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Thanks for listening to science, Cyril

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

So, let’s dive in

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▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 1. OUR TAKE: THANKS FOR LISTENING TO SCIENCE, CYRIL (AND SORRY FOR LAUGHING AT YOUR MASK GAFFE) 😷

We at explain would like to apologise to President Cyril Rampahosa for laughing when he fumbled while trying to demonstrate how to use a face mask months ago. Watching a billionaire businessman epically fail at wearing a mask was hilarious at the time. But across the Atlantic, another billionaire businessman failed at wearing one – and it was decidedly less funny.

In case you missed it, the leader of the free world has a serious case of the ‘rona. It now appears that Donald Trump has managed to infect half of Washington with Covid-19 thanks to his aversion to wearing a mask and maintaining social distance from anyone but the Democrats 🤦🏽‍♀️. This was evident when he did a drive by in Washington this week with a car full of people.

Some drive-bys involve gangsters spewing bullets. This one featured Trump spewing… you get the picture. 😏
The Guardian reported this week that Trump has infected at least five members of his inner circle, including his wife, and at least five senior Republican Party leaders. Last week, Trump appeared in a debate with fellow presidential contender Joe Biden, and teased the latter for wearing a mask.

It would be easy to poke fun at this terrible karmic turn of events were it not for the seriousness of the situation.
So, we are grateful for our political leaders who have been consistent about the need for masks and social distancing throughout the pandemic. And for the vast majority of our citizens, who have not made wearing a mask a divisive political point in the way we’ve seen elsewhere.

Granted, SA’s leadership has made mistakes. But who hasn’t almost poked their own eye out trying to put on their mask in a hurry, at least once? In all seriousness, the fact is that Ramaphosa and his ministers have set the example by listening to the science on Covid-19 from the get-go. 👏🏽

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 2. THE BIG STORY: STATE TAPS MAY FINALLY BE CLOSED TO PUBLIC SERVANTS IF RAMAPHOSA ACTS 👷🏽

No business associate or immediate family member of ANY public servant should do business with the state. Sounds good, right?

So you’d think that those who represent public servants would be the most against it, correct? Think again. ☝🏽 Cosatu, a labour federation representing largely government-employed nurses, teachers and the like are the ones behind the proposal.

It’s a stunning (if rather bleeding obvious) solution to an age-old South African problem: officials looting from state coffers via their spouse, children and associates’ businesses.

But the officials doing the looting are the ones UP the food chain, and it’s costing those at the bottom the most.

We all know Finance minister Tito Mboweni needs to cut costs when he presents his budget this month. Civil servants are likely to feel the pain most. They already won’t get increases this year. Why should nurses and teachers have to carry the burden of a government crippled by looting, when some municipal managers earn more than ministers do (yes, really), and private sector baddies like the Steinhoff bosses are not in jail? 🤐

Cosatu’s proposal was, amazingly, agreed upon by business AND labour. That’s a bit like trying to get oil and water to agree on a choice of salad dressing for the main course. It’s a pretty great show of unity, following the PPE tender corruption that shamed the nation. But it’s far from becoming policy: the proposal was “heavily resisted” at a meeting of the ANC’s top dogs over the weekend. And the resistance reportedly came from across the party – not just the state capture faction.

Trade unions are pushing back, and with good reason: they’re having to pay the bill for stolen money. So, unions are making a noise: on Wednesday Cosatu and independent trade union federation Saftu went on a national strike over unemployment and corruption.

The ANC fighting this proposal is just plain stupid. Our country needs this sort of policy. News that there’s tension between unions and government generally is about as shocking as Margaret Thatcher’s grey pant suits (so, not at all). But the ANC and President Cyril Ramaphosa need their support.

The party’s argument that the proposal may be unfair and infringe on personal freedoms doesn’t hold water. A legal opinion has already stated that such a law would be perfectly constitutional, as the Financial Mail reported this week.
Cosatu helped Ramaphosa become ANC president in 2017. Now it is hinting at withholding support for him. Even if Ramaphosa can win without them, his reform agenda demands the party should implement this proposal.

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 3. BRIEFS ✍🏽

▪️ Police stand by as farmers run riot outside court

Residents of Dakar, Senegal may have been confused this week when concerned friends and relatives called asking about rioting farmers in their neighbourhood. But it was actually South Africa’s Senekal, in the Free State, that was the scene of farmers rampaging outside a court.

And in case you’re wondering whether our next sentence was going to be about the police opening fire on them, you’d be wrong. Apparently that kind of thing is reserved for mineworkers and students.
The police reportedly stood by this week as farmers torched a police van and tried to overturn a nyala outside court, where men accused of attacking a farmer appeared. According to The Sowetan, this was because the police did not want to jeopardise the safety of innocent bystanders. A police spokesperson was also threatened for doing her job.
We would never advocate for the police to open fire on anyone, but the hypocrisy is worrying. These farmers should not be allowed to behave with impunity while the police stand by.

▪️ Woolies CEO: How to wreck a business and get paid millions

Imagine being appointed CEO, devastating your company’s value, and then walking away with more than R70 million? That’s exactly what’s happened at Woolworths, our go-to store for gorgeous and overpriced culinary goods. The company’s former CEO Ian Moir will receive R43m and stands to get another R34.3m as a “restraint of trade” payment down the line. This, after he made one of the worst foreign investments in SA history with the disastrous purchase of David Jones, an Australian department store chain. Under Moir, Woolworths paid over R20 billion for the upmarket brand. It’s since written off well over half that investment. There’s a LOT of backlash over Moir’s windfall, and big shareholders like Allan Gray want to have a chat with the company over the decision. After all, as shareholder activism organisation Just Share has pointed out to Business Day TV, Moir’s package shows the company is “deaf to the context in which they operate”.

▪️ Is Ace’s number up?

Are the Hawks coming for ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, who has been implicated in allegations of corruption? The National Prosecuting Authority and the Hawks have been on a roll lately with state capture arrests (see ed’s picks) so we wouldn’t be surprised.🤷🏽‍♀️. But the Hawks denied dodgy reports from IOL this week that they’d issued a warrant for the former Free State premier’s arrest. The whole thing smelled fishy like a coordinated campaign to summon sympathy for Ace. Spoiler: it didn’t work. If anything, the country would probably have a celebration so big it would make Siphiwe Tshabalala’s 2010 soccer world cup opening goal look like a day of standing in the queue at Sars 👀.

▪️ Happy birthday, Arch!

Nobel peace prize laureate, Prince Harry and Meghan’s hero and everyone’s favourite Anglican cleric, Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu turned 89 this week. He’s one of the last remaining anti-apartheid activists of his generation, and every year that he’s still with us is a treasure. Given that we lost the last living Rivonia trialist, Andrew Mlangeni, this year, we’re feeling particularly sentimental 😢. From Tutu’s anti-apartheid activism to his vocal support for lesbian and gay rights, “The Arch” has been a voice of moral clarity in our country for decades. Recently, his activism has moved over into the environmental sphere, and his foundation used his birthday to call for action on climate change. From all of us at explain… Happy birthday, Arch!

▪️ An octopus’s student goes viral

It’s spawned some hilarious memes, raised questions over unremarked-upon privilege and now the South African production, My Octopus Teacher, has become a global hit. Last week it won the top prize at the global Jackson Wild Media Award – widely considered the Oscars of nature films – and came out on top in several major categories. It has also been featured in publications like the Washington Post as a must-see, with some celebrities filming their reactions and vowing never to eat octopus again. The simple doccie, mostly shot underwater, captures a year that producer Craig Foster spent with a wild common octopus and how it changed him 🐙. Check it out on Netflix.

▪️ Accountability monitor

This week, we premiere our new explainer series on accountability: Accountability Monitor.
We’ll be tracking the latest in corruption-related arrests in both the public and private sectors.

Head to explain.co.za to read our first edition here.

This week, we’re talking about VBS:

VBS’s former CFO, Philip Truter has pleaded guilty to fraud and corruption and has been sentenced to an effective seven years in jail. This follows the collapse of the VBS bank, in which millions – including the pensions of the poor and elderly – were allegedly stolen to enrich banking executives. There have even been allegations that the money was siphoned off to the EFF and the ANC, but the parties deny it. The question now is: who will Truter take down with him, and is the EFF’s Floyd Shivambu a little or a lot scared?

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 4. INTERNATIONAL 🌏

▪️ Harris keeps Pence on the back foot

Off the back of the disastrous US presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden last week, vice presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Mike Pence went toe-to-toe on Wednesday night.

Well, it was more like well-heeled toe to flat-footed one: Harris kept Pence on the back foot from the first minute. When confronted with his administration’s failures on the coronavirus Pence, with all the emotional depth of a teaspoon, offered condolences to the families of the more than 210 000 Americans who have died as a result of the virus 😐.

The debate also highlighted a terrible double standard in politics. Black women, like Harris, are held to remarkably higher standards than white men like Pence. Instead of offering his own ideas and defending them, Pence, with drone-like platitudes, spent the debate defending his boss, Trump. Harris, on the other hand, had to show that she is her own candidate.

Fortunately, she is her own candidate, and it showed on Wednesday night. An “undeniable talent”, as the New York Times called her, Harris didn’t let Pence off the hook on his administration’s failures, and refused to let him talk over her. A lawyer by training, she is the former attorney general of California, a position similar to our head of public prosecutions.

Harris has her flaws, too, and her track record on criminal justice is controversial. But on the whole, watching undeniable talent obliterate Trump’s 2IC was a pleasant reminder that there is still hope for the future of American politics. And that hope is black, and a woman. ✊🏽

▪️ Sudanese artists stand up for democracy

Sudanese artists are standing up for democracy. On Thursday, pro-democracy activists and artists in the Sudanese city of Omdurman will release a Charter for the Protection of Art and Artists. This follows the imprisonment of a group of artists in the North East African country, which was run by dictator Omar al-Bashir for 30 years until a coup last year ended his rule. A group of artists, including a film director, were sentenced to two months in jail for causing a “public nuisance” when they were rehearsing a theatre workshop. But the group believes the government, of which they are highly critical, is trying to silence them. The sentences were overturned, but six other activists remain in jail. The activists and artists are currently staging a four-day-long “artistic revolutionary sit-in”. Viva the revolution!

▪️ Nobel honours women

It was a good week for women in the various Nobel prizes. Of the awards announced so far, women took top honours for Chemistry, Literature and were part of a joint win for physics. US poet Louise Glück became one of 16 women to have won in literature in 119 years (among them SA’s own Nadine Gordimer)😄. On the physics side, three scientists shared the prize, including Andrea Ghez – the fourth woman to be awarded a Nobel prize in physics. “I hope I can inspire other young women into the field. It is a field that has so many pleasures, and if you are passionate about the science there is so much that can be done,” she said. The big question is who will take home the most well-known of the prizes: the Nobel Peace Prize, set to be announced tomorrow. Environmental activist Greta Thunberg and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have been mentioned as possible awardees and would continue the streak of women winning. 💃🏽

Looking ahead

Stories on our radar this week:

🔸 Former President Jacob Zuma is meant to appear before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture on October 9, but he has once again come up with a reason not to and is unhappy with how he’s been subpoenaed. It’s unclear whether he’ll turn up at all.

🔸 Finance Minister Tito Mboweni is counting down the days to the mid-term budget speech on October 21. In the coming week, Parliament’s committees will submit recommendations on how Mboweni should divide up the budget.

🔸 The second US presidential debate is scheduled for October 15, but Donald Trump is refusing new rules to debate remotely with Joe Biden, saying he didn’t think he was contagious. Right. So it’s, um, debatable whether it will go ahead.

Ed’s picks

Head over to explain.co.za to find our ed’s picks of the week.

🔹 We break down the latest state capture arrests and why they matter here
🔹 The ANC’s new economic plan explained
🔹 Covid-19 second waves around the world PLUS will SA have one? Found out more here

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, Sarah, Samina, Aarti and Natasha ✌🏽