News in South Africa 24th June:
1. Gauteng infections and deaths climbing:
Gauteng had 10,806 new cases of the coronavirus detected in the province in the previous 24 hours, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) announced on Wednesday night, setting a new one-day provincial record.
But the province was already seeing a big spike in deaths by Saturday, the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) weekly report on excess natural deaths – also released on Wednesday – shows, with unanticipated deaths particularly high in Johannesburg.
The weekly report measures excess mortality as deaths that can be attributed to crisis conditions.
Since the beginning of May 2020, South Africa has seen 173,000 excess deaths from natural causes, according to the SAMRC, of which 90,000 were in the 2021 year. A large majority of the unanticipated deaths were among people older than 60.
On a national level, the uptick in excess deaths is clear…
… but nowhere near as dramatic as the spike seen in Gauteng.
In the last week, nearly 60% of estimated excess deaths across South Africa were in Gauteng.
2. Over R1.5 trillion lost to corruption:
A new report from a group led by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants has calculated that the country has lost over R1.5 trillion to corruption between 2014 and 2019.
When Unite 4 Mzansi released a report that South Africa lost R1.5 trillion to corruption and state capture between 2014 and 2019, many people wondered how much more the country bled owing to several personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement scandals.
Corruption continues unabated in the country, despite all the revelations in the state capture commission and well over R800 million that’s reportedly been poured into it.
The problem? People aren’t yet in orange overalls. Whistleblowers are victimised, and companies are more concerned about cleaning their public image than reordering their house, Unite 4 Mzansi said on Wednesday.
Unite 4 Mzansi – an initiative led by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica) and business leaders – wants SA to start correcting and strengthening its vulnerable governance processes, both in the public and private sector. And to do that, there need to be legal consequences.
“If the evidence does not lead to people being charged criminally and going to jail, I’m afraid this is going to stay with us through another round of corruption down the line,” said KPMG chairman Wiseman Nkuhlu – who is one of the Unite 4 Mzansi advocates.
Nina Callaghan, a researcher at the Centre for Sustainability Transitions at Stellenbosch University, said even when evidence of illegal activity is clear – such as the videos presented at the State Capture Commission – people aren’t being put in orange overalls. Instead, she said there seems to be fear about unsettling the political order.
“I think there’s a reluctance on the part of some of our state institutions to take firm and clear action,” said Callaghan.
But she added that the focus should not only be on those who get caught. She said the country also needs to get to a point where the possibility of being caught is real.
“If we were to put our efforts and sanctions in the right place, this idea of trying something unethical or illegal at all would have some kind of resistance,” she said.
3. Inflation hits new high:
Inflation has hit a 30 month high, with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) accelerating to 5.2% in May from 4.4% in April, in figures released by Stats SA on Wednesday.
In reaching the 5.2% mark, not only has it hit the highest level since November 2018, it crosses the midpoint of the South African Reserve Bank’s (Sarb) inflation target of 3-6%.
The sharp increase in inflation puts pressure on the Sarb, which has cut interest rates by three percentage points in the past year as a way to support the economy in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.
With CPI now crossing the bank’s inflation target, its Monetary Policy Committee will have to think long and hard about whether it should divert from its current policy of maintaining interest rates or raising them to control inflation.
The biggest driver to the increase in CPI is the price of fuel, which is 37% more expensive than it was a year ago.
“Despite a small monthly drop in the fuel price in May, the annual increase quickened to 37.4% from 21.4% in April,” Stats SA said.
The rise in fuel prices can be seen in petrol prices being 41.8% higher in May 2021 compared with May 2020, while diesel is 27% more expensive.
When fuel, food & non-alcoholic beverages, and energy are excluded, the rise in core CPI is a more muted 3.1%.
4. Hospital situation dire:
The situation at Gauteng hospitals is dire, with many people facing certain demise – and doctors and advisors are placing the blame at the government’s feet, saying that it did not heed warnings about the third wave, and dragged its feet in preparing for it.
The government was repeatedly warned about the impending third Covid-19 wave and was told to set up field hospitals over fears that health facilities would quickly become overwhelmed — but they simply didn’t listen.
This is the shocking revelation by two health experts, who spoke on Wednesday night.
Prof Rudo Mathivha, director of critical care medicine at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, and Prof Kholeka Mlisana, co-chair of the ministerial advisory committee (MAC) on Covid-19, were scathing of health authorities’ failure to listen to the warnings. As a result, they said, hospitals were full and people were dying.
“This third wave was coming. Covid never bid us goodbye after the second wave. And we cautioned when centres [field hospitals] like Nasrec were closed, when the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital went down more than 60 days ago, we knew we were facing a crisis and our Covid numbers were already starting to climb. And there was just a relaxed attitude on our provincial health department’s part in not planning,” said Mathivha, who also sits on the advisory committee.
Mlisana was equally critical, saying that there was a full-blown crisis in Gauteng.
On Wednesday night, Gauteng recorded more than 10,800 new Covid-19 cases in the 24 hours prior, the highest that the province has ever recorded in a single day.
But even before these shocking figures, she said that authorities “saw these numbers coming up”.
5. Digital Vibes assets frozen:
The Special Tribunal, which is mandated to recover miss-spent public funds, was last week granted an urgent interim order freezing R22-million in bank and investment accounts linked to Digital Vibes. The communications company is under investigation for an irregular contract with the department of health, which has put suspended Health Minister Zweli Mkhize’s political career in the balance.
The funds include some R3.5-million held in an account in the name of Suhaila Mather, the daughter of Tahera Mather, an associate of Mkhize who reportedly controlled Digital Vibes together with the minister’s former personal assistant Naadhira Mitha.
The company was paid R150-million by the health department for communications work around the National Health Insurance initiative and the government’s Covid-19 response measures.
The order granted by Judge Lebogang Modiba also freezes R1-million in a bank account of a company called Strategeewhizz, which is registered in Mitha’s name, plus roughly R9-million held in four accounts in the name of WT Graphics and Designs, which is linked to one Wasim Mather.
Lastly, the order freezes R7.79-million in an account belonging to Amod Attorneys, whose sole director is listed as Ahmed Rashid Amod.
The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) said it would now ask the Special Tribunal to have the Covid-19 media campaign contract awarded to Digital Vibes declared unlawful and invalid.