News in South Africa 8th December:
1. Mandatory vaccines debated:
The debate around mandatory vaccinations is polarising citizens and businesses alike, with a growing number of people, groups and organisations voicing their support or opposition to the policies.
The National Economic Development and Labour Council has come out in support of the mandates, joining business groups like BUSA and unions like Cosatu – but industries like the National Liquor Traders Association have voiced opposition to mandates without consultation.
At the same time, the SA Federation of Trade Unions says the mandates will just be used as an excuse to cut jobs. Presidency Cyril Ramaphosa will be meeting with the NCCC this week to discuss the topic.
The debate about mandatory vaccines has reached fever pitch as efforts to contain Covid-19 accelerate.
Compelling scientific, ethical and legal arguments have been advanced around whether or not people should be forced to be vaccinated. Some countries have already introduced mandates which require people to produce proof of vaccination to access certain public places.
The debates are based on a realistic fear about the continuing emergence of new variants against the backdrop of large numbers of unvaccinated people – in high-income countries as well as in low-and-middle-income countries.
That fear was realised on 25 November 2021 when South African scientists announced the new variant, to which the World Health Organisation assigned the name Omicron. This “variant of concern” threw the world into chaos – global markets tumbled, travel restrictions were slapped on various southern African countries and health facilities were on high alert.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa recently announced that the government had set up a task team to advise on vaccine mandates.
Vaccine mandates that have been successfully implemented have shown a marked increase in the vaccine status of employees. The private health insurer Discovery Limited is a case in point. Since introducing a mandatory vaccine policy, vaccine uptake among employees increased from 22% in September 2021 to 94% in November 2021.
Several countries have introduced mandates. These include France, Austria, Greece, the Netherlands and the US.
To date, only 36.8% of South Africa’s adult population has been fully vaccinated – with either a single dose of Johnson and Johnson or two doses of Pfizer. The aim was to cover 70% of the adult population by December 2021.
Clearly, the country has fallen far behind on this target.
The key requirement of any mandate should be that a vaccination certificate be produced for access to high-risk public spaces where harm to others could occur. These include:
- Entry to all high-risk congregate environments. This would include gyms, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, indoor shopping areas, theatres, lecture halls, hospitals, clinics, conferences, trade shows.
- Public and leisure transport – taxis, buses, trains, cruise ships and aeroplanes. Most international flights require both a vaccine certificate and a negative PCR test. Domestic flights ought to have similar requirements because the risk is similar, especially where inter-provincial travel can spread the virus from one hotspot province to another with low incidence. This risk is being shown by Omicron.
But mandatory vaccine policies must include exceptions such as someone having a severe allergic reaction to a first vaccine dose or having an allergy to a specific component of a vaccine.
2. SA to miss economic growth forecast:
South Africa’s economic growth forecast of 5.1% for 2021 is at risk after more than 90 nations imposed travel bans on the country right before its summer holiday season because of the discovery of the coronavirus omicron variant.
The economy grew 5.8% in the nine months through September, data published by Statistics South Africa on Tuesday shows. While that placed the nation on track to exceed the government’s growth forecast of 5.1% for 2021 and the central bank’s 5.2%, the travel bans and the emergence of the new Covid-19 strain will likely temper the recovery as spending on tourism drops.
PwC estimates the bans could cost the country as much as R6.5 billion ($406 million) in potential foreign revenue, placing pressure on growth in the fourth quarter. It also expects household spending to be squeezed by surging gasoline prices and rising interest rates, while fading base effects are also projected to weigh on the data in the last three months of the year.
3. Land expropriation failure:
The ANC’s bid to change the Constitution to make room for the expropriation of land without compensation has failed. The proposed law could not garner the required two-thirds majority in the 400-seat Parliament, with 204 MPs voting in favour and 145 against.
The ANC said that the changes are needed to manage the land issue, which the party had failed to address in the last three decades of power.
The ANC’s pointsman on the land reforms, Mathole Motshekga, told fellow lawmakers before the vote that the bill had sought “to address this inhuman crime, crime against the African majority.”
But his argument was shot down by the Democratic Alliance (DA), which contended that the proposal violated property rights and stoked uncertainty.
“This is not what the country needs now in the time of economic devastation during the Covid pandemic,” said DA MP Annelie Lotriet.
She lauded the failure of this “disastrous piece of legislation” as a victory for constitutional order.
“In Venezuela and Zimbabwe, tampering with property rights collapsed their economies, led to widespread hunger and resulted in wholesale capital flight,” she said.
The EFF, which supports land expropriation, says the proposed changes do not go far enough.
4. More PPE fraud investigated:
During a virtual briefing on Tuesday, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) said it is investigating R14.8-billion worth of alleged irregular contracts related to the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE).
The SIU, led by its head, Andy Mothibi, briefed Parliament’s accounting watchdog, Scopa, on its investigations into alleged corruption related to the procurement of PPE for the Covid-19 pandemic. Making introductory comments, Scopa chair Mkhuleko Hlengwa called corruption during a health crisis a “crime against humanity”.
During the briefing, the SIU said that between April 2020 and June 2021, Covid-related expenditure was about R138.8-billion. Of this amount, the SIU is investigating about R14.8-billion, or about 11%, of which contracts worth R1.9-billion have been referred to the Special Tribunal to have them set aside and the money recovered.
The SIU said 5,054 contracts for Covid-related services were under investigation, with contracts awarded to 2,686 service providers. Of these investigations, 64% are ongoing, 29% are finalised and 7% are yet to start.
KwaZulu-Natal tops the list of cases finalised, followed by the national government, Eastern Cape and Gauteng. In cases still ongoing, Gauteng has the most cases (with 1,777 contracts worth R4.5-billion), followed by Mpumalanga, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. The Western Cape has the least ongoing cases for investigation, with two contracts worth R42-million.
During the briefing, Scopa heard that 168 cases had been referred by the SIU to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
Thousands of contracts are being probed from over 2,000 companies, and cases are constantly being fed through to the National Prosecuting Authority.
The SIU flagged many government departments and provincial structures in the looting but also noted that many officials were resigning before facing disciplinary action.
5. Contractors to rest for December:
Much of South Africa’s construction sector will observe the traditional builders’ break and close from mid-December until the second week of January. Last year, work continued, to make up for time lost to the coronavirus-induced hard lockdown.
The annual builders’ holiday, although not mandated by legislation, offers contractors, suppliers, and professionals involved in South Africa’s construction industry an extended break from work. This break traditionally starts in the middle of December – around the Day of Reconciliation’s public holiday – and lasts until the first or second week of January.
During this time, contractors, sub-contractors, suppliers, and professionals like engineers, architects, and quantity surveyors close for business.
The 2020/21 builders’ break was different. A group of construction industry organisations recommended that the break be shortened to just five business days, starting on Christmas eve.
The group argued that the hard lockdown imposed in March at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic had delayed projects, cancelled contracts, and led to retrenchments in the sector. A shortened break would allow the industry to claw back some of these losses and make up for lost time.
Many contractors and professionals heeded the call and decided to work for much of December while cutting their January break short. This is according to Databuild, which tracks trends in South Africa’s construction sector and recently conducted a survey among contractors and professionals concerning the builders’ break.
Databuild found that 63% of contractors surveyed indicated that they would close for the upcoming builders’ break, compared to 36% of respondents in 2020. Around a quarter of contractors said they’d be closed between Christmas and New Year only, down from 40% last year. Only 6% of contractors surveyed said they’d remain open throughout December.
Similar responses were given by professionals in the construction industry, with 65% of those surveyed saying they’d close during the builders’ break, compared to 55% last year.
More professionals are planning to close between Christmas and New Year only. Last year, 20% of professionals only took a break between Christmas and New Year while this year 22% of those surveyed said they’d only close for that that five-day period.
“Unlike last year, where a significant portion stated their intention to use the December period as an opportunity to catch up on work delayed by the five-week compulsory shutdown brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, this year the overwhelming consensus among respondents was that they would be closing for the holidays,” said Databuild CEO, Morag Evans.