There can be no-one in South Africa who believes the state is doing a good job in vaccinating its citizens against the deadly COVID-19 virus. No-one.
Other countries are stumbling and bumbling as well. We have seen the rows over trade in vaccines between bitter divorcees UK and EU, and there have been fears about the side-effects of some vaccines – most notably the side-effect of blood clots.
However, South Africa just seems to be floundering. We bought a massive consignment of one type of vaccine, only to decide it was useless. So we sold it on to our African neighbours. Go figure?
Now we are told that the snail’s pace of vaccinating health workers will delay the next round of vaccinations until the middle of next month.
Reassuringly, the numbers becoming infected, and the numbers who are dying, appear to be far lower now than they have been.
But this pandemic is not going away, and we need to speed up the erection of the barricades.
If you need to do something fast and efficiently, it seems logical to those capable of logic, that you need all hands to the wheel.
The state has its strengths, though often these will be skilfully hidden. Surely, though, the private sector is also a potential partner.
It will come as no surprise that there are private companies that have approached the state, offering to procure and pay for vaccines for their workers – and in some cases for surrounding communities and those in their firm’s supply-chain as well – and to carry out the vaccinations.
The pros of such an approach? Lives will be saved and the state’s burden will be lowered, as it will not need to vaccinate anyone who has already been covered by such a programme.
Fewer infections, and a smaller burden for the state in spending on vaccines.
The pros are practical, but of course this approach has been polluted by ideology.
It cannot be disputed that some – though not all – of those who would benefit from a company’s own vaccination programme will already hold a privileged place in society.
It is also true that those who would fall outside the net of this type of programme would be at a comparative disadvantage, even though the more people who are protected against COVID-19, the lower the risk of infection for everyone.
So far, ideology has triumphed in South Africa, as one might have feared it would in a state which is still infested with leaders who have failed to fully disinfect themselves from the illogical communist ideology of the struggle years.
When it comes to populating coffins, it seems it is all for one and one for all, comrades.
Take a step back and reflect on the consequences. The vaccination drive will be slower than it should be, with the state having put the brakes on private projects.
More people will fall ill, more will die, more families will lose a loved one, a bread-winner.
There is some encouraging movement from the private sector, with companies like some health insurers pledging to fast-track the vaccination of their own members, once government gives the green light.
However, the green light switch still remains in the hands of a bunch of politicians whose own judgement, ability and track record is questionable, to say the least.
How will history judge us?
I suspect that history will be a bit taken aback that instead of saving all possible lives by all possible means, the government has condemned many citizens to a painful and terrifying death because of ideological idiocy.
Do we South Africans really want to be remembered only for having a sinister variant of the virus named after us?
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Recent events in Palma, a town in the volatile Cabo Delgado province in the north of Mozambique, have taken bloodshed in the region to new levels. Dozens of people were killed when hundreds of Islamist militants stormed the town on Wednesday, 25 March. They targeted shops, banks and a military barracks.
The attack has been devastating for the people living in the area – as well as the country. The escalating violence has already left at least a thousand dead and displaced hundreds of thousands more.
The conflict has put a temporary lid on plans that have been in the making for more than a decade since rich liquefied natural gas (LNG) deposits were discovered in the Rovuma Basin, just off the coast of Cabo Delgado. Western majors like Total, Exxon Mobil, Chevron and BP entered the Mozambique LNG industry as well as Japan’s Mitsui, Malaysia’s Petronas and China’s CNPC.
The gas projects are estimated to be worth US$60 billion in total. Some observers recently predicted that Mozambique could become one of the top ten LNG producers in the world.
The development of the projects had led to the area becoming a hive of economic activity.
The plan was for Palma to become a LNG manufacturing hub where hundreds of skilled workers would be located. And, more broadly, the hope was that it would drive the rapid advancement of a country that ranks close to the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index. More than 70% of the population have been classified as “multidimensionally poor” by the United Nations Development Programme.
The LNG projects in the northern Cabo Delgado area represented a silver lining of hope. Since 2012 the major multinational energy companies have spent billions of dollars on developing the offshore gas sites. Today, offshore exploration in the Cabo Delgado area includes Africa’s three largest LNG projects. These are the Mozambique LNG Project (involving Total and previously Anadarko) worth $20 billion; the Coral FLNG Project (involving Eni and Exxon Mobil) worth $4.7 billion; and the Rovuma LNG Project (involving Exxon Mobil, Eni and CNPC) worth $30 billion.
Production was scheduled to start in 2024 but intensifying attacks near the gas site on the Afungi peninsula are now posing serious challenges to the production time lines.
There have been no material benefits for the people of Cabo Delgado thus far. Moreover, many local people feel deeply aggrieved because many were evicted and had to relocate soon after the discovery of gas in Cabo Delgado to make way for LNG infrastructure development.
History of instability
Cabo Delgado is Mozambique’s most northern province. Neglected over many years, the people who live there have been politically marginalised. And the area is underdeveloped.
Since independence in 1975 investment, and rising incomes, were largely confined to the capital Maputo in the south as well as the southern parts of the country.
In addition, the central government in Maputo has only had a fragile and precarious control over the territory and borders of the country. A 16-year civil war that involved clashes between the central government and Renamo, a militant organisation and political movement during the liberation struggle and now opposition party, claimed more than a million lives.
More recently, since 2017, the militant Islamic movement, Ansar al-Sunna, locally known as Al-Shabaab, has been active in Cabo Delgado. It now poses the biggest security threat in the country, rendering some of the northern parts almost ungovernable.
The militants took advantage of the Mozambican government’s failure to exercise control over the entire territory of the country.
Ansar al-Sunna reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in April 2018. It was acknowledged as an affiliate of ISIS-Core in August 2019. In view of this, the US Department of State has designated Ansar al-Sunna Mozambique, which it refers to as ISIS-Mozambique, as a foreign terrorist organisation.
What makes this armed force so significant is that the movement has orchestrated a series of large scale and targeted attacks. In 2020 this led to the temporary capturing of the strategic port of Mocimboa da Praia in Cabo Delgado.
In addition, the turbulence caused by the militants’ attacks has displaced nearly 670,000 people within northern Mozambique. Obviously, foreign companies in the LNG industry with their considerable investments feel threatened, especially at the current stage where final investment decisions have to be taken.
In recent months the situation in Cabo Delgado has gone from bad to worse. In November 2020, dozens of people were reportedly beheaded by the militants. Now the bloodshed has spread to Palma.
Amid the development of an increasingly alarming human rights situation towards the end of last year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, appealed for urgent measures to protect civilians. She described the situation as “desperate” and one of “grave human rights abuses”. Bachelet also stated that more than 350,000 people had been displaced since 2018.
There is little doubt that Islamist insurgents are increasing the scale of their activities in Cabo Delgado. A lack of governance and a proper security response by both the Mozambican government and southern African leaders make this a case of high political risk for the LNG industry.
The escalation of the insurgency can potentially jeopardise the successful unlocking of Mozambique’s resource wealth. Until now, the main LNG installations and sites have not been targeted, but the attacks in Palma have brought the turbulence dangerously close to some of the installations.
The Mozambican armed forces are clearly stretched beyond the point where they can protect the local communities. A part of the solution lies in Southern African Development Community or at least South African military support to stabilise Cabo Delgado and restore law and order in the short term. Wider international support might even be necessary.
But this would require the Mozambican government to change its stance by allowing multinational foreign military forces on its soil.
At the same time, a long term solution should be pursued. This will require better governance of the northern areas and the local people in what has been called a forgotten province.
It is clear that Cabo Delgado is an area which the central government in Maputo is unable to control, govern effectively, or even influence. In short, weak state institutions – including weak armed forces – are key to the problems of Mozambique and specifically the turbulence in the northern parts.
It’s estimated that 90% of the world’s trade is transported by sea. As consumers, we rarely give much thought to how the things we buy make their way across the planet and into our homes. That is, until an incident like the recent grounding of a huge container ship, the Ever Given, in the Suez Canal exposes the weaknesses in this global system.
High winds have been blamed for the container ship blocking the narrow strait, which serves as a trade artery that connects the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. But with shipping so heavily reliant on such narrow channels, the potential for these incidents is ever-present.
As researchers of maritime security, we often simulate incidents like the Ever Given grounding to understand the probable long and short-term consequences. In fact, the recent event is near identical to something we have been discussing for the last month, as it represents an almost worst-case scenario for the Suez Canal and for knock-on effects on global trade.
The Suez Canal is the gateway for the movement of goods between Europe and Asia, and it was responsible for the transit of over 19,000 ships in 2019, equating to nearly 1.25 billion tonnes of cargo. This is thought to represent around 13% of world trade so any blockage is likely to have a significant impact.
The Suez Canal Authority started expanding the strait in 2014 to raise its daily capacity from 49 vessels at present to 97 by 2023. This gives an indication of how many ships are likely to be affected by the current situation. There are reports that the incident has already halted the passage of ten crude tankers carrying 13 million barrels of oil, and that any ships rerouted will have 15 days added to their voyage.
The severity of the incident is because of the dimensions of the vessels using the canal. The Ever Given is 400 metres long, 59 metres at its widest point and 16 metres deep below the waterline. This makes it one of the largest container ships in the world, capable of carrying over 18,000 containers. Depending on the severity of the grounding, the salvage and re-floating of this type of ship is a complex operation, requiring specialist equipment and potentially a lot of time.
While the exact number of container ships of this size transiting the canal is unknown, container vessels account for almost a third of all canal traffic. Their depth and girth make for difficult navigation within the canal. When operating within such tight margins, ships of this size have to maintain a certain speed to keep their steering effective.
With the capacity to carry over 150,000 tonnes of cargo, these ships cannot stop suddenly. If something does go wrong, crews have very little time to react before the ship runs aground.
This makes a blockage of this type almost inevitable, especially considering that the length of these ships far exceeds the width of the canal. But what makes this incident particularly disruptive was the location of the grounding. Since the canal was expanded, the Mediterranean end of the Canal now has two channels for ships to take, allowing seamless transiting even if one channel is blocked.
But, in its location at the Suez end of the Canal, the Ever Given was blocking the only channel for ships to pass through. As ships travel through the 193km of canal in convoys with tightly scheduled slots, vessels leading these groups can block the channel like this, creating a backlog of ships or even collisions. It’s unclear if the goods being delayed are time-sensitive (for example: medicine or food), but understanding what effects these incidents have on trade can help us preempt effective solutions.
Could it have been worse?
We’re also interested in what other factors can influence an event like this. One element is the time of year. Traditionally, in the build-up to Christmas, October and November are busy times for maritime trade. A disruption in the global supply chain during this period would have a far greater impact, and could coincide with difficult weather conditions which would exacerbate things, like visibility-reducing fog.
Another element is the unevenness of the canal’s banks. If the incident had occurred only a few kilometres down towards the seaport of Suez where the strait ends, the ship would have run aground on banks composed of rock, not sand. An impact here might have caused serious damage to the hull, making salvage operations harder.
While not identical to our team’s table-top scenario, the latest incident does highlight that as ships get larger and more complicated, their reliance on narrow shipping routes constructed in an earlier age looks increasingly risky. This blockage will have limited long-term implications, but incidents like it could be triggered maliciously, causing targeted or widespread impacts on global and local trade. We need to be more aware of these weaknesses as our world becomes more connected.
When Saudi Arabian dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, had not expected the outcry that would follow. For perhaps the first time in recent history, Saudi critics and Saudi supporters were united in their condemnation of the extrajudicial killing.
The allegations – that Khashoggi, who had disappeared after entering the embassy on October 2, had been murdered and his body dismembered and disposed of by Saudi agents – sparked a diplomatic crisis in Istanbul, Riyadh and London, but not in Washington DC. The then US president, Donald Trump, continued to publicly support Saudi Arabia and Prince Mohammed, its de facto ruler. Two-and-a-half years later, the White House has a new occupant. With a CIA investigation into Khashoggi’s murder now declassified, will the US president, Joe Biden, shift the gear on US-Saudi relations?
What the headline of the CIA’s report into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi would be has been relatively clear all this time: Prince Mohammed approved an operation to “capture or kill” Khashoggi. And yet Trump was not interested in justice for the murdered journalist. Trump’s focus on pursuing a transactional relationship with the Gulf state, quantifiable in billions made from weapons deals and arms exports, formed the baseline for the US relationship with Saudi Arabia during his presidency.
Biden, however, so far appears interested in restoring the importance placed on values in international relations, and has been more reticent about engaging with Prince Mohammed directly during his first month in office. The White House has signalled that Biden is looking to rebalance the relationship with Saudi Arabia. It is a challenge many US presidents have grappled with before. Biden will supposedly seek to carefully balance cooperation with a long-standing US ally, while taking more of a stand than his predecessor did against Saudi Arabia’s excesses, such as its waging of war in Yemen, which has sparked the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.
So far, Biden has ended US support for Saudi offensive operations in Yemen. He has also put a temporary stop to arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, including precision-guided munitions, which have been used to target Yemeni civilians. This is significant, given that in the period 2015 to 2019 just under 75% of Saudi arms imports came from the US. Alongside the publication of the CIA report, secretary of state Antony Blinken announced a “Khashoggi ban”, which imposes visa restrictions on any individuals who have threatened dissidents overseas on behalf of a foreign government. The US has immediately used the ban to impose visa restrictions on 76 Saudi nationals.
Ultimately though, none of these measures directly target or affect Prince Mohammed, who the CIA points to as the person who approved Khashoggi’s murder. While the White House has tried to send signals to Saudi Arabia and may not favour Prince Mohammed, it is likely he will take over the throne from his father and rule the kingdom for decades to come. The Biden administration may dislike Prince Mohammed personally, but they will probably need to work with him if the US is to maintain a working relationship with Saudi Arabia.
The Biden administration is sending a strong signal that past erratic behaviour by the crown prince will no longer be tolerated. However, it is not clear what, exactly, any consequences in response to such behaviour would be and the extent to which Biden is willing to put the US-Saudi alliance on the line. It is also unclear whether the Biden administration will seek to target Prince Mohammed individually.
Saudi Arabia anticipated Biden’s position and has sought to sweeten the new administration by releasing Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul from prison and restoring diplomatic relations with Qatar. Having heard the promises Biden made while on the campaign trail, during which he called Saudi Arabia a “pariah state”, the timing of these is no coincidence.
The extent to which the US-Saudi relationship will indeed cool remains to be seen. Saudi Arabia is still considered a key US ally to hedge against Iranian influence in the Middle East. Iran has steadily increased its reach in the region through proxy organisations which operate in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Equally, the US may simply believe that they cannot afford to lose Saudi Arabia as an ally in the Middle East, particularly as the Gulf state is considered to be a key ally in counter-terrorism efforts.
So, while the Biden administration may seek to distance itself from the cosy relationship that Prince Mohammed enjoyed with the Trump family and reset the relationship in that regard, it is unlikely that it will cut all diplomatic and political ties with Saudi Arabia.
Where does this leave justice for Jamal Khashoggi? The CIA report does clarify where his body is. It is unlikely that Prince Mohammed will ever be tried by an independent judiciary for his role in the murder, or that he will be directly sanctioned by the US. Two-and-a-half years on, we are no closer to justice.
There is normally a lot to annoy me in the budget. Taxes are not nice, whether they are income taxes on earnings, VAT on spending, or the whole range of fuel levies.
I resent, but understand, the taxing of tobacco products and booze.
What really gets to me is the very unfunny jollity with which such levies are so commonly referred to as ‘sin taxes’.
Tax me if you must, but how dare you judge my lifestyle?
I accept that the far-from-funny linking of these taxes to the punishment of sin seemed jolly funny to the sad and pathetic accountants in whose depressing lives such hilarity appeared to be side-splitting.
But while reckless drinking and smoking may sometimes be unwise, there is little direct reference to these habits in the 10 Commandments.
You may burn in hell for all eternity for coveting your neighbour’s wife, being unholy on the Sabbath, committing adultery or for stealing.
But having a fag? Smoking a cigar, having a beer, a glass of wine or a G&T?
Pull the other one, you sad, sad sods.
Christ himself approved so much of wine that he manufactured the stuff out of tap water, and wine forms the centrepiece of one of the Christian religion’s most profound and spiritual ceremonies.
OK. There are religions which do curse the drinker. But do we really want our fiscal nomenclature to be based on one interpretation of the teaching of a bearded prophet (aren’t they all?) whose depiction in a cartoon is enough to get the artist a death-threat?
These are not taxes on sin. They are taxes on pleasure. Our pockets are being picked – our mortal souls are not being levied as we prepare for the fires of Hell.
We are being forced to effectively pay more for – largely harmless – pleasures. More sinned against than sinners.
To hear the way that this accounting phrase is creeping into all budget reporting, political comment and common parlance is a saddening and infuriating example of the way in which idiots have perverted our beloved English language.
When it comes to writing about budgets, my focus will be on syntax and there will not be a ‘sin tax’ reference in sight.
There is nothing holy, worthy or saintly about taxing booze and fags and do not let this distorted language suggest anything different.
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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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