News in South Africa 4th August:
1. Schools completely looted:
Schools across Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) were looted and damaged during the recent bout of civil unrest, piling more pressure onto the education sector which has already been hurt by Covid-19 and associated lockdowns.
The pandemic has had a devastating impact on education in South Africa. Disruptions to the schooling terms has cut learning time in half, according to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef).
It’s further estimated that at least 500,000 pupils didn’t return to school in 2021, leading to the highest dropout rate in 20 years.
And while the loss of schooling time and record-breaking dropout rates threaten South Africa’s already embattled education sector, another consequence of lockdown has reduced the number of operational classrooms able to accept pupils as schools reopen.
Vandalism, arson, and looting has affected more than 400 schools in Gauteng alone since South Africa first entered lockdown in March 2020. It’s estimated that some 2,000 schools across the country have been targeted by criminals over the past year.
The civil unrest in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal – typified by wanton looting and violent clashes with police and vigilantes which left more than 300 people dead – inflicted further damage on schools already ravaged by criminals during lockdown.
At least 14 schools were targeted in Gauteng, resulting in damages of approximately R38 million. The impact on learning in KwaZulu-Natal is much worse, with 144 schools, eight education circuit management offices, and three education centres falling victim to vandalism and looting. The cost of damages in KwaZulu-Natal is estimated to exceed R100 million.
The dire state of schools in both provinces was laid bare before parliament’s portfolio committee on basic education on Tuesday. The presentations detailed damages to schools since the start of 2021, with an emphasis on the looting which swept over both provinces in mid-July.
2. Cabinet reshuffle could hold surprises:
Government insiders say an expected cabinet reshuffle from president Cyril Ramaphosa could hold a few surprises as key portfolios are anticipated to get new ministers.
The main changes are expected to be in the security cluster, with state security, defence and the police ministry under scrutiny following the July riots – however, police minister Bheki Cele may avoid getting the axe.
Insiders say Ramaphosa’s allies will be rewarded for their loyalty, while those who have been weakening his position are in the crosshairs; but the president will be strategic in his choices.
In other political news Cogta Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has proclaimed 27 October 2021 as the official date for the local or municipal elections, saying this will stand until the necessary court proclamations state otherwise.
The IEC has already stated its intentions to postpone the elections – however, no process in the law allows this without going through the courts. The IEC wants to approach the Constitutional Court on an urgent basis to get this done, thus the proclamation of the election date is a formality that needs to be done to aid this.
The IEC believes the elections won’t be free and fair if held in October, due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said that the IEC was expected to approach the Constitutional Court this week to urgently ask for the local government elections to be postponed.
A great deal hangs on the court’s decision:
“If the ConCourt says it is not agreeing to the postponement, I don’t think we have another recourse. Because nobody has the powers – there’s no legislation that gives the government, or Cogta or the IEC to postpone the elections,” she said.
“If there was, we would have postponed them without going to court,” the minister added.
3. Calls for lower motor tax:
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has called for new legislation to help reduce the tax burden on motorists and consumers in the country.
Cosatu is the largest trade federation in the country with an estimated membership of 1.8 million workers.
The trade federation said that the transport department needs to finalise both the Road Accident Fund (RAF) and Road Accident Benefit Scheme Bills, which were meant to set the RAF back onto a sustainable path and to ensure that payments reach claimants.
“Currently, increasing the fuel levy only serves to feed a bankrupt Road Accident Fund that has been mismanaged into the ground. The RAF’s deficit of almost R300 billion is the greatest threat to the fiscus after Eskom’s debt burden.
“We are also still waiting on the government to release the research report that was conducted by the department of energy looking into the possibility of a fuel price cap,” it said.
Current estimates show that around 40% of the petrol price goes to some form of government taxation. Commenting on the fuel price increases for April, the Automobile Association said that, given the weaker rand and rising oil prices, fuel taxes are where the government has the most ‘wriggle room’ to intervene on price hikes.
The association said these taxes need to be reviewed, as the petrol price is now a record high of R18.20 per litre as of Wednesday (4 August).
4. License renewal deadline looms:
The grace period for expired driver’s licences in South Africa is swiftly drawing closer. Motorists have until 31 August 2021 to ensure their licences are renewed – however, reports from licence centres show that many are still struggling to wade through the department’s messy and slow online systems.
Many are facing technical challenges just trying to get a booking on the eNatis system, which is just the first step in the process. Even those that secure a slot end up in long queues and suffering from other glitches. According to the DA, departments, particularly in Gauteng, are struggling with a huge backlog.
It is clear that the Gauteng department of transport and the national transport department is unable to deal with this severe backlog in the province and has created the space for so-called agents who are somehow able to get driving licence renewal timeslots at a fee to the motorists. This is clearly creating the correct environment for corruption to take place within the transport department. If the MEC is really serious about sorting out this mess and not turning honest motorists into criminals, he will implement the measures he announced in April this year as a matter of urgency.
5. Crypto association started:
A new association temporarily called the Crypto Asset Association of SA (Caasa) is about to be formed to represent the interests of SA’s crypto players in the media and to government.
Invitations were sent out last week to nearly three dozen players in the industry and roughly a third of those have already signed on to the new association.
A recently released white paper entitled ‘Establishment of a South African Crypto Asset Association’ by AltCoinTrader lays out the case for setting up a voluntary, non-profit, non-competitive membership-driven association.
“The South African crypto asset sector has been beset by scams. The occurrence and subsequent reporting of which not only damages the reputation of the sector as a whole but also has a dramatic effect on investor confidence and ultimately discourages further adoption of crypto assets and related products and services,” says the white paper.
It’s also clear that the industry is about to be swaddled in regulations, where cryptos are likely to be shoe-horned into existing regulatory frameworks.
Says the white paper: “This poses a massive challenge to regulators due to the inherent nature of many crypto assets and there is a significant risk to the sector that we may be confronted by regulations that are irrational, unreasonable or unenforceable. Furthermore, whilst awaiting regulatory clarity the regulators have taken a position that existing regulations must apply. In some cases, these regulations stem from legislation drafted ~60 years ago and their application to a digital economy is seen by many as irrational and thus risks irreparable harm to the nascent crypto asset sector.”
Another motivation for the formation of the association is to present a single, collective industry view to the media, which view is currently dominated by a handful of crypto asset trading platforms (CATPs).
“We believe in the premise that, as an industry, we should not ‘stand back’ and await whatever comes our way, instead play a more active role in shaping our future role in the economy,” say the white paper authors.