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South Africa’s Ramaphosa Pledges To Fix Economy As Election Looms

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced plans on Thursday to split struggling state power giant Eskom into three separate entities, as he sought to convince investors and voters that he will turn around a struggling economy before an election in May.

Ramaphosa is balancing efforts to revive an economy burdened by government debt and mismanagement with the need to retain the support of elements in his ruling African National Congress (ANC) and powerful labour unions who oppose reforms that could cost jobs.

The ANC is expected to win May’s parliamentary election but analysts say Ramaphosa needs the victory to be resounding if he is to unite a party that has been deeply divided since the ousting of scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma a year ago.

“The task before us is formidable,” Ramaphosa said during a televised state of the nation address in parliament that was attended by hundreds of lawmakers and dignitaries.

“Above everything else, we must get our economy working again.”

Fixing the crisis at Eskom was the main talking point ahead of Ramaphosa’s highly-anticipated annual address as it will be key to him delivering on a promise to mend an economy that stagnated under Zuma.

Eskom supplies more than 90 percent of South Africa’s power and employs 48,000 people. But it is drowning in around 420 billion rand ($31 billion) of debt and is expecting to lose more than $1 billion a year for the next two years.

Many investors have called for Eskom to be partially privatized to make it more efficient, but significant sections of the ANC have said that is a red line that cannot be crossed.

Trying to please all sides, Ramaphosa said Eskom’s generation, transmission and distribution businesses would become separate state-owned entities, without touching on controversial subjects like job cuts or privatisation.

‘DECISIVE ACTION’

He said the government would support Eskom’s balance sheet but that the scale of that support would be revealed only in a budget speech by the finance minister on Feb. 20.

“Eskom is in crisis and the risks it poses to South Africa are great,” Ramaphosa said, adding that he would call this year’s parliamentary vote on May 8.

“We need to take bold decisions and decisive action. The consequences may be painful, but they will be even more devastating if we delay.”

Ramaphosa also promised to boost tourist numbers, explore selling stakes in state firms deemed non-strategic and increase agricultural output through accelerated land reforms.

But it was his comments on Eskom that drew the greatest attention.

“It is clear that a fundamental restructuring of Eskom is on the cards. It may not happen in one step, but it is a very important starting point,” said energy expert Chris Yelland.

“Today’s comments were about managing the expectations of the financial community on the one hand, and the opposition of labour unions on the other.”

Successive governments have avoided addressing Eskom’s inefficient and monopolistic structure, fearing a backlash from socialist elements in the ANC and from much of the public given the likely job losses.

Ramaphosa could still delay unpopular decisions like cutting jobs until after the election in an effort to avoid a confrontation with unions.

Cosatu, the biggest union movement and an ally of the ANC, released a statement as Ramaphosa was delivering his speech saying it would fight job cuts at state firms “to the very end”. -Reuters

-Alexander Winning

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Pioneer For Women In Construction Thandi Ndlovu has died

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The cover of the August (Women’s Month) edition of Forbes Africa beautifully captures the essence of the woman I interviewed only a few weeks ago. Gracious, soft-spoken, brimming with life and energy. Dr Thandi Ndlovu impressed the entire Forbes crew on that afternoon cover shoot with her broad smile, and open yet powerful demeanor.

It is with great sadness that Forbes Africa heard of the accident that took her life on Saturday the 24 August 2019.

READ MORE |COVER: Feisty And Fearless Pioneers Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo

She had given so much to South Africa and its people – through the apartheid years and during the 25 years of democracy, literally building a better future, first through her medical practice at Orange Farm and then through her company, Motheo Construction Group and the scholarships for tertiary education granted by her Motheo Children’s Foundation.

That sunny winter’s afternoon, I asked her if she, at the age of 65, was considering retirement, and she laughed. A lively, amiable laugh. She told me she was healthy and strong and easily worked 12 to 13 hour days.

READ MORE | WATCH | Making Of The Women’s Month Cover: Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo

She loved hiking, and has climbed Kilimanjaro twice, reached the base camps of Mount Everest and Annapurna in Nepal. At the time of the interview, she was training to climb Machu Picchu, the famed ruins in Peru’s mountains.

One of her biggest passions was to make a difference in people’s lives and to motivate people to achieve the best they could. The other was to redress the racial tensions that still remained in South Africa.

Dr Thandi Ndlovu, South Africa is poorer for your passing.

-Jill De Villiers

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Facebook Joins Other Tech Giants In Employing Journalists To Curate News

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Facebook is hiring a small team of journalists to help curate breaking news and repair its strained relationship with news publishers, the social media giant announced Tuesday.

The company says it will employ journalists to select breaking news and top stories that will appear in its soon-to-be-launched feature called News Tab, rather than using algorithms to determine what is shared with its vast network of users.

With the move, Facebook is part of a growing trend in the tech industry. Apple, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn and Snapchat have all employed journalists to help their companies sort through the news and cozy up to news organizations.

READ MORE | Facebook Recommits To A More Personalized Dating App, Your Privacy

Apple, for example, has used some form of human curation since its subscription Apple News app launched in 2015. In June 2017, the company hired former New York magazine executive editor Lauren Kern as the app’s editor-in-chief. Twitter has also employed some form of human news curation since 2015. 

Even with a team of in-house journalists, companies like Twitter continue to struggle in the fight against misinformation. On Monday, Twitter announcedit will no longer accept advertising from state-controlled media, in large part as a response to the discovery that China ran a misinformation campaign to combat Hong Kong protesters.

Facebook, facing similar scrutiny for the same Chinese misinformation campaign, said that employing journalists will help “surface more high quality news.”

“Our goal with the News tab is to provide a personalized, highly relevant experience for people,” Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of news partnerships said in a statement sent to Forbes. “The majority of stories people will see will appear in the tab via algorithmic selection. To start, for the Top News section of the tab we’re pulling together a small team of journalists to ensure we’re highlighting the right stories.”

READ MORE | Google, Facebook, Twitter Fail To Live Up To Fake News Pledge

Facebook says the team will take into account user controls, pages and publisher as well as the news that users interact with or share, and other unnamed signals from its vast network to personalize content. 

The company has been under pressure to mitigate its misinformation problem since it was revealed in 2016 that Russian operatives carried out a misinformation campaign in a “sweeping and systematic fashion” on the network, as it was described by special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The Mueller Report found that Russia spent $1.25 million per month on digital advertisements in an effort to sow discord in the U.S. and influence the presidential election. On Monday, Facebook came under fire for taking money from China to spread disinformation about Hong Kong protests.

The social media giant remains an important part of many Americans lives, much more than its rivals Twitter and Snapchat. According to Pew Research, about 69% of American adults use Facebook, and of those who use it, about 74% visit the site once a day. By comparison, only one in five U.S. adults (22%) use Twitter.

According to a survey conducted in 2018, about four in ten (43%) U.S. adults get at least some news from Facebook.

READ MORE | How To Use Twitter To  Boost Your Business

In January 2017, Facebook hired Campbell Brown, a former television news anchor, to lead its news partnerships team. She remains a key figure in easing the tension between large national news outlets—those who have historically provided an endless trove of free content for the social media giant—and the company.

Publishing executives have slammed Facebook for siphoning advertising revenue away from traditional news publishers while also demanding that those same companies provide content for free. Following years of backlash, the social media company is now trying to work with publishers to create a more even relationship.

Facebook’s news partnership program involves deals that are potentially worth millions of dollars. The Wall Street Journal reports that several news outlets including the Washington Post, Bloomberg, Dow Jones, and the New York Times have discussed receiving as much as $3 million per year to license news content.

The News Tab, which has not been publicly viewed, is being positioned in stark contrast to the company’s Trending Topics news section, which shut down in 2016 following increasing pressure from users.

In 2016, the tech website Gizmodo published an article alleging contractors hired to curate the now-defunct Trending Topics feed were actively suppressing conservative news stories. In a letter to Congress, Facebook said, “We could not reconstruct reliable data logs from before December 2014, so were unable to examine each of the reviewer decisions from that period,” thus suggesting that it may have very well suppressed conservative news when the tool first launched.

-Michael Nuñez; Forbes

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Walmart Sues Tesla Over Solar Panels That Allegedly Caught Fire

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Topline: Walmart is alleging in a lawsuit that Tesla solar panels caused fires on the roofs of seven Walmart stores, and is accusing Tesla of breach of contract, gross negligence and failure to comply with industry standards. 

  • Walmart claims that Tesla installed faulty solar panels that eventually spontaneously combusted and caught fire at seven Walmart stores around the country.
  • The lawsuit alleges that Tesla inspectors didn’t notice defects that were visible to the naked eye, used cable connectors that weren’t compatible with one another and failed to see that loose and hanging wires were present at multiple sites.

READ MORE | Jeff Bezos And Elon Musk Want To Get To The Moon—They Just Disagree On How To Get There

  • Walmart says in the lawsuit it believes the failures were the result of rushed installation because Tesla’s solar division “adopted an ill-considered business model that required it to install solar panel systems haphazardly and as quickly as possible in order to turn a profit, and the contractors and subcontractors who performed the original installation work had not been properly hired, trained, and supervised.”

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes.

Key Background: Tesla got into the solar business after it acquired SolarCity in 2016 for $2.6 billion. But production of its residential solar panels under Tesla has been mired with delays and plunging sales. 

Just this week, CEO Elon Musk announced a revamped pricing plan in an effort to boost the slowing business. The new pricing model allows residents in six states to rent solar power systems starting at $50 a month ($65 a month in California) instead of buying them up front.

Further Reading: Read the full lawsuit here.

-Rachel Sandler, Forbes


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