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27 May ’21 Wrap: The great state capture heist

Our take: What can a state do with a R50 billion

49,157,323,233.68. Quite a tongue twister, right? That’s 50 billion – in this case, rands the Gupta family allegedly stole from South African taxpayers to carry out its elaborate and abhorrent state capture project. This, according to one estimation.

The eye-watering figure was revealed at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture this week, where Paul Holden, who runs the NGO Shadow World Investigations alongside former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein, told the commission that with investigations still underway, this figure does not “even begin to quantify the harm and loss suffered by the state”.

Some notable findings:

  • The Guptas allegedly stole R49 billion.
  • Transnet was responsible for at least 81.59% – about R40 billion of the total R49 billion – of state capture spending. 
  • Eskom accounted for a further 14.19%, mostly related to coal supply issues.
  • Capture seemed to follow Brian Molefe wherever he went. He was CEO of both Eskom and Transnet at some point.
  • The Free State provincial government spent R441 million on Gupta contracts. 
  • The Guptas allegedly used no fewer than 14 companies as vehicles to enable state capture. 
  • Goods and services provided by the Guptas were either of really poor quality or were overpriced, both apparently in an attempt to drain the fiscus to their benefit. 

As Holden was reading out these figures, a visibly defeated Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who is chairing the commission, said “I’m just digesting”. Us too, Zondo, us too – and it’s giving us indigestion. 

We did some calculations and found that R50 billion could pay for the tertiary education of nearly 800 000 students, if the average fee, according to the latest figures, is R64 200 in the first year. 

Former cabinet minister Malusi Gigaba’s estranged wife, Norma Mngoma, also delivered her final testimony. There was nothing majorly new, but the talk of Gigaba’s 200 designer suits was entertaining. We recommend Ferial Haffajee’s take on this one here, which also serves as a great tale of Gigaba’s fall from grace. 

The commission is finally drawing to a close and will have to conclude at the end of June. President Cyril Ramaphosa is the biggest witness left, set to testify in his capacity as former deputy president. The commission has been running since 2018. By December 2020, Zondo said it had spent about R800 million. At least this time state money is being used for good reason. South Africa has a prized democracy, and thanks to our solid institutions like the commission of inquiry and the ConCourt, we can continue to build and become better.

The big story : Covid 3.0 😳

In case you haven’t noticed yet… South Africa is in the midst of the third wave. Sigh. Despite our collective Covid fatigue, it’s important to once again try and limit your interactions. In the past week, hospitalisations increased by 17%; the number of positive cases also continues to rise, averaging about 3000 daily. 

What does this mean for us? 

Experts have asked the government to introduce further restrictions or bring the country to lockdown level 2 from our current level 1 before things get out of control. Some of the recommendations include restrictions on large gatherings and extending the curfew, which is now between midnight and 4 am. The government might not take your alcohol away this time, but it will need to take serious precautions – especially because, not to get too Game of Thrones about it, Winter is coming. The virus flourishes in colder weather. Prepare for a family meeting soon, South Africa. 

How is our vaccine rollout going?

Those older than 60 are a little confused about whether they can go and get their first jab of the Pfizer- BioNtech vaccine even if they haven’t received an SMS from the department of health. First, they were told to register and wait patiently. Then we had to watch as others just walked in and got their shot. 

Well, now you can do the same – if you qualify. According to National Health Department spokesperson Popo Maja, although it is not encouraged, you can get vaccinated even if you did not get an SMS. You just need to make sure that you registered on the government’s Electronic Vaccine Data System (EVDS) first. You can then go to your nearest vaccination site and get your jab – if there’s stock available on that day, The South African reported

South Africa is rather behind on its goal to vaccinate 250 000 people a day. By week two, we’ve only been able to vaccinate just over 170 000 elderly people. We’ll need to increase the rate by eight times to catch up, Bhekisisa editor Mia Malan tweeted. 

BRIEFS

3. What’s happening with Zweli Mkhize?

In other health news, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has been implicated in a tender corruption scandal to the tune of R150 million. 😳 The department of health (DoH) allegedly paid this money to Digital Vibes, an obscure media communications company, which is owned by Mkhize’s friend and long-time associate Tahera Mather. While Daily Maverick’s Pieter Louis-Myburgh broke the news in February, this week he published even more disturbing revelations. The company was allegedly paid millions for setting up media briefings, interviews and other public engagements at the onset of Covid-19. It’s not clear why, because this is something the DoH’s own communications team is responsible for. The R150m was paid out in 18 tranches between January 2020 and February 2021, Daily Maverick reported, and the company was appointed in a closed-tender programme. 

In response, Mkhize held a press conference yesterday where he said the contract was “irregular”. Awkward, and also a big knock to Mkhize’s alleged presidential ambitions, as well as the impressive image he cultivated especially in early responses to the pandemic. 

4. AKA’s first interview

South African rapper AKA sat down for his first interview following the death of his fiancée and traditional wife, Anele “Nellie” Tembe. Tembe fell to her death in mid-April and AKA, real name Kiernan Forbes, has been in the spotlight since – especially after leaked videos showed the pair had a violent and tumultuous relationship. 

So, the hotly anticipated interview on Saturday was closely watched. Forbes discussed the events leading up to Tembe’s fall from the tenth floor of a Cape Town hotel. 

Here are some of the main take-aways (remember, this is his version of events and hasn’t been confirmed or denied by authorities):

  • Tembe had a history of suicide attempts and mental illness, and was on medication. One leaked video showed her being talked off a ledge. Forbes said it happened in Durban and she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital afterwards. 
  • She had often threatened to kill herself. 
  • The argument that preceded her death lasted all night. She walked to the balcony in the early hours of the morning, threatening to jump. He felt he had to remove himself from the situation to calm her down, called security and went to the bathroom. Sometime during this period, she jumped. 
  • He cannot remember the argument that led to him breaking down a door to a room in which she was locked, an event shown in one of the leaked videos. He said he never hit her. 
  • Forbes repeatedly described the relationship as “passionate” in reference to the extreme emotions evinced in leaked footage. 

The interview was handled with a deft touch by local broadcaster Thembekile Mrototo, and AKA seemed to have been well prepped, striking a convincing note of regret and innocence. The investigation into Tembe’s death is ongoing. 

5. Zuma back in court 

Former president Jacob Zuma’s Stalingrad strategy related to the arms deal trial continues. And boy, is it exhausting. He appeared at the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Wednesday as scheduled, saying he would plead not guilty to the charges of corruption, fraud and racketeering. In Zuma’s ongoing game of legal musical chairs, he is now being represented by Advocate Dali Mpofu, former National Chairperson of the EFF.

So you can expect loads of delaying tactics, first of which is his ongoing attempt to get state prosecutor Billy Downer to recuse himself. Zuma submitted a 140-page plea explanation last week arguing that Downer is biased and should recuse himself, but wait there was more! Zuma said if his plea is accepted, then he, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, is entitled to be acquitted from the charges altogether. It’s a long long circus, really. 

Meanwhile the ANC’s National Working Committee this week asked the National Presenter (like the party’s prosecutor) to investigate Ace Magashule, Tony Yengeni and Carl Niehaus for supporting Zuma during his court appearances. The NWC condemned the members’ “unbecoming, divisive and defiant behaviour”. 

6. Resignations, rallies and running for mayor

Can you imagine how awkward it must have been for the Democratic Alliance when it published a statement saying it had accepted the resignation of one its members, Phumzile van Damme, when, er, she hadn’t resigned from the party but had quit her role as an MP? Van Damme had to clarify this point on Twitter. But we’re wondering why the DA was so quick to say goodbye? 🤨 

Van Damme referenced a clique of individuals as her reason for leaving Parliament. She has publicly clashed with party leader John Steenhuisen, who removed her from his cabinet and allegedly forced her into taking a sabbatical. 

We’re as confused as you are about the official opposition’s game plan as it continues to sideline black leaders. 

In fact, the party seems to be doubling down on appealing to a minority of the population. A song and dance routine at its virtual rally this past weekend went viral for all the wrong reasons. Afrikaans music performer Andriëtte Norman performed what many called a cringe-worthy medley of local hits: Mango Groove’s Dance Sum More, Kurt Darren’s Kom Bietjie Hier and, of course, “Jerusalema“ by Master KG. Some criticised Williams’s mispronunciation of the African lyrics at the end of the hit song. The party’s Federal Council Chair Helen Zille lashed out at critics, calling Mango Groove’s YouTube version of THEIR OWN SONG “pitiful” compared to the rally’s performance. We have no words. 😂

Nevertheless, a whopping 11000 people tuned in to the rally, which offered a good example of how campaigning can be conducted responsibly in a pandemic ahead of this year’s local government election. 

Meanwhile, former DA member and leader of his own party ActionSA, Herman Mashaba, is running for the position of Joburg mayor in the local elections. He was a fairly popular albeit controversial mayor, so he has a decent shot of getting in. It’ll be good for multiparty democracy, but we hope he steers clear of the dodgy deals he did with the EFF last time. Watch our previous deep dive into his time as mayor here

7. Fill up ‘em potholes

Navigating South Africa’s holey roads is like playing a game, except it’s zero fun, the points are made up and your car gets screwed. We’re guessing insurance companies are tired of paying out for pothole-related accidents, so we think it’s a real win-win for Discovery Insurance and DialDirect to partner with the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) to launch “The Pothole Patrol Project”. It kicked off two weeks ago and will run for at least the next five years to patch up ALL our potholes! The intervention comes as the CoJ says it cannot afford to maintain roads because its budget is just too strained. But this makes us wonder how it’s managing its finances, considering the crazy high mark-ups it puts on things like electricity and other municipal bills – that’s the gap between what it buys services for and what it sells it on to us as residents. In 2019/2020 the city’s financial report showed that it had an effective operating mark-up of 72%. Upon billing, the mark-up amounted to 101% for bulk water, power, sanitation and refuse removal! Flip. Bring on the local government elections already. In the meantime, yay for fewer potholes. 

8. Restoring healthcare in India

A few weeks ago we told you about the desperate Covid-19 situation in Delhi, India: a shortage of beds, oxygen and other supplies, as well as the horror of makeshift cemeteries to manage so many deaths. But down south in the verdant state of Kerala, things are much better. At the onset of the virus, Kerala officials quickly moved to trace all recent travellers. Then they set up war rooms in all 14 districts to address India’s uneven distribution of resources. These coordination centres direct patients and resources to hospitals and healthcare facilities. Health workers on the ground monitor infected people, then connect them with a doctor, who then decides if they should be hospitalised. Doctors contact the war rooms and an ambulance arrives to pick them up. It’s a pretty efficient system. Kerala has a history of investing in education and health care. It has more than 250 hospital beds per 100 000 people, roughly five times India’s average. Kerala has a population of 35 million and has more doctors per person than most states, The New York Times reported. That’s something to inspire change. 

9. Adulting 101 

Eskom has warned there’s a high probability of load-shedding this week. Check your schedule and charge your devices. Other than that, this week we’re looking at inflation – the overall increase in the price of goods and services. It’s usually an indication that things are a little out of balance in the economy, and unfortunately, we’re the ones paying the price. 🙃

Here’s how much more BusinessTech reported you’ll be paying for the following items:

  • Fuel: +21.4%
  • Oils and fats: +16.7%
  • Fish: +8.1%
  • Books, newspapers and stationery: +8.1%
  • Sugar, sweets and desserts: +8%
  • Milk, eggs and cheese: +7.8%
  • Meat: +7.1%
  • Electricity and other fuels: +6.4%
  • Vegetables: +6.3%

We suggest looking for better deals on groceries and other items, so you don’t get a surprise when your regular budget suddenly falls short. 

10. Friends reunion

If you’re a fan of the American sitcom Friends, get ready for the much anticipated and long-awaited REUNION! The episode will air tonight on HBO Max in the United States, will be available for South Africans to watch on DStv channel 101 on Sunday 30 May at 8pm, and will be available for streaming on Showmax from 31 May. Could we BE more excited! 😆

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