Mustek building torched

Source: MyBroadband

Looters attacked Mustek’s offices in the North of Durban on Monday, stealing everything of value and leaving the facility wrecked.

On Tuesday evening a video posted online showed that the building had been set ablaze.

Mustek managing director Hein Engelbrecht confirmed that the building in the video was indeed their Durban office, which the company rented.

With this attack and the subsequent arson, criminals have destroyed a key information technology and computer hardware provider in the eThekwini area.

Mustek’s Durban offices handled orders from technology retailers in the area, dispatched goods to clients, and offered after-sales support services. Stock of some items was held on the premises.

Speaking to MyBroadband earlier today, Engelbrecht said that they had thankfully told the few operational staff still working from the offices to stay home on Monday.

“We just had a feeling … we saw the reports of unrest and some of our staff said that they were struggling to get out of their neighbourhoods. So we told everyone to stay home on Monday,” said Engelbrecht.

With South Africa’s adjusted Alert Level 4 lockdown in place, all the sales staff that usually work from Mustek’s Durban facility were already working from home.

Only some operational staff who work on dispatch and after-sales support were still working from the office.

Engelbrecht said that when the looters first attacked, their security personnel tried to hold them out but were overrun.

One security guard was hospitalised.

The police soon arrived on the scene and dispersed the mob. While the situation was calm the police were called away to quell unrest in a different location.

Engelbrecht said the police had not been gone for ten minutes before the looters returned in full force and stripped the office bare.

Looters also tore through the property, ripping screens off of walls and damaging company delivery vehicles.

Some vandals then returned on Tuesday and set the building alight.

Engelbrecht could not provide an estimate of the cost of the damage.

“We are busy assessing the damage — I don’t want to guess right now,” he said.

The loss of their Durban offices will cause some service disruption for clients in KwaZulu-Natal, but Engelbrecht said it does not impact their national operations.

He said that as soon as the highway between Johannesburg and Durban re-opens, Mustek can restructure to serve KwaZulu-Natal clients from Gauteng — though he added that this will cost a bit more.

 

Source: Telecom Paper

South African ISP Afrihost has agreed to acquire a majority stake in Cool Ideas, MyBroadband reported, subject to the necessary regulatory approvals. Afrihost and Cool Ideas are working to finalise the transaction as soon as possible. The parties hope to leverage the economies of scale of a larger network.

Cool Ideas will continue to operate as a stand-alone brand and business with the same management team and employees. All its original shareholders, including founders Andre Jooste and Paul Butschi, will retain stakes in the company. The other Cool Ideas shareholders are Roelf Diedericks and Shane Rees-Gibbs. Finances related to the deal have not been disclosed.

The majority stake in Cool Ideas will make Afrihost a significantly bigger player in the South African fibre ISP market. Afrihost already owns a majority stake in Axxess, one of the country’s premier service providers. This acquisition will create a powerhouse with three of South Africa’s top ISPs under the same umbrella. Cool Ideas was founded by Jooste and Butschi in 2011 when they explored prospects for starting a hosting business.

They also considered business offerings on the DFA network, but when Vumatel started deploying an FTTH network in Johannesburg, they saw a big opportunity. Cool Ideas partnered with Vumatel to offer fibre services in areas where it had coverage. The ISP showed rapid growth and started to offer fibre-to-the-home products on other fibre networks, including Openserve, Frogfoot and Octotel.

 

By Sihle Mavuso for IOL

Former president Jacob Zuma was defiant to the end last night, choosing to take control of the manner of his incarceration and not suffer the spectre of being arrested and taken into custody in front of a watching media and South African public.

Just before midnight on Wednesday a convoy of heavily armed police, in double cabs, panel vans and armoured Nyalas, started slowly approaching Zuma’s home in Nkandla.

When they became visible to those outside the home, Zuma’s VIP convoy from the South African Presidential Protection Services lined up near the gate to speed out of the gigantic rural home.

However, their hasty exit was delayed when they found that Zuma’s supporters, led by his son, Edward, had blocked the gates with their vehicles and had formed a shield. A VIP protector shouted at them to open the way and they did.

Instead of going through Eshowe where the police battalion in about 50 vehicles was approaching, the VIP convoy took a different direction heading to Kranskop.

It later transpired, as confirmed by the Jacob Zuma Foundation, that Zuma had surrendered to the police, away from television cameras and media and was later transferred, some 150 kilometres away Nkandla.

Police spokesperson Lirandzu Themba confirmed in a statement that Zuma was in police custody, in compliance with the Constitutional Court judgment.

The Department of Correctional Services said in a separate statement that Zuma was admitted to Estcourt Correctional Centre.

DCS spokesman Singabakho Nxumalo said: “The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) can confirm that Mr Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma has been admitted to start serving a 15 months sentence at Estcourt Correctional Centre, KwaZulu-Natal.

“Mr Zuma will be taken through all the admission processes as per DCS regulations. Other relevant prescripts pertaining to admitting and orientating newly incarcerated persons will also be followed and executed.

“Details about the appropriate classification, prerogatives and incarceration conditions can only be determined at the completion of the assessment process to be undertaken by relevant authorities within the employ of DCS.

“Keeping inmates in a safe and secure custody remains cardinal to Correctional Services and we remain committed to this cause,” Nxumalo said.

Zuma’s instant jailing drew mixed feelings from a deeply divided South African society. Zuma’s longtime supporters lamented the jailing while others celebrated it as a victory for the rule of law.

Ace Magashule, a long time Zuma supporter who had accompanied him to his numerous court cases, said on social media that Zuma should remain strong and that the worst shall be over soon.

“Be strong now because things will get better. It might be stormy now, but it can’t rain forever,” he tweeted.

Taking to Facebook shortly after Zuma surrendered, former eThekwini mayor, Zandile Gumede said the jailing marked a dark hour for South Africa.

“The darkest night is just before the light, be strong, be brave together we will rise,” she wrote.

Gumede was not the only one to sympathise with Zuma as many others, mainly in KwaZulu-Natal from where Zuma hails and still enjoy massive political support, threatened to shun the ANC at the polls, saying the party did nothing to shield Zuma from being arrested.

Mmusi Maimane, the former leader of the Democratic Alliance and who now leads his own party, One Movement SA, said the jailing of Zuma was a constitutional victory.

“However difficult this is. My sympathies lie with citizens who tonight are without jobs, healthcare, education due to the unabated corruption that the ANC advanced through Jacob Zuma. SA must rise & uphold its constitution. This too shall pass, we must have constitutional future!”

Edward Zuma, who had previously promised a “bloodbath” when the police came to arrest his father, had not said anything about the matter on Thursday morning.

 

Mweb suffers big outage

A major outage on the Mweb network that runs on Vumatel’s fibre infrastructure has left many South Africans without Internet access, according to MyBroadband.

  • Mweb told some clients that the problem lies with Vumatel
  • Vumatel said its tests show its infrastructure is working perfectly
  • Some users have been offline for two days or longer
  • Mweb has said that many subscribers from Sandton, Rosebank, and Bryanston were experiencing the same issue
  • Some users experience packet loss to Europe servers in games at around 20:00 every night, all across the country

MyBroadband contacted Mweb and Vumatel for comment, but neither company could immediately respond to requests for comment.

 

By Jonathan Smit for IOL

With the increased threat of Covid-19, South Africans are being encouraged to stay home and shop online. Over the past year, local retailers have improved the safety and convenience of their e-commerce platforms, allowing customers to avoid exposure via queues and physical contact. Online stores and shopping apps are experiencing record order volumes as a result of the third wave of Covid-19.

To avoid digital payment fraud and scams, here is the list of safety precautions to follow when making purchases through your smartphone or desktop.

Before making any online purchase, your first priority is to verify the legitimacy of the merchant you’re buying from. Doing the research beforehand can save you the trouble of trying to get your money back after you’ve paid, which is considerably more difficult.

Only make purchases through secure websites: Ensure that you are on a secure domain before entering any confidential information such as your payment details. Look out for the ‘S’ in HTTPS at the start of the website’s URL, which is found in the address bar at the top of your browser. Depending on what browser you use, you will see a padlock in the left-hand side in the address bar

Read the returns and refund policy: The merchant is responsible for dealing with your order. If an issue occurs with your order, such as if you decide to cancel your order or it never arrives, you should know what your rights are and how you can expect the merchant to assist.

Read customer reviews: Take a look at comments on the merchant’s social media pages and read customer reviews on Google to ensure that the company has a good history of delivering products as promised. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Check out using secure payment options: Look up reviews on the payment options on offer before committing to checkout. You should always choose to checkout and pay with a payment method that you are familiar with and trust.

Don’t store your credit card information in a browser: When shopping online, you may be prompted to save your card details. This could be either a pop-up message within your browser or when checking out on an e-commerce website. By doing this, you could risk exposing your card holder details to other users of the device or put yourself at risk if the device is stolen.

Save card holder details to Payment Card Industry (PCI) verified merchant websites: Many websites give you an option to save your details with a tokenised ‘single-click’ style payment facility to speed up the checkout process on future purchases. This is considered safe when the site you are using is PCI accredited or if they hand off these requirements to a PCI DSS Level 1 payment processor.

Besides offering a convenient and time-saving way to make purchases, online shopping provides customers with an opportunity to support their favourite local stores without putting anyone at risk. It’s up to us as consumers to play our part in fighting the third wave of Covid-19 – this is one of the simplest ways to do so.

 

By Grace Dean for Business Insider US

Local residents have blamed bitcoin mining for heating up the largest of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, with one saying it’s “so warm you feel like you’re in a hot tub,” according to a report by NBC News.

Their complaints centre on a gas-fired power plant that’s being used to power at least 8 000 bitcoin mining computers. The plant draws water from Seneca Lake for cooling, then discharges the warmed water back into the lake.

Bitcoin mining is the process by which new bitcoins are created. The mining is done by specialised computers that solve complex calculations on behalf of the bitcoin network.

The power plant, Greenidge, which is being closely monitored by the Department of Environmental Conservation, is allowed to suck in 139 million gallons of water and discharge 135 million gallons daily. The discharged water can be as hot as 108 degrees in the summer and 86 degrees in winter, per permit documents viewed by NBC News.

“The lake is so warm you feel like you’re in a hot tub,” said Abi Buddington, who lives near the plant.

Private-equity firm Atlas Holdings bought the disused coal-powered site next to Seneca Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes, in 2014, and reopened it as a natural gas plant in 2017.

At first the plant only generated energy for the grid when demand was high, but in 2019 Greenidge started using the plant to power bitcoin mining to make higher profits from surplus energy.

Bitcoin mining on computers uses huge amounts of energy. Last month Senator Elizabeth Warren called for a crackdown on cryptocurrencies to fight the climate crisis.

Greenidge has at least 8,000 computers and is considering installing more as it plans to ramp up its bitcoin mining capacity to 45 megawatts by December, reported NBC News.

But this is leading to a huge spike in emissions. Regulatory documents viewed by environmental campaign group Earth Justice show that its carbon dioxide equivalent emissions and nitrous oxide emissions each grew nearly tenfold between January and December 2020 as it ramped up bitcoin mining.

Judith Enck, a former Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator, said that New York wouldn’t meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction goals if Greenidge continued mining bitcoin.

Greenidge CEO Jeff Kirt told NBC News that “the environmental impact of the plant has never been better than it is right now,” and that the facility was operating within its environmental permits. Greenidge said that it would make its operations carbon neutral by buying credits to offset its emissions.

Kirt told CNBC News that the plant has created 31 jobs. It has also donated $25,000 (R350 000) to the Dresden Fire Department and $20,000 (R280 000) to the school district, the outlet reported, and paid $272 000 (R3.8-million) to local authorities in lieu of real property taxes last year, according to an economic study commissioned by Greenidge.

But Peter Mantius, who writes a blog about local environmental politics, said that Greenidge pays “a fraction, maybe a quarter” of what the old owner paid because of a favourable tax assessment arrangement.

Greenidge’s air permit is up for renewal in September, Mandy DeRoche, deputy managing attorney in the coal program at Earth Justice, told NBC News.

“We’ve asked the Department of Environmental Conservation to take a hard look and think about it as a new permit, not just a renewal,” she said.

 

POPI Act comes into effect today

Source: 702

The Protection of Personal Information Act, 4 of 2013 (POPIA) comes into effect today, 1 July 2021.

Consumers and legitimate businesses should welcome the next stage in the implementation of a law to better protect your privacy and to allow legitimate businesses to engage with you on a basis that will make doing business better.

It was first enacted in 2013 with the last of the provisions coming into effect from 1 July 2021. While it will be in force it does not mean that everything will enforced right away as the Information Regulator that oversees the compliance may not be in a position to begin responding to transgressions right away and everyone acknowledges that there is a lot to get done and so many of the lapses will not be intentional or nefarious.

Why do we need it?
The earliest collections of personal information would have been census polls to help nations determine how many people lived in the state. From members of a family, to the residents of a town to the entire kingdom and even the empire if the state included conquered territories.

There was not much need to know the individuals just the numbers, their age and possibly occupation and gender.

In the last century, businesses would have wanted to know more about who they could sell their products to. Advertising would be most effective when directed at people who could both use and want to use your product. The cost to reach them would be offset by increase in sales.

Newspapers were the first to see the value of a model to supplement the cost of the publication with ads from businesses that would like to reach the readers of a particular newspaper. The level of information about the readers would effectively be that they lived in a particular location and had the means to buy and read the paper in question.

Besides business ads, personal ads could also be bought to announce significant events like births, deaths and marriage. You could also buy small ads listing items you had for sale.

As newspapers grew the kind of ads changed too. National newspapers would typically runs ads from companies that were available nationwide, local papers would be favoured for smaller companies that only served one City.

With the introduction of radio, there was a period when no-one knew how to make money from the near instant audio medium. Some of the first large corporate broadcasters were also telephone companies that opted to sell airtime like phone calls, by the minute.

Once again stations with big broadcast areas would cost more and be used by larger advertisers that sold products everywhere, while smaller stations would feature the local businesses.

The model was used again when TV came along and the advertising industry had come of age with many channels and location and audiences to choose from to ensure the greatest return on the money they spent on ads.

The world wide web was supposed to add another layer, instead it brought about the most significant disruption the media and advertising industry had ever experienced, the effects are still being felt and the final configuration is still to be seen.

The attention economy
Print and magazines had physical presence and could be read by multiple people but typically needed to be regularly replaced.

Radio was instant with rich sound to transport you to where the news was happening or create a concert or play in your home, but it was gone just as soon as it arrived. There was no pause or record, instead everything needed to be repeated often.

TV offered images and sound and typically had a very big broadcast area. Initially it also had to rely on repeats to ensure content would be seen or scheduling to put the best content on when people were most likely able to watch.

This is all history, but when the web was still in its infancy, few saw the potential of how it could do everything that print, broadcast and TV could do, but it could be permanent, on demand, local and global all at the same time.

Advertisers saw this as the great way to not only be able to reach everyone, but as it promised you could tell who you were reaching it would be much more effective and much cheaper too.

The first casualty was newspaper classifieds. Websites offering free listings attracted huge audiences and thousands of ads, to make money the site operators would allow you to pay for a bigger ad or one that displayed more prominently.

Not many in the media industry seemed too concerned, smart media owners started building an online presence and slowly began building their content offering online. First to grow the small market with vague plans on how to make as much money online as they did with the traditional mediums.

Search engines, blogs and social media all looked like only minor threats to traditional media companies even as online media began to start learning a lot more about their audience.

Facebook was not the first or only social media, but it did do something that at the time was genius even though it was the spark that lit the online privacy issue.

Most online spaces operated with usernames chosen by the users and then offered you access to people who shared your interests, back then they were typically academic or technical.

Facebook first asked university students and then anyone what their actual name was. They asked where they were studying and where they went to school and who their partners and family were. As more people signed up, Facebook was able to connect them online. Many that you had lost contact with like former colleagues, team mates and school friends.

Initially it seemed like magic that this free service somehow knew who all your friends were and gave you easy ways to say hi and share what you were up to.

It was so popular that many businesses would block Facebook for the amount of time staff would spend on it.

Facebook had built the perfect attention tool using content that its users created. Next it needed a way to make money and that was of course advertising. But because Facebook knew so much about you, advertisers could be very specific about who would see their ads and only have to pay for the ones that were actually seen.

At this point media companies realised the game was changing and their businesses were at risk.

It was not only Facebook, Google’s search engine could find what you were looking for and if that was for a product or service, advertisers could pay to be included in the results.

Data mining and manipulation
In 2007 Apple introduced the iPhone, the web was now in your hand and everywhere you were. Anything you did on your phone could be tracked and we did everything on our phones and the default was to make everything public.

An early YouTube video showed that by turning on the location for posts, you could find users around you. If they had posted recently you could find them still there. In the video the person looks back at previous posts and then introduces himself, mentioning the details of the previous posts. The users’ surprise turns to unease as the stranger tells them about some quite private events in their lives. Once explained that the information was public, the users almost all undertake to change their settings afterwards.

As users did wise up to limiting who else had access they continued to share everything with the likes of Google and Facebook and advertisers could buy that.

South Africa first recognised that personal information required protection in 2009 but did not have much in place to prevent multinational companies from using personal data because at the time, the issue was mobile number abuse and a growing issue with email spam and sms scams.

By 2016, the pushback had started in earnest but not before one of the most audacious and naïve lapses by Facebook to allow political parties and even governments to buy ads targeted at specific communities to sway public opinion.

It is hard to say that Brexit and the election of Donald Trump are thanks to Facebook allowing their users to be manipulated for ad revenue, but the risk was real and something was needed to limit it.

A light at the end of the tunnel
The EU was first to implement the General Data Protection Regulations in 2018 that required companies to take responsibility and accountability of what data they collected and how they used it. Users need to give full consent before data could be used or they could be contacted.

South Africa updated the 2009 regulations in 2013 with more regulations relating to various parts about how data is gathered, used, stored and sold added over the years. The next big roll-out is now and it follows the EU guidelines quite closely.

Express permission must be given to contact consumers so no more unsolicited communication. Hacks might still happen, but besides the data breach and embarrassment, there are now also legal consequences which include big fines and even jail time.

Cookies are the next piece of the web that while perfectly useful and for the most part harmless have been used to follow our every move and subject us to ads that while targeted can have the same effect as that YouTuber pretending to know you.

Initially they tracked what you had done on a website to save on time and server loads. When you see something on a website you want to buy, the click to add it to your cart is stored in a cookie, but so are all the other items you looked at. When you next return they might show them again or offer a discount.

Site publishers would like to know how much time a user spent on the site, what they looked at and how often they returned. This is done via a cookie.

But now you also get cookies that can track you from one site to the next, comparing what you did on social media with what you did on the web. Know not just what you searched for but when you might need it again and even know what you might need the next time you are in a specific place.

On the face of it, it can be very helpful. An alert to let you know there is a clothing sale on at a shop you like that is near you based on your recent search for certain items at that shop online could be great, but if you were not aware all that info was being collected and used and not so subtly trying to get you to act on it thanks to payments from advertisers, it is not so good. The move is slowly moving away from the most intrusive versions and in time should at least be better understood if not always welcome.

For many businesses there will need to be significant effort to become compliant, but in the medium term an easy way for users to find service providers would be to check they are compliant and to simply reject anyone that is not.

Pandora’s box has been opened and we will never return to that innocent anonymous age, but if hope was all that was left in the box, here is hoping that POPI while hated by some, a complete head scratcher to many and a sea of pop-ups clicked and not sufficiently read will still give us a level of protection we have not had online before.

By Brett Venter for Stuff

South African insurance provider QSure was struck by a major data breach earlier this month, one that led to banking information and other sensitive data being compromised. The company hasn’t said how many records were scooped during the intrusion.

Hope they have insurance for this
Company COO Ian du Toit, speaking to TechCentral, said “On 9 June 2021, QSure became aware that it had been subject to illegal and unauthorised access to its IT infrastructure, and immediately isolated its IT network and shut down its systems.”

Du Toit added, “QSure immediately appointed three industry-leading and independent cyber-forensic and security technology firms to conduct a detailed forensic investigation into the cybersecurity incident.” He pointed out that the company has notified insurers, brokers and the relevant regulators with regards to the breach.

Data collected includes “…includes banking details, limited to the account holder name, bank account numbers and bank branch codes”, while “…policyholder identity numbers, credit card details, any form of contact details, or policy content” were not accessed. So it’s not as bad as it could have been, but it’s still… less than ideal.

QSure provides services to the South African insurance industry, including collections and premium handling, so while you may not have heard of them, there’s a chance you’ve come into contact with them at some point. If you’re affiliated with Hollard in any way, you might want to check your emails for communication in this regard.

It’s not a good month for companies. If it’s not ransomware (which is arguably the better option for end-users) then it’s data breaches. This insurance hack is just the latest in a terrible month for cyber-security.

 

Vodacom releases VodaPay Super App

The arrival of Vodacom’s VodaPay Super App is set to be a game changer for driving financial inclusion and economic growth in South Africa. Developed by Vodacom Financial Services in partnership with leading global digital lifestyle services platform Alipay, VodaPay is an all-encompassing mobile payments solution that has been customised to meet the specific lifestyle and payment needs of consumers, businesses and tech developers.

Vodacom Financial Services is inviting developers and businesses of all sizes to join the VodaPay ecosystem by building their very own Mini Programs. This allows them to leverage off world-class technology to accelerate digital engagement and increase access to market. The VodaPay Super App offers endless possibilities in acquiring new customers, trading, and advertising through these Mini Programs. These third-party downloadable sub applications run within the VodaPay Super App and are available to all consumers to enhance their lifestyle. Best of all, building a Mini Program on the platform is quick, easy and cost-effective.

Shameel Joosub, Vodacom Group Chief Executive Officer, says, “Since we announced the VodaPay Super App in July last year, we have made significant strides in developing this technology solution that will transform the fintech ecosystem in South Africa. Our powerful partnership with Alipay strengthens our access to world-class technology and puts us on par with leading global digital counterparts. If we are to drive financial inclusion, and go even further together, we want to offer the capabilities of the VodaPay Mini Programs to as many businesses, of all sizes, across multiple industries as possible. Through collaboration in establishing an inclusive mobile payment ecosystem, we can change the economic landscape for the benefit of the entire country.”

A world of possibilities

Whether a VodaPay user is looking to pay bills, send money, play games, order takeaways or shop online, there’s likely to be a Mini Program for it, conveniently located in one digital space.

Mariam Cassim, Chief Officer of Vodacom Financial and Digital Services, says: “This is the perfect opportunity for businesses and developers to establish a presence in this hi-tech, scalable digital mall. They can access millions of potential customers every day. While VodaPay will be accessible to customers on any mobile network, it will be zero-rated for all Vodacom customers. This is to further enhance digital inclusion in South Africa.

Approximately 70 businesses have already signed up or committed to build their own Mini Programs in the Super App, including leading brands such as Makro, Builders Warehouse, Clicks, Edgars, Game, Exclusive Books, Big Blue, Flightsite, Dollar Thrifty, Westpack, Petzone, One Cart, Netflorist, Kit Kat Cash & Carry, Droppa, Planet54, Jacaranda FM, KFC, Booking.com, TravelStart, Hannah Lavery, Michelle Ludek, To Be Gift Boxes and Afritrails to name a few. The potential for more sign-ups is vast.

This includes leading retailersfast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies, food outlets, transport and companies from a wide range of other industries that have already started building their Mini Programs. The potential of the Super App has been appreciated by leading online travel and shopping brands too.

Vodacom Financial Services has fully integrated the Mini Program technology into the South African payment environment to ensure interoperability within the local market. VodaPay provides the infrastructure on which merchants and consumers transact, managing all the login, authorisation and payments processing aspects of their transactions. Businesses also have access to next-gen recommendation engines and data analytics to deliver personalised offers to customers as well as simplified checkout options, and advertising capabilities to drive sales.

The VodaPay Super App offers consumers a single point of entry and payment platform, with no additional download required. Mini Programs can accept both physical and online payments from customers with the in-app VodaPay digital wallet. A choice is available for customers of paying upfront, with rewards, or with payment terms such as buy-now-pay-later and nano credit offerings.

Opportunities for developers and businesses

The multitude of smaller applications within the VodaPay Super App brings diversity to the Mini Program offering and increases opportunities for creative start-ups and developers. As there is a single ecosystem on which to build applications, developers only need to manage one code base for both iOS and Android devices while benefiting from the exceptional tools, services and support from VodaPay’s technology. This reduces the time, costs and administration when submitting apps for approval and results in faster development cycles speeding up access to market,” added Cassim.

“The adoption of digital technology is critical for businesses if they are to respond to change quickly and remain relevant in these uncertain times. VodaPay Mini Programs can accelerate the digital engagement of a business in a cost-effective manner, expanding the possibility of financial inclusion. As we position ourselves as a leading pan-African technology company, we are excited to see the innovation from businesses and developers who will partner with us in using this technology to connect people to markets, and to build and support a resilient, dynamic, digital economy,” added Joosub.

Vodacom Financial Services and VodaPay’s technical team will be offering merchants and developers training on how best to use the technology at their disposal. Registrations are currently open. Businesses who want to reap the benefits of the VodaPay Super App ecosystem, can click here to register. Developers who want to showcase their skills and become part of the Mini Programs’ ground-breaking technology, should click here.

More South Africans buying food on credit

By Neil Roets for Mail & Guardian

On 1 June, StatsSA announced that the country’s unemployment rate has continued to worsen, hitting the 32.6% mark for the first time since the study was launched in 2008. Among the youth, this figure is far worse, hovering around 46%. Brought on by the ravages of the pandemic where millions have lost their jobs or experienced pay cuts, the latest stats point to the ongoing crisis that is affecting us on micro and macro levels. Most notably, it’s the middle-class that has been the most affected, with a forecast from Transaction Capital stating that 34% are expected to fall out of this demographic band because of the previously employed having to switch to informal employment or take on short-term contracts.

With fewer consumers reporting earning wages of R22 000+ a month and more now receiving incomes of less than R8000 a month this trend is likely to continue. Among lower-income groups, those who earn the National Minimum Wage (R3 643.92) continue to experience extreme hardship; the cost of a Basic Nutritional Food Basket for a family of four costs R2919.47 leaving exactly R724.45 to cover everything else, putting them at significant risk of turning to debt to survive. Where can they go for help?

In response to this deteriorating personal finance landscape, government is considering introducing a Basic Income Grant. Aimed at those who are unemployed and aged between 19 and 59 its introduction follows the end of the Covid-19 Social Relief for Distress Grant of R350. Despite giving some short-term relief, the amount is far below the poverty line, which sits at about R561 a month. With a shortfall of a few hundred rands, many will have no other option but to seek support.

According to a recent Debt Rescue survey, this is most often in the form of help from family and friends (30%), savings (36%), selling assets (10%) or turning to expensive credit providers. To put the latter in perspective, PayCurve recently published its own survey, indicating that 80% of all South Africans make use of unsecured credit or payday loans. Both come at extraordinary costs given the interest incurred on the principal loan amount, especially if it comes from a loan shark that can charge between 50% and 112% in interest. This is completely unsustainable and puts South Africans in a dangerous place where debt is used to pay for debt — it is a deeply concerning and profoundly challenging situation.

Through whatever means additional funds are being procured, it has to cover a lot of expenses. Given the average Household Food Basket is R4 137.11 (Household Affordability Index) how are costs for electricity, water, transport, school fees and medical expenses covered, many of which have increased recently? Eskom’s 15% tariff hike is a case in point, as is the rising fuel price that has had a significant knock-on effect on everything that needs to be transported. We also saw South Africa’s inflation rate increase in March 2021 to 3.2%, and is something that will likely continue in the coming months, further affecting pricing and the end-user.

Credit providers are often the only “way out”. This is evidenced by the fact that, according to our April consumer data, 42% said that they had opened a store card to buy groceries. This is alarming and completely unsustainable; food is the one thing that should only be paid for in cash — sadly, it is not a new trend. In 2018 Debt Rescue reported on the same consumer behaviour as many turned to retailers to buy food on credit. Even though it was claimed that the funds were only granted to those who could afford it and would use it responsibly, the fact is many consumers are still using credit to buy their cornflakes and pay it off later.

Buying food on credit is symptomatic of a bigger problem. Consumers who have experienced a change in their financial standing, either through retrenchments or pay cuts, are in trouble and taking on more expensive debt is only going to make it worse. Often the only way out is to engage a debt counsellor who can work with them to get out of a devastating debt spiral.

The problems experienced by middle-class South Africans are evident in the responses to our April survey: nearly half (48%) buy meat and vegetables on deals, 18% have switched retailers and have opted for cheaper store brands (14%). A full 82% are also bargain-hunting. This is not surprising given that 89% said the cost of food and goods is significantly higher than 12 months ago.

This is simply untenable. Consumers who have been affected financially by the pandemic are battling and cannot make ends meet. With so many millions joining the ranks of the unemployed, there are only two options: credit or government grants. Both present a set of concerns and challenges, although the latter means more pressure on treasury’s coffers, which are already under siege from competing demands. Becoming reliant on government is not what we want or need. We need to find ways of re-stimulating the economy where small businesses are better enabled to hire, or hire back employees. According to the National Development Plan, small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are expected to account for 90% of all jobs by 2030. If this is the case, we have to find ways to help these businesses get back on their feet and grow so that they are in a position to employ again.

Depressingly, however, the end is not in sight, and we will likely see further bloodshed in the market. With one in 12 jobs lost, it is estimated that employment rates could take until 2025 to revert to pre-pandemic levels. What will happen between then and now is deeply worrying, not least as unscrupulous loan sharks swoop in on the most desperate in our society, offering financial “help” that will further bankrupt them and generations to come.

 

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My Office News Ⓒ 2017 - Designed by A Collective


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