News in South Africa 8th December:

1. Toxic bottled water:

Three brands of bottled water they found for sale at shops in Pretoria are unfit for human consumption, say scientists who analysed their composition – and the rest aren’t great either.

Toxic bottled water
Photo by Pixabay

Levels of chromium and nickel were above World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations in all 12 brands tested at the capital’s Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University.

Half the samples exceeded the WHO limit for lead, and the highest concentration of manganese found may also pose a health risk.

Information on the labels of some of the bottles did not match the chemical make-up of the water they contained, says a biology department team led by Prof Joshua Olowoyo.

A “hazard quotient” analysis “showed that the continuous consumption of some of the bottled water used in the study may pose a serious health risk to consumers”, the scientists say in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

All the Pretoria water samples had at least three times the level of nickel recommended by the WHO, and Olowoyo’s team says it was probably due to underground water’s “prolonged and direct exposure to minerals”, and could also come from power plants, mines and refineries.

According to the US National Library of Medicine, “nickel contact can cause a variety of side effects on human health, such as allergy, cardiovascular and kidney diseases, lung fibrosis, and lung and nasal cancer”.

More than half the samples exceeded the WHO limit for lead, which usually enters water via corroded pipes but can also come from soil and other environmental sources.

“The main problem with lead toxicity is the effects on the nervous system … and lead exposure during pregnancy has been linked with [premature birth], miscarriage and premature death,” says the paper.

Three of the bottled waters tested, referred to as samples 6, 9, and 12, “may be considered unsafe for human consumption due to the levels of toxic trace metals present in the samples”, said the study authors.

2. Stage 7 load shedding a risk:

Energy expert Ted Blom believes South Africa is on the cusp of stage 7 load shedding.

Johannesburg’s power utility, City Power, says it will deploy all available personnel to take on issues around stage 6 load shedding as instances of cable theft and wider outages are likely to increase.

In light of recent breakdowns and planned maintenance at the failed national power utility Eskom, scheduled blackouts are likely to reach up to 12 hours a day, the city said.

It added that this is primarily due to energy capacity drops from lagging repairs at the national power utility’s fleet of failing power stations. This does not bode well for Johannesburg, the city noted.

“It is unfortunate that state blackouts translate into lengthy outages as pressures on our infrastructure increase exponentially. Johannesburg’s ageing network is simply not designed to be powered up and down and to withstand the impacts of rush current several times a day without running the risk of severe technical faults,” said Michael Sun, a member of the mayoral Environment & Infrastructure Service in the economic hub.

“Controlled blackouts also provide a handy schedule from which cable thieves are able to operate without running the risk of high-voltage electrocution.”

The city plans to move away from the “socioeconomic poison of load shedding”, with the first phase of its Independent Power Producer Program being launched recently, with early 2023 marking the way forward.

It has also published its Requests for Proposal (RFP), signalling a further shift away from reliance on Eskom. Mayor Mpho Phalatse said that it would secure reliable and affordable energy.

“A city whose contribution to the national economy is almost 16%, while making up 40% of Gauteng’s economy, cannot be left without energy for hours on end,” Phalatse said.

According to the City of Joburg, City Power has ensured that all available personnel are on the ground to ensure the speedy resolution of outages and faults.

3. Money laundering changes:

Businesses dealing in exquisite and very expensive goods such as art, pianos and even mountain bikes will soon have similar compliance obligations to banks and lawyers.

This forms part of government’s efforts to avoid having the country land on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list.

A wider category of credit providers, high-value goods dealers, informal money providers, the South African Mint, co-operative banks, and crypto asset service providers now fall within the ‘accountable institutions’ net following an amendment to the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (Fica).

Addressing weaknesses

The Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) says in a statement the increased sectoral coverage will address the scope of weaknesses identified by the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog, FATF.

“The additional sectors will improve the FIC’s ability to obtain information concerning the financial activities of customers from a wider range of financial [and] non-financial institutions and crypto asset service providers,” the FIC says in its statement.

Era Gunning, banking and finance executive at ENSafrica, says businesses that deal in high-value goods and receive payments in any form to the value of R100 000 or more, will have to register with the FIC as an accountable institution and comply with the provisions of the act.

This means they will have to implement customer identification and verification processes (customer due diligence), appoint a money laundering control officer, and set up a risk management and compliance programme that lays out the risk-based approach the institution will follow to deal with the provisions of the act.

Employees will have to undergo training to comply with Fica and to spot potential breaches.

New laundering methods

Traditionally, money launderers relied on the purchasing of precious metals and stones (diamonds and the like) as well as expensive vehicles and grand homes to ‘wash’ their ill-gotten gains.

They now opt for expensive goods and crypto asset online platforms.

“A savvy money launderer knows not to buy Krugerrands or diamonds but rather a prize bull or rare game … The message is not that everyone who is buying high-value goods or selling it is necessarily a money launderer, but government is putting checks and balances in place to catch the ones who are,” says Gunning.

4. December 27th a public holiday:

President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared Tuesday, 27 December a public holiday in lieu of Christmas Day falling on a Sunday.

Christmas day, 25 December, falls on Sunday this year. Typically, when public holidays fall on a Sunday, the following Monday becomes the ‘extra’ day off. However, in this case, Monday, 26 December – Day of Goodwill – is also a public holiday.

Without the declaration, the country would have only had 11 of the 12 days off for the year.

The presidency said that Monday’s observing of Christmas Day and Day of Goodwill will overlap to uphold relevant labour law principles and practices.

The same principle applies for 1 January 2023, which falls on a Sunday. The ‘extra’ holidays are as follows:

  • 25 December: Christmas Day
  • 26 December: Day of Goodwill
  • 27 December: Public Holiday
  • 1 January: New Year’s Day
  • 2 January: New Year’s Day observed

5. New telescope in the Karoo:

Construction of the world’s largest telescopes has officially begun in South Africa and Australia, with 2028 as the completion date.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project will see an area of about 33,000m² share data from space that the gigantic complex telescopes will collect.

More than 130,000 antennas and 200 satellite dishes will make up the SKA, according to the project’s website.

The networked telescopes will enable astronomers to study space better and faster and to detect signals from objects in the universe’s farthest reaches.

According to the project’s scientists, the SKA-Mid in South Africa will operate with four times the resolution and five times the sensitivity, and will be able to survey the sky 60 times faster than existing telescopes.

Speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony in the Karoo desert, Catherine Cesarsky, chair of the SKA Observatory council, said: “Today, we gather to mark another important chapter in this 30-year journey we’ve been on together. A journey to deliver the world’s largest scientific instrument. After 18 months of intense activities around the world, we are starting construction of the SKA telescopes.”

The SKA will solve the most challenging issues in astrophysics, such as the precision of information shared in space and prompt detection of space-based changes, the viability of life in space, and the history of the universe, among others.

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

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