News in South Africa 10th September:
1. Mandatory vaccines for Sanlam staff:
Insurer Sanlam is working on a policy for mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations for its staff, citing workplace safety and prevention of loss of life.
The company, which is Africa’s largest insurer, said the policy will apply to all employees in its South African operations, except in “exceptional” cases.
“We would prefer to vaccinate as many of our employees as possible. However, some people may have valid reasons for not vaccinating, such as medical conditions. Such exceptional cases will be addressed in terms of the group’s relevant policies,” the company told Fin24.
“The policy will apply to all employees of the group in South Africa.”
Sanlam cited workplace safety and prevention of loss life as the main reasons behind the planned policy.
Last week, Discovery, the country’s largest medical aid scheme, announced that it would make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for all staff from the start of next year.
The private education group Curro will also require that all staff be vaccinated by year-end. Last month, CEO Andries Greyling said mandatory vaccination was aimed at creating a safe teaching and learning space. The company may consider retrenching those who fail to oblige.
On Thursday, Sibanye-Stillwater’s CEO Neal Froneman told an investor briefing that the company was “seriously considering” enforcing vaccination of staff.
He said Discovery had done the right thing by issuing a mandatory directive.
“I think it is going to become a worldwide phenomenon that work in places where people have to congregate is only going to take place when everyone has been vaccinated,” said Froneman.
“As a principle, from a company point of view, it is something we are seriously considering.”
Mining companies are at the forefront of the vaccination rollout, with many using their workplace health facilities as vaccination centres. Sibanye has seven active vaccination sites across the country. The facilities have administered jabs to approximately 52 000 permanent employees, which is over 62% of the entire workforce.
South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccination rollout has opened to all adults, and so far almost 14.4 million people have been vaccinated, according to official data by the department of health.
2. Tax hikes to pay for grants:
The National Treasury is working with the presidency and the Department of Social Development to tackle the poverty gap, and this will include finding an alternative for the R350 SRD grant, says finance minister Enoch Godongwana.
Answering oral questions in the National Assembly on Wednesday (8 September), Godongwana said all options also need to be considered concerning their availability and their financial and revenue implications before a final decision can be made.
He said that in terms of achieving sustainable relief for vulnerable households, the baseline budget for a social assistance grant is R205 billion from 2022 to 2023.
While the government has formally committed to investigating the introduction of a basic income grant, the debate is likely to come back to affordability, scope, and already questionable long-term debt sustainability, said Jeff Schultz, senior economist at BNP Paribas South Africa.
“Paring back the current relief of distress grant of R350 a month to more than 10 million recipients when it is scheduled to end on 31 March 2022 will be challenging.
“Narrowing the scope of the current grant to only those seeking active employment, not making it eligible for existing grant recipients, could be one such compromise.”
Schultz said that this would still come at a non-negligible R25 billion per annum (0.5% GDP). However, Shultz said that this would fall well short of a broader basic income grant that would apply at a minimum of R585 a month at the cost of R75 billion – R150 billion – between 1.3% and 2.5% of GDP per annum.
“(This) is something which looks unaffordable without large and unpopular tax hikes.”
3. Elections could be “super spreader” events:
Doctors at Stellenbosch University warn that the local government elections set for the beginning of November could become a Covid-19 super spreader event unless the population gets vaccinated.
The medical experts stressed that a fourth wave of infections can be prevented if more people are vaccinated. The doctors are working in high care and ICU units at Tygerberg Hospital.
More than 95-percent of their current patients have not been fully vaccinated.
Virologist, professor Wolfgang Preiser believes everyone on the planet will eventually get the virus. “Those who are vaccinated are largely protected and if enough of us are immune then this will also help protect the others,” he said.
“Eventually in a few years from now, and I hope these won’t be painful and terrible years like we have been through now, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 will become a common cold virus.”
The proliferation of Covid-19 variants in Africa, partly attributed to the low rates of vaccination on the continent, could lead to vaccine-evading mutations that complicate attempts to end the pandemic, a group of 112 African and 25 international organisations said.
A study of genomes from 33 African nations and two “overseas territories,” published in the journal Science on Thursday, tracks the evolution of the pandemic across the continent and the emergence of a number of so-called Variants of Concern and Variants of Interest.
One of those, beta, spread around the globe earlier this year and rendered some vaccines partially ineffective.
The “slow rollout of vaccines in most African countries creates an environment in which the virus can replicate and evolve,” the organisations said. “This will almost certainly produce additional VOCs, any of which could derail the global fight against Covid-19.”
While more than half of the population of the US and over 60% of people living in the European Union are fully vaccinated, just 3.2% of Africa’s 1.2 billion people have been fully dosed.
4. Ransomware hits government:
Two more South African government agencies, the Department of Justice and the South African National Space Agency, have been hit by ransomware attacks.
The ransomware attacks come just months after state port operator Transnet’s operations were crippled by a cyber attack that tore through its IT system, bringing exports and imports to a near standstill.
With more people working from home and relying on often insecure internet connections, cyber incursions have become more frequent in SA and around the world.
In a statement on Thursday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said its systems had been breached on Monday evening. This led to “all information systems being encrypted and unavailable to both internal employees as well as members of the public”.
“All electronic services provided by the DOJ are affected, including issuing of letters of authority, bail services, email and the departmental website,” the department said.
The department said its various units had resorted to manual systems, and that court hearings would continue around the country. In the statement, the DOJ refers to phishing emails and “drive-by downloading” as possible origins of the cyber attack. The DOJ did not indicate whether a ransom had been demanded.
The hit on the DOJ follows a cyber attack on the SA National Space Agency, Sansa, which saw more than 14 gigs of data stolen by a group called CoomingProject, which has posted some of the filched data online.
5. Potato prices spike:
Potato prices in South Africa became more than 20% more expensive over the past week due to a low supply of the staple vegetable. Limpopo continues to reel from frost damage that affected crops at the end of July.
Last week, the average weekly price for the staple vegetable climbed by as much as 22% to R66,43 for a 10kg bag.
The price is 7% higher than last year at the same time, Dr Johnny van der Merwe, managing director of agricultural information group Agrimark Trends (AMT), said in his weekly YouTube video that tracks the market prices for fresh produce in South Africa.
Limpopo, a major producing region of potatoes for this time of year, experienced icy weather in July that resulted in frost that left some crops damaged.
By the end of August, farmers were sending lower volumes to the fresh produce markets, and in turn, causing a spike in prices for some vegetable commodities such as spinach and peppers.
Last week, potatoes delivered to markets by farmers decreased sharply, by 14%, Van Der Merwe said.
The recent frost in Limpopo is an added blow to the prices of potatoes which had already been on the rise. In June, prices for a 10kg bag soared by as much as 12% to R56.53, as the industry was still recovering from heavy rainfall in January and cold weather conditions in the northern parts of the country.
The rainfalls came during a critical planting season. They simultaneously weighed on production, which resulted in weaker potato harvests in east and west Free State and some parts of the Northern Cape, all of which were the significant sources of potatoes at that time of year.