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29 July ’21 Wrap: Taxi violence lessons for SA

Hi there 🙋🏽‍♀️ in this week’s edition of The Wrap, we’re looking at at the difficult lessons emerging from Cape Town’s taxi violence; the latest business news – and an exciting achievement for the explain.co.za team!

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

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The big story: Taxi violence in Cape Town

An uneasy peace has settled over Cape Town after a rather drastic decision was taken to tackle the deadly taxi violence plaguing the city. 

Desperate authorities on Saturday suspended the contested route for two months. This, after repeated failed attempts to mediate with the warring taxi factions. 

Some background: over 80 people have been killed in the all-out war between Cata and Codeta over the lucrative Paarl to Bellville taxi route. The two taxi associations split in the early 1990s and have borne a grudge against each other since. The violence has ramped up, with drivers, passengers and bystanders killed and injured. While the taxi associations and their umbrella association are included in Cape Town’s integrated transport plan, the real issue is WHY we have these minibus taxis in the first place. The Group Areas Act of the 1950s saw black, coloured and Asian communities brutally kicked out of more central, affluent areas and dropped along the city’s margins. Decades later, working class people of colour still mostly live very far from their places of work, thanks to the downright distorted spatial reality apartheid left us with. Consider the fact that it’s nearly 50km from the Mbekweni informal settlement in Paarl to Belville. 🛺

So what next? The route is suspended for two months and the army has been stationed to ensure Cata and Codeta don’t try anything. More Golden Arrow busses have been deployed to help people get around. There were reports earlier in the week that many people still feared using taxis and that some children hadn’t returned to school because their parents were worried about violence. The province’s transport department is the regulator for taxi routes in the Western Cape and is looking to permanently close certain routes, which needs a formal legal process and gazetting. Some of the routes are not optimal for commuters, who have to take multiple taxis as drivers are scared to enter contested territory.  

What has come out of this intractable situation, however, is rather welcome cooperation across large sections of our society. The ANC-led national government and DA-led local government worked hard together to try to find a solution, while opposition figures like Bantu Holomisa and Zwelinzima Vavi also tried to help, and churches prayed. We want to see more of this: politicians putting aside their differences and actively seeking solutions. 

Briefs

2. Olympic round-up: Covid tests, Biles’s “twisties” and some SA medals 

A very different Olympics Games is taking place in Tokyo right now, with very few fans allowed to watch the events live, and daily Covid tests for athletes. But there’s still plenty of action on the field, track, court and in the pool. 

At the time of writing, Team SA had won two medals, both in the water: surfer Bianca Buitendag took silver in the waves and Tatjana Schoenmaker picked up silver in the pool during the 100m final. We’ll keep setting our alarms for stupid o’clock in the next few days to support our athletes as they go for gold, silver or bronze. 🥇

Probably the biggest story of the week is legendary US gymnast Simone Biles withdrawing from the women’s team final and the all-around final. She withdrew from the team event on Tuesday after suffering from “twisties”, described by The Guardian as ” a word for a mental block in which gymnasts lose their spatial awareness in the middle of complex skills”. Biles has been roundly hailed for trusting her gut; after all, while it’s got a cute name, “twisties” can lead to a gymnast being seriously injured while performing absurdly athletic and often dangerous moves. Her decision highlighted once again that athletes must take their mental health as seriously as they do their physical condition, and it’s a good reminder for us all: if Simone Biles, arguably the greatest gymnast of the modern era, can take a step back and give herself time to grapple with her mental health, you can too. 🌸

3. Big Brother is watching. No, seriously

Several heads of state, including our very own President Cyril Ramaphosa, have been targeted by spies, we heard last week. 😳 The revelations emerged thanks to the Pegasus project, an international investigative journalism initiative exposing authoritarian governments for spying on journalists, activists, politicians and business people. The report was based on a leaked spy report from 2020 and revealed that the spyware can read messages, record phone calls, see pictures and more. It’s scandalous and, frankly, scary. 

The spyware is sold by Israeli technology firm NSO Group. News24 reported that Ramaphosa was of special interest to Rwanda. We don’t know why yet, but we do know Rwanda’s increasingly dictatorial president, Paul Kagame, has been accused of spying on his opponents across the world, many of whom disappear or turn up dead. His former spy chief was famously found dead, possibly strangled, in a South African hotel in 2014. So, just to be clear, Ramaphosa is not spying on us, but there is no way of knowing if anyone else is: the software sneakily installs on your mobile device if you click on a link in a suspicious message or answer a phone call. It’s that easy. Experts say if you think you are a potential target, rebooting your phone frequently (switching it on and off) could “in theory” wipe off the software if it is stored in your phone’s memory. 😀

4. Covid-19: the good news edition

First up: we’re back to Level 3 and alcohol is back on the shelves, plus your kids can go back to school. Phew! 💉

Secondly, the over-35 cohort has been flocking to vaccination sites even though they’re only officially eligible from 1 August. Registration for the 35-49 group opened on 15 July and most centres have been accepting them for appointments or walk-ins since then! Meanwhile, those over 18 are next in line! 

It’s easy to forget just how impossible getting a vaccine looked a few months ago. We were dogged by headlines about failed negotiations between government and big pharma and one roadblock after the other. 

Timelines have shifted up by nearly two months: people aged 40 and above would originally only have started getting their vaccines in September, but this cohort became eligible for the jab in July instead! 

Other measures point to how things have sped up. Government initially aimed to have 40 million vaccinated by March 2022. Now it looks like we’ll reach that milestone sooner – the new goal is 35 million people vaccinated by Christmas. 

But, being pessimistic South Africa, we haven’t really celebrated this positive development. 

About 7 million South Africans have been vaccinated to date, over 250 000 people are being vaccinated daily, and the Aspen facility in Gqeberha is ready to release the first, fully completed J&J vaccines.

It’s more than a lot of countries can say: Australia had the means and clout to secure vaccines but did not do so fast enough and is behind on its programme, while the US is trying to bribe large swathes of its vaccine sceptic population with cash and lottery tickets!

Speaking of scepticism, it’s okay if you’re a little hesitant or worried about how the vaccine will affect your body. It is your choice, but it comes with a warning label: the fewer people vaccinated, the greater the likelihood of new variants popping up, because the virus will continue to spread, which we would hate to see. So, before refusing the jab, research it. 😉

5. Assessing the red berets, eight years on 🚗

This week the Economic Freedom Fighters celebrated eight years since it first launched on the back of leader Julius Malema’s expulsion from the ANC Youth League. 

While many have been appalled by the EFF’s politics of chauvinism, fearing the party wouldn’t toe the democratic line, Malema and co have largely worked within the system and followed the rules. Mostly. It’s a measure of the strength of our election systems and courts that the EFF hasn’t headed up a populist uprising – it last scored just 10.80% of the vote. As the youngest mainstream party it certainly has an outsized influence compared to its share of the vote and has driven conversations like #PayBackTheMoney, #FeesMustFall and #BringBackTheLand in parliament. The “fighters” have loads of energy and should be commended for their focus on education – they’re probably the most educated politicians around – and their brave stance against xenophobia, which hasn’t gone down well with many of their supporters. 

But the party also disappoints too often, mostly in its flip-flopping on crucial issues, and its tendency towards racist, sexist and other deeply problematic statements and politics – not to mention sheer bullying and allegations of corruption. When its members do the hard work of being lawmakers in parliament’s many committees they really shine – Floyd Shivambu’s grasp of corporate tax evasion is impressive. But they don’t do this enough. 

The focus should have been on its achievements this week. Instead, the party was at the centre of an uproar. The party’s Twitter account posted a congratulatory video from DJ Fresh, an accused rapist who has been removed from his 94.7 show over the allegation (which he denies). Feminists within the parties criticised the decision to leave the post up. It was especially disturbing to see followers of the party who reacted to criticism by threatening DJ Fresh’s accuser with rape and violence. Leading feminist activists – some of them, like Simamkele Dlakavu, long-standing members of the party – have publicly denounced the EFF, vowing never to vote for it again. 

6. R350 relief grant reintroduced

What can R350 a month buy?

If you earn less than R800 a month – which, according to a UN report from December, is true for one in five South Africans – the answer is “quite a lot”. That’s why the reintroduction of the R350-a-month Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant is good news for many: it means food on the table, taxi fare, an item of clothing or medication. The grant will go to 10 million South Africans in dire need of financial support, who have been especially affected by Covid-19 and the recent unrest. Ramaphosa made the announcement on Sunday, saying that the “slight improvement in revenue collection” will fund the grant, set to stay in place until March 2022. 

Finance minister Tito Mboweni said the grant will cost the government around R27 billion. This time, people including unemployed caregivers who currently receive child support grants also qualify. If you or anyone you know is eligible for the grant, you can apply at https://www.gov.za/coronavirus/socialgrants.

7. AI chatbot is the new Ouija board

If you could chat with a friend or relative who has passed away, would you? Well, if you really want to, you just may be able to. In a scene straight out of the dystopian series Black Mirror a Canadian man, desperate to “connect” with his late fiancee, used artificial intelligence to have conversations with her. He logged onto a chat website called Project December, then fed details about his late lover into the chatbot, including some text messages and personal characteristics. The system basically “manufactures” a digital version of your loved one as a chatbot so you can text them as if they were alive. We won’t lie… it’s all a little freaky. 👻

8. Business news in brief

🔷Tiger Brands recalls veg products

Tiger Brands has recalled 20 million of its KOO and Hugo’s vegetable products manufactured between 1 May 2019 and 5 May 2021 after a side seal leak was detected in two cans. In a statement, Tiger Brands said there have been no reports of serious health issues related to the affected product range. The recall caused quite the uproar, bringing back memories of the infamous listeriosis outbreak in which its processed meat division (which it has since sold) was implicated. You can find the manufacturing date at the bottom of the can and, if it falls into the date range, you can return it to a supermarket for a refund.

🔷Mango-es down

South African Airways subsidiary Mango suspended flights and services from 27 July, after the airline failed to pay navigation services to the body responsible for informing pilots where to fly to prevent collisions. This is a further blow to Mango, which entered into business rescue earlier this week. The airline was already in poor standing, having made its last profit in 2018, and was further hit by Covid-19 and travel restrictions. A company in business rescue is handed over to practitioners to see if it can somehow be saved; if not, it is liquidated. If you have a Mango flight booked, you can email them at enquiries@flymango.com.

🔷Transnet back on track

You may have missed this, but last week, Transnet’s IT systems were targeted in a cyberattack. It led to chaos and disruptions at the port’s main terminal, and the company declared a ‘force majeure’, which means unforeseen circumstances that prevent a company from fulfilling a contract. Thankfully things are almost back to normal; News24 reported that most ports are back up and running, though the force majeure will remain in place for a few days before likely being lifted.

9. SABC taken to court over music royalties

SA’s artists work with little protection and support, despite the important work they do. So it’s devastating to hear the SABC has been accused of hoarding millions in royalties meant for musicians. SAMPRA (South African Music Performance Rights Association), the body responsible for collecting royalties on behalf of artists, announced last week that it would be hauling the public broadcaster to court.💸

 The larger issue here, though, is that legislation fails to protect artists’ rights and earnings – especially when it comes to royalties. This leaves many vulnerable to record labels who tie them to exploitative contracts. But it’s not just record labels that musicians should watch out for: according to SAMPRA, the SABC owes musicians a collective R250 million in outstanding royalty payouts. The SABC denies the allegations and says the real issue here is a dispute between itself and the music industry’s collection bodies. Whatever the case, industry bodies and the SABC have to sit around the table and find a solution that will enrich the lives of the country’s musicians. Hopefully, with the intervention of the courts, musicians who have long been without an income due to the pandemic will get a vital cash injection. 

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 ✌🏽