Has SA turned the corner on Covid-19?

Hi there and welcome to The Wrap simple news updates for busy people, brought to you by Verashni Pillay and the team at explain.co.za 💁🏽‍♀


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Last week we told you about a bunch of nasty cases of Covid-19 corruption. It’s a dire state of affairs, so we’re quite relieved to see that several different sections of our society are fighting back. And it’s not just government lip service either.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has appointed a Cabinet committee to look into Covid-19 procurement. We know what you’re thinking: Aren’t Cabinet committees the places where investigations go to die? (Remember the Cabinet committee set up to sort Eskom out? No? Exactly. 😜) On the bright side, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola is in charge, and he’s easily one of our country’s most capable ministers. (The Eskom one was headed by the deputy president, David Mabuza, who is… well… maybe just a little less credible.) 👀

National Treasury is considering revamping the whole system by centralising Covid-19 procurement so that individuals in the provinces and municipalities don’t have as much wiggle room to slip their fingers in the cookie jar. Treasury also wants all Covid-19 procurement to be done on an open-tender basis (it stopped doing this because government was in an understandable rush to get hold of Covid-19 equipment, so they eased some of the usual checks and balances.)
Provincial leaders in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal are running lifestyle audits on their teams: this means if you’re driving a car or living a life your salary can’t pay for, they’re going to have some questions for you.
The Special Investigating Unit, which tracks misspent government money (and does a fairly decent job of it), is looking into all Covid-19 related contracts. Organisations like the SA Council of Churches and the Desmond Tutu Foundation have also added their voices to the growing pushback against corruption.

As we said, SA has every right to be skeptical. And we should still be skeptical — loudly, angrily and unignorably skeptical about the abuse of public resources. It’s helping! That said, while the situation is AWFUL – we’re no exception. It’s happening across the world when it comes to Covid-19 procurement, as Financial Mail has pointed out: Swathes of Latin America seem to be in much the same boat as us. Cronyism and corruption are leeching Covid resources in the US too. There have been reports that 27 clients of Trump-connected lobbyists have received up to $10.5-billion of coronavirus relief funds. There’s also the priceless example of a government tender gone terribly wrong in Texas: according to Propublica.org, authorities paid $7.3-million to a Texas company “just six days after the company was formed by an ex-telemarketer repeatedly accused of fraudulent practices”. Only, when the test tubes arrived, they were plastic “preforms” – the plastic tubes that are turned into soda bottles. They don’t fit laboratory test tube racks; they’re not sterile; and the plastic could contain contaminants that affect lab results. 😳

Who are these people racing to make a dishonest buck out of a global pandemic??

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 2. THE BIG STORY: HAS SA SEEN THE WORST? 🤔

We’ve told you before about various breakthrough Covid-19 medical trials, including one using a common drug called dexamethasone that South Africa has in plenty supply – and even produces. What happened to all of that? Well, turns out we’ve been using it! And it seems to have helped us avoid the worst – fingers crossed. There’s been a decrease in the rate of cases in SA recently, and this could mean that lockdown restrictions will be eased, the Sunday Times reports this week. (All caveats included; but as pieces of good news go, we’ll take it!) 😉

Experts are crediting SA’s strict and early lockdown for the declining infection rate. In another positive sign, the recovery rate rose above 70% this week, helped by the use of dexamethasone, which the ST reports has reduced intensive care deaths by a quarter since it was introduced on June 16! Good thing we have THREE major supplies of the medicine in South Africa. Could this partly be why SA’s death rate is still half that of the global average?

According to the publication, the Western Cape, Gauteng, and even the Eastern Cape may have already passed their Covid-19 peaks. Case numbers have been declining in those provinces, which just weeks ago saw hospitals reaching capacity.

Enca also reported that, according to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, the country’s peak could be over by the end of August. An experimental Covid-19 drug, Remdisvir, which has been shown to reduce hospital time for Covid-19 patients, also arrived in SA at the end of July. Experts hope it will be instrumental in reducing our rate of hospitalisation, too.

But while we could all use some good news, it’s important to keep things in perspective: infections still appear to be on an upward trajectory in other provinces, and we have to bear in mind that there could be other waves after this one. So before you pop the champagne (you bought that pre-lockdown, right? 😉), Mkhize has warned that a second wave is likely if the country starts acting irresponsibly. ☝🏽

So keep on social distancing, keep wearing those masks and keep washing your hands – even with your fingers crossed.

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 3. JUSTICE SERVED? 🧑🏽‍⚖️

▪️ Zuma says sorry to Derek Hanekom

In our ongoing and delightful series titled “Who’s defeating JZ in court today?” we bring you his latest serving of justice: He has finally issued an apology to former tourism minister Derek Hanekom over a tweet in which he called Hanekom a “known enemy agent”. Hanekom was one of a handful of ministers Zuma fired after they were critical of his relationship with the Guptas. Zuma sent the tweet last year, after claims by Julius Malema that the EFF had met with Hanekom to plan Zuma’s ousting. The Constitutional Court effectively confirmed on Friday that Zuma defamed the former minister and he must apologise and remove the tweet. Zuma was reluctant, though. He had to be asked again by Hanekom’s lawyer after he missed the court’s deadline. And in his tweet, which he posted in isiZulu, Zuma said he was saying what he was instructed to say, adding: “I hope I say it according to his wishes and court orders”. Salty much? 👀 Hanekom also wants Zuma to pay R500 000 in damages for the harm caused by the tweet, but the court hasn’t decided on that one yet. Ouch.

▪️ Is justice finally coming for the Guptas?

You can run to Dubai… but you can’t hide. Justice may finally be coming for the Guptas – or at least for their pockets. Last week, Eskom and the Special Investigating Unit said they would be going after the Gupta brothers and their former friends at Eskom for more than R3-billion estimated to have been looted from the state. Read our deep dive here to find out more: https://explain.co.za/2020/08/05/explainer-justice-may-finally-be-coming-for-the-guptas/

▪️ NPA and Zondo team up

And on that note, the Guptas shouldn’t be the only alleged looters getting worried.
Until now, the National Prosecuting Authority has appeared hamstrung by a lack of financial forensic talent, making it unable to pursue corruption and crimes related to state capture. But the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, which has a bigger budget and technical capacity, has now signed up to share crucial information with the country’s prosecutors, in a move that could see those sticky corruption cases finally getting the attention they deserve.
This includes sharing the infamous GuptaLeaks emails, which the Zondo Commission had access to but the NPA did not, until now. We can’t WAIT for arrests to finally begin.

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 4. NEWS BRIEFS 🌏

▪️ Has the ANC changed its mind over leaving the ICC?

The prez is reportedly trying to get the ANC to reverse its silly decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), taken under, you guessed it, Jacob Zuma.

Short history lesson: The ICC, which does just what its name says, had an arrest warrant out on Omar al Bashir while he was at an AU summit in SA in 2015. Bashir is the former leader of Sudan and QUITE the tyrant. Global politics and thin skins being what they are, African leaders closed ranks, and SA refused to arrest him, going so far as to table a bill to withdraw from the ICC. Take that, global justice. 🙄
Thankfully, the bill never made much headway and now we know why. Ramaphosa isn’t so keen on it (duh!) and has tactfully noted that… neither is the rest of the continent anymore. He apparently told a private meeting of the ANC’s top leadership that “the rest of the continent has abandoned this position, leaving South Africa isolated”. He also threw in some hot issues the country, under the ANC, wants to keep an eye on at the ICC such as supporting Palestine in bringing a case against Israel, and supporting Venezuela against the US. Again: Duh. Unfortunately his comments are subject to that eternal ANC problem: factions. Expect further paralysis.

▪️ Brad Bindler is SA’s first moto GP winner

Even a coronapocalypse can’t keep SA’s sportsmen and women down. Brad Bindler became the first South African ever to win a Moto GP: the ultimate in global grand prix motorcycle racing. He crossed the finish line first at the Czech grand prix at the weekend, prompting a shout-out from the president himself, who said Bindler’s victory lifts the spirits of the nation “at a time we need this”. Preach!

▪️ SA will have its first digital census next year

We’re due for a new national headcount, and next year will be the first time the census gets done digitally – at least in part. Statistics South Africa has just started putting the new system through its paces for the first time. It hopes to reach 300 000 in this practice run. But so many of us still don’t have internet access, so the Stats SA prefects will be out and about taking register on paper, too. This is great news as more reliable data means better understanding our needs – and solutions.

▪️ Daily Maverick goes to print

Talk about going against the grain! We guess it’s in their name. While several news and print publications have closed down thanks to the pandemic, popular news website Daily Maverick is launching a newspaper, called Daily Maverick 168. The DM team says research showed it’s what audiences want. The newspaper will have a cover price of R20 but will be available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shopper cardholders on Saturdays.

▪️ Radio legend Bob Mabena dies

Bob Mabena, who was station manager at Power FM (and Verashni’s former boss😢) died over the weekend. He was just 51, and is understood to have passed away from a cardiac arrest. Mabena started his radio career at just 19 in 1989 at the now defunct Radio Bop, before making a splash at nearly every major radio station. His name became synonymous with the song Get Funky after he co-recorded the smash hit song in the 90s with Kaizer Chiefs superstar Doctor Khumalo. His death was met with waves of tributes – including from the president himself.

▪️ All you need to know about disinfecting

Should you disinfect all your apples individually, and install a disinfectant tunnel for visitors to keep the virus at bay? It’s easy to go overboard, which is why we like this helpful list of do’s and don’ts, written by a collective of some of the country’s top scientists. With all the talk of workplaces and schools reopening, there’s more confusion than ever about disinfecting, so give it a read here.

▪️ Beirut government resigns following massive explosion

Corrupt governments of the world, take note: In a world where accountability in politics seems as unlikely as a cure for Covid-19, Lebanon stunned the world this week when its ENTIRE Cabinet resigned. More than 200 people were killed in the explosion last week, which devastated the port, causing billions in damage and economic losses, and sparked concerns of a humanitarian crisis with many left homeless. After the initial shock faded, a sea of protesters took to the streets blaming Lebanon’s leaders for the blast through their alleged negligence and corruption, the BBC reported. The explosion happened after 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used both in fertiliser and powerful explosives, which had been stored for six years without safety measures at the capital’s port in Beirut, detonated. The story of how the explosive material ended up stored near the port in the first place is a dizzying account of bureaucratic bumbling. But wow. The entire Cabinet. Can you imagine that happening here?!

▪️ Facebook finally removes Trump post

While tech giants like Twitter have recently started standing up to US President Donald Trump’s disinformation on their platforms, Facebook has drawn sharp criticism for refusing to follow suit. Including from within the company: many of the company’s workers have protested against Trump’s racially-charged statements staying up on the platform, especially after the Black Lives Matter protests in the US. Now, the company has finally done the right thing and removed a video posted by Trump which claims “children are immune to Covid-19”. They’re not. Obviously. Speaking of which, if you’re looking for a riveting, in-depth read about the US that also explains the global shifts we’re seeing, check out this deep dive in Rolling Stone, provocatively titled, “How COVID-19 signals the end of the American era”. https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/political-commentary/covid-19-end-of-american-era-wade-davis-1038206

The Week Ahead

🔹 It’s round 319 of the public protector versus the president battle as the dispute betweenBusisiwe Mkhwebane and Cyril Ramaphosa over one of Mkhwebane’s dubious reports heads back to court. (Okay, it probably isn’t round 319, but even we have lost count.) Mkhwebane previously ordered Ramaphosa to take action against his colleague and ally Pravin Gordhan, because Gordhan allegedly failed to realise there was a “rogue” unit illegally spying on politicians at the tax collection agency, when he was its boss. Ramaphosa and Gordhan say Mkhwebane’s report is as credible as Jacob Zuma’s tax returns and the matter has been in and out of court for over a year. And, so, Mkhwebane and Ramaphosa will be in court this week battling it out. Again.

🔹 Look out for a media briefing from the ANC this week, where it will report on the decisions taken at the meeting of its most senior leaders at the weekend. It usually gives a sense of where the governing party’s head is at on the major issues affecting the country. And yes, that is the meeting where the ICC was reportedly discussed. We’ll be watching closely.

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


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Till next time, goodbye from Verashni, Sarah and Aarti ✌🏽

1 thought on “Has SA turned the corner on Covid-19?”

  1. Really enjoy your in depth articles. So much of what one reads today does not have a ring of truth to it. Thank you for your honest authorative reporting.

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