25 November 2022
Speaking notes GCIS DDG Michael Currin on the NATJOINTS and CCC at the launch of the GCIS digital book: Fighting COVID-19 through Communication: A South African Story
As we launch the GCIS digital book: “Fighting COVID-19 through Communication: A South African Story” we remember the role many people, organisations and structures played in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
We saw partnerships formed across society, many of which are represented here today to mark this occasion. They worked hand in hand to drive back the spread of the virus that threatened our existence.
We saw brave citizens who heeded the call of duty to help us pull through the two challenging years of the virus. It undoubtedly demonstrated the unyielding spirit that defines us as South Africans when we face insurmountable odds.
One important stakeholder in the fight against the pandemic that often went unnoticed is the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure. Given the nature of its work the Natjoints is often outside of the public eye, working hard to prepare, oversee and coordinate our nation’s response to an array of issues.
This key structure draws participants from every government department, law enforcement and security agency. It meets every day to discuss and deal with our nation’s most pressing issues.
GCIS has over the years worked extremely closely with this formation and even more so during the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. It was through the work of the Natjoints that we saw the coordinated national response to our nation’s fight against the virus.
I vividly remember how it all first began when the Natjoints was urgently convened to deal with the repatriation of our citizens from Wuhan in China, the then epicentre of COVID-19. This mammoth logistical task had to be backed by strong communication as we sought to allay fears and reassure our citizens
As the situation developed further with the rampant spread of the virus around the world and the reporting of the first case of COVID-19 in our nation on 5 March 2020, several intense meetings at the Natjoints were held as the days unfolded. The atmosphere was understandably anxious and tense as we tried to deal with this unknown virus and assess the implication it would have on our country.
At that time the Natjoints met up to two to three times a day to coordinate our country’s response. The Natjoints and its various work streams managed the inter-government technical work and coordination. There were lots of urgent demands placed on communicators from the structure as part of our nation’s response to fight against the virus.
Many of our colleagues here at GCIS were called to duty late at night, or early morning and often had to work over weekends. They worked under immense pressure with tight deadlines to ensure our communications were aligned to the coordination plans of the Natjoints.
We had learnt first-hand that the ability to coordinate, manage and quickly adapt particularly during those early days was key during a public health emergency. There were regular reviews and scenario planning to ensure our interventions were timely and best practices were used.
In our endeavours at the Natjoints to respond to the pandemic we understood that coordinating our country’s response to prevent the spread of the virus would be essential to gain public trust and respond effectively. There was also an appreciation that our work also needed clear, concise and timely to keep citizens updated.
As part of our nation’s response to the pandemic we were able to convey vital information to South Africans to ensure they were protected and safeguarded from the spread of the virus. We were able to keep South Africans abreast of the latest developments, security concerns and the work of emergency and law enforcement services. With the input from the Natjoints we ensured our messages were crafted to provide clarity, certainty and aligned to actions on the ground.
GCIS also through its media monitoring and analysis played a pivotal role in feeding issues from the communication environment into the Natjoints. In relaying how decisions to fight the pandemic were covered in media and how government actions were received on the ground we were able to remain sensitive to our citizens needs and adapted our intervention as and when required. As a listening government our communication took on board the many suggestions and criticisms, and had used what we have learned to strike a fine balance between the need to save lives and livelihoods.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As our government decisively responded to the pandemic we moved in tandem here at GCIS activating the entire government communication system. We established the Communication Command Centre through the GCIS Cluster Coordination unit, which drew communicators from across government.
The Communication Command Centre was initially convened virtually on the Zoom platform as part of an Ops Room at 9:30am on weekdays to tackle issues in the media environment as well as review inputs from various work streams. This daily virtual meeting of communicators ensured a coordinated and coherent communication approach during this time.
The virtual meeting was instrumental in building communication support around government plans to fight the virus. It had also been at the forefront against stamping out fake news about COVID-19, often shared on social media causing panic and confusion among citizens.
In the interest of improving coordination and allowing communicators enough time to plan properly and improve implementation, the frequency of meetings was reconsidered and reduced to 3 times a week.
The Communication Command Centre provided key communication feedback into the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure. The GCIS also convened the communication and community mobilisation work stream consisting of government communicators. The work stream reported to the Natjoints and ultimately the National Coronavirus Command Council through the Minister in The Presidency.
In forging a more cohesive communication front, our Communication Clusters also met at a Cluster level. National communicators liaised with provincial communicators as well as Metro and District Communicators through various forums to coordinate messages and communication actions. Existing communication structures such as the Provincial Government Communication Forums, the District and Municipal Communication Forums and the Local Government Communication Forums, became vital conduits to coordinate communication. In closing the communication loop, feedback and insights from these forums where relayed back to the Natjoint for planning.
The pandemic had not only tested our nation’s resolve but also the robustness of our communication system. I am proud to say that our nation’s communication systems rose to the challenge.
In doing so we have gained valuable experience and saw first-hand what we can achieve as communicators. This book we are launching today allows us to take those valuable lessons we learnt as communication professionals and share them with future generations of communicators and the world.