News in South Africa 12th February:

1. SONA falls flat but TERS reinitiated:

Opposition parties have described President Cyril Ramaphosa’s fifth State of the Nation Address (Sona) as out of touch and out of ideas.

SONA falls flat but TERS reinitiated
“President Cyril Ramaphosa responds to State of the Nation Address debate” by GovernmentZA is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Ramaphosa delivered little in the way of new plans in his address, focusing rather on reporting back on progress.
For some of the major political parties in the country, the President’s speech might as well have been delivered in 2020, or even 2019.

The Democratic Alliance (DA)’s John Steenhuisen characterised Ramaphosa’s speech as ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’; praising him for continuing the COVID-19 relief grants but coming down hard on economic reforms which were yet to reach Parliament.

“When are they going to see the light of day? He can talk about reforms; he can keep them on a piece of paper in a drawer in the Union Buildings. Until he brings them to the floor of the Parliament, he is not going to get them passed.”

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) described the speech as insanity, arguing that the president was doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

However, calls by the embattled tourism and hospitality industry for the government’s Covid-19 Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (Ters) to be reinstated have finally been heeded.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in his State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Thursday night that the scheme, which came to an end in October, will be extended for select affected industries until March 15, 2021.

While he did not mention the industries that are set to benefit from the extension, the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) is confident that the sector will be included.

Other sectors, such as the liquor industry, that have been affected by the recent increased lockdown restrictions under alert Level 3 (which were in place for just over a month due to the second Covid-19 wave) also stand to benefit from the Ters extension.

2. Mining and Manufacturing down:

Both manufacturing and mining production contracted by more than 10% in 2020, data from Stats SA shows. Stats SA on Thursday released December 2020 manufacturing production and mining production.

Manufacturing production decreased by 11% in 2020, compared to 2019, data shows. All 10 manufacturing divisions reported negative growth rates over the past year.

On a year-on-year basis, it increased 1.8%. The largest positive contributors were food and beverages; followed by motor vehicles, parts and other transport equipment; basic iron and steel products and wood and wood products.

On a month-on-month basis, manufacturing production declined by 0.1% in December 2020, compared to November 2020.

“Total mining production was 10.7% lower in 2020 compared with 2019. The 10.7% decrease in annual mining production followed a decrease of 0.5% in 2019 and a decrease of 1.5% in 2018,” Stats SA said in a separate report on mining production.

Mining production increased by 0.1% year-on-year in December 2020. The largest positive contributions were manganese ore, diamonds and coal. The largest negative contributor was platinum group metals.

On a month-on-month basis, mining production increased 0.5% in December compared to November 2020. This follows month-on-month contractions of 2.4% in November and 0.8% in October.

3. Ivermectin use shows mistrust in government:

The uncontrolled use of ivermectin means South Africans don’t trust the pandemic response and feel they need their own measures.

That’s the word from public health and communication specialist Dr Warren Parker, who was a panellist on a University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) webinar on Thursday that delved into “What the ivermectin debate has revealed to us in a time of pandemic”.

The discussion comes in the week a group of South African medical practitioners launched an urgent court application seeking wide-ranging orders to enable them to personally use and prescribe ivermectin.

The group of 55 “front-line workers” initially attempted to join other applications seeking similar relief, but say those did not address the dire situation faced by doctors and patients who want effective access to the drug.

They say their applications to the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra), under its “compassionate-use programme”, have not been approved and, to their knowledge, none have been.

Last week, during an address to parliament’s health portfolio committee, the regulatory body warned there was not enough scientific evidence around the use of the drug, for safety and efficacy, to treat or prevent Covid-19. The authority said there were only 10 medical practitioners approved to use ivermectin for Covid-19, but there were not enough data to prove whether it was safe or harmful.

The drug, hailed as revolutionary in the 1980s and working by paralysing and killing parasites in livestock, has been gaining traction as a “miracle cure” for Covid-19 patients.

However, Sahpra prohibited it for human consumption on December 22 last year after it was promoted on several social media platforms as having “cured” people of Covid-19. It is, therefore, illegal to dispense the drug in the country.

Parker, who pushed for the use of masks early on in the Covid-19 outbreak, believes people are “justifiably worried about the state of the pandemic”.

“We’ve also seen that because of that there has been an uncontrolled public use of ivermectin.

“It means people don’t trust the pandemic response and feel they need to take measures themselves.

4. Air Namibia liquidated:

Air Namibia has halted all flight operations as from Thursday, 11 February.

In an urgent notice to all stakeholders the management said all of its aircraft will be grounded at its base. No new bookings can be made and passengers with existing tickets can register for refunds.

The Namibian Cabinet has since approved the voluntary liquidation of Air Namibia, The Namibian Sun announced on Thursday. Earlier this month the board of the airline resigned and three new appointees will oversee the process going forward.

Air Namibia has a debt payment of more than N$104 million due to a European creditor next week.

In a statement dated 10 February 2021, the Namibian Ministry of Finance said that the difficult decision about Air Namibia was taken after careful consideration of the various options to try and save the national airline.

“All options assessed point to the fact that the national airline is not profitable and it has not been profitable since its inception. The net economic costs of Air Namibia’s operations far outstrip the net gains and it is thus unsustainable,” states the ministry.

5. Everyone anxious over schools reopening:

Parents and teachers alike are anxious about schools reopening next week, with surveys showing doubt among the population that schools will be ready to welcome learners back.

The Public Affairs Research Institute launched its working paper titled Exploring Institutional Coordination of the Return to Schools with a webinar discussion on Thursday, 11 February. The speakers at the discussion were education activists Dr Faranaaz Veriava from SECTION27, Professor Martin Gustafsson from the University of Stellenbosch, Xolisa Guzula from the University of Cape Town and South African Democratic Teachers’ Union General Secretary, Mugwena Maluleke.

The paper states that “Based on interviews with provincial education officials in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape, as well as other education stakeholders, this Working Paper finds that the reopening of schools in these South African provinces was predicated on three factors.

“The central factor is institutional coordination, whereby various education organisations and government departments facilitated the reopening of schools using a combination of their capacities and resources. Institutional coordination was not only integral to reopening schools; it also raises critical questions about South Africa’s intergovernmental system.

“The second factor is the development of new capacities by both PEDs (provincial education departments). Both the PEDs developed new capacities in their provinces; partly as a result of harnessing capacity and resources through institutional coordination, and partly as a result of the nature of the pandemic which forced PEDs to find ways of reopening schools and providing education-related services.

“The third factor is the role and relevance of teachers. The immense responsibilities placed on teachers during a pandemic not only contradicted some public sentiments that teachers were reluctant to reopen schools, it also demonstrates how current policies for teacher availability, placement and training have failed.”

According to the Department Basic Education (DBE) Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule, the reopening of schools had been postponed to 15 February in order to relieve pressure on the health system and allow for adequate preparation for their reopening.

The paper emphasises that if schools are to successfully reopen, the role of teachers is integral in terms of working out not only curriculum and timetables, but also how they navigate dealing with the pandemic in schools as well as in their communities.

All information sourced from articles posted by: BusinessTech, Business Insider, Moneyweb, EWN, Fin24, TimesLive, and Daily Maverick.

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