News in South Africa 10th August:
1. Covid death toll exceeds reports:
Health officials say the number of deaths that can be attributed to Covid-19 in South Africa is likely multiple times higher than what is officially reported.
A cursory look at the latest report on weekly deaths in SA, published by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) in collaboration with the University of Cape Town’s Actuarial Research unit, calls attention to the increase in deaths in SA to unprecedented levels.
It immediately shows up an anomaly between government’s official figures of Covid-19 deaths and thousands of other unusual deaths.
The latest figures from the Department of Health – issued on Friday (August 6) – show that 74 352 people lost their lives due to Covid-19 since the first reported deaths at the end of March 2020, but the SAMRC says there have been 222 500 “excess deaths” from natural causes since May 3, 2020.
The report states that there is no universal definition, or understanding, of what is meant by excess mortality, explaining it as a “term used in epidemiology and public health that refers to the number of deaths that are occurring above what we would normally expect”.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) uses the term to describe mortality above the expected mortality rate, when there isn’t a crisis causing unusual deaths. During a crisis, whether a violent uprising or a pandemic, the deaths above this normal death rate would be classified as excess deaths.
The immediate indication that Covid-19 might be the cause of excess deaths in SA is the close correlation between the periodical increase in registered Covid-19 deaths and the increase in the total death rate.
2. Hazardous Air pollution in JHB:
Johannesburg’s ongoing air pollution problem has been particularly bad in the first week of August, with both local and international assessors flagging hazardous air quality which poses serious health risks, especially during a pandemic.
The dire state of Johannesburg’s air is not a new phenomenon. The World Health Organisation reported that air pollution killed almost 20,000 South Africans in 2013 – a yearly death toll which had remained uncomfortably high since the 1990s – with the country’s most polluted air identified in Tshwane and Johannesburg.
More recently, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) launched an investigation into elevated levels of sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide in Mpumalanga and Gauteng.
Gauteng’s air quality, which is affected by nearby coal-fired power stations, refineries, and industries, degrades even further in cold weather. This year’s winter season, which has been especially brutal, has worsened the quality of air across Johannesburg, Midrand, and even Tshwane.
“High-pressure systems present very calm conditions, so you don’t have a lot of wind that can either disperse or dilute the pollution and that then causes a very high level of pollution on the surface of the earth,” Dr Raeesa Moolla, senior lecturer in physical geography University of the Witwatersrand, told Business Insider South Africa.
“And that’s why, particularly in winter, because of the persistent high-pressure system on the Highveld, we have very high levels of pollution.”
Data gathered by the South African Air Quality Information Systems (SAAQIS), which tracks pollution levels in the country’s major cities, confirms that Johannesburg and its surrounds have been blanketed by industrial smog in recent weeks.
Although SAAQIS’ downtown station – in Newtown – has been offline, its nearest bases in Diepkloof and Jabavu in Soweto recorded a spike in pollutants since the end of July.
3. Medupi power station explodes:
Energy experts say that the problems for the Medupi power station are far from over and that the explosion at one of the station’s units this past weekend was proof enough that the build is nowhere near complete.
Eskom employees were working on the Unit 4 generator, cleaning a part of the mechanism containing hydrogen, when an explosion occurred.
Energy expert Chris Yelland said that this proved that Medupi was nowhere close to being fully operational, despite an announcement last week that its 14-year construction had been completed. “There’s a lot of work to be done, fixing design faults and execution faults. Eskom said that it’s going to take another two years or so. And then there’ still the gas desulfurisation plant, which is going to only be ready by about 2030, the plant is a long way from complete,” he said.
Information on the explosion is scarce, but the experts said it would take some time to get the affected unit back in action.
On Monday, Eskom assured customers that the blast would not result in rolling blackouts.
4. SARS measures for cryptocurrency:
The South African Revenue Service (SARS) is tightening tax collection on cryptocurrency transactions, which makes it important to distinguish between events that will trigger income tax rates or Capital Gains Tax rates, say legal experts at Webber Wentzel.
“SARS is increasingly auditing taxpayers’ crypto holdings and trading activities,” the firm said. “It has also requested information from certain South African crypto exchanges, including Luno, about users on the platform and their transactions.”
Webber Wentzel said that crypto is defined as a “financial instrument” in the Income Tax Act, as opposed to “currency” which would have excluded crypto gains from the ambit of capital gains tax (CGT).
This means that the intention of the taxpayer, supported by objective factors such as length of holding and frequency of trades, would determine whether the crypto gains are revenue, taxed at a maximum of 45%, or capital in nature which is taxed at a maximum of 18%.
The disposal of crypto as a financial instrument is a taxable event.
It may, however, be hard for taxpayers to prove that their crypto investment gains fall within the CGT net, as there is no capital deeming rules in the Income Tax Act for crypto, said Webber Wentzel.
“The gain when one crypto (A) is exchanged for another (B) is the difference between the market value of B and the acquisition cost of A,” Webber Wentzel said. “If A was held or acquired on revenue account, the difference will be taxed as income (45%). Otherwise, if held on capital account, the difference will be subject to CGT (18%).”
As it can be difficult to determine the market value and acquisition cost of crypto in rand, Webber Wentzel suggests that the spot rate should be used for the transactions.
Schedules of rates and transactions should be compiled on the calculated gains or losses on the tax return, it said. “The same principles would apply where the taxpayer has purchased goods or services with crypto.”
5. More Zuma delays:
There has been yet another delay for Jacob Zuma’s appearance in court for corruption charges, with the former president’s legal team requesting a postponement due to Zuma’s ill health.
Zuma was admitted to hospital in the last week, following his arrest and imprisonment for being in contempt of the Constitutional Court.
Security officials were warned this week to be on high alert for the court proceedings. Zuma supporters were threatening to gather in numbers.
“Tomorrow’s postponement does not postpone, or impact on, other peaceful and lawful protest activities that may be planned by various organisations and groupings in support of the immediate release of President Zuma, at different times and locations throughout the country.”
They will still gather in Mangaung on Wednesday for the appearance of former Free State Premier Ace Magashule.
The court is expected to hear details of why Zuma is not well enough to attend court when it sits on Tuesday.