News in South Africa 11th August:

1. Unvaccinated increase chance of new variants:

Health experts warn that populations that remain unvaccinated against Covid-19 increase the risk of more variants developing.

Unvaccinated increase chance of new variants
Image taken by: Andrea Piacquadio

The World Health Organization is already thinking past the Greek alphabet for potential variant names, saying that the longer the virus remains in high transmission, the more opportunity it has to change and evolve.

The only way to combat this is by vaccinating huge groups of people. The risk is that variants resistant to the immuno-response from vaccines could emerge.

There are currently 11 named variants, four of which are most prominent.

Current Covid-19 figures:

In South Africa, there have been 6,590 new cases of Covid-19, taking the total reported to 2,546,742. Deaths have reached 75,201 (+189), while recoveries have climbed to 2,319,803, leaving the country with a balance of 151,758 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered is 8,621,932 (+19,808).

2. Record new companies registered:

The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) reports that a record 510 000 companies were registered in 2020, a 32% leap over the 385 000 new companies registered in 2019.

That, says CIPC Commissioner Advocate Rory Voller, is not unusual in times of economic hardship.

“We saw this increase in registrations in 2008/9 during the financial crisis. It tells us that people are forming companies out of economic necessity. Many lost their jobs or found themselves working reduced hours or doing part-time work. We have noticed when this happens that people start forming their own companies in order to generate an income,” says Voller.

Those who are registering companies most likely intend to operate in the formal sector, but millions more who have lost either income or jobs end up in the unrecorded informal sector as a means of raw survival.

The Small Enterprise Foundation (SEF) provides financial and educational support to informal sector operators. CEO John de Wit says its research confirms the CIPC data suggesting many people who lost their jobs or who are now working reduced hours have entered the informal sector as a way to survive economic hardship. The arrival of new entrants to the informal sector has intensified competition and forced many to shift either location or product lines.

“I would agree that when times are tough people don’t just sit on their hands, do nothing and hope someone else will save them. South Africans are very entrepreneurial and when the going gets tough, they get going,” says De Wit.

De Wit says while not particularly dramatic, the increase is nevertheless symptomatic of overall demand from new entrants to the informal sector, and might have been higher had SEF staff been able to move more freely through rural areas.

3. Karpowership gets an extension:

Energy minister Gwede Mantashe was emphatic that he would brook no delay from eight companies lined up as preferred bidders to crank out “emergency power” to South Africa for the next 20 years.

“The preferred bidders are required to reach financial close by no later than the end of July 2021. Due to the urgency to bring power online, this date is not negotiable. It is for the preferred bidders to manage all the risks to reach financial close,” the national mineral resources and energy minister said in a media statement on 18 March.

But… things seem to have changed. Five months down the line, that non-negotiable deadline has been stretched out to 30 September – with no official explanation on why the Istanbul-based Karpowership floating power ships company has been handed another Get Out Of Jail Free card from Mantashe’s department.

In response to journalist questions, the mineral resources and energy department simply confirmed the two-month deadline extension to Karpowership. But it was silent on the question: “What are the reasons for extending this deadline?”

All the same, energy giant Shell South Africa confirmed last month that it was hoping to score big from supplying liquified natural gas exclusively to Karpowership for the two-decade floating power ship deal. It was “extremely concerned” about the delays in approving the project.

Mantashe has mostly kept out of the firing line, but on 7 July he hinted at the possibility of special treatment for the Turks and local empowerment groups when he said: “If it’s emergency procurement we must behave as [if] it’s an emergency and not deal with it like it’s any other contract that is given…”

4. Relief for looting victims:

Employment and Labour minister Thulas Nexsi has established a temporary relief scheme aimed at giving relief to vulnerable workers impacted by the recent looting and unrest.

In a government gazette published on Tuesday (10 August), Nxesi said that the relief will be given to those who are unable to work because of the closure of workplaces as a result of the unrest.

These workers will be paid on a scale as follows:

  • Income replacement is calculated at the rate of a sliding scale (38%-60%) based on the employee’s remuneration;
  • The remuneration to be taken into account in calculating the relief is capped at a maximum amount of R17,712 per month;
  • If income replacement falls below R3,500, the worker must be paid a replacement income equal to that amount.

Despite the above calculation, the gazette states that the minister can, if financial considerations dictate, determine a flat rate for the financial relief.

Additionally, an employee may only receive temporary financial relief if the total of the relief together with any additional payment towards relief or salary is not more than the remuneration that the employee would ordinarily have received for working during that period.

The gazette also states that the payment should only be made directly into a worker’s bank account.

To avoid any in-person employee applications, an employer who has had to close their business as a result of the unrest must apply for relief on behalf of their employees.

5. Greyhound bus auctions:

Greyhound and Citiliner buses will go under the auctioneer’s hammer in September, seven months after the iconic bus company ended its 37-year relationship with South Africa.

Greyhound – and its semi-luxury division, Citiliner – completed its last South African trip on 14 February. Greyhound and Citiliner buses, operated by Unitrans, carried millions of passengers between South Africa’s big and small cities since 1984.

But diminishing revenue, brought about by heightened competition in the low-cost city-to-city market, put Unitrans’ consumer-facing business on the back foot. In 2020, the company, a subsidiary of logistics giant KAP Industrial Holdings, announced that it planned to dispose of Greyhound and focus on its core competencies of transporting freight.

The Covid-19 pandemic, which halted travel during hard lockdown, was the final nail in Greyhound’s coffin. Less than a year later, hundreds of Greyhound employees were served with retrenchment notices and buses stopped running.

To claw back some money, Greyhound’s rolling stock will be auctioned off on 15 September, almost exactly seven months after transporting its last passengers.

“There is a total of 66 buses [on auction]. They are divided into four lots, and each lot will also include six trailers. The Greyhound and Citiliner brands and logos will also be offered, as well as a huge variety of spares in Cape Town and Midrand respectively,” Johan van Eyk of Van’s Auctioneers told Business Insider South Africa.

Interested buyers won’t be able to bid on individual assets. There is an option to buy all the lots, lock, stock, and barrel. To be a part of the auction, bidders will need to pay R500,000 upfront as a refundable deposit.

All information sourced from articles posted by: BusinessTech, TimesLive, Moneyweb, Daily Maverick, and BusinessInsider.

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