Maverick Citizen

CORONAVIRUS DAILY DIGEST #105

Ramaphosa takes tough stance on corruption, schools reclose for a month, and pandemic’s official death toll is cast into doubt

Compilation image by Sahra Heuwel.

On Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced changes to the remaining school year. In addition, he has established a government centre to tackle Covid-19-related corruption in government. Meanwhile, the repo rate was slashed again and the country’s number of excess deaths raises questions about the virus’s true toll.

Scroll through the gallery below to view the latest Covid-19 numbers available on 23 July at the district level. All maps are sourced from provincial health departments:

The Cabinet has decided that public schools will close for the next four weeks, said President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday evening. This will be from 27 July to 24 August. However, Grades 12 and 7 are exempt.  Matrics will only have a one-week “break” between 27 July and 3 August, while Grade 7 learners will have a two-week break from 27 July to 10 August. In addition, the academic year has been extended into 2021. The National School Nutrition Programme will continue to operate during this time.

Ramaphosa said that SA had sourced financing from the African Development Bank and the New Development Bank, and is in discussions with the International Monetary Fund.

He announced the establishment of a government centre to investigate and prosecute Covid-19 corruption, from the diversion of food parcels to the procurement of goods at exorbitant prices. It is made up of the Hawks, National Prosecuting Authority, the South African Police Service, Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.

He has signed a presidential proclamation to authorise the Special Investigating Unit “to investigate corruption allegations in any state body during the state of disaster, refer for prosecution and take civil action to recover stolen funds”. He said the SIU will provide him with an interim report on its investigations every six weeks.

The Reserve Bank has once again cut the repo rate – this time by 25 basis points to 3.5%. It has lowered the rate by a total of 300 basis points this year. The bank expects GDP to contract by 7.3% in 2020, compared to its 7% contraction forecast in May.

South Africa has seen a sharp rise in its overall number of excess deaths, according to a new mortality report by the South African Medical Research Council. There were 17,000 more natural deaths between early May and mid-July 2020 than would normally be expected. As Ferial Haffajee writes, these thousands of deaths suggest that the number of people dying from Covid-19 is higher than official statistics claim. 

This news comes just as a leaked confidential government document hints at a longer alcohol and tobacco sale ban. According to the document, the ban might be extended to August 15 when lockdown is due to end. However, the lockdown might be extended month by month. On 22 July, the government’s main Twitter account retracted a tweet which said the ban would last until the end of lockdown.

Eastern Cape urgently needs more than 1,000 critical care beds to accommodate the surge in Covid-19 infections expected in the next two months, according to Professor Ian Sanne, a member of the team of experts sent to support the provincial Department of Health. He said there may be 9,000 “unavoidable” Covid-19 deaths in the province, despite intervention. He was briefing a joint sitting of the Portfolio Committee on Health and Select Committee on Health and Social Services. Estelle Ellis reports on the briefing and the new team’s plans for state hospitals.

Last month, the Eastern Cape Health Crisis Action Group wrote to Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba, the provincial health department and the minister of health about the unsafe conditions and maladministration in Nelson Mandela Bay’s hospitals. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize visited Livingstone Hospital this week, and saw piles of laundry and waste lying in the courtyard and a blocked drain. Gomba has written to her staff and promised to address these issues in the next week. Estelle Ellis asked what the plan is.

Meanwhile, Gomba has told Parliament that the issues around the procurement of 100 motorcycle clinics have been resolved. However, the provincial legislature is still “establishing facts” and the owner of the manufacturing company says he hasn’t heard from the government in weeks. Estelle Ellis reports.

An Eastern Cape nurse who has tested positive for Covid-19 has written an open letter to Mkhize saying: “We don’t want vuvuzelas, we simply want our rights to life respected”.

The decay in the country’s healthcare system exposed by the glaring light of the pandemic is nothing new. A new report on the health sector records years of corruption which goes right to the top public officials, administrators, medical professionals and private companies. Zukiswa Pikoli unpacks the numbers.

Across the country, evictions have continued under lockdown despite there being a moratorium on them. Karabo Mafolo tracks the City of Cape Town’s demolitions and in Johannesburg, photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed witnesses the destruction of 130 homes by the city’s metro police.

Provincial disaster relief funding for health has already run out in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and North West. Meanwhile, Eastern Cape has spent just R3.12-million of its R44,551,000 allocation. This was revealed during Wednesday’s parliamentary Special Adjustment Budget vote debate. Also put under the spotlight were allegations of the mismanagement of Covid-19 funds at provincial level. However, this is all the responsibility of the National Treasury and not the Department of Co-operative Governance, according to Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. Marianne Merten reports on the debate.

On Wednesday, thousands of restaurant workers nationwide peacefully protested against lockdown regulations which are damaging the industry. Bianca Coleman reports from Cape Town.

In addition, organisations including the National Liquor Traders Council, Liquor Traders Association of South Africa, Restaurant Association of South Africa and Business Leadership South Africa are attempting to engage with the government to propose a sustainable way forward for the industry under lockdown. Sasha Planting outlines their proposed plans.

Galleries and museums face a similar dilemma in that they are allowed to open, but the conditions are less than ideal. Malibongwe Tyilo spoke to the SMAC gallery, Stevenson gallery, Norval Foundation and WHATIFTHEWORLD about their challenges and hopes.

Across the country, evictions have continued under lockdown despite there being a moratorium on them. Karabo Mafolo tracks the City of Cape Town’s demolitions and in Johannesburg, photojournalist Shiraaz Mohamed witnesses the destruction of 130 homes by the city’s metro police.

Eight media organisations have called on Ramaphosa to help secure the immediate release of Zimbabwean investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono. Chin’ono was arrested earlier this week without a warrant and charged with “incitement to commit public violence” and “inciting the public to commit public violence”. This comes just a few weeks after he exposed a R60-million Covid-19 corruption scandal linked to several high-up government officials. Read the open letter here. DM/MC

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