Tired of the ANC drama but still somehow find it interesting? Us too 🥴. In today’s edition we bring you the latest in this week’s episode of Game of Luthuli House, and (tangentially related, maybe?) how our revenue service is tracking down all those dodgy tax evaders.
Plus there’s the latest development in the Mozambique conflict, how our vaccine acquisition is suddenly going very well, and why Charlotte Maxeke was a total badass.
Before we dive into your weekly simple news update, a quick note to our subscribers: we will start sending out these updates on a Friday morning going forward. We figured that may be a better time for you to engage with the content. Let us know what you think of this decision.
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▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ *1. OUR TAKE: DON’T TURN A BLIND EYE TO MOZAMBIQUE*
Last week we told you about the conflict in Mozambique. It’s the regional story that has everyone’s attention – and so it should.
A quick recap: Energy companies Sasol and Total are developing a huge gas find in a province called Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique. It is one of the biggest gas discoveries in Africa and could have revolutionised the impoverished country. But locals haven’t seen any improvement to their lot, while their country’s leaders have lined their pockets. Local militant insurgency started in 2017, but it’s intensified over the years. Late last month, a well organised attack overwhelmed the paltry Mozambique security forces at the Total plant, triggering a terrifying attack that saw locals and expat workers, many of them South African, fighting for their lives. The Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility, and the local militant group is loosely associated with them; but, as we reported last week, this is ultimately a local conflict that has been exploited by the publicity-seeking IS (also known as ISIS).
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) took a while to act, considering the issue started escalating around mid-March, but it’s not alone: with communications to the area cut off during the conflict, the global and local response was dire. But the world seems to be waking up at last.
Today, SA president Cyril Ramaphosa and others are attending a special SADC meeting to decide on a response to the conflict. Ramaphosa is the incoming SADC chair (as if governing SA wasn’t enough work. 😬) We’ll fill you in on what steps SADC decides to take, but with the US military training Mozambique forces and the EU also getting involved, all eyes are on the southeast African nation.
Funnily enough, despite all the drama, the country’s currency continues to perform magnificently. The metical has appreciated 14% against the dollar since the beginning of February, making it the world’s best performing currency in the period, Bloomberg reports.
Just a reminder: The worst the conflict can do to us here in SA is maybe threaten our gas supplies. It is highly unlikely to reach our borders. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore it: humanitarian violations are a daily occurrence now, and we must continue to push our leaders to try and find a safe, peaceful solution for the people of Mozambique.
▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ *2. THE BIG STORY: SARS CRACKDOWN ON DIPLOMATS*
In a plot that could be straight out of a movie, the SA Revenue Service (SARS) has uncovered a tax-dodging racket in which foreign diplomats buy large volumes of alcohol at duty free retailers and sell it locally, cheating the tax collector of an estimated R100 million in taxes every month. This is according to an explosive News24 report.
We know, right? Talk about opportunism. It’s also blatantly illegal. Thankfully SARS has caught on to the scheme and is cracking down. It has identified the diplomats as being from Rwanda, Ghana, Burundi, Guinea and Malawi, and is taking action against these crimes. But it’s not just our African neighbours. Last year authorities said a German diplomat was also spotted buying large volumes of duty-free alcohol.
To explain: South Africans are not allowed to buy from local duty free retailers, which don’t add our country’s taxes to their prices. Diplomats are allowed this privilege, from places set up just for this purpose. But some unscrupulous types have used it to buy pricy alcohol, like KWV for just R70 – less than half of what it would cost at a legitimate local bottle store. They then mark it up and sell it to a local trader who adds their own markup and can still sell it to the public at a lower price than usual. Now imagine doing this to the value of millions of rands.
And of course, we all pay the price: SARS receives less revenue, and government spending is curtailed.
Now SARS is putting in place quotas and other regulations to curtail the problem, particularly if it turns out to be more widespread.
In another positive crackdown, Commissioner Edward Kieswetter said SARS was also looking into the lifestyle of, particularly, individuals to examine their ‘unexplained’ wealth. And they’re looking… everywhere. In one recent case, the tax body noticed a businessman boasting about a new car on social media. His declared income didn’t support him being able to purchase it and an investigation was launched. It gives a whole new layer to those #blessed posts people love to share on social media with their recent acquisition. In another case, SARS noted a bunch of Ferraris parked outside a hotel. Tracing the licence plates, they found the owners had declared a taxable income of just R34,000-00 a month. We don’t know about you, but we wish we could make our money go that far 👀.
It goes to show: you can’t outrun the taxman forever, especially when he’s been hard at work fixing up the house since it was gutted during the Jacob Zuma state capture years.
▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ *3. BRIEFS*
Winter is coming in House ANC
Does anyone else feel like the latest “fight backs” in the ANC are a bit like the last season of Game of Thrones? Poorly written, lots of hasty attempts at resolution, and everyone has stopped caring? (No dragons, pity.) The problem is, of course, that all the factionalism seems to distract the governing party from, er, governing.
But we’re duty bound to fill you in on the latest politicking in Westeros … um, we mean, Luthuli House – and truth be told, we find it just as interesting as you. So here goes.
The background: the ANC reformist faction under Ramaphosa is fighting the “Radical Economic Transformation” group that’s loosely aligned to former president Jacob Zuma and beleaguered ANC secretary general Ace Magashule. While the first lot aren’t perfect, they’re definitely preferable. As Business Day put it this week, in the choice between half good and almost evil, we’re going with the former.
In this week’s episode, Zuma’s speaking notes from his engagement with the ANC top six last week were leaked and boy, was it entertaining: 23 pages of the most self-pitying, delusional ramblings from the man who, unbelievably, ran our country for nearly a decade.
These are the cries of a man (and his faction) decidedly on the backfoot. Now we’re just waiting for the Constitutional Court to decide whether he goes to prison for contempt, after refusing to appear before the Zondo Commission. And that’s not his only legal woe: on 17 May his long-awaited trial related to arms deal corruption is set to begin. That should keep us going for another season at least.
SA turns our vaccine frown upside down
Things are constantly changing with South Africa’s vaccine roll-out strategy as conditions change, so we’re going to keep updating you. Last week we told you about government’s new plan to start Phase 2 of the programme in mid-May with the bulk of vaccinations concluding early next year. At that point, we had only procured Johnson & Johnson vaccines. But this week health minister Zweli Mkhize said we’ve signed a contract to secure a whopping 20 million vaccine doses from Pfizer BioNTech for the next phase. According to Reuters, this means all in all, SA’s government will have enough to vaccinate roughly 41 million people out of our total population of 60 million.
After all the prophecies of doom, it’s amazing to know we’re (hopefully) back on track. There’s also news of millions of doses coming our way via the COvax shared facility and the AU. The real test now that we have stock, is the rollout of these vaccines.
Meanwhile, the idea of “vaccine apartheid” continues to provoke discussion. The fact that developed nations like the US were able to snap up much more than it needed while the rest of the world had to wait isn’t right. Israel, for example, has been lauded for its swift vaccination rollout. The country was able to buy vaccines before they were even developed – but there’s been less talk about Palestinians being left behind in the vaccine plan.
While we’re here, remember the raging debate about Ivermectin’s efficiency in treating Covid-19? This week the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority and other parties won the case to allow Ivermectin to be used to treat Covid-19. Doctors can now legally prescribe the medication.
Charlotte Maxeke was amazing. Here’s why.
This week we celebrate the 150th anniversary of a South African feminist icon and all round bad-ass, Charlotte Maxeke, who inspires us to do and be more.
Watch our video tribute here.
Charlotte Makgomo Mannya Maxeke was born in 1871 and despite the oppressive times she lived through, she managed to become the first South African black woman to obtain a B.Sc degree. She travelled to the UK and US with her choir, and, after being abandoned in the US by her choir director, won a bursary to study at the prestigious Wilberforce University, graduating in 1903.
Maxeke returned to SA with a passion for education that she would carry for the rest of her life. With her husband Marshall Maxeke, she established a school in Everton, Katlehong. It still exists today.
Decades before the famous 1956 women’s anti-pass march, which we commemorate every Women’s Day, Maxeke led the country’s first anti-pass campaign. More than 700 women marched to the Bloemfontein City Council and burned their passes in 1913, led by the Bantu Women’s League, which she founded.
At a celebration in the Eastern Cape yesterday, President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke of her enormous willpower, and how she rose above the challenges that the time she lived in threw at her.
Her legacy involved empowering oneself through education – then using those tools to empower others. Today many women walk in Maxeke’s footsteps, occupying boardrooms, teaching in lecture rooms and formulating policies. ✊🏾
Let’s continue living her legacy. As she put it: “This work is not for yourselves – kill that spirit of self, and do not live above your people but live with them. If you can rise, bring someone with you.”
The bright side of the pandemic – no, really
We’re constantly reminded of Covid’s many downsides: job losses, deaths, loneliness and a general change in the way we live. But while you may not have noticed it, the pandemic has also brought some good to the world, according to The Atlantic.
- It’s revolutionised vaccine development
Scientists developed vaccines in record time, partly thanks to new mRNA technology. Once dismissed as a scientific idea, synthetic messenger RNA has proven to work. As the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention explains:
“To trigger an immune response, many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies. Not mRNA vaccines. Instead, they teach our cells how to make a protein—or even just a piece of a protein—that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.” It’s been rigorously tested and previously used so it’s safe. The new mRNA coding helped several pharmaceutical companies to manufacture vaccines for the first time – and could see us fast-track treatment of future diseases.
- It’s made us more techno-savvy
Before the pandemic, we didn’t think that big meetings, birthday parties and even court cases could be held online. Now all these virtual events are the order of the day. The other upside of using technology is that it has made public events and conferences more accessible, saving us travel time and money. Attending a posh gallery opening from across the country in our sweats, imbibing the wine of our choice? We’ll drink to that.
Kim K is now a billionaire
Kim Kardashian West has just joined her soon-to-be ex-husband Kanye West in the billionaire’s club. Kim, owner of the cosmetic company KKW and shapewear Skims, had a net worth of $1bn (about R14.5bn), up from $780m in October, thanks to endorsement deals and several private investments.
You may think all celebrities are this rich, but this achievement is actually pretty significant. To put it in perspective, Beyoncé’s net worth is less than half that and even Rihanna, whose business savvy is renowned, is valued at just over half Kim’s fortune.
Kim’s younger sibling Kylie Jenner lost her place in the club last year after Forbes stripped her of her title: she was accused of inflating her business value. Jenner’s inclusion was controversial; she was dubbed a “self-made billionaire”. Critics felt that didn’t add up given her family’s enormous wealth and exposure. It’s all fascinating stuff – although the socialists within us can’t help but think there’s no such thing as a self-made billionaire in such a vastly unequal global economy…
Why property is (still) a smart investment
Thinking of investing in property? It’s not the craziest idea – and you’re not alone. We may be living through an economic downturn thanks to the pandemic, but record 50-year low interest rates and more houses on the market make this a good time to buy.
Data published by FNB on Tuesday showed that the commercial bank saw an incredible 46% increase in the number of consumers who purchased a second property in the fourth quarter of 2020, compared to the fourth quarter of 2019, Daily Maverick reported. First-time homebuyers are also on the rise. As Daily Maverick puts it, it’s a bright spot in an otherwise fragile economy.
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 the team_ ✌🏽