DA interim leader John Steenhuisen says President Cyril Ramaphosa has turned into a spectator, leaving everything to Cogta Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma while the country battles through the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a state-of-the-nation-styled address, Steenhuisen gave his own assessment of the political leadership and, once again, called for a full return to economic activity.
“We needed someone to step up and take charge, but what we got was a president obsessed with dialogues, reaching out and building consensus. And this has been the story of his presidency to date: a lot of talk and a lot of promises, but very little action or leadership,” he said.
He called on the president to take charge and to use his position and support to fight for citizens’ safety.
He said: “Always put them first. If the choice is between e-tolls and hospital beds, choose the beds. If the choice is between SAA and a comprehensive testing strategy, choose testing. And if the choice is between your party and your country, always choose your country.”
While acknowledging that the battle was far from over, he raised concerns about Dlamini-Zuma’s role, saying the declaration of the national state of disaster gave the minister unchecked power and made her a de facto president.
“And she has wasted no time digging herself in. We’ve already seen multiple commitments made by the president on live TV, undone a couple of days later by Dlamini-Zuma,” he said.
Steenhuisen was referring to the ban on cigarette sales. The president initially announced that the ban on the sale of tobacco products would be lifted but the government later made a u-turn when Dlamini-Zuma announced that the ban would remain in place.
“Her stubborn refusal to reverse the cigarette ban is her way of letting the president know exactly who is in charge. And consider that she has the power to extend this state of disaster indefinitely,” said Steenhuisen.
He also claimed that ANC politics was playing itself out during the crisis, alleging that the so-called “radical economic transformation” faction was showing its hand against the president’s own faction because they recognised his weak leadership.
“They are using the Covid-19 crisis as a cover to pull the rug of government from under the president’s feet, and he seems incapable of stopping it. And all the while our country’s economy and healthcare are imploding as we head towards the really big Covid numbers,” Steenhuisen said.
He praised the Western Cape, which is a DA-run province, for its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Steenhuisen said the province’s experience would provide value to the rest of the country.
He slammed other provinces for failing to be transparent in their handling of the pandemic.
“When infections in the Western Cape were rising faster than anywhere else in the country, there was much talk of sending in the big guns, and even of threatening the province with a return to hard lockdown. But now that provinces like the Eastern Cape and Gauteng are collapsing, national government is strangely silent,” said Steenhuisen.
He said the interventions the Western Cape used have been bearing fruit as the rate of infections seem to be slowing down and its hospitals are not as overrun as many others across the globe.
“The experience of the Western Cape provincial leadership these past few months should be of immense value to the rest of the country right now,” said Steenhuisen.