency will provide further details at a media briefing tomorrow morning in Cape Town.

The meeting noted the work done by the Department of Health to manage and contain the outbreak of cholera in parts of the country. This work is coordinated by an Interdepartmental Task Team which is working very closely with the UN agencies and the non-government organisation (NGO) sector. This task team is implementing the national response plan for the control of cholera which includes education and information programmes to communities. The Department of Health will give more details at a later date.

Cabinet noted and approved that South Africa hosts the Second World Social Security Forum in November 2010.

The following appointments were approved:

  • The employment contract of Dr PM Mjarwa, the Director General of the Department of Science and Technology was extended for three years.
  • The employment contract of Ms OR Ramsingh the Director General of the Public Service Commission was extended for three years.
  • The following were appointed to the National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) for a four year period with effect from 1 April 2009: Dr PA Jammine; Mr P Baloyi; Ms I Charnley; Mr KD Dlamini; Prof A van Zyl; Prof GJ Prinsloo; Prof H Labum; Prof N Ogude; Dr S Lennon; Mr G Rothschild; Dr N Bhengu; Prof JA Thompson; Prof FW Petersen; Prof LV Mazwai-Tanga; Ms K Njobe and Dr CM de la Rey.
  • Ms N Mgadza; Prof Y Vawda; Ms MA Naidoo and Mr V Jarana were appointed to the Legal Aid Board for a three year period.

Questions and answers

Journalist: Was there a sense from the Minister of Home Affairs and from Cabinet that it’s an embarrassment that the UK upgraded their visa requirements for this country? Seeing as that we were forewarned that we are running the risk of falling into this category now? You know, what’s government’s attitude towards that?

Themba Maseko: Well, our attitude is this is obviously an unfortunate development, because we’ve been working very closely with the British authorities in this regard. They had sent a number of their teams to come and look at our processes and systems and also to recommend additional measures that needed to be put in place. Unfortunately the timeframe given to address many of the challenges that they identified was just not sufficient. They had wanted these measures to be put in place by December, a lot of the steps that were put in place needed to be implemented in a timeframe that goes beyond December. So we consider this decision to be unfortunate but again it’s a sovereign decision by a sovereign state and we respect it. Our focus at this stage is to just make sure that we do everything that is necessary to improve security measures around the production of our passports so that in future this kind of problem does not arise.

Journalist: Same issue. Firstly, as my colleague noted, Cabinet and the country was forewarned and to start off with I recall very clearly the Department of Home Affairs denying the problem. Is government at some stage going to reach a point where when it criticised its acts proactively rather than denying? And secondly, insofar as the British are concerned, is there any time in which they are going to have a re-look at this? Has the government in any way discussed with Her Majesty’s government whether there is going to be a review on the cards?

Themba Maseko: Does government deny existence of problems? And the answer is clearly a no. You’ll recall in previous briefings that we sat here, the DG and the Minister, presented an elaborate turnaround strategy to address all the problems that exist, ranging from application for IDs, birth certificate, population register, passports and even a new passport, we even made an announcement that we were at an advanced stage of introducing a new passport. So clearly when we’re saying we’re putting together a turnaround strategy we are in a sense admitting that, yes, there are indeed challenges. And that is why that strategy had to be approved by Cabinet, a new DG was appointed and the process was put in place to just implement that turnaround strategy. As far as we are concerned we have made tremendous progress in this regard. The fact that the British government was still able to identify weaknesses, we don’t necessarily see that as a serious challenge at this stage, but we are convinced that the turnaround strategy when it is fully implemented all of these problems identified would have been addressed. We are in regular contact with the British government and they have made it very clear that if and when those challenges are addressed they may be able to review their position in this regard. I’m not aware of any specific timeframes, but we are in regular contact with the British government at very senior levels, ministerial levels, to just make sure that we address their concerns. Yes?

Journalist: First of all, just quickly are British subjects or citizens now required to get a visa to come to South Africa as a reciprocal…

Themba Maseko: No.

Journalist: And then secondly, the timeframes you’re talking about, about introducing new passports security, is that closely linked to the Home Affairs Who Am I project which has been running behind time and over budget and all of that? Is that directly linked to that at all?

Themba Maseko: I wouldn’t be able to answer that question directly. We might have to get into the details. I’ll get Home Affairs to answer that question. So I’m unable to answer that question at this stage.

Journalist: Can you explain exactly what discussions Cabinet had on Vusi Pikoli in general, and specifically how did you respond to or what discussions did Cabinet have around Pikoli’s claims and his court papers that the President axed him to protect Mr. Zuma from facing corruption charges? And my last question is what discussion was there about appointing a new NDPP, especially on the issue of possibly appointing this person before Friday?

Themba Maseko: The Pikoli matter was not discussed at all. As you’re aware, this is a matter that was just recently handled by Parliament and if there’s any response to any matter pertaining to Pikoli it will be the President’s Office that will have to deal with that matter. And again the appointment of a new NDPP, it’s something that is a prerogative of the President. So when he’s satisfied that all the processes have been completed he will take that decision about when he will appoint the NDPP. So at this stage the matter was not discussed at Cabinet.

Journalist: I just wanted to find out, there seems to be a lack of appreciation on the side of Cabinet on South African Airways’ ability to turn around and return to profitability. Surely Cabinet would have supported SAA’s endeavours to offer all its clients top grade marijuana. And by all accounts some coke as well.

Themba Maseko: If you have a specific request to make for yourself I think you’re more than welcome to do so. But look, the matter is indeed serious. I mean, I don’t want to understate the concern and the disappointment of Cabinet as far as the recent reports about the SAA crew was concerned. I mean, this is something that’s doing untold and incalculable damage to the reputation of SAA, the reputation of South African citizens, and the reputation of the country. And a lot of good work has gone into making sure that we are seen as a modern, thriving, succeeding nation. To be associated with trafficking of drugs at this level is something that is of great concern, and that is why Cabinet believes that the Minister of Safety and Security (Nathi Mthethwa) needs to be instructed to take charge of this investigation, to make sure that measures are introduced as a matter of absolute urgency because we find this situation to be totally intolerable and unacceptable. So hopefully we’ll see a drastic improvement in the security checks, especially for the airline crew to make sure that no further incidents of this nature are actually reported.

Journalist: It’s not been a good week for Brand South Africa. I just wondered how concerned government at this flood of bad news of SAA and the passport debacle and cholera raging in various provinces. Sorry? You know, it’s a bad week.

Themba Maseko: Well, I’m sure brands do go through difficult periods and we accept that these negative reports are not good for the country and that is why this Cabinet meeting took quite a bit of time, discussing these three issues. SAA, passports and the cholera issue and said the ministries responsible need to actually take charge and make sure that we get to the bottom of these issues. We believe that in fact over the past 15 years so much work has been done to build the South African brand and we can’t allow the acts of individuals to actually tarnish the image of a nation that is at work, a nation that is involved in rebuilding and in reinventing itself. That is why these issues received such priority at this Cabinet meeting, and hopefully the measures that have been suggested will get to the bottom of these issues and make sure that we resolve it. But I agree with you that these are very negative developments and can indeed tarnish the reputation of a nation.

Journalist: I’m sure the Cabinet must have discussed the current situation in Zimbabwe. I mean, quite recently we had a press briefing by Reverend Frank Chikane where he said that the unity government was on track, but then I mean no sooner had it formed itself when the Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Roy Bennett, was kind of abducted and still hasn’t been brought to trial. Or if he did he might have been brought to trial yesterday. So what were your discussions on this? I mean, does Cabinet think it’s acceptable for Robert Mugabe to continue I mean actually arresting his own cabinet ministers?

Themba Maseko: You know, a few months ago Cabinet would have gone into serious trouble discussing developments in Zimbabwe, especially because there was no legitimate government. At this stage we have a situation where there’s a unity government that we believe enjoys the support of all Zimbabweans and that government must be given the opportunity to address problems in Zimbabwe. So it would not be necessary for the South African government to comment on each and every development that is taking place in Zimbabwe. We think that the new government in Zimbabwe must be given the opportunity to tackle all the challenges that they face without South Africa having to comment on each and every aspect of what’s happening there. Our confidence at this stage is that there is a unity government and all the parties are committed to working together to solve all their problems to govern their country. That is their primary responsibility.

Journalist: But just a follow-up, I mean, clearly there isn’t a unity government if one party is arresting deputy cabinet ministers from the other party. I mean, how do you then claim that there’s an effective unity government? I mean, what basis do you have for that claim?

Themba Maseko: I think that if we are all observing the situation there, very few people will dispute the fact that there is a unity government in Zimbabwe. It has challenges including the example that you’ve given. But there’s no question, there can’t be any doubt that there is unity government in place in Zimbabwe as we speak. And that unity government must be given that responsibility of running their own country. You need to remember that we are the South African government, not the government of Zimbabwe. So our primary focus in this meeting was to deal with the challenges facing our nation and hope that the unity government in Zimbabwe will tackle the problems that exist in that country.

Journalist: Given that argument, what’s the government’s view on Palestine?

Themba Maseko: Sorry, the matter was not discussed at this meeting.

Journalist: Did Cabinet discuss any possibility of a new Director-General for the Department of Communications?

Themba Maseko: Not at this meeting. The way the process of appointment of DGs work, the post needs to be advertised, interviews must be conducted and Cabinet will discuss the matter if there is a recommendation for appointment. But at this stage the person who’s acting in that position will continue to act until such time that Cabinet receives a recommendation for a person to be appointed DG.

Themba Maseko   
Cell: 083 645 0810

Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)