Transcript: Post-Cabinet media briefing Q&A

4 December 2008

Presenter: Themba Maseko, Government spokesperson
Date: Thursday, 4 December 2008
Venue: Imbizo Media Centre, Cape Town

Themba Maseko: Minister (Lindiwe Hendricks), I will take a few questions on my statement and invite you to come to the podium in a few minutes.

Journalist: Two questions please. The first relates to the food shortages. There’s a seemingly about turn about the government – I think last week or the week before – that you guys withheld the R300 million agricultural fund. Are you going to release that money now or what is happening with that money? Second question, last part of the second sentence, ‘are expected to sign the draft agreement as soon as possible ‘ I there any indication of when that might be? Thanks.

Themba Maseko: Let me start with the second question. Former president, Mr Thabo Mbeki, facilitated discussions between the three parties about a week or so ago. The negotiators agreed to the draft amendment and initialled it. The next step is for the principals of the three parties to sign that agreement and our expectation is that, that draft amendment should be signed within a matter of days, but as soon as possible we should say. So we will continue to put pressure on the principals to sign that amendment as quickly as possible. But I can’t give you a date unfortunately.

On food shortages, a decision to withhold the R300 million funds still stands. However, the developments over the past few days, especially with regard to the shortages of food, may require some sort of intervention which will allow South Africa and neighbouring countries to make some contributions to provide food to the starving Zimbabwean citizens, but with regard to the R300 million that decision still stands. The President will convene that meeting with ministers to see what other interventions can be made in the short term to make sure that food can be provided. As you are aware, that fund was meant to provide seeds and diesel, fertilisers and other equipment, anything that in the agricultural sector is necessitated. Even if that money could be available tomorrow, it would not be able to actually put food on the table immediately. So it is very clear that in fact, some other kind of intervention is required, but that decision still stands.

Journalist: [Unclear – mic problem] Report on advocate Pikoli

Themba Maseko: That matter was not finalised at the Cabinet meeting. As you are aware, this is a prerogative of the President. The President has received the response from Advocate Pikoli and his lawyers and he is considering the matter and he will make a decision soon. The president does not need to convene a meeting to take a decision on that matter. It is his prerogative. But as soon as he has made a decision on the matter, he will make the announcement and the report will be published.

Journalist: Can you give clarification on a couple of things. What is Business Information Systems that you refer to? Secondly, why do we need a framework for overseas development aid and…the Business Information System is the Criminal Justice Business Information System. What is Business Information? Why do we need an ODA framework?

Themba Maseko: We’ll come back to you later. Let’s come back to the first question. The Business Information System – basically what the review has found is that the various Criminal Justice System departments, Justice, SAPS, Correctional Services and other agencies that they work with, do not have systems that can actually talk to one another to make sure they can manage the whole Justice System properly. There isn’t proper sharing of information. There have even been cases of prisoners being released because Corrections had not been aware that in fact, a particular person who is in prison is also being sought after by the police, so the proposal from the office is that you need one integrated system that will enable all the different agencies and departments that are involved in the management of the Criminal Justice Systems to be able to communicate and interact with one another to make sure that the system becomes much more efficient and effective as part of the process to increase our capacity to fight crime in the country, so it will also include for instance, various initiatives that have been taken by the various departments, but are still undertaken as separate projects – not co-ordinated, not integrated in any way. For instance, the Justice Department is looking at a system of making sure that there is what they call, online applications for bail, without necessarily transporting a prisoner from a correctional facility to court. So applications could be done online. But that system is not talking to any other system in the Criminal Justice System. So the view is that you need one integrated management system that will enable all of these departments to integrate and manage their services in a better, integrated and co-ordinated way. So that’s what this system will essentially be about.

The framework for overseas development – Michael, you’ll be aware that the South African government does offer aid assistance to a number of countries, for instance today talking about providing assistance to Zimbabwe, but there isn’t a clear framework that says this is how we provide assistance, these are the conditions, these are the terms on which this assistance is provided and how that assistance links with South Africa’s foreign policy, so this is essentially an attempt to inform the public, but also each and every government department to know that this is the framework in which South Africa from now onwards will provide assistance to other countries in the world. So this framework simply puts greater policy clarity on overseas development assistance.

Journalist: Themba, food shortages in Zimbabwe now for some time, a couple of years in fact, acutely bad over the past couple of months, what material conditions have changed that Cabinet is aware of that has now got Cabinet extremely concerned and where would they have got that information about the conditions on the ground in Zimbabwe, and then just linked to that, the departmental task team’s work on the cholera outbreak, provision of clean water and medical supplies, is that in Zimbabwe I’m assuming? Who is providing those services? What other services are we providing? Have any members of the South African Medical Services been deployed to Zimbabwe? Can you just give us some details about some of those efforts, please?

Themba Maseko: We have an arrangement with the Minister of Health to provide regular updates on what exactly we are doing with regard to the cholera outbreak. So a lot of these services are being provided mainly inside the country, but its very clear that if we continue providing these services inside the country without any interventions taking place inside Zimbabwe itself, chances are that whatever services we are providing within our borders, will constitute a magnet for people to cross the border to come and receive medical attention. So in our interaction with other health ministers in the region, The World Health Organisation and other NGOs, measures are also being put in place to make sure that we support the health facilities in Zimbabwe itself so that people do not have to travel thousands of kilometres into South Africa to receive medical attention. So primarily our efforts are inside the country but we’re obviously working with our sister countries in the region, the health organisations and other NGOs to also make sure that ways are found to provide services within Zimbabwe itself.

So yes, we’re also providing health personnel, especially to facilities in Musina and in the various temporary shelters that have been created in that area. But we will ask the Minister of Health to once again do a briefing to give an update on what exactly we are providing to deal with the outbreak of cholera and other communicable diseases. With regard to the food shortages in Zimbabwe, all of us are aware that the situation has been gradually deteriorating in Zimbabwe. The past week or two have given very clear signs that people are already dying of starvation; that diseases are on the increase and therefore its time for urgent action to be taken by ourselves and our neighbouring countries in the SADC region. So these interventions are essentially aimed at making sure that we save lives. All indications are that people are beginning to die of starvation, and we believe that South Africa and the SADC region cannot fold its arms whilst our neighbouring citizens are actually dying because they do not have food.

Journalist: Three quick questions. Firstly, with regard to Zimbabwe, does Cabinet still have full confidence in former president Mbeki as the mediator and if so, what is this based on? Secondly, on the matter of Khutsong and the Merafong City, what is the difference between their case and that of Matatiele and Moutse? Moutse is before court but Matatiele as far as I know, is not. What’s the situation there? And thirdly, this whole matter of the head of a prison, if not opposed by the Director of Public Prosecutions concerned, to order the release of a certain accused person on warning in lieu of bail or to order the amendment of bail conditions, how will this help the safety of those citizens who are outside of prisons?

Themba Maseko: Government and SADC did express its full confidence in former president Mbeki’s mediation efforts and that is why the summit, the recently-held SADC summit asked the former president to continue with the process. So government is still standing by its position that he will continue. It is through his efforts as a facilitator that in fact the parties were able to sign an agreement on the 15th September. It is through his efforts that we are now talking about an amendment to the constitution that has been agreed to by the three parties, so at this stage there is no basis on our part to begin to doubt the effectiveness of that facilitation process by former president Thabo Mbeki, so we will continue supporting him to make sure that the process is finalised sooner rather than later.

As far as the cross-border issues are concerned, this particular decision taken by Cabinet yesterday is with regard to the Khutsong situation only. However, the minister did indicate to Cabinet that he’s engaged in extensive consultation with all the affected communities that have issues to raise about cross border matters and as he’s conducting consultations with communities, the matter will have to come back to Cabinet at some stage for consideration, but he felt that in fact, as far as Khutsong is concerned, he had concluded his consultations with that community and he was ready to make his recommendation to Cabinet and that’s why Cabinet supported this particular decision. But you’re absolutely correct. We can’t deal with the Khutsong matter as an isolated matter. There are other areas that are affected by cross border issues and Cabinet is going to have to take a view of the situation at its next discussion following the consultations that he’s having with those communities.

The protocol on bail conditions - Basically, what Cabinet discussed, was the fact that this protocol has actually been in place, but its not been used by courts in all parts of the country and as a result, you have a lot of people sitting in prisons that could actually be given bail, especially those suspects who are not posing any threat or danger to society. So, in making this decision, the court is going to have to apply its mind whether in changing the bail conditions or giving a suspect a bail, whether that person will pose a threat to society and if its clear that such an application will lead to the release of a suspect who could cause harm or cause damage to the public, clearly the court will not release such a person and not alter bail conditions. But the system is clogged up as we speak there are too many people in prisons who could be offered bail. Too many people are sitting in prisons because they can’t afford a bail of R2 000 because they’re unemployed and only people who can afford it are actually given bail in many parts of the country. So this is an attempt to actually reduce the pressure that our courts are experiencing due to overcrowding.

Journalist: Can I just follow-up quickly? Which… could you list those criminals who you believe do not pose any… or suspected criminals who you believe would not pose any threat to society? Why are they there in the first place?

Themba Maseko: I don’t have their names here so unfortunately I can’t… but now you’re asking what categories, we did not look at various categories in this meeting, but we can ask the Department of Justice to just assist by giving you examples of which kind of cases could actually take advantage of this protocol that’s being proposed here. So can you take this offline? We can put you in touch with justice to give you specific examples.

Journalist: Did Cabinet discuss Monday’s letter from Archbishop Tutu and FW de Klerk to the President calling on him to appoint a commission of inquiry into the arms deal before December 10th?

Themba Maseko: Unfortunately that matter was not discussed by Cabinet, but I’m aware that the President has received the letter and he is applying his mind to the matter and he will respond to them as soon as he has taken a decision on what needs to be done.

Journalist: Just referring to the Municipal Infrastructure Grant changes, does this mean that larger municipalities will get more money or what exactly is going to happen?

Themba Maseko: Well, our information is that you know the larger municipalities generally tend to have a better or a higher level of capacity to implement larger projects and yet they have been subjected to exactly the same procedures for applying for funding for projects and they’re exactly the same reporting requirements as smaller municipalities. So what this proposal is suggesting is that instead of larger municipalities applying for individual projects they will be allowed to make submissions and apply for funding for a variety of projects, small and large, and make one simple application which will be considered and funded. And in terms of their reporting they will also be allowed to give a report on how they’ve implemented a variety of projects, small and large, to basically achieve the objectives of the Municipal Infrastructure Grant. So that’s what this amendment is suggesting. However the smaller municipalities because most of them have limited capacity they will are still required applying for individual projects, demonstrating capacity to implement those projects, and they will be funded on the basis of individual projects.

Journalist: Just on the Khula change of focus or addition to the focus, it’s taken quite a long time. What had to be done for that decision to be taken and why is it necessary. And secondly, has there been any discussion within Cabinet about the extension of the Chinese clothing and textile quotas? Thanks.

Themba Maseko: At this meeting, Linda, there was no discussion on the Chinese quotas, so the matter was not discussed at this particular meeting. The Khula matter, the matter has taken quite some time largely because a lot of research had to be done on whether it is a good idea to extend the mandate of Khula especially because there are many other institutions that are providing more or less a similar kind of service. And when the report first came to Cabinet, Cabinet asked the DTI to actually conduct a case study and come up with a possible business plan on how this could be implemented and as it was presented at the Cabinet meeting, the view was that in fact there is an opportunity for Khula to play a key role in this level of the market, and it was therefore approved in principle. However a business plan still needs to be prepared to say if this mandate is extended how it will be implemented, because Cabinet also did not support the idea that Khula needs to be re-capitalised. So the existing funding model for Khula will be retained, but the mandate will be broadened. So Cabinet said go back and see how you could actually implement this new mandate especially because you are not likely to get any new funding to perform that role. Okay.

Journalist: there’s a question on the TRC. One of the outstanding items with regard to the TRC is the prosecution of those who didn’t give evidence, who didn’t appear before the TRC or who weren’t granted amnesty. And that is in danger of disappearing because of the disappearance of the Scorpions who were supposed to be looking at it. I wondered what Cabinet’s view was on that.

Themba Maseko: Michael, you caught me there, it’s one of the issues that are still being looked at, and so I should have included that in the statement. So it’s one of the issues that’s being considered and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development will just give a comprehensive report on all these outstanding matters, and that’s also one of the issues to be included. Thank you.

Journalist: Last question. The Movement for Democratic Change, the largest political party in Zimbabwe by virtue of the latest election results, has rejected former President Thabo Mbeki as mediator in Zimbabwe. First of all, how does this affect the South African view and secondly surely if the largest party has rejected the mediator then in effect there is no longer a mediation process in place.

Themba Maseko: Deon, the government is aware of the call by the MDC, however, the SADC summit decided that former President Mbeki must continue playing this role of facilitating the talks, and our position is that that position will continue. The facilitation that took place on the amendment of the constitution that I’m talking about here in the statement, the MDC, both factions of the MDC did participate including the government representatives. So as far as we’re concerned the process is indeed on track and there is no need to worry about whether this process is going or not. Okay, Minister, thank you very much ladies and gentlemen. Minister, may I invite you to come and brief the media on the water security matter.


Themba Maseko (Government spokesperson)
Cell: 083 645 0810

Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)