/ 18 October 2007

Assembly backs embattled Manto

The National Assembly on Thursday adopted a motion of full confidence in Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, thereby rejecting the original motion by the Democratic Alliance (DA), which called for a special committee to probe her fitness to hold public office.

Introducing the DA’s motion, the party’s parliamentary leader, Sandra Botha, cited a litany of failures on the part of the minister and her department.

”The stated yardsticks against which to measure performance, established by international practice over a very long period, is life expectancy, infant mortality, the maternal death rate and the incidence of treatable or curable diseases,” Botha said.

In South Africa, there had been a dramatic and continual increase in infant mortality since 1999 — when Tshabalala-Msimang took office.

More infants and children under five died now than at any other time in recorded South African history.

”We are one of only nine countries in the world where the child mortality rate is increasing rather than decreasing,” she said.

About 2 000 babies had been stillborn at Frere Hospital in the past 13 years — reflecting the pre-natal mortality rate in South Africa as high as 27,9 per 1 000 live births nationally.

Since 1999, the maternal death rate had almost doubled; death rates among women aged 20 through 39 had increased more than threefold and more than doubled for men aged 30 through 40.

South Africa lived with the eighth highest tuberculosis (TB) burden in the world. Between 1995 and 2004 TB increased by 268%. Little more than 50% of sufferers were cured.

Many hospitals had been without a single doctor for two years or more, and there were about 42 000 vacant public-sector nursing posts.

”Can there be any doubt that an ad-hoc committee is needed to probe the merits of the case before us?” Botha asked.

The problem did not lie with the National Treasury, as annual spending per public-sector patient had increased from R901 in 2000 to R1 013 per patient in 2004/o5.

But the Health Department had received three qualified audits in the past four financial years.

”But the most extraordinary feature of our health scene for the past five years has been the impact of the Aids pandemic,” she said.

At present, more than 700 000 people in South Africa with HIV needed antiretroviral treatment, 1 000 a day died and a further 1 000 a day were newly infected.

”But, fewer than 180 000 people are on treatment in the public health sector according to the Department of Health.”

Due to a ten-year delay in restructuring the Medicines Control Council, the time taken to approve medicines in South Africa was four times longer than the international average.

”The person responsible for all this is the present minister of health, who has been in office for eight years,” Botha said.


James Ngculu of the African National Congress disagreed and accused Botha of ”spewing fire that divides this country”.

The motion was designed to ”despise and embarrass one of us and a person who has been uncompromising in the fight for better health for our people”.

”It is equally designed to undermine the progress the government is making in improving the health of our population,” he said.

The motion was therefore ”opportunistic, irrelevant and, most importantly, unconstitutional”.

Ngculu proposed an amendment rejecting the need for a special investigation committee and expressing full confidence in Tshabalala-Msimang.

The Inkatha Freedom Party’s (IFP) Koos van der Merwe said he was surprised at Ngculu’s speech.

”He is saying that the DA does not have the right to criticise. What has happened to free speech in this country and the right to criticise?”

Botha had criticised the minister for her failings and the IFP agreed with many of those. To call the motion unconstitutional was ”absolute nonsense”.

”[Ngculu] never addressed [the DA’s] motion. He never addressed the list of failings. He just mumbled on and tried to insult them,” Van der Merwe said.

The amended motion was approved after a division by 176 votes to 55, with two abstentions. — Sapa