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Lockdown level 3… loading

Hi there and welcome to The Wrap: simple news updates for busy people, brought to you by explain.co.za 💁🏽‍♀

SA is starting to ease its hard lockdown slowly and more freedoms are just around the corner. As The Economist notes this week, lockdowns are a brutal and blunt instrument that can’t be in place too long.

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EMOJI NEWS INDICATOR

  1. Ramaphosa to address the nation on lockdown Level 3 🔓
  2. Justice is coming for Zuma 🧑🏽‍⚖️
  3. Populists to authoritarians: International news 🌏
  4. Solutions: how you can help waste pickers, plus a fix for food parcels 🦹🏽

So, let’s dive in:

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🔊 For the audio version of The Wrap, go here

🗞 For text, keep scrolling or check out our PDF attachment

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▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 1. LOCKDOWN LEVEL 3… LOADING 🔓

Latest numbers: 24 May 2020

🔸 564 730 tests conducted
🔸 21 343 confirmed positive
🔸 10 832 active cases
🔸 10 104 recoveries
🔸 407 deaths

a. The big news: Level 3 unlocked

Right on time, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed South Africans this evening on what we can expect in the next phase of the lockdown – Level 3. This means further easing of restrictions from June 1.

Now, remember how this works: We only know FOR SURE what is, and isn’t, allowed once it’s been gazetted. As we saw with cigarettes: even if the President himself says it’s a go, it’s best to wait for it to be printed in a government gazette before we believe it.

However the news looks good. Here’s some highlights from what Ramaphosa had to say:

▪️ The entire country will move to level three, with special attention to certain hotspots, mostly in metro areas.

▪️ There was concern that some parts of the country would remain at level four, but it looks like that’s not the case. Some parts of the country may move levels as required.

▪️ Tshwane, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Nelson Mandela Bay, Buffalo City and Cape Town are some of the hotspots in the country.

▪️ People can now exercise at any time of the day! Yay!

▪️ Wholesale and retail trade will be FULLY open.

▪️ Alcohol is back! It will be sold at certain times and can only be consumed at home.

b. Cigarette ban still a controversy

Tobacco products will still not be sold, Ramaphosa said. The debate over cigarette and alcohol sales has been the most contentious of the lockdown regulations.

There was an apparent five hour meeting between members of the National Command Council (NCC) in part thanks to fierce debate over this issue. One thing is for sure, President Ramaphosa REALLY does believe in consensus!

The Sunday Times is reporting that Cogta Minister  wants to extend the ban on cigarettes. This is based on a belief (and evidence she apparently cited) that smokers who contract Covid-19 would require ventilators more than anyone else.

c. Phased opening of schools

It’s official: this week, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced schools across South Africa will reopen on June 1 for Grades 7 and 12, only. Teachers are expected to get back into the classrooms from tomorrow, to receive training about health and safety standards.

But Motshekga said that there are no guarantees that every pupil will be safe from contracting the virus. She also assured panicked parents that they will not be forced to send their child to school if they are not comfortable doing so, and encouraged home schooling as an alternative.

Motshekga said a revised school calendar, setting out new term dates, will be published shortly.

d. Government releases some of its modeling

After building pressure on government to release the details of the models it was using to inform national decisions, it did exactly that. In a webinar with journalists and the public, the Department of Health drew back the curtain on the various groups creating mathematical models to predict the course of the pandemic.

It was heartening to note that top expertise is involved, with a variety of views, and daily updates of the models as new information becomes available. A group of scientists presented a new projection model for Covid-19 infections and deaths in South Africa.

The bad news: our government is right to be as cautious as they’re being. South Africa awaits the full, devastating impact of the pandemic. According to the projections, this is what we’re looking at:

▪️ Infections at the peak:
Best-case scenario: mid-August, at nearly 1 million
Worst-case scenario: mid-July, at 1.2 million

▪️ Deaths by November:
Best-case scenario: 40 000 dead by November
Worst-case scenario: 45 000 dead by November

▪️ ICU beds needed by end of August:
Best-case scenario: 25 000 ICU bed
Worst-case scenario: 35 000 ICU beds

South Africa currently has only 4 000 ICU beds across the country, but plans are in place to acquire more.

The good news is that the prolonged lockdown helped flatten the curve and delayed the peak, according to Dr Sheetal Silal from the Modelling and Simulation Hub, Africa (MASHA), who led the presentation. She noted that these projections may change as interventions come into play, and as we move through different levels of the lockdown.

You may also have seen a heated debate around Professor Glenda Gray and News24’s coverage of her comments last week. If you want to know more about that, check out our video on it here:

And look out for Verashni’s column later today: “Four myths about Professor Glenda Gray: An anatomy of a self-created media storm”. You’ll find the link on twitter.com/verashni.

e. Economy

The South African Reserve Bank cut rates by another 50 basis points this week, bringing the repo rate to a 42 year LOW of 3.75%, and the prime lending rate to 7.25%.

According to economist Mike Schussler, the new reduction means the Reserve Bank has effectively cut the repo rate by 42% in five months. This can be both good and bad, depending on who you are, but what we know for sure is that it’s all thanks to Covid-19.

If none of this makes sense to you, check out our explainer on the Reserve Bank and why it cuts rates here

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 2. ZUMA VS THE LAW 🧑🏽‍⚖️

Yesterday’s outrage may be forgotten by the public, but our justice system still works away at it… long after the incident has passed out of the headlines. But we think it’s worth noting when justice is done – even if our attention is elsewhere. Our not-so-favourite ex-President was once again the subject of a legal matter.

This week, the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed former President Jacob Zuma’s bid to appeal the defamation case relating to former minister Derek Hanekom.

To jog your memory: in July 2019, Zuma tweeted that Hanekom was a “known enemy agent”, or calling him an apartheid spy. Hanekom took the matter to court, and wanted Zuma to pay R500 000 for defamation. The Durban High Court found in Hanekom’s favour, and Zuma was ordered to apologise and delete the offending tweet within 24 hours. Zuma exercised his right to appeal in November last year, but the SCA has thrown it out as having “no reasonable prospect of success” in an appeal. (If Hanekom is paid out by Zuma, he says he intends to donate the funds to Corruption Watch. Ouch.) 😕

This is the latest in a series of court losses for Zuma, including the LONG-running arms deal fiasco. Spoiler alert: after over ten years of trying to avoid those charges, they’re going ahead.

South Africans have every right to be frustrated when justice is too long in coming, or entirely missing. But we should also rejoice when it happens – especially when it shows that no one is above the law – including former presidents. 🤨

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 3. INTERNATIONAL NEWS ROUND UP 🌏

With almost 350 000 global deaths from the pandemic, governments all over the world are battling the effects of the disease. At the same time, over 2.2 million people have recovered. Here’s what’s potting in the rest of the world:

🔹 US President Donald Trump has declared churches, mosques and synagogues “essential services”, and demanded that they be reopened across the country. Trump even threatened to override state governors who refuse to reopen them – a power not possible for a US president. Many have interpreted the move as an attempt to rally conservative support in the country’s famous “Bible Belt” ahead of the US elections in November.

🔹 Meanwhile, “Trump of the Tropics”, as Brazil’s own populist president Jair Bolsonaro is known, also had a bad week. His second Health Minister quit barely a month into the job. His predecessor was forced out after facing off with the President on opening the economy and on downplaying the virus – with ruinous consequences. Oh, and Bolsonaro was also caught on video swearing up a storm, because he couldn’t prevent legal officials from investigating his family.

🔹 South African protestors wouldn’t be too comfortable in Spain: there it’s Toyotas over toyi-toying as a mode of protest. This week, the far-right Vox party urged supporters to drive through major cities, without leaving their vehicles, in order to maintain social distancing. Protesters in the nation’s capital Madrid drove in convoy and waved Spanish flags as they called for Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to resign, and to take full blame for one of the worst corona fatality rates in Europe. Now that’s some responsible protesting!

🔹 China had repeatedly claimed that Australia’s early calls for an independent investigation into the origins and handling of the coronavirus were a political “manoeuvre” against Beijing, as reported by the BBC. But on Monday, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, voiced support for a Covid-19 review led by the World Health Organization, although he said it should only happen after the pandemic was under control. His country has also just so happened to slap the Aussies with an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley imports, and banned some beef exports outright… but insists it had nothing to do with the investigation spat. Of course.

🔹 Speaking of China, the notoriously authoritarian country dropped a political bombshell on Hong Kong when it declared it would impose a national security law on the city. Now many fear this could spell the end of Hong Kong’s unique freedoms. The details are thin – but the proposed law would reportedly outlaw any act of:

▪️ secession
▪️ subversion
▪️ terrorism
▪️ activities with foreign forces.

This includes something as innocuous as mocking the national anthem.

The timing is certainly interesting. Hong Kong – which was handed back to China from British control in 1997 – has previously erupted in protests over Chinese incursions into their freedoms. It would be difficult for protestors now, with the pandemic occupying the world’s attention and making gatherings dangerous and difficult.

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 4. SOLUTIONS AND INSPIRATION 🦹🏽‍♀️

a. SPOTLIGHT: Recycling reclaimers

Every now and then we like to spotlight a particular area of interest that doesn’t always make headlines, but is an important part of our society. 

Today we’re talking waste pickers, recycling reclaimers, trolley men, city surfers… however you know them, they’re a familiar sight on suburban streets, and chances are you’ve seen them hard at work during the lockdown.

A pilot study conducted shortly before lockdown extrapolates that they reduce Pikitup’s collections by 5,866 tonnes every week in Johannesburg alone, and save municipalities about R750 million in landfill airspace… every year. That’s some valuable work they’re doing, though it mostly goes unrecognised.  

Lawyers for Human Rights brought an urgent court application for recycling reclaimers to be deemed essential workers when the hard lockdown first came into place, as they form part of the waste management services that become even more critical during a health crisis. The application failed, and was met unsympathetically by CoGTA Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who called it “opportunistic”.

Thankfully, since May 1, they’ve been allowed to return to work on Johannesburg’s streets, but they’re more at risk now than ever before. In addition, many of their usual point of sale sites remain closed across the country.

Yet, as some of the most vulnerable workers in society, Daily Maverick and GroundUp have reported how the lockdown has meant starvation for those who stop working. For those lucky enough to receive a food package, it means little when they know their families living far away and reliant on their income, will go hungry.

Wits University’s Dr Helen Sampson, working with the African Reclaimers Organization (ARO), has seen firsthand how those individuals with the expertise and entrepreneurial energy to step in where citizens fail to separate at source, and where municipalities neglect to play their part, are stigmatised, harassed, and sometimes criminalized.

In effect, waste pickers subsidize South Africa’s entire recycling industry. The CSIR reports that they collect between 80 and 90% of the country’s used packaging and paper. However, their marginalization means they receive a small fraction of the sale price for the recyclables they salvage, sort, clean and transport on foot across up to 25km a day, with loads weighing up to 200kg. 

What to know what you can do to help? the African Reclaimers Organization (ARO) shared some advice on their Facebook page:

▪️ Where possible, keep separated recyclables apart for a few days before putting them out for collection. This reduces the risk of infection for those handling it after you.
▪️ High risk sanitary waste such as dirty tissues that cannot be flushed away, should be sealed in clear bags or marked so waste pickers know not to touch them.
▪️ Keep organic, dry and sanitary waste in separate bags for handling.
▪️ Donate gloves, soap and hand sanitizers where possible. Leave out buckets of water with soap for reclaimers to access. This will help keep them safe.
▪️ There’s a BackaBuddy campaign for “African Reclaimers Organisation Solidarity” if you’d like to give.

Let’s thank these everyday heroes through these small acts of kindness.

b. When food parcels fail… look to farming

With reports of corruption and dire shortages, the food parcel system has not been optimal – to say the least. The Coivd-19 Solidarity Fund has come up with a smart solution: facilitating small-scale farming programmes and e-voucher systems.

This will sow money back into communities, and sustain people in the long run – something a limited food parcel program can’t do, the fund’s interim CEO Nomkhita Nqweni told the Sunday Times.

Plus, the e-voucher systems will give families the choice to decide on what they need in terms of food, she said.

The Solidarity Fund was set up by government in the wake of Covid-19, and accepts donations from everyone in South Africa. At least R120 million of the R2.6 billion raised so far has been spent on providing 300 000 vulnerable families with food.

The solution reminds us of the classic “teach a man to fish” proverb… We’re a fan of that principle.

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🔹 President Cyril Ramaphosa will address the nation at 7pm tonight… or sometime thereafter (he tends to be a little late). We’re expecting to hear more on lockdown levels and relaxing of restrictions.

🔹 We are also expecting to hear more from Ministers, as schools prepare to open their doors and as Level 3 looms. It’s going to be big.

Note: Last week we said that Q1 unemployment numbers will be out, but Stats SA have indicated a delay in publication due to Covid-19 and difficulties in collecting data. We also promised a package explaining the numbers, but we’ll hold back and release it ahead of the new figures. You can hold us to it.

That’s it from us at The Wrap, a product of https://www.explain.co.za/ – simple news summaries for busy people. 💁🏾‍♀

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Till next time, goodbye from Verashni, Nickolaus and Aarti ✌🏽