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From Kamala Harris to Amanda Gorman, girls run the world!

Who runs the world? GIRLS! From Kamala Harris to Amanda Gorman, Shamila Batohi and Jill Biden (that’s DR Jill Biden to you), it’s been an amazing week for women🦸🏽‍♀️. Meanwhile, the latest Covid figures give us cautious optimism, but the disease has also taken the life of one of the country’s most admired politicians. This week, we think it’s long past time to take racism out of medicine – and we tell you why Bitcoin may glitter, but it isn’t always gold. Enjoy this week’s edition, brought to you by Verashni Pillay and the explain.co.za team 😄.

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▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 1. OUR TAKE: COULD THIS BE THE NEW NORMAL? 💃🏽

What a week for women!

Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first woman, first black, and first South Asian American US Vice President. She will work closely with newly inaugurated President Joe Biden. Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton tweeted a picture of Harris holding the hands of her young grand-nieces, pointing out that from now on, a black woman vice president will seem normal to them. 🙌🏽

The symbolism of “firsts” was everywhere: Harris was sworn in by the US’s first Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor. Dr Jill Biden, Joe Biden’s wife, will also be the first First Lady to continue her job as a teacher at a US university, while also tackling the onerous duties that come with being the president’s wife. Dr Biden has been lambasted by some (men) over the use of her title – she holds a PhD in educational leadership; – very few men who do the same have had to contend with such criticism.

Then there’s Biden’s cabinet, the first EVER in the US to have equal numbers of women and men. But the US isn’t a pioneer here: we’re proud to say that SA and Rwanda’s cabinets are the same 😁. And we can’t celebrate Biden without raising our glasses to Stacey Abrams, the black woman politician who galvanised support for him in the state of Georgia, effectively giving the Democrats control of the US Senate. 🥂

On Monday, the world also celebrated Martin Luther King Jr day, commemorating the work of the US civil rights movement leader. His daughter, Bernice King, tweeted that the day would not have been possible without her mother, Coretta Scott King.

And closer to home, three more excellent women have taken up senior roles at the NPA – all of them with eye-wateringly impressive CVs (more below). ✨

It’s true that the world has a long way to go before true gender equality is achieved. But we must celebrate progress where it happens, and support the women leading the way.

As King Jr once said: the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. This week showed that it is slowly bending towards gender equality, too. Strong women: may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them. This should be the NEW normal. 💪🏽

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 2. THE BIG STORY: GREENSHOOTS IN COVID-19 BUT WE’RE STILL IN THE EYE OF THE STORM 🌪️

Could SA’s new restrictions be working? Since the country entered its second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic around 9 December, cases have soared beyond what was seen during the first wave. That prompted President Cyril Ramaphosa to put the country on advanced level 3 lockdown at the end of December, with a new curfew, an alcohol ban and restrictions on gatherings.

The number of cases and deaths has since steadily spiked. BUT in the past few days, we’ve seen the number of cases decline. Is this cause for cautious optimism? The slowing of the second wave? 💭

A quick recap ☝🏽: SA’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases says a second wave is a new wave, lasting one or more days after the first wave has ended. It happens after the previous wave’s peak, where the caseload is at least 30% of the previous peak’s caseload.

Dr Ridhwaan Suliman, a senior researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, tweeted this week that the percentage of tests coming back positive is trending downwards. This week, Western Cape premier Alan Winde declared the province’s second surge over. It’s possible that the advanced level 3 restrictions are bearing fruit. 😓

All of this is good news. But – and there’s always a but – this pandemic is not going anywhere just yet.

The Guardian this week reported that, without a vaccine, SA could face a third, and possibly even a fourth wave. And vaccines for the entire country will not arrive for many months.

President Ramaphosa says the country is better prepared for a third wave than it was for the second. Still, he’s urged SA not to be complacent and to keep social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks. It’s the only way we’ll see the end of this wave, or the next.

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 3. BRIEFS ✍🏽

🔸RIP Jackson Mthembu

Covid-19 just won’t let up. Minister in the Presidency, Jackson Mthembu, died of Covid-related complications on Thursday, the Presidency confirmed. Mthembu was vital to the government’s Covid communications efforts, and was the face of the government during press conferences and live television addresses, patiently fielding questions from journalists. He served as the ANC’s chief whip in Parliament too, and was the party’s national spokesperson. Mthembu was not only a seasoned communications professional, a calm and well-informed voice for the government, but a fundamentally decent human being too. RIP. 💐

🔸 Amanda Gorman – remember the name

She’s the beautiful African American woman who, at just 22, recited a powerful poem at US President Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday night. At 19, she rose to fame as the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate in America, and we can understand why. Dressed in a stunning yellow coat and red headband which adorned her like a crown, Amanda Gorman fiercely spoke about the division that grips America and used her poem, “The Hill We Climb” to inspire unity, togetherness and hope, the BBC reported:

“And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine,
but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.”

Goosebumps, right? 😌 Poetry isn’t her only forte – she’s an activist and an author. She aspires to be so much more, as she told The New York Times in 2017: “This is a long, long, faraway goal, but 2036 I am running for office to be president of the United States.” If she is America’s future, then we can’t wait to see it. 🥰

🔸 What’s the word with vaccines?

Apart from when their January salary is arriving, the only thing South Africans really want to know is when our vaccines will land. Here’s a quick run-down: SA has bought 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines from the Serum Institute in India. These are expected to reach home soil between January and February. Worryingly, Business Day reports that SA will be paying almost double the price for these vaccines compared to what the EU negotiated with AstraZeneca last year. That’s because those countries invested in the vaccines’ research and development. And as we are all painfully reminded every time President Ramaphosa talks, SA is kinda broke 😟. But Ramaphosa has promised that, come hell or high water, SA will find the money to pay for its vaccines. Treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane said this week that vaccines could be paid for through emergency funding, made available by the Treasury, with talks of a tax hike also on the cards… (Please no: our wallets are already screaming). SA has also secured vaccines via the African Union and the global vaccine effort called Covax, which should arrive later this year.

🔸 Time to put Zim government in the naughty corner

Like a petulant child who throws a violent tantrum whenever it’s told it can’t get its way, the Zimbabwean government has continued its crackdown on anyone and everyone who doesn’t sing its praises. Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was again arrested in early January, for the third time in six months, for allegedly “communicating falsehoods”. Translation: he didn’t say very nice things about the government. The Zim government has been on his case, first for allegedly inciting violence during anti-government protests and for being a government critic. Zimbabwe cracked down on other critics: Booker Prize-nominated author and activist Tsitsi Dangarembga faces similar charges. The government arrested two opposition figures too. Amnesty International said the government’s actions were consistent with the constant harassment and intimidation against anyone demanding respect for human rights, transparency, and accountability in Zimbabwe in the recent past, Daily Maverick reported. Perhaps it’s time someone sent the government to the naughty corner. 😏

🔸 Missing Bitcoin honcho

It may be easier to run away when your paper trail is made of code. That appears to be the case for the CEO of South African Bitcoin trader, Mirror Trading International (MTI), Johann Steynberg. News24 reports that there has been no word from Steynberg for four weeks, since the company effectively collapsed in December 2020.

About 260 000 MTI members invested almost $880 million into the company in the hopes of a 10% monthly return on their investments, Bloomberg reports.

Steynberg is thought to have control of the company’s wallet, containing 17 000 Bitcoins – that’s about R9 billion – deposited by investors.

Investors were informed on Telegram 😆 that they would not receive their returns or initial investments. The Finance Sector Conduct Authority, which regulates financial institutions in SA, said the company had no license to provide financial services and appeared to be misleading clients, Bloomberg reports. Authorities in South Africa and the US are investigating. It seems that all that glitters is not gold, even for Bitcoin.

🔸 Take racism out of medicine

If you’re a black or non-white doctor in SA accused of fraud, you’re more likely to be found guilty than your white colleagues. A report by the Council for Medical Schemes (CMS), which regulates medical schemes in SA, found that black medical practitioners were 1.4 times more likely to be found guilty of fraud, waste or abuse, than their white colleagues.

Business Day reports that the investigation looked at fraud investigations by the Government Employees Medical Scheme (GEMS), Discovery Health, and Medscheme.

On Sunday GEMS, the country’s biggest medical scheme for public servants, and the Board of Healthcare Funders (BHF), an industry association for medical schemes and administrators, lost their legal bid to stop the release of the interim report. The report is “interim” because the medical schemes haven’t commented yet, so the findings could change.

Nevertheless, the interim report is a victory for black doctors who complained that they’re unfairly targeted.
Judging by this report, it’s clear that it’s time we took racism out of medicine.

🔸We don’t need no education?

Picture a middle-class teenager in a suburban classroom: everyone is wearing masks and social distancing. Now picture a rural learner: upwards of 30 children crammed into a small classroom, with little or no running water for handwashing. These are the scenarios the government faces as it wrestles with how to reopen schools safely during Covid-19’s second surge.

The department of education has delayed the reopening of schools until 15 February.

Safety protocols are not in place in many schools, according to a new survey, City Press reports. Yet the SA Paediatric Association says that children are less affected by the new variant of the disease than adults, as was the case with the original virus, Daily Maverick reports. There are also concerns about the school nutrition programme – which feeds millions of children – being disrupted.

Private schools can reopen, and many have, raising concerns about how school closures might put less wealthy children at a disadvantage. There are no easy answers to this one, and we hope the department prioritises making our poorer schools Covid-19 safe – soon.

🔸Uganda’s opposition leader under house arrest, runs out of food

Bobi Wine, who leads Uganda’s opposition party, the National Unity Platform, was placed under house arrest following the nation’s elections, which he alleged were rigged. The elections saw the incumbent, 76-year-old Yoweri Museveni – who came to power in 1986 – retain his office yet again.

This week, Wine tweeted that he and his wife had run out of food and his wife was assaulted by soldiers, who had surrounded their house, when she tried to pick food from their garden. He said his headquarters were raided by troops on Monday, Reuters reported.

The couple is now caring for an 18-month-old niece who had visited them before they were placed under house arrest. Her father has been denied access to her. “We have run out of food and milk. No one is allowed to leave or come into our compound,” Wine said.

Opposition supporters were repeatedly cracked down on in the run-up to the election, and 54 people were killed during one week of protests in November, Reuters reported. But while the government may have taken Wine’s freedom, for now, they haven’t silenced him on social media. He’s brought the world’s attention to what’s happening in Uganda, and that will be making Museveni worried and angry.

🔹 Accountability monitor

Shamila’s kick-ass all female team

You strike a woman, you strike a rock, as the saying goes. The NPA, already headed by the excellent Advocate Shamila Batohi, rocks even more now that it’s added three more incredible prosecutors to its already formidable senior leadership. Batohi, as we’ve reported before, made huge strides in the fight against corruption last year.

Advocate Hermione Cronje heads the NPA’s special investigative directorate which looks specifically at corruption, and her team is behind some of the biggest cases on the books right now. Three new brilliant women have been appointed:

▪️ Adv Priya Biseswar as special director of the Asset Forfeiture Unit;
▪️ Adv Bonnie Currie-Gamwo as special director of public prosecutions responsible for sexual offences and community affairs; and
▪️ Adv Lebogang Dineo Baloyi as special director of public prosecutions responsible for specialised commercial crime
If their impressive CVs are anything to go by, criminals in SA are going to need some seriously thick gloves.

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 Sarah, Verashni, Aarti, Nontshi, and Tash ✌🏽