| Why the Eastern Cape’s lobby to have alcohol ban reinstated is likely to fail

  • Poor response to the Covid-19 pandemic in Eastern Cape is partly why the request for alcohol ban won’t be considered. 
  • The province has the third highest number of cases in the country, behind the Western Cape and Gauteng. 
  • Poor leadership has been blamed for the province being unable to deal with the challenges brought about by the pandemic. 

The Eastern Cape’s poor response to the Covid-19 pandemic is part of the reason why the Cabinet would not consider its request to have the alcohol ban reinstated, two party leaders in the province told News24. 

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With 217 deaths and 9 250 confirmed cases as of Sunday, the Eastern Cape has the third highest number of cases.

It is surpassed by the Western Cape, its neighbour, which has recorded 40 605 cases and 1 041 deaths. Gauteng has 9 897 cases and 81 deaths. 

In total, as of Sunday, the country has 65 746 cases, with 1 423 deaths.

In the early stages of Covid-19 infections, the province was widely criticised for its response to the pandemic, with Health Minister Zweli Mkhize vocal about its shortcomings. 

In April, it emerged in a damning report that the Eastern Cape government failed to provide adequate resources for the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality to tackle the pandemic.

READ | Covid-19: Mkhize furious with Eastern Cape health MEC and team, sends reinforcements

Furious with the report, the health minister cancelled a planned site visit to Zwide and KwaDwesi, and proceeded to fill critical vacancies on the spot. 

This, as well embarrassing coverage of the MEC of Health, Sindiswa Gomba, has placed the province on the back foot. 

Two sources told News24 that Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane’s attempts to lobby President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet to reinstate a ban on alcohol would “fail”. 

“You can’t appoint an illegitimate person in a critical position and expect to be taken seriously. The reality on the ground is that comrade Gomba is a disaster. She has no experience and it shows.

“The response by the province has been lacking. Our hospitals are not equipped, there are reports of shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and we don’t have enough beds. This is not because of alcohol – it’s because we have poor leadership,” one ANC leader said. 

ALSO READ | EC hospital beset by issues as Mkhize raises concerns about spike in Covid-19 cases

During another visit on 4 June, the provincial health department told Mkhize that its largest casualty unit with a dedicated isolation site, Livingstone Hospital, was struggling.

The unit had been hit by a shortage of sterile gloves, gowns and employees, including doctors, nurses and porters, while its Accident and Emergency Unit had not been cleaned for days, News24 reported.

The Sunday Times reported that Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu said the Cabinet would not review its decisions, including the sale of alcohol. 

In the report, Mthembu said there had been no discussion around reinstating a ban on alcohol.

Ramaphosa’s National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) is set to receive an assessment report from the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on Tuesday.

A Cabinet meeting will follow on Wednesday, where a decision will be taken on the lockdown regulations, the publication reported. 

“Cabinet’s decisions does not mean there are divisions. Every province will lobby for one thing or another, it’s expected. What puts the province at a disadvantage is going to be its current response.

“Alcohol incidents are expected to surge. What have they done as a government to respond to it? It’s not a matter of divisions, these risk-adjusted strategies by government must be informed by science,” another ANC leader said. 

Political analyst Professor Mcebisi Ndletyana said the Cabinet would look clumsy if it were to reverse its decisions on regulations. 

“You can’t have taken a decision and reverse it, and expect people not to express their anger. It would have very negative implications. Of course, (Bheki) Cele would complain about the crime levels, he is a policeman. He has to deal with police issues.” 

Ndletyana was referring to an ANC lecture last week, where Cele said he disagreed with the sale of the alcohol, and added that crime fighting had benefitted from the ban. 

READ | Cele slams ANC’s anti-police brutality campaign, says alcohol ban shouldn’t have been lifted

Ndletyana agreed that the Eastern Cape’s “shambolic governance” limited its leverage in lobbying on regulations. 

“They can’t provide simple PPEs. Their response has been anchored on poor administration and lack of leadership. That province is now facing a serious spike, so who listens to a government that is incompetent when facing a crisis.

“In the early days, you saw (David) Makhura in Soweto, you saw (Sihle) Zikalala in eThekwini; what you didn’t see is (Oscar) Mabuyane in the hotspots in Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB) or East London.

“The only time the Eastern Cape government took this thing seriously was when Mkhize visited the NMB metro. Had Bisho focused on getting ethical leaders? They have no credibility to talk about anything unless they had done the basic things properly,” Ndletyana said. 

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