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Eskom expected to announce further loss in operating profit
14 December 2021, 2:41 PM

Power utility, Eskom, is expected to announce a further loss in operating profit as it prepares to announce its interim financial results on Wednesday.

In August, the utility announced a R18.9 billion net loss for the financial year ended 31 March 2021.

An expert in the energy sector, Dr Roland Ngam from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation says Eskom’s financial losses will continue, albeit at a much slower rate.

In the last financial results, Eskom announced that it was able to slash off R80 billion off its swelling debt of nearly R500 billion. The utility’s debt currently stands at just over R400 billion.

Dr Ngam says the culture of non-payment for electricity needs to be addressed once and for all.

Details of the unbundling process are also expected to be announced on Wednesday. So far, a separate transmission arm has been established and for the National Energy Regulator to grant it a transmission licence.

The power utility expects to start making profit in 2026.

Unbundling of Eskom

According to Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, the unbundling of Eskom will allow for greater participation of the private sector in the generation of energy.

Gordhan was answering questions in Parliament alongside other Ministers in the Economics Cluster.

The ministers answered questions ranging from problems relating to energy supply, vandalism of rail infrastructure, as well as the protection of locals in the manufacturing sector against rising costs.

Gordhan faced questions about the unbundling of Eskom into three; which are generation, transmission, and distribution. Gordhan said the unbundling of Eskom will unblock several inefficiencies.

“Firstly it will allow for greater participation by the private sector and others in terms of generation of energy. Secondly, it will establish an independent transmission company and buying office which will be able to compare prices and decide which offer in terms of sale of electricity it will attract investment and perhaps even the distribution grid as well which is the responsibility of most municipalities in the country, although not all.”

The power utility says rolling blackouts will continue:

Burkina Faso says it killed about 100 militants in operation with Niger
14 December 2021, 2:14 PM

Burkina Faso’s armed forces killed about 100 militants in a joint operation with Niger between November 25 and December 9 in the two countries’ border zone, the Burkinabe army said.

The operation involved hundreds of troops deployed on both sides of the border, an army statement said. They arrested about 20 suspects, seized guns and hundreds of motorcycles, and destroyed about 15 improvised explosive devices, it added.

Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State are waging an insurgency in Burkina Faso, Niger and neighbouring Mali which has killed thousands of civilians and displaced about two million in the last few years.

The insurgents have inflicted heavy casualties on the region’s armies, and killed 53 people at a gendarmerie post in Burkina Faso last month in the worst strike on security forces in years. Since then, more soldiers have been killed almost every week in scattered attacks.

The recent operation was the second phase of a joint offensive with Niger called “Taanli” that began in June.

Four Burkinabe soldiers were killed and nine others wounded in the operation when they hit an improvised explosive device in Komandjari province, said the statement released on Monday.

Burkina Faso also announced a new cabinet late on Monday, following the appointment of a new prime minister on December 10.

President Roch Kabore fired his last prime minister this month after the escalating security crisis led to street protests, with some people calling for his resignation.

Kabore had promised a tighter team that would focus on the country’s security challenges. The cabinet has been reduced to a team of 26 from 34 previously.

As government offensive pushes forward, scars of war dot Ethiopia’s Amhara region
12 December 2021, 1:42 PM

In a roadside village shattered by one of Africa’s bloodiest current conflicts, a donkey and its young, turbaned master tiptoe past an unexploded shell rusting by the blasted remnants of a tank, its turret and tracks tossed sideways.

Ethiopian soldiers said the tank’s crew had been fighting for Tigray, the rebellious northern region battling the central government. In June, Tigrayan fighters invaded the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara, pushing so far south that by the end of November they were fighting near a town just 190 kilometres (118 miles) from Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

Now the tables have turned.

A government offensive has driven Tigrayan forces back on multiple fronts. Locals are returning to homes scarred not just by intensive fighting but by what they say are atrocities committed by Tigrayan fighters – a charge the rebels deny.

Just outside the mountainous Amhara town of Gashena, around 150km east of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, a Reuters reporting team saw evidence of a fierce battle fought within the last week.

Abandoned zig-zag trenches sliced the red-orange sandy soil parallel to the road. The shattered tank lay on the edge of a village nestling in a grove of eucalyptus trees decapitated by heavy gunfire or air-bursting shells.

Government soldiers and Amhara special forces described an ongoing battle to remove small pockets of Tigrayan fighters.

“There is hand-to-hand conflict about 6 kilometres away,” said an Amhara militiaman in the town. “But you are safe here. It’s just small groups.”

As he spoke, an emplacement of mobile field guns in the greenery close by fired off repeated volleys.

LOOTING AND KILLING

Gashena Mayor Molla Tsega told Reuters that the town, captured by Tigrayan forces in July, was now back in government hands. He said schools and medical clinics had been looted and destroyed, and that Tigrayan forces had killed at least 53 civilians.

Tigrayan fighters had also raped several women, he said. “The war has had an intolerable effect on the poor people here.”

Reuters could not independently verify the accusations, but they fit a pattern of attacks reported elsewhere in Amhara by human rights organisations.

Tigrayan forces summarily executed dozens of civilians in two towns they controlled in Amhara between Aug. 31 and Sept. 9, a report released on Friday by New York-based Human Rights Watch said.

Reuters was unable to reach Tigrayan forces for comment. Getachew Reda, spokesperson for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the party that controls most of Tigray, has previously denied targeting civilians in areas under its control.

The TPLF has said that Tigrayan forces entered Amhara to break a de facto government aid blockade on Tigray and free western Tigray – a contested area – from Amhara control.

The government has denied United Nations accusations it was blocking food aid to the famine-hit region.

Daniel Bekele, head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, said reports by villagers of abuses in Amhara, including killings, rapes and destruction of property were widespread and credible.

They mirrored, he said, similar crimes committed by both sides earlier in the conflict, when fighting was taking place in Tigray.

“It seems to be a cycle of revenge attacks on poor communities,” Bekele said in an interview in Addis Ababa.

A joint investigation released last month by the United Nations and Bekele’s commission concluded that all sides had committed violations that may amount to war crimes.

ABIY TO THE FRONT

The new offensive against Tigrayan forces came after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed went to lead military operations himself, addressing citizens wearing a combat uniform and surrounded by soldiers.

“We will continue [liberating] the remaining areas … nothing will stop us. The enemy will be destroyed,” he said this week.

The offensive recaptured many towns this month, the prime minister’s office said, pushing Tigrayan forces back more than 180km.

Debretsion Gebremichael, the TPLF president, has described the withdrawal as a “territorial adjustment” that was part of a broader plan to secure Tigray.

“Pulling out was a must,” he said in a video posted online this week, citing foreign intervention by unnamed powers as one reason why the military was making gains. “The enemy is getting stronger; we also have to be strong and intensify our struggle.”

Several government soldiers near Gashena told Reuters they had been reinforced by a huge influx of new troops, and airstrikes and drones had hit Tigrayan positions. Ethiopia has bought drones from Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

A Reuters team spotted four destroyed tanks and two blown-up armoured anti-aircraft trucks.

Neither side has released casualty figures, but soldiers reported heavy losses on both sides. Reuters saw six ambulances speeding from Gashena towards the rear lines in five hours.

“Now our priority is to liberate ourselves,” Gizachew Muleneh, spokesman for the Amhara region, told Reuters. Tigray’s forces would be pursued, he said. “We will not stop our offensive until we have eliminated them.”

COVID-19 PCR tests to cost no more than R500
12 December 2021, 1:38 PM

The Competition Commission says with effect from Sunday consumers will no longer pay more than R500 for COVID-19 PCR tests. The figure includes VAT.

The Commission’s statement comes after it reached an agreement with two major laboratories Ampath and Lancet. Competition Commissioner Thembinkosi Bonakele has urged other laboratories to also lower their prices of the tests in line with the agreement.

Bonakele says consumers must report laboratories that are still charging consumers more than 500-rand for the tests.

He says their investigation revealed that the laboratories had realised a significant decline in the cost of conducting the tests but the prices for consumers had remained higher.

“We getting report that there are still labs charging R100 – we call on labs to comply with this settlement even if they are not part of – to offer a price of not more than E500 including vat. We will monitor this where necessary we will take stern action.”

Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele briefed the media on Sunday:

New agreement to see ‘substantial reduction’ in COVID-19 PCR test prices

Last month, the Commission said it had received a formal complaint from the Council for Medical Schemes against private pathology laboratories alleging that the cost of supplying PCR tests for COVID-19 was unfairly inflated, exorbitant and unjustifiable.

The Commission also says between September and October, it was alerted through a number of discussions, including with the Department of Health and healthcare funders, to a possible pricing abuse for COVID-19 PCR tests to the detriment of vulnerable consumers and customers.

It is alleged that private pathology laboratories have experienced substantial cost reductions in conducting COVID-19 PCR tests and were processing significant volumes.

However, the price charged by the private pathology laboratories for COVID-19 PCR tests remained persistently high and unchanged at R850.

 

Biden warns Putin: Russia will pay ‘terrible price’ if it invades Ukraine
12 December 2021, 11:00 AM

US President Joe Biden on Saturday said he told Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia would pay “a terrible price” and face devastating economic consequences if it invaded Ukraine.

Biden told reporters the possibility of sending US ground combat troops to Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion was “never on the table,” although the United States and NATO would be required to send in more forces to eastern flank NATO countries to beef up their defenses.

“I made it absolutely clear to President Putin … that if he moves on Ukraine, the economic consequences for his economy are going to be devastating, devastating,” he said after remarks about the deadly tornadoes that hit the United States on Friday.

Biden, who spoke with Putin by telephone for two hours last week, said he had made clear to the Russian leader that Russia’s standing in the world would change “markedly” in the event of an incursion into Ukraine.

Biden spent the weekend at his home in Wilmington.

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