News in South Africa 23rd November:
1. Nelson Mandela Bay hospitals overfilled:
Government says reckless behaviour has led to hospital beds being fully occupied in Nelson Mandela Bay.
A resurgence of COVID-19 infections in the metro has resulted in increased deaths.
The metro has put preventative measures in place, but residents are simply ignoring them. Problem areas are bars, taverns, night clubs, and places where people crowd, like post offices and shopping centres and malls.
A shortage of oxygen only adds to the endless woes of public hospitals.
Livingston Hospital’s acting-CEO Dr Mthandeki Xamlashe said 80 percent of the people who go to ventilation and ICU’s “we lose them. We lose half of the people who come to our wards.”
Uitenhage Provincial Hospital’s Dr David Veitch recalled how a woman died in a wheelchair while sitting in a crowd in the respiratory area.
“There was a 13-year-old boy lying in the bed next to her and another lady lying in the bed right next to her, also watching it as it happened,” he said.
“There’s a very high burden of patients who are passing away and who are suffering and it’s very difficult for some of our junior staff to carry that burden. So we actually need fresh legs.”
Nelson Mandela Bay’s district manager Darlene De Vos said, “COVID is real, COVID is dangerous, COVID can kill. On a daily basis over the past week, we had in excess of 10 deaths per day. The day before yesterday and this is only hospital deaths, 20 people died in our hospitals across the metro.”
2. Controversial oil sale reversed:
The Western Cape High Court has made a ruling, reversing a 2015 sale of SA’s strategic crude oil reserves, which arguably was below market value and cost the country financial losses.
The Central Energy Fund (CEF), and its subsidiary, the Strategic Fuel Fund (SFF) issued a statement on Friday, welcoming the ruling.
The matter was heard in the high court in September. In 2015, the SFF had sold 10 million barrels of strategic crude reserves to nine oil traders for R5 billion, considered well below market value. The stock is estimated to cost R7 billion to replace. According to the CEF and SFF, the former CEO of the SFF, Sibusiso Gamede had unlawfully concluded the sale of the agreements. Tina Joemat-Pettersson was energy minister at the time.
“We are vindicated by this high court ruling. If these unlawful transactions were left unchallenged, the country would have suffered huge financial losses given the repurchase price of the oil reserves at the prevailing market rates,” said current CEO of the SFF, Godfrey Moagi.
3. Eskom writes off Soweto debt:
In the previous financial year, power utility Eskom wrote off almost R8 billion of the R18 billion it claimed it was owed by households in Soweto. This is more than 40% and largely consists of interest that exceeded the principal debt.
In terms of the common law in duplum rule it is unlawful for a creditor to charge interest that amounts to more than the original debt, but that is exactly what Eskom did.
In the recent presentation of its annual financial statements for year ended March 31, 2020, Eskom disclosed that it wrote off “in duplum components of R7.9 billion” from the R18.2 billion that small power users (SPUs) in Soweto owed it at the end of the 2019 financial year.
Eskom later explained that R2.6 billion of the amount written off was debt that had prescribed and the balance (R5.3 billion) was non-compliant with the in duplum rule.
These amounts related to 10 166 households that buy their electricity directly from Eskom and was accumulated over 15 years.
This write-off is only the beginning, since the power utility is dealing with the matter “in manageable batches”, it says.
It has also adjusted is billing programme to prevent a recurrence.
4. Union to meet SABC as strikes loom:
The Communication Workers Union (CWU) is set to meet with representatives of the SABC on Monday 23 November, the union said in a statement on Sunday.
SABC staff resorted to industrial strike action on Friday to try and prevent the SABC from going ahead with proposed retrenchments of more than 400 employees. The SABC is under pressure to try and slash its wage bill.
According to the CWU, it had received a letter of invitation from the SABC requesting to urgently meet with the union to discuss alternatives to retrenchments at the state-owned broadcaster. The union undertakes to provide feedback after the meeting.
“We know very well that it is not over and it may be far before it’s over, however, we are happy that our action can be coined as a successful protest,” the union says in its latest statement. “We are still calling on workers of SABC; our members, non-union members, contractors, freelancers and permanent workers to embark on the industrial action until our demands are met.”
In Aubrey Tshabalala’s view, the SABC would eventually be forced to back off “because we are ready to roll up our sleeves and step on to the battlefield should we not come to an agreement by Wednesday”.
5. Long wait for vaccines to reach SA:
If US pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, and its German partner, BioNtech, get their way, the COVID-19 vaccine they’ve developed could be rolled out within weeks. But when it will reach South Africa is still a question, with experts saying that realistically, we could only get a vaccine in the middle or latter part of 2021.
Another pharmaceutical giant, Moderna, whose vaccine development was funded by the US government, also reported impressive results, with them showing a 95% efficacy across all age groups.
Countries like the United States – which pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the development of candidate vaccines – will ensure its citizens are catered to first, while the rest of us will have to wait a little longer to be protected from the coronavirus, which has infected more than 55 million people around the world and claimed the lives of more than 1.3 million others.
Experts agree on who should be prioritised when the country secures its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines – health workers, patients with comorbidities, the elderly and other people considered high risk would be first on the list.
It’s hoped that other candidate vaccines in human trials will return encouraging results, thereby boosting the chances of access. South Africa is already involved in four other human trials, which Madhi said was an advantage for the country.
While rich countries have placed orders in their billions, many countries, including South Africa, will have to wait, and in the meantime ensure that strict COVID-19 safety protocols are adhered to.