News in South Africa 19th May:
1. South African satellite developing:
South Africa is moving ahead with a plan to develop a communication satellite, Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said on Wednesday.
Satellites are used to relay signals used for telecommunications, broadcasting, weather forecasting, navigation, scientific research and earth observation.
Ntshavheni, who took over the communication portfolio in August 2021, said the communication satellite would reduce leasing costs for entities reliant on satellite technologies, including the government.
“To enhance our broadband connectivity reach and in line with the 2016 Cabinet decision, South Africa is now ready to launch its own communication satellite through Sentech in partnership with the National Space Agency and other key stakeholders,” Ntshavheni said in a budget speech vote before a parliamentary committee.
The satellite would set up an African central exchange for voice, data and other communication media.
The plan has been on the cards for a number of years and is contained in the summary report and recommendations presented by the commission of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in 2020.
Developing the satellite could take years to complete, but Ntshavheni did not provide a timeframe for the planned project.
She added that the communication satellite would entrench South Africa’s “technology and data sovereignty”.
2. Fuel prices doubled in 5 years:
It is probably unkind to highlight the full effect of yet another increase in fuel prices to weary motorists, who are bracing themselves for an increase of as much as R3 per litre at the beginning of June – and who just had to stomach the news that petrol prices are pushing inflation ever higher too.
However, few of us realise the stark fact that the price of petrol and diesel has just about doubled over the last five years.
The most recent estimates show that the petrol price is set to increase to above R24 per litre in Gauteng and diesel to more than R25 per litre, depending on the outcome of government’s deliberations whether to continue the “temporary” reduction in excise duties it announced last month.
According to statistics provided by the South African Petroleum Industry Association (Sapia), petrol sold for R12.63 per litre in July 2017 and low-sulphur diesel for R11.02 per litre.
However, looking only at the monthly increase in fuel prices or calculating how much more it will cost to fill a car’s tank compared with the previous month, doesn’t show the true burden of rising fuel prices on a consumer’s monthly budget.
Calculating the increase in a household’s total monthly fuel costs compared to a year ago shows the full (direct) horror of rising fuel costs.
It amounts to thousands – and in some cases the monthly fuel bill can cost more than the instalment on a car.
There is little space for further relief in fuel tax. Government could afford the temporary respite as tax revenue got a boost from higher commodity prices and an unexpected quick recovery in the economy. But how long will it last?
Then there are the ever-growing demands for more social grants and the demand for higher wages by state employees.
Sales of petrol and diesel amount to around 23 billion litres per annum, according to Sapia statistics.
A permanent reduction of R1.50 in fuel tax will cost government R34.5 billion per annum or, alternatively, force an increase in tax somewhere else to make up for it.
One can forget about any reduction in the second biggest levy – the R2.18 that goes to the Road Accident Fund (RAF). The RAF is bankrupt and needs every cent it gets.
Unfortunately, paying more for fuel is not the only bad news. Rising fuel costs are also one of the important reasons for rising consumer prices.
Statistics SA has noted in every one of its monthly inflation reports over the last two years that fuel prices have contributed significantly to inflation. Despite fuel’s low weighting of only 4.8% in the consumer price index, it was still the largest contributor to inflation in April, according to the figures in Stats SA’s latest inflation report.
Stats SA noted in its inflation report published on Wednesday that transport increased by 14.7% year-on-year and contributed two percentage points to the inflation rate of 5.9%.
Packirisamy says high oil prices, the potential feed-through into food prices, and an accelerating hiking cycle globally are likely to support a further normalisation of local interest rates to curb inflation expectations.
“The sell-off in the local currency and the consequent fear of higher underlying inflation outcomes have shifted the consensus towards an expectation of a larger interest rate hike of 50 basis points at the upcoming May rate-setting meeting,” she says.
3. Students lagging by a year:
Most pupils at SA public schools are languishing a year behind where they would have been if it were not for the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new study that lays bare its devastating impact on education.
Government responses to Covid-19 brought schooling to a halt around the world, but the learning losses are particularly worrying for SA because it was performing poorly by international standards even before the pandemic struck.
4. Pothole repair app effective:
The Pothole Patrol has repaired just over 100,000 potholes in Johannesburg in the course of one year.
The joint initiative saw two insurance companies, Dialdirect and Discovery Insure, partner with the City of Johannesburg to help repair roads.
“The Pothole Patrols will seek out potholes on the busiest, most high-impact roads, and fix those,” reported Business Insider at the time of its launch, when a smartphone app was still in the works.
By the time of the launch of the smartphone app in October, Pothole Patrol said it had already repaired 50,000 potholes. The launch of the app simplified the reporting process for motorists and residents, and accelerated the programme. Since its release, the patrol has received over 28,000 reports in just seven months. (Residents can also report potholes using a system that allows the use of a WhatsApp pin location, which takes just 3 minutes.)
Wet weather has exacerbated the already dire pothole situation in the city, according to the head of Dialdirect, Anneli Retief.
The initiative cannot fix all potholes reported. Over 4,000 reports have been referred to the Johannesburg Road Agency (JRA) or Johannesburg Water since October alone.
Once a report is received, the patrol heads to the scene and then inspects not only the reported pothole, but the entire road. That may result in them fixing other potholes found on that road. The Pothole Patrol only has a mandate to repair potholes of a maximum one metre by one metre, and nothing deeper than 3cm. Anything larger than that falls out of Pothole Patrol’s scope and is then identified as a reinstatement.
“While intermittent, superficial repairs are undertaken, we are sure motorists navigating these intersections will agree that a more permanent solution is needed,” said Anton Ossip, Discovery Insure CEO.
The Pothole Patrol says it has now repaired 25,000 square metres of road surface, and used more than 2,400 tonnes of material.
Roodepoort is one of the oldest suburbs and has the most potholes in the city. Most of the suburb’s roads have passed their design lifespan says Siya Nodu, CEO of the Johannesburg Roads Agency.
The record for reported potholes is held by William Nicol Drive, at 155. Other top contenders for the road in the city with the worst surface are Jan Smuts Avenue with 110; Ontdekkers Road in Roodepoort with 104, and Beyers Naude, the longest arterial route in Johannesburg that stretches from Auckland Park to the N14 freeway, with 90 potholes.
5. 5th Covid wave peaked:
New Covid-19 infections in South Africa’s most populous province have slowed, with data on test positivity and hospitalisations showing that the fifth wave that hit the province over the last three weeks has peaked.
This is according to data and analysis published by a senior researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Dr Ridhwaan Suliman, who said that national data also points to the latest wave of infections peaking. The only metric still showing an upward trend is Covid-related deaths – an indicator that typically lags.
The fifth wave is being driven by two lineages of the Omicron BA.1 Covid-19 variant, designated BA.4 and BA.5.
Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 were first detected in February 2022. Since its first emergence, the lineages have increased from <1% of all cases to in excess of 50%.
They are currently still classified as the Omicron variant, meaning that they are not a new variant; rather, they are Omicron viruses with a new combination of mutations. Both lineages have been detected in countries outside South Africa.
The latest infection data published by the Department of Health shows that South Africa recorded 8,179 new infections on Wednesday, taking the national total to 3.9 million cases since the Covid pandemic first began.
It recorded 55 new deaths. With total recoveries at 3.72 million, the number of active cases in the country sits at 80,191, and a test positivity rate of 22.8%.
While Gauteng recorded the most new cases – at 3,119 infections – it is no longer the province at the epicentre of the fifth wave. KwaZulu Natal is the province sitting with the most active cases, at 34,187.