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No news is good news

_Good Morning!_ ?? 

Here’s our latest edition of news you need to know on Verationality – Simple news summaries for busy people ??‍♀️  

Is there such a thing as a quiet news week in South Africa?? If so… I think we may have just had one. 

*EMOJI NEWS INDICATOR*:

Here are the biggest news items this week, and – introducing – an emoji indicator of how good they were for the average citizen:

  1. President’s Cyril Ramaphosa’s scheduled Q&A in parliament ?
  2. The findings of the whitewashed arms deal inquiry –  instituted under former president Jacob Zuma – was set aside ?
  3. The Equality Court ruled that displaying the old South African flag was hate speech ?

Let’s dive into those items, what to expect for the week ahead AND your inspiration for the week. 

? For a written version of this update, scroll down.

? For an audio version, listen to the podcast:


*OUR PRESIDENT WAS IN PARLIAMENT AND NO ONE GOT INTO A FIGHT!*

Last week I predicted that Ramaphosa’s scheduled appearance in parliament would generate high drama among our political parties. Looks like I was wrong! Clearly, I’ve been conditioned to expect the worst, given the parliamentary chaos under Zuma. But Ramaphosa handled questions – mostly around donations to his campaign to become ANC president – fairly well. He had a very cordial and even humorous back and forth with opposition parties – including the EFF. He even avoided repeating the mistake that sparked off the campaign payment scandal: DA leader Mmusi Maimane once again confronted the president with leaked information about donations from dodgy company Bosasa – this time to the ANC. The thing is, as Maimane did the first time around, this question was not scheduled as per the rules for when the president appears in parliament to answer questions. Ramaphosa is under no obligation to answer impromptu questions and unwisely did so last time without having all the information, meaning he mislead parliament. 

But while Ramaphosa avoided the parliamentary circus normalised by his predecessor, he is facing increasing calls by his staunchest defenders to GROW SOME BACKBONE. Everyone’s a bit tired of his trademark style of ensuring all his ducks are in a row before he acts, while those against him and his reform agenda are sticking in the knife every chance they get. This while the economy desperately needs drastic action. 

_READ MORE_: If you’re interested in the details of the information Maimane brandished, this News24 article offers a decent report: https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/public-protectors-counsel-helps-ramaphosa-dodge-bosasa-question-20190822

_FUN FACT_: SA’s president is required to answer questions from opposition parties in parliament every term – which is around four times a year, according to an expert reading of parliament’s rules. This is part of the role of legislature (parliament) to hold the executive (cabinet) to account. Zuma notoriously did not keep this commitment while in office. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2014-11-25-constitution-is-clear-president-must-answer-questions-in-parliament/

*ALSO, RAMAPHOSA’S APPROVAL RATINGS ARE STILL SOLID*

In other Ramaphosa news, the South African Citizens Survey (Sacs) caused a bit of a kerfuffle with a release on how popular our various politicians are. If the results are truly representative of the larger population, the campaign leaks scandal may be a bit of a storm in a teacup in terms of the dent to Ramaphosa’s popularity. Ramaphosa has an approval rating of 62% for the second quarter of 2019 – 2 percentage points down from the first quarter of the year. Ramaphosa’s campaign funding first came into question in November 2018. 

And in the biggest LOL, the captain of the fightback campaign within the ANC, secretary-general Ace Magashule was ranked at a mere 11%. Ouchie. I hadn’t previously heard about Sacs but I checked them out and they appear credible: in operation since 2015, polling a decent 1300 people each month split across areas and demographics that correlate to our latest census data. Here are some more approval ratings:

Finance minister Tito Mboweni: 29%

DA leader Mmusi Maimane: 28%

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan: 26%

EFF leader Julius Malema: 25%

Deputy President David Mabuza: 21%

*READ MORE*: A lot of the articles on the survey were quite sensational, but Stephen Grootes did a good job of writing it up in this Daily Maverick article: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2019-08-22-ramaphosas-positive-poll-a-signal-to-act-on-corruption/

*DODGY ARMS DEAL INQUIRY OVERTURNED* ??

You might remember the arms deal, from those halcyon pre-Gupta days when buying fighter jets we didn’t need was the _height_ of corruption. Ha! Well, in our nation’s newfound mood of _not letting anything slide_ that saga is back in the news – in a good way. In 2011 then president Zuma was forced by civil society and the courts to appoint an inquiry into the notorious deal – where he and others were fingered for accepting bribes from international arms companies in exchange for lucrative contracts finalised in 1999. The only problem was, this being Zuma, the inquiry was a TOTAL whitewash. The judge in charge, Willie Seriti, went to such lengths to protect key figures and exclude damning evidence that activists and even evidence leaders appointed to the commission withdrew in frustration. Naturally, several years later Seriti put out a piece of fiction saying no one was guilty in the whole sorry saga. This all happened before Ramaphosa ushered in his semi-dawn (my new phrase for his now lacklustre but still necessary reform agenda). But civil society organisations, Corruption Watch and Right2Know, didn’t let it go and on Wednesday  a full bench in the North Gauteng High Court set aside the findings. In a related court case, judgment is currently pending on Zuma’s attempts to have corruption charges around the arms deal dropped. The significant bit now, as former ANC MP and anti-arms campaigner Andrew Feinstein notes, “is that Jacob Zuma and Thales will not be able to use the report of the Seriti commission when they go on trial”. Nice explainer on all this from The South African here: https://www.thesouthafrican.com/news/arms-deal-seriti-commission-findings-set-aside-by-high-court/

*DISPLAYING THE OLD SA FLAG A NO-NO* 

Look, we had 25 years to get it out of our system. It was time. The gratuitous display of the apartheid-era flag now constitutes hate speech, the equality court ruled on Wednesday following a legal tussle between the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the SAHRC on one side and Afrikaans lobby groups Afriforum and FAK on the others side. The exception is where the old flag is displayed for “genuine artistic, academic or journalistic expression in the public interest”; so I could theoretically display it as an image to accompany this news summary but… yeah. I’m not going to do that. This whole thing started with the “Black Monday” protests in 2017 held against farm violence and murders in South Africa. During the protest, some people displayed the old South African flag in public, sparking widespread outrage, public debates and genuine curiosity from the rest of us as to where they were keeping these mint-condition flags for the past 25 years. Predictably the Afrikaans right took umbrage at the court’s decision. One of Afriforum’s leaders immediately tweeted the flag, upon which the Nelson Mandela Foundation immediately initiated contempt of court proceedings. And I said this was a quiet news week for South Africa. Ha. An interesting opinion, however, is from this black columnist, who thinks we’re giving the flag too much power.  I’m not sure I agree: The _“Oranje, Blanje, Blou”_, as it was nicknamed, is a source of distress to the majority of South Africans who were oppressed under its banner. But have a read if you’re interested and share your opinion if you like, I’d be interested to know what you think 🙂 https://city-press.news24.com/Voices/let-them-wave-their-old-south-african-flag-20190825

*INSPIRATION: JUSTICE CAMERON AN EXAMPLE TO US ALL* ??‍⚖️

One of South Africa’s most loved judges, Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron retired and it was an incredibly profound and emotional moment, which unified pretty much everyone across divides in their praise of the man. He grew up in an orphanage and went on to become a stellar academic and later highly esteemed judge with a bent towards the poor and the marginalised. I struggled to find an article that would do him justice, but this one by activist Mark Heywood comes close. As he puts it: “Where in the world could an esteemed judge, a proudly gay man who lives openly with HIV, end 25 years of service with a declaration of love to his partner? All of this on live television while seated beside a deeply Christian chief justice whose church abhors homosexuality, but sealed with a smile and a handshake? South Africa, of course.” Read the rest here: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2019-08-22-poetry-in-the-air-during-judge-edwin-camerons-send-off/

However, a concern is the fact that Cameron’s retirement means there are now THREE vacancies in the 11-person ConCourt. And as you’ve noticed with all the rulings keeping corruption in check, they’re pretty important. The body that interviews potential judges, the Judicial Service Commission, presented Ramaphosa with a list of possible candidates in April, but as with so many other things, the president is still deciding! I’m fairly sure he’ll choose someone that continues the progressive bent under Cameron, but can he just fill all the vacancies already?!

*OTHER BITS OF GOOD NEWS*: ?

  • SA ranks higher than the US, UK _and_ other BRICS countries in the 2019 global media freedom index. This isn’t new news, but this column rightly makes the point that we tend to lose sight of how much we have to be grateful for in terms of media freedom: https://www.iol.co.za/news/opinion/why-sa-can-be-proud-of-its-robust-media-freedom-31282398
  • One in ten oranges eaten around the world now comes from South Africa, thanks to the country’s flourishing fruit industry. We’re the world’s third-largest citrus exporter after Spain and Turkey. 
  • Treasury has instructed all government departments to slash costs over the next three years by 5, 6 and 7%. It’s going to be tough but necessary.

*OTHER NEWS* 

  1. ? Parliament’s speaker has requested the inquiry into Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office be fast-tracked
  2. ? We _might_ face load-shedding again. A key figure in Eskom let slip the system is under enormous pressure
  3. ? Inflation data was released this past week and it wasn’t as bad as expected, with the Reserve Bank succeeding in keeping inflation – the difference between a can of coke in the past versus now – within certain limits. However, there is pressure on the bank to cut interest rates more generously to give the economy a bit of life. The bank traditionally prefers to use rates as an inflation-targeting tool and NOT to stimulate the economy but hey, less money towards our loans and more into our pockets would get us spending, am I right?
  4. ? Patricia de Lille’s GOOD party seems to be in organisational shambles with allegations from key leaders about how they’re kept in the dark on all manner of things – including finances and the deployment of certain party members to cushy jobs. 
  5. ? Government is pushing to finalise the Aarto de-merit system, a super strict traffic control regime, by early next year to control our spiralling road accidents. But civil society organisation Outa says more visible policing is needed – not more fines. 
  6. ? There are a lot of concerns over “prescribed assets”, which is basically government forcing pension funds to invest in state assets, for the good of the country. Relax, your fund manager isn’t going to pour your retirement savings into Eskom. The debate is currently around government pensions, not private pensions, but there will be massive pushback against this terrible idea. 
  7. ?The department of basic education has acknowledged its plan to give failing matric students MORE time to write exams has been a dismal failure. Pupils given two years to pass matric had a pass rate of just 8%. That’s right, 92% of them still failed. It appeared that time wasn’t what they needed – support in understanding the key concepts is what was missing. Again, consider tutoring a kid who needs it, even if it’s just a couple times a year before exams. 
  8. ?Tuesday, 20 August 2019 marked one year since public hearings into State Capture began. Proceedings resume at 10am on Monday, 26 August 2019. One more year to go! We hope. 
  9. ?Mining giant Anglo American is set to face class action over the lead-mining activities it conducted in Zambia almost half a century ago. 

*WEEK AHEAD*: ? 

Expect to hear a load of detailed information about what various departments are up to this week. Parliament is in session and busy fulfilling its primary objective: oversight of what the executive (read: president and ministers) are up to and how well they’re doing their jobs. Two houses constitute Parliament in South Africa: the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces. Both have their hands full this week, grilling departments and ministers, including rising young star justice minister Ronald Lamola and police minister Bheki Cele. The SABC is scheduled to provide a no-doubt depressing update on its financial stability – or lack thereof. 

Ramaphosa is out the country this week. He is in France today for the G-7 summit and in Tokyo from Wednesday to Friday over trade relations between Africa and Japan. Let’s hope we don’t get treated to the leaked minutiae of where he swipes his credit card while abroad. 

Also, it’s nearly spring! ???This means there are loads of book fairs, music festival and art events across the country for September. Check your local city guide and make bookings, to enjoy the cultural treasures our country has to offer. Plus, with excellent books around huge news events published this past year, you can hear directly from newsmakers themselves about key topics dominating current affairs at the moment. 

That’s it for this week! Thanks so much for engaging with this channel. ??‍♀️

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