Here’s what is happening in and affecting South Africa today:
Coronavirus: In South Africa, there have been 7,086 new cases of Covid-19, taking the total reported to 2,777,659. Deaths have reached 82,621 (+431), while recoveries have climbed to 2,544,563, leaving the country with a balance of 150,835 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered is 12,568,525 (+279,047).
- Social security: Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu has withdrawn the controversial green paper on social security and retirement reform that was gazetted two weeks ago. The minister gave no reason for the withdrawal. The paper has faced significant backlash from all sectors of society, including the government itself. The paper was gazetted without approval from cabinet, and Treasury has made it clear that it is not official government policy. It proposed that 12% of income goes to a state-controlled pension fund and that taxes are hiked to pay for a basic income grant. [News24]
- New variant: The World Health Organization is monitoring a new coronavirus variant known as “mu”, first identified in Colombia in January. Known scientifically as B.1.621, mu has been classified as a “variant of interest” and has shown signs of mutations that indicate a risk of resistance to vaccines. The WHO said the variant needs to be studied more to understand it better. Viruses mutate over time. There are currently four Covid-19 variants of concern (alpha, beta, delta and gamma) and five variants of interest (eta, kappa, iota, mu and B.1.617.3). A local variant of interest, C.1.2, has not yet been labelled by the WHO. [EWN]
- Debt relief: The City of Johannesburg has extended its debt rehabilitation programme to 31 December 2021. The city said the scheme had seen poor uptake, likely because it has not reached its intended target demographic. The scheme seeks to alleviate R470 million worth of debt from delinquent ratepayers who have been unable to pay their bills due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, officials say that it has mostly been wealthy residents who have come out to take advantage of the scheme instead. Only 15,000 applications have been received so far. 
- Bad vibes: According to reports, the SIU’s investigation into the Department of Health’s Digital Vibes scandal is about to come down on top officials. These pending suspensions could cause chaos at the department, which is in the middle of dealing with a pandemic and one of the largest vaccine rollouts in South Africa’s history. Health minister Joe Phaahla acknowledged that the department received a letter from the SIU which needed to be actioned and would result in the department’s capacity being negatively impacted. The SIU is investigating the R150 million Digital Vibes contract, which was handed out unlawfully, with little to no work done. [Daily Maverick]
- Markets: Emerging market stocks jumped 1.4% on Tuesday, following a record close on Wall Street overnight, although weak data from China fed caution about slowing economic growth. The rand hit three-week highs, up 1%, extending gains to a seventh straight session. The dollar remained pressured by the US Federal Reserve’s dovish stance and looked to US jobs data later in the week for clues on the US labour market. On Wednesday, the rand was at R14.52/$, R17.13/€ and R19.95/£.