| Sugar tax might only come in 2018

The proposed tax on sugary drinks is likely to go ahead later this year, following negotiations between government, labour and industry at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).

“It’s quite clear that the tax will happen and maybe even this year. If not, the conservative estimate is for the tax to be introduced at the beginning of the next tax season in March 2018,” Matthew Parks from the Congress of South African Trade Unions’ (Cosatu) told Health-e.

Hypertension and diabetes

Parks was speaking after the Nedlac discussions last Friday. Negotiations are due to continue next week but Parks said the debate is now less about whether or not there should be a tax and more about how to mitigate against job losses and save the “livelihoods of families”.

In parliamentary hearings, health experts were unanimous in their support for the tax as a measure to reduce obesity and its related health problems, such as hypertension and diabetes. South Africans are now among the fattest people in Africa, with 70% of women either overweight or obese and diabetes is now the biggest killer of women in the country.

However, the beverage industry and sugar farmers warned of massive job losses should the tax be implemented and Cosatu, while conceding the unhealthy effects of sugary drinks,  has also raised its concern about job losses.

 “We are especially concerned with sugar cane farmers and we call on government and industry to raise the percentage of locally sourced sugar from 85 to 100%,” said Parks.

A significant degree of consensus

In parliamentary hearings on the proposed tax, industry proposed that Nedlac was the appropriate forum for consensus to be reached on the tax.

However, while chair of the finance parliamentary Yunus Carrim, agreed that Nedlac “has the capacity to find a significant degree of consensus”, he warned that the final decision on the tax rested with Parliament.

“Ideally, we would vote on the [Rates and Monetary] Bill after the Nedlac process, but, at the very least, we will consider the progress in Nedlac before we vote,” said Carrim.

Nedlac excludes the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu), which represents most of the workers who could be affected by the tax-related job losses threatened by the Beverage Association of SA and allied industry players. However, there were no job losses in Mexico, which introduced a similar tax in 2015.

Estimated potential job losses

Initially, Treasury has proposed a tax of around 20% on a can of Coca Cola. However, it later proposed a 2.1 cent tax per gram of sugar on all sweetened drinks, but offered to exempt the first 4g per 100ml from the tax. This was an attempt to encourage industry to reformulate its drinks to reduce their sugar content.

The second Treasury concession was to exempt 100% fruit juice from being taxed they contain other vitamins and nutrients that regular fizzy drinks don’t.

The beverage industry estimated potential job losses across sectors in the tens of thousands after the implementation of the tax. But a socio-economic study presented by Treasury to  Nedlac showed total job losses could be as low as 1 500 – if industry reformulates and reduce the sugar content of 37% of their products. – Health-e News

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NEXT ON HEALTH24X | Limpopo centre takes care of ‘bored’, ‘beer drinking’ pensioners

Over 100 elderly women in rural Limpopo are being well looked after – given healthy food, regular health checks, good exercise and even education classes – thanks to the efforts of a single old age home.

Situated at Tshisaulu village, outside Thohoyandou, the Tshilidzini Society for The Care of the Aged currently looks after the wellbeing of 115 grannies.

A garden full of vegetables

The centre was established in 1984 after local people realised that the older women in the community were spending all of their time at home, drinking large amounts of traditional beer, as they were bored and had nothing to do.

 “We saw that there was a need for us to establish a place where our senior citizens can be taken care of and where they would be kept busy. We provide them with daily meals, an exercise programme, check-ups, sewing and gardening. In fact we have a garden full of vegetables which was created by the grannies themselves,” said the centre manager Virginia Makhado.

Every week day the grannies from Tshisaulu and surrounding villages gather at the centre from 8am to 3pm doing various activities. They can do sewing, traditional dancing, gardening and those that want can even learn how to read and write as some retired teachers have stepped up as volunteer trainers.

“We also do house-to-house visits to the grannies to monitor if they are taking their medication correctly and to check that their medication hasn’t expired because we care about their health and well-being,” said Makhado.

Traditional dance activity

The oldest granny at the centre is 96-year-old Munzhedzi Muvhango, and the youngest is 60.

“As old as I am I can assure you that I am healthy. I do not take any medication as I do not have any old age diseases such as high blood pressure and sugar diabetes because I exercise regularly, eat healthy and take good care of my body thanks to the people here, who make sure that we stay healthy all the times,” said Makwarela Rasilingwani (69), who resides at Itsani village, outside Thohoyandou. “I enjoy gardening more as it provides us with an opportunity to enjoy fresh vegetables. Even the exercises are good, and they also check our blood pressure regularly to keep us healthy all the times,” she added.

The grannies sell vegetables from the garden as well as some of the items they sew and then use the money they raise to fund holidays to other provinces once a year.

“I enjoy the traditional dance activity, as it’s something I grew up doing. The dance helps to keep us fit and healthy. Ever since I became a part of the group I am very happy and healthy as I no longer get bored by just sitting at home alone. Now I have friends and we encourage each other to look after our bodies and keep healthy,” said another granny, Elisa Macheka (73). – Health-e News.

Image supplied by iStock