News in South Africa 30th March:
1. Covid-19 deaths under-reported:
The national Department of Health, in what appears to be a significant departure from its previous position, admitted this week that government may be under-reporting deaths from Covid-19.
Previously, the department was apparently dismissive of compelling research that showed significant excess deaths – a higher number of deaths than expected based on historic trends – from natural causes during Covid-19 waves.
A group of scientists at the South African Medical Research Council’s Burden of Disease Research Unit have estimated that 302,960 excess deaths from natural causes had occurred in South Africa in the past two years and that 80% or 240,000 of these deaths were caused by Covid-19.
2. Struggling to make ends meet:
Two years into the Covid-19 pandemic South African consumers are still facing economic challenges, with finances becoming increasingly stretched as people struggle to make it until the end of the month.
A new report by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company shows South Africans are not only concerned about the economic future of their country, they also worry about their current personal economic situation.
87% of consumers describe it as ‘stretched’, and of these:
• 13% say they are in crisis;
• 32% say they find it hard to make ends meet;
• 42% say they have to make adjustments.
“By and large, this perception cuts across all income levels. Even among the most affluent respondents with a household income above R500,000 per annum, only 28% say they are doing ‘fine’ or ‘very well’,” McKinsey said.
“While only a minority 35% believes that their situation will further deteriorate in 2022, 71% of consumers report that their ability to make ends meet has declined over the last 12 months.”
In response to the economic hardship, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic, 61% of South African consumers say they are cutting back on spending.
3. Children dying of hunger:
Hundreds of children are receiving treatment for severe acute malnutrition as communities in Nelson Mandela Bay lose the battle against hunger, intensified by a bureaucratic bungle by the provincial Department of Social Development.
In the past 15 months, 14 children under the age of five starved to death in Nelson Mandela Bay and another 216 new cases of severe acute malnutrition were confirmed in the Eastern Cape’s biggest metro, where more than 16,000 families were left without aid because of a bureaucratic bungle by the provincial Department of Social Development.
Another 188 children received in-patient treatment at the metro’s hospitals for severe acute malnutrition and in February 11 children were hospitalised with severe acute malnutrition.
The impact of dire food shortages, including a shortage of nutritious food in communities, is, however, much larger. The University of Cape Town’s Child Institute estimates that 48% of child hospital deaths in South Africa are associated with moderate or severe acute malnutrition.
In Nelson Mandela Bay, one child died of complications from an E. coli infection and more than 30 fell ill after the municipal water was confirmed to be contaminated – but metro officials said it was more a case of the children not being able to access potable water, as the water supply was disconnected at the time that they fell ill.
Last week, the Eastern Cape Department of Health confirmed that seven children had died of severe acute malnutrition in Butterworth during the first two months of this year.
This comes after the Eastern Cape Department of Social Development forfeited R67-million meant to assist those worst affected by poverty in the province.
During a sitting of the provincial legislature last week, members of the legislature were told that the department had been unable to spend the money, which was meant for families who were unable to meet basic needs.
“It is unfathomable and simply unacceptable that the department, under the leadership of MEC Siphokazi Mani-Lusithi, was unable to spend R67.076-million that was meant for the most vulnerable in our province. These funds are now lost forever, while the people of this province go hungry,” said Edmund van Vuuren, the Democratic Alliance’s spokesperson on social development.
“In Nelson Mandela Bay alone, 16,634 beneficiaries were denied social relief of distress, in the form of food parcels, because Mani-Lusithi’s department chose to appoint service providers that did not have the capacity to deliver,” he added.
Highlighting extreme poverty and need in the province, volunteers at nutrition programmes said on Tuesday that if they give the children gifts for Christmas or even toiletries or sanitary pads for older children, adults would take them and sell them to buy alcohol and drugs.
4. Nearly half of SA unemployed:
Unemployment becoming a national disaster as nearly half of SA’s working age population is unemployed, probably hungry and likely angry.
The grim statistics of unemployment in SA are not a secret, nor is the equally grim fact that the figures keep getting worse year after year.
Statistics South Africa’s latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) reiterates this reality with figures showing that there are more than 7.9 million unemployed persons in SA, despite their best efforts to find employment.
Stats SA says the unemployment rate, according to the narrow definition of unemployment, increased to 35.3% at the end of 2021. Stats SA notes that this is a new record since it started doing the survey in 2008 – a sentiment it also expressed at the time of the previous release of the survey for the quarter to September 2021.
A lot of people have given up looking for non-existent jobs, increasing the number of unemployed persons – who would actually like to work – to 10.7 million.
The broader unemployment rate, which includes discouraged work seekers, has increased to 46.2% of potential workers.
It gets even worse. Stats SA notes in its report of the survey conducted during the last quarter of 2021 that a lot of young people are not only discouraged with the labour market, they have even given up on learning the necessary skills to find jobs.
“Some young people have been discouraged with the labour market and they are also not building on their skills base through education and training – they are not in employment, education or training.”
5. Hope of peace for Ukraine:
The price of the ruble against the dollar is rallying as peace talks between Russia and Ukraine show signs of hope.
Approximately 87 rubles are now worth a single US dollar in offshore trade — close to the roughly 84-ruble level seen before Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine last month.
Peace talks between the two countries had shown little progress for weeks. But on Tuesday both sides took notable steps, with Ukraine offering to never join NATO and Russia saying it would scale back assaults on major cities like Kyiv.
The talks, along with earlier measures from Russia’s central bank, helped the ruble recover from drastic losses in the last month during which the country’s fiat currency was worth less than a penny.
The Russian central bank has helped boost the ruble’s value by forcing exporters to buy it and sell their foreign-currency revenue, the Wall Street Journal reported, noting that locals have also lost the ability to exchange the ruble for foreign bills.
As a result, the ruble’s price has been propped up more in Moscow and on Tuesday jumped to 82.9525 to the dollar, the highest since February 25, before paring gains, according to Reuters. Still, the ruble is among the year’s worst performing currencies.