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12 August ’21 Wrap: A strong centre in Cyril’s new cabinet

Spring is coming and almost 10% of adults have been fully vaccinated in South Africa! Plus we were warmed by images of more than 100 South African firefighters arriving at Winnipeg’s international airport to help Canada fight its raging wildfires. They held the flag high and sang as they arrived. If only all news could be as inspiring. 😆 But we’re committed to telling you everything you need to know about the week that was. So, let’s dive into your weekly simple news update, brought to you by Verashni Pillay and the explain.co.za team. 😄

Format

🔊 For the audio version of The Wrap:

🗞 For text, keep scrolling. 

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Our take: The cabinet reshuffle explained

Shortly after sending out last week’s Wrap, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the Cabinet reshuffle we’d all been WAITING for. If you heard the news and didn’t know what to make of it, we’re here to help. 

A strong centre

Ramaphosa used the opportunity to build a strong political and strategic centre, as Carol Paton writes in Business Day, in one of the best analyses we’ve seen. 

“At the nucleus is the combination of new finance minister Enoch Godongwana and minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele. Together we can expect them to drive an economic reform agenda and to think strategically about the government’s programme of action in a way that has been absent from the Ramaphosa presidency until now.” 

Along with other elements of the reshuffle, this means faster action to get our economy growing.

The other big news is that Ramaphosa has the all-important intelligence services reporting directly to him; this, after the cluster failed spectacularly to stop the recent lootings. If the shift in reporting lines sounds sinister, it isn’t. It’s normal in other countries to have intelligence services report directly to the president. 

The not-so-good-news

As we explained previously, Ramaphosa was largely limited to the anaemic ANC MP pool of talent because of how the list system works (that’s a topic for another day). The cabinet remains bloated; Ramaphosa must still play the ANC’s game of rewarding people, etc. 

The new finance minister

The background here is that former finance minister Tito Mboweni never wanted the job, and while he was good at it, he was frustrated with ANC politics. There was some outcry when Godongwana’s appointment was announced because of a previous scandal that involved losing pensioners’ money. He resigned back then and repaid the money, but the mud has been difficult to wipe off. 

But Godongwana really is a strong choice: he was previously in charge of ANC economic transformation and has clout in the party, which is crucial when it comes to finance ministers getting their colleagues to toe the fiscal line. Importantly, international markets know and like him, plus he’s got sound financial ideas. He knows dead socialist rhetoric will get us nowhere and believes in a developmental state balanced by a commitment to investor-friendly policies. 

All in all, the new cabinet puts us on an even keel. 

The big story: Ramaphosa’s testifies to Zondo

The big story this week is President Ramaphosa returning to the State Capture Commission following his first appearance in April. Then, he was testifying in his capacity as President of the ANC, and he was criticised for being terribly vague. Ramaphosa’s second appearance, in his capacity as President of the country, was hotly anticipated. 

His testimony is ongoing, but here are the important bits so far. 

  • Being deputy under President Jacob Zuma left him with very few choices, but he ultimately chose to stay and fight state capture from within the executive. 
  • Being confrontational with Zuma would have led to him being fired and thus undermined the fight against state capture. “Had I and like-minded individuals resigned [it would have led to] the unfettered expansion of the state capture project,” said Ramaphosa.
  • When Zuma booted Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister, replacing him with Des van Rooyen, Ramaphosa threatened to resign.
  • The ANC’s deployment committee did not interfere with appointments to key institutions – it merely made recommendations to its MP’s about certain appointments. Ramaphosa claimed the committee’s role should be viewed more positively, saying more women are in government because of its recommendations.   
  • He said the party was blindsided by Zuma’s friendship with the Gupta family, admitting it could have done more to prevent state capture. He denied being complicit in state capture but admitted that the party could well have been negligent.
  • He admits that rebuilding the state and recovering from state capture will take a long time.

As you can imagine, many of his responses elicited a collective eye roll from citizens on social media. But hey, at least he showed up. His predecessor is in jail for failing to do so. 

 Briefs

3. Failed Defence Minister promoted to Speaker of Parliament

Hot on the heels of being booted from the cabinet, outgoing Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula will fill the vacant position of Speaker of Parliament – much to… nearly everyone’s dismay. 

She effectively swapped positions with Thandi Modise, who Ramaphosa appointed to head up Mapisa-Nqakula’s previous ministry in last week’s reshuffle. Mapisa-Nqakula is emerging richer for it. Her salary is higher as speaker than as minister, increasing from the early R2 millions to nearly R3 million annually. 

Her nomination as Speaker by the ANC’s top six has been unsurprisingly unpopular with opposition parties and civil society, for two main reasons: 

  1. Her predecessor, Modise, was hugely popular among members of parliament across party lines; they saw her as being fair and balanced in running parliament. 
  2. Her nine-year tenure at defence was marked by controversy, including the alleged abuse of state resources. Parliament to set up a committee to investigate whether she received cash and gifts valued at R5 million from a contractor of the SANDF. Now that she is speaker the committee will have to present its findings ABOUT her TO her. This will present a conflict of interest.

Mapisa-Nqakula was ousted thanks to her part in government’s failed response to the recent looting.  Afterwards, she downplayed the seriousness of what happened and publicly contradicted Ramaphosa’s characterisation of the violence as an insurrection. It’s bizarre she’s now getting this position. 😬

4. Our regular Zuma Stalingrad update

Former president Jacob Zuma is meant to be facing charges related to the arms deal at the Pietermaritzburg High Court. But being Zuma, he’s managed to throw up two obstacles to proceedings actually getting underway. The first, in May, involved questioning state prosecutor Billy Downer’s impartiality. 

The second emerged on Tuesday. Zuma was meant to appear in court; instead, the court received a letter referencing a mysterious illness Zuma has apparently been battling for 18 months that suddenly meant he couldn’t attend proceedings. 

As the state put it… if it’s been going on for 18 months why was it now suddenly an emergency? Zuma was moved to a hospital on Friday for medical observation, according to prison officials, who did not provide details on his condition. Judge Piet Koen on Tuesday granted a postponement to September 9 and ordered Zuma’s team to produce a medical report by 20 August. He also ordered the state to appoint a medical doctor of its choice to assess whether Zuma was fit to stand trial and give evidence.

Zuma is still in jail, in case you’re wondering, serving his 15-month sentence for contempt, and waiting to hear the ConCourt’s decision on that one. So many court cases, so little time. 🙄

5. Celebrities’ bathing confessions cause a stink

Fans are incensed. Or maybe burning incense, we’re not sure. 😂 Hollywood A-listers are coming out to reveal their bathing habits – and it’s not pretty. 

It started when actors Mila Kunis and hubby Ashton Kutcher appeared on a podcast saying they do not shower every day and that, until they can see and smell the dirt on their children, the kids remain unbathed. With that, a stinky Pandora’s box sprung open and everyone from  Jack Gyllenhaal to Kristen Bell came clean (or not) about their bathing habits. 

Some infrequent bathers say they wait for biological scents to come through, while others argue that they are doing their bit to save the environment. In response celebs like Dwayne Johnson and Jason Momoa and Jodie-Turner Smith made it clear that they bathe regularly. 

The responses on social media have been hilarious, of course, from a column titled “I Am Begging the Celebs to Please Bathe” to racial analysis of white vs black people’s bathing habits. Look, no judgement from us either way. We’re just here for the memes. 😅

6. Phoenix attacks to be investigated

There’s been a raging debate about what exactly happened in the historically Indian township of Phoenix in KwaZulu-Natal during last month’s unrest. Thirty-six people were reportedly killed there in what’s been categorised as an eruption of decades-long tension between black and Indian communities. Indian residents are accused of establishing community patrols designed to protect their neighbourhoods from looters but which allegedly racially profiled and barred black people from entering the neighbourhood even if they lived there. There are also allegations of violence and even killings. 

So we’re pleased to see that the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Communities (CRL) is set to hold investigative hearings into the matter. This follows a march last week by hundreds of EFF members to the Phoenix police station calling for justice for victims of the “Phoenix massacre”. 

The hearings start on 11 August at Durban’s Royal Hotel. 

Police Minister Bheki Cele says 31 people have been arrested in connection with the Phoenix killings, and more arrests are expected. 

7. SA law shifts on hate speech vs freedom of expression  

A very important test of our freedoms wrapped up recently at the Constitutional Court, but it kinda slipped under the radar. 

The case dates back to 2008, when the Sunday Sun published a column by journalist Jon Qwelane, titled “Call me names, but gay is not okay”. In it, he compared same-sex marriage to bestiality. The column rightfully triggered a flood of hate speech complaints to the South African Human Rights Commission. 

What followed was a test of the country’s conservative laws around hate speech. Qwelane, who went on to serve as SA’s ambassador to Uganda, was adamant that the hate speech provision of the Equality Clause in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights is vague and unconstitutional as it limits freedom of expression. His case worked its way through our legal system all the way up to the ConCourt, which has finally decided on the matter. (Qwelane passed away late last year.)

In a landmark judgment, the court confirmed the column was indeed hate speech, overturning a lower court’s decision to the contrary. 

Importantly, the court also looked at whether the Equality Act was, as Qwelane contended, “vague and overbroad”, since it goes much further than the Constitution in also outlawing “hurtful” speech. As you can imagine, that makes the definition of hate speech very broad. 

On this point, the Constitutional Court agreed: it has given parliament 24 months to rectify the defect in the act. It’s a win for freedom of expression – and our laws and processes. 

8. Low-fee bank launches are a win for consumers

South Africa lags behind the rest of the continent when it comes to fintech. Services aimed at financial inclusion, like mobile money, are booming across Africa but here we’re pretty traditional with our banking. You may also have noticed, when you’ve travelled, how much lower bank fees are in developed countries like the US and UK – basically zero! – compared to what we pay here. But there’s now lots of movement in the lower-income banking market, with several recent low-fee or no-fee bank launches: African Rainbow Capital Investments’ TymeBank and Discovery’s Discovery Bank. The latest is Bank Zero, which launched with little fanfare. We’re guessing they’ve tightened the marketing budget to help keep fees low. The good news is that all this fresh competition forces the bigger banks to reconsider their offerings and be more competitive. Now’s a good time to re-examine your banking options!

9. International news worth knowing:

🔹Zambia’s important poll

Zambians headed to the polls today in a tight race between President Edgar Lungu and his main opponent, Hakainde Hichilema, who are facing off for the third time. It’s a crucial election: the country is in tough economic straits despite its copper riches. Young people, who make up the majority of the seven million registered voters, are most affected. It’ll take a couple of days to hear the results, but experts expect it to be too close for an outright winner, which may lead to a runoff – another vote to break the tie. 

🔹US withdraws from Afghanistan 

Can you believe 11 September marks 20 years since the 9/11 attacks on the US? The country responded, in part, by cracking down on Afghanistan’s Taliban who refused to hand over Osama bin Laden. The US set up shop in Afghanistan, vowing to support democracy. Two decades and hundreds of billions of dollars later, they’re giving up. US president Joe Biden’s decision to remove US forces from their longest-running war was a rational one for his country. But it’s a bitter one for Afghans, as Taliban hardliners are already quickly taking back control from the fragile government, leading to fears of a new civil war. It’s all the more poignant for what MIGHT have been. In the 1950s and 60s, Afghanistan took steps towards modernising, and prioritising women rights, before a cycle of bloody coups, invasions, and civil wars began. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that democracy really can’t be forced from above. 😕

🔹China clamps down on… karaoke?

Who doesn’t love a good karaoke night out? China’s officials, that’s who – and they’re clearly VERY thin-skinned. China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism is banning karaoke songs that may endanger “national unity, sovereignty or territorial integrity, violate state religious policies by propagating cults or superstitions, or which encourage illegal activities such as gambling and drugs”.  The ban will be effective from 1 October at karaoke venues across China. The day the music dies, we guess …

10. Joburg gets a new mayor

If you live in Joburg, can you name your mayor? 

The latest answer is Jolidee Matongo. This week the ANC and allied parties voted him in to replace Geoff Makhubo, who passed away last month. The opposition DA decided not to put up a candidate against him as it’s – barring a Covid-related postponement – only a few months until the next local government elections. Joburg’s mayoral race will be one to watch as former DA mayor Herman Mashaba works to win the mayoral chain back, this time on his own platform, Action SA. Meanwhile, Twitter showed itself to be the cesspit it really is when Matongo trended for all the wrong reasons after his appointment. This followed unconfirmed reports that his father is Zimbabwean, prompting xenophobes to demand that the ANC remove him. The man was born and bred in Soweto. Shame on the trolls. 

11. A tragic loss for Amapiano

What a sad week for South African fans of Amapiano, the music genre known for its piano beats and cool dance moves. Five people died in a fatal car accident while travelling to a gig in Rustenburg, among them Amapiano artists Killer Kau and Mpura Mpura as well as DJs Thando Tot and Khanya Hadebe. Rest in power. 🕊️

That’s it from us at The Wrap, an award-winning product of explain.co.za – simple news summaries for busy people. 💁🏾‍♀ 

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Till next time, goodbye from the team ✌🏽