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The most popular stories on Moneyweb in 2021

Our health, our money and cryptocurrencies attracted the most attention, as well as news about Eskom … and a story of vindication following unjust and unlawful treatment by Sars.
The Moneyweb community has had a lot to chew over in the past year. Image: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

It’s not really surprising that Moneyweb’s audience was attracted to articles about the Covid-19 pandemic during the past year and that stories about the pandemic have been widely read, commented on and shared on social media. The pandemic has been and still is a life-changing event.

Read: Moneyweb’s most popular stories of 2020

While a story about how to get alcohol during the lockdown was the best-read story last year, the story that has secured the most reads so far in 2021 shared the news that SA scientists had identified a new variant of the virus, later named Omicron.

The article, New Covid variant found in SA has concerning mutations, was read more than 400 000 times. One reader posted a comment that summed up everybody’s feelings: “Was about to ask ‘When can we expect an END to the Covid pandemic?’ …..then THIS article hits me between the eyes!”

The story explained how SA scientists had identified a new variant that was feared to have a number of mutations. The mutations “are associated with increased transmissibility” and an increased ability to evade antibodies, the article said. It noted that changes in the virus have driven successive waves of the infections across the world. At the time, most infections were blamed on the Delta variant.

The Omicron variant is to blame for the latest increase in infections in SA but turned out to be less concerning than initially expected, with hospital groups noting that symptoms are much milder.

No fewer than eight of the 20 most popular stories published by Moneyweb in 2021 dealt with the pandemic.

These included:

Another pandemic story, originally written by Bloomberg in June – SA town cuts itself off as residents agree to isolate – was also widely read, but elicited criticism from readers as the small farming village of Kliprand, with its 250 residents on a back road on the way to Springbok, can hardly be described as a town. In addition, the whole of SA was in lockdown at the time.

Drivers’ licences

The second most popular story on the Moneyweb portal in 2021 was by contributor Roy Cokayne who reported in May that the Department of Transport planned to introduce a new driver’s licence card this year and implement a bouquet of measures to improve the service the public receives when visiting and interacting with driving licence test centres.

“Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula confirmed this on Friday after delivering his budget vote speech, adding that his department is looking at launching and rolling out the new card before the end of this year,” according to the report.

Mbalula said the Department of Transport wanted to “kill the queues at DLTCs and is also working on undermining the corruption involved in the booking of DLTC slots, especially in Gauteng”.

Readers were sceptical. Daniel84 responded: “Maybe I am having a slow Monday. How will this new card improve or eliminate the level of inefficiencies at licensing departments?”

Another story about drivers’ licences, More driving licence headaches for motorists, was 16th on the list of best-read articles. It explained the reasons behind the long wait to receive a new driver’s licence card – the only machine that produces cards in SA was broken; at the time, no cards had been produced for around three weeks.

Comments from the Department of Transport in a follow-up article published two days later, DoT says flooding to blame for breakdown of driving licence card machine, didn’t do much to reassure readers.

Taking on Sars – and winning

Another popular read was what should be the last instalment of Joaquim Alves’s long fight with the South African Revenue Service (Sars) about his Lesotho-registered car.

Moneyweb’s Ciaran Ryan has been following this story since March 2020:

The latest article, Sars hits a dead-end in Lesotho number plate case, published on November 10, states that: The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has dismissed with costs a [Sars] request to review a decision in favour of Ficksburg resident Joaquim Alves, whose Nissan Serena station wagon was impounded by customs officials in 2019 on the grounds that it was being driven in SA with a Lesotho number plate and without the necessary import permit.

Jubilant pair – the tenancious Joaquim Alves (right), with his lawyer Mkhosi Radebe, who is now planning a class action suit against Sars for acting unlawfully, as featured in Moneyweb’s November 10 article. Image: Supplied

Personal information, rumour, vandalisation

Of interest was the article in the fifth place, telling the story of how MTN and Vodacom cellular towers were vandalised, possibly due to a rumour that Covid-19 vaccines contain micro-chips and that 5G networks would be used to collect information on people.

That people are increasingly concerned about their private information became apparent after the publication of a story investigating the use of personal information for marketing purposes.

We tried to answer the question Where did you get my telephone number?

The article elicited 49 comments, of which two summarised people’s feelings: “Cellular telecom companies sell information. I got a new SIM – nobody has the number except the SIM supplier – then in comes the spam!,” wrote mcomp. Another reader responded: “Yes, we think we are ‘customer’, but in fact our information is ‘the product’ being sold on to others.”

Cryptocurrencies

Ciaran Ryan’s articles on cryptocurrencies are usually very popular with readers. Two in particular stood out – both related to the disappearance of R43 billion worth of crypto from Africrypt.

Meet the 29-year-old South African unravelling the multi-billion-rand Africrypt theft introduced Hamilton Cheong, a South African-born forensic sleuth now based in the US, who had spent the previous few weeks assisting law enforcement agencies around the world to unpack what happened with the Africrypt billions.

Ryan reported that Cheong’s company, Crypto Investigation Bureau (CIB), helps governments and organisations secure their digital assets against modern-day threats coming from ransomware and organised crime.

Hilton College matric student solves multi-billion dollar crypto puzzle described another problem plaguing the virtual currency world – the safety of long passwords.

Interestingly, the comments to the articles show that a lot of Moneyweb readers are not completely sure of cryptocurrencies yet.

Our money

Three articles about personal finance were particularly popular among readers.

A reader question answered by PSG Wealth advisor Elke Brink, How much do I need to invest to receive a monthly income of R10k for 10 years, was viewed no fewer than 183 000 times, showing that a lot of readers have a similar question.

A related question – With R800k, what monthly income can I expect if I want an income until I pass on? – was equally popular. Michael Haldane from Global & Local Investment Advisors discussed the question in detail and mentioned a few investment options for readers facing retirement.

A story attempting to get to grips with people’s personal finances and their everyday financial decisions resulted in very interesting feedback from readers. Living on SA’s ‘average’ salary of R23 122 per month received 53 comments, with most criticising the figure (from a Statistics SA report) of an average salary of around R23 000 per month as being much higher than what most people really earn.

Exploitation

Ciaran Ryan hit a nerve with an article titled Evidence that banks sell repossessed houses for cents in the rand.

“It’s been known for years that the banks have been flogging off repossessed properties for a fraction of their market worth, but the evidence was anecdotal and fragmented. Not anymore,” wrote Ciaran.

“An affidavit filed in support of the R60 billion class action suit brought by Lungelo Ditokelo Human Rights Foundation against the major banks, based on a sample of about 12 000 repossessed properties, found that these properties were sold for 50-60% of their proper value, mainly through sheriff’s auctions.

“The evidence shows dozens of properties were sold for less than 1% of their market value. Of the 200 worst cases, all were sold for less than 17.2% of their market value,” according to the article.

The subject was debated in depth by readers, with Sashen Gounden tabling the following argument:

“Why is it that after your house is repossessed you may still owe the bank money?” he asked.

“The bank charges you an interest rate linked to your credit risk factor i.e a higher rate for those at higher risk of default.

“This means the chance of you defaulting is priced into your instalment! They collect higher premiums earlier in case you default later. Let’s not forget that they hold the collateral (title deed) should you default.

“So why should a home owner still be on the hook for what’s outstanding when the bank had already priced everything in? If the system was fair, everyone would either be given the same prime rate and should you default you are on the hook for the remaining balance owed OR variable rates based on risk profile as currently but if you default, its already priced in and you walk away having lost your house and owe nothing.

“The banks justification for charging higher interest rates is the risk of borrower defaulting, but if they always collect on the full amount outstanding, where’s this extra risk they speak of?”

Public finances

“As public sector unions and the government continue discussions at the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council regarding the next round of wage negotiations, the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) says there are no more funds available that can be reprioritised to fund the last leg of the 2018 wage agreement,” wrote Thando Maeko in another popular article, No more funds available to be reprioritised for public sector wages.

DPSA Director-General Yoliswa Makhasi was quoted as saying that SA cannot afford to borrow funds to pay for an unsustainable high wage bill for a small part of the national workforce fortunate to be in employment during a time of national crisis.

A lot of readers were very critical of government employees receiving full salaries while private businesses suffered and unemployment increased to record levels.

However, a comment by Malie gave the other side: “A police captain with 26 years of service does not even earn R26 000 per month. During lockdown they got up 4.00 in the morning to perform extra duties, with no extra pay.

“On top of that, their leave for December was cancelled at the last minute. With the previous elections he was not allowed time off to cast his vote. He worked approximately 20 hours for a measly R1 400. Phone calls to complainants are made from his private cellphone because there are no money for upgrades.

“Point is, the wage bill is not that high because of the salaries of the people on the ground that actually does the work, but rather as a result of the people in their aircon offices who earn huge salaries in excess of R70 000 with no idea what it is like on the ground,” wrote Malie.

“Overtime duties are performed when ordered by their commanders and overtime has been budgeted for, but when they submit their overtime for processing, they are told that if they cannot submit successes, they will not receive overtime.”

Then there is Eskom and e-tolls …

Nearly a quarter of a million people read How much Eskom wants to charge normal households, and those with solar.

The November 29 story Government to finally scrap e-tolls on GFIP was well read too.

However, after years of promises of a decision and an actual official announcement on the matter, many readers will probably adopt the stance of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), as explained by Roy Cokayne in Outa is keeping ‘the champagne on ice’ for final e-toll decision.

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