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19 August ’21 Wrap: South Africans aren’t getting vaccinated.

Hi there 🙋🏽‍♀️ In this week’s edition of The Wrap, we’re looking at how, of all things, vaccine hesitancy is scuppering our war against Covid. Plus, we explain the mess in Afghanistan and why you should care. Then there’s the good news for democracy, both in Zambia and right here at home thanks to the recently completed Zondo commission. 

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, go here:

🗞 For text, keep scrolling.

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Our take: The war for hearts and minds

From tomorrow ALL adult South Africans, 18 years and up, are eligible for vaccines. 😁 Incredible, right? Sadly, it’s happening against the backdrop of some terrible irony: we’ve been desperate for the vaccine rollout to happen – but now that it has, too many of us just aren’t showing up. 

It turned out the real fight wasn’t with big pharma or inept government strategies. It was over hearts and minds, and scepticism is winning this dangerous war. 

Only about 7% of the eligible population has been vaccinated to date, but many vaccine sites are deserted and the number of daily inoculations is dropping. Discovery says its daily vaccination rate has halved. 😳  

Survey after survey has shown that South Africans are hesitant. Interestingly enough, the latest one showed vaccine hesitancy is most pronounced among white adults. The proportion of black respondents willing to get a shot rose to 75%, from 69% in the previous survey, but among white adults it fell 4 percentage points, according to the latest in a series of surveys released this week by the University of Johannesburg together with the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).

Government is concerned that this could spark a fourth wave and that it will not be able to meet its target of vaccinating at least 67% of the population by the end of the year. 

As one writer for The Guardian pointed out: “Vaccine rejection doesn’t happen in a vacuum.” Misinformation seems to be more compelling than the facts – and it’s spreading faster. 

According to the survey researchers: “Side effects and concerns that the vaccine will be ineffective are the most common self-reported explanations” for hesitancy. We’ve said it before, but one more time: vaccine side effects are minimal compared to the enormous risks associated with contracting Covid-19. Plus, arguments that the vaccine was “rushed” are completely unfounded. 

Only Limpopo appears to be making huge strides in its vaccine rollout, under its rather inspiring Health MEC, Dr Phophi Ramathuba. The province has the highest per capita vaccination rate in the country, and that’s thanks to its tailor-made approach of reaching out to the community through church leaders and traditional healers, while also using existing service delivery platforms, providing 3 000 points of contact to administer vaccines. The combination of winning over hearts and minds has been working perfectly for the province. We hope it inspires other parts of the country to do the same. 💫

The big story: Fear engulfs Afghanistan as Taliban takes over

Last week we told you about the US’s withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of fighting off the Taliban in the country. The war has its roots in the infamous 9/11 attacks on the US, but the real history goes back even further

Since that last update, and before the US’s official withdrawal on 31 August, Afghanistan has fallen to the Taliban with breathtaking speed. This is devastating because of the militant group’s history of brutally repressing women, minorities and dissenters, and providing a haven for Al-Qaeda, which masterminded the 9/11 attacks.

In the 20 years since the Taliban was ousted from power in Afghanistan, women were able to go to school and university again, and work. Young people watched music and sport in stadiums where dissidents were once publicly executed. It’s almost certain this freedom is over. 

Families are destroying any books considered subversive. Girls have hidden their educational diplomas and certificates. Traders are doing a brisk trade in burqas as women scramble to fit in with the Taliban’s stifling idea of religion. As Vogue puts it: “The Taliban have never been about Islamic principles; rather they have always operated by their own set of oppressive and barbaric rules.” 

Current US president Joe Biden honoured his predecessor Donald Trump’s withdrawal agreement with the Taliban. He and others assured the world that, after two decades of training and billions of US taxpayers’ dollars, the Afghan army was ready to hold its own. It wasn’t. Biden has been hammered angrily from all sides in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover.

How did it happen so fast?

The Taliban moved quickly and smartly, negotiating directly with regional leaders for control and pulling the rug out from under President Ashraf Ghani’s administration (Ghani has fled the country). Soldiers were demotivated, abandoned by their leaders – and, as the Taliban won ground, cut off from supplies and salaries. They were reluctant to fight. The Taliban took the capital city Kabul almost bloodlessly. 

“They contacted everyone and offered the chance to surrender or switch sides, with incentives, including money and rewarding people with appointments afterward,” said one expert. 

What’s next for Afghanistan?

Remnants of anti-Taliban fighters are currently holed up in the Panjshir Valley, the only Afghan province not taken by the Taliban. They’re appealing to the west for help, and are rumoured to be in touch with the Taliban for a power-sharing agreement. 

Meanwhile, the Taliban has been all over the international media. Its message is clear: Afghanistan will be peaceful, and it will respect human rights. Children will be allowed to go to school, media freedom will be protected, and there will be no retribution for those who partnered with the US. But for now, reports from the ground are mixed. It’s a sad day for freedom. 

Briefs

3. Calling out celebs’ fake designer togs

A cheeky Instagram account is exposing South African celebs for flaunting fake designer labels! It’s fairly new, with just more than 30 posts, but “Fake Gucci Community SA” has already racked up nearly 90 000 followers. Its intentions are made clear in its tagline: “I’m here to expose these designer wanna be’s, stick with your Zara and H&M if you can’t afford the real thing!” 👀

Meow!

Those receiving the heat include TV personality Somizi Mhlongo, rapper Big Zulu, and newly-minted PSL club owner Shauwn Mkhize. Hilariously, some celebrities are now responding by producing receipts for their designer bling.  

Look, we at explain hate the idea of publicly shaming anyone, but we just had to chuckle at this – South Africans have zero chill!

4. State capture commission: that’s a wrap, folks!

The final season of the “Commission of the Inquiry into State Capture” ended last week – and what a show it’s been! At times it has felt rather like reality TV. We’ve watched the mighty fall, or just look plain ridiculous (cough, Malusi Gigaba, cough). Even presidents, past and present, couldn’t evade its might; one ended up in jail for trying to do just that. 😏

The commission looked specifically at the damage wrought by the notorious Gupta family and their accomplices in government. Proceedings ran for more than 1000 days; there was testimony from over 200 witnesses, and it cost around R1 billion. It also received countless extensions while grappling with 1 exabyte – or a cool one billion gigabytes – of evidentiary data. And, as commentator Stephen Grootes pointed out recently, its impact has been enormous. For instance, it led in part to powerful ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule and former minister Gigaba’s fall. 

Startling revelations at the commission became so normal that we forget how incredible the process was. It would have been unheard of during Jacob Zuma’s presidency for high profile politicians to be held so publicly accountable; to sweat on national television and to have their reputations destroyed for what they did – creating a proper disincentive for others to engage in future corruption, we hope.

Of course, we’d also QUITE like to see actual prosecutions happen. 

So, what next? Commission chair, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, will compile a report for President Cyril Ramaphosa with recommendations on what to do next – likely, move to recover the stolen funds and prosecute those involved. 

Ramaphosa will be obliged to make the report public – unless he fancies almost inevitable approaches to the courts to force its release. And that won’t be the only judicial involvement: Zondo has indicated that we must be prepared for court challenges to the report itself. He’ll need to work hard to avoid that – as political analyst Ralph Mathekga pointed out: “The report will have to be tightened up in a way that its recommendations are clear, forthright, and do not leave room for questions that may require people to go to court to seek clarity.”

We’ll keep you updated as the report progresses, but rest assured: that the commission happened at all is a huge victory for accountability in South Africa. 

5. Johnson & Johnson accused colonial tactics

We were excited when Johnson & Johnson announced that it would start producing its single-dose vaccine in Gqeberha, through a partnership with Aspen. We believed this signalled the end of vaccine apartheid, which saw the African continent left out of the global vaccination drive. However, according to a New York Times exposé, we appear to have been taken for a ride. It turns out that nearly 10 million vaccines already produced in Gqeberha have been siphoned out of the continent into Europe, making their way to Germany and Spain. Developed nations are accused of stockpiling vaccines. Meanwhile, countries on the continent are desperately far behind: Uganda, for instance, has vaccinated only 1,7 million of its population of 44 million people. 

In July, the European Union announced that over 70% of its population had already received at least one vaccine jab. Health activists on the continent accuse pharmaceutical giants of using colonial tactics against Africa – not just because of purely extractive practices like J&J’s, but also because of the secrecy involved in the contracts between national health departments and pharmaceutical companies. More transparent contracts would allow for public pressure against exploitative practices. Activists have long fought this issue. In response to the latest outrage, Aspen says that all vaccines produced in the fourth quarter of 2021 will be for African use. 

6. Marikana: nine years later

Monday marked NINE years since the Marikana massacre, that terrible day in 2012 when 34 mineworkers at Lonmin’s Marikana mine were shot and killed by police during a protest for increased wages. 

Every year since then, we’ve heard the same phrase: “Still no justice”. This year was no different. The Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) says that to date, no one has been charged and prosecuted for the deaths of the mineworkers on 16 August 2012, though there have been some court cases related to killings and assaults in the days leading up to the massacre. There’s been little if any closure and no justice for those left behind – some families, desperate for any income, have had to send their children back into mines, as New Frame reported. 

But we dare not stop our annual remembrance of this bloody, important day in our collective history. Once again we say: #JusticeForMarikana. ✊🏽

7. Bok physio gets her hands on Messi

We couldn’t resist this headline, from the most recent edition of the Sunday Times. Local physiotherapist Tanushree Pillay has hit career gold as far as we’re concerned: she’s joined international soccer club Paris Saint-Germain’s (PSG) medical team, and will be working with… or shall we say, ON… some of the world’s top players, including new signing Lionel Messi and Neymar. 🤩 Pillay worked as a physio in rugby for 15 years and was alongside the Boks when they brought home the World Cup trophy in 2019. Speaking to TimesLive ahead of her big move, she said: “It is these moments in the physiotherapy room that I cherish the most – when small gains were made, when an injury started to heal, when you can see that a previously injured player is now going to be available for the next game.” Good luck, Tanushree! 🙌🏽 Tell Lionel we say “hi”. 😝

8. Parliament has a new speaker, but few are celebrating

South Africa’s new parliamentary speaker is Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula – and wow, lots of people are furious about it. The former defence minister, who bungled the handling of the recent looting and is mired in scandal, was sworn into the powerful position today. The ANC’s majority got her there, though the opposition DA put up its own candidate in a largely symbolic move. As we mentioned last week, in this position, Mapisa-Nqakula will preside over an investigation into her time as minister, by a parliamentary committee that is set to finalise its investigations by the end of August. The Joint Standing Committee on Defence is investigating Mapisa-Nqakula for allegedly receiving a R5 million bribe from a defence contractor, blowing R7 million on aircraft charters and living it up at luxury hotels. Last week we told you about R5 million in cash and gifts from a service provider to the Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans; this week’s new details make her appointment look even worse. At least the matter is public and being investigated, though. We’ll watch the release of the committee’s report with a keen eye – and let you know how Mapisa-Nqakula handles it from the Speaker’s chair. 

9. #Adulting 101

  1. Smile (or sigh) for your licence renewal 

In a rare plus side of the pandemic for those of us who hate paperwork, there’s been a long reprieve on renewing expired driving licences. But the grace period is nearly over: you have until 31 August to renew your driving licence if it expired between 26 March 2020 and 1 December 2020. If it expired any time before or after this date range, you will need to apply for a new card. Due to the inefficient system and a huge national backlog, the DA and motoring groups are lobbying for the expiration date to be extended. In case they’re not successful, we suggest you get cracking before the month ends. 😬

  1. October school holiday may be scrapped

The pandemic has dramatically delayed the 2021 school year and everyone is scrambling to make up for lost time. The Department of Education has proposed scrapping the October holidays (1 – 11 October) as a way to buy extra classroom time. Discussions are still underway, and we’ll let you know the outcome as soon as we do. 

10. Democracy wins in Zambia

Last week we, and most others, predicted that Zambia’s general elections would end in a deadlock or with incumbent Edgar Lungu back in power. That’s the script for so many of Africa’s struggling democracies, right? Well. Opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema landed 2.8 million votes, netting him one of the biggest ever electoral wins in Zambia’s history and leaving Lungu, with 1.8 million votes, in the dust. Initially it seemed Lungu might not accept the result, but he handed over the reins quietly and said he would “work for a peaceful transfer of power” – a welcome but surprising turn up for the books, since Hichilema was arrested several times and jailed for treason under Lungu’s government. The new president says he will not seek revenge or retribution. These sorts of victories are becoming the norm on the continent: The Economist reports that there have been 32 peaceful changes of power in Africa since 2015. Here’s to many more! 🌍

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_ ✌🏽