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Tigray forces kill 120 civilians in village in Amhara : Ethiopia officials
8 September 2021, 5:52 PM

Rebellious forces from the Tigray region killed 120 civilians over two days in a village in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, local officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

The killings in a village 10 km (six miles) from the town of Dabat took place on 1 and 2 September, said Sewnet Wubalem, the local administrator in Dabat, and Chalachew Dagnew, spokesperson of the nearby city of Gondar.

A spokesperson for Tigrayan forces did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what is the first report of Tigrayan forces killing a large number of civilians since seizing territory in Amhara. Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in the region as Tigrayan forces have advanced.

“So far we have recovered 120 bodies. They were all innocent farmers. But we think the number might be higher. There are people who are missing,” Sewnet, the local administrator, told Reuters by phone.

Chalachew, the Gondar city spokesperson, said he had visited the burial area in the village and that children, women, and elderly were among the dead.

He said the killings were during the Tigrayan forces’ “short presence” in the area, and it was now under the control of the Ethiopian federal army.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the accounts. Getachew Reda, the spokesperson for the Tigrayan forces, has previously denied to Reuters that the forces have committed crimes against civilians while seizing territory in Amhara over the past month.

Humanitarian crisis 

War broke out 10 months ago between Ethiopia’s federal troops and forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front(TPLF), which controls the Tigray region.

Since then, thousands have been killed and more than 2 million have fled their homes. Fighting spread in July from the Tigray region into the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar, also in the country’s north.

Amid the conflict, relations between the ethnic Amharas and Tigrayans have deteriorated sharply. During the war, regional forces and militiamen from the Amhara region have sought to settle a decades-old land dispute between the Amhara and Tigray regions.

Amhara forces have seized control of western parts of Tigray and driven tens of thousands of Tigrayans from their homes. Though the Tigrayan forces have seized back most of the Tigray region, they have not taken back the heavily militarized and contested area of western Tigray.

The US government’s humanitarian agency said last week Tigrayan forces had in recent weeks looted its warehouses in parts of Amhara.

Responding on Twitter to the agency’s statement on looting, Getachew Reda, the Tigrayan forces’ spokesperson, wrote: “While we cannot vouch for every unacceptable behavior of off-grip fighters in such matters, we have evidence that such looting is mainly orchestrated by local individuals & groups.”

The UN has said a de facto aid blockade on the Tigray region, where some 400 000 people are already in famine conditions, has worsened an already dire humanitarian crisis.

The Ethiopian government has repeatedly denied allegations by the UN and Western governments that it is deliberately impeding the delivery of life-saving assistance.

On Sunday, a UN convoy of trucks bearing food and other aid was permitted to enter Tigray for the first time since 20 August.

COVID-19 pandemic one of the biggest risk factors to business and consumers: Survey
8 September 2021, 5:13 PM

A new survey released by insurance group Santam indicates the struggling economy, political unrest, cybercrime and the COVID- 19 pandemic are now the biggest risk factors to business and consumers.

The Santam Insurance Barometer 2020/2021 polled more than 950 respondents across the country and looked at some of the biggest risks facing businesses and consumers.

It also highlighted changes facing the short-term insurance industry and how the sector needs to adapt to the evolving landscape in the wake of COVID- 19.

The survey, which was launched in 2019, included data from the end of last year until the first quarter of 2021. Around 400 respondents were between 30 and 44 years-old and had an income of more than R20 000 a month.

Santam Executive Andrew Coutts highlights some of the risks facing South African consumers and businesses.

The economy we know is the lead impact, it was also the leading impact in 2019. But the big one coming up has been the impact of COVID- 19.  It wasn’t there in 2019, it has really come onto the scene and talks about how much we have to accommodate in terms of the new ways of working. And then another one that has been there had been the political unrest  but we didn’t see it rolling forward into the very violent looting that we saw.”

Consumer behaviour 

Coutts says consumer behaviour changed during the year, and the sector had to deal with new challenges. The survey showed an 18 % year-on-year decline in motor claims and this continued into the first quarter of 2021 as more people worked from home.

“50% of our respondents said they travelled less during the lockdown, there was a 44% decline, a move from an average 162 km per week down to just 90, that’s a fundamental shift and then again we had an uptick on the reverse side with utilisation of technology, with a lot of more people now being actively engaged. Use of technology coming up strongly.”

Claims against Geysers increased, while crime-related claims dropped by 16 % year on year. However, there was an increase in property claims by the commercial sector due to building fires and loss of income because of lockdown regulations. Motor claims from businesses also recently picked up as the economy opened up.

“People are more at home and living within their communities, we see the opportunity for crime has decreased. Overall personalised claims were down by 6% year on year, a significant shift that we did see in the personalised space. In the commercial space, yes there was motor but very much property claims, so we saw claims increasing by seven percent and the average cost per claim in the building environment up by over 100 percent driven by very much by business interruption.”

Insurance sector adaptation to changes brought by COVID-19

Coutts says the insurance sector has had to adapt quickly to these changes

“We really saw the benefits of a good understanding of the clients and in other instances that were fundamentally missing. So a real opportunity for us to review how we assess risk going forward and how to sort out solutions for our clients going forward. The pandemic caught us by surprise, we were not well insured for this space and we were not able to be there for the customers and there is another space for us to do things differently going forward.”

Further findings of the survey 

60% of those surveyed suffered financial loss due to retrenchments, 1%  of those were able to use savings, while 19% had to borrow money from friends and family. The country’s hospitality industry was the hardest hit by COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions.

It laid off close to 60% of its staff and those businesses that remained open, reported a loss of 89%.

41% were forced to close.

SA’s local government elections to be held on 1 November
8 September 2021, 4:03 PM

Co-operative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has announced that the local government elections will take place on 1 November. The date will be officially proclaimed on the 20 September, following the scheduled voter registration weekend later this month.

The official proclamation effectively closes the voters roll and therefore voters can still register for the polls until that date.

Dlamini-Zuma has been briefing the media.

“After consultation with the IEC, we have come to the determination that this year’s local government will be held on the 1st of November 2021. This is in accordance with the constitution read with the Municipal Structures Act as the Act prescribes that the election be held within 90 days from the end of the five year-term of local government. We will officially proclaim this date on the 20th of September 2021 after the voter registration weekend.”

Minister Dlamini-Zuma’s briefing on elections: 

This comes after the Constitutional Court overruled IEC’s application to postpone the elections to next year. The commission had adopted retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke’s report calling for elections to be postponed saying under the current COVID-19 climate the elections won’t be free and fair.

Constitutional expert Pierre de Vos on the ConCourt’s decision:

India, Russia warn against terror groups operating from Afghanistan  
8 September 2021, 3:41 PM

India and Russia believe that foreign militant groups operating from Afghanistan pose a threat to Central Asia and to India and agreed to deepen anti-terrorism cooperation at a meeting of their national security chiefs on Wednesday, officials said.

The Taliban swept to victory in Afghanistan last month after two decades of fighting and announced a provisional government that has met with a guarded reception from the international community.

India and Russia were both deeply concerned at the developments in Afghanistan, an Indian government official said, following a meeting between Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev and Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval in New Delhi.

The two sides agreed the Taliban must be held to their promises, which included respect for basic human rights, including for women, and not to allow their territory to be used by militants groups.

“There was a convergence of views on the presence of international terrorist groups in Afghanistan and threat from terrorism to Central Asia and India,” the official said.

India fears that militant groups that operate from Pakistan may also use Afghan territory to orchestrate attacks and says Pakistan should be held responsible because of its close links to the Taliban.

Russia fears turmoil in Afghanistan could spill over into Central Asia, which it regards as its southern defensive flank and as a sphere of influence from which radical threats could emanate.

Patrushev and Doval discussed the deepening of bilateral security cooperation with a focus on further cooperation on anti-terrorism, combating illegal migration and drug trafficking, Russia’s Security Council said in a statement.

India and Russia have long been close military partners but in recent years New Delhi has turned to the United States for weapons supplies and forged closed political ties.

But the Indian government official said the regional situation had changed dramatically following the withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan and the capture of power by the Taliban.

Prasa concerned about ongoing vandalism of its rail infrastructure
8 September 2021, 3:26 PM

Senior management of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) says it is concerned about the ongoing vandalism of its infrastructure. Prasa says security has been heightened across all provinces as part of an infrastructure rehabilitation programme.

Director-General Zolani Matthews says some incidents have increased since the start of the lockdown and the focus is on preventing further destruction of infrastructure.

“We are spending a tremendous amount of time in ensuring that our security strategy is very comprehensive. We are currently in the marketing as part of that to ensure that we are in the position to implement a full security strategy not only in the Gauteng province but also where our security rehabilitation strategy is being employed. I can assure members that we are paying a significant amount of time in addressing the issues that have arisen as the consequences of the vandalism that we have seen over the course of the last year during the COVID-19 lockdown period.”

Earlier this year Prasa launched a programme aimed at protecting its railway assets:

Illegal sale of scrap materials 

Prasa wants the government to make some changes in the laws governing the sale of some materials to scrapyards in order to curb the sale of stolen property.

It says the current legislation does not prevent the illegal sale of scrap material even though some of the business owners are aware that the items have been stolen. Prasa Board Chairperson Leonard Ramatlakane says more legislative scrutiny is required.

“We see a fightback from the scrapyards who know that they are doing something wrong and that they selling something that can only come from either Prasa or Transnet as long as they can sell it they don’t want to be interrupted. It is something that may require prohibition because the act does not prohibit it. It does not make that prescription where these scrapyards must comply with the particular license that they have been given and we are hoping for scrutiny. It may require legislation or some legislation to be amended to be dealing with that.”

Irregular expenditure
The board says the entity has undertaken a process to determine how R28 billion in irregular expenditure for the 2020/21 financial year occurred. The board says the process is being done in line with National Treasury regulations.

Ramatlakane says nothing indicates that there was corruption involved in the manner in which the money was spent.

“ We have to follow a particular process to determine whether in what has been called an irregular expenditure was indeed Prasa benefited in terms of getting something done, in terms of that irregular expenditure or was just money lost. So the process had started in October 2020 to determine this R28 billion irregular expenditure. We have gone through a rigorous process in terms of following National Treasury regulations around how do you determine what has been the benefit in terms of the of irregular expenditure. “

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