KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala. File picture: Nqobile Mbonambi/African News Agency (ANA)
KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala. File picture: Nqobile Mbonambi/African News Agency (ANA)

A year of fighting for survival against Covid-19

By Siboniso Mngadi Time of article published Feb 14, 2021

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Durban - As the one-year anniversary of the first reported coronavirus case in South Africa approaches, the Sunday Tribune interviewed KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala to reflect on the Covid-19 ravaged-year that has passed.

The first confirmed case of the coronavirus in the country was reported on March 5. It happened to be that of a KZN father of two from Hilton, who had returned from a holiday in Italy. That was when Zikalala’s daily routine turned around.

Live streaming, zoom meetings and sleepless nights became the new normal for him.

He has been at the helm in the fight against the pandemic as chairperson of the provincial command council.

He engages with district councils and reports to the national command council chaired by President Cyril Ramaphosa on every progress.

KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala holds a media briefing in Durban. | Picture: Supplied

Zikalala said the sudden change had impacted on the plans he had for the province.

“When the first case was reported, KZN became a blueprint and had to lead the way.

“It demanded of us to rise to the occasion and life suddenly changed. We had to adjust to the new normal, we start a day very early and we do not know when it will end.

“The fight against the virus became a key priority which forced us to put everything in abeyance," he said through a virtual interview.

He praised the healthcare and frontline workers who will be the first to be injected when the vaccine is expected to arrive in the province on Valentine’s Day.

He acknowledged support from faith-based and civil organisations as well as the business community, who he described as “reliable forces” in terms of consultations and decision making.

He said consultation became key in this fight as they navigated through the uncharted journey.

Zikalala admitted the pandemic had “ruined” his plans, adding the province had already faced budget challenges before the onset of Covid-19.

“Some strategic priorities had been delayed, not because of resources. We had a plan on social cohesion and moral regeneration to build harmony and fight crime. But it had to be put on hold as we could not meet with the people.

“We had programmes to reach out to underprivileged people who are living in squalid conditions in farm areas. Sadly, we have not been able to address those issues in the way we would want to," he said.

Zikalala also expressed a "personal draining" experience as he had lost colleagues and fellow leaders through Covid-19.

Among those was Ricardo Mthembu who was the ANC KZN spokesperson and Bheki Ntuli, MEC for Transport and Community Liaison.

Just this week Zikalala’s political party, the ANC, was mourning the loss of four leaders due to the virus. Zwelifile Ntuli, Nompumelelo Ntshangase, Nonhle Mkhulisi and Alfred Duma died a few days apart.

“I felt like I'm failing at some point and we asked ourselves in the command council whether we were failing or it was just an escalation of numbers. But I believe as a collective we have done all in our power to limit the impact.

“It has affected me personally, I have lost friends, colleagues and comrades and MPLs across political parties. It has affected us in terms of service delivery, I won't lie. We lost people who were very capable in terms of leading and understanding the current task. We have suffered, the municipalities who have lost leaders are at risk of instability,” he said.

With regards to filling the vacancies left by the departed leaders, Zikalala said they were under a very stressful period, adding that almost every week they lost leaders. He said although filling the vacancies was a priority they had to pay respect to the departed comrades by considering capable leaders to fill their gaps.

On the financial strain, he lamented about the budget deficit which had forced his administration to reduce spending.

He said funds had to be reprioritised to the health department for the provision of makeshift hospitals, more staff and PPEs.

Asked what was being done to prevent fraud and corruption with regard to the vaccines, Zikalala said there were preventative measures in place.

“We are more proactive this time, unlike before where we had to swiftly react after the reports. We have capable management that will be deployed across the province. All systems are in place including security.

“We are happy with the work of law enforcement with regards to the investigation. We are monitoring the investigations that are taking place in all the municipalities,” he said.

Sunday Tribune

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