News in South Africa 8th June:

1. Boost to vaccine rollout:

South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout is gathering momentum but is still far behind target. In a bid to increase daily vaccination rates, the department of health is considering transport subsidies, expanding sites to welfare collection points, and offering free Panados to people who have received their jabs.

Boost to vaccine rollout
Image taken by: Pranidchakan Boonrom

A total of 1,343,433 South Africans – representing 2.3% of the total population – have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine since the rollout began in mid-February. While this represents one of the slowest rollouts in the world, the pace at which doses are being administered in Phase 2 of the programme – which priorities senior citizens over the age of 60 – is increasing.

South Africa had initially hoped to achieve herd immunity – by vaccinating some 40 million people representing 67% of the population – by the end of 2021. Procurement delays and supply constraints have pushed this target out to the first quarter of 2022.

To achieve this, at least 120,000 doses need to be administered daily, if using the single-shot Johnson & Johnson jab. The current daily average, calculated since the rollout began, is less than 13,000. In the first week of June, this rate increased almost five-fold.

But problems, both in and out of government’s control, continue to trouble South Africa’s vaccine programme. While the prolonged suspension of the J&J jabs – as a result of cross-contamination under investigation by the US’ drug regulator – has reinforced supply issues, the health department’s communication has been left wanting.

2. Service delivery crisis:

Deputy finance minister David Masondo has hailed the high court order compelling the national government to intervene in an ongoing financial and service delivery crisis in the Lekwa Local Municipality as a victory.

Masondo, in an address to the ex-municipal council of Lekwa municipality, said the Mpumalanga-based council would not be the last to have a court give the national government the right to intervene at a local level.

On May 12, cabinet dissolved the Lekwa municipality, meaning the salaries for councillors will be paid until the end of May 2021. The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs has ordered a stand-over of the bi-elections pending the local government elections later this year.

The Pretoria High Court forced the government to intervene after Astral Foods took legal action because it could not get regular access to clean water and electricity from the council.

The situation was so bad for Astral that in June 2019 it took the unprecedented step of warning shareholders that up to 40% of its production was under threat because of the water issue.

“There are also 163 municipalities in financial distress and 108 municipalities that have passed an unfunded budget in [the] 2020/21 financial year.”

Masondo says that while it was unfortunate that government had to be ordered by the high court to intervene, as it “goes against the very essence of our cooperative intergovernmental system”, it did provide an opening to do something different.

“But in any crisis, there are also opportunities. Opportunities to redefine what is acceptable and what is not, opportunities to remind ourselves of our duty to serve, opportunities that force us to rethink our approach.”

3. GDP data to be released:

Stats SA will publish the first quarter GDP data for South Africa, with economists and analysts expecting a surprise on the upside.

The Reserve Bank expects GDP growth of around 2.7% in the first quarter, which is up significantly from earlier projections of just 0.2%. The main driver of the upward revision is the global demand for commodities, which has boosted the mining and resources sector for the last few months.

South Africa’s economy contracted by 7% in 2020, due to the economic shutdown as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. The economy is expected to slowly recover over the next few years.

4. Naspers invests in transport:

Internet giant Naspers has invested R42 million in a Cape Town-founded mobility technology company, WhereIsMyTransport, which aims to make it easier for commuters to use public transport.

In a statement issued on Monday, Naspers said the investment is part of a R201 million funding round led by Naspers Foundry, Cathay AfricInvest Innovation Fund, and SBI Investment.

Naspers Foundry is the group’s startup funding initiative, with a focus on South African technology entrepreneurs.

“WhereIsMyTransport is a mobility technology company that maps formal and informal public transport networks and uses this data and technology to improve the public transport experience, making the public commute more reliable, predictable, safe, inclusive and accessible for millions of people in highly populated megacities,” the statement read.

The startup provides commuters in Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia and Latin America with real-time public transport network alerts. This is aimed at improving their mobility and reducing the time they spend commuting, according to Naspers.

The startup’s goal is to become a central source of “accurate and reliable” public transport data for high-growth markets, according to WhereIsMyTransport CEO Devin de Vries.

“WhereIsMyTransport has a strong track record of developing the best-in-class technology in improving the daily commutes of people across the world.

5. Grants fraught with fraud:

South Africa’s social grants are beset by fraudsters, who are extracting millions of rands from taxpayers through undue payments.

More than 100 prisoners from across SA have illicitly benefited from the payout of social development grants while behind bars, scoring hundreds of thousands of rand in financial aid every month.

This was revealed in a parliamentary response to questions from the DA.

Among those who also benefited illegally from grants paid out by government during the Covid-19 lockdown were 1,768 postal workers and 4,276 people who lived outside SA while the borders were closed.

Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu, in a written response, revealed last month that while “the normal practice is that Sassa [SA Social Security Agency] do not pay people who do not qualify for the different type of grants … Sassa may under exceptional circumstances end up paying people who do not qualify, where there is misrepresentation from the grant applicant”.

She said during 2020 Sassa detected possible fraud involving:

  • 1,768 Post Office employees who were receiving social grants;
  • 4,726 grant beneficiaries who transacted outside SA, who were receiving social grants; and
  • 105 active correctional services inmates who were receiving social grants.

Zulu said the following amounts were paid out collectively:

  • R1.5m a month to Post Office workers;
  • R7m to those living outside the country while the borders were closed; and
  • R196,000 a month to inmates.

All information sourced from articles posted by: Business Insider, BusinessTech, Moneyweb, Fin24, and TimesLive.

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