News in South Africa 19th April:

1. Floods declared a national disaster:

Ramaphosa announced the elevation of the KwaZulu-Natal floods to the status of a national disaster – just days after it had been formally classified as a provincial disaster. That moves responsibility for co-ordination of the response to the disaster, including high-level decisions on how money should be spent, from the KZN provincial executive and into the hands of Ramaphosa’s cabinet.

Floods declared a national disaster
Image taken by: Genaro Servín

South Africa needs to spend more money preparing for bad weather, President Cyril Ramaphosa said, speaking to the nation about the recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal on Monday night.

“These floods are a tragic reminder of the increasing frequency of extreme weather conditions as a result of climate change,” he said. “We need to increase our investment in climate adaptation measures to better safeguard communities against the effects of climate change.”

This added spending must come even as South Africa reduces its emissions, he said, as part of global efforts to mitigate the extent of climate change.

In the meanwhile, money spent on recovering from the current disaster must be spent wisely, and without fraud, he said.

“Given the extent and impact of the floods, the designation of a provincial state of disaster is inadequate to deal with the scale of the emergency, and the required reconstruction and rehabilitation measures, and responses,” he said, citing the importance of the Durban port to the national economy.

“With the heavy rains and flooding in the Eastern Cape, and indications from the South African weather service that the North West and Free State may also be affected by bad weather, it is clear that there are other areas of the country that need emergency intervention as well,” Ramaphosa said.

Ramaphosa spent a significant portion of his national address, of a type exceedingly rare outside of announcements on Covid-19, talking about measures to prevent corruption in the spending of disaster-relief funds.

“It will be critical, as we undertake this work, that all the resources we mobilise are used for their intended purposes and reach the intended recipients,” he said.

“There can be no room for corruption. There can be no room for mismanagement or fraud of any sort.”

2. Load shedding at stage 4:

Eskom has announced that load shedding has immediately jumped to Stage 4 on Tuesday morning after more generation units failed. 

The power utility said the jump from Stage 2 happened at 7:20 after Majuba Unit 5 and Tutuka Unit 4 tripped. 

CEO Andre de Ruyter is also scheduled to brief the media at 10:00 on the state of the grid. 

Eskom initially started with overnight Stage 2 load shedding early last week, before more unit failures at various power stations led to full-time shedding until Friday morning. There was a slight reprieve until Sunday, when Stage 2 was needed again. 

Find your load shedding schedule here

On Saturday it had already become apparent just how much trouble Eskom’s generating unit was in.

At that evening’s peak – during the Easter long weekend when electricity demand was more than 5 000 megawatts (MW) lower than it would’ve been on a weekday – the utility could only provide 27 633MW of capacity. And this included the use of 11 open cycle gas turbines (OCGTs). Renewables contributed just less than 1 500MW.

The utility was forced to implement Stage 2 load shedding abruptly on Sunday afternoon when breakdowns hit critical levels.

What it refers to as “unplanned breakdowns” totalled 17 018MW – a record high.

The previous worst publicly disclosed level was 16 700MW in May last year.

Before that, it was 15 921MW in January 2020, roughly a month after it was forced into unprecedented Stage 6 load shedding (where outages were likely around the 17 000MW level but were not disclosed at the time).

Added to the 17 000MW on Saturday was planned maintenance, which totalled 5 474MW.

Just a month ago, it had forecast that planned maintenance would total 6 249MW in the last week (higher than the 5 114MW forecast at the start of the year).

3. SA criticised on Ukraine stance:

South Africa has been roundly criticised for its decision to abstain from voting on three UN General Assembly resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The first resolution, on 2 March, demanded that Russia immediately stop its aggression and withdraw its troops. The second on 24 March demanded full humanitarian access and protection of civilians and humanitarian personnel in Ukraine. The third on 7 April called for Russia to be suspended from the UN Human Rights Council because of its gross and systematic violation and abuse of human rights.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s defence is that international criticism and economic pressure against Russia may succeed in ending hostilities, but will not result in lasting peace. Long-term peace will be only be achieved through dialogue and negotiations.

However, Ukraine and Russia have not reached the point of serious negotiations. They remain locked in a military struggle, with Russia believing it can still make gains through the use of force. It is far-fetched to imagine that President Vladimir Putin will respond positively to mere exhortations to settle the conflict peacefully. Only a combination of Ukrainian resistance and intense international pressure will change his cost-benefit calculation away from fighting and towards negotiations.

While international mediators cannot be neutral, they must endeavour to be impartial. This means they must mediate in a manner that is fair to all the conflict parties. Like a referee in a sports match, they should not exhibit bias against or in favour of any side. Their job is to assist the parties reach agreements that the parties themselves deem satisfactory. The only caveat is that the agreements must be consistent with international law.

In reality, Pretoria is not perceived as impartial. It refers to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine as a “military operation”, which is Putin’s euphemism for whitewashing his act of aggression. Siding with Putin in this way will undoubtedly cause Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to be sceptical about South Africa’s possible involvement as a mediator.

When the General Assembly debated the second UN resolution, South Africa proposed an alternative resolution that focused on the humanitarian dimensions of the conflict and ignored Russia’s ongoing responsibility for the crisis. The proposed resolution, which failed to garner sufficient votes, did not even mention Russia.

Needless to say, Russia supported this approach. Ukraine, on the other hand, denounced it. According to the Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, focusing exclusively on humanitarian issues was

(like having a) child dying in your arms and instead of administering to him the proper medicine, you opt for a placebo.

The most prominent mediator to date has been Turkey. At the end of March direct talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators took place in Istanbul. Yet Turkey, unlike South Africa, has not refrained from voting to support the UN resolutions condemning Russia.

4. Amendments to Cannabis bill:

Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services is currently considering amendments to the Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill.

The draft bill, which was published for public comment in September 2020, outlines possession rules for cannabis users at home and people who wish to cultivate the plant.

While the main focus of the bill will remain on the private use of cannabis, the portfolio committee has extended the subject of the bill to the use of cannabis for palliation or medication.

It will also consider the commercial activities in respect of recreational cannabis, and the use of cannabis by cultural or religious communities.

The amended bill proposes introducing a certificate that certifies that a person requires palliation or suffers from moderate to severe chronic debilitating physical or mental health conditions, and intends to self-medicate.

This certificate will only be given to adult South Africans by an authorised person and would permit:

  • Cultivating the prescribed quantity of cannabis plants in a private place;
  • Possess in private, the prescribed quantity of cannabis in a public place;
  • Possess the prescribed quantity of cannabis in a private place; and
  • Possess in private, the prescribed quantity of cannabis plants in a public place.

The updated bill also proposes introducing special religious and cultural changes to accommodate those who are part of the Rastafarian faith.

5. Land Bank overhaul:

Land Bank needs overhaul to help black farmers, says Kuben Naidoo.
Black farmers require access to finance at affordable rates, says Reserve Bank deputy governor.

The government must establish a dedicated agricultural lender that receives an annual subsidy of about R2bn from the fiscus if SA is to develop a class of black commercial farmers while growing farming’s output and employment.

This is the call from Reserve Bank deputy governor Kuben Naidoo, who said last week that if SA was to break free of its “history of dualism” in agriculture it needed to provide black farmers with access to finance at affordable rates.

All information sourced from articles posted by: Business Insider, Fin24, Moneyweb, BusinessTech, and BusinessDay.

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