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Mashaba for President?

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Let’s dive into the news you really need to know from the week that was with our 08 March 2020 edition. 

Emoji news indicator: 

  1. Herman Mashaba’s new political party is gaining traction! Would you vote for it? ?
  2. A report on the Parktown Boys High drowning is out and it’s devastating ?
  3. The Coronavirus has landed in SA: separating hysteria from reality ?
  4. SA fell into a technical recession – what are our prospects? ? 

And for our inspiration of the week, we take a look at what’s actually working in the project to rebuild South Africa after the state capture years. ?

Herman Mashaba is forging ahead with his new political party ?

After an ugly departure from the DA late last year, the former executive mayor of Johannesburg started a new political party, which he says will be ready to contend the 2021 local government elections. The People’s Dialogue will be one of the newest name you will see on your ballot paper the next time we go to the polls. 

Mashaba previously said the country needs “a truly non-racial capitalist political party… that believes in low taxes / making it easy to do business, strong borders, zero tolerance for corruption and that is tough on crime”. These are policies that won him his fair share of fans as mayor. He resigned from the DA, along with its leader Mmusi Maimane, citing the rise of right-wing elements. This as more conservative, white leaders in the party took over and pushed back against race-based policies.

Now list of people leaving the official opposition party – black and white – to join Mashaba is adding up.

The most intriguing part of Mashaba’s plan is an American-style “primaries” – where ordinary South Africans can have a say in who puts forward as a parliamentarian, mayor and more. A shift to South Africans having more direct control over elected representatives is gaining momentum. A landmark case is before the Constitutional Court with judgment expected soon about whether individuals can run for elections without having to join or form a party. 

Mashaba has already managed to attract senior leaders within the DA, including CEO Paul Boughey and head of campaigns Jonathan Moakes. Last week, the DA’s former Johannesburg Caucus leader, Funzela Ngobeni handed in his resignation to join Mashaba. The businessman turned politician hinted that more politicians and members of civil society will join his party in the coming weeks.

After Mashaba resigned from his role as Joburg mayor, the DA’s coalition-led government in the city fell apart and the ANC’s Geoff Makhubo was voted in. But Makhubo has a bit of a reputation for having some corrupt dealings. Now with their caucus leader in the city gone, we’re not sure when this leaves the already weakened DA in Johannesburg.

It’s bye bye to politics from Mmusi Maimane.

Mashaba’s tenure as mayor was not without controversies. This included xenophobic statements and allegations of a quid pro quo deal with the EFF that gave them control over lucrative tenders in exchange for support of his coalition government. But on the flip side the city’s finances were relatively healthy, money was spent on key infrastructure projects and Mashaba made big moves to create pro-poor housing within the city – and help undo the spatial legacy of apartheid that sees the working class spend a disproportionate amount of their income simply travelling to work. So his venture may attract some attention. But as we’ve seen with the ghosts of parties past, think Agang, Cope, and anything Patricia de Lille has started, starting a political party and actually remaining relevant are two very different things. 

You may be wondering, what happened to the DA’s former number 1? Mmusi Maimane left the DA shortly after Mashaba and the two seemed to be working on some sort of political formation together but while Mashaba forged ahead, Maimane pulled back – saying his was a “grassroots” activist movement instead. Make of it what you will… it’s called One South Africa Movement and won’t be contesting elections but creating “change”.

2. Mpianzi’s death could have been avoided ?

The name Enock Mpianzi made national headlines – and broke hearts – at the start of the school year.

He was the 13-year-old Parktown Boys School student who mysteriously drowned at a school orientation camp in January, and last week we found out why. 

Gauteng Education MEC, Panyaza Lesufi.

A forensic report commissioned by the Gauteng education department showed that a number of people, including the school’s principal, should be held responsible for the boy’s death. Mpianzi drowned in the Crocodile River at the Nyati Bush and River Breakaway camp near Brits while engaging, in what we now know, was a dangerous water activity. The report details how the camp as well as teachers mislead the public on the initial details surrounding Mpianzi’s death, and it’s worse than you think. 

We summarised five of the key findings:

  • The school did not have an attendance roll call on site. 

A roll call of everyone who had departed for the camp was left on a bus that returned to Joburg. As a result, teachers did not have an available record of all the boys at the camp, and Mpianzi’s disappearance went unnoticed. Mpianzi’s body had been swept away by the strong river current and found 1.8km downstream almost 48 hours after he was last seen alive.

  • The camp did not have a sufficient supply of lifejackets

Shortly after arriving, the group of boys started their first water activity. They were instructed to form groups and build makeshift rafts to take into the water. Initial reports claimed that the boy’s parents could not afford a life jacket, and that’s why he drowned, but the investigation showed that no life jackets were used during the activity because the camp only had 12 lifejackets and according to them, these were only used for tubing, not the river activity. There were over 200 learners at the camp. 

  • The camp lied about the depth of the water 

In initial reports, the camp’s authorities said the activity took place in shallow water near dry land and that the water level was a meter lower on the day of the activity. The investigation found this information to be false and misleading. The water level was high and the current was strong. A number of boys struggled to stay afloat. 

  • The school did not have the authorisation to go on camp

The investigation found that the camp was not approved by the district and the now-suspended principal Malcolm Williams did not receive the proper authorisation to go on camp. Ultimately, the report showed that Williams, five educators and district members were negligent and reckless. 

  • Mpianzi was the fifth child to die at this camp site

Most shockingly, the report showed that in the past, four other learners died at the Nyati Bush and River Breakaway camp. Cases were reported in 1999, 2002, 2009 and 2010. All were due to water-related activities. 

Charges have been laid against people found to be responsible and the reports said Nyati should be held liable for the conditions of its camp. Gauteng schools have been prohibited from using the camp site. 

3. Coronavirus arrives in SA – we hope it’s not here to stay?

It was inevitable given the nature of our globalised world South Africa has three confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The comforting news however is that they’re all from the same travel group – ten people who made a rather unfortunate trip to Italy. And while some commentators fear our government isn’t ready, reports that have looked at the actual readiness of our systems and hospital say the country is doing its best. Both the Sunday Times and Financial Mail noted the country’s readiness and openness on the virus preparation. Let’s hope it stays that way. 

Two cases of the virus were reported in Kwa-Zulu Natal and one in Johannesburg. All were part of a trip to Italy, which has been struck hard by the virus. All three are now being kept in self-isolation and test results of the other members are due in a few days. 

The Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg and the Steve Biko Hospital in Pretoria were identified as two key facilities to help contain the virus in South Africa, with several more across the country designated as emergency centers. A quarantine expert, Guy Richards who supervised Ebola cases at the Charlotte Maxeke hospital also believes we are well-equipped, for now. His only issue is that things could get tight if the outbreak worsens. But then again, that would be the case anywhere in the world.  

Our hospitals might face a shortage of ICU beds and other healthcare facilities and resources if the outbreak expands. 

But this is a big IF. 

The interesting bit however, is that the outbreak is now worse OUTSIDE the country it started – China. Experts point out that’s because an authoritarian state like China has more control over its citizens – including allegedly welding their apartment doors shut. Similarly they can move fast to erect giant hospitals to contain people. A democratic, open country like Italy is harder to contain, especially given the demonstrative nature of Italians. Next time someone tries to hug you anywhere in the world, maybe try going for a wave or a namaste instead. 

Here’s the latest stats on the virus: 

Cases: 100 600

Deaths: 3 600

Recovered: 60 900

Highest death toll: China with 3 098 

South African pharmacies have seen a run on surgical masks and gloves but experts say these are of limited use. Rather remember to regularly wash your hands South Africa, and keep your distance. 

4.Everyone is talking about South Africa being back in a recession, but what does that mean really? ?

South Africa’s economy recorded two consecutive quarters of negative growth at the end of 2019, meaning that in the second half of last year, the economy did not grow. 

The data is historic, so technically, we were in a recession at the end of last year, and we’re not in a recession right now, not that we know of at least. So, let’s all take a breath, because, hey, we got through it.

Still don’t understand? 

Statistics SA releases our GDP or Gross Domestic Product data once every three months. The data is a record of how our economy performed in the previous three months, not how we are currently performing. We’ll know how we are doing now when Stats SA releases its next set of GDP data. 

The GDP is a measure of our economy’s output or productivity levels. 

Data shows that our GDP contracted by 1.4% between October and December last year, after contracting by a revised 0.8% in the previous three months. But don’t freak out too much. It may seem like we’re always in a recession but we’ve actually only had two technical recessions over two years. And this last year wasn’t all shrinkage: if you look at the entire year last year and not just the individual quarters, the economy did grow albeit a mere 0.2%, thanks to the finance, real estate and the business services sector.

But, we will tell you this, it is slower than the population is growing and it is relatively low compared to our annual growth in previous years. In 2018, our annual growth was 0.8%, but in 2014 our annual growth was 1.8%. 

YearAnnual GDP growth 
20190.2%
20180.8%
20171.4%
20160.4%
20151.2%
20141.8%

This year could be different. It’s like you having to stop watching your favourite show on Netflix because the power went out and now you have a backlog of ten episodes that you need to catch up on. It’s like a binge watch dilemma. Except, in SA’s case, it’s a bit more serious.  

The recession that everyone is speaking of is basically the economy in a backlog. We have to work a bit harder now to get things back on track.

So why the big dip last year? You guessed it: load shedding. Because we suffered frequent blackouts, businesses were forced to stop their operations, and that resulted in a decline of products and services. Therefore less sales and less money. 

Load shedding sucks but some say going ahead with load shedding instead of pushing our systems without proper maintenance is the price we have to pay for a consistent energy supply and planning going forward. We’re paying the price for mistakes made in the past at Eskom, but in some ways, we’re going to have to pay it at some point and stop kicking the can down the road.

The President himself said he was not surprised by the slowdown. With load shedding, it was kind of inevitable. Perhaps, his bigger worry now is what the rest of the world is going to think of him, firstly because this is the second recession under his administration, and secondly because we are waiting for Moody’s to rate us on our credit, which is currently hanging by a thread. 

The rating agency announced on Friday that it’s cutting its 2020 growth forecast for South Africa from 0.7% to 0.4% and that’s mainly because of the coronavirus. The agency said the virus could hurt our growth prospects and the economy, as it is, would not be able to absorb market shocks. Hectic. And it’s more hectic that this comes ahead of its credit rating decision, due some time this month. Is this a hint? 

Find out in the next episode of Verationality where we also give you a vide breakdown of what credit ratings downgrades ACTUALLY mean ?

Weekly inspiration

It’s easy to forget amid the economic gloom that South Africa narrowly evaded further state capture and is now working really hard to rebuild what we lost during Jacob Zuma’s disastrous reign. But there are really promising green shoots across government. 

Here are two we found particularly encouraging:

  1. NPA training programme

Our prosecutions boss, Shamila Batohi, said even her mother is asking her when those who robbed our country are going to be arrested. She also noted the sad fact that a. The national prosecuting authority was badly damaged during the state capture years and b. Even internationally, it can takes years to put together a winnable case to bring the powerful down, given their access to endless expensive lawyers. But the fact is, they are rebuilding – with the dodgy guys suspended and some good guys trying to piece it all back together. One particular programme, featured in this week’s Mail & Guardian, is heartwarming. It’s called the aspirant  prosecutors programme and it trains law graduates for a career in prosecution.In 2015, the programme was put on hold because of budgetary con-straints. For three years, there were no new prosecutors trained or hired at all. No it’s back in action to create a new generation of state prosecutors, to ensure the corrupt are brought to book. 

2. Sars rebuilding

Similarly, the South African Revenue Services is rebuilding under Edward Kieswetter after his predecessor Tom Moyane nearly turned the world class institution into a basket case. In a frank but promising cover page story for the Financial Mail this week, Kieswetter said cooperation has improved between crucial units like the Sars, the NPA and even the commission of inquiry into state capture. And while Sars lost thousands of highly qualified staff under Moyane, they are now working hard to win some back, recruit others and innovate with other solutions like simple AI-driven technology to trace tax evaders – which has already yielded results as we mentioned last week. 

That’s it for this week! Tell your friends to go to www.explain.co.za/subscribe to sign up for these updates and drop us a note on what you would like to see. Look out for our video on credit ratings downgrades, Coming to you soon. 

By Aarti Bhana and Verashni Pillay

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