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South Africa’s Eskom Extends Power Cuts, Needs Bailout By April

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South African power utility Eskom cut electricity for a fourth straight day on Wednesday, as the department of public enterprises warned the struggling state-owned firm needed a cash injection by April to survive.

Eskom, which supplies more than 90 percent of the power in Africa’s most industrialized economy but is laden with more than $30 billion of debt, is battling a shortage of capacity that threatens to derail government plans to lift the sluggish economy.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said last week that the government would support Eskom’s balance sheet but said details would be announced in a budget speech by the finance minister on Feb. 20.

The department of public enterprises, which oversees Eskom, said in a presentation to parliament that Eskom was technically insolvent and would “cease to exist” at the current trajectory by April, unless it gets the bailout. The minister, Pravin Gordhan, however, ruled out privatization of the utility.

The department also said Eskom was struggling to keep its mainly coal-fired plants running due to coal shortages and poor maintenance, with 40 percent of breakdowns a result of human error.

The cash-strapped company said it would cut 3,000 megawatts (MW) of power from the national grid from 0600 GMT on Wednesday, likely until 2100 GMT. This follows a similar cut on Tuesday and 4,000 MW on Monday in the worst power cuts seen in several years that drove the rand currency down on Monday. The rand was slightly firmer against the U.S. dollar on Wednesday.

Around a third of Eskom’s 45,000 MW capacity was offline on Tuesday.

The power cuts are prompting frustration among ordinary South Africans, with traffic gridlock in major cities during rush hours as traffic lights stop working and switched-off fans leave office workers sweating in the summer heat.

Business owners with no access to backup power sources have also been hit.

“We’re struggling,” said Eunice Mashaba, a manager of a textile shop north of Johannesburg who said he had to close the shop early on Tuesday because most customers do not carry cash but have to rely on debit or credit cards for payment.

Ramaphosa announced a plan last week to split Eskom into three separate entities in an effort to make it more efficient as he tries to lift the economy before an election in May, but faces opposition from powerful labor unions and from within his ruling African National Congress party. -Reuters

-Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Wendell Roelf

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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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