Things are getting spicy in SA politics! 🌶️ So, like a cold glass of milk, we’re here to break all that heat down for you: from former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe’s recent state capture commission testimony insinuating that President Cyril Ramaphosa is a running dog of white monopoly capital, to Jacob Zuma and allies steadily losing the battle as the justice net closes in on them. Then there’s the latest race fracas and a healthy way to do your bit. Speaking of health, are social media “likes” bad for you? Instagram’s CEO thinks so and is phasing them out. And the good news: the prophets of doom around South Africa’s vaccine strategy seem increasingly wrong, and Treasury has found an extra R30bn under the proverbial cushions. Let’s dive into today’s edition, brought to you by Verashni Pillay and the explain.co.za team. 🙋🏽♀️
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▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 1. OUR TAKE: EXPECT FIREWORKS AS ZONDO COMMISSION WINDS DOWN
The state capture commission has been running for more than two years. But after requests for extensions and more funding, it must wrap up at the end of this month. And that’s when things will get interesting. All those who have to respond to other testimony that implicated them must do so in the next few weeks. We’re looking at you, Jacob Zuma, 👀 but also Ramaphosa and the rest of the ANC top six.
And things are already heating up. Former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe again made waves with his testimony this week. Recap: Molefe allegedly helped the Guptas capture key coal contracts at Eskom, and later infamously told the nation of the “Saxonwold Shebeen” in an attempt to explain his frequent appearances at the Guptas’ residence.
Now Molefe is painting himself as a crusading saviour against white monopoly capital while at Eskom. He claims he gave coal supplier, Glencore, the boot because they were holding a gun to Eskom’s head with high prices, poor coal, and treating its black executives like children. While corporate racism and evergreen contracts milking SOEs like Eskom ARE a problem, we must call BS on this one.
Eskom drove Glencore’s Optimum Coal Mine into business rescue with penalties for poor coal, then helped the Guptas buy it with a guarantee PLUS a huge – and irregular – prepayment when the family couldn’t get bank loans. Surprise surprise, the Guptas’ subsequent coal contracts for that and another mine also delivered poor coal, and high pricing. 😮
Molefe also continued his dog whistling to the “radical economic transformation” crowd in his testimony, with not-so-subtle hints that Glencore used its relationship with Ramaphosa, former chairperson of its Optimum coal mine, to try to extort money from the power utility. Ramaphosa was no longer involved in the company at the time.
As 702 breakfast host Bongani Bingwa put it in a tweet: Molefe “has no proof that [Ramaphosa] acted against the interests of Eskom. But he is raising them anyway. Just in case they COULD be true. If mudslinger was a person?”
It’s all part of the ongoing battle between reformers in the ANC and those who are implicated in state capture. That’s not to say the likes of Ramaphosa, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, etc are perfect. But it’s difficult to take accusations against them seriously when they’re made by those so clearly trying to deflect from their own wrongdoing. 😶
▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 2. THE BIG STORY: THE ROAD TO NKANDLA… AND JUSTICE
Speaking of wrongdoing, it’s been a bad week for former president Zuma and his allies.
Following the ongoing drama around Zuma’s refusal to appear before the Zondo commission, the Constitutional Court announced this week that it would hear the case of contempt against him on the 25th. Our bet is that Zuma will find a way to backpedal and testify after all. This, after the commission’s lawyers argued for what would be a pretty stiff two year prison sentence (contempt usually draws no more than a six-month sentence). Zuma’s foundation promptly released a puzzling statement implying that the Man from Nkandla, who must answer dozens of allegations, was always ready to testify – despite him literally refusing to do so previously. 🤷🏽♀️
Meanwhile, the political spectacle of trips to Nkandla continues unabated. Imagine if you or I got such special treatment for breaking the law. This time, former SAA chairperson, aka court-ruled delinquent director, Dudu Miyeni, delivered groceries to the homestead so Zuma could keep feeding his visitors. She said Zuma was a pensioner “who has no shares in any mining company”, in a dig at Ramaphosa, and that she wanted to “give the little that we could afford with my family”.
LOL. How about she shares some of that monthly R300k she was allegedly getting from Bosasa, as its former COO Angelo Agrizzi previously told the commission? 😆
Another Zuma ally, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, will now OFFICIALLY face an impeachment hearing before the National Assembly – the first of its kind. It took a while to get here, despite Mkhwebane’s repeated court defeats showing her to be almost completely incompetent. That’s because it’s a serious step to remove a public protector, as they’re meant to be independent and hold government to account. Now an independent panel has argued in a damning report that there is sufficient evidence she is guilty of both misconduct and incompetence, partly based on her alleged bias against some of Zuma’s political opponents, like Pravin Gordhan. What’s next? A parly vote and then another… wait for it… inquiry! We know what you’re thinking. But hey, at least the truth is coming out.
All the above poli-tricks have released a renewed war of words on social media and elsewhere, particularly by Zuma’s supporters. Whatever you read, be sure to check the facts. 🤓
▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 3. BRIEFS
🔶 Seat belts for social media
What’s a social media influencer without their likes? Instagram has been floating the idea of making this a reality for a few years now, given growing concern around mental health.
The platform has tested out “Project Daisy” – as in “Does she love me? Or love me not?” – in a few countries. But on Tuesday a bug affected users who weren’t expecting it, causing a minor uproar given the influencer economy that Instagram fuels. 🤳🏽
The new look still shows comments, but only a user can see the likes they’ve received. It’s similar to posting stories, which also inspired the current project.
Is this the future?
As Business Insider reports, Facebook, which owns Instagram, previously experimented with doing the same, and Twitter’s CEO has hinted at wanting to remove public likes from tweets for years now. After all, people have literally died (bullying, suicide) and elections have been undermined.
The larger philosophical question is how we mitigate the unintended harm of social media; a relatively new and scarily powerful phenomenon.
To use The New York Times analogy, if Instagram were the first Model T Fords, it now needs to start installing seat belts, airbags and other safety features.
🔶 A DA/Ramaphosa partnership?
Is the DA really thinking of partnering with the ANC? Well sure, maybe – but of course not, don’t be ridiculous! 😵
This is the sort of mixed message the party has sent after a prominent Sunday Times article featuring its leader, John Steenhuisen. In it, he doubled down on previous hints that the party would partner with “reformers” in the divided ruling party, as long as Ramaphosa remained at the helm. Steenhuisen must have come under serious pressure afterwards because he has since said he was misrepresented.
The real issue here is that the DA has lost mass appeal with its swing towards white, conservative voters and because there’s a fairly trusted president leading its main competition, the ANC. Steenhuisen insisted the party wasn’t becoming the “IFP of the Western Cape” – which is a great analogy, actually, for what may be exactly the case.
Speaking of Ramaphosa, we were tickled to see two commentaries published simultaneously on News24 and Business Day: one said Ramaphosa was on the back foot in the ANC and wouldn’t win a second term leading the party, and the other said the opposite. Similar to the rumours of a cabinet reshuffle and Tito Mboweni being replaced as finance minister, our advice is, as always, wait for the facts.
🔶 Not much love on this island
In the latest in race news, because this is South Africa after all, a rather weak reality show made international headlines for all the wrong reasons. The local iteration of Love Island evoked opprobrium for featuring a completely unrepresentative, mostly white, cast. Publications like The Guardian, CNN and BBC featured the story, so it was a fairly big deal. LottoStar has pulled its sponsorship and M-Net, who airs the show, says it is committed to diversity, which would become more apparent in future episodes. 🙄
This follows on another race-based uproar after eNCA senior report Lindsay Dentlinger landed in hot water while interviewing politicians after last week’s budget speech. A series of clips showed her interviewing white parliamentarians without a mask and insisting their black peers don theirs. She’s since apologised and said she’s not racist. eNCA has defended her, while several political parties have protested outside the station or taken action elsewhere.
Both incidents are classic cases of implicit bias. An unconscious positive leaning towards people who look like us is normal, albeit wrong. It’s important for us to tackle these personal prejudices. There are tools online to help you do it – and it’s far more empowering than shouting “Racist!” at each other.
🔶 Treasury finds R30bn under the couch
Remember all that hand wringing over having to maybe raise our taxes to cover vaccines? First, that didn’t materialise after tax revenue was better than expected. Now, following last week’s budget speech, it’s looking EVEN better. 🙂
After the budget, experts and parliamentarians usually debate what came out of it in various committees.
In one of those committees, it appeared the country’s budgeting shortfall could be up to R30bn smaller than Tito Mboweni’s projections in last week’s budget – which was based on January revenue figures. This is according to PwC tax policy leader Kyle Mandy, Business Day reported.
It’s the Sars equivalent of finding an extra hundred bucks buried under the cushions. But in this case it was an extra R30bn and it was thanks to better-than-expected collections of corporate and personal income taxes, as well as VAT. 💰
It’s great news. But we’re still a little worried about all those cuts to social spending – as is Michael Sachs. He is the deputy chair of one of those parly committees that debated the budget this week, and a voice we take seriously as someone who has previously actually headed Treasury’s budget office. Citing cuts to spending in health, education and on social grants to prove his point, Sachs worried these would constrain the state’s constitutional obligations to its population.
🔶 SA seems pretty on top of vaccines after all…
There were A LOT of prophets of doom lamenting problems with South Africa’s vaccine negotiations. Then we landed a million AstraZeneca doses… but those were found to be less effective against the local variant. Cue even more prophecies of doom. So it’s really nice to see how things are ticking along now. ⏰
As of yesterday, over 76 000 health workers had been vaccinated. Vaccination sites are being expanded, and once all one million health workers have had a turn, phase 2 will start around May. This will target the elderly, public facing service workers, and those with comorbidities. 💉
The Solidarity Fund was also able to raise an additional R500m towards the effort – half from its own accounts, and the rest from donors.
And after all the AstraZeneca and Covid variant drama, we’re getting more Johnson & Johnson shots, which is a huge relief. Another 80 000 doses landed at OR Tambo International Airport from Brussels earlier this week.
And those AstraZeneca jabs won’t go to waste after all, if Health Minister Zweli Mkhize is to be believed. He says they’ll be sold to other African countries in a “win-win” situation. We’ll watch and let you know when it happens.
🔶 …But we’re nowhere near out of the Covid woods
In case you missed it, on Sunday Ramaphosa held a family meeting and we were collectively taken out of the naughty corner. We’re now on level 1, the least restrictive, with a curfew from midnight till 4am only. The international airports in Joburg, CT, Durban and Mpumalanga have also been re-opened. But we’d barely let our hair down and texted our friends to hang out again before the experts immediately predicted a third wave. 😑 Most reckon it’ll happen around June or July, though some say it could be as early as May. That means we’ll go into a stricter lockdown level again. Sigh. The vaccine roll-out is happening in parallel, so it won’t stop the third wave. Here’s hoping it WILL stop a fourth and fifth wave. Pretty please?
🔶 Sweden’s hard lesson 🇸🇪
Remember when Sweden was all the rage among those arguing against the initial hard lockdowns? Locally, the DA was particularly against the lockdown as were – now largely discredited – groups like Panda (which this week was alleged to have links with global misinformation groups, according to a Daily Maverick investigation).
At the time, the lockdown’s implications for the economy were obviously alarming. But hindsight shows locking down was the right approach. Sweden is now warning it may go into its first lockdown amid a surge in Covid-19 cases. An independent commission found the country failed to protect care home residents from the initial spread of the virus. In December, the country’s king and prime minister both admitted they felt the country’s Covid-19 strategy had been a failure given the large number of deaths – several times the number of confirmed cases and deaths of all neighboring Scandinavian countries. 😔
▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ WEEK AHEAD
Seasoned broadcaster Karima Brown died today of Covid-19 related causes. Expect to see several obituaries. She was a popular, if divisive, journalist who once controversially supported Jacob Zuma and held senior positions at respected titles and stations, although also at far more dubious ones like the Guptas’ New Age newspaper (she walked out days before it actually launched) and Iqbal Survé’s Independent Newspapers.
Meanwhile, fans of royals Meghan and Harry are looking forward to their tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey, scheduled for Sunday. It’s being billed as the most important royal interview since Diana’s infamously frank conversation in 1995 with the BBC’s Martin Bashir. 👑 This, as Harry’s grandfather, Prince Philip (99), remains hospitalised and has reportedly undergone a “medical procedure for a heart condition”. Expect to hear more about the interview once it airs on Sunday – locally on Monday at 19:30 on DStv channel 101 – and watch the British press keep blaming the couple for any bad news about Prince Philip. 😬
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 us.✌🏽