VBS and more – the tide is turning

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

It’s Father’s Day! And being a present father is, sadly, a rare phenomenon in South Africa. Over 60% of SA children grow up without their father, according to various data sources. So we celebrate the dads who are present, as well as all the mamas, gogos and others who stretch to fill the parenting gap. 🦸🏽‍♂️


  1. Turning point for justice in SA with VBS arrests
  2. Covid in SA: leading the way with a breakthrough drug
  3. International: Court smackdowns for Trump and Japan’s curious case of low unemployment
  4. Oh Shucks… Where’s Schuster?! A solution for politically incorrect films and other bits
  5. The big read: a day in the life of Zweli Mkhize

So, let’s dive in:


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Remember the great VBS looting scandal?

In mid 2018, VBS Mutual Bank executives were accused of stealing funds meant for municipalities, stokvels and the elderly in Limpopo. 😯

The big news is that the Hawks have finally arrested eight people for their involvement in ‘the great bank heist’.

The arrests include the bank’s former CEO, CFO, chairperson and a host of others linked to the scandal. Such as the KPMG partner who helped hide the trail, and allegedly received kickbacks in return – proving that corruption in our country is (depressingly) present in the corporate world as it is in government.

This is a landmark moment for justice in SA post the state capture era, and for our National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). The NPA has been battling to rebuild itself after previous presidents left the body hopelessly politicised. They’ve put one of their top prosecutors on the job.


While the ANC-led government in Limpopo should feel the heat the most, the EFF’s alleged involvement is likely to affect their party more.

Ongoing investigative journalism by Daily Maverick, in particular, has reported that money from VBS was channelled into the credit cards of EFF leader Julius Malema and his deputy Floyd Shivambu. Meanwhile, the Sunday Times’ Chris Barron grilled the ANC’s party secretary in Limpopo, Soviet Lekganyane. He said seven mayors possibly implicated in the saga were removed, but not expelled, and that disciplinary action will only follow if official investigations are conducted. 🙄

Thankfully, our justice system is catching up, and overtaking some of the compromised processes of political parties. 🙌🏽

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 2. COVID-19 IN SA 🤧

Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a few new changes to Level 3 of the lockdown. So yes, we ARE still in lockdown, in case you were wondering. Under what government is calling ‘advanced Level 3’, these will be opening:
– restaurants,
– accredited accommodation (except Airbnbs),
– business conferences and meetings,
– theatres, cinemas and casinos

Plus, you can FINALLY get that haircut. We know it’s been a long minute since you sat in the barber’s chair.

Parks, gyms and public fitness centres are still a no go, but some non-contact sports will be allowed. And no, there was no word on cigarettes. 🤷🏽‍♀️ The President said dates will be announced soon, so hold off on making those bookings and appointments.


Since the lockdown began, just over 1.2 million people have been tested for Covid-19, with over 83 000 of them testing positive. More than 1 700 people have lost their lives to the disease.

We are in the amplification stage of the virus, and SA is listed in the top twenty countries globally of confirmed, active cases in several indices. But, we also are testing higher than many other countries that are probably worse hit.

▪️ SA’s recovery rate is over 54%, against a world average of 50.87%
▪️ SA’s death rate is 2.03%, against a world rate of 5.23%

Has SA used the time it bought with the hard lockdown to adequately prepare for the peak of the virus here? The Mail & Guardian reported this week that the worst hit provinces (the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal) still need more staff, equipment and facilities to cope with the expected flood of patients.

🔹 A Covid-19 breakthrough drug?

A randomised trial conducted by Oxford scientists found that a widely used, cheap steroid drug called dexamethasone can dramatically reduce deaths in critically ill Covid-19 patients. The results came from the world’s biggest clinical trial for Covid-19 treatment.

The great news is that SA has PLENTY: 300 000 ampoules, or vials, in the country at last count as of Friday evening, according to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize. He added there were three major suppliers of intravenous dexamethasone in the country – one which supplies it globally.

Said Mkhize: “To have a South African enterprise be a manufacturer and supplier of a critical medicine, especially one that will prove to be lifesaving in the current global context, is a real departure from the norm, and so South Africans can take pride in being one of the countries that will provide a solution to a global crisis.” 🏅

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 3. INTERNATIONAL BRIEFS 🌎

🔸 Reforms ahead in the USA

We welcome the United States of America to the 21st century, after its Supreme Court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act makes it illegal to fire workers for being gay or transgender. More than half the country’s federal states still allowed such discrimination.

The best part? The 6-3 majority decision was written by Neil Gorsuch, a Donald Trump appointee. A few days later, the court again ruled against Trump’s interests, regarding a famous immigration programme reform.

“Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?” Trump tweeted just after the immigration decision was handed down. As New York Times columnist Frank Bruni puts it: “I merely get the impression that a majority of the justices are sane”. Spicy.

Staying in the US, police reforms are being mooted on the creation of a database to track police officers with a record of misconduct. Hear hear! And this suggestion came from the conservative Republicans, who are the party in control of the Senate – a very rough equivalent to our National Assembly. They unveiled their own set of police reforms, which are less radical than those put forward by the more liberal Democrats, but still promising.

🔸 Not much joblessness in Japan

While the rest of the world battles joblessness in the wake of the pandemic, Japan has barely registered a drop in employment, despite also feeling the economic impact. How? There’s several factors, but the main one seems to be a corporate – and country – culture to prioritise employees’ interests over those of shareholders.

Companies are expected to focus on the sustainability of their business rather than just maximizing short term growth, according to Naohiko Baba, chief economist at Goldman Sachs Japan. “During good times, companies accumulate profits on their balance sheets by restricting rises in workers’ salaries. During bad times, companies refrain from firing redundant workers by using retained earnings accumulated during good times, so that people can have secure jobs.” That sounds AMAZING to us.

🔸 Covid-19 trends

Brazil reported a record 35,000 new cases of Covid-19 in a single day! Shocking, but still probably an undercount. Their President is pretty much a Covid denialist, and has endangered his entire country. Meanwhile, India is also recording tens of thousands of new infections each week. And while the rate of deaths in the US are falling, new infections are spiking again. Anthony Fauci, the top US health official for infectious diseases, warned that the pandemic is far from over: “People keep talking about a second wave. We’re still in a first wave”.

🔸 North vs South Korea

North Korea blew up an empty building that was the equivalent of South Korea’s embassy, and with it, two years of peace-making attempts. Quick backgrounder: South Korea is the wealthier, capitalist version of the two, while North Korea is stuck is some sort of hellish dictator never-ending nightmare. The two nations are technically still at war, since they haven’t signed a peace agreement since the Korean War ended in 1953.

So why the fireworks? 💥 It came on the back of other agressions, and it seems North Korea is trying to manufacture a fresh crisis. The North’s stated reasons are bizarre: They’re upset that defectors, their own citizens who had fled their borders for the comforts and freedoms of the South, were lobbying balloons over the border. These held anti-regime leaflets and, wait for it, chocolate biscuits and flash drives full of Wikipedia pages, neither of which are available in the repressive communist country. As The Economist put it: “As theatrics go, it was impeccable.”


🔹 Mzansi shows trend globally

Streaming giant Netflix has been doing the rounds for fresh stories from across the world, and two South African series made the cut: spy thriller Queen Sono and teen mystery Blood & Water. Both are proudly South African, edgy productions with some flaws but overall of a high standard, and BOTH have been picked up for second seasons! This is a testimony to our country’s creativity and the rich stories we have to tell. The great bit: both series trended internationally with Netflix audiences AROUND THE WORLD. Blood & Water even reached the #1 spot in the US at one point. If you watched either, you’d know they’re rich with South African references, lingo and even indigenous languages. It’s kinda amazing to think how it resonates globally.

🔹 Keep it safe for work

A friendly reminder to TURN YOUR CAMERA OFF during virtual meetings if needs be… and more so, if that meeting is with the entire country. An official accidentally showed himself half naked in bed while “attending” a virtual parliamentary committee meeting, while Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille answered questions. The Department released a statement apologising for the incident, saying the official will face disciplinary action. Eek. It brings to mind this hilarious anecdote from a BBC “Lockdown diary confessions” feature. “I flashed my naked boobs at my hubby whilst he was on a work video call… forgetting that he was sitting in front of a mirror.” We can’t stop laughing. 😂

🔹 Oh shucks… Where’s Schuster!?

South Africa’s top-grossing film maker and perennial favourite across the colour line, Leon Schuster, has seen nine of his films pulled from Showmax, Multichoice’s digital streaming platform. These films all used blackface, including Mama Jack and Mr Bones. Schuster was shocked, but he’s previously acknowledged blackface is racist in a 2018 interview with the Sunday Times, saying he could no longer use it as a comedic device. Could he ever?

Well, as our norms evolve for the better as a society, another network, HBO in the US, has hit upon an interesting solution. They too removed the American cinema classic, Gone with the Wind, for its rose-tinted view on slavery. Now they’re bringing it back, but with a newly-added introduction by black scholar Jacqueline Stewart.

Meanwhile, South African comedian Rob van Vuuren, of Corne & Twakkie fame, has apologised for appearing in one of Schuster’s films in blackface. As far as apologies goes, it’s a pretty good one, noting the excuses he made to himself and others, and how it just wasn’t good enough – particularly as the white father of an adopted black child. 🤔

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 5.THE BIG READ 🤓

If you’re looking for something meaty to sink your teeth into, here are two beautiful reads we recommend this week:

▪️ Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize wrote a poetic diary entry, recording a day in his life in this strange and difficult time. It’s a must read for a glimpse into how much work is going into keeping South Africans, like you and me, safe. It’s behind a paywall for now, but will be made free to read later today, explain has learned from the Sunday Times.


▪️ We love this beautiful feature about three people who found themselves marooned in Cape Town during the lockdown, and used their time and expertise to play key roles in setting up a 60 bed medical facility for Covid-19 patients in Khayelitsha. It starts: “When Swedish engineer Rifad Saberg came to Cape Town in late March to visit his old friend Wendy Lutchman, he could not have foreseen that, two months later, the two of them would end up building a hospital together – for the second time.” Wow!

The unlikely story of Khayelitsha’s field hospital

🇼​🇪​🇪​🇰​ 🇦​🇭​🇪​🇦​🇩​

▪️ All eyes will be on Finance Minister Tito Mboweni as he presents his long-awaited revised budget speech to Parliament this week. The unprecedented nature of the pandemic has forced the government to relook at its financials mid-year, something it doesn’t ordinarily do.

Mboweni has already warned that we’ll be in a sovereign debt crisis as early as 2024, if spending patterns and policy do not change.

Mboweni told parliamentarians on Thursday that the situation has “radically changed”, and South Africa has to alter its priorities and allocate funds according to revenue, adding that the country needs to “live within our means”.

▪️ On Wednesday, we’ll also finally get to see the first quarter’s unemployment figures – results have been delayed thanks to the pandemic.

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 the explain team ✌🏽