03 June ’21 Wrap: Who could replace Zweli Mkhize?

Our take : One million vaccinated (_Austin Powers voice_ )

South Africa hit a key milestone this week: Over 1 million citizens have been vaccinated!

We know, we know. It’s a LONG way from herd immunity.

Government is hoping to vaccinate 16.5 million South Africans in the current phase two, which targets the elderly and healthcare workers. Good news, though: once those aged 60 and older get their jabs, vaccines will be available to those over the age of 40, essential workers and those with comorbidities. The rest of us have to wait until November when phase 3 kicks off. We hope. The programme has repeatedly lagged behind target. 

To meet government’s current target of vaccinating those over 60 by the end of June, we have to vaccinate 4.4 million in just more than three weeks. At the current pace, this seems nearly impossible. Two reasons for the delays:

1. Citizens have been slow to register on the government’s electronic vaccination data system. According to the Mail & Guardian, stock is supplied to sites based on the number of people who have registered in that particular region. So if you’ve been procrastinating, get registered! Remember, walk-ins are allowed. 

2. Globally, there’s been a slowdown of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines after a contamination incident at a US pharmaceutical manufacturing facility. This has delayed the release of over one million Johnson & Johnson vaccines for South Africa until quality checks can be completed. 😬

This is a real pity: the J&J vaccines are best suited to our country as they involve just one jab and can be stored in a regular fridge, making it easier to distribute in rural areas. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa says we have procured 31 million doses of the J&J vaccine and 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Now we’re just waiting for them to arrive.  

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 2. The big story: An unhealthy future for Mkhize?

How does a country manage a once-in-a-generation pandemic… with a health minister operating under a cloud? That’s the question SA must grapple with as the scandal around the once mighty health minister, Zweli Mkhize, intensifies. There’s been one revelation after another in the past few weeks by the Daily Maverick after it first broke the story of the department’s allegedly dodgy dealings in February. Now the pressure is on Mkhize to, you guessed it, step aside. 

To recap: the minister’s department paid about R150 million to a little-known company called Digital Vibes, allegedly controlled by his former personal assistants Tahera Mather and Naadhira Mitha. The name alone should have set off alarm bells: As Financial Mail columnist Chris Roper put it: “Who calls a company, set up to allegedly steal state money, Digital Vibes? It sounds like a 1980s porn series about people dressed as dancing sex toys.” 🤣

Mkhize said the contract was irregular but that he did not personally benefit from it; the Daily Maverick’s latest investigations, however, allege that money went from Digital Vibes to Mkhize’s son and towards work on his own home.

So what now? 

  • The ANC’s integrity commission has asked Mkhize to explain himself.
  • Mkhize MAY even voluntarily step aside. But this is according to anonymous sources in News24, so nothing is guaranteed. 
  • Ramaphosa said he will take action after the Special Investigating Unit wraps up its report on the issue. 

Who will take his place? Former health ministers Dr Aaron Motsoaledi and Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma could be candidates, but neither are particularly popular with different quarters. 

Speaking of ANC leaders in the dwang, a quick update:

  • The ANC is gearing up for a huge legal battle with its suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule. Both sides have hired heavyweight lawyers and a trio of top judges will hear the case at the end of June. 
  • The pre-hearing theatrics in former president Jacob Zuma’s arms deal trial continue. The hearing is now set for 19 July. 

Meanwhile, former president Thabo Mbeki slammed both Magashule and Zuma at an ANC meeting this week. He said he voted for the party under Zuma but couldn’t bring himself to campaign for it. You and every other abused ANC voter, Thabo. 

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ Briefs

3. Respect to Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka: a 23-year-old tennis superstar of Japanese and Afro-Haitian descent, ranked No. 2 by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), and the world’s highest-paid female athlete. 

She’s also a young woman who has faced enormous pressure during her bullet-like rise to fame. She cried as she was booed by Serena Williams’ fans when she dethroned the reigning queen of tennis back in 2018. (Williams comforted her and called for the abuse to stop). 

Now Osaka has been frank about how her mental health has suffered in post-match news conferences, where reporters get to quiz the match losers. But her attempts to avoid the compulsory conferences at the French Open led to her being fined $15,000 by the event’s organisers and, finally, withdrawing from the tournament. The move has started a much-needed global conversation on mental health and sport. 

Venus Williams, a veteran of the game, served a perfect ace when asked about Osaka’s post-match conference concerns and how she, herself, coped: 

“For me personally, how I cope, how I deal with it, is that I know every single person asking me a question can’t play as well as I can and never will. So, no matter what you say or what you write, you’ll never light a candle to me.”

Damn right, Venus. And while Osaka is just at the start of what looks set to be a superb professional tennis career, it seems her candle is already burning far brighter than those held by the old-fashioned French Open organisers. They could have taken this opportunity to do things better but instead essentially bullied a young woman into stepping back from the game she loves.

4. The lowdown from SA’s latest family meeting

In case you missed it, Sunday saw yet another “family meeting” with Ramaphosa. But the shine seems to be wearing off and there’s a bit of cynicism around these briefings, which often lack detail. Ramaphosa also made the mistake of not addressing the Mkhize situation head-on, though he did respond to reporters’ questions about it. 

These new restrictions came into effect on Monday: 

  • Curfew: 11pm to 4am.
  • Restaurants, bars, taverns and other non-essential facilities close at 10pm. 
  • Indoor gatherings limited to 100 people and outdoor gatherings limited to 250 people. 
  • You’re still allowed to buy alcohol.😆

But are we actually in a third wave? A new wave is when new cases increase by 30% every week. According to Adrian Puren, the acting executive director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, this would equate to about 5 600 new cases a day. As of 2 June, 5 782 new cases were reported. So, we are now officially in the thick of things.  

The good news is that experts say residual immunity, ongoing vaccinations and no real threat of the variant which originated in India (as far as we know) all mean the third wave will probably not be worse than the second. 

5. No thanks to three children – Chinese parents

“Even one is exhausting.”

We’re dying with laughter at the response of Chinese parents to their government’s decision this week to allow them to have three children. We’re sure the parents of toddlers can relate. 😜

But there’s a deep social issue here. 

China has tried to socially engineer its people, often in brutal ways, but human nature just doesn’t work like that. After decades of its controversial one-child policy (introduced in 1979), authorities tried to change things when population growth slowed, affecting its workforce. But you can’t just flip a switch on something like that. There was barely any response to China’s two-child policy, introduced in 2016. Experts think allowing a third child won’t work, and citizens seem to agree. Many cited the cost of living, calling on government for child subsidies. Chinese workers notoriously have incredibly punishing work schedules, with some companies adopting the 996 policy: work from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, 6 days a week. 

If Chinese authorities can’t get their citizens to produce more worker bees, let this be a lesson to them. Families who did not obey the initial one-child policy rule faced fines, loss of employment and were sometimes forced into abortion.😐 There was possible female infanticide as families preferred male children, leading to a gender imbalance. Cruel policies create cruel results. 

6. AU finds its backbone 

The African Union (AU) has suspended Mali following a military coup that saw the interim president Bah Ndaw and interim prime minister Moctar Ouane placed under house arrest last week. This, after Colonel Assimi Goita last August led army officers to overthrow elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, causing political uncertainty and violence in the region. According to Al Jazeera nearly half a million Malians were forced to leave their homes and 6 000 were killed. Last week’s house arrests have been described by some experts as a continuation of what began last August; others call it the second coup in 11 months.

The AU said it is concerned with the volatility in the region and the effect it might have on the nation’s transition process. It threatened to impose sanctions on the West African country and has excluded Mali from all AU activities “until normal constitutional order has been restored in the country”. The AU is notoriously soft on serial abusers of democracy so this is good news. 

7. A blueprint for tackling racism

Racism. It’s a global issue that will take us coming together to really root out. 🤝 The parents at one Pretoria school have done exactly that: their solutions-oriented protests, which included white allies, provide a great blueprint for how we can affect change. They, along with their children, held a peaceful demonstration at the gates of Cornwall Hill College in Irene, Pretoria.

They called on the school’s governing body to address issues of racism and discrimination. An addendum which contained the testimonials of students who faced racism was handed over to the school, along with a memorandum with proposed changes, including a change in the curriculum and the inclusion of more people, to ensure the school actively takes steps to change its culture and policies. They pledged to hold the school board and executive to account, while promising to be more involved in the school’s affairs to ensure change. 

Now that’s how you change the world. 

Speaking of racism, Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter has been exonerated of all allegations of racism and wrongdoing against him by the company’s now suspended chief procurement officer, Solly Tshitangano. It seems Tshitangano, previously highly respected, irresponsibly played the racism card in response to his own performance issues. That just sets the fight back for all of us. 👎 

8. New unemployment stats are in – and they’re not pretty 😕

Bad news: The number of people who don’t have a job in South Africa increased slightly at the start of 2021. The unemployment rate increased to 32.6% in the first quarter, from 32.5% in the fourth quarter of 2020. Although it’s a marginal increase, it’s significant because it brings the joblessness rate to levels last seen in 2008. 😞 Statisticians say the increase is a result of more graduates and school-leavers entering the labour force – Covid-19 and loadshedding also play a role. 

According to Statistics South Africa, unemployment is highest among the youth, especially those aged between 15 and 24. What’s the solution? Experts say South Africa needs to do more to build confidence in our economy by providing more political and policy certainty. In doing so the private sector will also increase its investment into the economy, giving us more fuel to increase jobs.

In good news, however, (because we need it after hearing that!), the SABC has made a monthly profit for the first time in five years. Its CEO Madoda Mxakwe deserves credit, along with his team, for doing the hard work to make the public broadcaster sustainable. 

9. Malema parliament scuffle: Pan-African edition

What the heck is going on with the Pan-African Parliament? The AU’s legislative body has been meeting at its seat in Midrand over several days to elect new leadership. 

But repeated fights have broken out over how the body’s powerful president is elected, pitting Southern African delegates against the rest. Naturally, our very own Julius Malema, one of SA’s delegates, was at the centre of the fighting. 🤦🏾

SA and Zimbabwean delegates want a rotational presidency to replace the current system where the most votes win the presidency. Critics say this is a ploy to prolong Zimbabwe’s acting leadership.

Last week Malema threatened to kill a delegate from Mali… after the Malian allegedly threatened to kill him first. Then on Tuesday, he created a fresh scuffle, jumping out of his seat when the chair refused to open the floor to debate. 

It looks like more theatre of the absurd by the EFF leader, who notoriously uses these sort of tricks to disrupt SA’s parliament. 

10. Pride month: allies must speak up 

The end of June 1969 heralded the start of something that would go on to change the world for many. Police raids at a gay club in Manhattan, the Stonewall Inn, inspired protests that brought a whole new generation of LGBTIQ+ activists to the fore. That’s why June is Pride Month in many countries, including ours. Those letters (they stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer) aren’t just alphabet soup: they represent millions of people whose sexualities and gender expressions are still targeted by hate groups today. South Africa has a lot to be proud of, on paper; our Constitution protects the LGBTIQ+ community, and we were one of the first countries in the world to legalise same-sex unions. Many people live open, honest lives and are free to do so in our democracy. Our most popular pageant, Miss South Africa, has even finally opened entries to transgender women.

But there’s a lot of work still to do: as Mamba Online reported, there’s been a wave of homophobic murders across SA in recent months. So, while we encourage you to wave your rainbow flag in honour of Pride month, don’t forget to speak up, demand better from leaders, police and communities, and be a true ally. 🏳️‍🌈