News in South Africa 9th February:
1. Updated academic calendar released for schools:
The Department of Basic Education has published the updated academic calendar for schools in South Africa for 2021.
The amended calendar comes after the return of public schools was delayed by several weeks until 15 February, due to the impact of a second Covid-19 wave in the country.
The updated calendar will now see the academic year end on 15 December 2021, with a total of 192 actual school days planned (from 195 days, previously).
The new term dates are as follows:
- 15 February – 23 April;
- 3 May – 9 July;
- 26 July – 1 October;
- 11 October – 15 December.
While the latest delay is not as disruptive as those seen in the 2020 academic year, schools are still expected to implement measures to make up for lost teaching time.
2. Scientists working on updated vaccine:
While data shows that the AstraZeneca vaccine is not effective against the local variant of Covid-19, scientists are working on an updated vaccine that will be.
However, this will only likely materialise at the end of the year. The testing on the local variant was done on a sample of around 1,100 patients, with hopes that, given a larger sample size, the existing vaccine could prove to be more effective.
Oxford has already said that it is working on a variation of the vaccine which would work against the new variant or the new variants, including the Brazilian variant, and that they should have a new version of the vaccine available by autumn (around September).
What the South African government needs to do is it needs to prioritise the procurement of the vaccine, which is a completely different debate – because obviously we were not very successful in the first attempt.
3. Dikeledi – ANC comes before everything:
ANC MP Dikeledi Magadzi has told the state capture commission that loyalty to the party comes first – even if it means ignoring billions of rands in wasteful spending.
Parliament’s portfolio committee on transport deemed it “not opportune” to interrogate the Gupta brothers in 2016 when the press reported that they were trying to rig the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) tender for new locomotives and to gain representation on the board of the entity, the Zondo commission heard on Monday.
The former chairwoman of the committee, Dikeledi Magadzi, testified that she could not explain the committee’s rationale, beyond the fact that MPs discussed the allegations but decided not to act on these further.
“Chairperson, I don’t necessarily have an answer as to why we did not call the Gupta brothers, but let me indicate that our discussion in the committee led us to a situation where we did not call the Gupta brothers,” she said.
“My recollection is that the matter was closed, and that is how I am able to say this is how far we went.”
“I am not in Parliament as myself; I am representing the African National Congress and that will ensure that each and every time I toe the party line and that is what I did,” Magadzi said.
“The ANC said we are not going to support that motion … When the party said ‘this is the route we are going to take’, you cannot deviate from the route the party has said you must follow.”
She added that she would, with hindsight, take the same decision today, out of loyalty to the ANC.
4. Nedbank’s suspect Gupta deals:
Nedbank’s share price fell almost 9% yesterday after the amaBhungane investigative journalism centre reported on its transactions with Gupta-linked firm Regiments Capital.
The bank on Monday told staff it had acted within the law, and had never found any corruption while looking into transactions with state and city entities.
But the report paints an unflattering picture of a bank that took huge profits on suspect deals, legal or not.
Drawing on internal emails, and subsequent investigations by some of the entities involved, amaBhungane provides a rare glimpse into a world of high finance, but one twisted out of true, where clients accept interest rates that make no commercial sense, reward is unconnected with risk, and disclosure is a haphazard affair.
Some R215 million went from state entities companies to Nedbank, then on to an advisory firm – in some cases without the state knowing
The transactions described in the article were initiatives by Regiments, a now-disgraced advisory company with close links to associates of the Gupta family and a history of costing state entities a lot of money.
In total, amaBhungane calculates, Nedbank agreed to pay Regiments at least R95 million in commissions. Of that, some R62 million was in introduction fees, at times paid without the knowledge of the Nedbank clients the money ultimately came from, and around R33 million was invoiced as services rendered by Regiments, which recovered fees from Nedbank instead of directly from state-owned entities.
5. Mining companies gain as metal price rises:
AngloGold Ashanti expects its headline profit to jump by at least 150% in the year to end-December. This is thanks to a 27% increase in the gold price, with weaker local currencies in the countries where it operates. Last year, after more than a century in SA, AngloGold sold the last of its local businesses, in a R4.4 billion transaction with Harmony.
In a trading update, Anglo American Platinum projected that its headline profit would increase by between 49% to 69% for the year to end-December. This was thanks to a 71% increase in the rand price of metals – which counteracted the impact on its output due to lockdown and the temporary closure of the Anglo Converter Plant (ACP) during the year.