The sale of alcohol, physical sittings of Parliament, resumption of domestic travel and opening of churches were just some of the issues leaders of opposition parties raised with President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday.
They sought to sway Ramaphosa on numerous issues they want to be taken into consideration ahead of the country moving to Level 3 of the nationwide lockdown.
The president remained tight-lipped on what the plans were and gave no indication of any concessions to be made under the imminent phase of the lockdown, insiders said.
News24 was reliably told party leaders in the virtual meeting, which kicked off at 07:00 on Wednesday, were given ample time to share their views on how the country should be navigating the coronavirus pandemic and the related lockdown to curb the spread of infection.
The country has been under lockdown since March when the government adopted a five-alert level that allows for the staggered reopening of the economy.
Ramaphosa was joined at the meeting by several members of Cabinet including Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and Cooperative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma whose department has been responsible for promulgating the regulations adopted by the government during the crisis.
Some of the suggestions made to the president included increased liquor prices and sin tax in the hope that many would not flock to outlets or even panic buy booze.
“We were really happy that Mkhize and Dr Dlamini-Zuma were present today, often the president skirts over issues or just doesn’t answer some of our questions because it seems he doesn’t have in-depth knowledge, today they stepped in to assist and clarify some issues,” said the ATM’s leader, Vuyo Zungula, to News24.
Alcohol and tobacco
He added while some in the room had been for and against the sale of alcohol, which is set to come into effect during Level 3 but under strict conditions, party leaders were also concerned with how the reintroduction of alcohol needed to take shape.
“The sense is that South Africa needs to avoid the India experience where the resumption of liquor results in safety regulations being discarded,” said Zungula.
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Ramaphosa is also said to not have provided answers to concerns over whether Police Minister Bheki Cele had the capacity to deal with the increased sales of tobacco and alcohol on the black market.
Dlamini-Zuma used the meeting to once again raise issues against the sale of tobacco, telling opposition leaders that world health regulations have been explicit about the role of the product in the battle against the virus which attacks the respiratory system.
The ACDP, which shares the views of the ATM on churches, seemed to believe the meeting gave a glimmer of hope regarding the resumption of church gatherings, its leader, Kenneth Meshoe who has tested positive for Covid-19, told News24, saying he believed this was a matter currently being looked into.
“I think the good thing about the meeting is that we weren’t given three minutes to make a point but beyond that the president didn’t give away anything, he seemed to hear us and spoke of more consultations,” said Meshoe.
The ACDP leader said Ramaphosa gave diplomatic responses when asked about parliamentarians being able to physically meet as well as the request to consider further relaxing domestic travel in the country.
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The president is said to not want to impose his views on Parliament, leaving it to the speaker to make that decision.
“We find it difficult to operate via Zoom and to keep executive accountable as they don’t respond to letters or answer questions,” said Zungula.
The FF Plus’ Pieter Groenewald is another leader who attended the meeting. He said it had left him uncertain on the way forward as the president gave nothing away.
“The one time he was shaking his head as if to agree with me on the economy being reopened, especially the sole proprietor business and the small businesses but in the end Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma came and responded. They were just sticking to their position that these are their levels,” added Groenewald.
He said there was no true indication of whether the country was moving to Level 3 on a national level, nor did he share details of when he would address the nation.
Groenewald, however, said Ramaphosa gave some explanation regarding the decision to declare a national state of disaster as opposed to a state of emergency.
He added the president had told opposition leaders he received advice from lawyers that a state of emergency would require Parliament’s approval after 21 days and for it to also approve the regulations, which Ramaphosa could not see happening then.
“But that’s not an excuse, that’s not a good excuse as Parliament is holding virtual meetings, portfolio committees are functioning,” he said.
While Ramaphosa is expected to continue with his consultations, it is likely he might address the nation before the end of the week.
Reopening of schools
The IFP’s Velenkosini Hlabisa said he found the discussions with Ramaphosa fruitful.
He told News24 the government’s approach was a lot in line with his party’s wishes, however, it had concerns over the reopening of schools.
Hlabisa said he had called on the government to exercise maximum caution in this regard and ensure the agreements reached between the Department of Basic Education and unions were adhered to.
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“If regulations are ignored it would be like testing deep waters and playing with the lives of children and teachers.”
Referring to a debate on whether moving the country down a level when the World Health Organisation felt it was not ready, Hlabisa said he agreed with the president’s view that it was time for South Africa to move on from Level 4.
“What consoles us are that the numbers of recoveries are also high, a sign that we are managing the virus.”