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Ace off base: will he see the signs?

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: ACE OFF BASE: WILL HE SEE THE SIGNS? ♠️

As we’ve told you before, the ANC has recently revived a “step-aside rule”. This says that people in the party accused in court of corruption should step down from both their government and party positions.

But Ace Magashule, the party’s secretary-general who is facing various corruption and maladministration charges, has refused to do so. Now, the ANC has obtained a legal opinion which is a further blow to its efforts to root out corruption: forcing people to step aside is basically suspending them – something that can’t happen without due process.

It’s easy to give up on the ANC entirely with news like this.

But there IS precedent for what the party wants to achieve. ☝🏽

Perhaps the best example is Thabo Mbeki. The former president was infamously “recalled” by the ANC in September 2008. The party accused him of misusing his power, in relation to Jacob Zuma’s corruption charges. Mbeki was later vindicated in court, but at the time he respected the party’s wishes and resigned before his term of office as president ended.

Mbeki had every legal right to refuse. But in stepping down, he arguably saved the country a constitutional crisis.

And this year, two public servants with excellent reputations got caught up in a PPE scandal: Gauteng health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku and Khusela Diko, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson. Both were removed from government and ANC duties when allegations of conflicts of interests arose involving their families and PPE contracts.

Neither have been found guilty of any wrongdoing and, unlike Magashule, neither have been formally charged.

If Mbeki, Diko and Masuku could show discipline and abide by party decisions, who is Magashule to refuse? The ANC needs to take a hard stance against him as they did with the other three. It has the opportunity to do so when its most senior leaders meet for the NEC next weekend. So far, the ANC hasn’t told Magashule to step down. But he’s one of the most senior leaders in the governing party – it shouldn’t have to. 😕

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 2. BIG STORY: TOP ACCOUNTABILITY MOMENTS OF 2020

As we start winding down 2020 (#Dezemba, is that you? 🏖), we’re looking back at the year that was. This week we’re doing a special edition of our regular Accountability Monitor. Over the past year, we watched the NPA’s clean-up campaign move into high gear. We also saw SA return to respecting international law, and a huge corruption-cleansing operation at Eskom.

Here are our top accountability moments of 2020:

  1. Dogged by years of political interference, the NPA under its new head Shamila Batohi bounced back with a bang in late 2020. Business Insider reported that over 100 government officials were arrested as part of a major government clean up in October and early November. Some of these arrests include:

▪️ The eight people allegedly involved in the looting of R2 billion from VBS Mutual Bank.

▪️ ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule and ANC MP Bongani Bongo, separately.

▪️ Alleged briber and bribee: Bosasa boss Angelo Agrizzi and former ANC MP Vincent Smith.

Putting together a case against corruption is really tough. It can take years to investigate, and many skilled investigators have left the NPA in the last decade. So if the NPA thinks it has cases ready to go to court, that’s a hopeful sign for the organisation. It’s also significant that smaller fish like municipal officials are being arrested, too.

  1. After years of being soft on human rights abusers, in 2020 SA decided to stand in support of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This came after the US, under Donald Trump, decided in June this year to reject the ICC. SA under Cyril Ramaphosa was one of 67 countries to support the ICC, which prosecutes crimes against humanity like genocide. This is a welcome change given how, under Jacob Zuma, SA tried to leave the ICC. This followed the embarrassing incident when SA refused to arrest former Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir – who was on the ICC’s wanted list – when he came to SA.
  2. Eskom is undergoing a major clean-up. A bribery case involving contractors at the Kusile power plant is currently in court, while over 5 000 employees were flagged for internal disciplinary action over a variety of allegations. It means that the SOE, which is bogged down by more than R400 billion in debt, is slowly cleaning house, and its newish CEO André de Ruyter has successfully navigated the politics of this fraught position.

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 3. BRIEFS ✍🏽

🔹 Rating agencies show no mercy

SA has been downgraded again – further into junk status. To put it very simply: a credit rating for a country is a lot like a credit score for you and I as individuals. The more likely you are to pay your loans, through good financial management, the higher your credit score.

But aren’t the ratings agencies being rather hard on us given the pandemic? After all, people around the world are questioning why the agencies aren’t putting their ratings on hold.

Yes and no. SA hasn’t yet implemented reforms it promised BEFORE the pandemic. But at the same time, the agencies have been rather harsh on most countries.
Unfortunately, with the government’s cost of borrowing increasing, it will either have to cut back on social spending or tax people more, according to Treasury. 😕 More here.

🔹 Time to walk the walk on GBV

This week marked the start of the annual 16 days of activism campaign against gender-based violence. President Ramaphosa also announced that five days will be dedicated to mourning victims of GBV. It’s always a bittersweet time of the year: on the one hand, we appreciate the activism – but on the other, we need to see action. Ramaphosa talked the talk this week, underlining the complexity of the problem during a virtual dialogue. He said harmful cultural and social practices were contributing factors to GBV. He’s also trying to ensure that police stations have proper evidence and survivor-friendly rooms, and that there are more specialised sexual offences courts in the country, according to News24. Ramaphosa is also trying to change the law to tighten bail conditions for people accused of sexual offences.

But the ANC, the organisation that Ramaphosa leads, just reinstated a former MEC to the party’s provincial leadership structure in Mpumalanga, even though he’s been charged with allegedly raping his two daughters. Time to walk the walk too, Ramaphosa. 🙎🏽‍♀️

🔹 Another matric paper leaked

Barely a week after a matric maths exam paper was leaked, a physics exam paper was leaked hours ahead of the exam on Monday. Details are sketchy, but the Department of Education and the Hawks are investigating. It’s not clear whether either paper will be rewritten; the department said this will be a last resort. Parent24 reported that a rewrite could be extremely stressful for matrics, who have already had a disrupted year due to Covid-19. So what can parents of anxious matriculants do should they have to rewrite the exam? According to a psychologist interviewed by Parent24: be calm, help your child keep calm, and help them see it as an opportunity to do better.

🔹 Uber tests cheaper new option, with trips starting from R19

Have you heard of UberNam? It’s Uber’s latest, cheaper offering with trips starting at R19! 😁 Currently, the cheapest trip is R25, but Uber needs to keep up with its competitor, Bolt, which has even cheaper rates. Uber started testing the service in Joburg and Cape Town. UberNam mainly uses hatchback cars, Business Insider reported. On the other hand, Bolt’s super cheap options have been controversial because drivers earn much lower rates, but TimesLive reports that UberNam drivers will get a bonus for using this option more often. However, both e-hailing services have been accused by the Competition Commission of paying their drivers below minimum wage, and other exploitative practices. New regulations for drivers’ wages are currently under discussion.

🔹 Shortage of psychiatric meds

Covid-19 has worsened the country’s already short supply of psychiatric medication, experts say. City Press reported that there’s now a greater shortage of psychiatric drugs and their ingredients, while their prices increased, due to higher demand for medicine because of Covid-19. The Department of Health instructed clinics and hospitals to provide patients with alternative drugs if the ones they need aren’t available, but that’s not always medically wise. One reason for the problem is restrictions on imports and exports across the globe during various lockdowns. The department has started buying drugs from new companies and is penalising drug companies for late supplies. We hope it’s resolved soon: lockdown has created enough mental stress already. 😓

🔹 How to spot fake Covid news

You know those annoying posts about Covid-19 that regularly do the rounds on WhatsApp and Facebook? 🙄 They seem pretty bogus, but you just can’t be sure? Spreading wrong information in the age of Covid is really dangerous AND illegal in SA, and it’s happening a lot. A group of established scientists published a simple guide this week to hack Covid fake news. Here are the highlights, courtesy of the Daily Maverick:

▪️ Make sure that whatever you’re reading comes from a credible news source.
▪️ Look up the name of the person giving the advice to find out if they’re credible.
▪️ Use established fact-checkers like Africa Check if something seems dodgy. The World Bank also has a WhatsApp fact-checking service on its website.
▪️ Posts that make you feel anxious or angry are often not true – real scientists generally don’t want to do that to us.

🔹 Covid on the rise?

As we’ve written before, it’s too soon to tell whether SA will have a big second coronavirus wave. But cases are rising in the country, driven mostly by a sharp increase in the Eastern Cape. There have also been upticks in the daily confirmed number of cases in the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. Western Cape premier Alan Winde this week said he would talk to the national government about possibly having area-specific shutdowns in the Cape Town area. Yikes 😱. It’s especially concerning given that the festive season, with all its socialising, is around the corner, along with the expected movement between the Western and Eastern Cape provinces. Health minister Zweli Mkhize is headed to the Eastern Cape to assist in dealing with the increase in cases. We really hope #Dezemba doesn’t get cancelled 😭 Keep it together, guys.

🔹 Proteas will not take the knee, this time

The Proteas have taken a controversial decision NOT to take a knee in support of Black Lives Matter ahead of their upcoming three-match Twenty20 international series, which starts on Friday. The cricketers, led by coach Mark Boucher, say they’re devoting themselves to gender-based violence instead, and will wear black armbands during the matches. Kagiso Rabada, the team’s most high profile black player, said that he personally supports BLM but that the decision not to take the knee was made by the team collectively. The team said they were committed to dismantling racism but that this was an ongoing process, not an event. In our view, it’s good that these issues are finally being discussed openly – but disappointing that the team won’t embrace the symbolism and potency of “the knee”, a gesture far more powerful than carefully-worded PR statements. 👀

🔹 Black friday goes digital

Sometimes it feels like Covid-19 has just taken it all from us… but finally, it seems like it’s giving something back: online shopping on Black Friday. For some, the day is shopping heaven, what with all the sales and specials on offer. For others, the images of people fighting to get into Game at 6am have them reaching for the Rescue Remedy 😓. But this year, the rush will mostly be online. And with everyone looking for a bargain after being left so cash-strapped this year, Black Friday sales are expected to be bigger than festive season sales, Financial Mail reported. Many retailers are trying to cater to the pockets of financially struggling consumers by making sure they’ve got enough everyday essentials for people to buy in bulk. Many outlets started their sales earlier in November too and some are offering “click and collect” services. Shopping online this Black Friday has the added benefit of promoting social distancing plus feeding some much needed cash back into the retail sector. That said, spend wisely. 😉

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 4. INTERNATIONAL NEWS 🌎

🔸 SA at the Grammys

South Africa is due to take centre stage at the Grammy Awards next January, it was announced this week. Comedian Trevor Noah will host the show and the nation’s long-lost daughter, Doja Cat (her allegedly very absent father is SA actor Dumisani Dlamini) is nominated for three awards, including the prestigious Record of the Year.

Several artists were upset at being snubbed, but none were quite as astonished as Justin Bieber. Bieber took to Instagram to voice his frustration at being nominated in the pop category for his Changes album, which he says has a “meticulous and intentional” R&B sound. 🥴 Some have called it “meticulous and intentional” appropriation 🔥. But the cultural appropriation debate is complex, so the jury is out on this one within the explain team. 🤷🏽‍♀️

🔸 Soccer legend Maradona dies

Argentinian soccer legend Diego Maradona died this week of a heart attack. He was just 60 years old. Maradona famously led the Argentinian team to a World Cup win in 1986 and was one of the most well-known – and skilled – soccer players in history. Off the field, Maradona struggled with addiction and health problems. But on the field, he was a legend. As The New York Times put it, “At Maradona’s feet, the ball seemed to obey his command like a pet.”

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 ✌🏽