South Africa

CORONAVIRUS WEEKLY DIGEST #8: Mini budget puts recovery plan into action, Ramaphosa downplays lockdown rumours and matrics get ready for exams

This past week, the mini budget was unveiled to put into practice the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Programme. President Cyril Ramaphosa has downplayed talk of a lockdown. Excess deaths increased for a second week in a row while Nelson Mandela Bay saw a sudden surge in new cases. Meanwhile, the country prepared for the upcoming matric exams – however, thousands of pupils haven’t returned to school. 

Maverick Citizen’s Coronavirus Daily Digest has changed format to a Coronavirus Weekly Digest. Each Friday morning, the digest will summarise highlights from the previous week’s news about the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa. 

Mini Budget provides little cheer

Wednesday’s Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement delivered spending cuts on just about every national department. In addition, it indicated a public wage freeze and tax hikes. However, SAA got its R10.5-billion bailout. The budget was based on the economic reconstruction and economic recovery programme President Cyril Ramaphosa launched almost two weeks ago.

Marianne Merten unpacks the political implications of these numbers as well as Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s speech

 Sasha Planting explains how the statement might affect the country’s debt. 

Ray Mahlaka sets out what this money means for SAA, and Tito Mboweni and Pravin Gordhan’s defence of the bailout.

Before the mini budget was delivered more than 50 people picketed outside Parliament. Equal Education demanded more money for basic education, while Black Sash called for permanent social assistance for unemployed people. The DA was there to oppose the bailout. Karabo Mafolo unpacks whether the budget met any of their demands.

Last week, a coalition of 12 prominent civil society organisations published a “People’s Budget” on the same day the mini budget had initially been scheduled for. It called for the end of an austerity “death spiral” if South Africa is to recover from the pandemic. As Mark Heywood writes, there has been no response from Treasury despite requests for comment from the researchers involved. 

Black Sash to challenge cancellation of lockdown caregiver grant

On Friday, the Black Sash is going to court to interdict the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) from cancelling the R500 caregiver grant. The grant was put in place during lockdown. This week, Sassa announced all “top-up grants” have come to an end and that November’s grants will go back to pre-pandemic figures. As Estelle Ellis writes, the Black Sash argues the grant is still vital as the Covid-19 disaster is far from over.

Ramaphosa downplays lockdown rumours

President Cyril Ramaphosa has said he will address South Africa soon on the Covid-19 situation in South Africa and “what we now need to do” but downplayed rumours that the country might return to Level 3. As Marianne Merten writes, he seemed to downplay Covid-19 corruption too.

Nelson Mandela Bay sees a spike in Covid-19 cases

Last weekend, the number of new Covid-19 infections jumped from 700 to 1,185 in Nelson Mandela Bay. Of those, 98 were children younger than 19. The municipality has asked residents to report large social gatherings to the police’s emergency line. In addition, the three big private hospitals have suspended visiting hours because of an increase in hospitalisations. Meanwhile, the provincial health department reported more recoveries than the total number of confirmed cases and is yet to clarify. As Estelle Ellis writes, the province has a history of irregular reporting. 

Excess deaths increase for a second week

There were 1,300 more natural deaths for the week 14 to 20 October than expected – an above-normal figure for the second week in a row. All provinces recorded deaths above the weekly forecast. Nonetheless, they remain far below the peak of the pandemic in July. As Marecia Damons writes, not all the excess natural deaths are Covid-related but the majority likely are.

Systems set for matric exams

More than one million matric pupils are due to write the National Senior Certificate examinations from 5 November to 15 December. The Department of Basic Education said provinces are ready, across the board, with most marker posts filled and new writing centres established. As Ayanda Mthethwa writes, the department has said it offered numerous support structures to pupils but the impact remains “an unknown”. 

However, thousands of children haven’t returned to school yet. In the Northern Cape, about 10,000 children haven’t returned. In Gauteng, that number is about 40,000. They have all been regarded as drop-outs, according to the provincial basic education departments. As Karabo Mafolo writes, the provinces are trying to capture information to understand the trends of why they haven’t returned and determine how best to assist them.

Provinces try to catch up on routine health programmes

Provinces have between November 2020 to March 2021 to catch up on immunisation programmes aimed at children under the age of five. This comes after childhood immunisation rates declined in 2020 compared to previous years largely because of Covid-19 and the lockdown. Elri Voigt asked them how they plan to achieve this. 

The Western Cape has started a catch-up plan for its provincial TB plan. It acknowledges that in June 2020 TB testing fell by 47% and diagnosis of patients with TB fell by 33% compared to previous years. The province says it is applying lessons learnt from the rapid roll-out of Covid-19 screening and testing to its six-month catch-up plan, writes Elri Voigt.

Human Rights Watch reiterates support for South Africa’ patent proposal

The world is hurtling towards a Covid-19 vaccine with much talk about the safeguarding of universal human rights and transparency, but very little tangible progress to show for it, according to detailed research by Human Rights Watch. On Thursday, it released a report on the search for a Covid-19 vaccine. Its solutions include an urgent call for universal support for proposals by South Africa and India to scrap some aspects of international patent laws for Covid-19 vaccines. Read more here. DM/MC

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