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Covid-19: It’s far from over

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

“You may have lost interest in the pandemic. It has not lost interest in you.”

This stunning quote is courtesy of The Economist this week. The consensus is that the virus is just getting started across large swathes of the world. We’d do well to pay attention as South Africans: in today’s edition we explain how Gauteng is peaking sooner than expected.

And The New York Times has a constantly updated world map that shows the number of new cases is growing faster than ever worldwide – and ebbing slowly in just a tiny number of countries that were hard hit early on.

It’s a great visual of the virus’s reach. You can see it here:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/world/coronavirus-maps.html

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  1. The big story: Gauteng infections surge
  2. Other news you need to know: More grades back to school
  3. International round up: Donald Trump battles in re-election campaign

So, let’s dive in:

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🔊 For the audio version of The Wrap, go here


🗞 For text, keep scrolling

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▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 1. LOCKDOWN 2.0 FOR GAUTENG?

Gauteng’s 15 million citizens could once again go into hard lockdown if the country’s top body on the pandemic, the NCCC, decides so. 🤧

Gauteng Health MEC, Bandile Masuku, has asked the National Coronavirus Command Council to implement an ‘intermittent’ hard lockdown in Gauteng as cases spiral.

The country’s most populous province and major business hub has reported a total of nearly 60 000 cases and over 280 deaths. And things are accelerating, with an average daily increase of nearly 4 000 this week. Gauteng could soon overtake the Western Cape as the epicentre of the virus in South Africa and is heading towards its peak at least one month earlier than expected, experts say.

The numbers have been on a steep incline ever since the hard lockdown was lifted and restrictions were eased to allow more businesses to open in June. Now, hospitals are filling up faster than anticipated and the concern is that there may not be enough beds and resources to save those in need. Currently, Gauteng has just about 8 000 beds across public and private sector hospitals. The government says it has plans to create 1 500 more emergency beds in Chris Hani Baragwanath, the AngloGold Ashanti hospital and the Dr George Mukhari hospital cluster.

The Nasrec isolation and field hospital facility, which was created to ease the pressure on hospitals, is also starting to fill up, Daily Maverick reports. The problem with these facilities is that many of the beds do not have piped oxygen capability, so very sick patients will still need to go to another hospital, a Gauteng health spokesperson told Daily Maverick. Meanwhile, doctors on the ground also voiced concerns about the lack of oxygen supplies and other essentials.

The NCCC is yet to make a decision over Gauteng’s lockdown, but the chances seem slim: Ramaphosa himself said in a briefing that there are no plans to impose a level 4 or level 5 national lockdown and legal cases against the lockdown regulations also make things harder. But if Masuku’s case proves strong, Gauteng could see shops closing, again.

Read more about this story here

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 2.NEWS IN BRIEF

🔹 Back to school for more learners

It’s official. If your kids are in Grades R, 6 and 11, it may be time to bring out the uniform, shine their shoes, pack their bags and get the lunchboxes and masks ready because it’s back to school for them tomorrow. (Unless of course, the minister decides on a last minute reversal like the last time) 🙄. Schools are reopening even though numerous school unions and organisations oppose it. Since schools opened in June, over 900 schools have had to close down thanks to outbreaks that have reportedly left scores of students and teachers infected. But the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools, one of several recognised voluntary associations of school governing bodies, says it is safer for children to be back at school. The Minister held a press briefing today to discuss the preparedness of schools.

If you’re still not convinced about your child’s return to school, remember that sending them back is still voluntary. And if you’re thinking about homeschooling instead, here’s our quick 101 on what you need to know to get started.

Although bear in mind, even superstar Charlize Theron – who is famed for doing many of her own stunts – said she finds homeschooling her two kids “incredibly stressful”.

“I will make any action movie over and over and over again before I homeschool again,” Theron said in a recent interview. 😂

🔹 Here’s what municipalities SHOULD be doing

Every year the country’s auditor general (AG) checks out the finances of the country’s municipalities. These include the eight metros – SA’s major cities like Joburg and Cape Town where you likely live. Every year, we get fresh bad news about the state of local government in this country. And the report for 2019, released this past week, was worse than usual. 😕 It looked at 257 municipalities and 21 municipal entities. Irregular expenditure exceeded R32 billion – up from R24 billion in the previous year and only TWENTY municipalities had a totally clean audit! A further 91 achieved one level down from that – unqualified with findings. (Unqualified in this instance is a GOOD thing). The rest were dire in auditing speak.

Interesting takeaways:

▪️ The Western Cape is often the star performer: 13 of the 20 clean municipalities were from this province.

▪️ The Western Cape is the only province controlled by the opposition DA. The credit is due to the technocrats who are focusing on getting clean audits but also to the political will to make this a priority. The DA’s historical strategy has been to showcase its governance in the areas it wins. This has gotten a bit lost in the recent murky infighting within the party, but this ongoing fruit of the party’s early strategy shows the party should return to these basics.

▪️ Municipalities that get it right are those with leaders working closely together across different levels towards the goal of a clean audit, and who pay attention to their financials throughout the year – not as a token, annual exercise, where expensive consultants are brought in.

🔹 Zondo Commission kicks off with a bang!

Remember the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture? It resumed hearings this week and SA’s Passenger Rail Agency (Prasa) was in the spotlight. The inquiry probed links between former Prasa CEO Lucky Montana’s property deals from 2013 to 2016 and their suspicious takeover by a company called Precise Trade and Invest. Precise is a shelf company owned by lawyer Riaan van der Walt, who is also, wait for it, Montana’s lawyer. Van der Walt allegedly used the cash to pay off two high valued properties on behalf of Montana. The police and the Hawks have been investigating cases relating to some of Montana’s property dealings.

Refresher: The inquiry was launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa, as recommended by former public protector Thuli Madonsela, in response to the CRAZY level of corruption that happened under former President Jacob Zuma and his dodgy business buddies, the Gupta family. It’s looked at allegations levelled at a bunch of state-owned entities like Transnet, SAA, Denel, SABC and of course, Eskom. This level of corruption is referred to as state capture – when the very people at the top are in cahoots with the crooks, and awarding them contracts.

The inquiry kicked off in August 2018, so it’s been… a while. It doesn’t have prosecuting powers but it is collecting bucket loads of evidence that the National Prosecuting Authority will use when it’s rebuilt itself, after also suffering the effects of the wasted years under Zuma.

As we always say here on The Wrap, don’t lose hope! Justice takes time. After all, look at the VBS arrests last month.

🔹 Cape Town evictions – another spectacle

You may have seen a video this week showing the city of Cape Town’s anti-land invasion unit and Metro Police dragging Khayelitsha resident Bulelani Qholani out of his shack naked. Qholani was beaten and his shack was torn down by the officers. The video went viral and sparked a march to the Harare Police Station in Khayelitsha to protest the action. The officers involved have since been suspended. But the incident has once again raised questions about police brutality and ill-treatment of the poor in South Africa, and ongoing anti-poor action by the City of Cape Town. Qholani returned to the shack, rebuilt by his neighbours and has opened a case against the city.

🔹 GDP contracts for third consecutive quarter

At least we knew it was coming. South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) for the first three months of the year contracted by 2.0%. This is the third consecutive contraction. South Africa reported GDP contractions of 1.4% and 0.8% in the last two quarters of 2019, respectively – thus deepening the recession. The recent data does not fully reflect the impact of the lockdown, as that was called on March 27. The next GDP data will properly reflect the impact of lockdown on South Africa’s businesses and economy.

🔹 Old Mutual appoints permanent CEO – finally

Old Mutual finally appoints Iain Williamson as the company’s CEO after winning a tiresome battle against its ex-CEO Peter Moyo. Moyo was dismissed in June last year over a breakdown in trust and an alleged conflict of interest due to his links to investment holding company, NMT Capital. Moyo put up a tough fight to keep his position as the CEO and Old Mutual never backed down either. The company’s shares took a bit of a knock at the time too. Williamson was appointed as interim CEO amid the battles, but now it’s official. He’s in and Moyo is…. MIA.

🔹 SA mourns veteran actress Mary Twala

Known for her roles in Sarafina, SOS, Muvhango and others, 80-year-old veteran actress Mary Twala and mother of SA television personality Somizi Mhlongo passed away on Saturday. Twala was widely praised for her acting career, which spanned over 60 years. She was nominated for an Africa Movie Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in 2011, and she also received the Order of Ikhamanga from president Cyril Ramaphosa in 2019, for her contribution to the performing arts.. RIP Mama. 💐

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

When will governments learn that an iron fist only gets you so far?

There are two examples this week of authoritarian governments forcing irrational and harmful rules on their citizens.

🔸 Mainland China vs Hong Kong

We’ve spoken before about China imposing a draconian new national-security law on Hong Kong. Well, they’ve already made their first arrests under this law.

Quick history lesson: Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 after 156 years of being a United Kingdom colony. Under the agreement, Hong Kong would follow a “two systems, one country” policy, that would allow it to pursue a more capitalist and democratic model than China’s communism. Hong Kong saw incredible economic growth and has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. It was supposed to enjoy this relative independence until 2046 buuuut… China got impatient after those Hong Kong student-led pro-democracy protests that rocked the world from 2014 (remember how amazed we all were at how highly disciplined and brave the sit-in protesters were?)

Now, such protests are illegal, and Hong Kongers can be jailed for life for vaguely defined crimes such as “subversion” or “conspiring” with anyone abroad to provoke “hatred” of the communist regime. Sigh. Britain’s Boris Johnson and his usually immigrant-resistant government has offered all Hong Kongers born in the country while it was still a British colony to live and work in the United Kingdom under very generous conditions. Australia may join them with an offer of its own – partly because Hong Kongers are seen as the “right” kind of migrants by these conservative governments. As The Economist puts it: “Hong Kongers are unlikely to compete for fish-packing jobs in Grimsby.”

🔸 Zimbabwe: Cry the beloved neighbouring country

Many were cautiously optimistic when dictator Robert Mugabe was overthrown by the country’s military in 2017, and his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa promised that Zimbabwe would have free elections and be “open to business”. Well… so much for that. As the Financial Times notes, Mnangagwa’s government has returned to international pariah status because of repeated abuses by security forces and corruption scandals that have shut off its access to financing. And so Zimbabwe’s longsuffering citizens have had to endure yet another prolonged hyperinflation crisis.

Their authorities meddled with the country’s currency so much that the cash in their wallets lost real value. Faced with a “Zimbabwean dollar” worth a fraction of what the government claims it is, and a shortage of foreign currency, mobile money transactions have bloomed. Rightfully so. But in repressive regimes, innovation suffers – especially when it shows up the system. So the system reacts by trying to shut it down: now authorities have suspended most mobile-money transactions, claiming a “conspiracy” to undermine the country’s currency 🙄. No conspiracy… You guys did this all on your own.

Authorities also suspended trading on the stock exchange, where traders had been observing share prices to estimate how much the currency is really worth. If you’re South African you probably know a Zimbabwean living in our country sending money home to their loved ones. This makes it that much harder.

Other international briefs:

🔸 US rapper Kanye West has announced he is running for US president. But one never knows whether to take Ye seriously. He cozied up to US President Donald Trump for a while, before a very public turn as a born-again Christian and now this announcement.

🔸 Speaking of Trump, his re-election for a second term as president seemed likely before the pandemic. Now… not so much. His rival in the Democratic party, Joe Biden (Barack Obama’s former deputy) is leading predictions. As The Economist puts it: “The virus has demonstrated something definitively to a large number of persuadable voters: that Mr Trump is just not that good at being a president.” Still… it’s a long time till the November election.

🔸 Mississippi’s legislature voted to remove the Confederate battle flag, which references the country’s ugly slave history and civil war, from the state flag. It only took them till 2020 😶 It’s the last US state to do so.

🔸 The European Union reopened its borders to residents from 14 countries where the virus is under control, such as Canada and New Zealand.

🔸 Our homeboy Elon Musk’s electric car company Tesla has overtaken Toyota to become the world’s biggest carmaker by market capitalisation. This means what the company is VALUED at, not what it actually makes. It has yet to turn an annual profit.

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 Aarti, Verashni and the rest of the explain team ✌🏽