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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa says 'National
Minimum Wage' will take effect on January 01, 2019

CAPE TOWN South Africa (Xinhua) -- South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Friday that the National Minimum Wage (NMW) bill, which he signed into law late last month, will take effect from Jan. 01, 2019.

"This is a great achievement for the working people of South Africa, who have had to endure generations of exploitation," the president said.

Once the NMW takes effect, no worker shall be paid below 20 rand (about 1.4 U.S. dollars) per hour, or 3,500 rand (about 247 dollars) a month for the majority of the country’s 6 million workers.

The NMW should also be seen as an achievement for business, as it demonstrates the commitment of employers to fairer wages and better working conditions, Ramaphosa said at an event in the township of Soweto.

As one of the legacy legislations by the Parliament’s Committee on Labor, the NMW was passed by both houses of Parliament earlier this year.

The NMW marks another step in closing the huge inequality that is prevalent in South Africa, said Lemias Mashile, Chairperson of Parliament’s Committee on Labor.

The NMW will improve the lives of many families that have been earning less and will contribute to stimulating economy as a result of increased participation by many in the country, he said.

The committee reiterates its view that while the NMW is a reasonable beginning, much more efforts should be placed in reaching the desired living wage, Mashile said.

The committee remains of the view that a happy labor market is essential if the country is to grow economically, he said.

"This is important if the country is to succeed in fighting the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality," he said.

The NMW came into being four years after the National Economic Development and Labor Council first began deliberations on the protection of low-paid workers.

Although opponents say the NMW is a slave wage that cannot make both ends meet for the working class, Ramaphosa said on Friday he agreed that the NMW "is far below what we would want workers to earn."

"But we must understand that in setting the starting level, the social partners sought to strike a balance - between the need to measurably improve the income of the lowest paid workers and the need to sustain and increase levels of employment," the president said.


South Africa electricity utility urged to provide
clariity over worsening power shortage

CAPE TOWN South Africa (Xinhua) -- Calls emerged on Sunday for electricity utility Eskom to provide clarity over the re-implementation of power cuts that have gripped the country for more than one month.

Especially for the past week, load shedding was upgraded from Stage 1 to Stage 2, the most serious load shedding this year.

Stage 1 load shedding allows for up to 1,000MW of the national load to be shed once a day, while Stage 2 calls for 2,000MW to be rotationally shed nationally at a given period.

There have been conflicting reports surrounding the current crisis—ranging from state capture and a lack of coal to allegations of irregular tenders and Eskom’s use of companies that are unable to provide the services Eskom so desperately needs.

On Sunday, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) urged Eskom to provide clarity with regards to the many theories, explanations and excuses provided by Eskom "during these very dark days."

Eskom has been accused of signing behind-the-door tender agreements with companies linked with the controversial Indian Gupta family which allegedly colluded with senior government officials in looting from state-owned enterprises, known as state capture.

Gupta-linked companies are blamed for the shortage of coal which Eskom heavily relies on for power generation.

"For the sake of clarity and transparency, the DA calls on Eskom to provide a list of all the companies it has taken action against with regards to incorrect tender processes," said Natasha Mazzone, DA spokesperson on state capture.

The DA also calls on Eskom to inform South Africans whether it has applied for any urgent interdicts to stop contracts which result in coal shortages, Mazzone said.

Eskom, which provides more than 95 percent of electricity consumed in the country, implements load shedding rotationally as a last resort to protect the power system from a total collapse.

Earlier this week, the DA launched a petition with the aim of breaking monopoly on electricity generation to allow independent power producers to play a role.

Eskom has proven that it is incapable of delivering power to South Africans within its current operational model, and it has proven so time and again in many different ways, Mazzone said.

For example, money for plant maintenance was re-directed toward Gupta-linked firms in 2015, resulting in new and higher upkeep costs in 2018, he said.

Poor project management at Medupi and Kusile, two major stations, also doubled the costs of the building process, Mazzone said.

The underlying problem, regardless of the current crisis, is that the structure of Eskom inevitably needs to change, he said.

Eskom is an entity which finds itself in a state of complete collapse and the only thing that can save it is if the entire structure changes, Mazzone added.

All these problems highlight the serious corruption and irregularities at the state-run parastatal, Mazzone said.

"South Africans deserve clarity and honesty with regards to this crisis," he said.

International ratings agencies have warned that Eskom is a risk to the health of South Africa’s economy.


South African Parliament accelerates process to criminalize racism

CAPE TOWN South Africa (Xinhua) -- The process to criminalize racism in South Africa got a boost on Friday when Parliament invited public input into the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill.

Stakeholders and interested persons are invited to submit written submissions on the bill, Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services said.

The purpose of the bill is, among other things, to give effect to the obligations in terms of the Constitution and international human rights instruments concerning racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in accordance with international law obligations, Committee Chairperson Madipoane Mothapo said.

The bill further aims to provide for the offense of hate crime and the offence of hate speech and the prosecution of persons who commit those offenses, Mothabo said.

It will also provide for the prevention of hate crimes and hate speech, and the reporting on the implementation, application and administration of this bill, said Mothabo.

Public submissions must be received by no later than January 31, 2019 and submitters must indicate their interest in making a verbal presentation, according to Mothabo.

Public hearings will be held in Parliament at a later date to be decided.

The hate crime and hate speech could be a sub-category of an anti-racism bill that has long been overdue, according to Parliament.

Amid resurgence of racism-related crimes in the country, lawmakers have repeatedly stressed the urgent need to introduce a bill to criminalize racism to ensure the building of an inclusive society.

The latest incident took place in July when a black man was beaten to death by several white men in what appeared to be a racist attack in Middelburg, Mpumalanga Province.

South African government aims to regain investment grade status

CAPE TOWN South Africa (Xinhua) -- The South African government vowed on Friday to regain the country’s investment grade status following a decision by international rating agency Fitch to keep the country’s sovereign rating below investment grade.

This will be achieved by enhancing policy certainty and credibility, lowering the debt burden as well as restoring good governance and financial stability at public institutions and state-owned companies, the National Treasury said.

This came after Fitch decided on Thursday to keep South Africa’s foreign and local currency credit ratings at below investment grade, although it affirmed South Africa’s long-term foreign and local currency debt ratings at "BB+" with a stable outlook.

South Africa’s ratings are weighed down by low growth potential, sizable government debt and contingent liabilities, and the risk of rising social tensions due to extremely high inequality, Fitch said.

The ratings are supported by strong institutions, a favorable government debt structure, deep local capital markets and a healthy banking sector, said Fitch.

Fitch acknowledged policy interventions that the government is pursuing in order to reignite economic growth, which include the economic stimulus and recovery plan that was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in September, the approval of the revised Mining Charter that is expected to lower uncertainty in the sector.

Fitch expected a recovery of investment after a prolonged period of contraction to drive GDP growth to 2.1 percent in 2019 and 2020, up from 0.6 percent in 2018.

The South African government said it will work hard to make the country an attractive investment destination.

The government will continue to engage with all stakeholders in order to fast track the implementation of growth-enhancing economic reforms, the Treasury said.

Both Fitch and Standard & Poor’s (S&P) have downgraded South Africa’s sovereign rating to junk status, leaving Moody’s the only rating agency that still assesses South Africa’s debt at investment grade.

South Africa launches special economic zone outside Cape Town

CAPE TOWN South Africa (Xinhua) -- South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday launched the Atlantis Special Economic Zone (SEZ) outside Cape Town.

This brought to nine the total number of SEZs in the country.

The Atlantis SEZ was conceived as an integrated and sustainable economic development intervention in a region with both great promise and several social challenges, Ramaphosa said at the launch ceremony.

The fundamental premise of the Atlantis SEZ is to unlock the underlying economic value of existing and underutilized infrastructure through the creation of a green tech manufacturing hub, according to the president.

This includes exploiting its strategic location with its access to major national roads, he said.

Its proximity to two ports, in Cape Town and Saldanha, provides advantages for exporters, Ramaphosa said.

In addition to securing investments, the Atlantis SEZ has an investment pipeline valued at 2.4 billion rand (about 174 million dollars).

In the short to medium term, the zone is projected to create over 1,400 jobs in Atlantis.

Through manufacturing, job multipliers are estimated to rise to about 4,500 for the area.

The SEZ program is supported by a competitive incentive package, which includes, among others, a 15-percent corporate tax incentive, employment tax incentive, accelerated depreciation allowance, VAT and customs exemption, and infrastructure support.

The program, identified as one of the critical economic policy instruments for promoting industrialization, has so far managed to generate 11.6 billion rand (about 840 million U.S. dollars) worth of private investments into the SEZs where there were 115 operational investors at the end of the second quarter, according to Ramaphosa.

Most of the SEZs focus on a specific industry, encouraging the development of clusters of suppliers and service providers.

By concentrating industrial value chains in these areas, collaboration is encouraged and costs are significantly reduced, said Ramaphosa.

"The special economic zones are key to unlocking the country’s competitive and comparative advantages," Ramaphosa said.

Cape Town South Africa hit by resurgence of
gang violence despite intensified crackdown

CAPE TOWN South Africa (Xinhua) -- Three people were killed in Cape Town in separate shootings as a new spate of gang violence hit the city despite an intensified crackdown, police said on Saturday.

In one shooting that took place late Friday night, unidentified gunmen stormed a matric ball dance at a school in the area of Mitchells Plain which has been haunted by gang violence, police spokesperson Captain FC Van Wyk said.

The victims were believed to be linked to local gangs, according to Wyk.

In the second incident also on Friday night, one person was shot dead in a drive-by shooting while dropping off a passenger at the matric ball of Rocklands High School, also in Mitchells Plain.

The shooting was also believed to be linked to gang violence.

Some areas in Cape Town, the legislative capital of South Africa, have been ravaged by gangs for a long time.

Every year, dozens of people are killed in gang violence, prompting local authorities to call on the national government to send army troops to quell gangs.

Last month President Cyril Ramaphosa launched an anti-gang unit in Cape Town to quell rising gang violence in the city.

The unit is part of a national strategy designed to address gangsterism in a holistic manner through a community-based approach with a focus on street-level outreach, community development, conflict mediation and changing community norms in order to reduce violence and criminality.

Other anti-gang units will also be rolled out in places where gangsterism exists, such as Gauteng and the Eastern Cape provinces.

South African police to patrol health facilities to curb attacks

JOHANNESBURG South Africa (Xinhua) -- Due to recent attacks on healthcare professionals in some hospitals, South African police will be deployed to patrol certain health facilities to maintain safety.

"For the festive season, we have been assured that police will assist in patrolling those hot-spot health facilities especially those facilities in areas where gang violence is high," Popo Maja, spokesperson for National Department of Health, told Xinhua on Thursday.

Three doctors at Letaba Hospital in Limpopo were attacked weeks ago.

It is alleged that a group of armed men overpowered security guards and injured the doctors.

"We suspect the attacks are driven by criminality which is unacceptable and which is why the police have made an undertaking that there will increase their patrol," Maja said.

Cassim Lekhoathi, acting General Secretary of Democratic Nursing Organization of South Africa, told Xinhua on Thursday that attacks on health care professionals have occurred in several provinces including Gauteng, Kwazulu-Natal and Limpopo.

With fears that violent attacks on healthcare professionals might escalate during the festive season, security in health facilities should be beefed up, Lekhoathi said.

South African government will encourage safe and responsible tourism

JOHANNESBURG South Africa (Xinhua) -- South Africa’s Department of Tourism on Friday that officials will visit tourist resort areas to encourage responsible and safe tourism practices in the coming festive season.

"The visits are part of the department’s holiday season activations that aim to encourage tourists to do tourism responsibly by exploring and preserving the cultural and environmental aesthetics of tourism destinations," said the department’s Chief Director of Communications Blessing Manale.

"We want to ensure safe travel by adhering to the rules of the road and to ensure the safety of children and women," Manale said, adding that tourism department officers will also visit border posts with Swaziland and Zimbabwe.


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