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01 July ’21 Wrap: Jail for Zuma, flowers for Cyril

What a week! From Jacob Zuma going to jail (you heard right) to Cyril Ramaphosa being exonerated in court TODAY, as well as some folks’ plans to grow weed at the Union Buildings, it’s been a wild week! 

So, let’s dive into your weekly simple news update, brought to you by Verashni Pillay and the explain.co.za team. 😄

Format

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1. Our take: We must all be equal before the law

A just society is predicated on the idea that everyone, from a street sweeper to a president, is equal before the law. We know this theoretically, but in practice, South Africans have never seen a truly high-profile politician sentenced to prison time. 

Until this week, when former president Jacob Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of court. 

You’ll remember the background: he repeatedly refused to appear before the Zondo Commission to answer for his clearly pivotal role in enabling the plunder of our state’s resources. Zuma, by the way, didn’t even bother showing up to the ConCourt hearings about not showing up to the Zondo Commission! 

Reading out Tuesday’s main judgment, a beautiful piece of writing in its own right, acting Chief Justice Sisi Khampepe said: “Never before has the judicial process been so threatened.” Did we mention this is the first time a woman is in the role of Chief Justice? Zuma obviously did, because he promptly called her “emotional and angry”. 🙄 

The judgment is a win for our civil society and judiciary, of course – but also for the country at large. Less stable democracies would see civil war or authoritarian actions from their ruling parties before such accountability was allowed to occur. 

So what happens next? Zuma must report to either the Nkandla or Johannesburg central police stations by Monday so the station commander can ensure that he is committed to a correctional facility. If he doesn’t, the minister of police and the national commissioner of police must ensure he is arrested. Police Minister Bheki Cele has said the police will do their part. 

Zuma’s daughter Duduzile says he is willing to face his sentence while his son Edward and a handful of more radical supporters say they will oppose it. But these voices are in the minority and there is no way to appeal this sentence. 

Experts say Zuma will not be treated like a hardened criminal given his status and the nature of the crime, and may even be sent to the medical wing given his age and the risk of Covid. He would be eligible for parole in less than four months. But still: seeing him spend any time in prison for clearly disobeying the law sends a clear – and welcome – signal. No one is above the law. 

Plus when he gets out he has that decades-in-the-making arms deal trial to look forward to. The master of delaying tactics has run out of road.  

2. The big story: It’s the real covid, so please stand up

The past 15 months of lockdown have been something of a dress rehearsal for Gauteng. 🙈 Compared to what we’re seeing now, the province’s first two waves look relatively tame. 

We told you previously that authorities were doing their best to stop the Delta variant, which was first identified in India, from reaching SA. But it was impossible to contain and it’s now our most dominant variant, driving a deadly third wave. Gauteng’s hospitals are under serious pressure. 

Like us, India didn’t experience the nightmare scenarios that played out early in Italy and New York, with doctors having to choose who lived. Experts wondered about some sort of natural immunity among Indian and African populations – but the Delta variant emerged in India and wreaked havoc. Fatalities soared; hospitals were overwhelmed and funeral pyres burned non-stop. 

Things have suddenly become very real. But, at the same time, we’re all REALLY fatigued with the whole Covid business. Many have been relatively careful and avoided catching the virus, so it’s tempting to believe we’ll keep being lucky. Don’t be fooled, though: this variant is a new ball game. It is TWICE as contagious as the original virus. 

So on Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa had to take us back to lockdown level 4 for the first time since May last year. Most thought we’d never be here again, given the effect of restaurant closures and an alcohol ban on the economy. with restaurants closed and alcohol banned, given what it does to the economy. But we had no choice. Other provinces are in danger and experts worry things are likely to get much worse as the new variant spreads. 

This isn’t unique to SA. Australia has introduced new lockdown measures for the first time thanks to the variant, after also being rather lax about getting its population vaccinated. China, meanwhile, is setting up giant quarantine centres. 

The good news, however, is that the variant is not necessarily deadlier. The Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines have shown great effectiveness against it while studies are still being conducted on the effectiveness of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Remember, even if a vaccine isn’t 100% effective against the new variant, It’s better to get the vaccine than not – it could well save your life by limiting the severity of the infection. 

Plus: If you are 50 and older, you are eligible to start registering for the vaccine in SA from today – vaccinations begin on 15 July. 

One more time, let’s say it together (even if you’re exhausted): we can do this. 

Briefs

3. Green politics for SA’s Khoisan?

The way SA – generally – allows the expression of protest is something special. We love that a group of Indigenous people casually setting up camp outside government’s most important building for THREE years has barely made headlines. And now, the Khoisan have decided to add a greenhouse to their spot on the lush lawns of Pretoria’s Union Buildings and… potentially grow weed. You can’t make this stuff up. Are they hoping to smoke Ramaphosa out? 😂 Honestly, can you imagine this happening outside, say, Germany’s Bundestag? Mein Gott! The group’s demands include: being recognised as South Africa’s first nation; their language, Khoekhoegowab, being made official; being referred to as the Khoisan and not as coloured, and possession of their ancestors’ land being returned to them. The DA is calling for the group to be removed, (of course it is). But really, they’re just a group of people, standing in front of the Union Buildings, asking it to accept them. 🤭

4. eSwatini: pro-democracy protests

A match has been lit in the Kingdom of eSwatini. The continent’s last absolute monarchy, formerly called Swaziland, has this week been rocked by pro-democracy protests. More than 20 people have reportedly been killed by the military and police, and dozens detained.

King Mswati III has ultimate authority over parliament, cabinet and the judiciary, plus inordinate control in many of the country’s biggest companies. Some of his businesses have been set alight. 

The monarch was initially rumoured to have fled to SA seeking safety from the demonstrators, something eSwatini’s government quickly denied. They also released restrictions parading as “Covid-19” regulations, including a dusk to dawn curfew, and resorted to the tired trick of autocrats everywhere by shutting down the internet. VPN redirection services have helped to keep some news coming out of the country. 

The protests have been fuelled by government’s failure to protect the economic interests of nearly 1.3 million emaSwati. There have been stories of people with nothing to eat. This while King Mswati III and his family flash and flaunt their wealth on social media. Two of his children even did an Instagram live, literally just laughing at the protestors. If being out of touch was a person…  😳 They should have told protesters to eat cake while they were at it. Watch out for that metaphorical guillotine, kids. 

5. Free Britney!

We’ve told you previously about the trials and tribulations of one Britney Spears. The ‘90s pop icon fell from grace and has been locked into a bizarre “conservatorship” for 13 years, giving her father James and team full control over her life and finances while leaving her powerless. For years fans have wondered if she’s OK; her social media posts left many convinced she was pretending or being forced to act the part. Seems they were right. Leaked audio from her court testimony, which focused on her father’s role in the conservatorship, reveals in frightening detail how even a powerful celebrity can be exploited. 

The worst part of the leak is her claim that she hasn’t been allowed to remove a contraceptive IUD and fall pregnant with her boyfriend. This is a possible violation of her Constitutional rights. 

In the audio, Britney says her father loved every moment of her suffering and having control over his powerful daughter. The testimony shocked experts.

So, after all that, we’re a bit devastated by today’s news: the judge has denied Britney’s request to have her father removed from the conservatorship. CNN reports that, to make matters more bizarre, James Spears has asked the court to investigate his daughter’s allegations that she was medicated with lithium and made to perform against her will.

It is so sad that someone who was part of many other girls’ growth hasn’t been given a chance to do some growing up of her own. Free Britney! 

6. Where are the missing bitcoin billions?

Did you hear about the two South African brothers who ran away with over R50 billion worth of bitcoin? No, it’s not the start of a really complicated joke.

Quick explainer: Bitcoin is a digital form of money that isn’t controlled by any central bank or government. You can’t physically hold it, but it has real value and can be used to buy things or cash in as normal money.  Thanks to its unique blockchain technology, all transactions are recorded publicly but it’s pretty anonymous: nobody would know which ‘account number’ was yours unless you told them.

Enter the Cajee brothers, who saw an opportunity. They ran a cryptocurrency investment platform called Africrypt from SA, trading bitcoin on behalf of investors. They seemed to have rather high rates of returns and regulators now suspect it was a Ponzi scheme. In April they told their investors that the platform had been hacked – then promptly vanished. Even their former lawyers say their services have been terminated.

Former clients said the two, young as they were, talked a good game. Another client told Moneyweb the Cajees were prominent members of Johannesburg’s Muslim community and exploited the trust of friends and family.

But how did the pair get people to invest FIFTY BILLION rands worth of bitcoin? Well, lawyer Darren Hanekom, acting on behalf of several clients, believes the Cajees were acting on behalf of a much bigger international syndicate.

“It is very unlikely that they managed to rope in more than R50 billion from investors,” says Hanekom. “This was a money laundering operation.”

Remember folks, if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t. 😕

7. Ramaphosa vindicated by Constitutional Court ruling  

While Zuma was licking his wounds after the ConCourt’s scathing ruling, Ramaphosa was anxiously awaiting the same court’s judgment related to his CR17 bank statements. This was the funding used in his campaign to become ANC president ahead of the party’s pivotal 2017 election conference at Nasrec, that eventually saw Zuma’s faction ousted. Ramaphosa can breathe a sigh of relief: the court has ruled in his favour, saying there was no foul play. 

This ruling criticised Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s 2019 finding that Ramaphosa had “wilfully and inadvertently” (which, um, mean entirely opposite things?) misled parliament when he responded to a question by then-DA leader Mmusi Maimane relating to a R500 000 payment made by dubious former Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson. Ramaphosa initially said the money was for “consultancy” work done by his son, Andile; a few days later he corrected himself,  saying it was in fact a campaign donation. 

This is another blow for Mkhwebane, who has had a number of judgments slamming her work. Her original CR17 report was being used by Ramaphosa’s foes in the party to try to oust him. 

So it’s been a pretty good few weeks for Ole Cupcake, with his enemies on the backfoot. 🧁️ He won the fight to get Ace Magashule suspended, overruled Gwede Mantashe to release lots more energy generation, and now this.

However, pro-democracy pundits have said the ruling is a blow for democracy. The larger issue, they say, is that internal party campaigns shouldn’t be treated as private affairs, which is what the court effectively did in its judgment today. They affect public life, and deserve interrogation. That’s a good point. SA has an opaque political funding model that IS bad for democracy. The party political funding bill is set to force parties to be more transparent about their fundraising, but won’t apply to leaders contesting internal party elections. 

8. #Adulting 101: Tax season is open

It’s the adultiest thing ever: time to file your taxes. Tax season is open for individual taxpayers from 1 July until 23 November. Taxpayers are encouraged to file online. If that’s not possible, you can go to a South African Revenue Services branch, by appointment only. 

9. Melting cables, record heat waves: climate change is here.

Every few months a new report is released or a Very Important Global Body issues a dire warning: climate change is real and we must act now to mitigate its effects. For many of us, though, it remains an abstract concept; a future calamity that might still be held at bay. But this week, as temperatures in parts of Canada – yes, the wintry land of ice hockey and snow – hit record highs and streetcar cables MELTED across the US border in Portland, Oregon, a sobering reality set in for some. The climate is already changing, and our warming world has very real human consequences. Extreme heat kills. It wrecks infrastructure. And it is happening, in real time, in cities around the globe. Here at explain, we like to offer solutions and constructive ideas. But we also know it’s crucial to tell it like it is. Read as much as you can about what’s happening and about how best to prepare yourself, your family and your community for a shifting climate. There’s no going back – but we can move forward together and try to help each other out.

10. RIP Steve Kekana

Legendary South African musician and qualified lawyer Steve Kekana has passed away. Known for his hit records like “Take your love and keep it” and “Feel so strong” with PJ Powers, Kekana will be remembered not just for his music, but for his grit: he was blind from the age of 5. Thank you for leaving us with your gift of great music. Robala ka kgotso Tlou. 

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_ ✌🏽