News in South Africa 21st April:
1. Cape Town fires incur massive losses:
The University of Cape Town (UCT) is without doubt the greatest victim of the Rhodes Memorial fire, though all staff and students escaped without harm.
Western Cape government spokesperson James-Brent Styan said on Tuesday that six buildings on the UCT campus were either damaged or destroyed — in addition to the Jagger Reading Room, which is classified as a heritage building.
Professor Sue Harrison, the university’s deputy vice-chancellor for research, described the loss of the Jagger Reading Room as “our major tragedy”, adding that some of the special collections have been lost. There is yet to be clarity on the archival losses, with some academics urging optimism due to fireproofing measures installed under the leadership of former vice-chancellor Dr Max Price.
Christelle Colman, spokesperson for Old Mutual Insure, told SAFM that “most of the big South African universities form part of a specific risk and insurance fund for the tertiary education institutions”, with insurance companies sharing in that risk. As such, Colman said that most insurance firms would be affected.
Colman said that one figure being bandied about with regard to the UCT fire was R1-billion.
Vice-Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng told eNCA the damage was estimated at more than R500-million — excluding the loss of priceless books and documents.
2. Transnet fuel losses to theft:
South Africa’s rail, port and pipeline authority, Transnet, has lost approximately 8.5 million litres of fuel – valued at R102 million – to theft over the past year.
In addition to managing South Africa’s major ports and railway freight, Transnet is responsible for transporting petrol and diesel from refineries to fuel companies. This supply is channelled through a network of high-pressure pipelines.
Spanning 3,500km across five provinces, Transnet’s pipelines carry approximately 16 billion litres of liquid fuel each year. But not all this fuel reaches its intended destination.
“The tampering and damage to the pipeline because of theft continues to remain the biggest threat to the security of fuel supply, particularly to the inland areas,” said Transnet’s spokesperson, Ayanda Shezi, in 2020.
Transnet’s warnings about the risks posed by brazen fuel theft come amid several raids which resulted in fires and explosions. The attempted theft of fuel from a pipeline in Alberton, Ekurhuleni, at the end of 2019 forced 40 households to evacuate and was also blamed for a devastating crude oil spill in Durban the following year.
And while the illicit siphoning of fuel from Transnet’s pipes poses a direct danger to nearby communities, its also costing the state owned enterprise millions of rands a month. This comes at a particularly bad time for Transnet, which was hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequently downgraded by global ratings agency Fitch.
3. Power ships under scrutiny:
Government’s plan to use power ships to supplement South Africa’s strained power supply has come under intense scrutiny, with the energy department – but not its minister, Gwede Mantashe – facing a barrage of questions in parliament.
Officials from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), without Minister Gwede Mantashe, appeared before parliament’s portfolio committee on mineral resources and energy on Tuesday to brief it on the Karpowership contract to supply power from vessels to South Africa.
The meeting followed calls by various civil society organisations and energy experts questioning the viability of the powerships in South Africa considering the massive cost to the environment and the operating costs associated with them.
Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, 15 civil society organisations including environmental group the Centre for Environmental Rights and shareholder activists JustShare wrote to committee chair Sahlulele Luzipo calling for public hearings to be held over the decision to award Karpowership three of the eight winning power bids.
Their letter, which was read out at the start of the meeting, said the public hearings should investigate how a foreign-based company was able to circumvent local content rules and how its application process was not subject to the public participation process.
4. Covid effects on education:
Last year’s school closures are likely to adversely affect young learners in their foundational phase, especially in reading and mathematics. SA already faces a literacy crisis, with some grade 4 learners unable to read for comprehension.
In many schools, pupils in the foundation phase learnt very little of the school curriculum in 2020, says Lynn Bowie, the national coordinator at OLICO mathematics education, a non-governmental organisation that provides support to learners in maths.
“Learning to read is a crucial part of the foundation phase and a crucial basis for learning in all other subjects. Many learners will not have had the opportunity to do this in 2020,” Bowie says. “The lost teaching time, as well as the stop-start learning, with long gaps between the end of the school year in 2020 and the start of the school year in 2021, will have huge negative implications for the learning in the foundation phase.”
It will lead, she believes, to the widening of the gap between those in privileged education and those in impoverished communities.
A missed chance to learn maths in the foundation phase puts learners at a disadvantage as they move through grades. Even without the lost school time, learners did very badly in the 2019 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), in which South African pupils competed against learners from 64 countries. “The five lowest-performing countries were Morocco, Kuwait, SA, Pakistan and the Philippines,” said the department of basic education.
5. Absa and BATSA share price dips:
Absa’s share price tanked 4% following the news that CEO Daniel Mminele will leave the company at the end of April. Absa chair Wendy Lucas-Bull stated that Mminele didn’t have the support of Absa’s business heads.
“We had to make a call in the interest of the 40 000-odd people in the business. We couldn’t prolong this because we could see increasing risks, not decreasing risks, and we just couldn’t afford it as a business,” she said.
British American Tobacco’s share price slumped almost 8% yesterday amid reports that the US government may slash the amount of nicotine allowed in cigarettes in the US to levels that are less addictive, with a possible ban on menthol cigarettes also on the cards.