News in South Africa 20th October:
1. Eskom growing debt ignored:
Three plans finalised in recent weeks that seek to revive SA’s weak economy have sidestepped a crucial Eskom matter: how to reduce the power utility’s crippling debt that is approaching R500-billion.
The plans – all drafted with feedback from the government, business, labour, and community representatives – have instead focused on improving energy security by expediting the process of bringing additional energy generation online.
SA’s energy insecurity, which stunts economic growth and investments, will be fixed by allowing the private sector to self-generate and by incorporating more renewable energy into the national grid by at least 2022, the plans propose.
The three plans are the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan presented by President Cyril Ramaphosa in Parliament on 15 October; a report finalised in early October by Ramaphosa’s Economic Advisory Council to reset the economy for growth; and a social compact dated 15 September and compiled by stakeholders in the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).
The plans detail Eskom’s problems and propose wide-ranging measures to reform its operational model, such as unbundling it into separate entities of generation, transmission, and distribution, and improving its financial sustainability. They refer only briefly to the power utility’s debt problem of about R488-billion, without offering credible solutions.
2. Pick n Pay releases results:
This morning, Pick n Pay released its results for the past year: Sales in South Africa rose 3.4%, but its headline profit fell 56%. It says the lockdown results in R2.8 billion in lost sales over the period. But online sales doubled in the past year.
Pick n Pay also announced that it is buying the online grocery service Bottles. Bottles was launched in 2016 as South Africa’s first alcohol on-demand delivery app, with more than 350,000 registered users.
3. SABC job cuts:
As South Africans reel in shock over the SABC’s decision to fire employees who they considered having been appointed, promoted, and / or received salary adjustments unlawfully, the organisation on Tuesday also revealed that even more people would face the same fate.
In a communique to the staff at the public broadcaster, the management outlined how they planned to serve similar dismissal letters to what they call a “second cohort” before the end of the year.
It is unclear what labour relations laws the SABC considered to pull off the move, which would likely see the 13 employees out of work after receiving “letters” over the status of their employment during controversial Chief Operating Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng‘s reign.
In the letter shared with staff on Monday, the organisation’s management said they believed the employees benefited through a process which denied other colleagues equitable and fair access to compete for appointments and promotions.
4. Collab helps SMEs move online:
E-commerce is no longer a novelty or a business add-on – the coronavirus has fast-tracked the need for small enterprises to move towards digitalisation as customers make greater use of online shopping and digital services.
Standard Bank, Mastercard and Google have joined forces to help small and medium-sized enterprise (SMEs) with the shift, allowing them to move their services online and accept digital payments in order to attract and service more customers.
SMEs can get free access to Standard Bank’s SimplyBlu, an all-in-one e-commerce solution powered by Mastercard Payment Gateway Services, plus free Google Ads to the value of R500.
Nelisa Zulu from Standard Bank says the bank is aware of the role small businesses play in economic development and the creation of employment opportunities.
“We recognise the overwhelming pressure that small business owners are currently facing and are committed to supporting them through Covid-19 and beyond as they adapt to a new way of operating and [evolving] customer needs,” she says.
Through this collaboration, our mission is to help as many SMEs [as possible] with tools and support to expand their digital capabilities and take their operations to the next level.”
Google SA country director Alistair Mokoena says small businesses will be able to get access to a digital marketing service.
5. Second wave mischaracterisation:
As we see a resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic around the world, particularly in Europe (which still includes the United Kingdom) and the United States, people are talking about a “second wave”. We cannot be sure that this is an accurate way to characterise what is happening.
New Zealand suppressed community transmission and then had a small resurgence from new imported cases: that is fair to call a “second wave”. What we are seeing in the other places is suppressed community transmission that is resurging because measures were relaxed too soon or too much.
The danger of thinking of this as a second wave is it obscures the fact that suppression measures have slowed the spread and relaxing them prematurely can make numbers take off again.
Another factor differentiating the new surge from the initial one is improved understanding of treatment — fatality rates are generally a lot lower than they were at the start.
What about South Africa? We retain some measures to contain the spread including universal masking — imperfectly though that is implemented. As the weather warms, people are less likely to congregate in unventilated spaces. But there is a real danger of complacency leading not to a second wave but to a resurgence. We should not forget that community spread is still with us and until we have evidence that infections have reached the herd immunity level or higher, we can still have a resurgence.