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Health

Mercy Or Monster?

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After cancer had spread throughout her body, and death was inevitable, Patricia Ferguson decided she wanted to be in control of it. So, she went on a hunger strike.

“She had always said she would rather take an overdose than become a burden,” says her son, Sean Davison.

Having flown from Cape Town, South Africa, to Dunedin, New Zealand, to be with his mother during her final days in 2006, Davison was confronted with a horrific scenario and a decision that is hard to comprehend.

Unable to move her limbs, Ferguson was bedridden. Bruises and bed sores covered her body and her flesh was starting to rot. She wished her pain would end and no longer wanted to be a burden on her loved ones. She had starved herself for more than a month but her body refused to give in.

Finally, she pleaded for her son to give her a lethal dose of morphine pills that she had saved up over days. Witnessing her suffering for weeks, Davison sorrowfully agreed to help his mother.

“My instinct was to keep her alive. But I realized that this was what she wanted, and if I didn’t help her she would have suffered a lot more,” he says.

He crushed the pills, mixed them in a glass of water, and handed it to his mother. After about an hour she peacefully fell asleep.

Davison says this was an act of compassion; New Zealand authorities said it was a crime. He was arrested and later sentenced to five months house arrest.

Helping his mother die seemed to split society. Although many sympathized with Davison – including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who wrote a letter that helped prevent him spending time behind bars – others were appalled by his actions. While being kept as a prisoner in his mother’s house, Davison received two death threats.

In 2010, while awaiting his trial, Davison, now the Head of the Forensic DNA Laboratory at the University of the Western Cape, founded Dignity SA. It is an organization that is fighting to legalize assisted dying in South Africa.

“My mother would never have gone on that ill-fated hunger strike if she knew she had the option of an assisted death,” Davison wrote in a column in December last year.

But, just like he faced resistance in New Zealand, Davison has detractors in South Africa. Dr Albu van Eeden is the CEO of Doctors For Life, a group of doctors that campaigns against controversial issues, such as euthanasia, abortion and homosexuality. He claims suicide is an infectious disease.

“The concept of suicide contagion is a very well established principle in psychology and psychiatry,” he says.

Suicide contagion is defined as the exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors from family, friends, or media, and can result in an increase in suicidal behavior. Van Eeden believes that 99.9% of suffering can be effectively treated with medicine.

“It’s just erroneous now when we have the most effective pain treatment in the history of the world, now suddenly there is a need for assisted suicide,” he says.

Assisted suicide is when a doctor provides the medication and/or information for a terminally-ill patient to end their own life, while euthanasia involves a doctor administering the medication. Today, euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, and Luxembourg. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Canada, and in the US states of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Vermont, Montana, and California.

In South Africa, assisted dying is illegal but some are trying to change that in courts and Parliament. The most recent case is that of the well-known advocate Robin Stransham-Ford, who insisted his cancer and kidney failure infringed on his constitutional right to dignity. In 2015, on the day Stransham-Ford succumbed to the cancer‚ the High Court ruled that a doctor could help him end his life. Numerous organizations, including the Department of Justice, the Department of Health, and Doctors For Life, asked the Supreme Court of Appeal to review this. In December 2016, the decision was overturned.

Aubrey Magerman, Attorney and Director at Magerman Attorneys, feels that assisted dying should be legalized; he says it is still a crime in South Africa.

“We’re back at square one, where we would be criminally culpable to assist someone in ending their life,” he says.

Magerman believes everyone should have a constitutional right to a dignified life and a dignified death.

“I have had my own grandparents pass away out in the rural Northern Cape under terrible circumstances, with no assistance, and in horrible pain, and being unrecognizable for weeks on end. It is terribly traumatizing for anybody. I wish, when it come to my time [to die], I will have the opportunity [to undergo assisted suicide].”

Magerman refers to the popular MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, who had stage-four lung cancer.

“One day he couldn’t take the pain anymore and he killed himself. His family found him with his brain and blood splattered all over the bedroom walls and on the bedding. So, I don’t think the State should tell us how to die,” he says.

Despite this, Van Eeden says assisted dying can have consequences beyond easing a person’s suffering.

“Once you allow it you are stretching man’s tendency to stretch the limit or the borders which makes the slippery slope happen,” he says.

“In Canada, they now want to make it possible for people who are asking for euthanasia to donate their organs. Suicide was originally only meant for terminal illness, for people with unbearable suffering, until they said ‘on what basis is physical suffering worse than mental suffering?’ So then they said ‘ok, we’ll allow it for mental suffering as well’.”

“So now you find a person can go to their doctor and say ‘I’m depressed, I’m worthless’. Maybe he’s a disabled person or an old person, and he says I don’t mean anything for anybody, I’m a burden to society, to my children, I think I’m in the way. I want to rather commit suicide and please you’re the doctor, you must do it for me. Now they can say to him, ‘You know what? Your life is worthless but it can have purpose, you can give your organs for donation… And this just shows you what a monster suicide becomes.”

Van Eeden is also worried about the regulation of the laws.

“Holland was not able to keep its regulations. Firstly, they said there would be a waiting time, and two or three doctors must agree with the decision, but all these things went out the door. Initially, it was only for patients above the age of 18, now it’s changed so that children above the age of 12 years old can ask for euthanasia without the consent of parents. The limits are constantly being stretched,” he says.

Magerman agrees that regulation is vital if assisted dying laws are introduced.

“What is required here is for the State to step in. It should be up to Parliament, which is the body charged with making legislation. It is not something that can be regulated in the courts.

“It creates absolute uncertainty. It is simply for Parliament to say we will for now on regulate assisted suicide or euthanasia and the parameters of that will be set.”

But Van Eeden has concern that State regulation opens the door for laws to be abused.

“It will always be cheaper to take a life than to treat a person and try and help him. So there’s a very strong financial incentive to any government once you start allowing assisted suicide.”

It’s a complex issue with many legal, ethical and religious variables to consider. Those against assisted dying say that it goes against the sanctity of life that is stressed by most religions.

One iconic religious leader defies this. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in October 2016, said he would like to have the option of assisted dying.

“I have prepared for my death and have made it clear that I do not wish to be kept alive at all costs. I hope I am treated with compassion and allowed to pass on to the next phase of life’s journey in the manner of my choice,” he wrote in the Washington Post.

“For those suffering unbearably and coming to the end of their lives, merely knowing that an assisted death is open to them can provide immeasurable comfort,” he added.

In 1998, South Africa’s President Nelson Mandela asked the Law Reform Commission to look into assisted dying.

The commission decided that assisted dying should be legalized, even writing a draft bill. Despite this, it was never debated in Parliament, and continues to gather dust.

In 2014, Tutu lambasted the way Mandela was used as a political prop days before his death, calling it ‘disgraceful’.

“My friend was no longer himself. It was an affront to Madiba’s dignity,” wrote Tutu, who is often referred to as South Africa’s moral conscience.

Would assisted dying legislation have allowed Mandela to die with more dignity? It’s impossible to answer definitively, but a sobering thought nonetheless.

Health

[IN NUMBERS] Coronavirus Update: COVID-19 In Africa

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While most cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus have been reported in China and Europe, the virus has begun spreading across the African continent.

As it stands, worldwide cases have reached 912,565 .

The increase in new reported cases around the world has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the coronavirus a global pandemic.

The death toll continues to rise globally, and is currently at 45,541. Italy leads with 13,155. Spain is second with 9,053. The U.S is third with 4,516, and China, where the virus originated from, is fourth with 3,312.

The figure of the global recoveries stands much higher than the figure of deaths at 157,078.

Here are the numbers in Africa:

Country Confirmed Cases Confirmed DeathsConfirmed Recoveries
Algeria5113131
Angola72
Benin6
Burkina Faso2221223
Cameroon13965
Cabo Verde (Cape Verde)61
Central African Republic (CAR)3
Chad5
Congo19
Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)16514
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)8182
Djibouti18
Egypt60940132
Equatorial Guinea12
Eritrea12
Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)9
Ethiopia234
Gabon71
Gambia41
Ghana15252
Guinea22
Guinea-Bissau8
Kenya5011
Liberia3
Libya8
Madagascar39
Mali252
Mauritania52
Mauritius1283
Morocco5162914
Mozambique8
Namibia112
Niger223
Nigeria11113
Rwanda70
Senegal16227
Seychelles8
Somalia3
South Africa1326331
Sudan62
Tanzania191
Togo3011
Tunisia31282
Uganda33
Zambia35
Zimbabwe71

Note: The numbers will be updated as new information is available.

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Economy

5 Tips For SMEs To Counter The Covid-19 Crisis

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It was recently reported by ratings agency S&P Global that the coronavirus outbreak has plunged the world into a recession. On the home front, a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases in the country resulted in the President of South Africa imposing a 21-day country-wide lockdown, starting from Thursday, 26 March 2020. Combine this with the fact that the country also recently announced to be in its third recession since 1994 it’s safe to say that many businesses are beginning to feel the effects of the pandemic.

The impact of the coronavirus on small businesses is likely to be substantial, especially for local businesses who are already feeling the pinch, as financial and market uncertainty can easily translate into an emotional crisis that can overwhelm our systems. However, help is on the way as the Department of Small Business Development announced that a Debt Relief Fund has been set up to assist small, medium and micro enterprises impacted by COVID-19.

While this relief is welcomed, it is still vital for leaders to step up. The world has been through crises before, but during these significantly difficult times, the economic impact may be as severe or possibly worse. As such, those in leadership positions must use past crises as examples and apply what was learnt to keep the country on course and minimise the impact of the pandemic.

Karl Westvig, CEO at Retail Capital, has pinpointed the visible areas that are affected and outlined a few pointers to help small business owners weather the storm.

Liquidity

The first victim of panic is liquidity – banks, asset managers and funders stop lending. When they cannot calculate the potential risk, they will not lend.  Therefore, it is critical to shore up cash by drawing down on available facilities and suspending any unnecessary investments. Reduce expenses and manage cash flow daily.

Get Your Best Team on It

When a business is growing, we tend to shift our best people into roles linked to growth and new initiatives. In a crisis, these people need to move into the highest priority roles. These roles would include collecting from customers, raising facilities or engaging key clients.

Morale and Communication

People need leadership. This would include authentic and regular communication about the situation, what the business requires and how this will be achieved. You can’t control the circumstances, but you can control the response and actions. This will create more certainty.

Hands-on

Events evolve quickly and every day is critical. Leaders must be hands-on. They have to be in touch with customers, suppliers, funders and staff. They have to collect data on everything – the mood, the financial metrics, even customer stories. Some of the best information is anecdotal, not just big data.

Policies

It’s tough to lead when you don’t understand all the underlying levers. These can change in a crisis. What worked in a stable environment can go out of the window in an instant. The best approach is to start again, listen to customers and then adapt your policies within your framework.

“This is not a manual on how to handle the current crisis, but hopefully, the points mentioned above can add to what you are already doing. In simple terms, it is easy to be overwhelmed, so tackle a few things very quickly and with commitment. This will create certainty and lead to action. The alternative is paralysis,” concludes Westvig.

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Billionaires

Motsepe Family & Associates Join Rupert And Oppenheimer Families In Donating R1 billion To Deal With COVID-19 Pandemic

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On Monday South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa revealed that South Africa’s richest families the Rupert and Oppenheimer families had each contributed R1 billion to assist small businesses and their employees affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Today the Motsepe family has contributed R1 billion ($57mn). See full statement below.

The Motsepe Family in partnership with companies and organisations that they are associated with, have pledged R1 billion to assist with the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its related challenges that are confronting South Africa and the African Continent.

These companies and organisations are:
 Motsepe Foundation
 Sanlam
 African Rainbow Capital (ARC)
 African Rainbow Minerals (ARM)  and others

The Founder and Chairman of the Motsepe Foundation, Dr Patrice Motsepe said: “Several hundred million rands will immediately be made available with the primary objective of saving lives and slowing and restraining the spread of the Coronavirus. We are purchasing sanitisers, disinfectants, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and are in discussions with Government, health workers and other stakeholders to assist with acquiring other equipment and making resources available which are essential for dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. We’ve been advised that access to water for regularly washing hands is crucial for slowing and limiting the spread of the Coronavirus. We are therefore providing water to poor rural and urban communities by purchasing water tanks (jojos), drilling and equipping for borehole water and also building sanitary facilities. The current lockdown has an impact on the goods, equipment and services that can be purchased immediately and the goods and services which can be provided when the lockdown has been terminated. Our short to medium term interventions include building additional classrooms, computer centers and laboratories in all the 9 provinces of South Africa to assist with the excessively high number of students per classroom in some schools; particularly in the context of the current Coronavirus pandemic and the social distancing requirements.

Those schools in the poor rural and urban areas which do not have internet access or facilities will be assisted with study guides, scientific calculators, dictionaries and other educational equipment and facilities identified in consultation with the Department of Basic Education, school principals and teachers. Poor and underdeveloped communities are ill-prepared to deal with the serious challenges and consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic and are in dire need of our assistance and contributions. We are committed to contribute to the provision of quality education, infrastructure and other facilities to better prepare and equip them to deal with future pandemics or catastrophes.”

We will be working in partnership with:
 traditional leaders, kings, queens and their communities that we have been working with for the past 20 years;
 the 34 Religious and Faith-Based organisations that participate in the annual Motsepe Foundation National Day of Prayer;
 National, Provincial and Local Government authorities;
 Trade Union and other Worker Representative organisations;
 NGOs and other local community representative organisations;
 sport organisations and entities;
 local, provincial and national business and professional organisations;
 black and white farmers and their representative organisations; and
 other organisations or structures that can assist or partner with us in dealing with the current Coronavirus pandemic.

The CEO of Sanlam Ian Kirk said: “Sanlam has a rich history of always putting our people, our clients and our country first; hence our mantra of ‘Doing well, by doing Good’. Today, we’re proud of the partnership with the Motsepe Family and its associated companies. We believe these efforts will make a meaningful contribution not only towards fighting the Coronavirus, but also in developing the long-term sustainability of South Africans, particularly in poor and rural areas. Periods of profound uncertainty like these call for us to come together to support all the prudent actions that contain the scourge of this virus and its impact on our already fragile economy.”

The CEO of ARC Dr Johan van Zyl said: “As a nation we are in unchartered waters in terms of the scale and danger that the COVID19 pandemic presents to South Africans. It is now time for each and everyone of us to demonstrate leadership and help. ARC is a fairly young company with limited financial resources. Yet, it remains important that we make a contribution. In this regard we are partnering with companies and organisations with which we have common interests and share common values to ensure that the positive impact we aim to make is felt.” We have been in contact with various Ministers and MECs and will also be in contact with the Government’s Coronavirus Solidarity Fund to identify specific initiatives and projects where we can partner and work together. There may be upliftment and developmental undertakings where they are better positioned than we are, in which case we may fund or donate with them on a particular project or partnership.

We want to thank Government for their leadership and cooperation including health workers, police, soldiers, as well as Religious and Faith-Based organisations, traditional leaders, trade union and other worker representative organisations, NGOs and other rural and urban organisations. We also want to thank business and in particular the Rupert and Oppenheimer families, the employees, boards and stakeholders of the companies that the Motsepe Family is associated with, for their assistance and contributions in dealing with the current Coronavirus pandemic.

South Africans have a history of uniting and working together when confronted with major and enormous challenges. We are confident that South Africa will in the medium to long term overcome the life-threatening and economic challenges caused by the Coronavirus pandemic and continue to build a bright and inclusive future for the people of South Africa and the African continent.

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