News in South Africa 5th January:

1. Informal traders gain permits:

The City of Johannesburg has made it easier for informal traders to get trading permits through an online registration and application platform.

Informal traders gain permits
Photo by Omotayo Tajudeen

The city said that the digital application system would enable a trader or anyone wishing to become a trader in the region to register remotely once fully fledged. It said that this fulfils part of the municipality’s aim to align itself with the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

Herold Mbowane, the deputy director for informal trading, said that some other advantages include generating reports on the informal trading sector.

“The system serves as an information centre to communicate to traders in real-time via SMS and assist in bylaw management,” Mbowane said.

The city said that the policy has been in the works since 2018 and was later adopted and became a bylaw, paving the way for the city to have an organised informal trading sector.

Beneficiaries of the digital informal trading permit will now be able to register and apply anywhere at any time, and they don’t have to go to any office to register or apply for a trading permit, which will save time and money, said Mbowane.

Mbowane said the new system was fully implemented following a pilot process that lasted over three months.

Informal trading and small business as a hotspot for economic growth in South Africa have been a topic of recent discussion, especially within Gauteng.

Within the first quarter of 2022, the Gauteng Department of Economic Development welcomed the Township Economic Development Bill on 24 March. The bill sought to, among other things:

“To provide for the promotion and development of the township economy and to create a conducive environment for the attainment of that purpose; to provide for licensing of township based enterprise.”

The Provincial Portfolio Committee on Economic Development, Environment, Agriculture and Rural Development said that the bill would make business more viable and introduce a framework for township-based retail malls to partner with local township-based enterprises.

The informal/township economy makes up an estimated 17% of the country’s overall employment, according to Investec.

2. E-tolls scrapped:

Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi says that people who have paid their e-tolls over the years will have their money refunded.

Speaking to 702 on Tuesday (3 January), the premier said that the decision on whether or not to refund Gauteng motorists was one of the key issues that led to the delay of the e-tolling system being scrapped on 31 December 2022 as planned.

He said that the full scrapping of e-tolls in Gauteng is a legislative process that necessitates regulation changes through the publishing of a gazette – but there have been differences between the national and provincial governments on the details.

Among these differences is what to do with the money owed by motorists on their bills currently, as well as what to do with motorists who have been diligently paying their e-tolls over the years.

While the social victory over e-tolls has been made clear – the system will definitely be scrapped – all the other details have financial and tax implications for the province, which need to be ironed out, he said.

“We hope it is done within the next 14 days before the state of the province address,” Lesufi said.

The premier said that 95% of the issues around e-tolling had been sorted out, with the government making the decision to refund road users who have been paying e-tolls.

The system has a compliance rate of 17%, so the number of users is not that large, but the refund amount is sitting at R6.9 billion, Lesufi said, which is not insignificant.

“It’s clear we have to refund people. We will refund people who have paid. The outstanding debate is the manner in which they will be refunded,” the premier said.

Lesufi said the government is mulling whether or not it will be a cash refund or a refund that will credit road users so they can avoid paying any other tolls or services until the money is paid up.

Many of the compliant road users are businesses and freight companies, as well as foreigners who preferred the convenience of e-tolls over manual payments. A decision on the matter will be made and announced during the state of the province address later this month, he said.

3. Energy and electricity opportunities:

In the energy and electricity sectors of South Africa, there is much that could be done and should be done, that is not being done. On the bright side, this should be a cause for some optimism, as it points to the massive opportunities that are within our grasp.

There would be good cause for pessimism if we were doing much of the right stuff, while still remaining stuck in the current mess.

Municipal electricity distribution

In many areas of the country, the dysfunctional and unsustainable financial and operational state of many municipalities and municipal electricity distributors in South Africa presents as much of a challenge as load shedding by Eskom.

A significant number of municipalities and municipal electricity distributors are unable to meet payments for their current electricity purchases from Eskom, service their arrear debt, or meet repayment arrangements on this debt. Municipal arrear debt to Eskom currently stands at above R50 billion.

Payment for electricity

Where there are high levels of overloading due to illegal connections, electricity theft and non-payment of electricity, Eskom has been targeting areas supplied directly by the utility with cut-offs during peak periods, a practice euphemistically known as “load reduction”.

The biggest challenge in these Eskom supply areas is in Soweto, where the level of non-payment is around 80%, and where a culture of non-payment and resistance to the installation of prepayment meters has existed for decades. Failures in addressing electricity theft and non-payment in Soweto has resulted in Eskom regularly having to write off billions of rands of arear debt by residents.

Electricity sector reform and restructuring

Despite being a key part of the 1998 Government White Paper on Energy Policy, and the 2019 Eskom Roadmap published by the DPE, delays in electricity sector reform and restructuring continue to this day.

Talk of unbundling Eskom to establish an independent National Transmission Company of South Africa (NTCSA), a diversified competitive generation sector, and day-ahead, balancing and ancillary service electricity markets, is still ongoing.

However, more than a year since it was established as a legal entity and subsidiary of Eskom, Nersa has still not processed a transmission licence for NTCSA, the DPE minister has yet to appoint a board of directors for the company, and NTCSA is still not operational.

Work on the rationalisation and restructuring of the electricity distribution sector was abandoned in 2010, and the separation of the electrical energy and wires businesses, and the establishment of a competitive retail electricity sector in South Africa, has not even started.

A longstanding disagreement between Eskom and municipalities represented by Salga, in respect of claims by municipalities for exclusive authority over electricity distribution and reticulation in South Africa, will be heard in the High Court in 2023.

However, whatever the outcome in the High Court, the matter appears set to be heading to the Supreme Court of Appeal and Constitutional Court, and the dispute could still take some years to resolve.

This highlights the substantial challenges that we should be addressing, and, in so doing, appreciate and understand the significant opportunities that exist by successfully addressing just some of these.

From the multitude of challenges facing the electricity supply and distribution industries of South Africa, it is clear there are indeed significant opportunities that could be realised by successfully addressing just some of these.

However, a continued failure to address these challenges will have the inevitable result of ongoing economic decline and loss of confidence by citizens and business entities in South Africa, leading to political, economic and social instability.

4. Fewer holiday deaths:

As holidaymakers return home from the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, the coastal provinces are hopeful that early indicators could point to a decrease in road fatalities.

KwaZulu-Natal Transport Community Safety and Liaison MEC Sipho Hlomuka said preliminary reports suggested that there had been fewer road fatalities than expected during the festive season.

“The province had set a target of a 10% reduction and the indications currently are that we are at a 13% reduction. The situation is currently being monitored as most holidaymakers are making their way back,” he said.

Last year during this period, the province recorded 275 fatalities.

Over the past few days, there have been high volumes of traffic on the province’s roads, especially on the N2 and N3.

Hlomuka said that more than 88 500 vehicles had been stopped during this festive season.

Based on weekly reports released by the Western Cape transport department, at least 97 people died on the province’s roads between 5 December 2022 and 2 January 2023.

Spokesperson Jandre Bakker said that a simple aggregation of weekly fatality figures would differ from the final results issued at the end of the festive season.

This is because the Western Cape subscribes to a 30-day rule, in which a fatality is added to the statistics should someone die up to 30 days after the road-related incident.

Pedestrians are the road users most likely to be killed on the roads. They make up more than half of all road-related fatalities.

Bakker said the department “remains cautiously optimistic as this year’s figures are still lower than last year’s comparative period, despite high traffic volumes”.

5. New ‘kraken’ covid-19 variant:

A supercharged coronavirus variant called XBB.1.5 is spreading quickly in the US – and it’s aggressive enough that scientists have nicknamed it the “kraken” variant

“It’s probably, arguably, in terms of its immune evasiveness and its ability to attach well, more formidable than any of the other subvariants currently around,” Dr John Swartzberg, an infectious disease expert and professor emeritus at the University of California Berkeley’s School of Public Health, told Insider.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, XBB.1.5 is now responsible for more than 40% of all Covid-19 cases nationwide – a dramatic climb from where it stood just a month ago, when it accounted for less than 4% of cases. In northeastern states including Connecticut and Vermont, XXB.1.5 has essentially taken over: it accounts for more than 75% of new cases. 

All information sourced from articles posted by: BusinessTech, Moneyweb, News24, and Business Insider.

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