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Spygate: the shocking details of SA’s spooks

Vaccines roll-out in South Africa? You heard right. Turns out our government has a vaccine plan after all, and we could reach herd immunity by the end of the year. Which is a good thing, because then we can go back to worrying about normal problems – like the shocking details that emerged about our country’s spies at the state capture commission this week. We’ve got the details below, along with the rest of the news you need to know from the week that was.

So, let’s dive into your weekly simple news update, brought to you by Verashni Pillay and the explain.co.za team 😄.

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▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 1. OUR TAKE: SPOOKS BLEW MILLIONS ON JZ’S FOOD-TASTERS 🧐

It’s a spy versus spy story, the likes of which even the best crime novelists would struggle to craft. 🤐

Four witnesses – two of them anonymous – at the state capture commission of inquiry this week exposed the rot at the heart of the State Security Agency (SSA).

A quick recap: the SSA is supposed to keep the country safe against foreign and domestic threats, much like the CIA in the US. But it has been corrupted, like so many intelligence agencies everywhere, to serve politicians.

Under apartheid, the country’s intelligence agencies were used to target anti-apartheid activists, torturing and murdering to entrench the system. The politicisation of intelligence gathering should have ended in 1994. Clearly, it did not – although President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration has done a lot to try to clean up the SSA.

This week we learned that, under former President Jacob Zuma, the SSA essentially became a private security and publicity machine for Zuma and his cronies. The SSA targeted civil society, the media and Zuma’s enemies. Plus it wasted a staggering amount of money – the agency allegedly cannot account for R9 billion worth of assets. It has denied this.

Millions were spent making sure Zuma’s food wasn’t poisoned (for real 👀) and providing his allies with security. Former state security minister David Mahlobo is still a member of Ramaphosa’s cabinet.

Lawyers showed how Iqbal Survé’s Africa News Agency (ANA) allegedly received R20 million from SSA to publish pro-government and pro-Zuma coverage. ANA denied that it was an SSA front – but in the same breath, said the organisation was contracted to provide “positive stories about SA and the SA government”.

It is time to rein in the spies once and for all. The commission is doing some of that work, as transparency around the SSA is desperately needed. It’s important. In this game of spy versus spy (or is that spies versus the people?), it’s the country that loses. 😟

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 2. THE BIG STORY: COME AT ME, VACCINES 💪🏽

As more than one tweeter put it this week, not since 2013 has a plane landing from India been so anticipated in SA. This time, it’s not the Gupta family touching down at an airforce base for a raucous family wedding: it’s the arrival of the first batch of vaccines in SA from the Serum Institute of India.😁 The plane carrying this precious cargo will arrive on Monday, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced on Wednesday night.

These first vaccines will go to our healthcare workers, who are battling the disease under extremely difficult circumstances. Mkhize outlined the government’s updated vaccines plan, after weeks of speculation as to whether one existed at all. Turns out many armchair critics had perhaps prematurely panicked.

Here’s what you need to know:

▪️ Regulators will take 10-14 days to clear the vaccines before they’re sent to the provinces.
▪️ 30 million doses have been secured in total. Apart from the 1.5 million from India, we will get another 12 million doses from international vaccine vehicle Covax and an additional 12.5 million doses via the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team – the first tranches of both are set to arrive between March and June.
▪️ The plan is to vaccinate 40 million people, or 67% of the population, before the end of the year. This would achieve herd immunity.
▪️ The programme will be rolled out in three phases, starting with healthcare workers, the elderly, essential workers, and people with underlying health conditions. The rest of the adult population will be vaccinated last.
▪️ No one will have to pay for the vaccine upfront. Government will pay for those who are uninsured, and medical aids will pay for those who are.
▪️ Everyone will get a vaccination card and will be put on a national registry.
▪️ We’ll know more about where the money will come from in the 2021 budget announcement, happening in February; the Solidarity Fund will also chip in.

Mkhize assured us that the vaccines have been gone through all the proper testing and that they’re safe for use. As The Economist pointed out this week, vaccination campaigns can take a while to show fruit. But it is the best chance we have at stopping this pandemic once and for all. 🙌🏽

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 3. BRIEFS ✍🏽

🔸 Eat the rich? No, tax them!

In a country as unequal and financially strained as ours, it’s tempting to say, “eat the rich” (to quote Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau). But a group of academics has a better idea: tax them! An annual tax on SA’s richest people could raise over R160 billion for the country, a new report by groups including the World Inequality Lab, led by inequality experts like Thomas Piketty, shows. Business Tech reported that such a “wealth tax” could narrow inequality in SA, where the richest 1% of the nation owns 55% of personal wealth. 🤯

SA’s wealth inequality is reportedly worse than that of France, the US, the UK, Russia, China or India!

The proposed tax would affect the richest 1%; that’s around 350 000 people. And SA could really use the extra cash. The experts say that adding R160 billion to the fiscus would be a serious boost to our cash-strapped national purse. It would cover the vaccine roll-out several times over. Anyone else feeling a little bit peckish? 😋

🔸 Biden’s making good on climate change promises

When US president Joe Biden was on the campaign trail, he promised to make climate change one of his administration’s key pillars. Many skeptics said that, with so many climate change denialists and fossil fuel lobbyists stalking the halls of Washington D.C, he couldn’t do it. But he’s proving the critics wrong.

On day one of his presidency, the US rejoined the Paris agreement – a global commitment from world leaders to bring the globe’s carbon emissions under control that his predecessor Donald Trump controversially withdrew from in 2017.
The Guardian reports that Biden has instructed the US government to review all oil and gas drilling on government land and, impressively, ensure ALL government’s vehicles are electric.

He’s used his executive powers (read: overriding getting tied up by going through congress) to put climate at the front and centre of his presidency. Biden reportedly said, “We desperately need a unified national response to the climate crisis, because there is a climate crisis.”

🔸 Sona lite

This year’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) will be virtual. It will take place on 11 February at 19:00. There’ll be no red carpet fashion parade, no military parade, no 21-gun salute and any disruptions will simply be muted. Can you imagine the EFF trying to disrupt a televised address? “The EFF has been muted” is a lot less dramatic than their previous antics 😂. This year, only 50 representatives from the three arms of state – the executive (Cabinet), the legislature (Parliament) and the judiciary (courts of law) – will physically be at the National Assembly. Everyone else will participate virtually.

🔸 Sanders meme raises millions for charity

Trust America’s favourite leftie, former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, to turn a viral meme into a capitalism-crushing philanthropic cause. The socialist US senator from Vermont raised over $1.8 million for charity this week after a photograph of him from Biden’s inauguration went viral. You’ve definitely seen the pic, by AFP’s Brendan Smialowski; if you haven’t, Google it.🤭 Sanders sits cross-legged and huddled, wearing knitted mittens: a stark contrast to the formality and glitz of the inauguration. Soon, we saw Bernie turning up all over the internet, pasted into famous images: from Sheldon Cooper’s couch on The Big Bang Theory to Game of Thrones’ spiky seat of power. Sanders’ campaign store started selling sweatshirts featuring the iconic photo and all the proceeds are going to charity, CNN reported. In response to the meme, Sanders told CNN: “[the meme] will be a good thing, not only a fun thing.” 😆

🔸 Rabada shows flames

Kaizer Chiefs and Arsenal fans may think they’ve cornered the misery market when it comes to sticking by a team through neverending tough times. But spare a thought for those who support SA’s men’s cricket team, the Proteas: it’s been a torrid few decades (don’t ever mention the World Cup) 😐, and Wednesday was no different as Pakistan put our bowlers to the sword in Karachi. As is so often the case, though, pace bowler Kagiso Rabada was a very bright light in dark times. The fiery youngster became only the seventh player ever to take 200 Test wickets – and the fourth youngest to do so. 🙌🏽 He’s just 25 years old, so there’s much more to come from Rabada. And his on-field brilliance is matched by his behaviour off the pitch, where he’s been an articulate supporter of the global Black Lives Matter movement.

🔸 What’s up with the price of ginger?

If you stepped into a supermarket lately and found an exorbitant increase in the price of ginger, then you’re not alone. Many South Africans are taking to social media to vent their frustration at the price of ginger which has nearly doubled over the last six months, Business Insider reported. Among the reasons for the increase is that more people have turned to the spicy root for its immune boosting properties (PSA: It’s not a Covid cure!). At one point 1kg of ginger cost about R70 and now it’s averaging between R200 and R400! 😱 The Competition Commission is stepping in to investigate the retailers who are increasing their prices. Since the start of the pandemic, the CompCom received 14 complaints about retailers increasing the price of ginger in their stores, The Sunday Times reported. Last year Food Lover’s Market was fined about R18 500 for the average mark-up of 92% for raw ginger at its Westgate store. We want to make sure our bodies are strong in these uncertain times as much as the next person, but does it have to cost an arm and a leg?

🔸 Ivermectin now allowed for “compassionate use”

It’s gained loads of fans who claim it helps Covid symptoms and now the veterinary medicine, Ivermectin, has been approved for “compassionate” use. That means it can – with strict conditions – be prescribed even though it’s not yet authorised to treat patients. But given that experts have said there really ISN’T enough proof that it actually works for Covid, be VERY careful with this one. It should only be used if your doctor has special permission to do so, and with extreme caution. Ivermectin is an antiparasitic drug typically used to treat animals, and some conditions like lice in humans.

🔸 The woke light isn’t looking too bright?

Twitter united this week to hold podcaster, DJ MacG, to account. This followed several wilfully homophobic, and transphobic statements on his show, “Podcast with MacG”.

This incident was not a first for MacG: he was fired from YFM in 2010 for similar comments. This time, he lost his show’s sponsor. As is the case with weaponised social media, though, things went rapidly downhill. We’ll spare you all the details, but things got dark when some “outed” the sexual orientation of a person they disagreed with, and rejoiced over allegedly driving a homophobe to commit suicide.

Social media has become a tool to ignite change – but that fire can rage out of control.

It seems that mere accountability is not enough. We want to see people destroyed. If out-woking each other is the end goal, how do we decide who wins? At the end of the day the real cause – trans people, gay folks, lesbians and more who are routinely brutalised – was lost in all the self-righteous noise.

🔸 South African military ends hijab ban

Did you know that South Africa National Defence Force (SANDF) had a religious dress policy that prevented Muslim women from wearing head scarves with their military uniforms? Neither did we! 🤷🏽‍♀️ But following a two-year battle by Major Fatima Isaacs, the army changed the policy this week, and dropped charges against her. She can wear her head wrap as long as it doesn’t cover her ears, is wrapped tightly and is plain black in colour.

🔸 Two-thirds of SA will take vaccine

67% of South Africans are willing to take the Covid-19 vaccine when it becomes available, according to a survey by the SA Human Sciences Research Council and the University of Johannesburg, after interviewing 10 000 representative participants. Nearly a third of adults not being willing to take the vaccine is a pretty big number. Worries include concerns about side-effects, and uncertainty about the safety of the vaccine. But as we wrote on our site this week after doing the research, the vaccine really is safe and there are no long term side effects.

🔸 Underground protests. How very British

When you’re used to seeing riots, chaos and millions of people take to the streets in protest, it’s kind of odd to hear that a group of people have decided to stage a sit-in, in an underground tunnel network. And that’s how we know: it must be the Brits. The protestors, who call themselves the HS2 Rebellion (spicy!), 😜 secretly dug the tunnel themselves because they don’t want a railway project, called HS2, to go underway. This is happening in England as we speak. They say the development of HS2 will see at least 108 ancient woodlands “destroyed” and “countless people being forced from their homes and businesses”. It called on the government to scrap the “expensive, unpopular and destructive” scheme, The Guardian reported. HS2 Rebellion said they are prepared to stay underground “for as long as it takes to stop HS2”. 🙃

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 ✌🏽