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Interesting and even some good news in the time of corona

Hi there and welcome to Verationality ? Simple news updates for busy people ??‍♀

We are dropping you another Covid-19 update in this 22 March 2020 edition, along with other news you need to know (yes, other news still exists!).

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Covid-19 latest numbers: growth but no deaths ?

The economy is taking a beating. Here’s what’s being done?

SAA – the good and bad news✈

Plus we have a special section today on more accountability finally happening after the state capture years, plus a particularly hope-inducing inspiring story of the week.

Listen to our update below or scroll down if you’d prefer to read the text.

So, let’s dive in!

1.COVID-19 GROWS BUT NO DEATHS

The latest numbers, according to the NICD release this evening:

▶ 9315 tests have been conducted
▶ 9041 tested negative
▶ 274 tested positive
▶ 0 deaths

As we pointed out in our video last week, those numbers are going to keep growing exponentially. To understand why, here’s the video again.

The good news is we’re still on zero deaths and that the first patient, as well as his wife, have recovered since contracting the virus. The bad news is that South Africa’s confirmed cases grew to 274 from 61 just a week ago when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the state of disaster.

Ramaphosa scheduled another announcement today, that had everyone guessing what the latest measures will be.

But the president’s announcement has been moved to tomorrow, after tentatively being scheduled after his meetings “had concluded”. Clearly, those meetings took much longer than expected. This is a president that LOVES building consensus and while that can be frustrating for many of us, it does have its advantages. The nation is now on tenterhooks to see what he will announce tomorrow. The Sunday Times is reporting that the South African army could show up on our streets to help enforce the government’s new state of disaster regulations, and if this doesn’t help, it could lockdown some virus epicentres like Gauteng. And if all else fails, SA could be in a state of emergency- the first since apartheid. ?

If all those different terms seem a bit confused, check out our graphic accompanying this update, which explains the difference between these and other Covid-19 terms. ??

With all this Covid-19 talk going around, it’s hard to focus on anything else, so we’d understand if you forgot that yesterday was Human Rights Day. ?

The day remembers the Sharpeville Massacre on 21 March 1960, when apartheid police fired on a peaceful crowd protesting against the Pass laws, killing 69 and wounding 180. It’s usually commemorated every year with official events but these were all cancelled with the current state of disaster.

But we can still remember the day in light of the recent events. Covid-19 has magnified the plight of poor South Africans and their right to basic water and sanitation facilities. Many do not have the means and access to wash their hands, or space to actually maintain social distancing. We know that if the virus finds its way into informal settlements, we will see an explosion in numbers.

Of similar concern is the lack of access to reliable information. Reporters in this week’s papers tell scary stories of citizens in informal settlements who haven’t heard of the virus or think it’s a sexually transmitted disease. This is why the government is acting so fast: containing this in middle-class areas has been hard enough. ?

2. THE ECONOMY IS TAKING A BEATING. HERE’S WHAT’S BEING DONE

With the new regulations, like the ban on gatherings and a call for social distancing, many businesses are struggling. No money is coming in, and those working in the gig economy, like freelancers and Uber drivers, are worst-hit.

Last week the Reserve Bank announced it was cutting interest rates by 1% – normally cause for celebration. But this time economists say it’s not enough.

Here’s the numbers: our central bank’s interest rate is now 5.25%. This means the prime interest rate, which is the rate at which banks loan you money, has gone down to 8.75%. ?

So, say you were paying off a million rand home loan at an interest rate of prime +1%. The new interest rates mean you’ll be paying about R600 less on your bond repayments, assuming you paid a standard deposit. But is this enough to stimulate the economy?

Other countries with already low-interest rates, notably the US and UK, have made major cuts. But our Reserve Bank says we have more room to give further relief going forward before hitting zero, as they will.

But clearly, we need more to cushion the economic impact of all this. One possible tool that can really help both workers AND small business owners is the Unemployment Insurance Fund. The UIF is like a giant country-wide salary insurance that pays out to workers when they’ve been retrenched or fired. It helps them get back on their feet.

It’s got about R180 billion in the bank which is why people are looking to it now.

While there is a debate about whether it should be used to help businesses, there is actually a provision where companies can rely on it to help their workers if they decide to close shop for a period of time as a precautionary measure. This means businesses don’t have to lay off people but can take a short hiatus on paying their salaries while they ride out this crisis.

That, in addition, to payment holidays that banks are starting to announce, may help small business owners actually weather this storm.

Today, Standard bank announced a payment holiday on student loans and small business loan clients on all up to date clients. It would come into effect from April 1 to June 30. Other banks will probably announce similar measures soon.

In addition, all of us are going to get some relief from lower fuel prices in the coming months, given the ridiculous oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia.

(Which, we are saving on anyway, right? Because you’re sitting at home… right?!)?

So hopefully all those little measures will add up into a decent amount of relief for people facing losing their livelihoods or businesses.

And perhaps, this will be the start of a new way of doing business. Already SA is behind the rest of the world in flexitime and allowing people to work from home. This may finally push employers to do what other countries have long been doing and reap the benefits of happier and more productive workers, who don’t congest the roads and air either.

3.SAA: GOOD AND BAD NEWS

Could the Covid-19 virus mean South African Airways is FINALLY running out of runway?

Before the virus, the troubled state-owned airline was already in business rescue. It faced three options according to leaks:

  1. Restructuring the airline, which would cut 2000 of its 4700 jobs.
  2. Closing down the airline and only retaining the low-cost and profitable Mango.
  3. Liquidating the airline entirely.

Now the virus – which has wreaked havoc on air travel business – has put the already ailing airline on life support. This may mean option 3 is the only viable one.

Image:GCIS

Each measure would need big money. Like R7 billion kind of money. And it’s money that, frankly, South Africa does not have. That’s why Cosatu and others are saying the money should be directed towards disaster management. SAA is in a disaster but it’s not as big a disaster as Covid-19, right now, and it’s certainly not an essential state entity like its bigger brother of a disaster, Eskom.

But this is all still in the “reported” stage. Much of the above was in this week’s Financial Mail. The Mail & Guardian meanwhile reported this week that retrenchment processes have sped up at SAA given the new financial pressure. Some airline workers may be out of a job, or working part-time, as early as next month.

There’s been no official comment on SAA’s future. What is interesting though is how, at least in this instance, Covid-19 may force the government to finally abandon one of its ridiculous vanity projects.??‍♀

Inspiring story ?

The doom and gloom can get you down – especially when it comes to all those looming job cuts we hear about.

✨ Here’s a gem of a story in this week’s City Press: A South African outfit has been busy making a locally manufactured vehicle, using a cheaper and lighter hybrid of stainless steel mined right here. The use of the materials will be a global first and the car will be uniquely developed for SA conditions – and be much cheaper for us to buy than the current alternatives. Here’s the cool part: It will be made from SA’s abundant chrome-ore – 70% of the world’s reserves are found in our country. This means a slow reversal of the horrible trend where we send our raw materials abroad cheaply, instead of producing stuff with them and getting far more for it. The best part of this project is the number of jobs it could possibly create if all goes according to plan – 150 000. ?
Read more about it here: https://city-press.news24.com/Business/locally-manufactured-runza-car-comes-with-many-benefits-20200319

✨In other lighter news not all party-prone South Africans headed out on the town regardless of the state of disaster – giving the rest of us panic attacks in the process. As live-streamed concerts and DJ sets take place across the world, South Africa’s own #OnlineQuarantineParty, on Saturday night saw people jamming in their lounges, in between tweeting about how awestruck they were at the beats on display. On the decks were local stars like DJ Zinhle and DJ Shimza. explain.co.za listened in for a bit (we can be cool too sometimes) and it was a WHOLE MOOD, as the in-crowd would say. ????

Justice IS happening

Remember those days when all you ever heard about was a. Government looting, and b. How everybody seems to be getting away with it? Well, just when we all have MUCH BIGGER things to worry about, it looks like justice is still slowly being meted out. Perhaps it’s not fast enough to hold our rapid news cycle’s attention, but it’s important we recognise it. Here are a few important recent developments.

There’s no more evading law for former President Jacob Zuma. Image: GCIS

? Jacob Zuma has used every trick in the book to avoid facing corruption charges related to the arms deal. He’s been doing it for so long – 15 years! – that people have called it his Stalingrad campaign – referencing the World War 2 battle. He FINALLY seems to have hit the end of the road however and may have even painted himself into a corner with all his legal tricks. The Supreme Court of appeal has effectively ruled he needs to face the charges and the only court above it, the Constitutional Court, will unlikely hear the matter – even if he does try to buy more time by trying that route. And time he needs, as other court defeats mean Zuma no longer has access to state resources to pay his legal costs AND must repay over R16m of taxpayer money already spent on his legal fees. We think it’s important you know that because you probably heard lots about how we funded his legal costs, but not enough on what’s being done to reverse all that.

? Deloitte agreed to pay back R150 million to Eskom for services rendered back in 2016 and 2017. Remember the state capture gravy train involving companies we THOUGHT had integrity? The likes of Bain and McKinsey consulting firms, along with auditors KPMG were caught red-faced providing dubious services to those wrecking our state-owned institutions, and making a profit of it. The others have paid back the money and tried to make amends, but Deloitte tried to fight it at first, insisting it didn’t do anything wrong and saying settling would be an admission of guilt. However the company has come around and agreed it followed irregular procurement processes. The payment means that Deloitte gets to keep about R57 million in fees. What’s refreshing for once is that Eskom’s investigation found no evidence of corruption or an any ‘state-capture’ agenda – just that Deloitte did not follow the proper procedures to obtain the money, which is mild compared to what we know other companies did.

? Last week we told you about the report that came out of one of the many commissions of inquiries we had last year. It’s tempting to believe they’re all just a giant talkshop with no real action, and that the report won’t change much. But one week later, we hear that the PIC’s new management is already working with law enforcement authorities to prosecute those implicated in the report and recover lost money. Remember, this relates to a series of dodgy and nepotistic investments into disasters like Steinhoff and VBS banks, using workers’ retirement money.

See, it’s not all just terrible news!

? Week ahead

  1. The president’s big Covid-19 announcement tomorrow. We’re expecting a lockdown, which is one step further to enforce a state of disaster. A state of emergency is the final step.
  2. The National Command Council meets on Monday to discuss new and existing measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.
  3. Moody’s long-awaiting credit rating decision is expected on Friday. This is a big one because it may decide if South Africa goes into junk status or not. Look out for an explainer video on what that means coming soon.

That’s it from us at #Verationality, a product of www.explain.co.za – simple news summaries for busy people. ??‍♀ It’s been a torrid time so we may send you another midweek update if it’s necessary.

Remember to share the love – tell your friends to sign up for the updates at www.explain.co.za/subscribe. ?

Till next time, goodbye. ✌?

By Verashni Pillay and Aarti Bhana