News in South Africa 20th April:
1. Home Affairs document backlog:
Home Affairs is hoping to extend its working hours into the weekend in order to deal with backlogs.
Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi says negotiations are continuing with worker unions to create weekend shifts.
Strides have been made, but the department is still plagued by snaking queues, frequent server problems, disinterested staff and corruption.
Currently, Home Affairs offices close at 3.30pm and are not open on weekends. The minister wants to change that.
“That’s what we want to do, a shift system that the people who come to work on the weekends must not work during the week, for instance,” Motsoaledi said. “We’re still negotiating with the unions.”
2. Pfizer backs down from risky demands:
Deliveries of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine to South Africa were delayed by demands from the US drugmaker that it determine the guarantees needed to indemnify the company from any negative effects from the shots.
The condition was resisted by the government and Pfizer eventually backed down, agreeing to supply 30 million doses of the vaccine co-developed with Germany’s BioNTech SE.
“This condition posed a potential risk to our assets and fiscus,” Finance Minister Zweli Mkhize said in an April 14 briefing document submitted to parliament’s health committee and reviewed by Bloomberg. “Pfizer finally conceded to removing this problematic term.”
South Africa, which is yet to start a broad rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, has complained about the terms and conditions imposed by both Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson in order to secure supplies. Both companies have carried out vaccine trials in the country.
3. Tokyo Sexwale scammed:
Late on Monday afternoon the National Treasury and the SA Reserve Bank (SARB) issued a joint statement to deny – somewhat testily – explosive claims by Sexwale that billions of rands earmarked for the poor had been stolen. The implication was that the two institutions had been, if not actively involved, then at least negligent in allowing the money to disappear.
“Allegations of theft of non-existent funds have no validity,” said the SARB and Treasury.
Sexwale had told interviewer JJ Tabane that billions of rands meant to fund free education and help the poor and been transferred into South Africa by a powerful foreign family, then stolen.
In their statement, the SARB and Treasury provided a noteworthy detail, saying they had “previously received correspondence from Mr Sexwale and many others that alleges that billions of rands have been stolen from a fund that has been referred to as the ‘White Spiritual Boy Trust’ and which was set up by a foreign donor.”
A trust with that unusual name featured in QAnon discussions in March 2020 that folded together various previous conspiracies and scams into a grand narrative of global domination and secret financial war. In typical QAnon fashion it is confused, self-contradictory, and at times barely intelligible. Simplified, the relevant part of it goes something like this: the Illuminati gathered a war chest of $600 trillion, but has or is in the process of losing control over it, possibly to the anti-conspiracy behind Donald Trump. Of that, $3 trillion is on deposit with South Africa’s Standard Bank, with some flowing through First National Bank too.
Among the many eyebrow-raising parts of the tale, the amount claimed on deposit with Standard Bank exceeds – by around seven times – the total of all assets held by all South African banks collectively.
4. China sees bitcoin as investment alternative:
China pivoted in its stance on bitcoin on Sunday, calling the digital asset an “investment alternative” – a comment that Beijing insiders described as “progressive” – after years of cracking down on cryptocurrencies, it was reported.
“We regard bitcoin and stablecoin as crypto assets …These are investment alternatives,” said Li Bo, deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China, during the Boao Forum for Asia, a panel hosted by CNBC on Sunday.
“They are not currency per se. And so the main role we see for crypto assets going forward, the main role is investment alternative.”
As investment alternatives, “many countries, including China, are still looking into it and thinking about what kind of regulatory requirements, maybe minimal, but we need to have some kind of regulatory requirement to prevent …the speculation of such assets to create any serious financial stability risks,” Li said.
The Asian superpower is already at the point of extensive pilot testing, according to a new Citi report this month entitled Future of Money. China began developing its digital currency electronic payment – a form of central bank digital currency – in 2014 and tested a pilot in 2020. Citi said it expects China’s “sprint to a cashless society” within five years.
China’s softening stance comes after Turkey’s central bank barred the use of cryptocurrencies as a method of payment starting April 30. The move stoked fears that other nations may follow suit.
5. SA Express workers need more time:
In a last-minute bid to purchase state-owned airline SA Express, worker-owned consortium Fly SAX has requested an additional 100 days to raise the funds to complete the transaction.
Fly SAX won the bid to purchase the beleaguered airline from the government in September last year for R50 million; R24 million has been raised through a sale of the airline’s assets, leaving a balance of roughly R26 million which would be paid through a bank guarantee.
Fly SAX spokesperson Thabsile Sikakane stated that the consortium has requested that the airline’s provisional liquidator give them the additional time to raise the funds through equity crowdfunding as envisaged in the bid offer.
“This is only possible if the provisional liquidator gives us a letter of no objection and 100 days extension. This process would enable us to meet the requirements which are set as conditions to be eligible to be listed [on] the Uprise.Africa equity crowdfunding platform,” she said.
The consortium is still waiting for approval from joint provisional liquidator Aviwe Ndyamara on whether or not their request will be accepted.