News in South Africa 27th May:
1. Salaries have recovered:
The South African workforce and pensioners are taking home almost as much income as they used to before the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to BankervAfrica data, the average take-home pay for workers and pensioners whose monthly income is paid through banks increased to R15 083 in April, a nominal increase of 6.8% year-on-year.
After taking inflation into account, the median real take-home pay increased by 2.2% to R12 958. That means half of the net salaries that went through BankervAfrica’s clearing system were below this amount and the other half was higher.
The real take-home pay was the lowest in August 2020 when it averaged at R11 892.
BankservAfrica, which is the largest automated payments clearing house in Africa, said salaries paid by large companies were edging closer to pre-pandemic levels.
Take-home salaries fell drastically at the beginning of the lockdown in 2020 as some companies laid off staff and cut salaries for those who remained in their employ.
“April 2021 has been different to a year ago in April 2020. Under strict lockdown conditions, large businesses had to adjust their operations or shut down, leading to payment losses for overtime workers,” BankservAfrica noted in its Take-home Pay Index report.
But BankservAfrica cautioned against reading the data as an indication of a trend suggesting great economic improvement. It pointed out that employment conditions in April 2020 were already harder than other times.
2. Eskom tender bid drama:
One of just two local manufacturers of electrical transformers says it faces liquidation after a procurement team at Eskom handed two contracts worth R341 million to the more expensive bidder, which it says should have rightfully have gone to it.
That much is not in dispute.
Eskom’s own lawyers have admitted that three contracts for the supply of electrical transformers were awarded to Actom, even though it was more expensive on two of the bids.
Eskom’s lawyers, Cheadle Thompson & Haysom, in a letter to Instrument Transformer Technologies (ITT) dated February 10, 2021, explain that the record of the tender compiled by Eskom’s procurement team made the most elementary of ‘errors’: the prices recorded for ITT included Vat, but excluded them for Actom.
That was a R341 million (exclusive of Vat) error in favour of Actom on two of the contracts. It was enough to swing two of the contracts from the cheapest to the more expensive bidder.
“Our client [Eskom] does need to reconsider the tenders, and it is the process that is paramount, not the anticipated result. In the circumstances, we ask that your client reconsiders the proposal made to ITT, in particular the proposal that the orders of invalidity be suspended while our client reconsiders the tenders and that your client continues to perform its obligations during that interregnum,” wrote Eskom’s lawyers to both the winning and losing bidders.
Despite admitting to and acknowledging the error, and saying it needs to reassess the tenders, no action has been taken. The winning contracts have not been suspended, with the losing bidder accusing the power utility of dragging its feet so that when the matter ends up before court, it can shrug it all away by saying it is too late into the contract to reverse it.
3. Income grant proposal:
South Africa could soon get an unemployment grant, Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu confirmed this week.
During her department’s budget vote presentation in parliament on Tuesday, she said that a Basic Income Grant (BIG) proposal will be tabled before Cabinet this year.
“The need to introduce the basic income grant has become an urgent consideration for the African National Congress-led government. To this end, the Department has developed a BIG discussion document that we have started to consultations on. These consultations are targeted at developing the BIG financing mechanism for the unemployed population group that is aged 19 to 59 years.”
She said that the proposal will build on the success of the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant, which paid out R350 a month to 6.5 million unemployed people during the pandemic. Zulu says the grant played a major role in the reduction of hunger, poverty and inequalities.
Research shows that around a fifth of South Africans still survive on less than R561 a month, the so-called food poverty line, Zulu said.
Earlier this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed support for a basic income grant, as “a social safety net to the poor”.
The planned new grant is not a universal grant – as many anti-poverty organisations had hoped for – but looks instead like a payout targeted to those without any other income.
4. Zuma pleads “not guilty”:
Former president Jacob Zuma believes his corruption trial will conclude by the end of the year.
Speaking to hundreds of supporters outside the Pietermaritzburg high court on Wednesday, a jovial Zuma said his lawyers had presented evidence that would prove there was no case against him.
Zuma said he was now waiting to see how the NPA linked him to the sale of arms with French manufacturer Thales.
Zuma pleaded not guilty to a raft of corruption and fraud charges.
“The case cannot be postponed any further. It has been slightly postponed but it won’t be postponed again to the next year. I think that by the end of this year the case will have concluded,” Zuma said.
A special plea for the removal of state prosecutor Billy Downer, angled on his alleged bias and wilful blindness to political interference, forced a postponement till July 19.
The delay is necessary, Downer told the high court in Pietermaritzburg, to allow the defence time to file supporting documents not attached to its application for his removal.
5. Elderly vaccine walk-ins:
The national department of health is tolerating – for now – vaccine sites that administer the Covid-19 vaccine to people older than 60 who simply walk in, without an appointment, said the deputy director general in charge of scheduling.
It is even grateful that those sites have taken it upon themselves to maximise the use of their vaccine doses, while the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) goes through teething trouble.
But accepting anything other than a very specific set of walk-ins will not be encouraged very much longer, Nicholas Crisp, who heads the EVDS, told Business Insider South Africa on Wednesday.
“We’re asking that it be allowed for over 80s, but not encouraged,” said Crisp, of people who arrive at vaccine sites not only without an appointment, but having not registered on the EVDS at all. “If some 80-year-old person has taken the trouble to come… it would be terrible to turn them away, the same with someone who is disabled. But those are exceptions.”
Vaccine sites – which now largely have control over their own operating hours, and how they split their resources between healthcare workers and the public – started to accept walk-ins because of scheduling issues with the central system.
SMSes telling people when to go and where, should be going out two days in advance, said Crisp, but this did not happen initially. With scheduled recipients missing their appointments because of last-minute notifications, provinces and individual sites accepted walk-ins as a way to use doses already made ready.
Unofficial word of such instances has been steadily spreading.