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16 July ’21 Wrap: A dark week leaves SA bruised

Tensions are high in South Africa, so it’s OK if you’re feeling scared, sad and a lot more in between. But as always, we’re here to bring you a solid analysis of the week that was, plus South Africans who are making us proud on the international stage, Botswana’s latest shiny find and more! 

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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Our take: Dark days can give way to light

It’s been an impossibly difficult few days for South Africa. We, like many of you, are grappling with complex feelings: we’re sad, uneasy and struggling to hold on to positivity. 

But as the week has progressed, there have been tiny glimmers of hope; green shoots that suggest there’s a way out of the quagmire if we’re willing to have hard conversations and hold each other close while holding ourselves and our leaders accountable. We know we can do this. South Africans, even when we’re enraged and in pain, have a hidden compartment in our hearts: it’s called compassion, and it burned brighter in some places this week than the flames of unrest.

In Durban, BBC cameraman Thuthuka Zondi captured the horrifying moment when Naledi Manyoni threw her daughter Melokuhle from a burning building – and safely into the arms of a crowd that had gathered below to ensure the toddler was unscathed. Manyoni later told the BBC: “All I could do was trust complete strangers.” 

Elsewhere, people banded together to guard shopping centres. Referring to Soweto’s Maponya Mall, The South African reported:

“The efforts to stop the violence was recognised by locals – as some even arrived with coffee and refreshments for the mall defenders. In such worrying times, scenes like these need to be amplified, because they reflect the true heart of South Africa that we all know and love.” 💫

Taxi associations emerged as perhaps the most unlikely heroes of the week. The men whose driving often raises temperatures came out in force to protect businesses and shopping centres from looters. Sure, closed shops mean fewer fares and that’s bad for their bottom line. But their pragmatism likely spared many businesses additional heartache, so we salute the drivers-turned-security-guards!

The likelihood of food and medication shortages has us all worried. Some individuals and organisations have set up collection points for those who need groceries and other essentials, bank accounts have been opened to help businesses get back on their feet and neighbours are reportedly helping each other out as much as possible. 

It would be naive to pretend there’s no dark news amid the light. Vigilantism crept into some communities, with racist undertones – and overtones – as some black people were reportedly denied access to their own streets and homes. Panic buying will leave those who can’t afford a large pre-payday shop hanging. Agricultural economist Wandile Sihlobo has also assured people it’s not necessary.

This week has exposed SA’s faultlines, which are always close to the surface given our turbulent history and the growing pains of the past three decades. When the smoke clears and the slow, painful process of rebuilding begins, we must seize the opportunity. Things cannot go back to the way they were before. We need to have tough conversations and push for big, systemic changes. It will be hard. But you know what, SA? We can do hard things. Together.

2. The big story: How did we get here?

When former president Jacob Zuma arrived at the Estcourt Correctional Centre last Thursday, few people believed the story was over. Fewer still (apparently including our intelligence services; more on that shortly) imagined what was to come.

Zuma’s supporters were aggrieved at his incarceration. Protests escalated fast in KwaZulu-Natal. Roads were blocked, trucks were set alight, and malls and shops were stripped bare and torched. The conflagration spread to Gauteng: shops were looted, buildings were burning, and social media timelines were stacked with images of people scuttling past shattered windows, their arms or vehicles filled with food, groceries, clothes and appliances. By this afternoon, 72 people had died.

It looked like chaos and opportunism but there were also organised, slick operators on the prowl. Electrical and water infrastructure came under attack.

News24 reported yesterday that authorities had identified Thulani Dhlomo, former head of the State Security Agency’s rogue special operations unit and a very close Zuma ally, as the “prime suspect” in orchestrating the KZN unrest. The Daily Maverick described Dhlomo as one of 12 alleged ringleaders whose “political campaign … has spiralled out of the control of its firestarters”. 

So, what are we dealing with? Deliberate insurrection or unplanned uprising? Well, both. The protests may have started because of Zuma’s incarceration, but the chaos spread because of desperation, hunger and opportunism. Exclusionary systems, a complex history that’s never been fully reckoned with, years of broken promises, high rates of joblessness and pervasive hunger are all at play here.

That means merely quelling the symptoms (looting and destruction) won’t do a damn thing to cure our ills. Strong, decisive leadership will be crucial. It is more important than ever to get out and vote in October – if the planned elections go ahead – so politicians across the board can be held to account. A massive push across society for genuine systemic change is long overdue but cannot be deferred any longer. We can put out the flames 🧯, but a fire has been lit – and it will keep burning whether or not Zuma is behind bars.

Briefs

3. Thank you, journalists

As many people fled from areas devastated by violence, journalists headed into the flames. Sure, it’s their (our) job and, sure, we’re biased but take it from us: it’s not easy to work in the heart of any protest let alone full-blown riots. However, that’s what our colleagues in the industry have done – they put themselves at risk to bring the story into our homes. That came at a high cost: SABC reporters came upon dead bodies while reporting; others had to flee dangerous situations. We were saddened to hear that at least four community radio stations were badly damaged during the unrest.

All this is a reminder, if you needed it, that a free press matters. Having journalists on the ground, digging deep to find out what’s behind the current situation, benefits us all. We here at explain.co.za are sending thanks and strength to our comrades in the field. Stay safe, everyone.

4. Some disruptions, but vaccine train rolls on

In case you forgot, on Sunday evening President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the adjusted level 4 lockdown would be extended for another 14 days, until 25 July. Some tweaks mean we can eat at restaurants and sweat out our frustrations at the gym. But other restrictions remain in place: curfew is between 9pm and 4am, alcohol is banned and travel in and out of Gauteng is prohibited. 

The ongoing unrest has severely disrupted the vaccine programme, and several vaccination sites have closed in KZN and Gauteng. But the country’s 35 – 49 age cohort isn’t letting that deter them: this group can now register on the government’s online vaccination portal (our team elders did just that and can promise it takes only a minute or two!). Their vaccination drive officially kicks off on 1 August, although Business Insider reported that some sites are already accepting bookings from people who’ve registered on the government portal. Go get jabbed, elder millennials! 💉

Meanwhile, our continent’s vaccine future looks a little brighter: Ramaphosa said a “historic agreement” between the African Union and European Union meant 17 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine would be delivered to SA under licence, rather than contract. That gives us and other African countries more control over vaccines. Delivery will commence from the end of July and continue for the next three months.

5. Two Emmys for Noah and a snub for Mbedu

It’s Emmy season! The nominees were announced this week ahead of the big night in September and, while we loved seeing which of our fave shows made it to the top, we’re especially proud of the South Africans in the mix. 💪🏽 Comedian Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show bagged two nominations, while The Underground Railroad – featuring our very own Thuso Mbedu in the lead – scored seven. To our dismay (and some critics’ surprise, as Channel24 reported), Mbedu didn’t pick up a best actress nomination. Hmph! 

Hurt feelings aside, we’d like to give a nod to Hollywood – not well known for prioritising diversity, though this seems to slowly be changing – for its inclusion of transgender and non-binary performers in film. MJ Rodriguez, from the popular Netflix series Pose, made history as the first transgender actress to be nominated in a major acting category,🏳️‍🌈 while winners can now choose “performer” on their awards rather than the words “actor” or “actress”. It’s the 21st century, and we’re glad to see the Emmys getting on the same page. 

6. Covid drives high school dropout rate 

Data from the National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (or NIDS-CRAM to its friends) reveals that up to 750 000 pupils have dropped out of the formal schooling system since the pandemic began. Researchers say that’s nearly three times the country’s already-high school dropout rate. 😔 The harrowing figure is another clear sign of the deep inequality that prevails in SA: most simply can’t afford or even access the digital platforms that have become the norm for teaching and learning.

In other education-related news, the Department of Education is facing (yet another) lawsuit. The Daily Maverick reported that civil society organisations say the department has not complied with a July 2020 judgment compelling it to urgently reinstate the National School Nutrition Programme. The programme, which keeps millions of young tummies full, was suspended during the hard lockdown in March 2020. It’s galling that civil society and the courts have to keep getting involved when the issue at hand is simple: kids need warm, nutritious food and authorities have committed to providing just that. Step up, government!   

7. SA’s Montjane wows Wimbledon

Whether or not you’re a tennis fan, Kgothatso Montjane deserves a wild round of applause for becoming the first black South African woman to reach the Wimbledon singles and doubles finals. The Limpopo-born para-athlete is ranked number 1 in SA and number 5 in the world for wheelchair tennis. 🎾♿ She finished as runner-up in the singles tournament to world number 1, the Netherlands’ Diede de Groot. There was also disappointment for Montjane and her playing partner, England’s Lucy Shuker, in the doubles final. Despite the outcome, we’re in awe of the 35-year-old player: she’s made the history books and done SA proud. Kgothatso, you’re an ace! 

8. Botswana’s gigantic diamond boom

Last month we reported that residents in and around KwaHlati in KwaZulu-Natal were left disappointed after “diamonds” found in the area turned out to be quartz. But two recent sparkly finds in Botswana are most certainly not fake news. One of the massive diamonds was found at Karowe mine and weighed more than 1,000 carats (the unit of measurement for precious stones). The other, from the Jwaneng mine, weighed in at 1,174 carats. That’s … a lot of diamond, as two physicists explained in an article for The Conversation. Apparently one of the reasons that bigger gems are being found more often is that new technology helps mines to process ore using x-ray technology specifically targeted at “mega diamond recovery”. It’s good news for our neighbours in Botswana, since diamonds make up a fair portion of the country’s GDP. So, where can we buy some of that x-ray tech…? 💎

9. English football reckons with racism

English soccer fans were heartbroken after the national men’s team lost to Italy on penalties in Sunday’s UEFA European Football Championship (Euros) final. England last won a major trophy in 1966, when they triumphed at the World Cup. Long-suffering Bafana Bafana supporters may have felt a bit of sympathy, but then the racism that’s given English football fans a bad name reared its ugly head and sympathy turned to anger. Three English players of African or Caribbean descent – Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho – missed their penalties, which triggered widespread racist abuse. A mural of Rashford in his hometown, Manchester, was vandalised. However, it’s not all bad news: many of the young player’s fans rushed to decorate the mural with hundreds of supportive messages). Meanwhile, a petition started by three football fans who want anyone guilty of racist abuse banned for life from matches across England gathered 1 million signatures in just two days. We hope Sunday’s events are the start of a real reckoning around racism in England, because any kind of prejudice makes the beautiful game ugly. ⚽

10. In memoriam

This week, South Africans mourned the loss of five high-profile figures. 

Johannesburg mayor Geoff Makhubo, who succumbed to Covid-19 on 9 July, was laid to rest on Wednesday. Makhubo, who became mayor in December 2019, was described as an “exemplary leader”. Health and Social Development MMC Eunice Mgcina has been appointed as acting mayor. 

Dr Ben Ngubane, the former premier of KwaZulu-Natal, lost his life to Covid-19 at the age of 79. He served on Eskom’s board for three years and was also the chairperson of the SABC and Land Bank boards. 

We also pay tribute to Lesego Semenya, an award-winning chef and TV personality, who also died of Covid-19 related complications. LesDaChef, as he was known, will be remembered for his warm and inspiring personality. 

Skeem Saam actress Nokuzola Mlengana passed away at the age of 58. She was best known for her role as “Sis Ouma” on the popular television show. The cause of her death has not been disclosed. 

And this morning it was announced that award-winning musician and songwriter Tshepo Tshola had died, also because of Covid-19 complications. Known as “The Village Pope”, he will be remembered for songs like “Ho lokile” and “Akubutle”. 

May they rest in peace. 

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_ ✌🏽