Here’s what is happening in and affecting South Africa today:
Coronavirus: In South Africa, there have been 3,118 new cases of Covid-19, taking the total reported to 3,665,149. Deaths have reached 98,978 (+110), while recoveries have climbed to 3,531,960, leaving the country with a balance of 34,211 active cases and a recovery rate of 96,4%. A total of 31,218,528 vaccines have been administered.
- Tough love: Finance minister Enoch Godongwana has announced that the future of state-owned companies (SOCs) in South Africa will be determined by the value they create and whether they can be run sustainably without bailouts from the fiscus. SOCs will need to develop their own plans to reduce their reliance on South Africa’s limited public resources, he said. To this end, most SOCs were not given any bailouts in the budget speech, except for the likes of Eskom, which will receive an additional R188 billion to help manage its debt. For other SOCs, government support will be contingent on them meeting specific criteria, to be announced in the coming year. [MyBroadBand]
- SAPS smuggling scandal: Parliament has heard the case of an ongoing investigation into the Johannesburg police station where, last January, 150 firearms were missing after the department came under new management. More police stations across South Africa are set to be audited to determine if any firearms that are meant to be locked up are missing. In a briefing on Wednesday, police bosses were asked to give an update on the situation at the station where the firearms had gone missing. They informed the press that disciplinary proceedings have been instituted against several officers and that an inquiry into the disappearance of the guns will point to a criminal investigation. [Daily Maverick]
- Illicit victory: The alcohol industry and liquor traders association have expressed disappointment at Treasury’s decision to slap the industry with higher taxes in the budget speech. The groups pleaded with the government ahead of the speech to skip taxes for 2022. Instead, they were hit with hikes between 4.5% and 6.5%. The National Liquor Traders Association said that the budget was a victory for the illicit alcohol industry, which is not beholden to the taxes. As prices increase, consumers – whose drinking habits have not changed – move to procure their drinks from the black market, which is already a R20 billion industry in the country. 
- State security declassified: A recent investigation by News24 has uncovered further information regarding the crime networks that captured and paralysed the State Security Agency between 2008 and 2018. The budget of the director-general of the agency grew by 621% during his first year as intelligence boss, according to documents submitted to the Zondo Commission. The budget available to the director-general increased from R42 million in the 2016/2017 fiscal year to R303 million in 2017/2018. The increase in his budget allegedly enabled him to spend hundreds of millions of rands directly managing covert operations that included projects for the benefit of former president Jacob Zuma. [News24]
- Markets: South Africa’s rand held onto cautious gains on Wednesday, after the finance ministry said in the national budget that debt would peak lower than previously expected and spending would grow only modestly. However, local news fell away to international political tensions as Russian forces fired missiles at several Ukrainian cities and landed troops on its south coast. Global stocks fell on Thursday morning while the dollar, gold and oil prices rocketed higher. US President Joe Biden said that the United States and its allies will impose “severe sanctions” on Russia after the attacks. On Thursday, the rand is trading at R15.23/$, R17.13/€ and R20.58/£. [Reuters]