COVID and Sassa were a big deal

Before we enter 2022, Eyewitness News brings you the top five most-read local stories of 2021.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo and the newly sworn-in ministers and deputy ministers at the Union Buildings in Tshwane on 6 August 2021. Picture: GCIS

JOHANNESBURG – While the COVID-19 pandemic has dominated headlines in 2021, South Africa has seen some big news coming out of this year. We have a look at the top five news stories that you clicked on.

Your most-read local Eyewitness News story for this busy year was President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet reshuffle in August – specifically, the infographic we brought you, with the faces of those taking over and those being shown the door (or choosing to leave).

1. INFOGRAPHIC: Cabinet reshuffle

The notable exits included that of Tito Mboweni and Zweli Mkhize. As health minister, Mkhize was embroiled in the Digital Vibes scandal and Mboweni resigned from his position as minister of finance, a position he made very clear was not sought by him.

In September, the Special Investigating Unit’s report into the Digital Vibes scandal found that Mkhize lied to the nation, failed in his oversight duties, and was clearly conflicted given the irregular appointment of his friends.

The report also found that Mkhize lied to both the country and the president when he said during a press briefing in May this year that neither he nor his family had benefited from the Digital Vibes deal.

At the centre of the debacle is a R150 million irregular tender that the department, while he was in charge, awarded to Digital Vibes – a company linked to some of his close associates. The minister’s son was also shown to have benefited from the proceeds.

2. Sassa R350 grant applicants urged to provide correct banking details

When applications for the special COVID-19 social relief of distress grant opened early in August, most unemployed people wanted to know how the process would unfold.

The grant was specifically meant for individuals who were unemployed, did not receive any form of income, social grant or UIF payment.

At the time, Sassa spokesperson Paseka Letsatsi said that the agency was working closely with the Post Office, adding that they were working on plans to ensure that people did not flock to offices from the end of August.

By the time applications closed in September, Sassa said that close to 11.5 million beneficiaries had been accepted.

3. Discovery Health explains how it will vaccinate its members against COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic shocked many countries and in South Africa, the talk around introducing vaccines was a hot topic in January.

At the time, Discovery – like many other medical aids schemes – decided to take the decision to cover the cost of vaccination for its members.

It was just before the first doses of vaccine landed in SA when Discovery Health CEO Ryan Noach said that medical schemes were working closely with government to come up with plans to subsidise about 30% of the population for coronavirus vaccinations once the jabs became available.

Discovery had earlier announced that it would fund vaccinations for two million of its members.

Noach explained how the funding from the private medical scheme would work and that some money would be used to assist those who could not afford it.

“Medical aid schemes will pay a slightly higher price for the vaccine than the cost price. The payment’s higher price through a central procurement hub, probably administered by someone like the Solidarity Fund, the surplus that’s generated will be used to subside that fee for members of the public who don’t have medical scheme cover as well.”

4. Ramaphosa to address SA soon on COVID-19 measures for Easter – Ntshavheni
Once again, COVID-19 was a huge topic this year and so were family meetings. The country is always on the lookout for when President Ramaphosa is going to give his next address, especially if he’s met with Cabinet or the National Coronavirus Command Council.

This year in March, as the Easter holidays were loading, South Africans were wondering what the president would say in his next address. Alcohol and interprovincial bans are usually at the top of the list of things to listen out for when the president hosts a family meeting.

At the time, Acting Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni gave an update on the outcomes of the Cabinet meeting.

Ntshavheni said that government was taking the necessary steps to ensure that measures were in place when many South Africans would be marking the religious long weekend.

5. COVID-19 case numbers drop in SA

South Africans tune to the news daily to get the latest updates on the COVID stats. Should they be high for a while, the president might put the country on a stricter lockdown level, but should they be low for while, then we can all relax and keep doing what we’ve been doing.

Government officials have constantly emphasised the importance of social distancing, washing your hands and wearing your mask in public to keep the virus at bay.

In January, COVID numbers were of a high concern because the country had just come out of the festive season and schools were due to open.

Specifically, on 17 January this year, the number of active cases of COVID-19 in South Africa dropped significantly after the Department of Health recorded more than 21,000 recoveries over a 24-hour period.

On 16 January 2021, the department reported 204,830 active cases across the country, a far cry from the more than 212,500 from the day before.

Since then, COVID-19 cases rose and fell as the seasons changed and public holidays and long weekends came and went.

As we end the year, health officials have emphasised the importance of getting vaccinated with booster shots now available for all those eligible for vaccination.

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