Strides made in interventions for military veterans

Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele says government is going to great lengths to address the issues faced by military veterans in the country.

Gungubele was leading a media briefing of the Presidential Task Team (PTT) on Military Veterans to update the public on government interventions and the comprehensive approach to address the challenges faced by military veterans.

This comes after 56 suspects – believed to be military veterans – were arrested after allegedly holding Gungubele; the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Thandi Modise and her Deputy Thabang Makwetla hostage in Tshwane on Thursday evening.

Gungubele said as part of the PTT, Deputy President David Mabuza has been holding extensive discussions with military veterans and their associations in a bid to resolve the challenges.

“The engagement between government and the military associations has thus far been productive and cordial, even though discussions have been difficult. Therefore, in our view, there was no reason for this group to act in an unlawful manner as it transpired last night.

“The work of the PTT has proceeded well and has delivered on its commitment to continuous engagements with military veterans in a bid to resolve issues raised. We are able to confirm that our understanding is that all the parties were appreciative of the work that has been done to date,” Gungubele said.

According to Gungubele, some of government’s interventions for military veterans to date include:

  • A draft bill to amend the Military Veterans Act to deal with some of the discrepancies in the act such as the definition of a military veteran; provisions of healthcare benefits to the dependents of military veterans, and means tests criteria.
  • The review of the Special Pension Act.
  • The development of the Pension Policy.
  • Work around the Presidential pardons and expungement of criminal records for some of the members.
  • Social relief of distress and the housing for their members.
  • Involvement of some of the members in socio-economic activities.
  • Repatriation of the remains of military members and the erection of the monuments in the host countries and memorialisation of fallen heroes.
  • Support on education of the children of the combatants.
  • Provision of land for farming and human settlement.

Other interventions still being undertaken include more socio-economic support, a verification of the military veterans’ database and matters related to heritage.

Modise said government is still open to “hear every military vet” and engage their grievances.

She dismissed any suggestions that their lives felt threatened during the hostage ordeal.

“We are willing to go to any length to hear concerns of any citizen. I am prepared to have a meeting with any military veterans…including this grouping. We should be proud as South Africans that we can sit amongst our veterans…We did not feel in any danger,” she said.

However, Modise strongly condemned the incident and said she was “uncomfortable” with being held against her will.

“We were unhappy about being refused to leave when the meeting clearly had aborted. We do not think that any citizen, whether they had volunteered to fight for the liberation of this country, has any right to interfere with any individual.

“Every citizen, every South African, has the right to sit, to walk where they want and therefore, no legitimate demand of any citizen gives that citizen the right to deprive other citizens,” she said.

Modise said she will instruct her department to open an investigation into where resources meant for the benefit of military veterans have ended up.

“I am upfront with saying that with the amounts of resources poured into the Department of Military Veterans, our military veterans should be better off than where they are now.” – SAnews.gov.za

COVID-19 booster shot for immunocompromised South Africans

Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, has announced that the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on COVID-19 Vaccines has advised that additional doses be given to individuals with compromised immunity.

This includes those who are on long-term oral steroid therapy for autoimmune conditions and various treatments for haematological or immune malignancies.

The group will also comprise those with solid organ or bone marrow transplants, renal dialysis and primary immunological disorders.

“The advice is that these categories of patients be offered an additional dose over the prescribed normal, but this must be strictly under the referral by their medical doctor under their supervision,” Phaahla explained. 

Johns Hopkins Medicine defines a COVID-19 booster shot as an additional dose of a vaccine given after the protection provided by the original shot(s) has begun to decrease over time, which is designed to help people maintain their level of immunity for longer.

The Minister was on Friday addressing a media briefing on government efforts in the fight against COVID-19 and the national vaccination rollout programme.  

Healthcare workers

He also touched on the matter by some healthcare workers who were vaccinated under the Sisonke Study with Johnson & Johnson (J&J), who are calling to be considered for booster COVID-19 vaccine doses as eight months have passed since their first jab.

“The request is receiving attention and we are working with the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) on a possible approach,” he said.

In addition, he said the SAMRC has since applied to the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) to consider a J&J booster to follow the Sisonke Study.

According to the Minister, this will be subsequently used in the second study on the possible benefit of enhanced immunity with a booster of the otherwise one dose vaccine.

The first study commenced on 17 February 2021 and concluded on 17 May 2021, reaching over 470 000 healthcare workers in over 120 sites across the country.  

Mixing vaccines

He also spoke about another issue of people who come from other countries have received vaccines, which are not used now in South Africa.   

According to Phaahla these are either foreign nationals who reside in South Africa, had gone home, and received a vaccine such as AstraZeneca, Moderna, Sputnik or Sinovac.  

“We are not able to provide second doses where they are required and neither can we give them a vaccine certificate when they need one.”

However, the Minister said his department has received a recommendation that these individuals can be offered one dose of Pfizer to complete their two doses, as there is evidence that AstraZeneca and Moderna combine well with Pfizer.

“It’s believed that it’s safe with the others as well,” he added.

Phaahla has once again called on South Africans to come forward and contribute towards their health safety and that of their families, friends and co-workers by vaccinating.

“By so doing we can reclaim our lives as experienced by the 2 000 fans at the Bafana Bafana versus Ethiopia game of which I was honoured to be a part of.” – SAnews.gov.za

Children aged between 12 and 17 to be vaccinated

The Department of Health on Friday announced that children aged 12 to 17 years old are next in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine from next week.  

“We are now ready to start vaccinations for this group of young people from the age of 12 to 17 years,” said Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, during a media briefing on the national vaccination rollout programme.   

He told journalists that this follows a recommendation received from the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on COVID-19 Vaccines this week.

“This recommendation was also supported by Health MECs when we met on Tuesday afternoon during our statutory National Health Council,” he explained, adding that the decision was also backed by Cabinet on Wednesday.

The department said it will distribute the jabs from 20 October 2021 to allow necessary preparation on the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) registration system and other logistical preparations.

“We believe that this will come in handy as schools start their examinations, while some of them already advanced towards concluding the academic year and studying to prepare for the next academic year of 2022.”

However, according to the Minister, MAC has advised that a single dose of the Pfizer jab should be administered for now, as approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).

The MAC recommended the delay of administering the second dose due to concerns about rare cases of myocarditis – heart muscle inflammation, with a few cases reported across the globe after a second dose.

“The MAC has advised that while this is being monitored all over the world at this stage, there has been no indication that the first dose has any serious side effects. So for now, it will be just one dose while the studies are continuing,” he said.

“We believe that it will still offer significant protection, and once more information comes, we can space the second dose for the young people.”

In South Africa, adults receive two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

The Minister has assured parents and teenagers that even when these cases have been reported, they had no permanent risk.

“So we're just taking precaution in this case,” he stressed.

According to the Department of Health’s Acting Director-General, Dr Nicholas Crisp, there are about six million youngsters in the secondary school cohort.

“It would be good to get hold of at least half of those children before the school holidays.”

While the department said it was ready to go ahead with the rolling out of the vaccine to this age group, he said the EVDS still needs to be tweaked to allow children's consent and the notification of any different side effects that may be available.

“It's our intention for children to be vaccinated from Wednesday next week. That should give a few days for those that are writing [exams] to be vaccinated and have a couple of days to get over any mild side-effects that they may experience.”

According to Crisp, the system will be tested Monday and Tuesday, while registration is expected to be opened on the same day of rolling out of the vaccine on Wednesday.

He said children will be vaccinated at all public and private vaccination sites, the same as everybody else. – SAnews.gov.za

Cele makes women safety top priority ahead of festive season

Police Minister Bheki Cele has called on officers to prioritise the protection of women, children and all vulnerable groups, and intensify efforts to tackle gender-based violence (GBV).

Making the call during his address at the launch of the 2021/22 annual National Safer Festive Season campaign at the Brits showgrounds in the North West, the Minister said there was an urgent need to arrest the plague.

He said police need to go the extra mile to make sure that women, children, the elderly, people with disabilities and people of all sexual orientation are safe, respected and protected.

Said Cele: “Police, this is one area we will have to measure our success; when women and children of South Africa can move [freely] in the middle of the night without fear of assault, rape and being attacked by these unscrupulous... men.

“It is important that this [festive season] is one time we zoom in on men because it is of no use to say to women, ‘protect yourself’. We need to speak with perpetrators, we need to say to men: ‘Women have a right to live. They have human rights and they don’t need any assistance from you’. Yours as men is to give them the space to fly.”

Turning his attention to the perpetrators of violence, he said it is critical that they have discussions among themselves on how this crime will be brought to an end.

“I believe that men need to listen. Men need to take the lead and make sure that once men stop raping, there will be no women raped. It’s no use to say women should take care of themselves. 

“… [Women] need the space to be allowed to live their lives and lead themselves.”

Turning his attention to the consumption of alcohol in copious amounts during the festive season, Cele said this usually gives men the “false inclination” to abuse women. 

“Don’t drink, get drunk and then rape women. It’s important that police rise, walk tall and respond when women cry because they have been abused by these men.” 

He called on all officers, especially those in the Community Service Centres, to treat women who report abuse and violation with care and dignity. 

“Yours is to respond. Never send women back to negotiate. For the fact that they are at the police station, it’s because they’ve tried every other means. It’s not your job to tell them to go back and negotiate, you’re not a negotiator.

“Don’t [expose them to secondary victimisation]. Don’t ask women about the length of their skirts. It’s none of your business. Women have the right to dress as they wish.

“The aim is for the criminals to hear us, for the criminals to feel us, see us and run. It’s just a notice that we are here. It should not just be as if we came here and left (sic). 

“This is the time when we come together with communities to work together to make sure that the festive season is safe for South Africans and all the guests and those who have visited South Africa.” 

Asserting rule of law

Outlining the festive operational plan, National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole detailed a multi-pronged strategy, saying it will largely focus on stamping the authority of the State.

The strategy will also centre on a community-centred policing approach.

During the festive season, he said, police visibility will be heightened visibility and intensified.

“There will be integrated crime prevention operations to ensure the wellbeing of all residents and tourists in the country.”

The 2021/22 festive season will be the second year during which police will balance crime prevention and crime fighting with the enforcement of Disaster Management Act, as the country and the world battle the Coronavirus pandemic.

Operations are characterised by a strategic network consisting of a national crime combatting strategy, community policing strategy, national safer city strategy, the community and “Country in Blue” strategy, as well as the traditional policing concept. 

Having determined the possible crime threats of the festive season, Sitole said the national crime combating forum has identified six priority focus areas. 

The first is intensified operations focusing on GBV crimes, with the period coinciding with the country’s annual 16 Days of Activism campaign.

The second area of focus will be vigilance of money-related crimes, with the high rotation of money during this period on the rise.

Thirdly, during this time, SAPS will also enhance existing border security operations, with stronger attention to the possession of stolen property being smuggled out of the country, illegal border crossings, human trafficking and tracing of wanted suspects.

The fourth focus centres on the enforcement on legislation on the proliferation of illegal firearms. 

“We will also be enforcing the legislation applicable to liquor, second-hand goods and sport and creation facilities,” Sitole said.

The last two focus areas are strengthening partnerships with law enforcement agencies, with a clampdown on abandoned buildings, unlawful liquor sales and the illegal use of firecrackers during New Year’s Day celebrations.

Together with metro police departments and traffic police, strategy focuses on road safety. 

During this period, Sitole said high visibility will be the order of the day.

“Net operations will be conducted across the provinces on days and times aligned to the threat analysis for the duration of the festive season,” he said.

North West Premier Bushy Maape said the province is currently experiencing a rise in serious crime, with GBV, stock theft and illegal mining ranked high. – SAnews.gov.za

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