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The budget’s good news

Snip, snip. That was the sound of finance minister Tito Mboweni trimming our country’s spending this week as he unveiled his budget. As we report this week, he’s trying to get our debt down, but will the poor pay the price? The other sound you’ll have heard was the whoosh of dust clouds on Mars. That’s right. NASA released the first audio from the red planet EVER. One more sound before we dive in: “Gqe”… We teach you how to pronounce PE’s new name. Plus, we bring you a run down of the president’s shirts. Enjoy this week’s edition brought to you by Verashni Pillay and the explain.co.za team! 😄

Format

🔊 For the audio version of The Wrap, go here:

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▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 1. OUR TAKE: SAVE WATER TO AVOID A CRISIS

Much of SA’s water infrastructure is badly mismanaged or in need of upgrading, and the country is a water-scarce one generally. Three recent events should be a warning to us that the situation drastically needs attention.

  1. Large parts of Joburg will experience planned water cuts this weekend as Rand Water, which services the city, repairs faulty valves underground.
  2. The department of human settlements, water and sanitation will take over water infrastructure in Emfuleni in Gauteng, following a report by the South African Human Rights Commission that found that raw sewage flowing from the broken-down water works into the Vaal River under the Municipality’s watch, is a health risk to people and the environment.
  3. Last week, residents of Koster and Swartruggens were allowed to take control of their towns’ water works.

As News24 reports, the North West High Court ruled that the municipalities concerned had breached their constitutional duty to provide water to the towns. That’s because the water purifying works are “in states of disrepair and are mismanaged”. Residents were able to get things back on track within days. It sets an incredible precedent. 

Late last year Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu launched her Master Plan. It revealed solutions but also the extent of the problems. As Mail & Guardian’s acting editor, Sipho Kings, noted, SA’s infrastructure isn’t sufficient for our growing population. Kings wrote that the country has nobly spent enough money to supply 95% of the population with water… but a third of the infrastructure doesn’t work.

Add to this a vast country where water must be transported from dams across thousands of kilometres to big cities, and a warming climate causing unforeseen droughts, and you’ve got a problem.

Government is acutely aware of the myriad problems. Besides the master plan, twelve large water infrastructure projects were gazetted last year.  They now need to tackle the problems of mismanagement, corruption and a skills shortage. Or be embarrassed when citizens like those in Koster and Swartruggens successfully take matters into their own hands. 

Saving water should also become a huge priority for us, especially those living in the big cities. We’re a water scarce country. We need to start acting like it. 

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 2. THE BIG STORY: TITO HOLDS THE LINE BUT WHO WILL PAY THE PRICE?

With a huge debt burden to manage, a pandemic to be curbed, and ratings agencies breathing down his neck, finance minister Tito Mboweni cut government spending during his budget this week, while sparing the middle class a bit of pain.

Mboweni is also holding the line against public sector unions, refusing to give in on a wage freeze which will ease the pressure on the country’s balance sheet, as Financial Mail columnist Clair Bisseker put it this week. 

Here’s how the budget affects you:

  • Your personal tax increases won’t increase, thanks to… you! Last year, government was able to rake in R40bn MORE in tax revenue than expected, so it doesn’t have to shake us down for more taxes now.
  • If you own a company, you’ll get some relief by paying slightly less tax.
  • If you’re a smoker or drinker, you’ll be paying more for your “sins”.

Other big developments include R9bn allocated to the vaccine rollout programme, with the private sector funding the rest.

But here’s the rub: with the twin issues of high government debt and money needed for vaccines, Mboweni has had to cut some government programmes. On the one hand, this is necessary as government spending is one of the major issues affecting our credit ratings, and our constrained finances long term.

But on the other hand, these kinds of cuts hurt the poorest. Social grants will effectively decrease from April, as payments won’t keep up with inflation. The special distress grant ends that same month. Mboweni said we just can’t afford more. 

Higher education, land reform programmes and funding to non-profit organisations will also take a knock. One solution is spending one’s way out of a crisis with stimulus packages as the US is doing, but we just don’t have the cash reserves to do that. 

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 3. BRIEFS

The Zuma Shirt

Nelson Mandela was infamous for his Madiba shirts. Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe were strictly suit-men. Cyril Ramaphosa has been known to go crazy with a golf shirt for his morning walks, but that’s about as interesting as his wardrobe gets. 

Enter Jacob Zuma, who had Twitter in stitches this week over the shirt he just can’t stop wearing. From meeting with Julius Malema (for THAT tea party), to his chat with Police minister Bheki Cele last week and more, the former president appears to recycle the same black-and-gold number for every meeting. It gives a whole new meeting to the term “airing one’s dirty laundry in public”. The shirt(s) was on display in a series of photographs posted by his daughter, Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, who, as we report this week, has become her father’s spin doctor, spreading all kinds of conspiracy theories about why Zuma is in trouble with the law. 

Speaking of Zuma, the ANC’s top six officials are next in line to meet  give him special treatment this week and convince him to, you know, not break the law, and attend the State Capture Commission of Inquiry. That meeting hasn’t happened yet. But you can be sure that when it does, the Zuma shirt will be in attendance.

Fancy a trip to Gqeberha?

The decolonising project is still underway, albeit slowly. This week we saw a new name given to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. It’s called Gqeberha

Gqeberha is the isiXhosa name for the Baakens River that runs through the windy city, and was the first name used for the area and for the oldest township in Port Elizabeth, which later became known as Walmer, IOL reports. The larger metro is still called Nelson Mandela Bay. 

Now the best part is how to pronounce it: the first three letters, “Gqe” form a click, with the tip of your tongue at the front of your palette, and the rest is pronounced “bear-gha” with a soft “g” – similar to how that letter pronounced in Afrikaans but less pronounced. 

The name didn’t change overnight – it’s actually taken two years. Arts and Culture minister Nathi Mthethwa, who announced the name change this week, said it is “unacceptable” that the black population is a majority in SA but remains a cultural minority, as colonial symbols dominate the landscape. Other name changes are on the cards. 

Obviously, many folks are up in arms over the name change because of the difficulty in pronunciation, but c’mon, if you can pronounce Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen, surely you can give Gqeberha a shot! 

Sounds of life on Mars

With the landing of NASA’s latest Mars probe, Perseverance, this week, we heard the first ever audio from the red planet: the eerie sound of winds blowing across the barren (as far as we know) surface of Mars. The mission is to look for signs of ancient life on Mars.This was the most detailed footage of Mars yet, showing every nail-biting second of Perseverance’s descent to the reddish-brown soil. It’s not the first time a spacecraft has landed on Mars, but it’s the first time we’ve watched it happen.  If you haven’t seen the footage, head over to NASA’s website to witness history.

You can also try your hand at decoding the hidden messages in the Perseverance parachute left by NASA engineers for fun. As CNN reported, one was the Jet Propulsion Lab motto: “Dare mighty things.” Goosebumps. 

More people entered the labour force, but don’t have a job

On Tuesday, Stats SA published the unemployment statistics for the last quarter of 2020 – from October to December. The official unemployment rate has increased to 32.5% from 30.1% in the previous quarter.

Quick reminder: the official unemployment rate refers to employment within the labour force. This group is made up of people between the ages of 15 and 64 who could potentially have a job AND are actively looking for a job. People in school, tertiary education, homemakers, and those that are unable to work due to health are not included. 

So, this means that the number of people in the labour force who could be employed, but are not, is at least seven million people. At least 1 million people entered the labour force during this period – mainly young people who dropped out of school last year, or finished university but couldn’t find employment. 

The expanded definition of unemployment includes people who are of employable age but are not looking for a job – including this group gives an increased figure of 42.6%. 

Stats SA reports that at least 330 000 people DID get a job during these months, but job losses outweighed the number of jobs gained.

Read more in our special package on South Africa’s unemployment crisis here, and how we can fix it here

Will Tiger make it out of the (injury) woods?

Golfer Tiger Woods is said to be recovering after a pretty severe car crash this week. The New York Times reports that Woods lost control of the SUV he was driving on a “twisting and winding stretch” in Los Angeles, before hitting the pavement and a tree, and rolling several times. He sustained leg injuries that required him to undergo hours of surgery. That’s a big ouch! 

There’s speculation about whether Woods, who has won 15 major championships, will bounce back after this major injury. Woods has had multiple procedures in the past, including a spinal operation, which affected his performance recently. Doctors say it can take anything between a few months to over a year for Woods’s lower leg bones to grow together, and even longer for him to fully recover, but there’s no telling if he will be able to play golf again.  

Australia vs Facebook

For years, journalism has suffered as Facebook and Google gobbled up advertising revenue.

Australia is fighting back, and wants to pass a bill that forces the Internet giants to pay media publishers for the right to include their news content on social media platforms and search engines. Australian lawmakers say they want “to curb the tech giants’ power over digital advertising (a major cause of news publishers’ declining revenues over the past two decades)”, Business Insider reports. 

As SA journalist Toby Shapshak says in Business Day, while Facebook and Google clocked up a combined $267bn in revenue last year, the media industry that relied on advertising has been decimated. Facebook responded by banning news content for all of Australia (what was that about freedom of speech, Mark Zuckerberg?) in a petty move. Google, meanwhile, said it will negotiate deals with news publishers in the country. We may be enemies when it comes to sport, but when it comes to press freedom, we’re with Australia on this one. 

Vaccine rollout off to a good start

We’re happy to report that just one week into South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine programme, things have been going pretty smoothly. Health workers, some of which have been skeptical about the vaccines, are now flocking to hospitals to get their shots, showing their confidence in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine which is currently being administered, the SABC reports. It is not yet known exactly how many healthcare workers have been vaccinated to date, but since Sunday, over 10 000 health workers have received their shots. This is just the first phase of the vaccine rollout, and so far the government says it’s satisfied with the way things are going. Plus, the second batch of the J&J consignment is expected to land in the country on Saturday, News24 reports.

We salute you, class of 2020!

After an annus horribilis for the matric class of 2020, the results are out: matrics from government schools earned a pass rate of 76.2%. 

It’s a 5% drop from 2019, but given the effects of the pandemic on education, it’s much better than even Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga’s predictions. Independent schools did even better, with a pass rate of 98%.

Considering the stresses of online learning plus the psychological impact of the pandemic, all the matrics did amazingly.

But why do independent schools, which include private and hybrid schools, always fair better, you may ask? While they do tend to observe slightly different curriculums (IEB vs Caps) this doesn’t make as much of a difference as many think. Both are accredited by the same organisation – Umalusi. The real difference, as one education site notes, is that government schools are typically very stressed in terms of resources and surrounded by socio-economic circumstances, such as high poverty, which hinder students from committing to their education. But there are many excellent public schools too.

Government or independent, we salute our matric class of 2020 AND their teachers, and wish them everything of the best for the future. 

A win for gay rights in Angola

Angola is the latest country to decriminalise same-sex relationships, and it’s a win for all of Africa. Human rights lawyers and researchers in the field have welcomed the change and urge other African countries to follow suit, TimesLive reported. Most West-African countries still consider same-sex relationships taboo, for example Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Senegal. In countries like Uganda and Somalia, homosexuality is still a crime and same-sex sexual activity is punishable by death. Angola’s decision is a move in the right direction.

SA’s artists fight back

Covid-19 has devastated the arts sector, and SA’s artists are fighting back.

Earlier this month, 2000 artists signed a petition calling for arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa to be fired after he tweeted that the SA theatre scene was “alive and well” – something creative industry leaders said showed how out-of-touch he was with reality. 

Artists say the industry was badly funded even before Covid-19. Cancelled performances and thus no pay means artists are now even worse off. 

In an editorial, Maverick Citizen editor Mark Heywood called for more funding for the sector in the 2021 budget, announced on Wednesday. That didn’t happen, but Heywood’s plea is worth repeating here: 

“Undoubtedly, poverty and inequality require that we fund our material infrastructure for the delivery of rights… But it is equally important we direct resources at those people and occupations that tend to our spiritual infrastructure, the people whose work inculcates democratic values: these are our poets, our dancers, our actors and the venues and support systems needed to make it possible for them to work.”

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 Romi✌🏽