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A win for Zondo…and the country

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 💁🏽‍♀

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▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 1. OUR TAKE: BUSHIRI’S ESCAPE AND THE CASE FOR REGULATING SA CHURCHES ⛪

Self-proclaimed prophet and pastor Shepherd Bushiri and his wife Mary made headlines this week after they skipped bail and fled the country.

The couple and two others are accused of money laundering and fraud to the tune of over R100 million. They were rearrested in Malawi after handing themselves over.

The question of how the Bushiris managed to steal away mid-proceedings is one thing. Quite another, is how they did business in SA under the guise of bona fide religious operations, undeterred, for so long.
When it comes to regulating churches, SA is behind the curve.

Botswana previously shut down Bushiri’s church after it could not provide its audited financials for the previous three years. In Rwanda, pastors have to obtain a three-year theology degree to register a church.

In SA, churches are pretty much unregulated, despite the mushrooming of dangerous movements that have been probed for fraud, sexual abuse, and the distressing trend of asking congregants to consume grass, petrol or worse.

State regulation is a dirty phrase for the faith community. But that means they must come up with solutions to prevent snake-oil salesmen from starting churches and taking their followers for a ride. They’d have to behave like other institutions in terms of being transparent about their financial affairs. For example: many churches continue to operate as businesses, despite being registered as public benefit organisations. Then there’s the lack of racial transformation at the helm of many white evangelical churches, which are not pressured to meet BEE targets.

It would be in the sector’s best interests to start regulating itself. Remember the media tribunal that the ANC threatened to impose on the media in SA? That was a grave threat to press freedom, but it jolted the media into action and it tightened up its own rules. If churches don’t want the government to regulate them, they need to come together and up their standards. ☝🏽

It’s possible to do so and maintain the sacred independence that churches rightfully value. Evangelical churches in the US are also at risk for predatory behaviour and financial misdeeds. To combat it, some have formed a self-regulatory body called the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, which mandates strict controls around how the organisation is managed, to reduce the risk of fraud and corruption.

It’s time for SA’s churches to come up with solutions – fast.

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 2. THE BIG STORY: A WIN FOR ZONDO… AND THE COUNTRY 💪🏽

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo emerged indomitable following this week’s drama at the state capture commission. And it’s a big win for both him and the country 🎉. He conducted himself impartially and fairly, despite irritating attempts by former president Jacob Zuma to paint him as biased.

On Monday, Zuma’s legal team argued that Zondo should step down because he was “biased” against Zuma. Zondo took a full two days to carefully consider Zuma’s application, opting not to brush it aside instantly as he easily could have done.

On Thursday, Zondo said he would NOT step down as chair of the commission. He pointed out that Zuma had waited nearly three years since the commission was established to raise his concerns. Then there’s the fact the commission tried repeatedly to get Zuma to come and state his case. Zuma appeared once with a rambling story of conspiracies, rather than answering the allegations against him, as he was supposed to do, and he refused to come back. Charming. 😏

Meanwhile on Monday, from a million-dollar flat in Dubai, his son Duduzane Zuma tweeted what is surely the most rhetorical question of the last decade:

“What did my father do?”

Oh, Duduzane. Where do we begin? 💭

Zuma has been implicated at the commission by no less than 34 witnesses. As president, Zuma was in charge when most instances of alleged state capture happened.

A quick reminder, for Zuma junior, of the allegations the former president needs to account for:

▪️ Firing former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene after he refused to approve the controversial nuclear deal, which the country could not afford.
▪️ Trying to get government’s communications department to spend millions of the government’s advertising budget on the Guptas’ newspaper, The New Age.
▪️ Interfering in the appointments of executives at state-owned enterprises like Transnet, attempting to appoint people who would help his friends, the Guptas.
▪️ Being present when former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor was offered a ministerial job by the Guptas at their home.

If history has taught us anything, Zuma will use every legal trick in the book to try to get Zondo removed – or delay proceedings. His team is already planning an appeal. But it will be hard to convince a court that Zondo hasn’t done his job. Stay tuned, Duduzane. 😉

▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 3. BRIEFS ✍🏽

🔸 Racism is ACTUALLY making us sick

Raise your hand if you’ve experienced racism and felt sick to your stomach 🙋🏽‍♀️. Well, it turns out that this may no longer be a metaphor: racism is ACTUALLY making people sick. The US’s largest association of doctors, the American Medical Association (AMA), called for racism to be declared an urgent public health threat. The AMA says racism “negatively impacts and exacerbates health inequities among historically marginalised communities”, and says structural change is needed to address the problem.

The AMA says doctors also need to acknowledge how racism and unconscious bias has had a negative effect on medical research over the years, and that the profession needs to support policies that will combat racism. About time.

Back in SA, racism and structural inequality is pretty much a national pastime. Now, raise your hand if you’d like to see our doctors follow their American counterparts’ examples. 🙋🏽‍♀️🙋🏽‍♀️🙋🏽‍♀️

🔸 SABC: Retrenchments vs bailout?

More than 400 staff members are facing retrenchment at the public broadcaster, the SABC. News of the planned retrenchments came to light this week with a video of SABC reporter Chriselda Lewis tearfully scolding management over its plans in a staff meeting.

It’s a tricky situation. Nobody wants to see workers retrenched, especially if they’re not the ones responsible for the historical financial problems at the SABC. It’s a result of years of political interference and bad management at the state broadcaster. But there is better leadership in place now, who will have to make tough decisions and deal with their predecessors’ sins. The SABC cannot continue as is. It will need R1-billion if it doesn’t make those cuts and it’s us, as taxpayers, who will ultimately pay.

Remember, the SABC is showing signs of a turnaround, as its coverage of the news becomes increasingly professional and impartial. It is a crucial part of our democracy and, as the primary source of news and entertainment for millions of South Africans, its survival is absolutely critical.

🔸 Matric paper leak

Authorities are investigating how one of the matric maths papers was leaked to matrics in EIGHT provinces this week (the Free State missed out). It’s not clear whether the paper will be rewritten, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said this week. But the penalties for those responsible will be harsh, Motshekga warned.

Leaks here are rare, with the last big leak in Limpopo in 2015 and 2016. In 2014, there was a matric exam cheating scandal in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

It’s a big deal for the all-important matric exams, especially since it’s been a torrid year for our matrics – and learners in general – thanks to Covid-19 disruptions and learners having to study from home, for the first time. We wish them luck for their exams and we’ll be watching those results early next year. 👊🏽

🔸 Will Ace pull a Zuma?

Is Ace planning to pull a Zuma? The Financial Mail’s reporting suggests that ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule has used the warrant of arrest was issued against him last week as a launch pad for a presidential campaign 😐.

Remember how Jacob Zuma played the victim after being accused of corruption and rape, and managed to become the president? Yip, same WhatsApp group – both Zuma, and now Magashule, appear to be painting themselves as the victims of political conspiracies. Now, as always, we have to issue our “politics reporting alert”: stories like this are generally based on anonymous sources and nothing is confirmed yet. But we’ve scoured what’s out there, and according to the City Press, Magashule and his allies are plotting his comeback: they plan to use his court case to allege that President Cyril Ramaphosa is using the Hawks and the NPA to stifle his political opponents (politics 😪).

While this strategy worked for Zuma, it’s doubtful whether Magashule will be so lucky. The ANC, and the country, has changed a lot since then; it doesn’t seem like anyone outside of Magashule’s merry band of supporters really believe he’s a victim. And Ramaphosa, for now, appears to have enough support from the party’s top brass to survive Magashule’s attack.

🔸 The future for HIV prevention looks bright

A new drug that could dramatically reduce the risk of contracting HIV in women has been called a game-changer. Top health reporting outlet Bhekisisa said that six injections a year of a new, long-lasting ARV called cabotegravir could dramatically bring down HIV transmission. A study conducted in seven African countries has reportedly shown that the drug is 89% more effective than current HIV prevention drugs on the market. The drug won’t be available for the next few years, though.

It’s a significant development for women, who reportedly make up 60% of new HIV cases on the continent. They’re vulnerable to sexual and other forms of abuse and, in many places, have very little say over what they can do with their own bodies.

It’s a timely reminder of just how far HIV research has come. A virus that meant a death sentence just a few decades back is now not only manageable like any chronic illness, but is also, possibly, preventable 🤞🏽.

🔸 Valve masks don’t work against Covid

We know that we’re all trying our best to be responsible and wear masks, but unfortunately, if you’ve been wearing masks with valves, you’ve been doing it wrong. New research shows that the valves don’t protect the wearer from tiny infectious particles, like Covid, because they allow for the air to be passed through, which kind of defeats the purpose. Remember, masks are supposed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 particles by stopping them from moving between people, and valve masks don’t work like that. These masks are best used by construction workers because they protect the wearer from large particles. How do you choose the right mask? 👇🏽

🔸 Covid-19 vaccine trial shows promise

Two Covid-19 vaccine trials are showing extremely promising results. The results of two pharmaceutical giants’ Covid-19 vaccine trials are out. Pfizer’s was 95% effective in preventing Covid-19 in its final trial results, while Moderna’s was pretty close, at 94.5%, in preliminary results.

It’s incredible news and a testament to modern medicine. But, complicated technical statistical information aside, some qualifications are in order. As The Conversation reports, the Moderna trial seems to prevent symptoms: it’s not clear whether it prevents infection altogether. However, the Moderna vaccine has an advantage over Pfizer’s – it doesn’t need to be transported in cold temperatures as Pfizer’s does, possibly making it easier to distribute at a large scale. But much more research is needed to get the full picture, so watch this space.

Much of this would not be possible without a $1 million donation to vaccine research by Dolly Parton, writer of the hit single “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine vacciiiiine.” (We couldn’t resist) 😁. Many are thrilled by her contribution, with a rabbi pointing out on Twitter that Jewish tradition holds that each generation is saved by 36 righteous people and Dolly Parton is one of them. We stan! 💃🏽

🔸 Ethiopia: No news is bad news

We’ve told you before about the internal war that started in Ethiopia earlier this month. As we said, it’s a bit like President Cyril Ramaphosa declaring war on the Western Cape and deploying air strikes on civilian areas. But imagine that as an ethnic war, between say a Venda-led presidency and a Xhosa government in the Cape. It’s VERY serious. But why haven’t you seen much about it? Well, because Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has ensured an information blackout. Journalists haven’t been able to get into the Tigray region, whose local government has had long-running tensions with Abiy’s regime. Neither have human rights groups like Amnesty International – though Amnesty has received photos of bodies lining a street, from civilians who were able to briefly get cellphone signal, The Mail & Guardian’s “The Continent” reported this week. Beyond that, the world has no idea what’s happening to the people there.

Now, journalists who have taken a stand are being targeted, with several arrested. There is also a frightening ethic angle to the persecution. As we’ve told you previously Ethiopia, under Abiy, had become a success story. He even won the Nobel Peace Prize last year! But, wow, how things have changed. Abiy’s initial democratic persona, of one who tolerated media critique, has given way to the makings of authoritarian powermonger. Pay attention to Ethiopia: the more pressure and eyes on its government, the better.

LOOKING AHEAD

🔹 Zim author up for Booker Prize

Tonight we will find out if Zimbabwean author and activist Tsitsi Dangarembga’s latest book This Mournable Body will win the prestigious Booker Prize. This comes as the 61-year-old author faces charges for inciting violence during anti-government protests in Zimbabwe. This Mournable Body is the third work in a trilogy that began with her 1988 novel, Nervous Conditions, which the BBC called one of the top 100 books that shaped the world, in 2018. She’ll be back in court on November 24, hopefully as a winner. 🥳

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

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Till next time, goodbye from Verashni, Tash, Aarti, Nontshi and Sarah ✌🏽

*CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly said that the evangelical regulatory body in the US is the Evangelical Free Church of America. The correct body is the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Explain regrets the error.