Parliamentarian asks was Interferon acquisition necessary?


A question Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula’s Heberon task team has to ask is how many COVID-19 infections and deaths are there in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF)?

This, Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentarian Kobus Marais believes, will be a valuable pointer as to whether the national defence force needed to acquire the Cuban drug to boost soldiers’ immune systems for additional protection while on Operation Notlela duty.

He told defenceWeb questions on the number of infections and deaths were not responded to. “Working through the Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) brought the same outcome,” he said. defenceWeb experienced a similar response with questions to the SANDF Directorate: Corporate Communications going unanswered. A reliable source in the military indicated it was “quite possible” information on COVID-19 deaths and infections are treated as “battlefield intelligence” not for public consumption.

The shadow defence and military veterans minister is of the opinion the answers or non-answers given appear to indicate “the retrospective lame excuse for the urgency to ignore laws and regulations as regards importing the Cuban drug are overstated and exaggerated”.

In response to a Parliamentary question, Mapisa-Nqakula said no military personnel, whether soldiers or the various military healthcare disciplines deployed during Operation Notlela, had to self-quarantine after showing COVID-19 symptoms.

This was also seized on by Marais in his quest to establish the reason for importing a drug not registered in South Africa at considerable expense, said to be in the region of R260 million.

“The Minister’s reply to my question again brings into doubt the quality and credibility of their (presumably the Military Command Council of the national defence force) information as well as who recommended and resolved to ‘smuggle’ the drug into South Africa.

“There is no indication of any biological warfare threat, even after almost 12 months of deployment (as part of emergency regulations in terms of the national state of disaster),” Marais said, adding “more and more” misrepresentations were being exposed. This is in light of SANDF Surgeon General Lieutenant General Zola Dabula “apparently not prepared to answer my questions (during a Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans meeting in February)”. At that meeting Marais’ attempts to establish exactly who recommended the unregistered Cuban Interferon be acquired, were not answered.

Mapisa-Nqakula told Marais: “SANDF deployed members, when on or off duty, follow and apply the same laid down COVID-19 health protocols applicable to everyone in South Africa (scanning, screening, testing, sanitising, hand washing, social distancing). They are regularly provided with the necessary PPEs (personal protective equipment) required, regular information and awareness is conducted”.

Her response went further saying “no SANDF members deployed during the lockdown period were placed under self-quarantine. Members follow and apply the same COVID-19 protocols applicable to everyone in South Africa with regard to self-quarantine/isolation measures applicable for contact, exposure to virus infection situations or infection; to wit, re-testing and declaration of status before reintegration”.

While the defence portfolio committee awaits further information from the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), the National Department of Health and the SANDF’s SA Military Health Service (SAMHS), Minister Mapisa-Nqakula’s three-person task team is investigating “the veracity of allegations” around the acquisition of Interferon B from Cuba.

The team, comprising former Intelligence Director General Zola Ngcakani, Cassius Lubisi (former Director General in the Presidency) and former National Intelligence Agency (NIAS) Director General Billy Masethla, has six months to investigate and report to the Minister. Marais is willing to assist the task team wherever possible.

The report will make “recommendations to address any wrongdoing uncovered whether of a criminal or disciplinary nature and include broader recommendations on how to stop such behaviour and prevent it going forward should the allegations be confirmed”.