News in South Africa 9th July:

1. Vaccine rollout age range now at 35 – 49:

Acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane has announced a major boost to South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccination plans, with vaccines now being made available to more age groups and on weekends.

Vaccine rollout age range now at 35 - 49
Image taken by: Gustavo Fring

In a media briefing on Friday morning (9 July), Kubayi-Ngubane said that her department held talks with Treasury this week around funding for human capital to allow for vaccinations on weekends, with finances now secured. She said that the start date for weekend vaccinations will be around 1 August.

Kubayi-Ngubane said that the government had also agreed to open up vaccine registrations to people in the 35 – 49 age group.

  • Registration for this cohort will open on 15 July 2021
  • The rollout for those registered is set to begin on 1 August.

The minister also confirmed that the Chinese Coronavac vaccine had received regulatory approval in South Africa. These are set to be used alongside the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines currently being used in the country, she said.

South Africa reported 22,910 new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday (8 July), taking the total reported to 2,135,246.

Deaths have reached 63,499, while recoveries have climbed to 1,862,900, leaving the country with a balance of 208,847 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered is 4,017,442.

2. Vaccine acceptance growing:

Vaccine acceptance is growing in South Africa, with the latest Covid-19 study revealing that 76% of the population are willing to be vaccinated if doses are immediately available. It’s the painfully slow pace of weekend vaccinations – not hesitancy – which is proving to be the rollout’s biggest hurdle.

Vaccine hesitancy is lessening in line with the progress of South Africa’s rollout, according to the latest findings of the National Income Dynamics Study Coronavirus Rapid Mobile (NIDS-CRAM) survey.

The highest hesitancy rates – identified as those who would refuse to be vaccinated against Covid-19 if presented with a dose – were recorded prior to the rollout’s start. A report published by the University of Johannesburg and Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in January found that 67% of respondents would definitely or probably take a vaccine.

NIDS-CRAM Wave 4 data, gathered through more than 5,600 interviews among nationally representative households between February and March, showed that 71% of the population were open to being vaccinated against Covid-19. The latest Wave 5 report, conducted between April and May when Phase 2 of the rollout targeting senior citizens was taking shape, notes that acceptance rates had climbed to 76%.

The study revealed other critical shifts in perceptions around Covid-19 vaccines, noting that 47% of respondents who were hesitant in the Wave 4 survey had changed their minds – indicating their willingness to be vaccinated – by May.

Almost 80% of respondents aged 60 and above said they were willing to be vaccinated, with the lowest hesitancy rates of all age groups surveyed. Importantly, the study notes that stated willingness does not always correlate to vaccine uptake, as demonstrated by the fact that only half of the country’s senior population had registered for their jabs by the end of June.

3. Wage negotiations continue:

Public wage discussions between public service unions and the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) have been crawling along slowly, with the parties set to meet yet again on Friday in an attempt to break the ongoing deadlock.

This time, a draft document is on the table with the latest proposal that government has made to unions, that represent an array of public servants round the country, including teachers, police officers and nurses.

On Monday, Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu announced that a pay progression applied across the board as part of the latest offer from government, with pension considerations.

A R1 220 to R1 695 gratuity is also being considered with no conditions. An offer of a 1.5% increase is also on the table for labour. This also came with an announcement that a meeting would be held on Tuesday with labour to consider the offer.

Spokesperson for the Department of Public Service and Administration Kamogelo Mogotsi stated on Thursday that the parties in the talks were due back in chambers again on Friday.

A draft agreement template dated 7 July has been shown, which outlined the provisions of Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) resolutions from 2001, 2012 and 2018, regulating the payment of pay progression of a 1.5% pensionable notch increment to all qualifying employees.

“During the negotiations, parties weighed the economic needs of the present and the future, assessing competing priorities for national development to address economic growth,” read one clause in the draft which labour asked to be deleted.

4. Billions being laundered off-shore:

The latest investigative report tracking the flow of money through companies and groups linked to the Guptas at the state capture commission has revealed billions of rands being laundered through affiliate businesses run off-shore.

The report traced over R8.8 billion that was laundered offshore through 4,000 transactions to just 12 of these companies.

These are just the transactions that are known, and many more of these ‘bridges’ could exist. Shockingly, these laundering networks were not established by the Guptas but had been used prior for similar purposes for other groups.

5. Steinhoff back to legal claims:

Steinhoff International Holdings NV may soon release a revised proposal to resolve more than $8 billion of legal claims against the retailer after a previous deal recently fell through.

The company “is considering its options” after a South African court ruled on July 2 that the deal related to debt refinancing was void. Steinhoff still believes that “a global settlement is in the interest of all parties,” and will “strive to achieve one,” a spokesman said Wednesday by phone. This is expected to include a revised offer to be made shortly.

The legal claims were made against the retailer by investors and funders following an accounting scandal in 2017 that almost wiped out the company, leading to revelations that its profit had been artificially inflated by R106 billion ($7.4 billion) over more than a decade.

In the year since the original $1 billion proposal was announced, there have been efforts by various claimants to squeeze more out of the deal.

Steinhoff has managed to get most of the insurers that provided it director-liability policies and Deloitte, the auditors at the time of the scandal, to throw more money into the pot for distribution among claimants. The Stellenbosch, South Africa-based company also had to get consent from its financial creditors for a further debt extension to at least mid-2023.

While the company has continued to navigate these challenges, the ruling has left Steinhoff with roughly three options: to appeal, which would likely take time Steinhoff doesn’t have; to liquidate more assets; or get lenders to agree to a larger settlement that would reduce their security and allow Steinhoff to offer more money to other claimants. Any decision could include a combination of these choices.

Steinhoff shares were 4.4% lower in Frankfurt as of 11:16 a.m. It’s been a volatile week for the stock, which climbed 18% on Wednesday following a 24% slump over Monday and Tuesday.

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

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