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How COVID-19 pandemic affected South Africa

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South Africa’s Armed Forces servicemen on patrol. Photo: thesouthafrican.com

At present, South Africa is the world’s fifth in the number of coronavirus cases. The epidemiological situation in the country continues to deteriorate, as despite a decreasing number of new cases reported daily, the number of tests has decreased as well. On August 2, 2020 the total number of infected exceeded 511,000, with a daily increase staying at 10,000 – 12,000. The death toll exceeds 8,000. Nevertheless, Health Minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize points out that the percentage of recoveries make up 64% – higher than the world average of 58.2%, which does inspire hope.

Significantly, what hit South Africans the most was the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. South Africa is de facto the only country where along with the closure of different sectors of the economy after the introduction of a quarantine on March 27th there still exists a ban on the sale of tobacco and alcoholic drinks, including wine, the domestic consumption of which is a major source of the country’s revenues. (In June the government partially lifted the ban on alcohol for one month,, which caused a serious rush among the population and as a result, an upsurge in COVID-19 cases – P.L.) Moreover, the above-mentioned measures have inflicted substantial losses on the restaurant business and the farming sector, triggering severe criticism from trade union movements. Union leaders have warned the South African government that if not lifted the quarantine will result in the  loss of jobs for 800,000 public catering workers and for about half a  million employees of the wine-making industry. The situation in the tourist sector is as alarming as the country’s authorities keep the decision to close the borders in force. Domestic tourism is also prohibited. All in all, about 3 million people have lost their jobs during the 4-month quarantine and experts predict a growth in unemployment from 30% to 50%.

In addition, the South African society is demonstrating an ever growing criticism of the measures taken by police and military personnel to guarantee anti-pandemic regime. Participation of police and army servicemen is frequently accompanied by disproportionately harsh measures against quarantine violators, particularly residents of informal settlements, known as “townships”. All this sparks sporadic outbursts of protests among poor dark-skinned communities. Meanwhile, shortages of protective masks and other individual protection items have resulted in more cases of law enforcement employees contracting the coronavirus infection, which leads to the closure of many police stations and an increase in crime.

South Africans point out that the government and its anti-COVID-19 committee are unable to cope with the crisis, which becomes clear from a surge in coronavirus cases among the population. Also under question is the country’s healthcare system, which, experts say, will not be able to handle an influx of coronavirus patients at the peak of the epidemic in August-September due to shortages of hospital beds, medical equipment and medicaments. What is particularly frustrating is the numerous cases of the authorities being slow in addressing social issues, especially those related to the preservation and creation of new jobs.

Given the situation, South African experts say, tensions will continue to escalate and as the epidemiological situation deteriorates, there will be more mass protests on the part of the dark-skinned community, particularly residents of “townships”.

Simultaneously, the South African government is pinning hopes on a short lull, – last week the IMF approved the so-called “COVID” loan of 4.2 billion dollars for South Africa. The South African leadership expects these resources to reverse the negative trend by financing the priority program of supporting the country’s population.

Meanwhile, analysts underscore that the government is faced with other, equally pressing issues, including restoration of the economy, restructuring of state-run companies, and creation of jobs. Experts say South Africa is in for hard times, which will require maximum coordination from the authorities to maintain political and social stability amid the continuing social and economic crisis in the country.

From our partner International Affairs

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Africa

The Transitioning Democracy of Sudan

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Sudan has been the focus of conflict for much of its six decades as an independent nation. Despite being an anomaly in a region crippled with totalitarian populism and escalating violence, the country hasn’t witnessed much economic or political stability in years. While the civic-military coalition, leading a democratic transition towards elections, has managed to subside the fragments of civil war, growing hostility in the peripheries has begun threatening the modest reforms made in the past two years. The recent coup attempt is a befitting example of the plans that are budding within the echelons of the Sudanese military to drag the country back into the closet. And while the attempt got thwarted, it is not a success to boast. But it is a warning that the transition would not be as smooth a ride as one might have hoped.

The problems today are only a reflection of Sudan’s issues in the past: especially which led to the revolution. The civil unrest began in Sudan back in December 2018. Sudan’s long-serving ruler, Omer al-Bashir, had turned Sudan into an international outcast during his 30-year rule of tyranny and economic isolation. Naturally, Sudan perished as an economic pariah: especially after the independence of South Sudan. With the loss of oil revenues and almost 95% of its exports, Sudan inched on the brink of collapse. In response, Bashir’s regime resorted to impose draconian austerity measures instead of reforming the economy and inviting investment. The cuts in domestic subsidies over fuel and food items led to steep price hikes: eventually sparking protests across the east and spreading like wildfire to the capital, Khartoum.

In April 2019, after months of persistent protests, the army ousted Bashir’s government; established a council of generals, also known as the ‘Transitional Military Council.’ The power-sharing agreement between the civilian and military forces established an interim government for a period of 39 months. Subsequently, the pro-democracy movement nominated Mr. Abdalla Hamdok as the Prime Minister: responsible for orchestrating the general elections at the end of the transitional period. The agreement coalesced the civilian and military powers to expunge rebellious factions from society and establish a stable economy for the successive government. However, the aspirations overlooked ground realities.

Sudan currently stands in the third year of the transitional arrangement that hailed as a victory. However, the regime is now most vulnerable when the defiance is stronger than ever. Despite achieving respite through peace agreements with the rebels in Sudan, the proliferation of arms and artillery never abated. In reality, the armed attacks have spiraled over the past two years after a brief hiatus achieved by the peace accords. The conflict stems from the share of resources between different societal fractions around Darfur, Kordofan, and the Blue Nile. According to UN estimates, the surging violence has displaced more than 410,000 people across Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021. The expulsion is six times the rate of displacement recorded last year. According to the retreating UN peacekeeping mission, the authorities have all but failed to calm the rampant banditry and violence: partially manifested by the coup attempt that managed to breach the government’s order.

The regional instability is only half the story. Since the displacement of Bashir’s regime, Sudan has rarely witnessed stability, let alone surplus dividends to celebrate. Despite thawing relations with Israel and joining the IMF program, Sudan has felt little relief in return. The sharp price hikes and gripping unemployment which triggered the coup back in 2019 never receded: galloped instead. Currently, inflation runs rampant above 400%, while the Sudanese Pound has massively devalued under conditions dictated by the IMF. And despite bagging some success in negotiating International debt relief, the Hamdok regime has struggled to invite foreign investment and create jobs: majorly due to endemic conflicts that still run skin-deep in the fabric of the Sudanese society.

While the coup attempt failed, it is still not a sigh of relief for the fragile government. The deep-rooted analysis of the coup attempt reveals a stark reality: the military factions – at least some – are no longer sated in being equal-footed with a civilian regime. Moreover, the perpetrators tried to leverage the widening disquiet within the country by blocking roads and attempting to sabotage state-run media: hoping to gain public support. The population is indeed frustrated by the economic desperation; the failure of the coup attempt means that people have still not given up hope in a democratic government and a free-and-fair election. Nonetheless, it is not the first tranche of the army to rebel, and it certainly won’t be the last. The only way to salvage democracy is to stabilize Sudan’s economy and resolve inter-communal violence before leading the county towards elections. Otherwise, it is apparent that Bashir’s political apparatus is so deeply entrenched in Sudan’s ruling network that even if the transitional government survives multiple coups, an elected government would ultimately wither.

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Money seized from Equatorial Guinea VP Goes into Vaccine

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As a classic precedence, the Justice Department of the United States has decided that $26.6m (£20m) seized from Equatorial Guinea’s Vice-President Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue be used on purchasing COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical programmes in Equitorial Guinea, located on the west coast of central Africa.

“Wherever possible, kleptocrats will not be allowed to retain the benefits of corruption,” an official said in a statement, and reported by British Broadcasting Corporation.

Obiang was forced to sell a mansion in Malibu, California, a Ferrari and various Michael Jackson memorabilia as part of a settlement he reached with the US authorities in 2014 after being accused of corruption and money-laundering. He denied the charges.

The agreement stated that $10.3m of the money from the sale would be forfeited to the US and the rest would be distributed to a charity or other organisation for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea, the Justice Department said.

The UN is to receive $19.25m to purchase and administer COVID-19 vaccines to at least 600,000 people in Equatorial Guinea, while a US-based charity is to get $6.35m for other medical programmes in Equatorial Guinea.

Teodorin Nguema has been working in position as Vice-President since 2012, before that he held numerous government positions, including Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. Known for his unquestionable lavish lifestyle, he has been the subject of a number of international criminal charges and sanctions for alleged embezzlement and corruption. He has a fleet of branded cars and a number of houses, and two houses alone in South Africa,

Teodorin Nguema has often drawn criticisms in the international media for lavish spending, while majority of the estimated 1.5 million population wallows in abject poverty. Subsistence farming predominates, with shabby infrastructure in the country. Equatorial Guinea consists of two parts, an insular and a mainland region. Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.

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African Union’s Inaction on Ethiopia Deplorable – Open Letter

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The crisis in northern Ethiopia has resulted in millions of people in need of emergency assistance and protection. © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

A group of African intellectuals says in an open letter that it is appalled and dismayed by the steadily deteriorating situation in Ethiopia. The letter, signed by 58 people, says the African Union’s lack of effective engagement in the crisis is deplorable. The letter calls on regional bloc IGAD and the AU to “proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict”.

The letter also asks for “all possible political support” for the AU’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose appointment was announced on August 26, 2021. A United Nations Security Council meeting on the same day welcomed the former Nigerian president’s appointment.

Earlier in August 2021, UN  chief Antonio Guterres appealed for a ceasefire, unrestricted aid access and an Ethiopian-led political dialogue. He told the council these steps were essential to preserve Ethiopia’s unity and the stability of the region and to ease the humanitarian crisis. He said that he had been in close contact with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and had received a letter from the leader of the Tigray region in response to his appeal. “The UN is ready to work together with the African Union and other key partners to support such a dialogue,” he said.

August 26, 2021 was only the second time during the conflict that the council held a public meeting to discuss the situation. Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway and the United States requested the session.

Fighting between the national government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front broke out in November 2020, leaving millions facing emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity, according to the United Nations. Both sides have been accused of atrocities.

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