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SA gets unfair flack over variant

Fellow South Africans, welcome to lockdown level 3-ish, where you can booze to your heart’s content and stay out till 11pm. Beach bans are so last week. Speaking of the past, this week we imagine a world without bus trips or CDs, and where Julius Malema and Jacob Zuma have tea. Yes, really. On the subject of politics, we’re pleased to see WHO scientists putting it aside to figure out where the virus really came from, and we say goodbye to Sibongile Khumalo and other entertainment greats. Enjoy this week’s Wrap, brought to you by Verashni Pillay and the explain.co.za team 😄.

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▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 1. OUR TAKE: THE CONSTITUTION COMES FIRST, ACE

“Don’t worry too much about the Constitution.” That was the word from corruption-accused ANC secretary general Ace Magashule this week, when asked whether he would do anything about Jacob Zuma’s defiance of the State Capture Commission of Inquiry. 

The Constitutional Court ruled that Zuma must appear before the commission. Zuma responded by saying he will defy the Court and doesn’t fear imprisonment should this be considered a crime. He said he was being persecuted like freedom fighter and former PAC leader, Robert Sobukwe – a man who spent years in jail after bravely defying the apartheid government’s pass laws. 

Zuma, on the other hand, believes he is a martyr for defying the Constitution. But Zuma is no Sobukwe, as acclaimed author Zakes Mda rightly pointed out this week. His defiance of the law is about saving his own skin, not principle.

Magashule also complained that apartheid president PW Botha refused to appear at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and “nothing happened to him”. As Rebecca Davis pointed out in the Daily Maverick this week, that is patently false. Botha was found to be in contempt of the TRC, fined R10 000, and sentenced to jail (the sentence was ultimately suspended.) 

And if it is the lack of consequences for apartheid’s villains which irks Magashule, he should take that up with his own party in government, which has bafflingly refused for more than 20 years to prosecute those who didn’t seek amnesty at the TRC. 

The good news is that Zuma’s behaviour has riled many parts of society. The influential Eastern Cape leadership of his own party says Zuma should be brought to book.

The commission said it would lay charges against Zuma if he fails to appear again. Justice Minister Ronald Lamola called for everyone to support the commission’s work.

Our Constitution is respected all over the world for its commitment to entrenching human rights. Our Constitutional Court is the envy of judges all over the world. 

We should all defend it. Because we DO worry, Ace. And so should you.

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 2. THE BIG STORY: SCIENCE, NOT POLITICS SHOULD GUIDE THE COVID PROBE

An investigation by the World Health Organisation (WHO) into the origins of Covid-19 is now well and truly underway in China, after months of political back-and-forth. The investigation was announced in November last year, Nature magazine reported, but was initially resisted by Chinese authorities.

Many researchers believe the virus originated in bats but aren’t sure how it jumped to humans. Looking for the “patient zero” of the bat world will be incredibly hard, and probes like this can take years.

But knowing where the virus originated is key to preventing a pandemic like this one from reoccurring, researchers say.

The WHO’s search included the meat and animal market visited by some of the early Covid-19 patients. Samples from animal carcasses at the market, however, show no signs of the coronavirus. But the virus was found in some samples taken from drains and sewage.

A good relationship between China’s government and the WHO is essential to the ongoing investigation.

And that’s the problem. It’s taken weeks of negotiations between the WHO and China for the investigation to even begin. WHO scientists this week arrived in Wuhan – where the virus was first detected in late 2019 – the BBC reported.

The BBC also reported that Chinese resistance to the probe stemmed from fear of being blamed for the pandemic. They didn’t cover themselves with glory in how they initially handled the outbreak. 

Scientists, however, say the investigation is not political, and while no theories are off the table, most scientists believe the virus emerged as a “natural event”. Scientists visited a lab this week, sparking conspiracy theories that they believed the virus emerged in one. But The New York Times said the scientists had reiterated: the event was probably a natural one.

The WHO’s strictly apolitical stance amid a global climate where countries increasingly blame each other is extremely important. As we report this week, SA has been unfairly blamed for a variant of Covid-19 first identified here. Sticking to the science, and leaving politics aside, is the best hope we have for ending the pandemic. 

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 3. BRIEFS

Video killed the radio star for Greyhound and Musica

Is there any South African who doesn’t know the smell of KFC wafting down the rows of seats on a long-haul bus trip? The quiet hum of the engine, the beautiful SA vistas and the excitement of seeing a faraway family member? If those trips were taken on a Greyhound or Citiliner bus, take a moment. Business Day reports these companies will close on 14 February. Unions say over 680 workers will lose their jobs. The bus services said they’d been hit hard by Covid, given the lockdowns and the resulting downturn in tourism. We were equally nostalgic when we heard that Musica was also closing its doors, taking us back to the rustle of a freshly-opened CD case, or checking out a new release at the listening stations while our parents did the grocery shopping. Even the movies are in trouble: Ster-Kinekor said it would enter voluntary business rescue as it continues to suffer thanks to the pandemic. It’s a video-killed-the-radio-star moment for these businesses. We hope it will lead to innovation in these sectors – not more job losses.

It’s two for tea, and tea for two

South African exceptionalism can get a little tiring, but it is genuinely hard to think of many other countries where politicians from across the ideological divide can casually plan tea parties with each other via Twitter. This week, Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema tweeted: “@PresJGZuma can we please have tea urgently?” His potential date is, of course, former president Jacob Zuma, who is threatening to defy a Constitutional Court ruling compelling him to appear before the state capture commission of inquiry. Zuma obviously likes tea, or Malema – or both; so he responded with a warm invitation to his Nkandla homestead. We’d love to be a fly on the wall, as would veteran journalist Sophie Mokoena, who wasted no time asking: “Is the media allowed?” Malema’s reply? “Nope.” Then former DA leader Mmusi Maimane scampered in from stage left, sharing a photo that made it look like he was grimacing at Malema’s original tweet. There’s a lot to grimace about, as Maimane’s tweet made clear, but it is pretty good to know our politicians still favour tea at dusk rather than guns drawn at dawn. For now. 

Jeff Bezos vacates Amazon CEO chair

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is stepping down from his role as the company’s CEO to make more time for outside projects, and practicing his backstroke in his Scrooge McDuck-like vault of gold. OK, we made the last part up. Probably. 😆 He’s the richest person on Earth again after local boytjie Elon Musk overtook him briefly last month. With a net worth of R3 trillion, according to Forbes, Bezos earns over R30 000 a second. 

The 57-year-old entrepreneur will transition to the role of executive chair. Andy Jassy, current head of the company’s lucrative cloud services, takes over as CEO.

With online shopping taking off during Covid, Amazon has posted incredible results recently. But it’s been criticised for paying its workers badly and its warehouse working conditions leave much to be desired. Amazon’s workers protested late last year over allegedly inadequate safety measures during Covid-19, and the company was fined millions for allegedly not giving its drivers their tips. Bezos is the only one of the top five billionaires in the world who has refused to sign the Giving Pledge, an initiative created by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett that encourages wealthy people to give away a majority of their wealth.

Budweiser cancels Super Bowl ad to fight vaccine skepticism

Ad spots for the US’ biggest televised sporting event, the Super Bowl, are extremely valuable. Companies stand to reach millions of eyeballs as viewers tune in to see the likes of Beyonce or Justin Timberlake perform. Oh, and there’s the American version of rugby on, too. 😂

US beer company Budweiser’s quirky ads are a Super Bowl staple. But this year, Budweiser’s parent company AB InBev will donate some of its ad budget to NPOs countering Covid-19 vaccine skepticism. That includes the R83 million it would have spent on the coveted ad slot. Meanwhile, everyone’s favourite country singer, Dolly Parton, who donated millions to finding a Covid-19 vaccine, said she won’t “jump the line” to get one. Like the classy icon she is, she said she’ll wait in line just like everyone else. Closer to home, sort of, SA-born businessman Johann Rupert got his shot in Switzerland recently. He faced backlash for skipping the queue, but said it was all for a good cause – showing the public that the vaccine is safe. We hope to see other brands taking up the baton and doing their bit to end the pandemic.

PSA: The AstraZeneca vaccine is effective for people over 65

With all the misinformation and conspiracy out there over vaccines and their effectiveness, we must rely on mainstream publications to give us the facts. So when German publication Handelsblatt reported that the AstraZeneca vaccine is only 8% effective for people over the age of 65, experts as well as Oxford University (which hosted the trials) and AstraZeneca were understandably up in arms, because it was UNTRUE. It looks like the journalists misread the proportion of trial participants around that age group for the efficacy. How. Embarrassing. And dangerous: Handelsblatt’s erroneous article has spread like wildfire, and people believe it. What the report and other public information actually said was that the vaccine has the same effectiveness for older people as it does for the younger population, Full Fact reported. 

Stop calling it the “South African variant”

South Africa is popping up in international news for all the wrong reasons: 501Y.V2, the so-called “South African variant” of Covid-19. But is it fair to associate us negatively with this variant? After all, the major reason we identified it, similar to the UK and its variant, is that both countries have advanced virus genome testing processes – and we were transparent about it. Other countries likely have similar mutations that they have yet to identify, or own up to. And while the 501Y.V2 variant is thought to have originated in South Africa, there is a chance this could have been via someone from another country who later entered SA, according to world-renowned SA infectious diseases specialist Professor Salim Abdool Karim. After all, the variant has now been found in over 30 countries. Now if only the scientists would find a better name than “variant 501Y.V2”, we can lose the “South Africa” misnomer once and for all.

Sharks Signed to Roc Nation

Jay Z investing in local rugby? You heard right. The Sharks have just become the hippest local team, following interest from the international rap icon, aka Beyonce’s husband. Roc Nation Sports purchased a minority stake in the team. Sharks CEO Eduard Coetzee told SA Rugby Mag: “Roc Nation will assist in growing our fan base in new territories and will ensure that our approach will always be of an international standard.” This win could potentially bring about some big changes in the team. According to IOL, there have been rumors that Springbok captain, Siya Kolisi, who is represented by Roc Nation Sports International, may join the boys in black.

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest…again

Myanmar, the country led by Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader Aung San Suu Kyi, is once again under military rule following a coup this week. The military has declared a year-long state of emergency and disrupted citizens’ access to the internet and telecommunications. 

This comes after Suu Kyi’s party won the November 2020 elections. The military claimed the polls were fraudulent despite independent election observers saying otherwise. The army clearly wants power back, despite retaining a ridiculous amount of influence when the country transitioned to democracy. Clearly it wasn’t enough. 

Suu Kyi spent nearly 20 years under house arrest during the previous military dictatorship. When she was released at the end of 2010, she was lauded as a hero. 

But her international image suffered as she refused to condemn or stop the killings and brutalisation of the country’s Rohingya people, a Muslim minority. She’s still popular among her people for her opposition to the military, but among the international community? Not so much. Nonetheless pundits believe the country, having tasted democracy, may not easily slide back into dictatorship.

In memoriam

Last month we commemorated the lives of broadcaster Larry King, local politician Jackson Mthembu and jazz legend Jonas Gwangwa. The entertainment industry has now lost beloved US actress Cicely Tyson and iconic South African songstress, Sibongile Khumalo. UK humanitarian, Sir Tom Moore, also lost his life this week. 

Cicely Tyson died at age 96. She published her memoir, Just As I Am, days before her death. She forged her path in acting with her first role in the 1959 Harry Belafonte film Odds Against Tomorrow. Her career went on to span five decades.

Sibongile Khumalo, from Soweto, died at age 63. With her limitless vocal prowess, she dominated the genres of opera, jazz, and pop music to global acclaim. 

WW2 veteran Sir Tom Moore died of Covid-19 at age 100. He rose to fame during lockdown when he walked 100 laps around his yard to raise over R600 million for the National Health Service to fight the coronavirus. Rest well. 

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 ✌🏽