News in South Africa 28th June:

1. Eskom protest progress:

Eskom has put its plans in motion to end protests that have disrupted its operations and break the deadlock at its wage talks – however, unions are pushing for intervention from public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan.

Eskom protest progress
Image taken by: Dazzle Jam

Historically, an intervention from the minister worked in unions’ favour. Following Gordhan’s intervention into the three-year deal Eskom inked with labour in 2018, the utility went from offering a 0% increase to granting 7.5% increase in year one and 7% in the subsequent two years.

The energy landscape in SA is already changing rapidly. Amid an almost weeklong stretch of stage 4 power cuts, in a year that is already shaping up to be the worst one yet for load-shedding, South Africans can be forgiven for arguing that it is not changing fast enough.

Eskom chief executive André de Ruyter says the power utility has no plans to invest in new generation capacity as there are private investors who are willing to do so. While Eskom does have ‘modest plans’ to expand its renewable energy plants, he noted that most of South Africa’s new power developments will be private.

2. Wages falling short of minimum:

A significant number of South African companies are still not paying minimum wage to their workers, despite mandatory changes and increases over the past year, says employment and labour minister Thulas Nxesi.

Responding in a recent written parliamentary Q&A, Nxesi noted that the legislated national minimum wage (NMW) is not R3,500 per month as is widely reported, but R23.19 per hour payable for the numbers of ordinary hours worked.

“The latest quantitative research shows that the average level of NMW non-compliance in Q1 2020, before the NMW was adjusted, was 35.8%, meaning that approximately 36% of all workers were paid below the NMW.

“A year later, in Q1 2021, this number remained much the same, at 36.2%. In 2020, the NMW was adjusted by 3.8%, and wages appeared to have risen by roughly this amount for those who remained employed in Q1 2021, meaning that the overall rate of non-compliance remained stable.

However, the researchers found that the depth of violation did fall over the period, suggesting that for those workers earning below the national minimum wage, wages increased in real terms, but not all the way up to the full amount, Nxesi said.

“The research report further shows that across industry categories there was a substantial variation in rates of NMW violation. Agriculture had the largest proportion of sub-NMW earners, and this appears to have increased over the period.

“Construction, Wholesale and Retail Trade, and Domestic Work, all had rates of violation close to 45%, and these remained relatively unchanged. Levels of violation appeared to have also risen in Finance, and Transport.”

Because the research looks at changes to working hours, employment, wages and non-compliance across different sectors, it is difficult to single out individual companies, the minister said.

3. R25m Lottery mansion frozen:

A judge has granted a preservation order on the multi-million rand luxury home and furniture of former National Lotteries Commission (NLC) board chair Alfred Nevhutanda.

Besides the house, the order was also granted against Vhutanda Investments, a private company that owns the property. According to official company records, Nevhutanda is the sole director.

At the time the home was purchased, set on its own private two-hectare estate in Pretoria, Nevhutanda was the long-time chairperson of the NLC board.

The judge also instructed the SIU to initiate civil proceedings against Nevhutanda and Vhutanda “for the disgorgement of secret profits improperly earned” during Nevhutanda’s tenure as the NLC board chair.

Judge Naidoo also ordered a “review and setting aside” of the decisions by the NLC to grant funding to five non-profits, which between them received tens of millions of rands for infrastructure projects. These include two Lottery-funded old age homes and a drug rehabilitation centre that have never been completed.

In terms of the order, both Nevhutanda and Vhutanda Investments are “prohibited from selling, disposing of, leasing, transferring, donating, or dealing any manner whatsoever with respect to the immovable property and the furniture.”

The SIU said in a statement: “The property is now under the care of a curator.”

“[The] SIU probe has revealed that the property was funded by non-profit organisations (NPOs) with the money they have received, under the auspices of grant funding, from the National Lotteries Commission,” the SIU posted on its official Twitter account.

“Five NPOs applied for grant funding at the NLC and were jointly funded to the tune of over R100-million. Immediately after funding was received, the NPOs transferred money to a legal firm for the purchase of the property and the furniture,” reads another tweet.

Construction has been abandoned at the Zibsilor rehab centre in Soshenguve. It had received R29.5-million from the NLC.

GroundUp revealed earlier this year how non-profit organisations that had received Lottery grants contributed millions of rands, both directly and indirectly, to help pay for Nevhutanda’s lavish R27-million mansion. It was being marketed by a London-based estate agent for £2.42 million at the time Nevhutanda bought it in 2018.

The GroundUp investigation uncovered evidence that the money was paid over a six-month period, between September 2017 and March 2018, directly to Couzyn Hertzog & Horak Attorneys, a law firm acting for the seller of the property. This money was held in trust by the attorneys until the property was transferred to Vhutanda.

The total cost of the house, including over R3-million in transfer fees, was more than R30-million. Yet it has a municipal valuation of only R5.3-million.

The nonprofits affected by the preservation order are:

  • Yokulinda Inqaba: earlier this year the SIU obtained a preservation order against this organisation that received over R19-million to build an athletics track in the Northern Cape, an IT company and five people, including Terrence Magogodela, the acting CEO of Athletics South Africa. The organisation transferred R10-million of its NLC grant to Unicus Solu(IT)ons (Pty) Ltd, which in turn paid R2.5-million towards the house. Several of the parties involved have , but judgement is yet to be handed down by the Tribunal.
  • WAR_RNA is a dormant NPO that was hijacked and used to successfully apply for R28.3-million in funding between 2017 and 2020 to build an old aged home in the North West. Like five other Lottery-funded old age homes and four drug rehabs, construction is still not finished and none are yet operational. Also named as respondents in the preservation order are several people who were involved in the hijacking of the WAR_RNA and using it to successfully apply for Lottery grants. Among them is Matodzi Mashele, whose company Mishone Trading 11, was paid R11.7-million by WAR_RNA. Of this payment, R9.2-million was paid into the trust account of the attorneys handling the purchase of Nevhutanda’s home.
  • During a presentation to Parliament in March this year, SIU head advocate Andy Mothib said investigations had identified Mishone as a “vehicle to distribute NLC funds” to businesses “directed by” members of NLC Chief Operating Officer Phillemon Letwaba’s family.
  • Mushumo Ushavo Zwanda is a hijacked non-profit organisation that received R27.4-million to build an old age home in rural Limpopo. Mushumo paid R2.1-million towards Nevhutanda’s home. The site has been abandoned and left to rot.
  • Simingaye Community Project paid R600,000 towards the house after it received a R13-million grant in the 2018/19 financial year. We have been unable to ascertain what project this funding was for.
  • Zibsilor is a shelf company that received R29.5-million in Lottery funding for a drug rehab centre in Soshenguve, near Pretoria. It chipped in R1-million towards Nevhutanda’s house. Despite the millions it received in grants, the rehab is still unfinished.

Not included in the preservation order are several private companies that contributed to the house, including an IT company and another company linked to NLC COO Letwaba.

4. Shoprite customer data being auctioned:

Customer data stolen from Africa’s largest supermarket chain is being auctioned by dark web extortion market RansomHouse, with bidding open at 20 bitcoin (R6.7 million).

Shoprite fell victim to the cyber extortion gang earlier this month, initially stating that there was a “possible data compromise” affecting some money transfer clients.

The retail group stated that some customers’ names and ID numbers were potentially leaked, specifically those who performed money transfers to and within Eswatini, Namibia, and Zambia.

However, RansomHouse soon claimed responsibility for the attack and demonstrated that it had exfiltrated names, ID numbers, and photographs of people’s government-issued identity documents.

The group claimed it compromised Shoprite’s whole know-your-customer (FICA) database for its money transfer service on 6 June 2022.

To prove its claims, RansomHouse posted 356 files containing customer identity data to its website on the dark web. Compressed, the files are just over 400MB.

RansomHouse threatened to sell the data and leak a portion online unless Shoprite paid up.

It appears Shoprite has refused to communicate with the group.

“With regards to Shoprite, we’ve made a decision to add more information about how their infrastructure was compromised,” RansomHouse said in a statement on Monday night.

“We’ll also publish the whole filetree data, so everyone could get the idea of how massive the leak actually is.”

RansomHouse said that Shoprite could easily fix the situation by contacting them.

RansomHouse claims that Shoprite had left customers’ data wholly unprotected.

“It’s been quite some time since we encountered something that outrageous,” the group said in an earlier statement.

“Their staff was keeping enormous amounts of personal data in plain text [and] raw photos packed in archived files, completely unprotected.”

RansomHouse said that apart from know-your-customer data, they also obtained “lots of other interesting stuff”.

5. Donate don’t dump masks:

It’s no longer mandatory to wear a face mask in South Africa’s enclosed public spaces. But before you dump the pandemic-era coverings in the bin, consider donations to health facilities and construction workers, says the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA).

South Africa recently scrapped its last remaining Covid-19 regulations, including the requirement for face masks to be worn in public indoor spaces and on public transport. With the wearing of face masks now optional, as opposed to mandatory, many individuals and, more so, businesses, are sitting on stockpiles of face coverings.

Face masks, especially the single-use, disposable kind, are littering the planet in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. At the height of the pandemic, with much of the world imposing mandates to limit the spread of Covid-19, some 130 billion disposable masks were being used each month.

These disposable masks, most made of non-woven plastic fabric that does not biodegrade, are the newest form of pollution that environmentalists are worried about.

“With the apparent need for face masks having fallen away, the IWMSA would caution individuals and organisations with excess stocks of masks to not simply bin them, as this could exacerbate the negative environmental impact that discarded masks have already had over the last few years,” Jewaskiewitz told Business Insider SA.

“Whilst it may be advisable to hold onto the now redundant masks for the time being, as they may be needed again in the near future, consideration should be given to repurposing clean masks, if need be, for instance, as fabric fillers for various applications.”

Before disposing of face masks, users are urged to at least snip off the ear bands or straps to prevent birds and other small animals from getting entangled.

And although face masks may no longer be mandatory, there are still facilities and workplaces which make use of coverings and could benefit from donations of unused excess stock.

“Surgical masks could also be donated to health facilities which have an ongoing need for them. The construction industry also has an ongoing need for dust masks in their daily activities,” said Jewaskiewitz.

All information sourced from articles posted by: Fin24, Business Day, BusinessTech, Moneyweb, MyBroadBand, and Business Insider.

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