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Low economic activity – not necessarily crowding – fuels spread of coronavirus: expert

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Staff Reporter

Having a high number of people living in an area might not necessarily promote the spread of the coronavirus, but lack of meaningful economic activity could promote a rapid spread of the disease, a University of the Free State (UFS) lecturer has said.

Professor Ivan Turok, from the UFS Department of Economics and Finance and the Centre for Development Support, says the problem with the spread of COVID-19 is not about high volumes of people in an area, but the level of economic activity in that place.

Turok, who was part of a webinar discussion on ‘Urban Living Post-COVID-19’ on Friday, said urban density has been blamed for the spread of the virus with little or no focus put on the economic circumstances of the people.

“The fear of people crowding together has caused negative reactions from government, business and households,” said Turok, who also works with the Human Sciences Research Council.

“We need a more positive vision for the future than wearing masks and washing our hands.

“We need to be bolder and more imaginative about de-risking urban density.

“In other words, making crowded neighbourhoods safer and more secure for people to live in.

“Density poses multiple risks to residents. How do we reduce these risks in ways that generate wider benefits, rather than business as usual – forcing people to change their behaviour and follow protocols?”

Turok sat on the panel with Dr Geci Karuri-Sebina who manages the research programme at the South African Cities Network and has two decades of experience working and publishing in the fields of urban development, innovation and foresight as well as Govender who is the architect and founder of UrbanWorks.

They analysed how COVID-19 challenges urban living, social distancing and the de-densification of cities as South Africa is close to having 70 percent of its population living in urban areas.

Turok said while big cities have been more affected compared to smaller towns and rural areas in terms of infections and the number of deaths, there are far more problems in the townships and informal settlements than in the suburbs linked to economic activity.

He said South Africa’s townships and informal settlements are bearing the brunt of the disease, on top of all their existing problems of unemployment, poverty, hunger and crime.

In Cape Town, for example, he said the southern and northern suburbs as well as the city centre have been hardly affected by the virus, but infections have been very high in the Cape Flats, including Khayelitsha, Langa, Gugulethu, Philippi and Mitchells Plain.

“Incomes in the Cape Flats are also much lower than elsewhere in the city. So, there is a correspondence between density and the disease,” said Turok.

He lamented the fact that discussions about the pandemic have so far focused on the negative aspects of urban density for the risk of transmission.

This, he said, ignores all the benefits of dense urban living.

Turok said physical distancing can be socially and economically damaging because he believes intense human interaction fosters learning and creativity and raises productivity and innovation.

He said concentrated populations generate economies of scale in the provision of infrastructure and institutions such as universities.

“Attempts to force people apart through de-densification undermine all kinds of personal networks, weaken the social fabric of communities and erode the economic advantages of proximity that are so important for cities.”

He pointed out that at the moment, the government’s response to the crisis facing the country’s poorest communities is uninspiring.

Turok suggested that a key part of a lasting solution can be summed up as building economic density.

This involves increasing investment in two- or three-storey buildings to give people more living space and to free up land at ground-floor level to accommodate essential infrastructure and more public space for markets and social interaction.

He said a better living and working environment would strengthen community resilience to public-health problems and promote all-round development.

“We need to understand that people crowding together in dense informal settlements is a symptom of something more fundamental, namely poverty,” said Turok.

“The pressure on land reflects the fact that low-income households can’t afford the space standards of middle- and upper-income groups.

“Forcing people apart – or to stay home – to reduce the risk of transmission just treats the symptoms of the problem.

“It cannot be a lasting solution.

“It doesn’t build resilience to confront the multiple challenges facing poor communities.

“We need to de-risk urban density through tangible investment, rather than forced distancing or dispersal.

“This will help to bring about far-reaching improvements to people’s lives in cities.

“At the moment, the lack of economic density in impoverished communities is a much bigger problem than excessive population densities.”

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Mangaung warns residents to brace for heavy rainfall

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DISRUPTIVE DOWNPOUR LOOMING . . . Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality has warned heavy rainfall is expected to pound the capital

The Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality has warned residents in and around the Free State capital to brace for heavy rainfall that could cause flooding this Friday.

The municipality is urging drivers to take extra caution by reducing speed and switching their headlights on, while pedestrians are being reminded to be careful when crossing the road and to avoid crossing rivers and streams where water is above the ankles.

“Residents of Mangaung Metro, particularly in the former Naledi region, are urged to be cautious on the road and in their homes as the South African Weather Service has issued an impact-based warning . . . for possible disruptive rainfall,” the metro said in a statement.

“This warning is valid for Friday, 20 May 2022 until Saturday, 21 May 2022.”

“Heavy rains are also predicted in Bloemfontein on Friday,” it added.

“Localised flooding can be expected in susceptible low-lying areas, roads, formal/informal settlements and bridges.” – Staff Reporter

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Mangaung speaker vows not to be silenced by charges

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DEFIANT . . . Mangaung council speaker Stefani Lockman-Naidoo

Mangaung council speaker Stefani Lockman-Naidoo has vowed not to stop fighting corruption in the metro after she was summoned to a disciplinary hearing set for next month for disobeying her party, the ANC, resulting in the axing and suspension of senior officials in the municipality.

The ANC Mangaung Interim Regional Committee (IRC) has summoned her to a disciplinary hearing on June 7 to answer to charges of knowingly and intentionally defying a resolution of the ANC Caucus in council after she allowed a motion to be debated without referring it to party structures in the council.

Lockman-Naidoo’s tiff with her party dates back to January when the Mangaung IRC announced her suspension after she was accused of defying the ANC’s instruction no to proceed with a sitting which resulted in then acting city manager Sello More being removed from office.

The Mangaung speaker also told The Free Stater on Thursday that she was being targeted for presiding over a recent council sitting that resolved to suspend several allegedly corrupt officials in the municipality.

“We are being charged for suspending a corrupt HOD (head of department),” said Lockman-Naidoo, referring to David Nkaiseng who heads corporate services.

A council meeting held on May 12 – after receiving an investigation report from Matlho Attorneys – resolved, among others, to bring charges against Nkaiseng for his alleged role in unlawfully appointing the officials resulting in the flouting of municipal policy of appointment of officials as well as flouting municipal staff regulations and the code of conduct for municipal officials.

“We are being targeted because we are purging these corrupt officials of Mangaung,” charged Lockman-Naidoo.

“I will not tolerate any corruption . . . Wherever I go I will be known as that speaker that didn’t tolerate corruption,” she added confidently.

The speaker was however quick to point out that those charging her had no authority to do so.

“But you see, the charges are not from the ANC because they didn’t ask for permission from the provincial coordinator (Paseka Nompondo) to charge us,” she said.

“The region itself is an illegitimate structure. Its term has expired and these are just factions . . .

“It’s a faction of the region that is charging us – it’s not the ANC.

“They are the ones that are purging us because we are not part of their faction.

“This is what’s going on. They don’t tolerate me.”

Lockman-Naidoo claimed the faction was not happy with the suspension of the HOD.

“The council resolution . . . says several criminal charges must be opened against the HOD himself and relevant officials,” she said.

“And I’m wrong for suspending a person like that?

“I don’t mind being charged at all because we did the right thing as council.

“They are saying . . . they are charging us because I allowed the item to sit in council.

“It’s not my item – it’s a council item. I couldn’t remove it. There was nothing I could do.”

Council also resolved that Nzimeni Maswabi be charged by acting city manager for his role in approving unlawful staff appointments.

It also wants Thabang Joseph Mpeli to be charged for his role in the drafting of unlawful appointment letters.

However, ANC Mangaung IRC spokesperson Ncamisa Ngxangisa has dismissed Lockman-Naidoo’s claims saying the party was not targeting anyone but it simply wanted to put its house in order.

In a separate interview, Ngxangisa said there were concerns some councillors could be working with the opposition, hence the probe.

“We are not targeting individuals. We are dealing with members of the ANC who happen to be councillors in this regard,” he told The Free Stater.

“This is after we received concerns that there could be some members who are voting with the opposition, against the position of the caucus of the ANC in that municipality.

“We took everything as it is, and referred the matter to our sub-committee that deals with issues of discipline so that they inquire into all these allegations levelled against all these comrades.

“But at the same time, it gives these comrades an opportunity to respond or query any evidence that may be presented against them.”

Ngxangisa said every organisation implements disciplinary processes when something goes wrong and the ANC was only exercising its right to do so.

“We are a political party, we contest elections,” he said.

“We are relying on our councillors to make sure that our policy position and decisions find expression in that council.

“If there are allegations that such is not happening, any self-loving political party will stand up and do something about it.

“These accusations are neither here nor there – no one is targeted.

“There are concerns that the centre is not holding in that municipality.

“Our caucus through the chief whip is not given enough support by our councillors and there are such allegations.

“That’s a cause for serious concern which must be attended to so that the ANC can at least enjoy its majority in that municipality.”

The Mangaung IRC spokesperson emphasised that the ANC was firmly against any corrupt activities but indicated that councillors were expected to represent the interests of the party and not their own.

“When we say all councillors must toe this line, we expect everyone to toe that line. Anyone who goes astray is a concern to us,” he said.  – Staff Reporter

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Centlec warns cable theft masterminds

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STOLEN . . . Part of the copper cable recovered by the police

Power distribution company Centlec has issued a stern warning to people believed to be hired by unknown individuals or syndicates to steal copper cables from the power lines saying it will not allow them to destroy such key infrastructure and put the country’s economy at risk.

“This is war and we will fight it tooth and nail,” said Centlec in a statement.

“We want to send a strong message to the criminals and their handlers that we will not rest until they are behind bars,” added the company, which distributes electricity to Mangaung and surrounding municipalities.

It said it is aware that most of the criminals are just fronts who are sent by kingpins who then process the copper before selling it.

Centlec warned the kingpins that they would soon face the full might of the law.

“Some of the fronts happen to be vulnerable foreign nationals who are being used to steal our cables by their handlers,” said the company.

A joint operation by Centlec and the police in recent weeks has led to several arrests and the recovery of hundreds of kilogrammes of copper cable destined for scrapyards.

In the latest three incidents, a man was arrested in Botshabelo after being found in possession of copper cable believed to have been stolen.

Several people were also arrested following inspections at two scrapyards in Botshabelo where large amounts of copper were found.

At a scrapyard in Bloemfontein, a man was issued with a fine after he was found with copper weighing 150kg which he failed to account for.

Investigations are still underway to ascertain the real owner of the scrapyard for possible arrest.

“We are worried that many of these scrapyards are becoming a haven for criminals and promoting criminality,” said Centlec chief executive officer Malefane Sekoboto. – Staff Reporter

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