News in South Africa 10th March:

1. Infrastructure collapsing under R79bn debt:

By the end of December 2022, the total debt owed by around 100 municipalities to Eskom totalled R56.3 billion. Just 15 months prior, at the end of September 2021, total municipal debt to Eskom was R40.9 billion.

Infrastructure collapsing under R79bn debt
Photo by Parij Photography

That’s an increase of nearly 40% in little over a year. The situation is at breaking point.

Eskom funding constraints are well-known and desperately needed maintenance of its generation plant is underfunded because of this growing debt pile.

However, this is not just an Eskom problem. Journalists this week reported that struggling municipalities owe water boards across the country a total of R14 billion – nearly R10 billion of which is overdue.

An additional R8.4 billion is owed to the state’s Water Trading Entity out of a total debt of R23 billion, including money owed by water boards to the entity. This was revealed in a briefing to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Water and Sanitation on Tuesday.

So that’s a total of R78.7 billion of debt that is owed by municipalities for bulk purchases of electricity and water. It is incredibly likely that this figure is in excess of R80 billion by now.

This is clearly unsustainable.

2. Ramaphosa’s plan for SOEs:

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) would cease to exist in the future as state-owned entities are planned to revert to their respective departments.

Speaking during a national assembly Q&A, Ramaphosa said that a new holding company is in the works to oversee SOEs in the country to give ‘line of sight on what’s happening’ within the respective entities.

He added that legislation is currently being prepared to allow for the establishment of a holding company to standardise procedures relating to SOEs. No set timeline was provided.

The DPE, currently headed by Pravin Gordhan, is a shareholder representative for the government that oversees several state-operated companies engaged in energy, logistics, defence, mining and more.

Eskom is the most notable company under its wing; however, the department also encompasses the national freight and logistics company Transnet, the state defence company Denel, and South African Airways.

3. Government can’t predict when load shedding will end:

Newly appointed Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa believes government will be ambitious in its plans to stop load shedding, but he is not yet ready to say when that is expected to happen.

“Load shedding, and I want to emphasise [this] on national TV we are going to resolve it… [but] it is highly irresponsible to just shoot from the hip and say this date, that date,” Ramokgopa said in an interview with the SABC on Thursday evening.

SA experienced over 200 days of load shedding last year, and a continuous stretch of 68 days this year, thus far. 

Ramokgopa said he would come back to “the people of the country” with an answer after working with Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana, other ministers in the Cabinet, municipalities and business.

In January, Mantashe told eNCA that it would take between six to 12 months. Four days later Gondongwana told Reuters that in “12-18 months we will be able to say load shedding is a thing of the past”.

When asked by host Samkele Maseko if he would resolve load shedding before the 2024 general elections, or face the ANC accusing him of “failing”, Ramokgopa said that he was not going to be “expedient”.

“We are going to be ambitious, [but] we are going to be realistic. Some of things I will be saying to the general public will be unpalatable. I am sure everyone listening to you wants me to say ‘on X date load shedding will be done’. I am saying give me an opportunity … we will come back to you.”

4. Faecal pollution severely contaminates rivers, dams:

South Africa’s rivers and dams have a “severe” problem of microbial contamination from faecal pollutants; 53% of the sampled sites are a risk to people’s health risk if crops eaten raw are irrigated using this water, a new government report states.

Only 42% indicated a low risk, according to the department of water and sanitation’s National State of Water Report 2022

Full-contact recreational activities such as swimming, washing laundry and baptisms “should be discouraged in these water resources that are highly polluted”. The report found that 64% of the sampled sites were unsuitable for recreational activities and that using these sites “would be associated with a high risk of infections”.

The contamination of water resources by faecal pollutants poses significant risks to human and animal health because numerous pathogens are associated with faeces. The report noted that faecal coliforms and E coli are the best indicators for the assessment of recent faecal pollution and indicate the potential presence of pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and parasites. 

“Surface water resources are usually not suitable for domestic activities such as drinking without any sort of treatment and this is evident in the data,” the report said. “The microbiological results indicate that all the collected samples had high microbial contamination and the water from that source was not suitable for drinking.”

This would pose a high risk of infection to humans if water was consumed directly from the source. Treating the water at the household level can reduce the potential health risk in situations where water is not severely polluted. There was a low risk of infection if water was consumed after limited treatment in 42% of the sampled sites. 

“The findings are in line with what we are seeing and what we are finding across the country,” said Ferrial Adam, the manager of WaterCAN, an initiative of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), the anti-corruption advocacy nonprofit. The amount of sewage and pollution flowing into the country’s rivers is unacceptable, she said. 

“There has to be greater urgency to deal with this. What we need from the DWS [department of water and sanitation] are the plans to improve the situation but also stronger measures to hold those responsible accountable — whether they are charged criminally, dismissed. We need greater testing, including issues such as hepatitis, and we need to be testing fresh food products that are being irrigated with polluted water.”

5. SA solar boom:

In February 2023, around 1,073MW of renewable energy projects were registered with Nersa across the country – almost two-thirds of the 1,664MW registered in 2022.

These projects were mostly solar, and most were registered by the property, retail, farming, mining and energy industries.

South Africa is expected to see even more projects in development following the launch of new tax incentives on 1 March.

All information sourced from articles posted by: Moneyweb, BusinessTech, Fin24, Mail & Guardian, and News24.

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