What. A. Year. If it wasn’t the Covid first wave, it was the second surge. If it wasn’t the second surge, it was the Covid-19 variant 🤦🏽♀️. That’s why we decided to bring you this good news edition of The Wrap. We all need a little bit of cheering up, and guess what? There’s loads of good news to go around. Check it all out in our special Christmas Good News Edition of The Wrap, brought to you by Verashni Pillay and the explain.co.za team 😄.
🔷ᴏᴜʀ ᴛᴀᴋᴇ: ᴛʜᴇ ʙɪɢɢᴇsᴛ ᴡɪɴs ᴏғ 𝟸𝟶𝟸𝟶
Unless you’ve been asleep under a rock on Mars for the past year – in which case, you’re probably toast anyway – you know how hard 2020 has been. In fact, there are probably alien life forms in plumes of sulphuric acid on Jupiter’s moons who are feeling more positive as the year ends. Ok, that’s a tad dramatic, but it has been a really hard year.
Which is why we’ve decided to bring you an explain Good News Edition. As we started to plan it, we realised how much good news there is to go around.
SA is changing for the better in so many ways. Yes, really.
Our courts have made our country more just, while scientists have made the world a better place. And internationally, there have been seismic shifts (you’re fired, Donald).
There’s been no shortage of South Africans who have done us proud this year, and on the leadership front, women have excelled. There’s also the Covid-19 vaccine, and greenshoots in the economy after a torrid year of job losses.
But for us, the biggest news story of 2020 has been how the wheels of justice have (finally) started to turn.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has had its work cut out for it, with over a decade of state capture and corruption to probe and prosecute. In 2020, NPA head Shamila Batohi and her team took no prisoners, which is why we’ve dedicated the first section of this edition to accountability.
Meanwhile, the State Capture Commission of Inquiry, now in its final year, was depressing to watch at times. It exposed how deep the rot of government corruption goes. But the way deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo and his team carried out their work, mercilessly but fairly tracing every lost rand and cent, was admirable.
So, while Covid changed our country for the worse in many ways, with so many of our friends and family falling ill, SA is looking brighter in other ways.
Here’s to a fairer, healthier, happier SA in 2021!
- Zondo: give that man a Bell’s
Deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo has done more than just run the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture admirably. He has let the facts speak for themselves, exposing conspiracy theories (and lies) for what they are.
Zondo faced the likes of Jacob Zuma, who accused the commission of being part of a plot to undermine him politically (like he needed any help in that regard…). But Zondo held his own, carefully using the law and facts, not politics, to deal with Zuma’s threats.
Zondo has listened to years of sometimes technical, and often infuriating, accounts of looting at state-owned enterprises and other institutions. His calm demeanour and fair approach has given us confidence in the commission – and hope that those who have stolen from the state will be exposed and brought to book.
- NPA clean up
At least 100 people were arrested this year in a huge clean-up operation, Business Insider reported. From former Free State premier Ace Magashule, to the alleged looters of VBS Mutual Bank and the Bosasa executives implicated in state capture, the NPA has swept through the provinces and municipalities, arresting corrupt business people and their co-conspirators in government.
It’s long overdue: thanks to years of political interference, the NPA was weakened, and lost loads of top prosecutors and investigators. But under new head Shamila Batohi, and her colleague Hermione Cronje who heads a special investigating unit at the NPA, this crucial organisation has new vigour. It just goes to show what can be done when people of integrity are put in charge.
- ANC accountability?
Could things be changing for the better within the ANC?
The ANC’s integrity commission – a body of party elders that is supposed to make sure party members act ethically – ruled that secretary-general Ace Magashule must step aside after his arrest on charges of corruption.
Magashule’s referral to the commission was initially seen as a sign of weakness for the Cyril Ramaphosa camp, as many people questioned why the president didn’t just remove him. But referring Magashule to the commission showed that Ramaphosa is playing this one by the book, making sure he isn’t seen to be playing politics.
Now that the commission has ruled against Magashule, it seems Ramaphosa’s strategy is paying off.
- #PayBackThe (corporate) Money?
Companies linked to corruption paying back the money? Unheard of, right? Not anymore.
The State Capture Commission of Inquiry has called on companies linked to corrupt activities to come clean and refund the state. Like global consultancy firm McKinsey, which got paid millions to work with parastatals like Transnet and Eskom.
McKinsey partnered with a company called Regiments, which allegedly passed some of the money it got from those contracts on to the Guptas. McKinsey paid back some of this money in 2018, and again this year. AmaBhungane reported that McKinsey possibly owes more.
But it sets an important precedent, and with the commission’s public call for other companies to do the same, business could start being held to ethical standards, and not just legal ones.
South Africans making us proud
- Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah, the South African comedian with charm, intelligence and good looks, has won the whole world over. He made us proud when he was chosen to host The Daily Show in the US back in 2015, and again in 2018 when he was named one of the most influential people in the world by Time Magazine.
And in the latest installment of ‘Trevor making SA proud’, he will be the first South African to host the 62nd Grammy Awards next year. The world is really his oyster, and we’re happy to say his journey started in sunny SA.
- Banyana Banyana
South Africa’s national women’s soccer team, Banyana Banyana, had us ululating with celebration after winning the Cosafa Women’s Championship title for the fourth time in a row. Banyana Banyana also holds the highest total wins in this Southern African tournament, with SEVEN titles to date. Plans are reportedly underway to ensure that Banyana Banyana receives equal pay to their male counterparts for their international wins.
- Our science superhero
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Dr Salim Abdool Karim!
Epidemiologist, director of the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in SA, chair of SA’s Covid-19 ministerial advisory committee, and all-round-good-guy, Dr Karim didn’t just spearhead SA’s scientific response to Covid-19 – he was also awarded this year’s hugely prestigious John Maddox Prize for “standing up for science during the coronavirus pandemic”.
He shared the award with Dr Anthony Fauci, the internationally renowned US chief scientist on Covid-19. Dr Karim said he was “deeply honoured” to receive the prize alongside Dr Fauci, his friend and colleague.
The judges said Dr Karim “has a reputation for clear and honest communication, something that has allowed him to generate public trust in fast-moving science. Respected for his international science advocacy, engaging with the media and the public has become integral to his role as a scientist.”
We couldn’t agree more.
- Dancing during a pandemic?
Did you heed the call by President Cyril Ramaphosa to join the #JerusalemaDanceChallenge? It was the other thing that went viral this year, except this was a goodie.
Thanks to an Angolan dance group, South African artists Master KG and Nomcebo Zikode’s song ‘Jerusalema’ spread across the world. The dance group choreographed a routine which helped the song go viral, and got the whole world jamming to this South African tune. It spread hope and cheer during the devastating year that was 2020. We’re just glad South Africa has a, uh, foot in it.
- Ebola outbreak over
The human spirit is a wonderful thing: even in the face of fear and devastation, we manage to defy the odds.
Take Ebola, for example. The virus was discovered in 1976, but the worst outbreak took place in west Africa from 2014 to 2016, killing over 10 000 people. Thanks to science and a massive, global effort, the 10th outbreak of this lethal virus was officially declared over in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in November this year.
There are lessons we can take from Ebola for Covid-19: Ebola vaccines had to be transported to far-flung rural areas while being stored in cold temperatures. The World Health Organisation says those lessons, and the same technology, could be used to distribute Covid-19 vaccines.
Another lesson: healthcare workers really are heroes. Like with Covid-19, so many fought and died bravely to save lives in the face of the Ebola crisis. We salute them.
- HIV breakthroughs
Another win for humanity, and especially SA, has been the many breakthroughs in the fight against HIV this year.
New drugs were developed, from improved and easy-to-swallow medication for children, to advances in preventing mother-to-child-transmission.
But one of the biggest developments is a new anti-retroviral drug called cabotegravir. Studies show it is 89% more effective at reducing the risk of women contracting the virus. It can be administered by tablet or injection.
There are also three HIV vaccine trials underway. It’s enormously positive for SA, where according to UNAIDS, 7.5m people still live with the virus.
- Covid-19 vaccine
It’s here! Less than a year since the outbreak of Covid-19, science came through for a world desperate for a vaccine.
Two vaccines, produced by pharmaceutical giants Moderna and Pfizer, have been authorised by the US Food and Drug Administration. High-risk people and healthcare workers in the US, UK and Canada are getting jabs. In an effort to promote the vaccine’s safety and push back against the anti-vaxxer movement, US president elect Joe Biden got his shot this week.
The debate about equal access to the vaccines among the world’s poorer countries rages on, but we’re celebrating the scientific achievement.
This week, SA made its first payment towards a global vaccine initiative that could see us accessing small quantities of the vaccines next year, and that’s something to look forward to.
- Electoral reform
Thanks to a Constitutional Court ruling in June, soon you can run for office in SA elections without having to join a political party. More people running for office means increased competition in our democracy, making our democracy even healthier.
- Win for domestic workers
They’re the unsung heroes of our society, keeping our homes running, often with very little pay. But until 2020, domestic workers could not claim for compensation if they were injured on the job, unlike any other worker. Crazy, right? Now, a Constitutional Court ruling says they should be treated like all other employees – they should be compensated if they’re injured at work. It’s a huge victory for the helpers at the heart of our homes.
- Air pollution
We’ve all seen the plumes of pollution billowing from Eskom’s coal power stations, a reminder of the health and environmental costs of our biggest source of electricity. Until now, no one has been able to get Eskom to clean up its act and improve SA’s air pollution problem.
But in 2020, the NPA decided to charge Eskom for failing to comply with national laws around air pollution. Eskom’s Kendal plant is emitting too much pollution, the NPA says. Worse, Eskom appears to have lied about just how bad the pollution was. SA has laws that govern the levels of air pollution, and now that those laws are being enforced, we can all breathe a little easier.
- Economy rebounds
SA’s economy took a beating during 2020, thanks to the pandemic.
But the economy took a turn for the better from July to October, growing by 66.1% on an annualised rate. There was growth in sectors such as manufacturing, mining, and accommodation, leading to more employment.
Experts warn that the rebound comes off of a really low base, but it is a shot in the arm for our ailing economy and a source of much needed hope for SA.
- Goodbye, Donald Trump
Internationally, the good news story of the year has to be the US election, which saw the ejection of Donald Trump from office after one term.
Enter President-elect Joe Biden: we’re seeing signs that he will take Africa more seriously than his predecessor. As the Financial Mail reports, where Trump alienated Africa, Biden has extended an olive branch. Trump never visited Africa during his presidency, and referred to immigrants from Africa as “people from these shithole countries”.
Biden, however, has reached out to countries Trump alienated, including SA. He personally phoned President Cyril Ramaphosa in November. Plus, Biden’s ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a black woman, reportedly has loads of experience in conducting diplomacy in Africa. She knows the continent well, and self-identifies as an “Africanist”.
Here’s to brighter beginnings.
- Hello, women leaders!
Not all countries have been equally devastated by Covid, fortunately. And what do most countries getting it right have in common? They’re led by women.
As The Guardian reports, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Denmark have all had lower infection rates than other countries, and they’ve got women at the helm. Germany and New Zealand, both led by women, have also been praised for their responses.
Why? These women leaders responded to Covid-19 with “proactive and coordinated policy responses”, according to the World Economic Forum. It’s true that having a woman leader isn’t a silver bullet to the world’s problems – women leaders have their flaws, too. But the research suggests that where countries have more systemic gender reform in their countries, women leaders have the support they need to perform better.
Read our deep dive at explain.co.za to see how women leaders aced their Covid responses earlier in the pandemic.
- Countries commit to ending climate change
Covid-19 has felt like the biggest threat to humanity this year, so it’s easy to forget another ever-present existential threat: climate change.
So we were thrilled to find out it HASN’T fallen from everyone’s agenda: a number of countries made ambitious commitments to cut their emissions in 2020. China pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2060, EcoWatch reported. Similar pledges were also made by the EU, UK, Japan and South Korea.
Even SA approved its own emissions reduction in 2020. It’s a HUGE step in the right direction from these large greenhouse gas emitters.
- Forward, young people!
All over the world, young people stood up against corrupt and oppressive governments, and it was inspiring to watch.
Take the #EndSARS movement, for example. Young Nigerians turned out in droves to protest against a brutal police unit. The government clamped down violently on the protests, morphing the movement into a broader rejection of oppression and bad governance in the country. As The New York Times reported, the government was forced to promise reforms and the unit has been dissolved, showing the power of a movement whose time has come.
But it was bigger than Nigeria. Time Magazine reported that Hong Kong, Chile, Sudan and Lebanon were just a few sites of youth struggle in 2020. School strikers all over the world protested against climate change. And in Italy, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and even Iraq, young people have been making their voices heard against poor governance, united in saying: “the system is not working”, according to Time.
And they haven’t lost their sense of humour, either. Hundreds of TikTok users and K-pop fans lobbied followers to buy tickets to a Trump rally in June – and then not show up, the New York Times reported. The Trump campaign denied that the lower-than-expected turnout was due to the online boycott, but try telling that to the pranksters.
It shows that the bad PR this generation gets – lazy, entitled millennials – is just that: bad PR. 2020 showed us that the youth of today are vibrant, involved, and are moving the needle towards a more just world.
That’s it from us at The Wrap, a product of explain.co.za – simple news summaries for busy people. 💁🏾♀
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Merry Christmas if you’re celebrating, and a happy, healthy festive season to all our wonderful subscribers.
Till next time, goodbye from Sarah, Verashni, Aarti and Nontshi ✌🏽