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State of the nation address: all eyes on Cyril

It’s that time of the year again: tonight, President Cyril Ramaphosa will deliver his State of the Nation Address. But this year, there will be no pomp and ceremony, nor endless points of order. Instead, there will be lots of talk about the economy and vaccines – speaking of which, we also tell you why the “bad” news about our vaccine rollout isn’t really that bad. And we’re loving Miss SA’s mindfulness campaign; plus, we dish the tea on THAT political tea party. Enjoy this week’s edition!

THE BIG STORY: STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS: ALL EYES ON CYRIL

OUR TAKE: NO REASON TO DESPAIR OVER VACCINE ROLLOUT

BRIEFS: Baked beans and Weetabix? , Hats off to SIU, the tea spills on that tea party and more

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▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 1. THE BIG STORY: STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS: ALL EYES ON CYRIL

As you’re reading this, President Cyril Ramaphosa will be getting ready to deliver the annual State of the Nation Address (SONA). This year, the speech is being delivered virtually due to Covid-19. 

It’s a speech usually filled with promises and a report back on what the government has achieved in the last 12 months. And what a year it’s been for Ramaphosa. Since the last SONA, a pandemic has ravaged the globe, throwing SA’s economy into a tailspin and causing thousands of deaths. 

So what can we expect from the president this year?

City Press says that Ramaphosa is likely to map out an economic recovery programme. He’ll also talk about trade on the African continent (an important continental trade agreement came into force on 1 January), and the state of municipalities, with the local government elections coming up. Ramaphosa will also update us on the rollout of SA’s Covid-19 vaccine.

Business Day reports that Ramaphosa must decide whether to extend the R350 social grant, a vital safety net for the poor, who have been especially hard hit by the pandemic. He must also account for the R500 billion Covid-19 response plan he announced in April last year. 

Ramaphosa made many promises last February, which have (sometimes understandably) been put on the back burner thanks to the pandemic, Daily Maverick reports. But he has made progress in the fight against gender based violence, putting in place a national strategic plan and bringing the corporate sector on board. The proof will be in the pudding, when the numbers come down, Daily Maverick’s Ferial Haffajee says – but Rampahosa can be credited with making this fight a priority.

And if you’re the type who tunes in every year for the drama, usually caused by the EFF interrupting the president and staging a walkout, you’ll be disappointed this time. Since most Parliamentarians will be present on Zoom, Ramaphosa is guaranteed to be able to actually finish his speech this year without getting heckled. 

Good luck, Mr President!

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 2. OUR TAKE:NO REASON TO DESPAIR OVER VACCINE ROLLOUT

There was great concern when the government said rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, due to be given to healthcare workers, had to be put on hold. It emerged that the vaccine is less effective against mild to moderate cases of the new Covid-19 variant, present in SA. We don’t know if it’s effective against severe illness, because severely ill people haven’t been studied – yet.

But the World Health Organisation said this week that the vaccine shouldn’t be written off – it could still prevent serious illness. 

It was also disappointing to hear that the AstraZeneca vaccine expires in April. But that’s not set in stone, and will probably change when more data is available, as Bhekisisa reports.

The good news is that the government plans to pivot to use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to vaccinate healthcare workers, Business Day reports. It’s shown to be effective against the new variant. 

Government has already bought 20 million Pfizer doses which will arrive between April and June. Another 117 000 will arrive later this year via the Covax scheme.

The government had already secured 9 million doses of the Johnson&Johnson vaccine. Plans are afoot to get 20 million more doses, Daily Maverick reports. The vaccine must still be approved by the pharmaceutical regulator. While that happens, it can be approved as an emergency measure for research purposes. Health minister Zweli Mkhize said health care workers are NOT being used as guinea pigs: we already know the vaccine works. We just need as much data as possible. 

So while the AstraZeneca situation is a setback, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Our scientists are some of the world’s best infectious diseases specialists, and they know what they’re doing. They’ve made data from local trials available, so our policy decisions are based in fact, not speculation. 

Scientists are also in discussions with other vaccine producers as more vaccines come on the market.  And if you’re wondering how SA is going to afford its vaccine rollout, don’t panic. City Press reports that the government has at least R45 billion to spare because of higher-than-expected tax revenues this year. 

As more data emerges, we’ll know more about which vaccines work for the variant (and variants to come). But we can rest assured, SA WILL get its vaccines.

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 3. BRIEFS

Hats off to SIU sleuths

Amidst daily reports of corruption, it’s easy to feel like SA’s authorities are not doing enough. But that’s not entirely true. The Special Investigating Unit (SIU), a government body headed by Advocate Andy Mothibi, has spent much of the past year quietly going after PPE tender crooks. 

The SIU investigates corruption, reclaims misspent or wasted money for the state, and refers cases for prosecution. It’s slow, difficult work that often goes unnoticed. 

Last week, the SIU released a report into its PPE investigation. It looked into 1774 service providers, painstakingly trawling through reams of paperwork and interviewing witnesses, Daily Maverick reports. It’s a tough job: some evidence – phones, computers and documents were reportedly destroyed, while SIU investigators were threatened.

More than R127 million has been recovered, and another R160 million is set to be recovered. That money goes back to the SA fiscus, and can be spent on schools and healthcare.

While the scale of PPE corruption is eye watering (and remember, this has happened all over the world), it’s a relief to know that Mothibi and his team are on the case.

Baked beans with Weetabix? Hugo, bel die polisie!

Not since the great “pineapple on pizza” debate of the 21st Century has there been a food combination controversy quite like this. Weetabix (the UK version of our Weet-bix) this week tweeted a picture of the cereal covered in Heinz baked beans, captioned, “Serving up @HeinzUK Beanz on bix for breakfast with a twist.”

Clearly picking up on the collective retching sound coming from all over the globe, several brands chimed in about their distaste. 

Nandos responded, “You ok hun? Our DMs are open if you need to talk”, while KFC offered to put its differences with Nandos aside to prosecute Weetabix under the Geneva Convention.

It was downhill from there. Specsavers tweeted a picture of a pair of glasses covered in baked beans with the caption, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Oh, our poor eyes. 

Rihanna puts Fenty fashion on indefinite pause

It may be time to bid farewell to Rihanna’s luxury fashion line, Fenty. Louis Vuitton Moët  Hennessy (LVMH) and Rihanna have decided to shut down operations at the Fenty Fashion house indefinitely, until there are “better conditions”, according to a statement from LVMH this week.

Covid travel restrictions meant Rihanna was unable to travel to Paris, where the brand is housed – and what is Fenty without Rihanna’s personal touch? Elle speculates that the luxury brand was too expensive for Rihanna’s audience. But her beauty line, Fenty x Savage, Fenty Beauty, and Fenty Skin, is going strong.These lines will still be available everywhere (apart from Africa, sigh!)

Miss SA talks the talk on mental health

When Miss SA Shudufhadzo Musida was crowned, she promised mental health would be among her reign’s key focuses. This week, Musida launched #MindfulMondays, a partnership with the SA Depression and Anxiety Group. She plans to encourage conversations about mental health by bringing in experts and hosting discussions on her Instagram page. 

Musida said there was a “profound” need to raise awareness about mental health, and we couldn’t agree more. Her campaign kicks off on 15 February with a talk on teen suicide prevention, and we’ll definitely be tuning in.

Dishing the tea on THAT tea party

It’s no wonder many people (including explain 😊) photoshopped a picture of Bernie Sanders into the image that was released of Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema having tea. We ALL wanted to be a fly on the wall and get the inside scoop. Well, it appears the intrepid reporters from City Press have done just that. The newspaper reported that the meeting was all about trying to get at President Cyril Ramaphosa. Apparently, Malema told Zuma he should appear before the State Capture Commission of Inquiry (which he has refused to do) – but not because it is the lawful thing to do. If Zuma does this, Malema reportedly argued, it would help to “expose” the commission’s “bias” towards him. Reportedly, Malema promised to help Zuma oust Ramaphosa if he cooperates with the commission, which has been poking around in the EFF’s bank accounts. Ironically, the meeting happened at Zuma’s Nkandla home. Once upon a time, of course, the EFF went to court to get Zuma to “Pay back the money!” spent on upgrading his home. Ah, politics: no permanent friends nor enemies. Just tea, apparently…

Fears of famine in Ethiopia’s Tigray region

The United Nations has warned of a “dire lack of food” in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, raising fears of famine. UN officials have only recently been allowed into the area to deliver food aid, but Al Jazeera reports that not enough food has arrived.

This follows fighting between the Ethiopian army (reportedly backed by Eritrean forces) and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a political party.

The TPLF held an election in the Tigray region in September 2020 – one they claim to have won. The Ethiopian government said the election was illegal, a move that observers worry is an attempt by Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy – a Nobel Peace Prize winner – to consolidate his power ahead of the general elections scheduled for June this year.

The government dispatched troops to the Tigray area last year, and the region has reportedly been cut off from medical supplies and electricity. The Red Cross says at least 80% of the region has been cut off from humanitarian supplies. Ethiopia’s stability is crucial not just for its own people, but for the whole Horn of Africa region, which is home to around 115 million people. Hopefully a peaceful solution is possible, and soon.

Euphonik and Fresh fired

DJs Euphonik and Fresh have been sacked from broadcaster Primedia over rape allegations. Primedia, the company which owns stations 947, Talk Radio 702, Cape Talk and EWN said in a statement this week that the two had been released from their contracts. However, the company said this wasn’t a reflection on whether the pair was guilty – it was strictly a business decision. Fresh and Euphonik maintain their innocence and said this week they would continue with their public engagements. 

The duo have been charged with rape after they allegedly drugged and raped a woman at a party in 2011. 

Some call it “cancel culture”, some call it consequences. Either way, we hope the truth will out.

Banned from Twitter for life, Trump’s trial gets underway

Donald Trump’s Twitter ban is final, even if he runs for president again, the social media site confirmed this week. Twitter banned the former US president after his supporters stormed the US’s seat of government, Capitol Hill, on 6 January. 

Trump is on “trial” in the US Senate (like our Parliament) over allegedly inciting the 6 January violence. He was impeached in October last year. 

If Trump is found guilty, he may be banned from ever running for president again (although his daughter, Ivanka, might try to, Vanity Fair reports.)

Trump’s trial opened this week with haunting footage of protestors running riot, assaulting police officers and calling for former Vice President Mike Pence to be “hanged” The New York Times reported.

US law gives its citizens broad freedom of speech rights, something which could work in Trump’s favour. But some lawyers reportedly believe this doesn’t apply, because the impeachment trial is about abuse of power. 

We can’t imagine how annoyed Trump must be right now. 

At least he can’t tweet about it.

Historic moment for China and UAE as probes enter Martian orbit

If you were a Martian astronomer, (weird, we know, stay with us…) you’d have noticed two strange new objects in the sky this week. Spacecrafts from China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) went into orbit around the red planet. The Chinese craft, Tianwen-1, left Earth last July, The New York Times reports. China plans to land the probe on Mars in May, to examine a crater, to see if there’s any ice there that could support a human mission. Meanwhile, the UAE craft, Hope, plans to study weather systems in Mars’ atmosphere. Next week, a US probe called Perseverance will land on Mars to study a dried-up lake, which scientists believe could contain fossils of ancient microbes.

All three countries are deservedly proud of these achievements, but the UAE is taking boasting to another level. Travelers to the Emirates can, for a limited time, get a passport stamp commemorating the Mars mission, stamped with “Martian ink”. (Again, stay with us…) The ink is actually from volcanic rocks found in the UAE’s deserts. It’s the same stuff that gives Mars its red colour. At the rate things are going, could Martian ink be a real thing one day?

Rain brings hope for farmers

If you live anywhere in the east of the country, you’re probably sick of mouldy laundry and roads being washed away.

But heavy rains over the past few weeks have been a lifesaver for the country’s farmers, who have suffered not only due to the pandemic and lockdown, but also because of lower than normal rain levels in the last few years, the Sunday Times reports. The rains will bring “bumper” harvests for many farmers, creating jobs and increasing our exports. Hurrah!

Many of the country’s dams are also now either completely full or overflowing. The Vaal dam reached 100% capacity this week – the first time it’s done so since 2017.

The wet weather has reportedly been driven by the La Nina weather system, which brought along with it tropical storm Eloise. It wreaked havoc in parts of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, The Sunday Times reports. Gauteng was a bit luckier, although the potholes are the size of small swimming pools, causing drivers all over the province to invest in scuba gear. 

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_ ✌🏽

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