News in South Africa 21st July:

1. Environmental damage from riots:

Following the recent violent events, authorities are dealing with another crisis – the short- and long-term impact on the environment.

Environmental damage from riots
Image taken by: Yogendra Singh

For more than seven days, chaos broke out in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal when looters ransacked businesses and other entities. But others took their sinister actions even further, burning property without any consideration for the consequences.

In KwaZulu-Natal, one of the targets was a chemical plant in Durban, which housed 1,600 hazardous materials and continued to smoulder for several days. The UPL Chemical Plant in Cornubia in Durban is situated near the uMhlanga lagoon and the Ohlanga River, which feeds into the Indian Ocean.

When the warehouse went up in flames last Monday and continued to burn for days, it was clear that the damage would be huge. And it wasn’t confined to the torched site.

The water flowing into the lagoon has now turned turquoise, and dead fish have washed ashore, pointing to the extent of the toxic spill.

Specialists in marine biology, water, air, chemicals, estuaries and others were still awaiting test results to determine the severity of the pollution.

Dr Kevin Winter is an environmental and geographical scientist at the University of Cape Town. “The threat is serious on marine life, and it may take a long time before that begins to recover. Of course, it’s not only fish, it’s also crustaceans and birdlife that have died in the actual spill,” he said.

Air pollution also remains a major concern, as firefighters continue to douse the still smouldering debris. “A lot of the gases that people have been breathing in there have been very high in sulphur, that could affect, particularly, people with respiratory illnesses.”

A pesticide plant was also hit. Experts are warning of short and long-term health and environmental issues as a result.

2. Drought grips SA:

As of Tuesday, 20 July, South Africa is officially dealing with another national disaster: Drought.

The “magnitude and severity” of the drought justifies such a classification, said the National Disaster Management Centre by notice in the Government Gazette.

That puts the national government in charge of co-ordinating the response to the drought, under the same legislation that governs South Africa’s pandemic state of disaster – and under which the country has been ruled by decree since the start of the pandemic.

The drought is significant in “some pockets” of other provinces, and in parts of the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and Northern Cape, said the centre.

The Eastern Cape government reportedly made a recent “desperate” plea for national help with its drought – without success – as the likes of Nelson Mandela Bay watched dams run empty.

Declaring the drought a national emergency means various state organs are now required to implement contingency plans. But with much of available funding across government spheres redirected to combating Covid-19, it is not clear to what extent typical measures, such as supplying farmers with fodder, can be implemented.

The National Treasury intends to review South Africa’s approach to funding disaster relief in light of more regular extreme weather events due to climate change.

3. Possible news on E-tolls:

Expectations are again being created that a final decision on the future of e-tolls on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) is imminent.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula reportedly said during a recent interview with television news channel eNCA that a final announcement about the future of e-tolls, not only in Gauteng but across the country, is expected later this month.

“After July 19, you will get our response,” said Mbalula. However, motorists should not hold their breath. Many such declarations have been made in the past, only for the deadline to pass without any pronouncement being made.

Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams confirmed on Tuesday that there won’t be a cabinet meeting on Wednesday (July 21), and that following a recess cabinet meetings will only resume either next week or the week thereafter.

Mbalula said during the eNCA interview that the transport department will be meeting National Treasury to discuss e-tolls before presenting its report to cabinet.

A public announcement will only be made once cabinet has endorsed “our approach with Finance Minister Tito Mboweni”, he said.

Mbalula told the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on May 6 that a government announcement on the future of e-tolls would be made in the next two weeks. He subsequently said during his budget vote speech on May 21 that a decision by the government on the future of the e-toll system is “imminent”.

The cost of government community and business support and relief initiatives in response to the damage and destruction of property and infrastructure caused by last week’s unrest and looting – as well as anticipated job losses from resulting business closures – is likely to be an added financial complication to the resolution of the drawn out e-tolls saga.

4. Increase in burials:

Cape Town cemeteries have experienced incremental increases in the number of burials in recent weeks as it grapples with the impact of a third wave of Covid-19 infections.

From just over 300 in a week towards the end of June, the number of burials last week increased to 483.

“The increase in burials underscores the increase in Covid-19 infections and fatalities since the start of the third wave. For the moment, our cemeteries are able to cope with the increased demand, but we renew our appeal to residents to please consider burials on weekdays and where possible, to consider alternatives to burial.

“We also ask that funeral organisers be mindful of the current regulations in terms of the number of attendees and time allowed at the cemetery. In recent weeks, the City’s Environmental Health Practitioners have expressed concern about the non-adherence to regulations at funerals,” said the city’s mayoral committee member for Community Services and Health, councillor Zahid Badroodien.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), a division of the National Health Laboratory Service, on Tuesday reported 8,929 new Covid-19 cases countrywide, taking the total number of laboratory-confirmed cases to 2,311,232.

This increase represents a 22.2% positivity rate. As per the National Department of Health, a further 596 Covid-19 related deaths have been reported, taking total fatalities to 67,676 to date. The NICD noted that fewer tests have been conducted.

There has been an increase of 808 hospital admissions in the past 24 hours, the NICD said.

5. ANC divided over insurgency claims:

The ANC appears to be divided on how the public violence and the looting of goods and businesses of last week in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng should be characterised.

This comes after the provincial ANC leaders in KZN and Gauteng made statements at odds with President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has classified the riots as an attempted insurrection. The ANC in the Northern Cape, however, agreed with Ramaphosa.

In his address at the weekend, Ramaphosa said the unrest in KZN and Gauteng was a failed attempted insurrection.

The definition of insurrection is a violent uprising or revolt against a government.

As far as the ANC in Gauteng is concerned, last week’s protests were fuelled by criminality and hunger. This is according to its provincial secretary, Jacob Khawe.

“Gauteng has characterised the unrest as an act of criminality, hunger and unemployment. We noted the unfortunate use of former president Jacob Zuma’s name as the base, but we now know that is far from the truth.

“Our own view is that it’s too early. We are yet to see whether indeed this was an insurgence. Remember … an insurrection or a coup, as some ministers have made reference to, first and foremost must be having a distinct and noticeable leadership.

“It can’t just be a chaos of people in different parts of the country whose actions are, in essence, bordering on [being] counterrevolutionary, that may later on result in chaos in society, that may give rise to a condition for an insurrection,” Ntuli stated.

All information sourced from articles posted by: BusinessTech, Business Insider, EWN, Moneyweb, and TimesLive.

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