Given the deep decline of the economy even before the Covid pandemic clobbered South Africa, it would have been deeply damaging if the Finance Minister Tito Mboweni had implemented the R40bn in tax increases he threatened in in his mini-budget towards the end of last year.
As it was, he announced in his 2021 budget that he would not raise any additional tax revenue in this budget, beyond the usual inflationary – and oft above-inflationary – annual increases.
The personal income tax brackets and rebates will increase above the inflation rate of 4 per cent, excise duties on alcohol and tobacco will jump by 8 per cent, and fuel taxes will see increases around the inflation rate.
Over the medium term, R9 billion is allocated for Covid vaccine rollout, which seems way below earlier estimates of up to R20bn. Possibly the private sector is going to chip in more than we had thought?
In terms of industrial support, the highly successful Section 12J incentive for venture capital to end as had been scheduled this year.
Pleas for an extension were ignored.
In general, the budget speaks of a determination to dim the focus on industrial support through incentives, opting instead to reduce corporate tax, which will happen from next year. SA’s corporate tax rates do not compare favourably with those of our rivals.
But at least there is no wealth tax, no really horrid surprises and an outlook which is less awful than had been expected.
That’s the budget out of the way. Now let us clobber the pandemic.
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It can be tough when you are a former president in a democracy you have attempted to subvert, especially when that democracy comes back to bite you. Former South African president Jacob Zuma is finding this out the hard way.
Zuma is holed up in his expansive homestead in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal, since being ousted from the presidency in February 2018. His leadership of the governing African National Congress (ANC) ended with the election of his nemesis, Cyril Ramaphosa, in December 2017.
Since then, Zuma (78) has spent his retirement engaged in defensive action to stave off the threat of prosecution for past malfeasance going back two decades.
But he appears to be running out of road on a few fronts. Firstly, he has lost the battle to prevent the National Prosecuting Authority from arraigning him on charges of corruption and racketeering relating to a notorious 1998 arms deal. The deal to equip the military amounted to R30 billion.
Zuma shares this ignominy with his American counterpart, former US president Donald Trump, who, like him, faces legal consequences for his attempts at subverting democracy while in office. Both have demonstrated their contempt for constitutional constraints, using their power as president to destroy institutions of state.
Going to jail for subverting democracy is less than edifying. In Zuma’s case it would be an particularly ignominious final chapter of his life. He has been in jail before, but for reasons that were noble, alongside extraordinary men and women who fought for freedom.
He served 10 years at the Robben Island Maximum Security Prison, from 1963 to 1973, for taking part in the sabotage operations of Umkhonto Wesizwe, the military wing of the then banned ANC, against apartheid. He was 21 when he started serving his sentence.
Trump used the presidency to build up his business empire and stave off its mounting debt. Zuma and his family aligned themselves to the Gupta family, which stands accused of orchestrating the capture of the state for personal profit.
Testimony before the Zondo commission has brought fresh claims to light about how he went about this enterprise, and the extent of it. Even for South Africans who have been provided with a mountain of fresh allegations on his malfeasance since he left office, the latest testimony has been shocking. It has included steps he took to turn the intelligence services into his personal instrument and use them to undermine those who opposed him within the ANC.
The analogies with Trump might seem distant. But they aren’t. Both men stand accused of subverting democratic processes and institutions they were duly elected to protect. They swore an oath to do so.
For his part, Trump is preparing to face his impeachment by Congress for inciting the storming of the Capitol by his right-wing supporters in a bid to overturn the outcome of an election he lost. If he were to be successfully impeached, he would lose his presidential pension and be banned from running again for federal office.
The stakes for both Trump and Zuma are high. Both are focused on the future, rather than trying to rescue their reputations in history. Both represent a major threat to democracy.
Zuma will play the game to the final denouement
Oh yes, it can be tough being a former president, but make no mistake, Zuma will play the game in the way he know best, by subordinating the law to politics.
Zuma is skilled at playing the victim, reckoning that his best defence is to rally support within the ANC, where he still enjoys support, and raise the political costs of pursuing him through the courts.
He knows well that if he is successfully prosecuted for corruption and sentenced to jail, even if only for a symbolic time, those who backed him during the era of state capture and shared the spoils will fear that the prosecutors will be emboldened to come knocking on their door.
The ANC remains riven with factionalism, and with President Ramaphosa seemingly unable to stamp his authority upon the party, Zuma is likely to play for a political deal which will continue to allow him his freedom, even if he is convicted in court.
Democracy and accountability
For Trump, the impeachment process is only a forerunner of charges likely to be filed by New York State relating to his tax returns, very possibly alleging fraud and criminality.
South Africa’s Constitutional Court rebuke to Zuma in its latest judgment reminds him that no-one, not even the president, is above the law.
The apex court is reminding Zuma that the demand for accountability is at the heart of democracy. The US Democrats’ drive to impeach Trump is restating that same principle: that being a former president should not grant any special privileges.
The message is clear. Democracy demands that both Trump and Zuma be held to account.
What do you do when a man is down? Do you offer him a helping hand, a word of encouragement, comfort and hope? Not if you are one of the out-of-control fanatics of the governing ANC.
Having used bouts of prohibition and curfews to drive most of SA’s restaurants and wine farms to the brink of ruin – and having succeeded in pushing all-too-many over the cliff into bankruptcy, our beloved government now has a new booze-bashing bombshell to deploy for a dance on the grave of this most civilised of sectors
It’s a ban on driving with the merest drop of alcohol in your blood.
Now nobody in their right mind, and not even those of us whose minds are getting wonkier by the day under the Covid menace, would suggest that driving while drunk is a good thing.
It is not. It should be discouraged. People should be safe and sensible.
But there is a differenced between being sensible and being totally bloody fanatical.
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, one of those born-again temperance types, appears to believe he has some divine duty to crush the livelihoods of those who crush grapes, along with the rest of we fermented-grape-loving worshippers of Bacchus.
From June, under a law which has already reportedly been signed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, that will be it. You do not drive if there is any booze at all in your system.
Of course, there is the option of having a boozy lunch and then heading off in an Uber, but that will be expensive, and the additional cost would certainly act as a deterrent.
Bad, bad, bad for business. An already battered, buggered business.
There has been a lot of preaching recently by the ANC government about the dangers of booze, and they are not entirely wrong.
There are people who do become violent, aggressive, abusive if they have been drinking heavily. But using the iron rod of prohibition in controlling all of these cretins must be balanced against the infringement of the basic rights of the rest of us who regard a beer on the way home from work, or a good meal with a glass or two of good wine, and a safe but not 100% sober drive home as a good thing.
Have tough alcohol limits, do. But be reasonable, be measured, be intelligent about this.
Of course, it is an open secret that preaching comes more naturally to our politicians than practicing does.
Take the Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, who was suspended for breaking Covid rules and going to lunch with a bunch of chums.
Or Mpumalanga Premier Refilwe Mtsweni-Tsipane, who has been all over social media today attending the funeral of another Minister – failing to wear a mask. He had died of Covid. No irony there.
I have to include this pic of her. It is worth so many thousands of words:
The event (dis)graced by the presence of this ANC maskless super-spreader had been the official funeral of Minister Jackson Mthembu, who had died far too young from Covid. While I was no admirer of his pedestrian and patronising delivery at regular government briefings, many of which featured his colleagues ranting against the demon drink, I join those who pay tribute to his patriotism, to his service to his country.
However, even the most patriotic of politicians can be led astray.
Ten years ago or so, when he was the ANC spokesman, Mthembu was nabbed for drink driving, with more than three times the legal alcohol limit in his blood.
He was fined, and immediately threw his weight behind the road safety campaign.
I did not listen to all the eulogies, but have not yet spotted much mention of this particular blight on his political career.
Of course, if the Orwellian ANC gets its way and completely crushes our hospitality industry and wine farms, there will be less scope for any of us to emulate the mistakes of the much-lamented Mthembu.
What a bullying bunch of hypocrites they are.
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A hundred years ago, Agatha Christie introduced British readers to a small man with an impeccably maintained moustache who, with the help of his “little grey cells”, was very good at solving crimes. That man, of course, was Hercule Poirot, who made his debut in Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1921.
Though potentially the second most famous detective in British culture (after Sherlock Holmes), Poirot is not British at all, but a refugee. Coming to England as part of a group of Belgians displaced by the first world war, his origins lie in Brussels. Writing about this retired Belgian police officer solving cases around the UK and across the globe, Christie was able to explore (and at times poke fun at) the complexities of Englishness and its relationship to continental Europe.
On the surface, Christie’s novels resemble a nostalgic retreat to the pastoral and to the English stately home. They can be read as a possible turning-inwards thanks to an emphasis on closed rooms and detailed floor plans of grand buildings. But such appearances are deceptive.
The opening of borders, both literal and intellectual, shapes Christie’s England. It was her understanding of the work of European thinkers that gives her detective an edge. Where an English detective, like Sherlock Holmes, looks for external pieces of evidence that can be analysed, Poirot solves the case by realising the hidden implications of people’s behaviour – including his own. Poirot’s Freudian focus on the psychology of suspects enables him to see that simple mistakes and slips of the tongue can hide deeper meanings. In The Mysterious Affair at Styles, a crucial clue is revealed when Poirot realises the importance of his own, almost unconscious, instinct to tidy.
In Christie’s world, the typically English common sense of policemen is not enough to solve the mystery. Instead, a dash of continental theory sheds light on what lies beneath the surface.
Another of Poirot’s trademarks is his occasional struggle to find the correct English word or idiom. In The Mysterious Affair at Styles, he even misquotes Hamlet. Yet it would be a mistake to read these moments as simple errors. Instead, Poirot knowingly plays into the trope of the “funny foreigner”, using difficulties with language to disarm suspects and allay fears of suspicion (how could such a comic figure be so great a detective?). In the famous scenes where Poirot explains the truth, his English becomes markedly more fluent. In this, Poirot represents the outsider perfectly placed to see through English deceptions.
The success of the “funny foreigner” schtick with unsuspecting English plays into Christie’s larger exploration of Englishness in her books.
Poirot is an enthusiastic devotee of England. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd he comments that England is “very beautiful, is it not?” But this enthusiasm is not always returned. A running joke of the Poirot novels and adaptations is that he is often mistaken as French. In Ackroyd, he is described as looking “just like a comic Frenchman in a revue”. But in a genre that demands close attention to detail, the joke here is at the expense of a particularly inward-looking type of Englishness, those who cannot tell the difference between the French and the Belgian.
Likewise, as literary scholar Alison Light notes, Poirot’s popularity coincides with the expansion in travel, as the English increasingly saw themselves as tourists abroad. Several of Poirot’s most famous cases occur on modes of transport and in exotic locations, like Death on the Nile. However, while the English in these stories might be abroad, class relations from home still manage to play out wherever they might be. England follows them, and that inward-looking Englishness runs deep.
While Christie might have poked fun at England and Englishness, she managed to capture the hearts of British readers with her small, smart Belgian. Poirot was so loved by readers that Christie wrote 33 novels, two plays, and more than 50 short stories about him between 1921 and 1975. ITV’s adaptation of many of these stories, Agatha Christie’s Poirot starring David Suchet, ran for 25 years (1989-2013) and is now considered a classic of British TV. Few fictional detectives have had their complete adventures adapted for the screen. In this regard, Poirot makes a strong claim to being Britain’s most loved detective.
South Africa does not have large-scale vaccine manufacturing capability. Shutterstock
By Jeffrey Dorfman and Frank Kirstein
Generally, vaccines are produced by private companies who sell the vaccine under contracts. In some cases, producers will make provisions for access in particular markets. This is sometimes as a condition for receiving early development funding or for allowing parts of production to occur in a particular country. Some middle-income countries, particularly India, Argentina and Mexico, have sufficient production capacity to be partly indispensable. These countries have strategic leverage to get vaccines because of their own vaccine manufacturing capacity.
India illustrates this well. The Serum Institute of India, a privately owned pharmaceutical company, is manufacturing large quantities of the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca and Novavax COVID-19 vaccines. The company scheduled to reach 100 million doses produced a month by March 2021. In return, India will keep a portion of the vaccines it manufactures – reportedly 100 million doses in the first instance.
What about South Africa’s own capacity to produce vaccines? What can the country do?
South Africa does not have large-scale vaccine manufacturing capability. The Biovac Institute – a public-private partnership between the South African government and a consortium of South African healthcare companies – is beginning to get into vaccine manufacture with an eye on more secure and accessible childhood vaccine supplies for southern Africa. But this capability is still in its infancy. It’s small compared to the COVID-19 vaccine market.
In addition, a publicly traded South African-owned global pharmaceutical company, Aspen Pharmaceuticals operates four pharmaceutical manufacturing and packaging plants in the country. The company is also moving into the vaccine packaging market.
We see a clear disconnect between what would be needed to make the Biovac Institute a strategic vaccine asset going forward and what is planned for Biovac.
If South Africa is serious about supplying anti-pandemic vaccines in the future, it needs to rethink the scale of financial, technical and strategic investment into vaccine production. This investment must be made not only into the private sector, but also, critically, into publicly accountable institutions such as the Biovac Institute. Only if investment is increased, sustained, and backed by political commitment, will the country have sufficient vaccine production capacity to use as a lever to get national and regional access to future anti-pandemic vaccines.
Vaccine production capacity
The Biovac Institute’s primary remit is to make childhood vaccines available for the southern African market, mostly for the public sector.
For its part, Aspen’s existing pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity is about 10 billion tablets a year. It produces generic drugs (including analgesics, a proton pump inhibitor and sleeping aids), nutritional supplements (notably iron supplements) and hormones for local African markets and other middle income markets, such as Turkey.
Aspen is scheduled to start producing the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in March or April of 2021 at these facilities. It will be filling and packaging vials with vaccine product manufactured in bulk outside of South Africa.
Most of the vials will be shipped back to Johnson & Johnson for international distribution. A recent announcement indicates that 9 million doses will remain in South Africa for local use. The original packaging deal between Aspen and Johnson & Johnson was announced more than two months prior. There had been no mention of a procurement deal for South Africa until pressure began to mount recently on all parties.
Unlike Aspen, Biovac’s remit is to provide vaccines in the public interest. Part of its mission is to provide in the long term, capacity for the development and introduction of novel vaccines, focusing on the development of vaccines relevant to South Africa and Africa’s particular needs.
Biovac’s main activity is to import, label and distribute vaccines to the South African market. For example, it has supplied six vaccines made by international vaccine manufacturers for South Africa’s childhood immunisation programme. It also supplies other countries in the region.
Biovac’s crowning achievement has been the local production (filling and packaging) of Hexaxim, a combination of six childhood vaccines from Sanofi, the French multinational pharmaceutical company. Production started very recently, in November 2020.
Biovac is the first external company with which Sanofi has partnered to fill and package Hexaxim.
Biovac is also planning to manufacture Prevnar-13, a vaccine made by Pfizer, the US multinational pharmaceutical company. The vaccine prevents pneumococcal disease and death. Biovac will formulate the product using components provided by Pfizer before filling and packaging the bulk vaccine. Production is due to start in the next six months.
The development of local capacity for formulation of a complex vaccine marks another important step towards the establishment of vaccine manufacturing capacity in South Africa.
How to be more prepared next time
To be in a better position to procure anti-pandemic vaccines South Africa will need to have greater vaccine manufacturing capacity. And the country would need to be more willing to use that capacity as leverage.
Scale is a key consideration. Biovac is planning to fill 4 million doses of hexaxim in 2021. This is tiny compared to Serum Institute of India’s huge capacity and to Aspen’s reported capacity of 300 million vaccine doses a year.
Beyond scale, two other conditions need to be met.
The first is simply more experience. The technology transfer for each vaccine that Biovac produces would give the company experience and technical capacity in re-tooling for formulation, filling and testing of each particular vaccine. The second is that a more savvy entrepreneurial risk-taking environment needs to be developed. This needs to be backed by political commitment in government.
The Aspen example shows that the development of local manufacturing capacity is possible if enough capital is available, and if the right strategic partnerships are established. Private facilities like Aspen clearly can become leverage for local access; but that does not seem to be well assured.
If Biovac’s current trajectory is maintained and supported, it should be able to supply other vaccines (childhood vaccines, mostly) in the future. The strategic value of this assured supply should not be underestimated.
In addition, Biovac could be one of the answers to this problem because it is a publicly accountable institution and because it can point to its remit to make vaccines accessible locally when making any production deals. But in its current incarnation and scale, Biovac won’t be able to provide anti-pandemic vaccines for southern Africa. Nor can it act as a strategic asset in the way that Serum Institute of India has been for India.
South Africa has about one twentieth the population of India. This means it will need its public vaccine production capacity to grow to a more modest size to be a strategic asset.
Jeffrey Dorfman is Associate Professor in Medical Virology, Stellenbosch University and Frank Kirstein is Honorary Research Associate / Lecturer; Division of Immunology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.
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It wasn’t a bad job, but it had its challenges. Lionel Barber served as FT editor through some turbulent times, and this diary of his experiences from 2005 to 2020 provides fascinating insights into his experiences.
Given the number of encounters he chronicles, he may be criticised for name dropping, but – wow – there was no shortage of names to drop.
Presidents, Prime Ministers, Royalty and an A-list of movers and shakers from the pinnacle of the business world.
It’s not so much who he knows, has met, and has written about, but who he hasn’t. There are annoyingly few gaps.
Lionel may appear from this catalogue of encounters to be a bit full of himself, but very few journalists can boast of having a contacts book like his. It must be worth a small fortune.
I knew Lionel a bit when both of us were doing very different tasks in the Brussels press corpse (pun intended).
We weren’t chums, pursuing different goals. The FT had red (pink?) carpet access to the great and the occasionally good, while my role as a stirrer of shit for assorted British tabloids meant I was invited to few ambassadorial garden parties.
The man from the FT had private sessions with ministers and Commissioners, while I was given the task of escorting a troupe of busty Sun Page-3 beauties into the European Commission press room, with the express intention of annoying the then bogeyman of Brussels Jacques Delors.
However, Lionel was always kind to me. Approachable and helpful, he would occasionally explain some of the intricacies of the Euro-jumble to me, steer me straight, lend a hand.
And with Lionel leading the charge, the FT was rightly regarded as the newspaper of record by Eurocrats and commoners alike.
Unlike the Brussels Daily Telegraph correspondent with whom we both overlapped in Euroland – the repellent Boris Johnson – to whom I took an instant dislike, Lionel struck me as both an excellent journalist and an agreeable person.
I didn’t know him very well, but I liked what I saw. I wish I had got to know him better.
Scroll forward a few years, and Lionel is upgraded to editor of the FT with a major challenge on his hands – steering the ship through the digital revolution – taking over from another Brussels veteran, Andrew Gowers.
This diary of Lionel’s is an ideal lavatory read. Not because of its content but because of its format. Short sections, short snippets, almost all featuring someone most of us have heard of but few have got to meet or are ever likely to.
The book combines insight, humour and tons of anecdotes. Well written, it is an easy and enjoyable read.
Of course, it may be argued that there should have been space for a more thorough and detailed telling of the tales, less flitting and more focus.
I prefer the way he chose to tackle the task, however, making his editorial exploits accessible and digestible.
It speaks volumes for his grasp of strategy, commitment and hard work that he did an impressive job as editor.
An achievement which cannot be underestimated.
While other publications have stumbled and fallen, the FT has survived, because he successfully understood the need to go for quality, in-depth content and to embrace its presence online.
In navigating the transition, Lionel needed grit and a ruthless quality.
And in his journalism, surrounded by powerful corporate and political bullies who were used to getting their way, there were times when he needed to stand firm.
It seems that he almost always succeeded. Clocking up an impressive stash of air miles along the way.
It has been quite a journey and we are lucky to have these chronicles to amuse, entertain and inform us.
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It won’t be a non-event, but ‘SA Investment Conference 3’ – with a masked hero in the form of our beloved President – will see little fresh flow of dosh into Cyril’s begging bowl.
Through no fault of our government – although I still have my doubts about their bosom buddies in Beijing – the world is a very different place with the Covid-19 epidemic sweeping through global boardrooms. More cash for a new factory in SA may not be front of mind of many CEOs at the moment.
Despite this, the Minister for Conferences Ebrahim Patel gave a performance which was more plucky than plucked when this Covid veteran met the media in the flesh today for the first time in many, many months. Many, many, many, many months.
Ok, there were only about three of we hacks in the room with him, with most following it from their bedrooms, bureaux or brothels – but at least he was there. I was able to go up to him and shout for a while afterwards about his department’s communications failings. It felt good. And we both practiced safe Covid.
His message is that with a cumulative R664bn having been pledged at the previous two conferences, out of a total target to R1.2trillion, we have been ahead of target. So less pressure this time, and expectations can be lowered without the whole project being derailed.
There will be some fresh pledges this time round, the President can rub elbows with some corporate fat cats. But the main focus will be on moving previous pledges into actual projects.
Patel said R170bn of the already-pledged investment is already “flowing through the pipeline”. The main task this month is to ensure the investment tide does not go out again. Not allowing all the other precious pledges to vanish down the Presidential plug-hole.
Patel says there have been no cancellations – and we must take him at his word – that the imminent AfCFTA continental clone of the EU will bring wealth and investment opportunities, and that the 2-day Investment Conference will allow SA to show the world that the door is open. We want your investment. A lot.
Just wash your hands, wear a mask, and give your cheques a good spray of sanitiser before you hand them over.
Patel and Cyril will be gratefully, gleefully grinning behind their masks. We promise.
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