Wine tasting podcast. Bonnievale Limited Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

bonnievale

By John Fraser

I despise the current prohibition imposed by the Soviet-inspired Command Council in South Africa.   This podcast is not intended to annoy those of us who are fast running out of booze, and are prohibited from buying any more.

Our intention, instead, is to serve as a reminder of a time when a group of chums could get together and relish a few glasses of the red stuff.

Michael Olivier, sommelier to the stars, poured out the Bonnievale Limited Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 to a receptive bunch.

Guest tasters were analyst Chris Gilmour, brander Jeremy Sampson, and technical supremo Malcolm MacDonald.

We also chatted about the merits of online purchasing, a pleasure allowed in SA at the moment unless you want to buy booze and ciggies.

Click below for a brief return to civilisation.

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Do also check out:  http://www.michaelolivier.co.za

South Africa’s COVID-19 strategy needs updating: here’s why and how


South Africa’s hard, extended lockdown has come at a significant economic cost. Shutterstock

Imraan Valodia, University of the Witwatersrand; Alex van den Heever, University of the Witwatersrand; Lucy Allais, University of the Witwatersrand; Martin Veller, University of the Witwatersrand; Shabir Madhi, University of the Witwatersrand, and Willem Daniel Francois Venter, University of the Witwatersrand

Decision-making at the early stages of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic (the coronavirus causing COVID-19) was constrained by a paucity of medical evidence and epidemiological data. Knowledge gained over the past two months can, therefore, inform the next phase of the strategy.

In the context of the initial uncertainty, South Africa’s early lockdown was prudent. It allowed time to prepare the health care system, to ramp up wide-spread testing and to introduce other measures to reduce transmission rates. Extending the lockdown is no longer required. It is also no longer reducing transmission rates and has become unaffordable.

Current evidence indicates that:

  • It is impossible to eliminate the virus and the spread will continue. Only a few countries have been able to minimise the rate of spread but they remain highly susceptible to repeated outbreaks.
  • The majority, approximately 70%, of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 are asymptomatic or have a moderate, self-limiting illness (approximately 25%). The 5% who develop severe COVID-19, with the risk of dying, are usually older than 65 years (greater than 80%) or have underlying comorbidities (such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity).
  • Children under 18 years are generally spared from developing severe COVID-19 and contribute less than 1% of all COVID-19 deaths (none among the more than 30,000 COVID-19 deaths in Italy).
  • It is not likely that a vaccine will become available in the near future. Without this, control of the infection would require about 60% of the population to develop immunity. This will take time and while there is considerable uncertainty over the number of deaths that may occur from COVID-19 over the next two years, current evidence suggests that it may be less than originally estimated.
  • An extended lockdown comes with substantial health costs. These include costs brought about by undermining public health initiatives such as immunising children against threatening diseases and in the impaired provision of health services to those living with comorbidities such as diabetes, tuberculosis (TB), HIV and hypertension. Indeed, there is evidence that currently the gains made over recent years in reducing the rates of, and deaths from TB are being reversed.

Read more: Coronavirus risks forcing South Africa to make health trade-offs it can ill afford


  • SARS-CoV-2 is highly infectious, with a reproduction rate every four days of roughly 2.5 at the onset of the outbreak. The reproduction rate measures the number of people to whom an infected person will pass on the virus. When South Africa introduced the lockdown, the reproduction rate was low relative to other countries. However, South Africa’s reproduction rate has remained above 1, even under a highly restrictive lockdown. Indications are it will remain above 1 at least for the foreseeable future.
  • The hard, extended lockdown has come at a significant economic cost. While there is debate about the cost to date, with estimates from 5%-16% of GDP, economists agree that this has been significant.
  • The lockdown has also imposed social costs. For example, children are missing out on schooling. This is detrimental for their cognitive development and for many other reasons. Children are at risk of becoming malnourished due to missing out on school feeding schemes, as well as from the increasing number of families that are being pushed into poverty.

Read more: Why South Africa needs to ensure income security beyond the pandemic


South Africa needs to accept that it is not on a unique trajectory. The virus cannot be eliminated. The country’s strategy needs to move away from a hard lockdown. In our view, South Africa should focus on using interventions aimed at slowing the virus’ transmission rate.

The success of these interventions depends on the buy-in and cooperation of citizens. The message to South Africa must be clear: It is not going to be spared deaths from COVID-19. But it is possible to prevent some of these through our own actions and by promoting strategic public health interventions.
South Africa should plan to mitigate the effects of the pandemic using the above strategies for at least two years, or until a vaccine becomes available.

Areas of uncertainty

There are two important areas of additional uncertainty. The first is that it is too early to establish the effect of COVID-19 on people living with HIV. But emerging evidence appears to be reassuring. People living with HIV who are on antiretroviral treatment do not appear to be at an increased risk.

Secondly, South Africa is not achieving the testing levels or reporting speeds required to contain the spread through diagnosis and contact-tracing. This gets harder as infection rates rise. Without this, it is unlikely that the country will stay ahead of the epidemic.

South Africa’s strategic thinking should, therefore, be informed by the following:

  • The need to minimise infection in vulnerable, high-risk groups and, where possible, to minimise deaths from COVID-19. This requires clear communication on the actual threat of the virus, preventative strategies, and slowing the spread of the virus to levels that spare the healthcare system and the economy while preventing the economic effects themselves from causing death.
  • It is not possible to contain the spread through lockdowns, because of the economic cost and the fact that it is not possible to keep the reproduction rate at consistently low levels easing lockdown.

It is therefore vital that the country develops strategies to control the virus and simultaneously manage the health, social and economic implications without resorting to further lockdowns.

Economic strategy

We suggest that South Africa move rapidly to stage 2 lockdown and that a risk-assessed framework be adapted. We propose that such a framework permit all economic activity, except where there is a clear and material threat to public health. The other exception is activities that pose a high risk of transmission over a short period of time, for example, mass gatherings or transmission hotspots.

The framework should specify, by exception, any economic activity not allowed on public health grounds. This would see the reopening of critical areas of the economy coupled with current behavioural and societal mechanisms to slow the viral spread.

Within this framework, we also suggest that:

  • The health of workers should be a high priority. Precautions with respect to the protection of healthcare workers and protocols in healthcare settings require careful attention.
  • Regulations should specify employer responsibilities to ensure that the opening up of the economy does not result in flareups of infections.
  • Retail opening hours be extended to reduce density and exposure to the virus, with early pensioner-only hours.
  • The frequency of public transport services be increased to enable movement subject to the adoption of health protocols. These protocols can be enhanced as necessary.
  • The hours of work for accessing public services be extended to make it possible for the population to access services in ways consistent with health protocols.
  • For now, international travel for leisure should not be allowed.

The health risks associated with this economic strategy should be premised on effective strategies to mitigate the rapid rate of transmission of the virus. This is best achieved by:

  • Reinforcing physical distance measures in settings where people have no option but to gather, and paying attention to ventilation. In the case of busses and taxis, windows should be opened to prevent prolonged contact with potentially contaminated air.
  • Reinforcing evidence-based public health measures like hand washing. This should include providing sanitation to all communities.
  • The continued use of face masks for all outside of the home. Reusable masks must be made available to all communities free of charge.

This list is not exhaustive but sets parameters which can guide an adaptation to level 2.

The ability of the country to avert the possible full impact of the virus will only succeed if all citizens of South Africa cooperate willingly with measures aimed at slowing the rate of transmission. If that does not happen, the full might of this virus will manifest itself sooner rather than later, irrespective of the level of official lockdown.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

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The Myth of the Mask

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We still know it’s you, Cyril

By John Fraser

I get a lot of dirty looks when I go shopping,  But that’s better than getting just one dirty C-19 germ.

You see, I don’t want to catch this killer virus, and if I am already carrying it, I really don’t want to infect anyone else.

Yet it seems I am in a minority.

Walk into most stores and supermarkets, and it is virtually impossible to keep a safe distance from staff and other customers.  

True, they will spray your hands with sanitiser when you enter the emporium, but that ain’t going to help when somebody coughs ferociously.  While standing right next to you.

Staff huddle in clusters near the tills.  In both Woolworths. and Checkers I have run out of fingers on one hand when making a tally of members of the same group of anti-social non-distancers.

Adjacent tills are opened up, instead of spacing the cashiers, and it is impossible to pass through the checkout without getting dangerously close to the packer.  or the person on the neighbouring till.

Hence my fear of the myth of the mask.

Customers and staff alike seem to believe that if they have a bit of fabric over their face, they will be fine.      Not so.

There is some protection – much, much better than nothing. 

But you are playing Russian roulette with your own life and with the lives of others if you over-rely on any mask.  An ostrich with its head in the sand may feel safe.   And yet most of those I encounter make ostriches seem like Mensa members.,

Which is why I use my trolley as a weapon, to keep the pox-ridden hordes at bay.

I switch aisles if it looks unsafe – and try to avoid shelf-stackers, who show little or no understanding of the concept of social distancing.

I shout at people if they look as if they are coming too close.

More than once I have been told how rude I am.

No problem.   

I would rather be rude than stupid.  And dead.

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If you care for South Africa, please buy and drink our wine.

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Wonderful, wonderful Cape wine

By John Fraser
It may sound strange, stupid, authoritarian and cruel, but the sale of booze in SA is currently banned, under lockdown regulations which have been sponsored by a bunch of Cabinet Ministers who know what is best for us.   Or think they do.

The result is that an important component of farming, of retail, is in dire trouble.

South Africans themselves are pretty powerless to do much about it, but this does not mean that the many, many friends of South Africa in Britain, the rest of Europe, the US, Hong Kong – you name it – can lend a helping hic.

For the one ray of sunshine peeping through the dark clouds which have descended like a shroud over the Cape Winelands is a re-opening of export channels for SA booze.

This means, bizarrely, that while the shelves of SA supermarkets are bereft of wine, you can still buy it in most other parts of the world.

And why should you not choose a Cape creation?

There is no shortage of brilliant whites, reds, rosés, bubbles, ports, sherries (though the latter two have to be called something else), whiskies, brandies, liquors, beers……….   All proudly South African.

So come on, you Brits, you Yanks, you Frogs, and others.    If is no great sacrifice for you to pick up a case or ten of the Cape’s finest.   All qualities, all prices are available.

In doing so, you may help to save businesses and jobs – white, black and coloured – in a country which is suffering a dreadful economic recession, compounded by the Wuhan virus.

I promise that once this ban, the least admirable aspect of the lockdown regulations, is lifted, those of us with a parttriotic palate will do our best to help our local producers.  Buying Cap Classic instead of Champagne, Bordeaux Blends instead of Claret, and so on…..   Not that this was ever a problem in the past.

I cannot think of a more pleasant way to show your support for South Africa than to uncork or unscrew a bottle bursting with Cape sunshine.

So the next time you stock your cellar, buy South African booze for the evening meal or (as soon as this becomes possible again) do the same when you pop out for a decent meal.  Read the label.   Select South African.  Do your bit.

A few decades ago, the world helped South Africa to gain its freedom by boycotting our exports.

Now we need your help again.

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Ministers need to provide rational, fact-based, and truthful justifications for lockdown regulations

Minister Zuma

By Pierre de Vos

On Wednesday night, minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma published new lockdown regulations to deal with the Covid-19 crisis in South Africa. Some of the regulations will apply for the duration of the national state of disaster, while others relate specifically to the level 4 lockdown that commenced on the 1st of May.

Unfortunately, the regulations are not always a model of clarity. It is also not clear how some regulations, in fact, advance the stated goals of the declaration of a national disaster, rendering them vulnerable to constitutional attack.

From a constitutional perspective, arguments about the pros and cons of various lockdown regulations – the ban on the sale of cigarettes, alcohol and (maybe) some books, the introduction of a curfew between 20:00 and 05:00 each day, the ban on exercise except between 06:00 and 09:00 in the mornings, the treatment of informal traders – seem to miss the point. 

Legally the question is not whether the sale of certain products is a good or a bad thing. Neither is it relevant that the ban on certain activities might lower the crime rate or, conversely, might embolden members of the criminal underworld. Legally the broad question is whether a specific regulation can be justified, given the stated aims of the declaration of a national disaster.

Of course, it is not only for legal reasons that ministers should provide a proper, fact-based, rational, justification for every lockdown regulation they seek to impose. In a constitutional democracy, voters ultimately hold the government accountable at the ballot box, based on the available information. 

While some voters may blindly vote for the governing party (or for another party of their choice), others will make a decision on whether to return the government to power based on the performance of the government.

Some voters may well decide not to support an incumbent party when its government ministers fail to explain monumental decisions like the imposition of a lockdown or fail to advance rational reasons for specific regulations.

Moreover, in a constitutional democracy, it is thankfully not possible effectively to enforce draconian lockdown regulations without the buy-in of the public.

The most effective way to ensure buy-in is by providing members of the public with rational, fact-based, and truthful justifications for specific regulations. 

If the government treats the public with respect by providing us with honest, rational, fact-based justifications for the imposition of certain rules, we are more likely to trust the government in return and comply with the stringent restrictions. A failure to provide rational, fact-based, and truthful justifications, will diminish compliance and will, therefore, be counter-productive.

Matters will be made worse if the government decides to use the police and the military to try and impose its will by force in the face of widespread public resistance.

Back to the legal argument. There are at least two grounds on which the validity of lockdown regulations could be challenged. Both these grounds depend to some extent on whether a plausible and truthful justification was provided for a specific regulation. The justification must be related to achieving the purpose of the declaration of a national disaster.

First, to comply with the principle of legality, all regulations must at the very least be rationally related to the stated aims of the declaration of a national disaster.

Recall that the declaration of a national disaster allows for the promulgation of regulations, but only to the extent necessary for the purpose of (a) assisting and protecting the public; (b) providing relief to the public; (c) protecting property; (d) preventing or combating disruption; or (e) dealing with the destructive and other effects of the disaster. 

If a regulation is aimed at achieving another purpose altogether (like lowering the crime rate or promoting public health concerns not directly related to the Covid-19 crisis), it would not meet the minimum requirement for validity.

If the regulation is aimed at achieving one of these stated goals, but there is no rational link between what the regulation actually says and its stated purpose, this would also render the regulation invalid. 

An absurd example: If a regulation requires members of the public to appear in public wearing purple masks (based on the superstition that purple wards off evil), it will not be rationally related to the aim of slowing or suppressing the spread of Covid-19.

Another example: a regulation that prohibits the sale of KFC because the consumption of large amounts of KFC is fattening and may cause diabetes will not be rationally related to the purpose of slowing or suppressing the spread of Covid-19 and will be invalid.

Second, where a regulation limits one of the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, the regulation will only be constitutionally valid if it is justifiable in terms of the limitation clause. Many of the lockdown regulations do limit rights protected in the Bill of Rights.

The right to equality, dignity, and freedom of movement, and the right to access to food and housing may be of particular importance in the current situation.

In terms of section 36 of the Constitution, the rights in the Bill of Rights may be limited:

only in terms of law of general application to the extent that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom, taking into account all relevant factors, including (a) the nature of the right; (b) the importance of the purpose of the limitation; (c) the nature and extent of the limitation; (d)  the relation between the limitation and its purpose; and (e) less restrictive means to achieve the purpose.

Once it is established that a regulation limits a right – as many of the lockdown regulations do – the burden to justify the limitation lies with the government, who must provide both factual material and policy considerations that might justify the limitation. In Moise v Greater Germiston Transitional Local Council the Constitutional Court explained this as follows:

The weighing up exercise is ultimately concerned with the proportional assessment of competing interests but, to the extent that justification rests on factual and/or policy considerations, the party contending for justification must put such material before the Court… If the government wishes to defend the particular enactment, it then has the opportunity – indeed an obligation – to do so. The obligation includes not only the submission of legal argument but the placing before Court of the requisite factual material and policy considerations…. [The] failure by government to submit such data and argument may in appropriate cases tip the scales against it and result in the invalidation of the challenged enactment.

Some of the lockdown regulations are likely to run into legal trouble because the government would not be able to provide a plausible factual basis for the assumptions underlying a regulation. Others may run into trouble because there is no obvious link between the regulation and its stated purpose.

But the most serious problem might well be that the purpose of the lockdown could have been achieved by regulations that infringe on the rights of citizens in a less drastic manner. 

As an example, let us look at the curfew which is being imposed from 20:00 each night to 05:00 the next morning. This provision clearly limits the right to freedom of movement guaranteed in section 21 of the Bill of Rights in quite an extreme manner. It is at best unclear that there is a factual basis for this regulation.

Has there been significant movement of people after 20:00 during the lockdown so far? Is there any factual basis that such movement increases the risk of infection? 

Furthermore, other regulations already restrict movement in a radical way, so it is not clear why this rule is necessary. To make things worse, no exception is made to allow individuals to go out for household emergencies like the need to buy electricity or airtime.

It would, therefore, be surprising if a court did not find that this provision limits the right to freedom of movement in a manner not justified by section 36.

The same logic applies to the restriction on exercise to the period from 06:00 to 09:00 in the morning. What is the actual purpose of this rule? I would guess it is aimed at making it easier to police the regulations.

But that does not seem to be a good reason to limit people’s right to freedom of movement as mere convenience will never justify a radical limitation on a constitutional right.

Furthermore, there does not seem to be a factual basis for the assumption that more people will get infected if they exercise after 09:00. Unlike other regulations that enforce physical distancing, there does not seem to be any relation between the limitation and the legitimate purpose of slowing down or suppressing the spread of Covid-19.

Less restrictive means – like strictly enforcing the ban on people exercising together – could surely be employed to achieve the same purpose. 

Here I am not primarily interested in the two regulations used as examples above. Instead, my aim is to show that it is not constitutionally permitted to impose limits on rights, without having a very good reason to do so.

The aim must always be to impose only such limits that are directly linked to the purpose of the lockdown and to limit rights as little as possible. 

We are not living in a state of emergency. Rights have not been suspended.

That means the duty of government ministers to justify the limitation of rights in accordance with the limitation clause have also not been suspended.

Such justifications must not be bizarre and spurious but must be fact-based, rational and truthful.

When no justification is offered, or where the justification appears to be irrational, it erodes trust in government and threatens the efficacy of the lockdown.

It also renders the regulations open to constitutional challenge and invalidation.

Prof Pierre de Vos is the Claude Leon Foundation Chair in Constitutional Governance, Head: Department of Public Law, at the University of Cape Town

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