President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement to return the country to Adjusted Level 2 and accompanying stricter restrictions on gatherings has solicited more calls for him to act against Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize on the Digital Vibes saga.
Political parties such as the DA, the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) and the Congress of the People (Cope) criticised the president for being silent on the graft involving Mkhize.
The DA’s national spokesperson Siviwe Gwarube said Ramaphosa had failed to mention Mkhize’s role during his address and did not take decisive action on the matter.
Gwarube demanded that the minister should be removed, adding that the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) probe that Ramaphosa relied on before he acted, was not enough.
“We cannot have the minister being a player and a referee, he needs to be removed,” Gwarube said.
In his announcement last night, Ramaphosa took South Africa back to square one
Returning it to Adjusted Level 2 as the daily infection rate increases with fears of worsening in the envisaged third wave.
Night vigils and after-tears gatherings, common in the black townships and rural villages, had been completely banned. Bigger gatherings are strictly restricted – 100 people indoor and 250 outdoors and no more than 50 should gather in venues with smaller capacity.
Ramaphosa also slapped a 11pm to 4am curfew and liquor outlets, taverns and bars and fitness centres to close at 10pm, an hour before the curfew. He said the latest surge in infections was due to social gatherings.
The Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19 had recommended the country urgently implement further restrictions to limit the increase in infections.
This was based on the sustained increase in new cases in the last 14 days, increased hospital admissions in almost all provinces and an increase in the proportion of Covid tests that are positive.
“Further restrictions are necessary to ensure that health facilities are not overwhelmed and that lives that could be saved are not lost. Delaying the spread of the virus is especially important now to allow as many people as possible to be vaccinated before the third wave reaches its peak,” Ramaphosa said.
These recommendations have been discussed at the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and, earlier on Sunday, with premiers, mayors and traditional leaders in the President’s Coordinating Council.
The Cabinet decision to place the country under level 2, with effect from Monday, was based on these discussions by NCCC, premiers, mayors, traditional leaders and the President’s Co-ordinating Council.
“We have seen a sustained increase over the last four weeks. Over the last seven days, we have seen an average of 3,745 daily new infections.
This is an increase of 31% on the previous week, and an increase of 66% on the week before that. The proportion of Covid-19 tests that are positive has more than doubled in the last month from around 4 percent to more than 11 percent, even as we have increased testing across the country,” Ramaphosa said.
The government was advised that a positivity rate of over five percent is a cause for concern. The president mentioned that the Free State, Northern Cape, North West and Gauteng provinces had reached the threshold of the third wave of infections.
The president reminded South Africans to avoid gatherings, to keep a social distance, sanitise and wash hands regularly.
“Each of us should protect ourselves and our families until all of us are vaccinated,” he said.
Ramaphosa’s ‘silence’ on Digital Vibe
FF+ leader Dr Pieter Groenewald, while acknowledging Ramaphosa’s announcements were rational, he criticised him for his silence on the Mkhize-Digital Vibe issue.
He said the President should have taken South Africans into confidence to explain the matter and apologise for it.
Groenewald said instead of limiting indoor gatherings to 100 people, he should have put the numbers at 50% of the venue capacity. He also was concerned that South Africa was far behind in the world on the vaccination rollout.
Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota said Ramaphosa should act against Mkhize for abusing funds that were supposed to be used to purchase vaccines for people.
He said this was even more serious considering that the government was concerned about corruption and the fight against Covid-19, therefore it was imperative that action was taken against Mkhize.
“If the minister of health is doing corruption with money that should buy vaccines, what is the president doing with the minister,” Lekota said.