News in South Africa 10th January:
1. Mandatory vaccines take centre stage:
Mandatory vaccination policies have taken centre stage in the tertiary education sector as thousands of pupils and staff at these institutions prepare for the start of the 2022 academic year.
The University of Western Cape’s (UWC) Student Representative Council (SRC) said anxiety among students was mounting as universities enforced mandatory vaccine policies ahead of the 2022 academic year.
Last year, some universities adopted mandatory vaccine policies that were set to take effect from the beginning of the year to combat the spread of Covid-19 on campuses and among staff and students. However, some student leaders have opposed the decision, saying the policies would result in the exclusion of members of the university.
2. State of disaster 666 days old:
South Africa’s national state of disaster around the coronavirus pandemic is 666 days old as of Monday.
For nearly 22 months, since 15 March 2020, the government has kept up that state of disaster – and the sweeping powers it gives the executive branch to rule many parts of daily life by decree – on the basis of the “need to continue augmenting the existing legislation and contingency arrangements undertaken by organs of state to address the impact of the disaster.”
The official state of disaster must be renewed again this week, by Saturday, or it will lapse at the end of its latest month-to-month extension – which is required if a state of disaster is to last for more than three months. It can, at any time, be revoked, and can also be re-imposed, all by a simple gazetted declaration from co-operative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.
In November, Cabinet said the state of disaster would be extended into December because measures taken under it “continue to assist in the country’s fight to stop the spread of Covid-19.”
By 9 December, Cabinet was describing the aim of the national state of disaster as “responding to the special circumstances presented by the Covid-19 pandemic”.
South Africa has since then overtly moved away from a focus on reducing transmission, relaxing long-standing restrictions even while stressing “the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant”, on the basis of a low rate of hospitalisation.
The state of disaster is currently used as the legal underpinning for the regulations that require masks to be worn, and that ban drinking in public, and that limit indoor gatherings to a thousand people.
3. Relief grants and land expropriation:
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the annual 8 January statement at the ANC’s birthday celebrations, outlining several key regulatory changes which the ruling party plans to push through in 2022.
Of most relevance for the economic outlook was the ANC’s view of a ‘clear need for some form of income support for unemployed and poor South Africans’, the Bureau for Economic Research (BER) said in a research note on Monday (10 January).
“This supports our baseline view that the R350 per month social relief of distress (SRD) grant will be extended beyond March 2022 when it is set to end,” the group said.
Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu has indicated that a new basic income grant in South Africa will likely be phased in over several years, with her department currently pushing for an extension of the R350 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant as a baseline.
Zulu was responding in a written parliamentary Q&A in which she was asked about the government’s plans to introduce a basic income grant for adults between the ages of 18 -59.
The social development minister said she is of the view that the R350 SRD grant will provide a basis to introduce the Basic Income Grant, but that an amendment of existing legislation is required to formally introduce the new scheme.
Ramaphosa said that the ruling party also plans to move forward on its plans to introduce land expropriation without compensation in 2022.
This, despite the party failing in late 2021 to secure the necessary Parliamentary votes from opposition parties to amend section 25 of the Constitution, the BER said.
“The land reform process that we need to embark upon will promote economic development for the benefit of all. The ANC will implement its resolution on the expropriation of land without compensation despite the refusal of other parties in Parliament,” he said.
4. Eskom tariff increase decision:
Stakeholders have until Friday (January 14) to submit written comments to energy regulator Nersa on Eskom tariffs that may increase by more than 40%, according to Nersa’s latest pro forma implementation plans.
The week thereafter, Nersa will hold virtual public hearings for various provinces.
Eskom previously took issue with Nersa’s initial position, as reflected in the consultation paper stakeholders have been asked to comment on, that the increase may amount to as much as 54.35%.
The utility said in a statement issued on December 8, shortly after the consultation paper was issued: “Nersa has misrepresented Eskom’s revenue application to include various matters that are still under consideration by both the courts and by Nersa itself.”
Eskom chief financial officer Calib Cassim stated that Eskom has applied for an electricity price increase of 20.5% for the 2023 financial year, which commences on April 1, 2022.
Nersa’s latest pro forma implementation plans show two scenarios, with an average increase to standard customers of either 40.38% or 41.18%, depending on whether R3.461 billion regulatory clearing account balance arising from the 2019/20 tariff year is clawed back over one or two years.
Both Eskom’s and Nersa’s scenarios take as a point of departure the full allowable revenue Eskom is applying for in the next financial year, starting on April 1. Eskom has applied for R261.8 billion from standard customers. Including other customers, the amount increases to R279 billion.
It has to be noted that it is not at all a given that Eskom will get everything it is asking for.
The big difference between the two parties’ calculations is that Eskom only included the amounts to be clawed back in terms of the Regulatory Clearing Account (RCA) methodology, which Nersa has already approved in quantum as well as in terms of the timing of the liquidation of it.
Eskom therefore adds “only” R14.4 billion, whereas Nersa initially added R28.1 billion, including the R3.4 billion relating to 2019/20 that Nersa has determined after Eskom submitted its application, but for which the liquidation period has not yet been determined.
Nersa’s latest two scenarios make provision for the recovery of the R3.4 billion over one or two years.
Nersa has discretion to recover this amount over more than one tariff year and has often done so in the past.
Consumers can now have their say and should do what they can to ensure that Eskom gets only what it is legally entitled to – and that is to recover from tariffs its efficiency cost and a reasonable margin.
Not a penny more and not a penny less.
5. Sinkhole cause highway closure:
The SA National Roads Agency has closed the left lane on the N1 South just before Botha Avenue in Centurion as a precautionary measure after a sinkhole formed at the weekend.
According to Sanral, recent heavy rains in Gauteng led to the formation of the sinkhole.
Sanral said its team of engineers and a routine road maintenance contractor were assessing the situation to develop and implement a mitigation plan.
“We have also called in the expertise of geotechnical specialists to assist with the assessment,” said Progress Hlahla, Sanral northern region manager.
Meanwhile, spokesperson for the Tshwane Metro Police Isaac Mahamba said traffic flow has been affected by the lane closure but they are monitoring the situation and expect the road to be open soon.