News in South Africa 25th November:
1. Covid infections spiking:
South Africa has reported a continued increase in Covid-19 cases over the last week, raising concerns of a possible fourth wave of infections.
On Wednesday (24 November), 1,275 new cases were reported – the highest daily increase since the start of October. A total of 35,390 tests were conducted in the previous 24 hours, with the new cases representing a 3.6% positivity rate. A further 22 Covid-19 related deaths have been reported, bringing total fatalities to 89,657 to date.
The rise in cases comes days after the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said that the incidence of Covid-19 was increasing in wastewater samples of some areas of Gauteng, the most populous province. South African Medical Research Council data show that excess deaths, the number of deaths over a historical average, have been rising in recent weeks.
CSIR senior researcher Ridhwaan Suliman said that the latest data pointed to a potential resurgence in Gauteng. He said the increase in test positivity and hospital admissions are raising red flags.
More than 1,000 new COVID-19 infections have been recorded in Gauteng in the latest reporting cycle.
That’s more than 80% of the 1,275 new cases reported around the country.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has also revealed that the virus is once again becoming more prevalent in some areas.
The sustained increase in COVID-19 cases in Gauteng comes after the NICD flagged an increase in the seven-day moving average earlier this week.
In Tshwane, new infections have continued to rise sharply, with Pretoria West, Atteridgeville, Centurion, Hatfield, and Soshanguve identified as hotspots.
The NICD said the rise is concerning as the country’s vaccination programme has slowed down significantly, with around only 100,000 jabs happening a day – a third of the numbers seen a few months ago. While the country has administered 25 million doses, only about 14 million people are fully vaccinated.
2. ANC wins eThekwini:
The ANC narrowly won the mayorship of eThekwini on Wednesday, giving the party control over four metros (Mangaung, Buffalo City, eThekwini and Nelson Mandela Bay), with the DA governing the other four (Cape Town, Joburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni).
The ANC victory came after the party managed to rally smaller parties to support it in the metro, beating out a DA/IFP collaboration.
While the metro split may be even, the DA faces an uphill battle governing as a minority in the Gauteng metros. The party’s Federal Executive will meet next week to determine how it will proceed.
3. Low e-toll collection rates:
Following reports that road agency Sanral had been approved for a R7 billion loan from the Brics New Development Bank, the group has clarified that it could not get the loan because National Treasury blocked it.
The loan was blocked because there was still uncertainty around e-toll collections in Gauteng, and Treasury was not prepared to take on the guarantees for the loan while this uncertainty persists.
One of the conditions for the issuance of the loan from the NDB to Sanral was that the R7 billion loan would be guaranteed by the government, according to National Treasury.
“A guarantee by the government results in government guaranteeing payment to the NDB from the fiscus, if Sanral were to default on any of the principal or interest payments under the R7 billion NDB loan.
“Therefore, the issuance of a guarantee to Sanral for the purposes of raising a loan with the NDB has the potential of binding the National Revenue Fund (NRF) for any default of Sanral under the repayment terms of the loan.
“Sanral would then utilise the guarantee granted by the state to raise the R7 billion loan from the NDB and thereby meet the condition agreed to between Sanral and NDB for the issuance of the loan.
“Having considered the relevant information provided by Sanral and the Department of Transport, the then Minister of Finance did not concur to the issuance of a guarantee for Sanral,” it said.
Treasury said several issues were identified in the decision not to concur with Mbalula’s request.
It said the most salient of these was that “given the low toll collection rates on the GFIP, there was uncertainty regarding Sanral’s ability to generate sufficient operational revenues that would enable the entity to repay the principal and interest amounts due under the NDB loan so as to not trigger a default, which would then require government to settle the guaranteed obligation on Sanral’s behalf”.
Mulder said the intended purpose of the NDB loan was to fund large capital projects on existing toll routes, which were urgently required, such as the N3 and N2 in KwaZulu-Natal.
She added that Sanral has sufficient capacity available under its R31.91 billion guarantee to fund these projects, but that the NDB loan would have been more cost effective and more accessible than the capital markets at that time.
The government has been dithering on e-tolls for several years now. Motorists in the province refuse to pay for the system that was forced on them without consultation, and authorities, despite many promises, refuse to provide any plan for the system.
4. Gen Z going all in on Crypto:
It sometimes seems crypto is minting new millionaires by the day, particularly those with the stomach to dabble in the risky world of altcoins. The most famous of these — like doge and shiba inu — have produced some eye-watering returns in 2021.
It’s no surprise then that investors are flocking to the space with dreams of quick riches, and Gen Z investors, in particular, think crypto will make them millionaires, a recent study by research and data analytics firm Engine Insights showed.
Nearly two-thirds — 59% — of Gen Z respondents to the survey believe they could become wealthy by investing in cryptocurrencies.
“This generation has a greater acceptance and comfort with all things digital, so not surprising that would be more comfortable with crypto,” Kathy Sheehan, SVP at Cassandra, a division of Engine, told Insider. “This generation has a lot of concerns about debt and finances.”
A confluence of factors, from the rising costs of real estate to college education could be to blame, Sheehan told Insider. Inflation reaching 30-year highs has only reinforced the appeal of crypto as the weakening of fiat money dominates headlines.
“They feel that everything financial is harder for them than it was for previous generations,” Sheehan said. “Couple that attitude with more of an appetite for risk, it is not surprising that they are hoping for a quick fix or return.”
The survey, whose findings are based on responses from 1,027 people in November, also found that if offered $2,000 to invest, Gen Z respondents are three times more likely to buy digital assets compared to baby boomers, and twice as likely to consider virtual currency a “legit currency.”
The crypto market has fluctuated wildly this year but has generally been trending higher. The crypto market capitalisation hit $3 trillion recently.
5. Covid PPE contracts at schools investigated:
The special tribunal into Covid looting at schools is proceeding at pace.
The tribunal heard legal arguments from the Special Investigating Unit why R431 million in decontamination contracts should be declared invalid.
The SIU’s review application was vociferously opposed by several teams of lawyers acting for different groups of respondents. In a fest of legal technicality and interpretation their arguments varied:
- Some argued that the contracts were lawfully entered into under the changed procurement rules brought about under the State of Disaster and therefore should not be invalidated;
- Some accepted that while the contracts were invalid, if the fault lay with the Gauteng Department of Education, the law did not therefore require that the profits be paid back;
- Counsel for Mpofana and other applicants tried to question the SIU’s standing to bring the review, raising questions about why the Gauteng education department was absent from the case, as well as omissions and gaps in the department’s legal papers. The question of the SIU’s standing was given short shrift by Judge Modiba (although questions should be asked about the department’s absence).
- Some questioned the quality and completeness of the SIU’s investigation, claiming that the two schools the SIU had sampled for costs of cleaning were not a representative sample and arguing that the SIU’s evidence was “hearsay upon hearsay upon hearsay”. They questioned whether there was actually any evidence “that the state is actually out of pocket”.
After a brisk morning of legal fire and counter-fire, just before midday judge Modiba adjourned the court and judgment was reserved.
Much of the money was spent on unnecessary fogging and sanitisation in classrooms, where service providers were paid as much as 27 times the standard rate.
The companies used were also hastily set up and were not on the centralised service provider database.
The SIU wants the tribunal to revert all contracts to a non-profit state, where the companies involved can take money for services rendered (if any), but at cost, with no profit attached.