Ford’s plans to accelerate auto exports from SA threatened by rail, land and power constraints

Politicians enthusiastically enjoying their recent visit to the Ford factory (Pic from the dtic)

By John Fraser

A discussion between auto executives and a political delegation in Pretoria this week has revealed the serious obstacles that lie in the path of US auto giant Ford’s hopes to ramp up its vehicle exports from its Silverton assembly complex in Pretoria East.

Port bottlenecks at Durban mean that plans are underway to see whether a high-capacity rail link can instead be provided for Ford’s vehicle exports to and through Port Elizabeth.

Meanwhile, electricity capacity needs to be boosted to enable the expansion of the neighbouring Tshwane Auto Special Economic Zone (TASEZ), which is due to take place fairly soon.

A third worry is securing enough land for expanding the SEZ, with the meeting being told that land is a “quite serious” constraint.

The consultation/site visit on Tuesday involved Deputy Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (dtic) minister Fikile Majola and Gauteng MEC Parks Tau.

A dtic official explained that the department has approved funding for the TASEZ of R3.1bn, with R2.6bn disbursed to date.

Ford’s Ockert Berry said the company is projecting a rise in assembly, heading for up to 200 000 vehicles a year, with many for export.

Export volumes will increase from 2015’s levels by 184%. 

He warned that Durban is congested, so Ford is looking to PE as well.

He said the flow would reach 32 trains a day if they go through PE, needing 1270 additional wagons.

However, this is not finalised yet.

A TASEZ official said that work on the SEZ project has passed the 50% mark, but more land will be needed if there is to be much more expansion. The City of Tshwane would need to appropriate it or buy it.

All construction of the current phase of the SEZ will be completed by the end of March.

He said the TASEZ has received R3.15 bn from dtic and is asking for an additional R256m.

Dept Minister Majola, who mumbled through his remarks and was frequently inaudible, said he hopes that President Ramaphosa will make a visit to the Ford plant and the SEZ.

“We are an advance team,” he muttered into his mask.

“Some SEZs were designated years ago, and nothing is happening. Here we have a success story. It has been a very important learning curve in the construction of SEZs.”

MEC Tau, who took off his mask and was thus more audible, confirmed concerns about getting vehicles from inland Gauteng to the coast.

“We need to look at capacity to get cars to the port, and we are dependent on rail. Transnet seem to be making progress, but I have not heard of a contingency plan,” he warned  

“You ramp up production on the basis of what you are able to move, so this issue of maximising potential to export needs attention.

“We may have the elevate the rail corridor initiative to the national cabinet – to look at the role Treasury and the DTIC will need to play. It is a critical contributor to production capacity.”

Energy supply will also be a constraint to expansion, and the meeting was told that officials have spoken on this to the CEO of Eskom.  

“We must look at alternatives. We are awaiting an Eskom update,” said one speaker.

The dtic did send out a media release later. It confirms the interest in expanding exports through Port Elizabeth.

Here is a link to it (enjoy!):

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New Podcast on how the SA government has clobbered the wine industry, with a special tasting of a Glen Carlou chardonnay

An excellent white at a great price

By John Fraser

The ZA Confidential podcast is back, purring over a fine SA white and growling at the government.

The wine being slurped is the Glen Carlou 2020 Petite Chardonnay, and the tasters are Malcolm MacDonald, Jeff Osborne and Jeremy Sampson. Overseeing it all is the font of all booze Michael Olivier.

Recorded just before the latest (tiny) easing of SA lockdown restrictions, the panel frets over the harm which has been done to the wine and hospitality sectors.

Click below to join in the fun:

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ZA Confidential wine tasting podcast: Landskroon Cape Vintage 2019

A Port by any other name tastes as sweet

By John Fraser

The tasting team is back, with a really exceptional SA Port – the Landskroon Cape Vintage 2019.

Michael Olivier uncorked it for guest tasters Malcolm MacDonald, Jeremy Sampson and Jeff Osborne.

There is also a pained panel discussion of how the SA government has caved in to diktats from the EU bureaucrats about the naming of some of our long-cherished fortified wines, which will forever be Ports to patriots like me.

You can access the podcast recording below, and you really, really should.

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It’s time to slam the door on SA’s nuclear ambitions

Nuclear health warnings

By John Fraser

You might trust your kid with a pack of cards or a tub of Lego. Maybe it is not as wise to give a toddler a chemistry set or an air rifle.

Any power plant is dangerous. A nuclear one is capable of causing a catastrophe.

The recent explosion of a generator at Eskom Medupi power station’s unit 4 – just days after the plant’s construction had been completed – shows how our national power utility is plagued by incompetence and risk.

An initial estimate for putting things right was up to R2bn – over two years – but when it comes to Eskom estimates it is often wise to add a zero to any cost prediction.

If the idiots at Eskom cannot safely work with a conventional power generator, heaven help us if they get their hands on more nuclear plants – as our unenergetic energy minister Gwede Mantashe seems to want.

The existing SA nuclear plant at Koeberg, which is frighteningly close to Cape Town, has been running reasonably safely for many years. But do we really want to play Russian roulette by following Gwede’s ambitions to preserve a nuclear build programme with his chums in Moscow.

It was widely thought that our discredited former President Jacob Zuma was courting the Russians in the hope of a new nuclear deal which might have lined the pockets of a few elite ANC comrades.

Indeed, the Energy portfolio has been a can of worms for some time now and it is worrying, astonishing and bizarre that Comrade Gwede was not shuffled into obscurity when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced his recent underwhelming Cabinet reshuffle.

Surely every South African who has experienced the unreliability, soaring costs and dodgy performance of Eskom must share my view that it is time for us to pull the plug on nuclear.  If your kids at Medupi blow themselves up with a conventional generator, you don’t give them a bag of dynamite and set them loose in a nuclear plant  

We know what can go wrong from the catastrophes at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, yet Gwede the unsteady wants more nuclear toys for Eskom to play with. What the Fuk-ushima! 

The current CEO of Eskom André de Ruyter is an impressive chap, and clearly an improvement on what came before. But the Medupi blast happened on his watch. Are we 100% confident that he will be able to ensure that his team of clowns will be able to save a future nuclear power plant from meltdown.

The generator blast was a wake-up call to us all.

Let us ban all future thoughts of nuclear expansion in SA, for as long as Eskom remains such a national disgrace. And a danger to us all.

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SA unrest: now’s the time to take the shackles off private initiative

By Jacques Moolman

Whether the orgy of looting and destruction of the last week in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Gauteng was planned that way or simply took on a life of its own due to massive youth unemployment and simple mob behaviour and common criminality, doesn’t matter.

The damage has been done. Now we must rebuild.

Let the socialist academics, point-making politicians and other moralists add their pennyworths to the background noises of social media. Nothing they can say will remove the thunderous shout of common sense: Only the private sector can get us out of the morass of incompetence and inefficiency that we have driven into during the last two decades.

We had a marvellous start in 1994, with a genuinely democratic Constitution, plus all the checks and balances the world experts applauded – our Bill of Rights, our independent judiciary, our legal system, our functioning modern economic sector, and so much more.

We were hailed as a Rainbow Nation—a lesson to the world of how multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-lingual societies could succeed – the hope of an African continent that had seen so much fail.

Less than 20 years later what do we have? An almost bankrupt state. A hopelessly corrupt and inept political elite bent on a socialist experiment along lines that have failed everywhere in the world it has been attempted.

We have an epic failure of local government and a country ranked among the lowest in the world on any number of surveys ranging from the performance of our ports, our railways, our airways, our economic growth rate, our levels of over-regulation of business, our sad excuse for public safety, clearly evident in our crime and murder rate, our unemployment – a list too long and too sad to continue here.

And now in KZN and Gauteng the inevitable result – an outbreak of anarchy on a scale not seen since the dawn of our hard-won democracy; an orgy of looting, some targeted at doing the maximum damage to the economy and key infrastructure, possibly carefully planned and stoked for political reasons, but descending into mindless criminality and edging towards racial and even tribal animosity.

But in this dark picture that horrifies all clear-thinking South Africans, there are glimmers of light. Among the brightest of these is the way communities in the affected provinces have banded together, often across racial lines, to protect each other’s premises and neighbourhoods to stop the looting from spreading further. In places among the hardest hit, there have even been spontaneous collection and return of looted items.

Perhaps best of all there is a greater understanding of the interrelationships that bind together the provision of essential food, goods and services, and appreciation that the blocking of roads and attacking and burning supply vehicles creates hunger, it does not solve it.

What we are seeing is true community spirit, not the manufactured solidarity of the political mob or the common objective of looters. This, plus the entrepreneurial spirit for which South Africans of all colours, shapes and sizes are known the world over, is what we need to harness for the task of recovery that we face.

There is no mystery as to how it can be done. The solution does not rest in the ivory towers of university sociology departments where utopian theories rule over common sense. It rests in unleashing the human mind, giving it the liberty to make and sell things, to trade and construct, to make a future for its owner and its offspring, secure in the knowledge that an honest day’s work will not be taxed to feed a gargantuan unproductive bureaucracy or be stolen by criminals.

Growing wealth does not need endless additional government rules to exist. It needs less. We can and must make the pie bigger. And we shall, whether it takes a State of Emergency to calm the waters or not, the solution to a better future is an unshackled private sector.

We need now more than ever the protection and strengthening of private property rights; a repeated demonstration of and emphasis that no one is above the law, especially corrupt politicians and civil servants.

We need to be seen to be stripping away regulatory burdens on small to medium businesses like the licensing overload. We must end labour laws that protect the few at the expense of the many willing to work even for less than the national minimum wage.

We must end threats of expropriation of private property without compensation, strip out taxes on business that only end in higher prices, and finally we must have a complete re-set of government thinking on a par with that which wrenched China out of poverty enforced by ideology into the first league of world economies.

We have the people. We know how to do it. We need to give full rein to the entrepreneurial spirit South Africans have in abundance. It will be the quickest way to haul ourselves out of the historical and economic dead-end we have been corralled into.

Now we need to review the role of socialist utopian theories as well. If we do that we can win the new battle that drew its lines in recent weeks – the fight between a free economy to create and spread the wealth on one side and the other – the forces of outdated social manipulation, and traditions that however noble they were centuries ago, now stand in the way of a growing population that must be fed and educated to compete in a highly competitive modern world of which our ancestors could never have predicted.

Jacques Moolman is President of the Cape Chamber of Commerce & Industry

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South African riots and food security: why there’s an urgent need to restore stability

Fuel storage tanks at South Africa’s Durban harbour. Blocking the transport of fuel will stop the transport of food. Photo by Hoberman Collection/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Wandile Sihlobo, University of the Witwatersrand

When South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, addressed the nation on July 12 amid violence and destruction of property in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces, he warned of several risks if the situation was not resolved swiftly. One of them was food security.

A lot has been written about the acts of criminality and the disregard for the rule of law that’s swept parts of the country. Attention has also been given to the underlying factors that make the South African society so fragile. These include rising unemployment, inequality, corruption and poor service delivery.

In light of the ongoing state of turbulence it’s important to take a closer look at food security issues.

South Africa is generally a secure food country at a national level. On top of this it is a net exporter of agricultural and processed food products. Last year agricultural exports reached the second-highest level on record of US$10.2 billion following a favourable production season.

But food security is about more than just having sufficient supplies. It also requires food accessibility, affordability, nutrition and stability over time.

This is where the challenge lies.

Continued disruption will affect supplies given the specifics of South Africa’s food supply chains. KwaZulu-Natal, the epicentre of rioting and looting, is a major producer of various agricultural products such as sugar, milk and poultry products. The province also serves as an entry for imported food products, including wheat, rice, poultry products, and palm oils. Gauteng, the other province also most affected, is one of the major food processing hubs.

However, South Africa’s food supply chains are not concentrated in one particular province. The biggest risk in the short term is the free movement of goods, including food and agricultural produce on the roads, specifically to and from the Durban port, the entry and exit point for agricultural imports and exports.

The other risk relates to increased income poverty because of the destruction of businesses.

Food production and consumption

In the same year as record production figures, the country experienced an increase in hunger, as identified in the National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM).. But this wasn’t necessarily an issue of food shortage or a rapid increase in food prices. It was mostly because people were out of work and had reduced means to buy food.

In 2021, South Africa again enjoyed another season of an abundant harvest following favourable summer rainfalls. This means that there are unlikely to be food shortages this year, but rather ample supplies for local consumption and export markets. This will be true for major grains, fruits, meat and various products.

Still, this doesn’t mean everyone in the country is food secure. Or that prices won’t rise rapidly.

There are long-standing challenges with income poverty in South Africa and the extent to which the poorest people are able to afford nutritious food. Still, food prices have only risen negligibly. South Africa’s consumer food price inflation was at 6.8% year on year in May 2021, from 6.7% year on year in April, according to data from Statistics South Africa. This is not an alarmist rate as we have seen double-digit inflation rates in years of drought such as 2016, where consumer food price inflation averaged 10.8% year on year.

The expectation is that consumer food price inflation could in fact soften in the second half of 2021.

Therefore, Ramaphosa’s emphasis on the risks to food security in his address on July 12 was primarily focused on KwaZulu-Natal.

The main challenge is a disruption due to the looting spree, forcing companies to avoid volatile areas so as not to expose their property and employees to danger. It is far from clear how long the unrest in KwaZulu-Natal will last.

Menacingly, no one can tell with certainty if waves of protest will not spill over to other provinces in ways that disrupt business and supply chains and affect livelihoods. If the wave of violent protests continues unabated, it could pose a risk to food security, with the poorest people most affected as their employment and livelihoods will suffer. Small businesses in particular might be forced to close given the scale of the continuing violence.

But South Africans in other parts of the country that have not seen outbreaks of looting and violence should not panic about possible food shortages.

Production patterns

KwaZulu-Natal has been the most affected by the violence. But the province isn’t the epicentre of agriculture in the country. It isn’t an anchor to the South African food system. Provinces in central South Africa – the Free State, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West and Limpopo – hold far more key positions. This is because of their abundant agricultural production and food processing capacity.

Maize meal and wheat flour – both staple to most South African diets – are primarily produced in the Free State, Mpumalanga, North West and the Western Cape. These provinces account for over 60% of production of each of these grains, and process over 50% of them.

KwaZulu-Natal processes roughly 8% of the 11.5 million tonnes of maize consumed in South Africa each year. In wheat, KwaZulu-Natal processes roughly 21% of the annual consumption. The numbers vary per product, but the point here is that food supply chains are not concentrated in one particular province.

There is no risk of food shortage currently from other anchor provinces. But the risk comes when there is no fuel for transport within the country, given the force majeure that the refinery in Durban has declared. It is South Africa’s largest refinery, accounting for 35% of the country’s refining capacity.

I highlight this because a large share of South Africa’s food is transported by road.

In the case of trade, the current disruptions weigh even more heavily on businesses and farmers in agriculture. On average, 75% of the country’s grains are transported by road annually. These are largely exported through the Durban harbour. The same is true for imported food products such as rice, wheat and palm oil, among other products. The volumes are also large for horticulture, specifically citrus, a leading exportable agricultural product in South Africa.

The burning of trucks on the roads and the blocked routes to the ports will prove costly to businesses and harm South Africa’s reputation as a global supplier in various value chains. This will also negatively affect the province’s food supply chains.

This needs urgent intervention, especially as agricultural products are perishable and the country is entering an export period for citrus in a year of a record harvest.

As South African authorities grapple with achieving stability, there needs to be a deeper introspection about ensuring that the country creates an environment conducive for businesses to thrive. And that it addresses the social ills that underlie instability and disregard for the rule of law.

In the near term, South Africans should not panic about the food system. But authorities will need to act swiftly and assertively to restore stability.

Wandile Sihlobo, Visiting Research Fellow, Wits School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand

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

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SA looting: It’s politics, stupid

Dawie Roodt

By Dawie Roodt

The phrase “(t)he economy, stupid” was allegedly coined by James Carville, a strategist in Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. And whilst the economy is the proximate cause of the current wave of destruction and looting in the country and its first line casualty, the real cause is politics – the politics of the ruling party.

Nothing justifies the looting, destruction, and plunder that we have seen in the past few days. Behaviour like this is exacerbated by deteriorating economic conditions, and we have had these conditions for many years: an economy that is in freefall, not because of the pandemic, nor the financial crisis, nor any other reason, but because of a destructive political force that goes by the name of the ANC-coalition government.

Politics is the reason for our woes, and it is our politics that we must remedy if we are ever able to transform these woes into wealth.

For many decades, the ANC-coalition government has used its position as the dominant political party in South Africa (SA) to establish its own patronage network, and to facilitate the wholesale industrial-scale looting of the state. Today:
– the state’s finances are unsustainable,
– most local authorities (especially ANC-ruled ones) have collapsed, and
– the SOEs have been operationally and financially run into the ground.

All of this happened because the ANC allowed it to happen.

Little consequence or sanctions were suffered by those who participated in the looting. It was not just Zuma. It was the ANC.

Additionally, those institutions that were created to protect us from a destructive government – the judiciary, the public protector, the prosecution authorities – have been undermined. And the list of the ANC’s destruction goes on.

It’s only luck that a few of these institutions have survived to do their jobs. It was the relentless pressure from a free press and the judiciary that eventually forced Zuma to appoint the Zondo commission. It was the same press that piled so much pressure on Ramaphosa that he had very little alternative but to send Mkize on “leave”. It was the Zondo commission that started the process to ensure Zuma went to jail, which was originally initiated by the public protector (when we still had a competent one) and her reports. It was a trade union that forced Gordhan to put SAA under business rescue. And the list goes on.

Point is, the few good things that happened in SA happened not because of the good quality of our political leaders, but it happened because a few remaining institutions did their jobs.

Inevitably the ANC’s mismanagement led us to where we are today. We are quickly running out of taxpayers, out of capital, out of savings, out of jobs, and out of an economy. On a per-capita basis, we have lost a decade of wealth creation, and our wealth continues to decline. Unemployment is the highest it has ever been, and the rate keeps on increasing. The consequence of this is that people are going to bed hungry.

Since last year, the economy has been hit by another catastrophe: the lockdown. The impact of the lockdown was exacerbated by an incompetent government and the flagrant violation of the human rights to trade and to earn a living. The result: even more misery.

Inevitably things will get worse before there is any chance of them getting better. Mboweni (the best finance minister the ANC has to offer and an enthusiastic cook) had no choice but to present a fiscal framework that will cut state spending. Either that or there would be a total collapse of the fiscal accounts.

Unavoidably, this means spending less on people, particularly the 21 million who receive an income from the state every month (grant recipients and civil “servants”).

When Mboweni presented his framework, I warned that it would have the unavoidable effect of cutting in real terms the income of 21 million people over several years, and I warned that they would get angry, and I warned we could expect heightened unrest. And I was right.

Fixing the fiscal accounts must lead to more pain and conflict, and it will inevitably continue to do so. Many other “fixes” need to happen:
– fixing Eskom and the other SOEs,
– fixing the local governments,
– fixing education,
– fixing health, and
– fixing everything the ANC has touched in the past.

Why could the police not see what is so obvious to see? Why weren’t they ready for this?

The scene was thus set for the conflagration of the past few days, Zuma was only the spark that lit the fire.

People are hungry, unemployed, and without hope. Obviously, this is also an opportunity to score some political points by a few. Unfortunately, what we see today is the economic consequences of a destructive government. People see, people do. What people see is a political elite that plunders with impunity. They are the leading looters and the destitute opportunists on the streets are the followers.

Our only hope now is politics. And I believe the only person that can do what is needed to be done is President Ramaphosa. So far, he has been a president of consensus, we now need a president with conviction.

First thing is to lead by example. He must reshuffle those around him and only keep those that are squeaky clean. No more “innocent until proven guilty”. No more special leave. Only by proving that he himself will not tolerate any form of lawlessness, or even a hint of lawlessness, will he be able to regain the moral high ground that the country needs to rebuild the economy.

I am not holding my breath.

In the meantime, the effect of the turmoil will affect the livelihoods of all of us, and most tragically the poor. Massive destruction in infrastructure and property, as well as the loss of lives, will continue to undermine the economy. It will add to unemployment, hunger, and poverty. But by far the most damage to the economy will be our tainted image as a country. This damage is incalculable.

For now, the rand is set for further weakness, and capital will continue to flee. We maintain that a prudent approach to investing is to have a significant portion of a portfolio abroad. Certain local stocks like mining may offer excellent value and speculative portfolio flows may find our very high yields attractive for a short while. However, if this anarchy remains, SA will mostly be a no-go zone.

My view is that the current wave of unrest will mostly calm down over the next couple of days and a degree of normality may return.

But we will all know that the volcano of poverty and dissatisfaction is bubbling just underneath the surface, and next time it will be worse.

Either Ramaphosa uses his political capital now, at the risk of alienating many others within the patronage, or this country could politically disintegrate.

Dawie Roodt is Chief Economist of the Efficient Group

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Fish hooked on meth – the consequences of freshwater pollution


Matt Parker, University of Portsmouth and Alex Ford, University of Portsmouth

Around 269 million people worldwide use drugs each year. Often forgotten in this story is a problem of basic biology. What goes in must come out. Sewers are inundated with drugs that are excreted from the body, along with the broken down chemical components that have similar effects to the drugs themselves.

Sewage treatment plants don’t filter these things out – they were never designed for it. A lot of sewage also finds its way into rivers and coastal waters untreated. Once in the environment, drugs and their byproducts can affect wildlife. In a recent study, researchers in the Czech Republic investigated how methamphetamine – a stimulant with a growing number of users worldwide – might be affecting wild brown trout.

They examined whether concentrations of methamphetamine and one of its byproducts, amphetamine, which were estimated from other studies that have measured illicit drug concentrations in waterways, could be detected in the brains of brown trout. They also looked at whether these concentrations were enough to cause the animals to become addicted.

White methamphetamine crystals on a black background with a glass meth pipe.
Recreational methamphetamine users often smoke crystal meth. AMF Photography/Shutterstock

The trout were exposed to the drug in large tanks over eight weeks and then put into withdrawal, going “cold turkey” in drug-free tanks for ten days. During that time, the researchers tested the fish’s preference for fresh water or water containing methamphetamine and compared this with the responses of fish that had never been exposed to the drug.

Their findings were intriguing. The methamphetamine-exposed fish preferred the water containing the drug, while no such preference was shown for the untreated fish. The researchers also found that during their withdrawal period, the methamphetamine-exposed trout moved less. The researchers interpreted this as a sign of anxiety or stress – typical signs of drug withdrawal in humans.

The brain chemistry of the exposed fish differed from the unexposed, too, with several detected changes in brain chemicals that correspond to what is seen in cases of human addiction. Even after the behavioural effects had waned after ten days of withdrawal, these markers in the brain were still present. This suggests that methamphetamine exposure could have long-lasting effects, similar to what is seen in people.

How drugs affect ecosystems and fish biology

Why should we care if trout are becoming addicted to drugs? There are several reasons.

If the trout are “enjoying” the drugs, as they appear to be in the recent study, they may be inclined to hang around pipes where effluent is discharged. We know that fish can behave similarly to what is seen in humans suffering from addiction, not only from this trial, but from several studies on different fish species. One of the hallmarks of drug addiction is a loss of interest in other activities – even those that are usually highly motivated, such as eating or reproducing. It’s possible that the fish might start to change their natural behaviour, causing problems with their feeding, breeding and, ultimately, their survival. They may, for instance, be less likely to evade predators.

Exposure to drugs not only affects the fish themselves, but their offspring. In fish, addiction can be inherited over several generations. This could have long-lasting implications for ecosystems, even if the problem was fixed now.

This is not the first study to find illicit drugs in wildlife. In 2019, scientists in the UK reported cocaine in freshwater shrimp in all 15 rivers they sampled. Interestingly, they detected illicit drugs more often than some common pharmaceuticals.

But the wider effects of those drugs remain largely unknown. There have, however, been comprehensive studies into the effects of pharmaceuticals in rivers.

Read more: Five ways fish are more like humans than you realise

Pharmaceutical pollution

Medicines do not fully break down in our bodies either and arrive at wastewater treatment plants in faeces and urine. Most are discharged with wastewater effluent, but some enter rivers by seeping from landfills or farm fields where human sewage is used as fertiliser. Wildlife living in rivers and coastal waters where effluent is discharged are exposed to cocktails of medicines, from painkillers to antidepressants.

Caged fish downstream of some water treatment plants changed sex from male to female within a few weeks due to exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals found in contraceptive pills. Recent studies have shown that antidepressants can cause a wide range of behavioural changes in aquatic organisms from aggression, attraction to light and increasing boldness.

Drug addiction is a global health concern that can devastate communities, and tackling its environmental consequences will be expensive. One study has estimated it would cost over US$50 billion (£36 billion) to upgrade wastewater treatment plants in England and Wales so that they can remove these chemicals.

Water flowing out of a concrete grate into a river.
Drugs can’t be filtered from sewage without significant upgrades to existing infrastructure. Marekuliasz/Shutterstock

It might seem obvious that prescribed and illegal drugs designed to change behaviour in humans also change the behaviour of wildlife. But this problem is potentially far more widespread and complex. We don’t even know if synthetic chemicals in everyday household products, such as cosmetics, clothes and cleaning agents, can affect the behaviour of people and other species. An international group of scientists has urged companies and regulating bodies to check their toxic effect on behaviour as part of risk assessments of new chemicals.

We must get to grips with the amount of pharmaceuticals in our waterways. The world is some way from fixing the problems of addiction and illicit drug use. But, at the very least, more should be done to improve filtration in sewage treatment plants, and to force water companies to take more responsibility for ensuring effluent doesn’t affect wildlife.

Matt Parker, Senior Lecturer in Neuroscience and Psychopharmacology, University of Portsmouth and Alex Ford, Professor of Biology, University of Portsmouth

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

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A good news story for Youth Day: Proper housing for students can uplift an entire rural community.

Chris Hart

By John Fraser

“You have probably never heard of Lehurutshe, a small village near Zeerust in the North West Province, which lies close to Botswana Border,” says Chris Hart, Executive Chair of Impact Investment Management.

“And that helps to explain the neglect, despair and misery of this and so many other small communities in South Africa.”

However, venture capitalist Hart and his team at Impact Empowerment Ventures are bringing new hope to the villagers of Lehurutshe, with a project to build a student accommodation block, using capital that would otherwise have disappeared onto the grasping hands of Treasury officials.

There will no shortage of demand from the students who are studying at the town’s Taletso TVET College.

“Generally, these students are currently being accommodated in the back rooms of noisy, crowded homes where it is not conducive to study properly,” says Hart, who has just returned from a site visit to Lehurutshe.

“There is limited accredited accommodation available for these students, and we are determined to help to fill this gap.

“Here we have a situation where there is tertiary education available, but on the accommodation side it is really sub-optimal to learning.”

Hart explains that jobs will be provided in the construction stage of the project, staff will be needed to run the student hostel once it is opened, and it will make a real and tangible difference to a neglected backwater.

“While this investment will help to create jobs, it will also provide business ownership for young unemployed people in this community,” he states.

“This investment is proof that there are plenty of opportunities and need in SA’s neglected rural outposts, and we are providing a facility that will be high-impact, but also highly rewarding for investors.

“There are hundreds of these opportunities scattered across South Africa. From an investment point of view, the rural student accommodation margins look better than those for hostels established near our urban universities.”

The project is to be financed through the Section 12J tax incentive, which allows people with a high tax burden to put their tax liability into an eligible investment instead of handing it over to the fiscus.

The project is projected to have a return on investment of 12-15%, net of costs.

“This is a scalable investment, and the size of the accommodation block will depend on the funds raised. We plan to house at least 40 to 50 students, but it could go higher,” Hart explains.

“And, of course, this model can be planted elsewhere in the country where there is similar demand.

“We could just say: why should we take any notice at all of this community, and similar neglected rural outposts? Instead we are asking: what can an investment do, how can we made a real difference, have a real impact?

“The plight of rural villages must be neglected no more.”

Chris Hart will be hosting a webinar on this student housing project on Friday, the 18th of June at 9.30.

Registration Link:

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Can we put a stop to Patel’s meddling?

Minister Ebrahim Patel: Your boardroom is not safe from this man

By John Fraser

Of course there are excesses. Company executives can and do become obscenely rich with large salaries, generous pensions and other less-transparent perks like share options.

But that is the price we pay for a fairly free labour market, where merit is rewarded.

If someone can command a high salary because his or her talents are in high demand, then so be it. This applies to high-class hookers, film stars and footballers, so why should it not also work in the less-respectable corporate world?

Well, South Africa’s communist Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition Ebrahim Patel thinks that it shouldn’t. He said as much in his recent budget vote speech to Parliament, and in an earlier media briefing.

He wants South Africa’s company law to be amended to “tackle the injustice of excessive pay”.

Now, one can understand the minister’s frustration, because when shareholders vote through salaries which give the bosses a daily rate which is close to the annual amount we peasants earn – there seems to be too little debate on whether or not this is good for the company. Whether the CEO really needs so many zeros on his pay cheque.

If the shareholders won’t do enough to curb excess, Patel believes he must mount his charger in full white-knight garb and slay the dragons of boardroom greed.

He spoke of “a new Bill will that will be finalised within 60 days (which) will require disclosure of wage differentials in companies, stronger governance on excessive director pay, and enhanced transparency on ownership and financial records.”

He argued: “if we really are all in this together, then our patterns of ownership, power and control must be transformed.”

Lenin must be chuckling in his mausoleum, delighted that although he may be dead and unburied in Red Square, the idealistic claptrap of Karl Marx is flourishing in the depressing architectural blandness of Patel’s lair – the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition’s (DTIC) Sunnyside campus.

Patel strikes me as a hard-working, incorruptible, thoughtful and caring man, but I am not sure his economic stance is realistic.

A lot of people earn a lot of money. So what?

His boss, the President, is a billionaire. Would Cyril have welcomed more government interference while he was still in the private sector, building his fortune through the distribution of McDonald’s burgers and other gastronomic delights?

One would hope he will bring a dose of reality when this issue reaches the Cabinet.

While Patel’s vision of a fairer, more equal society looks good in theory, it takes little account of reality.

Greed may not be good, noble or admirable. But it makes the world go round.

It leads to excess, but also to success. The two go together.

Remove the motive for the very talented to exercise their talents and lead our big firms, and they will go elsewhere. They can. They are mobile and in demand.

You will be forced to replace the overpaid elite with under-performers. That is not good for an economy.

So maybe this minister and former activist for South Africa’s textile workers should stick to his knitting, by helping to create the most welcoming environment possible for investment and talent.

He will not do this by bashing the bosses.

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