South African faith leaders today signed a declaration to end modern slavery

At a ceremony at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg on March 15, 2022, faith leaders in South Africa endorsed the Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders against Modern Slavery.

The signing in Johannesburg is the eleventh since 2014 when Pope Francis and Grand Ayatollah Taqi al-Modarresi joined other faith leaders from many of the world’s great religions in declaring that modern slavery must be eradicated.

The Global Freedom Network, which convened the signing, is the faith-based arm of Walk Free, an international human rights organization. The Network is building a coalition of faith leaders to accelerate the end of modern slavery. Walk Free believes faith leaders can be a bridge between victims and law enforcement, social workers, and victim support groups.

Modern slavery is an umbrella term that includes human trafficking, domestic servitude, the worst forms of child labor and forced and child marriage.

Franca Pellegrini, director of the Global Freedom Network, who presided over the ceremony, said faith leaders were in a unique position to see into the hearts of their communities.

“Faith leaders occupy a prominent position and are well placed to lead the fight against modern slavery in their communities”, said Ms. Pellegrini. “The philosophy of Global Freedom Network is built on interfaith collaboration.

Pellegrini said that the Global Freedom Network was “acutely aware that poverty and inequality were driving forces of many forms of modern slavery”.

She noted that Walk Free’s Global Slavery Index rated South Africa a B – the top rating in Africa, which is accorded to nine countries on the continent. Ten countries – mainly in Europe – are rated A. The most recent Global Slavery Index was published in 2018, with an updated index due for release later this year.

The signing event coincided with the launch of the Faith For Freedom smartphone app, which was developed in collaboration with faith leaders to help guide them to tackle modern slavery in their communities and congregations.

“This a practical tool designed for and developed by faith leaders to assist with their important work addressing modern slavery in their congregations and communities,” Ms. Pellegrini said. “We are using modern technology to address an age-old problem.”

COVID-19 vaccine trial in South Africa: everything you need to know

A general view during the country’s first human clinical trial for a potential COVID-19 vaccine in Soweto, South Africa. Felix Dlangamandla/Beeld/Gallo Images via Getty Images

Shabir Madhi, University of the Witwatersrand

There isn’t enough clinical research being done in Africa. Less than 2.5% of all clinical trials in the world are done on the continent. This is why South Africa’s involvement in one of the COVID-19 vaccine trials is so important. The country’s effort is being led by Professor Shabir Madhi. The Conversation Africa’s health and medicine editor Ina Skosana spoke to him about the process, and what can be expected. This is an edited version of a podcast, which you can listen to here.

How does the trial work?

The study that we embarked on in South Africa is for a vaccine that was developed by the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford. It’s what is known as a non-replicating vector base COVID-19 vaccine.

The study came about when I reached out to the principal investigator at the University of Oxford whom I’ve known for over 20 years to find out if there was any interest on their part to include South Africa as part of the clinical development plan of the vaccine. The short answer was yes, provided we conducted the study on our own, including raising the funding to conduct the study.

The agreement with Oxford University preceded a subsequent agreement that they’ve entered into with AstraZeneca, the pharmaceutical company responsible for the further clinical development of the vaccine and future manufacturing. Pre-clinical studies of this vaccine candidate, including in non-human primates, have demonstrated initial evidence of the safety of this vaccine, as well as its ability to protect against COVID-19 disease.

Why South Africa?

The main reason is that the legacy of vaccines shows that they don’t necessarily work similarly across different populations. So if we want to be one of the early adopters, in terms of implementing vaccination against COVID-19 as part of our immunisation programme, we really need to generate data applicable to the local context.

Read more: Africa must make sure it’s part of the search for a coronavirus vaccine

A number of past vaccines have been shown to be highly efficacious in high income settings. But when they’ve gone on to be evaluated in low and middle income settings, they were found to be much less efficacious and, at times, not efficacious at all.

So if we want to make informed decisions at an early stage about whether these vaccines are going to be of benefit to people in South Africa, it’s critical that we undertake the clinical evaluation during the start of the entire programme, rather than at the latter stage. Waiting for results to come in from other studies would just lead to a lag in terms of the timing when vaccines would be introduced in South Africa as well as other low and middle income countries.

Read more: Africa waited for solutions to past health crises: will it be different for COVID-19?

This has been the experience for many other life saving vaccines where it has taken between five and 20 years between their availability in high income countries and low middle income countries.

How are participants chosen for the trial?

Participation is completely voluntary.

Participants typically come to inquire about the study at clinics. We sit down with them and explain what the study is all about. What are the criteria for joining, what the expectations are of the volunteers because the study has quite intense expectations in terms of being able to come for regular visits. And they obviously need to be agreeable that when they do participate in the study, if they do develop signs and symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, that they would come forward to be investigated. This is critical for us to be able to determine whether this vaccine protects against COVID-19.

In addition, we would do some blood tests which ensures that they don’t have any sort of medical conditions that we would want to exclude.

If they’re found to be eligible, we randomly allocate them to one of two groups. Half will receive the vaccine, and the other half a control substance, which in our case, is a placebo. This is important for two reasons. The first is that it allows us to provide robust data in terms of the safety profile of the vaccine. And the control group enables us to determine whether the vaccine actually does have any impact in protecting against COVID-19.

Is there any reason people should be sceptical of the trial?

The short answer is no. The narratives that Africans are being used as guinea pigs is fundamentally incorrect. Rather a case of us wanting to generate robust scientific data to be able to make informed decisions about whether those vaccines actually do protect South Africans – and possibly Africans more generally – against developing COVID-19.

What are the next steps?

Right now we busy enrolling into the clinical trial. We’ve just reached the 200 mark out of the 2000 participants that we plan to enrol. We expect to have completed enrollment of all the volunteers over the next three to four weeks.

After that we will keep in touch with all of the participants at least every two weeks, including weekly SMS messages to determine whether or not experiencing any signs or symptoms of COVID-19. And if they are they will be asked to come in to be investigated to determine whether they are infected or not.

The endgame of the study is twofold. One is obviously to evaluate the safety of the vaccine, which is something that is ongoing almost on a daily basis.

The second part is that once we have about 42 individuals that have developed COVID-19 at least about a month after they’ve received the first dose of either the vaccine or the placebo we will then be able to do an analysis to determine whether the vaccine actually does protect against COVID-19. Specifically we will be testing if the vaccine efficacy is at least 60%; that is by being vaccinated your risk for developing COVID-19 will be reduced by at least 60% if not more.

Read more: COVID-19 vaccine: the challenges of running a trial in the middle of a pandemic

We anticipate that we will probably be able to provide an answer as to whether this vaccine works and protects against COVID-19 by the end of November this year. In the worst case scenario it might take us a bit longer probably into the second quarter of next year.

What about managing expectations?

It’s very exciting to be involved in the sort of clinical development of the vaccine. But we need to be guarded in terms of our expectations as to what the result will be.

The fact that we’re embarking on a clinical trial doesn’t mean that we’re going to have a vaccine that’s going to protect against COVID-19.

Only about 10% of vaccines that go into clinical trials are eventually licensed for use. Right now there’ are approximately 200 vaccines that are being developed for COVID-19. It would be a huge accomplishment if, over the next 12 to 18 months, we are successful showing that even one out of every 20 (5%) of the vaccines that go into human studies are safe and provide some protection against COVID-19.

So even though there’s a huge amount of work taking place around vaccines, at least for the next 12 months the only tools that we’ve got available to us to try to protect people is adherence to physical distancing, the wearing of face masks in public spaces, avoiding mass gatherings, and making sure that you’re in adequately ventilated settings when in public spaces.

Anyone living in South Africa who is interested in participating in the study can e-mail for more information.

Shabir Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology and Director of the MRC Respiratory and Meningeal Pathogens Research Unit, University of the Witwatersrand

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

South Africa reports the biggest one-day COVIS-19 spike

As the world battles COVID-19, South Africa reported its biggest one-day spike at 663 with Cape Town recording over 500 new cases.

Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize. (GCIS)

According to news24, seventeen more Covid-19-related deaths have been recorded in the country, bringing the number to 178, while the biggest one-day spike in new cases hit 663.

The number of cases had increased to 8 895, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced in his daily update on Friday night.

The health department said there were delays in the reporting of some of the deaths as it was conducting verification processes. 

According to Mkhize, the Western Cape’s 503 new cases were 76% of all new ones, while the Eastern Cape contributed 9% in the past 24 hours.

He said the department would be embarking on oversight visits in the two provinces as cases increased.

South Africa reveals its blueprint for its energy future

South African cabinet approved the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP 2019) that plotted the path for the nation’s generation technology mix to assuage the current energy crisis.

Last month the South African cabinet approved the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP 2019) that plotted the path for the nation’s generation technology mix to assuage the current energy crisis in the country. At Africa Oil Week ( last week, its Minister of Minerals Resources and Energy, Honourable Gwede Mantashe, outlined the role that oil and gas will play going forwards.

He was at great pains to point out that hydrocarbons, particularly gas, will be an important part of the energy mix in the future. “We intend to establish the first LNG hub in the Coega IDZ, in the Eastern Cape Province,” he says. “I have been talking to investors at this conference and they should take the opportunity to engage with our officials on this matter as it is an opportunity not only to invest, but to also help develop the gas industry in this country.”

Infrastructure plans to harness gas potential

The plan is that the first LNG import terminal at the Coega Special Economic Zone (SEZ) site will lay the foundation for a breed of new gas to power plants as well as driving the conversion of existing power plants from diesel to gas. It is also intended as a base to import feedstock for the gas to liquids refinery in Mossel Bay. “The framework for supporting this major programme will be announced by my department in the near term,” Mantashe added “Linked to this is an amendment to the Gas Act of 2001, which will be tabled in Cabinet soon.”

Mantashe explained that South Africa gas to power technologies will provide the flexibility that is needed to back up the intermittent nature of renewable energy and meet peak demand during busy periods. “In the short term the opportunity is to pursue gas import options, in the future, local and regional gas resources will allow for scaling up within manageable risk levels,” he said. “Indigenous gas like coal-bed methane and, ultimately, local recoverable shale and coastal gas are options we are considering. On the Upstream, work is underway on a Petroleum Resources Development Bill, which will be before Cabinet soon.

“Our oil and gas needs to be harnessed to deliver modern energy services to all households and businesses. Our gas must power plants and other petrochemical facilities in our countries as it reaches for export markets.  This will ensure that we do not always import beneficiated hydrocarbons.”   

Upstream aspirations for South Africa

On the regional front, Mantashe said that they have noted with great interest and a sense of admiration, the major gas finds in the Eastern part of the continent, especially in Mozambique and Tanzania. “We remain patently aware that one of the oil companies in South Africa played a pivotal role in the monetisation of the earlier gas finds in Mozambique,” he said. “Earlier this year we also announced hydrocarbon finds by Total and its partners off the Mossel Bay coast.  We are confident that this find will spur further interest in the upstream potential of South Africa.

“We have taken note of global industry shifts and are encouraged that many countries in our continent have set themselves the vision to enter the global gas market and promote the development of a domestic and regional gas market.  Natural gas can improve the efficiencies of many industries currently using sub-optimal fuel sources in their production processes and resulting in a turnaround in the industrial capacity and demand in the region.”

A new energy future

Mantashe explained that the IRP reflects the fact that South Africa’s energy generation landscape is evolving. “Old assumptions should give way,” he added. “For example, demand is not captive to the national grid; costs are declining as a result of technology advancements and our national utility, Eskom, is being restructured into its regulated functions of generation, transmission and distribution.”  

Coal will continue to play a significant role in electricity generation for South Africa, but renewable energy is growing in importance. “We have a more than thirty-thousand-megawatt portfolio of existing coal power plants, and the abundance of the resource,” he explained. “New investments will be directed towards more efficient coal technologies, including underground coal gasification, and carbon capture and storage, to enable us to continue using our coal resources in an environmentally responsible way.

“The IRP 2019 continues to make provision for significant rollout of renewable energy and storage. Combined with storage, renewables offer an opportunity to produce distributed power closer to where demand is; and to provide off-grid electricity to far-flung areas of the country.” The next 12 months may well prove pivotal to the energy future for South Africa. As the government continues to balance the demands to lower carbon emissions with the need to supply power to its citizens, gas will certainly have a big part to play.

US- Africa collaboration high on the agenda at Africa Oil Week

With the emergence of shale gas earlier this decade the United States shot to the top of the global oil and gas rankings. In 2018 it averaged 17.87 million b/d, which accounts for 18 per cent of the world’s production. This is up from the 15.6 million b/d in 2017.

Last December the US administration launched its Prosper Africa initiative with the vision to open markets for American businesses, grow Africa’s middle class, promote youth employment opportunities, improve the business climate, and enable the United States to compete with China and other nations who have business interests in Africa. 

The $50 million program will offer technical help to companies looking to enter or grow in Africa, which is urbanizing more rapidly than anywhere else on Earth. The region is projected to have 1.52 billion consumers by 2025 — nearly five times the size of the US population. 

A continued priority for the US Department of Energy is now looking towards Africa to develop opportunities in the exploration, production and monetization of LNG. In the words of Energy Secretary Rick Perry, “increased amounts of US LNG on the world market benefit the American economy, American workers, and consumers and help make the air cleaner around the globe.”

Under this new strategy the US government, including the Department of Energy, is looking to assist Africa advance economic prosperity and energy development across the continent without saddling them with unsustainable debt, or imperil their long-term economic development or their sovereignty.

When it comes to the oil and gas sector American corporations are already very active on the continent. Earlier this year Texas energy company Anadarko Petroleum gave the green light to start building a $20 billion gas liquefaction and export terminal in Mozambique — the biggest such project ever approved in Africa. 

To further this policy Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy, Steven Winberg, will join 25+ Pan-African ministers at the Africa Oil Week summit in Cape Town this November. He will use the event to share US energy policy points with the continent and outline a vision for deeper US commitment to Africa in the oil, gas and power sectors. This vision looks set to encompass increased two-way trade and investment between the US and Africa, with the US making potential capital available on joint-ventures and to part-finance LNG infrastructure for energy-lacking African countries.

“I am excited to represent the US at the upcoming Africa Oil Week Conference in Cape Town, South Africa,” Assistant Secretary Winberg said   “We want our friends and partners in Africa to thrive, prosper, and control their own destinies.  And we welcome the opportunity to share with them not only our abundant energy resources, but also the knowledge and technologies that can help them develop their own resources.”

Winberg with be delivering a keynote on Tuesday after at 1pm on the main stage explaining the US department of energy strategy for engagement in Africa. Prior to that he will be taking part in a high profile ‘Live CNBC Africa Broadcast: The Africa Oil Week Leaders Debate’.  Later on Tuesday afternoon he appears at 4.40pm in the South Africa Showcase discussing how the US is helping drive growth in South Africa’s unconventional sector. His final appearance comes on Thursday in the National Showcase Theatre where at 12 noon he talks about what the US is doing to strengthen bi-lateral trade and investment between the US and Africa, alongside Richard Nelson, Power Africa Deputy Coordinator. During his visit to Africa Oil Week, Winberg will be visiting the Fossil Energy Exhibit in the exhibit hall.

HIV Study underscores urgent need for high-quality counseling prevention options

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said there is need for improved quality of counseling and a range of contraceptive and HIV prevention options, so women can make informed decisions to protect their health and future.

HIV Study underscores urgent need for high-quality counseling prevention options. Photo credit Family Planing 2020

The Evidence for Contraceptive Options and HIV Outcomes (ECHO) trial, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, SIDA, UNFPA, NICHD and the Medical Research Council of South Africa, compared the relative risk of HIV acquisition among women using one of the following three contraceptive methods: the injectable contraceptive DMPA-IM; the Jadelle LNG-implant; and a copper intrauterine device, or IUD.

USAID and the South African government donated the contraceptives used in the trial.

“We’re encouraged the ECHO trial found no substantial difference in HIV acquisition among the methods tested because millions of women around the world rely on modern contraception to make informed decisions about their health and futures,” said Chris Elias, President of Global Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Nonetheless, it’s concerning to see persistently high HIV incidence among women seeking contraception in eastern and southern Africa. This study underscores the urgent need to improve integrated care that includes high-quality counseling and a range of contraceptive and HIV prevention options.”

The foundation noted that there has been a longstanding question as to whether an association exists between hormonal contraceptive use and HIV acquisition among women who are at high risk for HIV.

In 2015, the Gates Foundation along with USAID, WHO and other partners launched the Evidence for Contraceptive Options and HIV Outcomes (ECHO) trial to assess the comparative risk of HIV acquisition among women using one of the following three hormonal contraceptive methods: injectable DMPA-IM, LNG implant/Jadelle and copper intrauterine devices (IUDs). The study enrolled 7,830 women across 12 sites in Kenya, South Africa, eSwatini and Zambia, and was the most comprehensive study attempted to date to investigate the question.

The ECHO study did not result in a statistically significant difference in the risk of acquiring HIV among women using any of the three contraceptive methods included in the trial. All contraceptive methods studied were found to be safe, effective and generally well-accepted by the women using them. The high incidence of HIV among women involved in the study, regardless of the contraceptive used, demonstrates the persistent threat women seeking contraception face when living in high HIV prevalence communities or settings.

The results also draw renewed focus to the need for improved quality of counseling and a range of contraceptive and HIV prevention options, so women can make informed decisions to protect their health and future.

The ECHO trial was designed and implemented to high methodological, ethical and regulatory standards. An independent Data and Safety Monitoring Board regularly met to review the trial data to ensure the health and safety of the 7,830 participating women involved in the study were not compromised.

South Africa: African Development Bank Group Supports Skills Development in Eskom’s Medupi Power Plant

For many years, Sarina Malatji dreamed about helping out her community. She grew up in a community where few young people could afford an education. Today, she has not only educated herself, but she is also contributing towards the education of others.

William Morifi, the director of Excellent Perceptions, a fire equipment sales and maintenance company in Lephalale (Limpopo, South Africa) on 09.04.2019 ©AfDB/Olive Thiong’o

Malatji was raised in Limpopo Province where the scorching sun and bushveld disadvantage reign.

She worked for the state power utility Eskom until 2011, when she left to start her own cleaning business – Green Dot – which currently employs 115 people at the Medupi power plant, one of the largest energy projects undertaken in South Africa since 1994. Medupi thermal plant is located in Lephalale, Limpopo Province. It is the fourth largest coal-powered plant in the globe, with six boilers that will contribute 4,764 MW of power to the national grid, at optimal output. Construction of the plant commenced in 2007 and the plant is expected to be fully operational in 2020.

In 2013, Malatji heard about the Eskom Academy of Learning, dubbed the Medupi Learning Initiative, and decided to join because she wanted to advance her project management and business skills. The training is a leadership and skills development programme aimed at improving small and medium enterprises proficiencies, to be able to participate in large corporate business, such as Malatji’s Green Dot. From this training, her business has grown from a single entity to four entities employing 475 people; the latest of which is a boutique hotel in Lephalale in Limpopo, which is expected to open in June 2019.

Malatji says she comes from a humble background, which fuels her passion to serve her community. “Through the four businesses, my partner and I have managed to support student education at different levels. In 2018, we provided four laptops to students joining university, and our dream is to open a foundation for many such students at all levels of education,” she said.

Medupi Power Plant has provided a host of opportunities to local communities and migrant workers over the past decade. The skills developed, jobs created and surrounding business opportunities for men, women and youth has been phenomenal.

At the peak of the Medupi construction, 20,000 people were employed at the plant and its supporting activities. Limpopo was seen as an ideal location for the project because of its natural resources, but also because the province, one of South Africa’s poorest, stood to gain a great deal.

Now, as the construction works are finalized, the socio-economic difference is seen in the infrastructure developed, business acumen attained, and emerging opportunities.

Through the Medupi Leadership Initiative and the Eskom Contractors Academy, thousands have been given the skills to provide services to Medupi Power Plant and neighbouring businesses, as well as set up new businesses in the region.

The Medupi Leadership Initiative and the Eskom Contractors Academy are projects supported by the African Development Bank through its funding for skills development in line with the operational needs during the plant’s set up. They have launched the careers/businesses of many others like Malatji. Since they were launched, the Medupi leadership initiative has trained 16,602people on financial literacy, 2,000on drive your life, and 1,304 on modular employable skills, from the entire country. The contractor’s academy on the other hand has 116 local business owners.

Malatji, a 39-year-old mother of three, said she was grateful for the training that has provided her with skills, networks and mentors who have helped her grow her business. “I didn’t know what skills I needed before to grow my business, and I am glad the training has empowered me to improve my skills in the ventures I am undertaking.”

William Morifi was trained in the contractor’s academy, hoping to develop skills and grow his existing fire extinguishers business. Thirty-five-year-old Morifi – a disabled man from Limpopo Province – said his vision was to learn about outdoor advertising. He undertook the contractors training program. “I learnt how to go about my first and current venture in the fire extinguishers supply and maintenance business with big corporates such as Eskom. It taught me various skills, from acquisition of certificates, the correct bidding process to win tenders, and optimal business sustainability models. With this, I have managed to collaborate with Mesong Fire – a larger and more experience firm – to provide Eskom with some of its fire extinguishing equipment at the Medupi plant since 2016. Eskom is one of my main clients,” he says.

Morifi’s business is growing in leaps and bounds, with a staff of five and a female partner, as well as meeting the South African B-BBEE (Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act) requirements. Just as well, as the area continues to grow, so do the prospects for the fire extinguishing and signage opportunities he hopes to attain.

It has been a decade since Morifi completed the contractor’s academy programme, and the results are visible. He now has local clients from taxis to buses and other businesses in the region. The Bank’s support to the academy goes well beyond the power plant’s operation, but to envisioned gains such as the development of new industries and creation of employment opportunities that reduce poverty levels.