Transcript: Post-Cabinet Media Briefing

6 March 2008

Date: Thursday, 6 March 2008
Time: 10h00
Venue: Imbizo Media Centre, Cape Town 

Themba Maseko: Ready. Thank you very much for making it, ladies and gentlemen, good morning. Cabinet held its ordinary meeting in Cape Town yesterday morning and kicked off by expressing a dim view regarding a number of incidents that have the potential of undermining the country’s goal of building a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist society.

The meeting strongly condemned the production of a racist video by a group of four students at the University of the Free State. The humiliation of workers who are old enough to be their parents is totally unacceptable and cannot, under any circumstances, be condoned by anyone. This incident highlights the fact that racism still remains one of the challenges facing our young democracy.

This shocking video exposes the deep-seated racist stereotypes that are harboured by a section of our population, and constitutes a complete disregard for the rights, not only of the workers of the institution, but a total disrespect for adults. All South Africans must condemn such conduct and ensure that no South African, either black or white, can be subjected to such dehumanising and disrespectful behaviour.

Government believes that the majority of South Africans are trying hard to emerge from the apartheid legacy of racial discrimination, and no effort must be spared in ensuring that the South African project of building a united South Africa is not undermined by individuals who are opposed to transformation.

The University of the Free State must show strong leadership by bringing those responsible to book, and setting an example to all institutions of higher learning by adopting concrete measures to abolish all forms of racism in the institution. All heads of public institutions and private institutions have the responsibility to create conditions that will entrench constitutional values in their institutions, and they must urgently take steps to ensure that all vestiges of apartheid are henceforth removed. It cannot be accepted that our universities, schools and other public and private institutions can continue to tolerate apartheid practises such as racially-segregated residences and other facilities.

Government calls on all our institutions to review their policies and practises, with a view to making sure that values as enshrined in our Constitution, such as non-sexism, non-racism, and human dignity, are observed by all.

Cabinet condemns unreservedly the recent harassment of a young woman, by taxi drivers in Johannesburg, for wearing a miniskirt. Such an attack represents the most backward and worst form of gender-based abuse and deserves the condemnation of all South Africans. Government calls on all men, particularly taxi drivers, to stop harassing women and to distance themselves from any sexist and disrespectful behaviour against our mothers and daughters.

The meeting also condemned the use of the “kaffir” word by a senior soccer official at a press conference recently. We should take care not to use derogatory words that were used to demean black persons in the country. Words such as ‘kaffir’, ‘coolie’, ‘boesman’, ‘hotnot’ and many others have negative connotations and remain offensive as they were used to degrade, undermine and strip South Africans of their humanity and dignity.

The only good that must come out of these unfortunate incidents is that South Africans, irrespective of race, gender, religion, colour or creed, must openly confront the scourge of racism, sexism and other undemocratic practises that continue to surface from time to time. All institutions must develop diversity programmes that are aimed at training and educating both young and old about the country’s history and the reasons why the principles of non-racialism, non-sexism, and non-discrimination had to be enshrined in our Constitution.

Whilst these diversity management programmes are important, those who engage in activities that undermine the constitutional rights of others must face the full might of the law. The public, particularly the victims of these abuses, are encouraged to fully utilise the institutions that were created by the Constitution, such as the courts, the Human Rights Commission, Gender Commission and others, to enforce their rights. The transgressors must know that there will be legal consequences for undermining the Constitution and trudging upon the rights of others.

Cabinet also condemns the latest Israeli military onslaught on the Gaza Strip, in which over 100 innocent civilians, half of whom were children, were killed. This response to rocket attacks from militant groups within Gaza is a totally disproportionate use of force, and constitutes as does the siege of Gaza itself, collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.2 million citizens. South Africa condemns the indiscriminate rocket attacks as well, on Israel, by the militants. Government calls on both the Israeli government and the Palestinian people to continue to work for a peaceful resolution of the crisis to prevent any further killing of innocent people.

The meeting welcomed the outcome of the presidential working group meeting that was held on the 29th of February 2008. The meeting noted that extensive discussions were taking place between the ministries of Public Enterprises, Minerals and Energy, and the mining industry, with a view to considering steps that must be taken to support the industry and to ensure that the industry’s electricity needs are met. Government is committed to working with the mining and other industries to ensure that industry challenges emerging from the electricity emergency are addressed without any job losses.

Further, the meeting resolved that the concrete steps should be taken by Eskom and municipalities to accelerate the maintenance of electricity infrastructure to secure the distribution and transmission side of the electricity supply chain. However, the main message is that we must continue to save energy, and not become complacent because no extensive load-shedding took place over the past few weeks. So we continue to make a call for all of us to work towards at least a 10% saving in electricity.

The negotiations on the Economic Partnership Agreement and the recent session of the SADC ministers to discuss the agreement, were noted. The Minister of Trade and Industry will arrange a media briefing shortly, to elaborate on South Africa’s concerns regarding the current EPA proposals. Some of the concerns that we raised in the meeting of SADC ministers, as South Africa, included the following three issues. Firstly, the impact that the EPA will have on regional integration in the SADC region, development issues, and whether this EPA leaves enough space for countries to also pursue policy objectives after signing that agreement. So those are the three issues raised by South Africa in that meeting.

Cabinet was also briefed about the current discussions with the British government regarding the reports that the British government was considering introducing visas to South African travellers to the UK. Government would like to clarify that there is no decision by the British government at this stage to introduce visas to South African travellers, and would like to reassure South Africans that everything is being done to address the British government’s concerns about the security of South African passports. South African passports are among the safest and most secure passports in the world, and that’s the reason why they are being targeted by criminal syndicates. Government will continue to introduce additional security measures to ensure that South Africans are not inconvenienced during their travels abroad.

Furthermore, the meeting approved the proposal to establish a national department for traditional leadership. This department will play a key role in the restoration of the dignity of traditional leadership and the restoration… ja, restoration of the dignity of traditional leadership, which is the custodian of African customs and heritage. The process will begin in the 2009, 2010 financial year, and it is expected that the department will be fully established and operational by the 2010, 2011 financial year. The department will report to the Minister of Provincial and Local Government.

The Moloto Rail Corridor Development initiative was approved following the consideration of a feasibility study that was conducted. A project implementation and management office will be established by the Department of Transport to take the project forward. The project will be implemented jointly with the Mpumalanga provincial government at a cost of 8.6 billion rands, and will include rail, road and transfer facilities. An EIA study will be undertaken shortly and all affected municipalities will be required to update their integrated development plans and their integrated transport plans, to ensure alignment with this initiative.

The updated Programme of Action, which is informed by the decisions of the January Lekgotla and the President’s State of the Nation address, was approved and will be posted on the government website shortly.

The HIV and AIDS country progress report to the United Nations General Assembly special session on HIV and AIDS, was approved. This report uses a set of 25 national indicators that were prescribed by UNAIDS, to assess progress made during the 2006, 2007 years, in implementing the country’s national strategic plan on HIV/AIDS. The report uses data from a variety of public and private sources to ensure reliability of the information. Members of the SANAC implementation committee were fully briefed about the data-collection and report-writing process, and the draft report was discussed at the December meeting of this committee.

The meeting noted that civil society will also be submitting an additional report to the assembly as expected, and the final country report will be published on the government website as soon as it is tabled at UNAIDS.

UNAIDS will also publish all country reports that it receives. Cabinet is satisfied that the process of drafting the report was inclusive and transparent, and would like to express its appreciation to SANAC members and all stakeholders for their participation and contribution to the process.

Cabinet also endorsed the bid by the eThekwini municipality to host the 123 session of the International Olympic Committee session in 2011, subject to a review of the financial implications of hosting this meeting.

The policy framework on the South African traditional justice system under the democratic dispensation, and the draft bill on traditional courts, were also approved.

Cabinet noted that South Africa will be hosting the International Conference on Comprehensive Social Security in Africa, on the 10th and 14th of March in Cape Town, and the African Union regional workshop on mortality assessment, from 14 to 18 April 2008. The latter workshop will focus on mortality assessment and data-collection tools for the continent.

The following appointments were approved… the following bills were also approved for submission to Parliament, and these bills will be made public as soon as they are tabled in Parliament.

End of the statement. We’ll take questions from members of the media.

Journalist: Thanks, Themba. The statement is silent on the FBJ. I ask that in the context of what we’re talking about here in terms of everybody having responsibility to create conditions that would entrench constitutional values and I wondered what Cabinet’s thinking was on exclusive organisations for race groups like the FBJ. Was this discussed, is this a concern? In the context of what you’ve said here.

Themba Maseko: The matter of the FBJ was not discussed, however I can indicate that government is aware that there’re still quite a number of organisations that bring together… people together on particular interest groups, and unfortunately because of the stage in which we [unclear] a country… a lot of these are still arranged on racial basis. But the matter was not discussed. It is my view that… or government’s view that these organisations still exist in the country, the Constitution does guarantee people the right to put organisations together. Obviously government was concerned about the controversy that surrounded this particular meeting, largely because it became very clear that in fact white journalists were not only invited but also prevented from attending a meeting that would have been of public interest. So the manner in which the events unfolded around that particular meeting is an issue that obviously we will be concerned about as government. But whether or not black journalists have a right to organise themselves to address issues that are specific to them is something that we do not necessarily see as a problem. We have a Forum of Black Journalists, we have a Forum of Black Business. There are many other organisations that still exist in the country because people feel that there’re still issues that are unique and specific to them, and they still want to organise along those lines.

Journalist: Sorry, Themba, a follow-up. Then how do you marry that with your second last sentence on page one? What is good for the goose is good for the gander, right? So why is it that some universities, schools, public and private institutions… would you say they shouldn’t be tolerating apartheid practises such as racially segregated residences and other facilities. I mean for my own… I’m just trying to understand in my own mind what does this mean? It’s not okay to have segregated hostels [unclear] people claim that they want to have hostels because it’s their freedom of association to mix who they want to. But it’s okay to have organisations that allow people to [unclear] because they belong to a particular race. It seems to be contradictory.

Themba Maseko: No, it’s not contradictory at all. The differences that you talk about, access to facilities, public facilities in public institutions. In the residences when a university allows a hostel to be segregated along racial lines clearly that is unconstitutional because you are essentially talking about a facility that is meant for the public. On the other hand you talk about individual journalists believing that they still experience major challenges in their work environment which they want to address collectively as journalists, and I think that we should allow them the right to do so. But in organising such meetings and gatherings the black journalists themselves I’m sure will have to think about the extent to which, in trying to address their own core issues, they are not seen to be behaving in a manner that can be interpreted as racist. So if black journalists want to get together to say, in the newsrooms for instance, they are not given the most challenging projects, stories to follow through, they have a right to come together and say let’s discuss this, how do we address it. But if they then start organising fora at a public level, invite public speakers to come and exclusively state in their invitation that in this particular meeting… receive this invitation but pass it on only to your black colleagues in your work environment, we think that in fact there’s a problem in which they organise that particular event. But as to whether they have a right to get together as black journalists, we don’t necessarily see a problem in that at this stage. Yes, Sir.

Journalist: Themba, I just want to ask about this corridor that was approved. The Moloto rail corridor. Is all that funding been made available in the MTF?

Themba Maseko: Yes, it’s made available in the Department of Transport MTF allocation.

Journalist: Yes, Sir. Two questions. As the amount of space [indistinct – mic levels low]… the amount of time devoted… [indistinct] that when you say that the…. [indistinct]

Themba Maseko: Okay, let’s start with your latter question. We’ll take one example. For instance in the EPA proposals, there is a clause that suggests that a country that signs the EPA, or a country that signs an EPA, will be required to make sure that all agreements it has signed with any other country that is not part of the EU, will make ensure that those agreements signed with other countries will automatically be applied to the EPA countries' agreements. Now the government’s view… is that clear?

So, if a country signs a country [unclear] of an agreement, a trade agreement, with a country outside of the EU, that agreement must automatically apply to the EPA country, the EU countries. So if South Africa signs an agreement with Brazil, automatically the same terms contained in that agreement must be made applicable to the EU. And our view is that in fact countries must still have the space to sign different agreements with different countries, without necessarily being forced to make those agreements automatically applicable to the EU. So the view is that, yes, EPA is a good instrument that needs to be considered, but at the same time it must not amount to tying South Africa, or any African country’s hands behind their backs. So that’s just one example that needs to be looked at. But as we say, the Minister of Trade and Industry will… will be a briefing and will give more details of what concerns we have and what we mean by those. And whether time allocated to the statement is equal to the amount of time Cabinet spends on the issue, not necessarily, however the seriousness of the issue.

The concerns raised by Cabinet regarding the issue of racism and sexism is something that Cabinet felt extremely strongly about it’s something that Cabinet felt had the real potential to actually create more polarisation in this country, and we believe that in fact enough needs to be done to make sure that we identify those things that bring us together as a nation and in our statement we were called upon to make this point very clear that we are making a special appeal to all South Africans to work towards eradicating both racism and sexism. Your hands came up at the same time. So we’ll start this way and we’ll go this way. Yes.

Journalist: Thanks. Just on the corridor, what are the advantages? You know, what benefits will it bring? I don’t know very much about it, so perhaps you could expand on why it’s necessary. And also with regard to the Land Bank and the appointment of those directors, was there any broader discussion about the malaise in the bank and what having a board perhaps could do to stabilise it? I don’t know, or was it just a simple process of appointing the board? Thanks.

Themba Maseko: It was simply appointing the board, because it had been agreed previously that one of the most urgent steps that need to be put in place to solve the problems within the bank is to make sure that we constitute a very strong board that can begin to take charge of the affairs of the bank. Because it was not government’s business to be responsible in the day to day management of the affairs of the bank. And so this is a first step to put together a solid strong board that can then take charge of developments within the bank. On the corridor, it’s a major initiative. It’s part of the broad transport strategy that had been approved by Cabinet previously. It will involve… it will be one of the few projects where you have a classical implementation of integrated transport plans, in between Gauteng and the Mpumalanga province. But we can get details of what exactly it entails. Okay.

Journalist: I just want to know, did the British government indicate when they will make a decision, and also will there be further discussions with the South African government, and also what do you mean with South African passports are among the safest and most secure passports in the world?

Another Journalist: (Unidentified Speaker): If I can just interrupt here, that Aneska’s got a particular interest because she’s becoming London correspondent.

Themba Maseko: The discussions between the South African government and the British are ongoing. The British government sent a delegation to come and have discussions with us on this matter. So there is no decision taken, there is no indication that such a decision will be taken. So the question of when will they take a decision falls away. But we know that they have major concerns and security concerns, and there have been reports that in fact blank passports have been found in the UK etcetera, etcetera. So they came here to raise these issues and we’re addressing those issues and that is why we’re saying the statement that additional security measures will be introduced to address their concerns, and there will be new passports issued in the next few months to make sure that we make the passports even more secure. In a survey conducted by an independent body the South African passport… and this will be a surprise to you… most of us here… was rated among the top five most secure passports in the world. And I could tell that you were laughing when I said the reason why it is being targeted by criminal syndicates is precisely because in the past when somebody carried a South African passport you were actually treated with respect around the world, because they knew that the passports were secure. Now the criminal syndicates are trying to target us to use our passports. And that is why we’re putting additional security measures to make sure that our passports can be even more secure. A follow-up on the passports.

Journalist: [unclear]

Themba Maseko: We can check on that. Oh, is that a follow-up on the passports? Okay, let’s take follow-ups.

Journalist: On the passport, the document itself is secure but the physical handling especially within the Department of Home Affairs, how satisfied is Cabinet that they are doing what they have to do? With the reports of corruption we’ve had and all of that sort of thing coming out of the Department of Home Affairs, that is where the weakness is found, where blank passports are stolen and then fed into the whole criminal network.

Themba Maseko: Well, you’re aware that the new DG of Home Affairs came in and put together an extensive plan to transform the Department of Home Affairs to address issues of corruption, to address issues of skills development and up-skilling of senior managers in the department, and most importantly to upgrade the IT systems that constitute the backbone of the production of both IDs and passports. So at this stage we are confident that in fact the new DG of the department is doing everything possible and necessary to make sure that all of those challenges are addressed, and in the meeting with the British we’re able to inform them about the concrete steps we are taking to address all their concerns, and at this stage we think that we can say without any reservations that we are satisfied that enough that needs… enough that needs to be done is being done at this stage. Okay.

Journalist: Can I also follow up, though? Or is that also a follow-up.

Themba Maseko: Oh, is that your follow-up?

Themba Maseko: I just wondered you know, the reason I think why people were laughing a little bit was the logic. Would it not be best for us to make our passports less secure so that fewer people would want to…

Themba Maseko: Maybe we should do it the ‘Burger’ way, as you suggest.

Journalist: With regard to the deep-seated racist stereotypes that are harboured by a section of the population, which section would that be? Students at that university or students particular to that hostel or which section did cabinet identify as harbouring those…

Themba Maseko: Our view is that the incident at the OFS University is not an isolated incident. And as reported in the media, it was not even the first video of that type that took place in that place and what the OFS incident justified later was the fact that in our country there’s still serious racist stereotypes held by a number of individuals, largely because some of them may be opposed to transformation, but some of them may actually be wanting to undermine the concrete steps that government and a number of institutions – steps taken to make sure that we actually build a non-racial and non-sexist society. So we’re talking individuals here, we’re talking even families that are still holding on to racist stereotypes, but at this stage we cannot say that a block, a community is necessarily holding these kinds of stereotypes – they are individuals, but as we say, we are convinced that in fact the majority of South Africans, both black and white, are still committed to the South African project of building a non-racial and non-sexist society. And we need to identify the individuals who are undermining this project. Some of them need support, need training, need education to make sure they go through the transformation at an individual level, but it’s going to take a lot of work. Institutions have to play their part and part of the difficulties are that we still live in a country where for instance, our residential communities are still to a very large extent racially segregated and that places major responsibility on public institutions that have to bring students coming from different communities who are expected to integrate, when in their own communities there isn’t sufficient integration taking place. People still go to different churches, that are still segregated, not necessarily by law, but there are still segregated church services taking place. We still have dinner table discussions that we can say are still segregated. There’s not enough integration taking place in our society as we speak. And that is why the greatest pressure then falls on public institutions, because that’s where these individuals are then expected to come and be integrated, when in fact where they come from, not enough integration is taking place. But we’ll leave it there for now. Are those follow-up questions?

Journalist: Worldwide the trend is away from traditional leadership. We saw in the bad days of the 1980’s considerable abuse of their position by traditional leaders. What the hell is this department going to do, and surely the protection of African heritage properly belongs with arts and culture.

Themba Maseko: Okay. Let’s take your follow-up.

Journalist: I’d like to know the background. It comes as a surprise to me. I actually sat through the president’s speech in the opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders and the department wasn’t even mentioned. I just want to know how its genesis and how it fits in with some of the other things that he didn’t mention in that speech.

Themba Maseko: Okay. That’s a follow-up one that. Okay.

Journalist: Actually I want to follow-up from my fellow KwaZulu Natal person here, and that is to just ask how you bring this together with any sort of democratic ethos. Our country is supposed to be a democracy, that’s supposed to be what it was about. How is this democratic at all?

Themba Maseko: This country and our constitution entrenches the need for diversity. This country accepts that we are a modern democracy, but we can’t throw away cultures and traditions of South African people, especially the African people. There’s a very strong sense especially in the rural communities, where communities have great respect and admiration for the institution of traditional leadership. During the negotiations in CODESA when the constitution was adopted there was always a commitment by this government to make sure that as we move ahead with the democratisation of society, that at the same time, we will not only respect but entrench traditional leadership in our communities and largely because there’s a sizeable number of South Africans who strongly believed in their cultures and their traditions and who need to be supported by the state. You know that, in fact since – I think it was around 1995 – some kind of a House of Traditional Leaders has been in place. It did not have institutional support and in meeting with traditional leaders, our president did make a firm commitment to them that in fact, this democracy is not about to throw away the cultures and traditional traditions of African people and he made a commitment that he’ll put institutions to support this structure. This decision is actually in that background. And that is why it is being formalised, resources will be put in place to support it. The president has always made it very clear that in fact government is not opposed to the institution of traditional leadership. He’s had several meetings with them and this decision basically is a fulfilment of a commitment he had made in his discussions with the traditional leadership. So democracy in our view does not necessarily mean that in fact you only entrench certain aspects of what one may term ‘western democracies’. There are cultures and traditions that a lot of people in this country still hold on very dearly to and this government would like to support that and we don’t think that necessarily contradicts the ethos of a democracy. The major challenge we face is to make sure that we, especially at a local level, we are able to marry the role of traditional leadership with local government structures and already provinces such as KwaZulu Natal have demonstrated that in fact, you can have an institution of traditional leadership and at the same time have democratic government structures such as municipalities, mayors and local government structures and the two are working quite well with each other. So there’s going to have to be clear training programmes and clear principles articulated to make sure that as we support this institution, it does not end up undermining the democratic institutions that have been put in the form of local government structures.

Sorry, Pretoria, my apologies. I’ll come to you. I’ve forgotten that we need to take questions from you.

Journalist: Wouldn’t it be better not to entrench traditional leadership but simply allow it to exist and perhaps fade away?

Themba Maseko: Well, that question amounts to us saying we expect certain cultures, traditions and customs of people to fade away. And that will be unfair and also unjust to the South Africans who should be encouraged to hold on very dearly to their traditions and cultures. Some of these traditions we maybe don’t understand, don’t support but at the same time there are ordinary South Africans who deserve the respect and acknowledgement of the fact that they still want to practise these customs and traditions.

Journalist: A couple of questions. Can you explain what the Expropriation Bill is and then also did cabinet at all discuss or voice any concerns about Eskom halting any new big construction contracts and then did it al all discuss the comments made by ANC president Jacob Zuma on the death penalty and the referendum that he could call for?

Themba Maseko: Okay. Let’s start with the last question, the referendum. The issue did not come up – the issue of the referendum that is, on the death penalty – did not come up. And the current policy still stands and until such time that the ruling party takes a different view and parliament takes a different view, the current policy will stand and that is that the death penalty will not be applied in South Africa, but the issue never came up.

Your question about the Eskom announcement yesterday, the matter obviously not discussed at cabinet yesterday. But my understanding is that what Eskom is trying to manage – and there’s a separate thing that needs to be dealt with about communication – but what Eskom is trying to manage is the demand that they are experiencing at this current stage and trying to come up with measures and strategies to manage the demand, because we have limited supply of electricity at this particular stage, so what they’re trying to say is that, because of the pressures they are experiencing as far as the supply of electricity is concerned, they are trying to manage the demand side to make sure that in fact they can meet the current need, but at the same time, not necessarily disrupt projects that are currently taking place. So the announcement they made yesterday was trying to communicate a very simple message, that we have limited supply, we’re going to have to manage the demand that’s coming. But as to whether a concrete decision was taken that no new projects will be construction projects, will be allowed for the next six months, according to my information, that’s not policy that’s been taken by government at this or any other stage. We will be having discussions with Eskom to discuss the communication approaches and strategies to make sure that when they are trying to manage particular situations they do not communicate in a manner that could actually create more tension, confusion and in confusing the public. So they need to properly co-ordinate well thought-through announcements. It is an important issue, while at the same time understanding the pressures that they are facing.

Do you want to follow up on that?

Journalist: Yes. So what you’re saying is that they did create tension and uncertainty when they announced it.

Themba Maseko: Well, that announcement will have had that kind of effect in the minds of investors and the industry, so the process government is adopting is that, if there are challenges we bring in the particular industry, we have discussions, we explain the situation to them and an understanding is then reached about how the demand of that particular industry should be managed. A classical example is the way in which we’re managing our arrangement with the mining industry, where we said ‘cut by 10% ‘. They came back and said these are our constraints, these are our challenges and we said ‘okay, go back and look at it, come back with concrete proposals about what needs to be done, and as government we will meet you halfway’. So that’s the approach that we will be – in fact we have already discussed with Eskom that instead of just going to make announcements, engage with particular industries so that you understand their concerns, the impact that a particular decision you’re just about to take is going to have on that particular industry so that we reduce the amount of stress that exists round this electricity supply emergency.

Your question about the Expropriation Bill. The plan is to have the Minister of Public Works doing a special media briefing on the Expropriation Bill but essentially, the current Expropriation Bill is updated. The current Expropriation Act is not consistent with the constitution. This new bill is an attempt to make sure that it is in line with the constitution and there are concrete examples that we can give to you. There’s a document with all those answers so you can get it after this. But we’ll give you concrete examples of how the current Expropriation Act is not consistent with the constitution. We’ll make a copy of that particular page on the Expropriation Bill and I will give it to you just now.

Journalist: Just in terms of the Expropriation Bill, you must understand it's to help expedite land reform…..

Journalist: And the Land Use Management Bill? Is that also part of the same package?

Themba Maseko: Yes. Just to explain the Bill if we’re to summarise all of them, the statement will be ten pages.

Journalist: I know, but some bills are more important than others.

Themba Maseko: The bills are normally only published after tabling in parliament so we don’t want to run into trouble with that institution. I’m sure you know.

We’ll take this last question and then we’ll go to Pretoria. Sorry Pretoria. Apologies.

Journalist: Just going back to Eskom. Has cabinet been briefed on the regulation of the electricity price? Minister Erwin, before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises, said it's a cost-based model which never took into account – in other words the cost it took to produce electricity, and never took into account Eskom’s capital expenditure plans. Has cabinet been briefed on this and if so, what kind of idea do they have on resolving that problem?

Themba Maseko: Cabinet was briefed on this a couple of meetings ago and the matter came up in the Presidential Joint Working Group on Friday.

It's interesting to note that a lot of the stakeholders, including business, actually were also proposing that one of the ways in which we can address this electricity emergency would include a review of the existing tariffs, because South Africa still has the cheapest electricity in the world, and even if we were to for instance, double our tariffs, we would still be among the cheapest electricity providers. So the proposals which were put forward at the Joint Working Group were essentially to say there needs to be an urgent review of the tariffs with a view to increasing them to making sure that at least the tariffs can cover part of the cost of production of electricity. But one of the issues raised at the special joint meeting was the need to make sure that as we raise the tariffs that does not have a negative effect on the poorest of the poor. So there’s a need to manage this matter with a view to making sure that we don’t place the poorest of the poor at a disadvantage.

Pretoria! Any questions from Pretoria? Nothing?

Journalist: I have a few. Can I have two and then three more? Firstly, on the Free State University. I think everyone’s agreed on the position that everyone takes on it. But what would government like the university physically to do? That’s my question. It’s fine to say you must deal with it. How would they like the university to deal with it? And my other question for now is, on the whole Middle East situation government tends to talk about it quite a lot, now they use this term that the Israeli action in Gaza is disproportionate. Given that missiles are being fired into Israel, what would be a proportionate response from the State of Israel?

Themba Maseko: On the Free State University we are aware that the Minister of Education is in discussion with the rectors, vice-chancellors of universities to deal with this matter. So we would not be able to give details of what steps we think they should do, but the basic things that we do, firstly is to bring the perpetrators to book, secondly is to make sure that all apartheid practices in the institution are eradicated with immediate effect. The fact that there are still hostels that are segregated on racial grounds is something that is totally unacceptable by any standards. We are told for instance, that even sports facilities in that university are still segregated. There’s the issue of language that needs to be looked at because one of the issues raised by black students in that campus is the fact that the university says the medium of instruction should be Afrikaans, exclusively Afrikaans, and many students are saying there are… just hold on, hold on, hold on. Don’t get emotional here. So a lot of students have raised that issue that in certain classrooms they’ve been told that this is going to be the situation. So there are basic common sense steps that need to be taken by the university, but we take comfort in the fact that the university’s council is meeting tomorrow morning, and they will take decisions which in our view will take the institution forward. So those are some of the things that I would like to [unclear]. You clearly want to come back?

Journalist: No, don’t worry, what’s the point of arguing? I mean, it’s a matter of fact, you know, that the university has been fully bilingual for almost 20 years now. Anyway, but moving on to the traditional leadership issues, Sir, which I think… I think firstly Sue’s question wasn’t answered. In what way has the dignity of traditional leaders been impaired? How should it be restored? Secondly my question would be, what would government expect these traditional leaders to actually physically do? You know, for this department and what would the function be in a democratic society. And thirdly, Sir, on a more basic level I think it is a matter of historical fact or widely agreed-upon especially by the party that instructs our government and by scholars everywhere, that especially the British colonial forces in many countries including our own, including Rhodesia as it was, including even Southwest Africa when we were the colonial power, used to abuse the institution of traditional leadership for political expediency’s sake. Is this not happening again?

Journalist: And just on the issue of a traditional system of justice being made democratic, surely they are mutually exclusive.

Themba Maseko: Say that again.

Journalist: A traditional system of justice which is based on birthright and privilege, how do you make that democratic? Surely they are mutually exclusive.

Journalist: It’s just to do with the report that was being… there was a study being conducted into remuneration for traditional leaders. Because we know that there are many traditional leaders appointed under the apartheid regime who were not the legitimate traditional leaders of areas and yet became elevated to chiefly status because it suited the Nationalist Party government at the time. Now there’re… as I understand it there was an extensive investigation into all of this and into remuneration. Now that report was due some time ago but [unclear], is the Nhlengo [ph] report, or the Nhlengwe [ph] report? Anyway, has this decision to set up this traditional leaders department been… is that based on the recommendations of that particular report? And then where is this department going to be based? Is it going to be localised or is it going to be up in Pretoria, or where is it… how is it going to fit in? Is it going to be a full-blown, you know, [unclear] department of government?

Themba Maseko: It’s a fully blown… I don’t know what you mean by fully blown, but… there’s no bureaucratic department [unclear].

Journalist: Could I just add a follow-up as well if you don’t mind, can I? On this traditional leadership thing. Isn’t it going to give rise to the perception that just ahead of the general election this is a kind of wooing of a critical support base?

Themba Maseko: Look, Primedia’s system is not working. Okay. Gaye, it’s a national department based in Pretoria, reporting to the Minister of Provincial and Local Government. Whether it’s… the decisions on setting up the department were based on the commission report, I think it was Hlengwa [ph] [unclear]. I can’t confirm that. But all I can tell you is that this decision… what… the only thing that’s new about this traditional leadership department is the fact that we are now setting up a totally separate entity. The Department of Provincial and Local Government have always had a directorate dealing with traditional leadership. It’s now being elevated to its own department. So it’s not necessarily a new thing. A number of provincial governments have always had departments for traditional leadership such as KwaZulu-Natal. The issue is not necessarily an important issue in all the provinces. In some provinces there are strong institutions of traditional leadership but it’s not the case necessarily in al the provinces. I mean, starting from the bottom, there’re a lot of questions. So the issue of remuneration of traditional leaders, that investigation, that commission was not necessarily discussed at this meeting. But this issue is to create a department that will deal with all those issues including the issue of remuneration. But also issues of disputes about who is the chief and who is not the chief etcetera, etcetera. So this department will deal with all of those issues at a political level. Whether this is going to lead to the abuse of this institution for political purposes and they will be manipulated etcetera, etcetera. I must just make it very clear to you that this matter of traditional leadership is something that was discussed between the President and traditional leaders, it’s something that’s being debated in Parliament, and I’m under the impression as we speak that all political parties support this institution because the creation for instance of a house of traditional leaders which currently exists, it’s not a formal house next to Parliament, it’s something that all political parties have accepted. So it’s not a new thing necessarily. I am not sure why we think the existence of a traditional institution such as traditional leaders necessarily amounts to abuse of these institutions. All this government is saying is that there is a tradition and a culture of this institution and as government we are providing the institutional mechanism to support this institution. Now there is no hidden agenda on the part of government to abuse these institutions for political gain. What political parties do on the ground with these institutions, it’s a different matter. It’s something that needs to be looked at because these traditional leaders are meant to be leaders of communities irrespective of political affiliation. So if somebody is a chief in KwaZulu-Natal, should not be a chief of the IFP or ANC or even the Democratic Alliance. They should be independent bodies that are supposed to provide leadership to all individuals, all citizens in a particular locality. So I can’t respond about what are the plans of individual political parties for these traditional leaders. I can’t say… but I can tell you for certain that this is not government’s intention to woo them to support any particular political party. The impact of this decision, Jan-Jan, clearly as I’m saying it’s not… this is not a new decision. All it’s doing… this decision is doing is to simply create an institutional mechanism to support the traditional leadership. The impact is going to be that now these structures or these chiefs or leaders will now have institutional support from government. and this department will be providing it. And again it is nothing new. Government is already supporting a lot of these institutions. They receive remuneration from the state. In some cases provinces provide offices to these traditional leaders etcetera. Pardon?

Journalist: [Indiscernible]

Themba Maseko: I don’t know. So what should they do. There are community issues. I will invite members of the media to actually do some research on this matter. There are community issues that arise in communities where communities feel more confident to approach a traditional leader to deal with those issues instead of going to a mayor for instance, they prefer to deal with a particular traditional leader in a particular community, and as I was saying earlier on obviously the potential for tension and conflict to exist between traditional leaders and democratically elected local leaders, the potential for conflict between the two institutions does exist, but we already have experienced, we’ve knowledge that in fact this country has made some progress where the two are able to exist side by side. And those who do not believe in these institutions obviously will see this as purely anti-democratic, but those who believe in these institutions, Windham, will see this as something that is of a necessity, it’s their way of life, it’s their culture, is their custom, is their tradition, and they will not see it as necessarily anti-democratic principles. Remember this is something that is endorsed by the whole of government, not just one political party. And therefore political parties will have a responsibility to manage those dynamics that’ll arise in a particular locality. There will be dynamics, we can’t deny that. But to say because of those dynamics we should then throw away this traditional institution is something that government does not support. I think I’ve answered all your questions.

Journalist: A follow-up. If the law says that you’ve got to have a certain qualification to be a judge, are we now going to have only traditional leaders with an LLB made the traditional leaders otherwise how are they going to run tribal courts?

Journalist: Sorry, arising from that, I mean if it’s anything but hereditary I mean… this seems very strange.

Themba Maseko: People, people, can I just call into order. You are now raising issues that go to the core of undermining a very important tradition in this country. We can’t sit here and deny the existence of these traditions in many parts of our communities. I invite you to go to a particular community and tell them a traditional leader is a waste of time, and I can tell you they’ll definitely give you a piece of their mind. This is something they truly believe in. Whether we sitting in this room don’t agree with this or not it’s a totally different matter. Whether traditional courts should or should not exist, and who qualifies to be a judge in these traditional courts, this is how disputes have been handled in traditional communities for centuries. We can’t just throw it away. But let’s wait for the bill and see, you know, look at the details.

Journalist: I would just like to know, how does the [unclear] with your basic argument just now about public and private use of culture. This is public money. We might sit in this room but we’re going to pay for this, and to do what?

Themba Maseko: Well, Jan-Jan, as long as you don’t forget that these communities are also members of the public. The public is not just us sitting in this room. The public refers to all South Africans. There’s an announcement that Foreign Affairs will do a briefing at 12:45 on the Iran vote. UN resolution. So if anyone is interested there will be a briefing here. We’ll take the few final questions.

Journalist: Yes. Could we also ask for a briefing sooner rather than later, today if possible, on the expropriation bill? Because I mean… I really don’t understand the notes and given that it is in the public domain now there might be confusion, there might be misrepresentation. And, you know, it’s a thing that foreign investors are very, very nervous about. So if the Minister of Public Works is still in town could she brief us today on it? And a second completely unrelated question. The AIDS… the country progress report on AIDS. It’s my understanding that they are going to be issued as one document to the UN General Assembly, or is it going to be two separate and possible conflicting reports as it was last year? And do you know when, what sort of timing we’re talking about? That, you know, that we’re going to be able to see this thing?

Themba Maseko: The country report… there’ll be two reports. One will be a country report submitted by government and the other will be a civil society report. So two separate reports. I will be surprised if they are contradictory reports, because the draft was tabled and discussed at the implementation committee. It has served through SANAC, the chair and the deputy chair of SANAC have seen the report and has okayed it. So I don’t necessarily expect the two reports to be contradictory. But at the same time I think one can say safely that civil society is still entitled to raise concerns and issues that they may have with the country report or in the… in certain aspects of the implementation of the national strategic plan. But I don’t necessarily expect there to be major conflict between the two. What UNAIDS is trying to do is to make sure that they get an official report but also give civil society the opportunity to also express their views.

On the special briefing on the expropriation bill, we are trying to secure time with the Minister of Public Works, and if we can secure her to do a briefing today we’ll do so. But it will happen sooner rather than later. So she knows that we have made this request to her.

Okay, thank you very much, end of the briefing.


Transcribed by: Government Communication (GCIS)