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7 October’21 Wrap: Phansi Facebook, phansi!

Hi there 🙋🏽‍♀️ In this week’s edition of The Wrap, we’re looking at the great Facebook outage and what it means, what you need to know from some important judicial events this week, and why you really SHOULDN’T keep a pet tiger in your backyard!

So, let’s dive into your weekly update of empowering and easy-to-understand news, 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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▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 1. Our take: Phansi #Facebook, phansi

On Monday some 3.6 billion people around the globe faced a modern-day catastrophe… 😱 The internet was broken!

Okay, maybe not the whole internet, but its equivalent, Facebook – which is synonymous with the internet in some Asian countries. The mega social media platform and two of the other apps it owns, Instagram and WhatsApp, had a huge technical “oopsie” at its California, US headquarters. The resulting global outage lasted about six hours, from around 5:40pm our time. 

Experts said this was akin to Facebook falling off the internet’s map.

The outage had devastating effects on those who rely on these social media platforms for their livelihoods. 

As one start-up owner put it: “It may not sound like a lot to others, but missing out on four or five hours of sales could be the difference between paying the electricity bill or rent for the month.”

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg lost $7 billion – not a HUGE amount for someone who has a net worth of about $119 billion, but a bit of a blow nonetheless. 

WhatsApp rivals Telegram and Signal reported a sharp increase in new users. Twitter even warmly welcomed “literally everyone”, which prompted hilarious memes. Our favourites include: “With instagram down, influencers are going to have to go door to door making teenage girls feel like shit about themselves” and “More like The Social Notwork”. 🤭

The outage did more than force us to confront our relationship with social media. It also came amid mounting difficulties for Facebook. 

Last week, we told you how a whistleblower blew the lid on Facebook’s dirty tricks to prioritise profits over people’s safety, in The Wall Street Journal. This week she revealed her identity: she’s Frances Haugen, a data scientist who worked on the company’s civic integrity team. In an interview with CBS, she said Facebook manipulated its algorithms to sometimes show more negative content, in a bid to keep users on the site longer. She also said Facebook intends to target younger users to stay relevant and to…survive.😕

Her revelation that the company buried research about Instagram’s harmful effects on teens’ mental health prompted a subcommittee hearing last week in the US Senate, which slammed Facebook’s safety chief for failing to protect children.

Facebook is also facing an upcoming landmark antitrust case from the US’s Federal Trade Commission. 

The commission, which is a bit like SA’s Competition Commission, wants to force Facebook to restructure or to sell off assets including Instagram and WhatsApp. These were independently successful companies that Facebook was threatened by and bought out.  

The larger issue here is whether Facebook’s owners should be allowed to control SO much of the internet, which practically half the world is reliant on. We agree with US lawmakers: time to break them up. 

2. The big story: Judging our judges

What’s going on with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC)? 🤔

The body – made up of 23 commissioners (lawyers, politicians, judges, and a single academic) – is charged with interviewing potential judges for all our courts; it then hands its recommendations to the president, who makes the final choice. One of its current pressing tasks is to help our all-important Constitutional Court fill the vacancies on its 11-member bench. Experts have pointed out that relying on acting justices imperils the apex court’s work. 

The JSC ran interviews in April to fill two of the five total upcoming vacancies – and the process was disastrous. Some politicians used it to settle political scores, and outgoing Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, as the JSC chair, was criticised for failing to protect judges. The JSC was forced to rerun the interviews this week, thanks to successful legal action by a civil society group, the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution. 

This time, the interviews were much smoother under deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo (who is among those shortlisted to take over from Mogoeng – see our next story for more on this). 👇🏽

But it wasn’t without criticism. Here are the main issues:

1. The five recommendations were no different from the first round of interviews. While they’re all excellent candidates, political commentator Khaya Sithole told News24 he felt it sent a political statement that the JSC saw nothing wrong with its first process. 

2. After having her reputation seriously impugned the first time around, Judge Dhaya Pillay withdrew from the interviews. She was badgered by EFF leader Julius Malema in the first interview about her friendship with Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan as part of his party’s ongoing beef with Gordhan. This is sad: the more qualified women of colour candidates, the better. The issue should have been handled better. 

3. Judge David Unterhalter and advocate Alan Dodson were questioned by Malema and Advocate Dali Mpofu, who represents the Advocates Bar, about their fitness for the court as white men. We’re all for transformation but the questions were bizarre given that the Constitution clearly states the “judiciary must broadly reflect the demographics of South Africa in terms of race” and there are no white men currently on the bench. It’s also petty considering the outstanding role that retired justices like Edwin Cameron and others, who happen to be white men, have played in progressing our democracy with landmark judgments, particularly in favour of the black majority.  

The JSC has a valuable role to play in ensuring our courts are staffed by credible, competent, ethical judges. Maybe it’s time to reconsider its composition: might fewer politicians and more legal experts be the right way to ensure decisions are taken with democracy’s best interests at heart?

Briefs

3. Eight candidates shortlisted for Chief Justice

In other judicial news, the president has finalised the list of candidates to take over from Mogoeng after public nominations were accepted for the first time in a greater bid towards transparency. 🙌 President Cyril Ramaphosa announced eight candidates, based on public recommendations; among them were controversial figures Judge President John Hlophe and Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

There’s practically zero chance the two will make it to the apex court. Justice Mandisa Maya is considered the frontrunner and would be the first woman in the position. 💪🏽 Maya, the President of the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), has a reputation for bridging divides, which would be welcome given the widely-reported tensions in the court.

Maya has also been praised for the way the SCA seamlessly transitioned to virtual court hearings when the pandemic hit, and for its efficiency in dealing with its roll and delivering judgments, the Sunday Times reported. Sounds like the skills our top court needs!

The panel tasked with selecting the successful candidate will be chaired by Judge Navanethem (Navi) Pillay; former justice minister Jeff Radebe will be deputy chairperson. 

4. There’s a tiger on my stoep

“You’re from Africa? Do you have lions in your backyard?”

We’ve all heard the clichè, even if we haven’t been asked it directly, and probably responded by seeing our own brains during the resulting eye roll. A family in Boksburg, on Gauteng’s East Rand, can however answer “yes” to that question – sort of. A crèche owner spotted a tiger peeking over their wall last week and later discovered their neighbours had two of the big wild cats.👀 That’s, er, terrifying, especially when you’re meant to keep other people’s small children safe. It turns out this isn’t illegal: animal welfare organisation Four Paws told TimesLive: “Tigers have very little protection under SA law despite being considered an endangered species. This is particularly true in Gauteng, where such cases of private keeping are prevalent.” PREVALENT?!? 😳 

It seems all you need to do if you fancy a pet tiger is apply for a permit with the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nature Conservation, as The South African reported; oh, and make sure your garden is big and secured. But, in case you need it said, please don’t keep a tiger in your backyard. It’s unethical, unsafe, putting a rare species at even greater risk – and we really don’t want the Americans to be right. 😕

5. SA’s economic green shoots   

You may have not noticed, but lately, the economy has been behaving pretty well. South African Reserve Bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago, in his monetary policy review on Tuesday, said the country is experiencing an economic boom largely driven by commodities, resulting in tax overruns (read: more cash in the state’s purses), as well as stronger GDP growth over the past year. But he said the government should not get too excited by these temporary gains and enter into commitments that it cannot fund at a later change. 😬. It’s a bit like getting a temporary cash windfall: don’t change your entire budget around it! Commodity prices fluctuate so there’s no way to say that this gain is sustainable. We’ll hear more about the government’s financial standing in the medium-term budget policy statement, set to be presented by the new finance minister Enoch Godongwana on 4 November. 

We’re betting on Godongwana to do the right things: he’s already saying them and getting people excited about our economic prospects. 😌 During the Sunday Times investment summit last week, he touched on five key priority areas: energy security outside of Eskom, broadband spectrum, the green revolution, our logistics issues and opening more space to make it easy to do business. Busi Mavuso, the CEO of Business Leadership SA, sang Godongwana’s praises in Business Day. We’re optimistically cautious: after all, previous finance minister Tito Mboweni also made all the right noises, but was ultimately frustrated by politics. Godongwana, however, has more clout in the ANC. Let’s hope his clear-sightedness prevails. 🌱

6. DA’s divisive Phoenix poster

The Democratic Alliance is like that drunk uncle that always says inappropriate things at family events and is too stubborn to stop. 😓

This time, the blue party put up posters in Phoenix, a predominantly Indian suburb in Kwa-Zulu Natal, which read: “The ANC called you racists” and “The DA calls you heroes” and it’s DEEPLY problematic. The posters are a reference to the July unrest which sparked looting and violence in some areas like Phoenix, where residents of Indian descent who were “protecting their community” were accused of inciting violence and, in some cases, killing black people: 36 deaths were reported in the area alone! Many are calling it a massacre. This is not heroic. It is criminal. The DA is choosing this stance as a tactic to win the community’s votes by essentially sympathising with them – and completely disregarding the lives that were lost. 🤦🏽‍♀️ 

The DA’s KZN leader, Dean Macpherson, said there was nothing factually incorrect about the statement. Party leader John Steenhuisen is also unapologetic about the posters, which are going to be erected across eThekwini, Daily Maverick reported. But some party members are on the other side of the fence saying the posters are damaging to the DA’s image and should be taken down and that those who OK’d the wording must be held to account! We’re with them on this. 🤷🏽‍♀️ The DA consistently fails to recognise the dynamics in South Africa; divisive tactics like this will only set us further back. Read the room, DA.

7. #Adulting101: Get your digital vaccination certificate 

No more worrying about misplacing that pesky vaccination card. The Department of Health’s Covid-19 Vaccine Certificate System is READY! 😁 The system links to your unique vaccination code, issued by the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) when you registered for vaccination. You will then receive a unique QR code via SMS or email which, when scanned, will provide proof that you have been inoculated. It’s only available to fully vaccinated adults and is crucial for travelling, attending gatherings and as the domestic economy opens up. All you need is your identity number, your vaccination code and the cellphone number you used to register on the EVDS. Go to https://vaccine.certificate.health.gov.za/ 

8. Back to the stadium for (jabbed) Bafana fans

The Calabash soccer stadium near Soweto is going to be LIT on Tuesday. 🔥

The South African Football Association (SAFA) has given fans the green light to return to the FNB Stadium, as it’s officially known, to watch Bafana Bafana play against Ethiopia in a Qatar 2022 Fifa World Cup qualifier next week. 🙌🏽

It’s been a long 18 months since spectators could watch live sports matches in the country, thanks to the pandemic.

Top officials believe football can play a major role in SA’s ailing vaccination drive: our people just aren’t going out to get vaccinated and authorities don’t have a firm handle on the culture and beliefs driving this hesitancy. Watching your favourite team live – for free – could be the incentive people need. SAFA is giving away 50% of Tuesday’s tickets for free, but only fully vaccinated fans qualify – though it’s not clear whether that means those who’ve only had one jab make the cut, and SAFA hasn’t clarified this.

The body is also insisting its own officials be vaccinated by 30 October 2021 before taking part in events. The hugely popular Soweto Derby between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs will also be used to encourage mass vaccination.

They’re even set on engaging taxi associations so that taxi drivers who take fans to the stadiums will also be vaccinated! 😁

This is the grassroots push we need. 

9. Green light for SA after UK ‘red list’ debacle?

Will South Africans finally be allowed into England again? You’ll probably know the answer by the time you read this: The Guardian reported that an official announcement about changes to the country’s controversial red list travel system was due sometime “on Thursday”, as we were finishing up The Wrap. The much-criticised approach categorises countries based on their Covid-19 risk level; in South Africa’s case, it seemed to ignore the science and, by Monday, we were still on the red list. 🚥 But, following consultations with Ramaphosa, Reuters reported that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson would open up travel for fully vaccinated individuals from South Africa, Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia, who will no longer have to fork out to quarantine in a UK hotel. “Fully vaccinated” is the key phrase. It also applies to UK citizens; returning travellers must be fully vaccinated and don’t need a pre-departure test, a test eight days after getting back, or to enter a 10-day self-isolation period. 

10. Data trove opens a Pandora’s box  

Over the weekend a global consortium of more than 600 journalists released the Pandora Papers. It’s the successor to 2016’s Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers in 2017, and is the biggest trove of financial accounts to date; it exposes countless business people, celebrities and just, well, really rich folks who have stashed large amounts of money and assets in offshore accounts or tax havens. Why? It’s all about tax evasion and money laundering. 😲 Money that should be taxed and invested in creating better democracies is instead being hoarded.

The investigations were carried out by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), whose members dug through files and papers to get the dirt. Thankfully no South African features (we have enough of our own Gupta/state capture problems, please!) but Zimbabwean businessman Billy Rautenbach and Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta are among those named. Others include Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as musicians Elton John, Ringo Starr, and Shakira – her hips don’t lie, but apparently her bank statements do. 😟 

The trove contains 11.9m files leaked from a total of 14 offshore service providers, totalling 2.94 terabytes of information, The Guardian reported. We’re grateful to have committed data and investigative journalists willing to roll up their sleeves and dive into people’s dirty dealings! 

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

The Wrap is sponsored by explain’s agency division. We specialise in content marketing for purpose-driven organisations, often with a pan-African reach. Mail info@explain.co.za for a quote. 

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_Till next time, goodbye from the team_ ✌🏽

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