News in South Africa 15th March:
1. Students threaten total shutdown:
SA’s 26 universities are on a knife-edge following a call by the powerful South African Students Congress (Sasco) for a total shutdown tomorrow.
The planned shutdown will also be the focus of a meeting today of the central working committee of the EFF’s national student command.
Sasco’s instruction to its structures to bring teaching and learning to a halt comes after a meeting with the ANC’s top six – which began on Friday and is due to resume tomorrow – at which a list of demands was submitted. Both sides agreed in principle that universities should not exclude students who owe historic debt from registering for the 2021 academic year.
The total debt owed to the 26 institutions by students is about R10bn, which includes R1.6bn owed to the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and R1bn to Wits University, according to figures supplied to the Sunday Times.
Sasco secretary-general Buthanani Thobela said the main demand was that all students be allowed to register, and the student group – which describes itself as the biggest in Africa – wanted “implementation, not an agreement in principle”.
Thobela said both sides agreed there should be no financial exclusion, “so there must be a way to engage the universities on the question of opening registrations. We agreed that there must be a collective solution to the historical debt.”
Students launched protests last week, echoing calls over the previous years about no-fee tertiary education. One person was killed as a result of police action.
Government has since moved to reprioritise budgets to make room for more student financing.
2. Load shedding to continue:
Eskom announced on Sunday that stage 2 load shedding will be extended to 05:00 on Wednesday.
“Over the past two days, Eskom teams successfully returned a generation unit each at the Matimba and Medupi power station. However, during the weekend we have suffered further breakdowns at five power stations, putting further strain on the generation capacity,” Eskom said in a statement.
Additional breakdowns have occurred at the Tutuka, Majuba, Kusile, Matimba and Duvha, adding to previous breakdowns at the Kriel and Kendal power stations. There were also delays in units returning to service at Hendrina, Duvha and restoring full load on the Cahora Bassa line.
3. Government blows millions on fogging:
A new investigation reveals how the Gauteng government blew R117 million on fogging contracts – used to fumigate and sanitise government buildings, despite warnings from the World Health Organisation against the practice, and a government position against it.
Six companies, some of which only came into existence recently, pocketed at least R117-million in 11 months between March 2020 and January 2021 for “fumigation services” and sanitising buildings for the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development (GDID), ostensibly to prevent the spread of Covid-19. According to the GDID, this contributes to a total amount of R190-million spent on acquiring personal protective equipment (PPE).
This is in stark contrast to both the Western Cape, which spent R36-million in the 2020/21 financial year and mostly used an internal team, and KwaZulu-Natal, which spent just more than R5-million and also used internal cleaning experts. This took place even though, since May last year, fumigation has not been recommended by the World Health Organisation for Covid-19 and has been rejected by SA’s own world-renowned scientists and infectious diseases specialists.
“In indoor spaces, routine application of disinfectants to environmental surfaces via spraying or fogging (also known as fumigation or misting) is not recommended. Spraying environmental surfaces in both healthcare and non-healthcare settings (such as patient households) with disinfectants will not be effective and may pose harm to individuals,” said WHO Situation Report 115.
In June 2020, the Covid-19 Ministerial Advisory Committee also categorically advised against fogging.
On its dashboard, which it says is up to date, the National Treasury records that sanitising buildings is the fifth-highest item of expenditure, with payments totalling R510-million to date.
But, large as that may seem, it is important to note that this figure does not include payments for “hand sanitisers and disinfectants”, on which the Treasury records payments of an enormous R1.2-billion.
4. More vaccines entering country:
Authorities said more doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine were expected to arrive in the country this week.
The nation on Saturday received 40,000 vials of the COVID-19 vaccine, while a further 40,000 will make its way to our shores during the course of this week.
Around 150,000 healthcare workers nationwide have so far received their inoculations.
Twenty thousand vials are expected to reach the country on Thursday, while another 20,000 will arrive on Saturday to make up the third consignment of 80,000 doses.
More than 50 vaccine sites nationwide are now being utilised.
The highest number of jabs are being administered in Gauteng, followed by the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, as these provinces host the largest numbers of health workers.
5. Absa, Stadio and Exxaro results:
Absa reported its full-year results, which showed a 51% decline in headline profit to R8 billion. While it saw a strong recovery in business in the second half of last year and revenue increased 2% to R81.4 billion for the year, the group – unlike some of its peers – has decided not to declare a dividend, “to conserve capital”.
Stadio, the tertiary education group founded by Curro, suffered a headline loss of R70 million for the past year (after a headline profit of R70 million in the previous year) due in part to the impairment of some of its trademarks following a takeover. The company saw its revenue increase by 14% to R933 million, and student numbers rose 10% to 35,031.
Exxaro, which has interests in coal, titanium dioxide, iron ore and energy, has warned that its headline earnings fell by as much as 6% over the past year. The company says this was due to various once-off items – but that it earned higher commercial coal revenue. Also, it saw record coal export volumes, albeit at lower US dollar prices, but benefiting from a weaker rand.