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Coronavirus Eastern Cape

Provinces in war of words over travel to funerals

Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane, left, and Western Cape Transport MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela. (Photos: Gallo Images / Beeld / Deon Ferreira | Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Jaco Marais)

Over the past few weekends, taxis have lined up for kilometres at a checkpoint between Aberdeen and Graaff-Reinet, with hundreds of people having to be screened. Most were coming to the province for funerals. 

Eastern Cape Premier, Oscar Mabuyane, has again raised his concern over the risk to the province from people travelling from the Western Cape for funerals.

However, the Western Cape MEC for Transport and Public Works, Bonginkosi Madikizela, said the premier’s constant “attacks” do not bode well for continued co-operative governance. 

Over the past few weekends, taxis have lined up for kilometres at a checkpoint between Aberdeen and Graaff-Reinet, with hundreds of people having to be screened. Most were coming to the province for funerals. (See supplied video)

Two weeks ago the police uncovered a syndicate creating fake permits for funerals. 

Mabuyane said they were also expecting the return of about 10,000 seasonal workers from the Western Cape who are allowed to come home in the seven-day grace period under Level 4 lockdown regulations. 

Many of the seasonal workers are from the Ceres area that has been identified as one of the infection hotspots in the Western Cape. 

Mabuyane added that he remained concerned over those who travel to the Eastern Cape for funerals and said in some cases coffins containing “infected bodies” were transported with the mourners. 

He said that they were watching this virus getting into the townships in the Western Cape and “we are concerned that the travellers are bringing it home”. 

The Eastern Cape Transport, Safety and Liaison MEC, Weziwe Tikana-Gxothiwe, said they were receiving assistance from the defence force to man roadblocks at Middelburg, Aberdeen and Tsitsikamma – entry points into the province from the Western Cape.

“We are seeing an influx of traffic from the Western Cape. We are screening as much as possible but recently we received information that people are now using the back roads. We have moved law enforcement officers to Dordrecht. There is a gravel road there. We wait there for them at night,” she said. 

She said it was an additional problem that travellers were not observing the  8pm curfew imposed by Level 4 lockdown regulations: “They think they can travel through the night.” 

Mabuyane admitted that as a government they “have dropped the ball” in the big areas like Nelson Mandela Bay but were catching up and had opened a 1,000-bed quarantine site at the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium and will on Tuesday 5 May open a 4,000-bed field hospital. 

“Province-wide, we have screened more than 700,000 people. It is going very well. We are chasing the virus. We are looking for the virus. Wherever it is, we should be able to find it.” 

He said their strategy to “lock down” villages like Port St Johns, Lady Grey and Barkly East, where there are outbreaks, had proved successful, with many people having recovered. 

“We have areas that are giving us nightmares and sleepless nights. You don’t dream normal. This is directly attacking us. Our people are so vulnerable.”  

He said with the virus now “in every geographic corner”, it was difficult to manage. 

“Tracing teams have been going all out but they are trailing behind in Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City to get in touch with all the contacts listed.” 

“So far, so good,” he said of the province’s overall response to the outbreak. “We are not in a competition with anybody.”

The Western Cape MEC of Transport and Public Works, Bonginkosi Madikizela, said the province was prepared to work collaboratively with the Eastern Cape government. 

“We understand the Eastern Cape’s shortcomings and ineptness but we can’t accept this constant attack and this doesn’t bode well for co-operative governance. Many people who reside in Western Cape are coming from the Eastern Cape and they prefer to be buried in their home province. The regulations clearly stipulate that people can travel for funerals. 

“The majority of people who are travelling to the Eastern Cape have valid permits. There are always people who break the law. Our traffic officers apprehend, fine and jail those who break the law. We do acknowledge that there are transport operators who use alternative escape routes and avoid the main roads but they get caught along the way. 

“I understand the fears of the Eastern Cape government given their incapacity in many respects, but they must not use this pandemic to create the Berlin Wall between these two historically interconnected provinces. 

“Since the commencement of the national lockdown, a total of 1,037 roadblocks has taken place in the Western Cape as part of planned joint operations with all applicable role players. 

“The Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works is providing resources to eight fixed 24/7 major interprovincial roadblocks as well as to nine secondary vehicle checkpoints which are located at strategic points to achieve the desired objectives. 

“Provincial traffic service also deploys normal patrol duties to monitor driver behaviour to ensure compliance and to monitor all secondary routes to ensure that no deviations occur to miss these roadblocks and vehicle checkpoints. 

“A total of 21,076 vehicles were inspected in line with the Disaster Management Regulations and all other applicable legislation and a total of 422 persons were arrested due to not adhering to the regulations. This figure continues to grow daily. 

“The seasonal workers in question originate from the Eastern Cape. There’s nothing in the regulations that compels us to test them when they return home. They are now going back home because the season ended. We are not dumping them in the Eastern Cape,” he said. 

He added the province is not compelled to test the workers before they go home. 

“The Western Cape Cabinet today [4 May] confirmed the guidelines and protocols for the transport of essential seasonal workers in the agriculture sector from the Western Cape to other provinces. 

“The guidelines require that the following documents accompany every essential worker in circumstances where they return to their primary homes in other provinces after the completion of their contract: 

“A permit that is completed by the employer for each essential worker rendering seasonal work; every essential seasonal worker must have an identity document; proof that each essential seasonal worker had been screened for Covid-19 before getting on the vehicle, a copy of the employment contract and completed U119 forms for each season worker whose contract has expired.”  

He said the owners and drivers of minibus taxis are required to ensure that they have sufficient hand sanitiser in each vehicle, that each essential worker wears a face mask and the applicable regulations on carrying capacity during Level 4 lockdown regulations are adhered to. 

“Under no circumstances should seasonal workers who tested positive for Covid-19 be allowed to travel from the Western Cape to neighbouring provinces or regions. The Western Cape government further recommends that the receiving province screens essential seasonal workers before allowing them to proceed with their travel,” he added. 

Mabuyane’s spokesperson, Mvusi Sicwetsha, said the province wants to ensure that every person who enters it has proper permits.

“We have seen a number of fake permits. Police officers from both provinces cracked open the production of fake permits and this has reduced numbers of traffic in some points.

He said there were already a high number of workers from Ceres in quarantine in government facilities. 

“This is to check their status before they could be released. The decision was made because the province wants to ensure that those who have the virus are identified for isolation and management. We can’t say they are the source of the virus. It is critical for us to test. There has been a collaborative effort by a number of government departments to attend to these workers.

“We want to appeal to provinces and companies where workers and people travelling to EC under the allowed circumstances, to do on-site screening and testing before people could be allowed to travel to the Eastern Cape. This is critical to curbing transmission,” Sicwetsha added. DM/MC

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