PHUMLA WILLIAMS: Fighting COVID-19 – district by district


Fighting the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) requires an army of dedicated South Africans, both in the medical fraternity and from all strata of society.

All healthcare workers, virologists, immunologists, epidemiologists, members of the South African Police Service and South African National Defence Force, and millions of units of personal protective equipment (masks, sanitisers, gloves and others), are part of this army.

The trenches of battle are spread across homes; shops; public transport amenities; classrooms; places of worship; healthcare facilities, mines and innumerable other settings where COVID-19 takes hold as it piggybacks on human movement and interaction.

However, the weapons and tactics deployed emanate from strategies developed jointly by government, civil society and business, based on consistent and intensive consultation.

COVID-19 is an existential crisis that has revealed pre-existing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in societies around the world.

In our case, the collaborative intervention that has presented itself to date emphasises our resolve to the District Development Model (DDM) approach.

A year ago, President Cyril Ramaphosa launched this approach, inspired by Khawuleza (Hurry up) – a call to action.

DDM is an approach to accelerate, align and integrate service delivery under a single development plan per district or metro. Each district’s single development plan is developed jointly by national, provincial and local government as well as business, labour and community.

The model was inaugurated in Lusikisiki in the OR Tambo District of the Eastern Cape, as a benchmark for rural development. In eThekwini in KwaZulu-Natal, the DDM was used as an exploration for how it could work in a metropolitan setting while in the Waterberg District in Limpopo, it focused on the development of mining as the key economic driver in the region.

Key to this model is the ability of government to address service delivery interventions in a coherent, integrated and supportive manner. It is a collaborative approach to the service delivery interventions of government.

Each district plan ensures that national priorities such as economic growth and employment, improvements to living conditions, the fight against crime and corruption, and better education outcomes, are tackled collaboratively.

Amid this integrated approach to service delivery, COVID-19 presented unprecedented challenges. Currently, the three spheres of government are challenged to respond swiftly and coherently to health-related conditions in infection hotspots around the country.

Government needs to intervene so as to save lives, protect livelihoods and stave off the paralysing psychological impacts of fear, paranoia, fake news and general insecurity.

As an additional contribution at national level, the National Coronavirus Command Council has resolved that a number of Ministers and Deputy Ministers will be deployed to bolster pandemic management teams particularly in areas that have been identified as hotspots.

Contrary to what a weekend paper alleged this week, the nationally appointed teams are in no way taking over the role of the provincial or municipal leadership.

True to the spirit and operation of the DDM, these teams will enable government to have a better sense of what needs to be done. Also, they will complement what is already being done at provincial level.

This collaborative approach at the local level is meant to ensure the country quickly stabilises hotspots by pooling human, financial and logistical support. Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize has emphasised that for government to be impactful with its preventative measures, it has to implement these measures at the district level.

In putting together all these measures, it has to be appreciated that South Africa remains a unitary state.

National government has a responsibility to support all the provinces in the fight to stem the infections of COVID-19.

It is for this reason that the President, accompanied by the Minister of Health and other Ministers, has undertaken oversight visits to a number of provinces, to establish their state of readiness to deal with the spike of the infections and to establish the kind of support required.

The DDM approach to dealing with COVID-19 will ensure that government and civil society jointly identify the factors fuelling outbreaks in hotspots and respond jointly in hotspots and broader districts.

Government’s differentiated approach in local theatres of battle will result in the collective development of battle plans and the deployment of weapons and tactics – therapeutic and behavioural – that are best suited to local conditions.

The application of the DDM approach, particularly in areas identified as hotspots, will ensure an effective and targeted approach by all spheres of government. It can never be seen as usurping powers of any province or municipality. The powers of these spheres of government are enshrined in our Constitution.

This is the time for all people in South Africa, including the whole of government, to rally together to save lives and livelihoods.

Phumla Williams is the director-general of GCIS.