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Premier in no rush to open Free State economy



Staff Reporter

Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela says there should be no rush to move the entire province to alert Level 3 as this might jeopardise some of the gains made so far in the fight against COVID-19 and compromise people’s lives.

She said the disease, which is yet to reach its peak, is likely to be worsened by the incoming winter season as the coronavirus is said to thrive under cold conditions.

This means more people could contract the virus in the coming months, particularly in Mangaung.

“People (are) saying open up, the economy is going down. But what about the people?” Ntombela said during media briefing called by her Provincial Command Council on COVID-19 to give an update on the implementation of the risk-adjusted strategy to fight the disease this Tuesday.

“The Free State is one of the four most affected princes in the country and yet it’s one of the poorest. Our people are very poor. Winter is coming.

“The lives of our people matter. We should not rush to open the economy at the expense of people’s lives.”

The premier said the disease could wreak havoc across the world for at least two years before a vaccine or cure can be found, meaning people should change the way they live now and adjust to a new way of life with a lot of restrictions.

“We are going to live with this virus for a long time. It is not something that will go away soon. We must change the way we have always lived,” Ntombela said.

“The economy of the Free State is going to be affected but let’s not just do things for money. We must save people’s lives.”

She added that even if other districts in the province are allowed to move to Level 3, Mangaung, which is the provincial epicentre of the disease, might have to remain on Level 4.

The Free State economy has not performed well in recent years due to a marked slowdown in activity in the mining and agricultural sectors, the province’s traditional economic anchors.

It has struggled to recover from the 2008/9 recession, only achieving an average of 1.5 percent annual growth.

Although it exceeded a two percent growth rate in 2010 and 2012, growing unemployment has remained a major headache for the province.

The Free State has an official unemployment rate of 35 percent, which is only second to the Eastern Cape with a staggering 39.5 percent.

The expanded unemployment rate for the province, which includes those who have given up looking for work, is 42.3 percent.

South Africa’s official unemployment rate is 29.1 percent with the expanded rate standing at 38.7 percent.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a halt, the provincial treasury anticipated the Free State economy to improve by about 1.4 percent in 2020, and average only 0.9 percent over the next four years.

This might never be realised given the widespread disruptions brought by the pandemic which has put the whole world under virtual lockdown as countries try to manage the spread of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the premier has urged residents who may need assistance to avoid being conned and call the provincial COVID-19 hotline on 0800 535 554.


Masks no longer mandatory when outdoors



Staff Reporter

South Africans will no longer be required to wear masks while outdoors, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Tuesday night when he gave an update on national efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

The wearing of masks indoors however remains mandatory.

“As before, it is mandatory to wear a cloth mask or similar covering over the nose and mouth when in public indoor spaces,” said Ramaphosa in a televised address.

“However, a mask is not required when outdoors,” he added.

“This means that we still need to wear masks when in shops, malls, offices, factories, taxes, buses, trains or any other indoor public space.

“But we do not need to wear masks when walking on the street or in an open space, when exercising outdoors or when attending an outdoor gathering.”

The president said after four waves of infection, fewer people are becoming severely ill and requiring hospitalisation.

He said there are far fewer deaths than before.

“Our scientists tell us that this is mainly because some 60 to 80 percent of the population has some form of immunity to the virus, either from previous infection or vaccination . . . we are now ready to enter a new phase in our management of the pandemic,” said Ramaphosa.

About 48 percent of all adults are believed to have received at least one vaccine dose.

Further to that, both indoor and outdoor venues can now take up to 50 percent of their capacity provided that the criteria for entrance are proof of vaccination or a COVID-19 test not older than 72 hours.

“But where there is no provision for proof of vaccination or a COVID test, then the current upper limit will remain – of 1 000 people indoors and 2 000 people outdoors,” he explained.

This change to the restrictions on gatherings, according the president, will be of great benefit to the sporting, cultural, entertainment and events industries, among others.

The maximum number of people permitted at a funeral will increase from 100 to 200.

However, night vigils as well as after-funeral and ‘after-tears’ gatherings are still not allowed.

The regulations on social distancing are also being changed, requiring that a space of one metre is maintained between persons in all settings except schools.

There are also changes to the regulations on international travel.

Travellers entering South Africa will need to show proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours.

All unvaccinated travellers entering the country who want to be vaccinated will be offered a vaccination.

All measures are taking effect from this Wednesday.

Ramaphosa said in deciding which restrictions to ease and which to keep in place, they  also looked to the experiences of other countries, including those where the complete lifting of restrictions has been followed by a surge in infections and deaths.

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Man gets six life terms for raping own daughter



Staff Reporter

A 36-year-old man from Clocolan has been sentenced to six life terms by the Free State High Court after he was found guilty of raping his 14-year-old daughter.

In a statement, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said Judge Pina Mathebula sentenced the father, who cannot be named to protect the identity of his daughter, for raping her six times between May and July 2021.

“The victim was staying with the accused, his wife, who is her stepmother, and two other siblings,” read part of the statement issued by NPA regional spokesperson Phaladi Shuping on Thursday.

“In May 2021, the accused told his wife that his late brother told him in a dream ‘to get rid of a tokoloshe that was inside the victim’. The very same night of the alleged dream, the accused raped the victim. The last rape incident took place on 25 July 2021,” added the statement.

The court, sitting in Ladybrand, heard that the wife tried to reprimand him but he assaulted her.

As if not enough, he overpowered and raped the victim, despite her cries and his wife’s reprimands.

He threatened to kill both of them if they were to tell anyone of what he did.

A day later, the accused’s sister visited the family and the wife told her what the husband had done to the child.

The sister reported his brother to the police and he was arrested.

In aggravation, state prosecutor Advocate Moipone Moroka submitted a victim impact report facilitated by Bulelani Mothabeng in which the victim said that she thanks her aunt for coming to her rescue because if it was not for her, she would still be her father’s sex slave.

Moroka further argued that the scourge of violence against women and children has reached an alarming proportion and can be described as a pandemic.

“What aggravates the matter is that the father raped his own daughter multiple times over a period of three months and this means he had ample opportunity to reflect on his actions, but he continued betraying the trust his daughter had in him,” said Moroka.

The father was sentenced to six life sentences for rape and two years for assault and the sentences were ordered to run concurrently.

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Premier mourns journalist



Staff Reporter

Premier Sisi Ntombela has described the late SABC journalist Thabo Katsande as a disciplined, dedicated and hardworking man.

She said this in her special tribute to Katsande, who was based in Bloemfontein, during a memorial service held at the Rose Hall at the Mangaung Metropolitan offices on Thursday.

The journalist passed away at a Pretoria hospital last Saturday following a short illness.

“The Thabo I knew was focused on his work,” said an emotional Ntombela.

“The Thabo I knew was passionate about his trade and wanted to see journalism, particularly in the Free State, grow in leaps and bounds,” she added.

The premier took the opportunity to urge people to value their work and strive to improve their communities as the province is faced with a high unemployment rate.

“We live in an era where some people do not value their jobs . . . and a sense of entitlement has consumed them. Thabo’s work ethic was admirable,” she pointed out.

Ntombela described Katsande as a fearless and fair journalist who showed both the good and the bad through his work.

“Through his work, Thabo helped us to tell . . . the Free State story,” she said.

“He captured the minds of the people with the way he told our stories, the good and the bad.

“The beautiful and the not so beautiful – Thabo told it all, without fear or favour.

“The media fraternity has lost a giant and . . . it will be poorer without him.

“No longer shall we see that charismatic man running around with a camera looking for that perfect shot.”

Katsande will be laid to rest in Bluemgumbosch, eastern Free State, this Saturday.

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