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Government struggling to convince banks to loan SAA billions



Government is struggling to borrow R2bn from reticent banks, with Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan saying members of his ministry are working their “backs off” to ensure the airline survives.

At the weekend, the ANC national executive committee agreed to keep SAA as the national airline “with substantial restructuring” as opposed to other options reportedly mooted by the airline’s business rescue practitioners, including allowing it to be liquidated.

But SAA needs billions of rands to remain a going concern. A consortium of banks has already lent it R2bn to remain in the air, with another R2bn urgently needed. Government is trying to borrow the money from banks.

In an interview Gordhan said numerous meetings and engagements with relevant parties, including Treasury and banks, are taking place daily to find a solution to the cash crunch. “We have been working our backs off to save SAA… our backs off. We are working to find the necessary cash,” he said.

Gordhan did not want to commit to whether there will be retrenchments at the national carrier, but said he is confident that SAA can be saved. “The business rescue practitioners say they’ve got a plan. But there will have to be serious intervention.”

As part of SAA’s business rescue, government pledged to contribute the R2bn, which it planned to borrow from banks.

However, Gordhan may be struggling to convince banks to lend the funds, as the new loans may not come with any government guarantees – unlike in the past.

Every year for the past thirteen years the state has provided guarantees for SAA loans. As the cash-strapped airline has not been able to repay some of these loans, Finance Minister Tito Mbownei had to announce in October that the state would honour the guarantees by repaying more than R9bn over the next three years.  And that’s on top of the R16.5bn in bailouts the government provided to SAA over the past decade.

Mboweni drew a line in the sand last year, refusing to provide SAA with more guarantees.

Basically, banks are now being asked to provide a failing business with financing without guarantees, says Maarten Ackerman, Citadel Investment Services’ chief economist and advisory partner.

Government could easily raise the R2bn through issuing extra government bonds, says Ackerman. Thanks to the attractive yields on offer on South African government bonds, demand currently far exceeds what are offered.

“But that would send the wrong signal to the rating agencies,” says Ackerman. “It will add to South Africa’s problems.” The national debt now tops R3trn – 61% of GDP. Mboweni has warned that South Africa’s government debt could hit more than 70% soon.

Government is reluctant to guarantee any more loans to SAA because doing so increases its so-called contingent liability (its potential debt) and raises the effective public debt – which is bound to hike the risks of a ratings downgrade, says Dr Azar Jammine, director and chief economist of Econometrix.

“Government is deliberately avoiding taking on more debt to fund state-owned enterprises.”

While the preferable fiscal route may be to close down SAA, the cost of allowing it to go bust will be significant. Government will have to pay back billions of rands in guarantees on outstanding loans immediately, which will hit the fiscus badly. In the past financial year alone, it guaranteed more than R17bn in loans.

But while it will therefore keep SAA operational, Treasury is taking a hard line with the department of public enterprises and SAA by not providing more money. It wants to see more cost-cutting and restructuring.  

“It is forcing SAA’s hand,” says Ackerman, which is evident in the carrier’s decision this week to cancel 38 SAA flights, and put some of its planes on sale.

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China reports fewer coronavirus cases outside epicenter, cases surge in South Korea




SHANGHAI/SEOUL (Reuters) – China reported another fall in the new coronavirus infections outside of its epicenter on Sunday, but world health officials warned it was too early to make predictions about the outbreak as new infections and fears of contagion increased elsewhere.

A girl wearing a face mask plays with a diabolo near the National Centre for the Performing Arts, following an outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the country, in Beijing, China February 22, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

China’s health commission confirmed 648 new infections on Sunday – higher than a day earlier – but only 18 were outside of Hubei province, the lowest number outside of the epicenter since authorities started publishing data a month ago.

But new infections outside of China continued to worry world health authorities, with South Korea on Sunday reporting a fourth death due to the virus and 123 new cases, bringing its total to 556, having doubled from Friday to Saturday.

Cases in Italy, Europe’s worst hit country, more than quadrupled to 79 on Saturday, with two deaths. Ten new cases in Iran took the total to 29 there, and six deaths, deepening unease at home and in neighboring countries in the Gulf.

The World Health Organization said it was channeling efforts into helping to prepare vulnerable countries, including 13 in Africa. It expressed concern on Saturday about the number of new infections that had no clear link to China, such as travel history or contact with a confirmed case.

More than half the new cases in South Korea were linked to a Shincheonji Church of Jesus congregation in Daegu, after a woman known as “Patient 31” who attended services tested positive for the virus last week. The woman had no recent record of overseas travel.

The disease has spread to some 26 countries and territories outside China, killing more than a dozen people, according to a Reuters tally. The virus has been fatal in 2% of reported cases, with a risk of death higher for older patients, and relatively few cases among children, according to the WHO.

The potential economic impact of the outbreak overshadowed a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Saudi Arabia, at which the International Monetary Fund chief said the disruption caused by the coronavirus would likely lower China’s economic growth this year to 5.6%, down 0.4 percentage points from its January outlook, and shave 0.1 percentage points from global growth.


China’s health commission said the number of new deaths from COVID-19, as the disease caused by the virus is known, was 97, all but one of which were in Hubei. Eighty-two of those were in the provincial capital Wuhan.

The official Xinhua news agency reported Wuhan had conducted nucleic tests for all its backlog of patients in a bid to arrest the coronavirus spread, including those confirmed or suspected to be infected or in close contact with confirmed cases and patients with fever.

Guo Shengkun, secretary of the Communist Party’s Politics and Law Commission, inspected several jails on Saturday and stressed that China should learn from the infections last week of hundreds of inmates, including taking extraordinary measures and “wartime strategies” to tackle the spread.

In total, China has reported 76,936 cases, and 2,442 deaths. The WHO says the virus remains mild in 80% of patients, and severe or critical in 20%.

South Korea’s earlier cases were linked to China but the new infections center in two places, Daegu, a city of about 2.5 million, and a hospital in Cheongdo, a county with about 43,000 people. Both have been designated “special care zones”.

In Italy, schools and universities were closed and three Serie A soccer matches slated for Sunday postponed in Lombardy and Veneto, the two regions where the outbreak is concentrated.

The two regions are Italy’s industrial heart and jointly account for 30% of gross domestic output.

The announcement by Iranian authorities of multiple cases and deaths over a short period of time has led to criticism and accusations from Iranians online of a cover-up by officials. Authorities had no immediate response.

The United Arab Emirates announced two new cases on Saturday, an Iranian tourist and his wife, raising the total in that country to 13.

Lebanon confirmed its first case on Friday, a 45-year-old woman returning from Qom, Iran.

Iraq announced on Thursday that it had banned border crossings by Iranian nationals, Iraq’s state news agency said.

That followed Iraqi Airways suspending flights to Iran, following Kuwait Airways. Saudi Arabia said on Friday it had suspended travel by citizens and expatriates to Iran.

Japan’s health minister apologized on Saturday after a woman who was allowed to leave a coronavirus-infected cruise ship docked near Tokyo tested positive for the virus.

Slideshow (15 Images)

The woman in her 60s disembarked the ship on Wednesday following a two-week quarantine on board, but was found to be positive following another test in Tochigi Prefecture, north of Tokyo.

“We deeply apologize for the situation caused by our oversight,” Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told a news conference. “We will take all necessary measures, like double checks, to prevent a recurrence.”

The ministry said it would retest 23 passengers released from the ship.

Reporting by Emily Chow in Shanghai, Lushu Zhang in Beijing; Additional reporting by Jane Chung in Seoul, Kirsti Knolle in Vienna, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Valentina Za in Milan and; Riccardo Bastianello in Padua; Babak Dehghanpisheh and Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai, Stephen Kalin, Andrea Shalal and Leika Kihara in Riyadh, Stanley White in Tokyo; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Kim Coghill

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Coronavirus: Italy imposes strict lockdown in outbreak hotspots




Police on guard at the hospital of Schiavonia, near Padova, where tests for the coronavirus are performed in Veneto regionImage copyright

Italy has introduced “extraordinary measures” to tackle the spread of the biggest outbreak of the new coronavirus in Europe.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced the emergency plan late on Saturday as the number of cases rose to 79.

The measures were imposed after two Italian citizens were confirmed to have died from the virus.

A dozen towns in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto have been effectively quarantined under the plan.

Around 50,000 people from towns in two northern regions have been asked to stay at home by authorities.

Mr Conte said it would now be forbidden to enter or leave the outbreak areas, unless special permission was granted.

All school and sports activities have been suspended in those areas, including several Serie A football matches due to take place on Sunday.

Police, and if necessary the armed forces, will have the authority to ensure the regulations are enforced.

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Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (C) said people would not be allowed to leave or enter coronavirus hotspots

Italian authorities fear the virus has gone beyond the isolated clusters of cases in Lombardy and Veneto, making it difficult to contain.

“The contagiousness of this virus is very strong and pretty virulent,” Lombardy’s health chief Giulio Gallera said.

The new coronavirus originated in the Chinese province of Hubei last year, but has spread to 26 countries, where more than 1,400 cases and 11 deaths have been confirmed.

Chinese health authorities reported a decrease in the rate of deaths and new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday. Some 76 392 cases including 2,348 deaths have been confirmed in China.

But outside China, cases with no clear link to that country or other confirmed cases continue to rise, prompting concern from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The head of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the greatest concern now was countries with weaker health systems, particularly in Africa.

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Media captionPeople in Daegu have voiced concern over the spread of the virus

South Korea has reported the largest number of confirmed infections after China and the outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Japan, which has seen more than 600 cases.

In other developments:

  • Thirty-two British and other European cruise ship passengers are in quarantine in north-west England after arriving back from Japan
  • In South Korea, a fourth person has died and the number of confirmed cases has jumped to more than 550, an increase of more than 100 on the previous day. Most cases are linked to a hospital and a religious group near the south-eastern city of Daegu
  • Israel refused to allow some 200 non-Israelis to disembark from a plane which had arrived from South Korea, sending them back to Seoul; the 12 Israelis on board were quarantined
  • Iran reported its fifth death from the disease, and ordered the closure of schools, universities and cultural centres in 14 provinces

The new virus, which originated last year in Hubei province in China, causes a respiratory disease called Covid-19.

Fever, fatigue and a dry cough are the most common symptoms for patients.

The proportion of people dying from the disease appears to be low, with most only developing mild symptoms and making a full recovery.

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Bernie Sanders cements front-runner status with Nevada caucuses win




Bernie Sanders lifts his fist at a campaign rally in San Antonio, TexasImage copyright

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In a victory speech, Mr Sanders said Americans were “sick and tired of a president who lies all the time”

Bernie Sanders has cemented his status as the Democratic front-runner to take on Donald Trump in November’s US presidential election.

He is projected to win Nevada’s caucuses, and early results suggest he is on course for a large victory.

There is a long way to go, however, until a nominee is confirmed.

Early results also suggest former vice-president Joe Biden has performed better in Nevada than in the other two states which have voted so far.

He had underwhelming results in Iowa and New Hampshire. Those states kicked off the four-month long primaries process, in which candidates are jostling to convince voters why they are the best candidate to challenge Mr Trump.

What’s the latest from Nevada?

The BBC’s US partner network CBS and other outlets have projected a victory for Mr Sanders.

With 4% of the ballots counted in Nevada, Mr Sanders, the left-wing senator for Vermont, has 54% of the vote, ahead of Mr Biden on 18%. The field is then split between a number of other moderates, including Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg, who trail further behind.

Candidates who have won more than 15% of the vote will be awarded delegates, who will then go to the party’s convention in July to support their Democratic candidate.

Before Saturday, Mr Sanders had 21 delegates, and while he will remain a long way off the 1,990 needed to become the nominee, victory in Nevada will bring him another small step closer towards that total.

The last caucuses in Iowa were plagued by technical glitches that meant results struggled to be recorded using a new app. While that app is not being used in Nevada, there are reports of volunteers struggling to connect to a telephone number used to record results. Organisers say results should start flowing soon.

In a victory speech in Texas on Saturday evening, Mr Sanders praised his “multi-generational, racial coalition” team of supporters, and attacked Mr Trump. “The American people are sick and tired of a president who lies all the time,” he said.

Mr Biden’s campaign was in buoyant mood too, declaring that “the comeback starts here”. In a tweet, Mr Trump praised Mr Sanders’ win, but also called him “Crazy Bernie”.

How has Bernie Sanders done so well?

It looks like it’s all down to a few factors.

Polling agency Edison Research reported that more than half of participating Hispanics had decided to vote for him before the caucuses. In a state of more than three million people where Hispanics make up almost a third of the population, this looks to have made a big difference.

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Media captionWhat do young voters want in Nevada?

And despite some concern from union members about Mr Sanders’s plan to shake up their delicately negotiated healthcare plans, 36% of union members backed him. One in four Nevada residents is in a union, or has a relative in a union.

Polls conducted by US news networks suggest young voters overwhelmingly favoured Mr Sanders.

‘No doubt Sanders is the front-runner now’

Four years ago, the Nevada caucuses were the moment Hillary Clinton began to turn the tide against Bernie Sanders in his upstart bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. This time around, the results could be further evidence that the Sanders surge is very real and very durable.

Caucus entrance polls show Sanders won a dominating 53% of the Hispanic vote – a demographic he struggled with against Clinton. That bodes well for the senator in the two biggest prizes coming up, Texas and California, with their sizeable Hispanic populations.

Sanders also, not as surprisingly, carried a majority of those aged 18 to 27 and voters who said they wanted someone who agreed with them on the issues.

If Sanders has a winning formula this time around, it could be that he has successfully diversified his coalition, while keeping his loyal support from the young and those who want a president who is with them on issues like major healthcare reform, aggressively combating climate change and addressing income inequality.

The Vermont senator appears so confident in his standing that he was campaigning in California this week and spent the day of the Nevada caucuses in Texas. If there was any doubt whether Sanders was the front-runner before now – and, quite honestly, there shouldn’t have been – there is no question now.

What happens next?

All eyes turn to South Carolina’s primary next Saturday. It will be the biggest of the four states to have voted before March – and the one with the largest percentage of African-American voters.

This should favour Mr Biden, who is popular among African Americans, but Mr Sanders is also expected to do well, and polls suggest that billionaire hedge-fund manager Tom Steyer could claim his first delegates there.

A few days later, on 3 March, is Super Tuesday, when 14 states vote. They include California and Texas, the two states with the most delegates. By the end of Super Tuesday, it may be much clearer who the Democratic candidate will be.

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Amani Festival: The DR Congo music festival celebrating life




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Ley Uwera

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In a field in central Goma, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, 36,000 people last weekend got the chance to forget fears about insecurity and enjoy some top African music acts at the Amani Festival.

The annual festival, named after the Swahili word for peace, is a rare time for such large numbers to come together in one place here.

Goma is the biggest city in a region that has seen an upsurge of violence in recent months.

Attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces rebel group and army attempts to flush them out have led to hundreds of civilian deaths.

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Ley Uwera

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The three-day event started with a performance of a requiem – or prayer for the dead – based on Mozart’s Requiem but given a Congolese interpretation through local performers.

The living were also remembered.

“We are coming together… to show the world that life still exists, that we are aware that a better future depends on all of us and that we must work together to build it,” organiser Guillaume Bisimwa said.

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Ley Uwera

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Queen of Congolese rumba Mbilia Bel, who is in her 60s, wowed the fans with her beautiful and powerful voice. Her set included hits from the 1980s, Mpeve ya Longo and Yamba Nga.

Some festival-goers saw the event as an opportunity to dress up and show off.

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Ley Uwera

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Nineteen-year-old visual artist Kasiski Vaillant wore a hat, a pair of glasses and braces that he had designed and made himself.

Others struck a cool pose with sunglasses and face paint.

Tow people dressed up for the festivalImage copyright
Ley Uwera

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Local hero Innoss’B, one of the festival headliners, played as the sun went down on Saturday night.

Musicians performingImage copyright
Ley Uwera

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Everyone enjoyed his performance of Yope, which has become a huge hit in the region after he teamed up with Tanzanian star Diamond Platnumz.

Performer at the festivalImage copyright
Ley Uwera

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Senegalese soul and gospel singer Faada Freddy, who was once part of the rap duo Daara J, was one of the big international artists to perform.

Another Senegalese artist, hip hop performer Didier Awadi, paid tribute to the victims of killings just to the north of Goma and said they should not be forgotten.

As the festival was promoting peace across the region, it also featured traditional artists from Rwanda, which is just across the border.

Man wearing a headdress dancingImage copyright
Ley Uwera

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A troupe came to show the Intore dance, which is performed at family celebrations as well as at big national events.

There was also the chance to taste a local favourite, grilled meat, known here as nyama choma.

People grilling meatImage copyright
Ley Uwera

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Dieume and Pedjos teamed up to provide the gourmet pleasures.

There was a very relaxed and happy atmosphere and it felt like a great way to bring communities together.

The organisers wanted to show that the east of the country was not just a place of conflict.

It did manage to provide an escape from that, but the bad news has not gone away.

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Ley Uwera

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Pictures by Ley Uwera

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Are APIs Putting Financial Data At Risk?




We live in a world where billions of login credentials have been stolen, enabling the brute-force cyberattacks known as “credential stuffing”, reports CSO Online. And it’s being made easier by APIs:
New data from security and content delivery company Akamai shows that one in every five attempts to gain unauthorized access to user accounts is now done through application programming interfaces (APIs) instead of user-facing login pages. According to a report released today, between December 2017 and November 2019, Akamai observed 85.4 billion credential abuse attacks against companies worldwide that use its services. Of those attacks, around 16.5 billion, or nearly 20%, targeted hostnames that were clearly identified as API endpoints.

However, in the financial industry, the percentage of attacks that targeted APIs rose sharply between May and September 2019, at times reaching 75%.

“API usage and widespread adoption have enabled criminals to automate their attacks,” the company said in its report. “This is why the volume of credential stuffing incidents has continued to grow year over year, and why such attacks remain a steady and constant risk across all market segments.”
APIs also make it easier to extract information automatically, the article notes, while security experts “have long expressed concerns that implementation errors in banking APIs and the lack of a common development standard could increase the risk of data breaches.”

Yet the EU’s “Payment Services Directive” included a push for third-party interoperability among financial institutions, so “most banks started implementing such APIs… Even if no similar regulatory requirements exist in non-EU countries, market forces are pushing financial institutions in the same direction since they need to innovate and keep up with the competition.”

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