SA’S elections are pretty rosy compared to the US

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


  • US election special report:
    • Our take: SA’s elections look pretty rosy compared to the US set-up
    • Why vote counting is taking so long
    • What’s a swing state and why is everyone watching them
    • Kanye loses. Boo. 
  • SA isn’t in a second Covid wave. But these countries are. 
  • Ethiopia’s political crisis briefly explained
  • Looks like the DA does see race after all

Plus our usual updates on Accountability Monitor, with SAA taking centre stage, and looking ahead. 

So, let’s dive in: 


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It is said that when the US sneezes, the whole world catches a cold. That’s why we’re dedicating a large portion of this week’s edition to the election all the way over there. At the time of writing, it was not clear whether former US vice president Joe Biden or the incumbent, Donald Trump, would win. Either way, the results will have an impact on the world that could last for generations, given the impact on climate change among other things. 


Watching the US elections this week has been a useful reminder of how successful our young democracy is. 

There are several key differences that keep it that way:

1. Political buy-in

Current US president Donald Trump announced that he was the winner before the votes were counted, accusing his opponent of trying to steal the election – with no evidence.

This is foreign to South Africans. Here in SA our political parties, flawed as they may be, fight fair during elections. In its first election, the EFF was suspicious about some of the results but decided to accept the vote count, knowing that messing with the public’s trust when it comes to election results is a bridge too far even for the radical red berets. 

If only the US incumbent understood the same. 

2. Appointment of judges

Trump has also said he will contest the result of votes in some states, and possibly the whole election, at the US Supreme Court. But the partiality of that court is in question. 

Just before the election, Trump rushed to appoint a conservative judge in the form of Amy Coney Barrett, swaying the court’s overall political sentiment to the conservatives. The US court system is notoriously political because judges are appointed by politicians. Here in SA, our judges are appointed through a mostly impartial process that involves legal minds, civil society, and Parliament. 

Barrett’s appointment would likely work in Trump and the Republican party’s favour should the US election end up in court. 

To make matters worse, three justices of that court were previously part of former president  George W Bush’s legal team, and helped successfully challenge the outcome of the country’s 2000 elections in court. 

3. Impartial and strong institutions

Here in SA our courts are, for the most part, apolitical. Our Constitutional Court, the equivalent of the US Supreme Court, is a world class institution that has never been afraid to hold the government – and former presidents – to account. Our internationally recognised Independent Electoral Commission, which runs our elections, has consistently remained above the fray and delivered free and fair elections. 

And so it was all the more galling this week when US secretary of state Mike Pompeo expressed concern over reports of violence and vote rigging taking place in Tanzania, another country that’s just held elections. Yes, the Tanzanian situation is serious, but perhaps Pompeo should look around his glass house and put his stones back in his pocket?

Everything we’re seeing raises questions about double standards. If the situation in the US right now was unfolding in SA, many people would no doubt be calling for the United Nations to intervene.

But thanks to the safeguards put in place by the drafters of our Constitution, our elections are peaceful, free, and fair. Long may it stay that way.  💚

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ THE BIG STORY: US ROUNDUP 

Why vote counting is taking so long 

As you’re reading this, votes are likely still being counted. Under normal circumstances, the election winner is declared late on election night, which would have been Tuesday. But this year, record numbers voted early or via the post, thanks in large part to Covid-19. Those votes take a WHILE to process: additional verifications plus different rules all add up to a long delay. It’s not great considering the political tensions already at play. 

What’s a swing state and why is everyone watching them? 

Quick explainer: swing states have gone back and forth between supporting Democrat or Republican candidates over the years. They also typically hold HUGE sway with the “Electoral College” – a very controversial system in the US that sees a number of “electors” from each state ultimately vote for the US president. The problem is, these electors aren’t chosen in proportion to the country’s actual population.  For example, citizens of Wyoming have 3.18 times as much clout in the Electoral College than an average American. 

In addition to being politically sensitive, then, swing states have more influence over who is finally chosen as the US president.  

So where are they at? At first Trump seemed to dominate most of the 12 swing states, but at the time of writing, four of these were firmly in Trump’s favour, and four favoured his opponent, Joe Biden. It’s nail bitingly close. 

In case you’re wondering, Kanye didn’t make it 

Rapper Kanye West also ran for the presidential elections. As laughable as the whole thing was, he still managed to bag 60 000 voters, after running in just 12 of the  country’s 50 states and making one campaign appearance, all while clearly emotionally unstable. Amazing – but also worrying in terms of potentially splitting the vote in such a tight election race. Consider that George W Bush once beat Al Gore by just 537 decisive votes in Florida. Ye has conceded defeat but hinted he’ll try again 2024. Given his recent birthday gift to his wife Kim Kardashian, perhaps we all need to brace ourselves for campaign holograms?


SA’s second Covid wave still hasn’t hit: analyst

Is SA headed for a second Covid-19 wave? Probably not. One analyst, Ridhwaan Suliman, a senior researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, says test positivity rates have remained steady for the past two months and are still trending downwards.

But that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods. Suliman stresses that Covid-19 is still here. The number of confirmed cases hasn’t really decreased, but has levelled off. It’s a reminder that there’s still so much we don’t know about the virus, and that taking precautions (wear your mask, wash your hands, and maintain social distance) is still essential. 

We’re fortunate: serious second waves are wreaking havoc elsewhere in the world. England, France and Germany are currently under their second lockdowns. Savour your current freedom, and let’s keep pulling together to maintain it for a long time to come.  

Ethiopia on the brink

Remember when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed received the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, to rapturous applause? No? Well, it was a pretty big deal and for a while everyone was enamoured with the 44 year-old reformer, who ended a governing coalition that monopolised power in Ethiopia for 27 years and brokered a landmark peace deal with neighbouring Eritrea. 

Buuuut. The country is now on the brink of civil war. Abiy has effectively declared war on the party that was at the head of that long-time government, the TPLF, and the Northern Tigray region where it governs. To put it into perspective, this would be a little like the ANC declaring war on the DA in the Western Cape, and sending in troops. It’s frightening.

Tension has been rising between the two parties for ages, and with internet shutdowns and increasing intolerance for independent media, it’s difficult to know who is in the right in this situation. The only thing that is for sure is that the brief golden period of optimism that met Abiy’s appointment has given way to dismay. 

This is all important because, as the Financial Times puts it: Ethiopia is one of Africa’s most promising economic development stories.

“Despite its association with famine in the 1980s, Ethiopia has become a source of hope in the continent. Under the previous coalition government, which ran the country for 27 years until 2018, the economy grew at nearly 10 per cent a year for roughly two decades. Although Ethiopia is still poor, those growth years transformed its prospects, improving infrastructure, as well as health and education levels, and holding out the possibility of the country achieving middle-income status.”

DA puts its race cards on the table

Fresh from its electoral conference last weekend, the DA seems intent on taking back the conservative white voters it lost to the Freedom Front + in the last election. It has launched a campaign to put Afrikaans on an equal footing with English as a language medium at Stellenbosch University. In 2016, the university removed Afrikaans as a medium of teaching in an effort not to marginalise many black students who were not fluent in the language. The Constitutional Court has since upheld the 2016 policy.

But the DA says Afrikaans is being excluded for “political reasons”. It has also made “farm murders” a focus, saying these should be prioritised in the courts and be declared a hate crime specifically, when the crime targets people who identify as farmers. Both these policy choices have raised questions about the DA’s priorities at a time when the party has emerged from its conference claiming not to see race as the main reason behind redress in the country. But both these policies do appear to appeal to the priorities of mainly white Afrikaans people.

As columnist Chris Roper writes in this week’s Financial Mail, it appears as though the DA does see race, after all. 

DT (please!) go home 

Could there be life on another planet and what is it trying to tell the US? On the day of the US election scientists recorded a short, intense burst of radio waves coming from inside our Milky Way. As scientists pondered the origins of the waves, closer to home humans wondered whether an alien civilisation was trying to nuke Earth in an intergalactic attempt at loud diplomacy. Coincidentally, Trump was ahead of the polls at the time. But scientists later discovered that the blast was probably from a neutron star, and the discovery will help the scientific community better understand these kinds of galactic events in the future. 


Net tightens on SAA delinquents 

We told you last week why our dear airline is the country’s drunk uncle. Well, the people who supplied the metaphorical bottles of booze aren’t getting away with it. This week saw two former top dogs take the stand at the Zondo Commission. 

But one of the people accused of running the airline into the tarmac, Dudu Myeni, chose not to answer questions when given the opportunity to clear her name. Myeni is involved in another case – she’s appealing a decision by the courts to declare her a delinquent director after her dodgy leadership at the SAA board. Because of this, Myeni said she wanted to invoke her right not to incriminate herself. However, some experts say she’s not actually allowed to do this because the two cases aren’t related. Her evidence is key to understanding why the state- owned airline is in dire straits. 

She was however, very vocal on all the wrong things. On Thursday, Myeni bizarrely revealed the name of an anonymous witness who blew the whistle on Myeni’s alleged involvement in shady tender dealings before her time at SAA. The Commission has previously said the witness’ identity had to be protected. This is a grave offence given the importance of whistleblowers in our system. Zondo was shocked, and tried to stop her, and now Myeni may face consequences for this breach. 

Magwinyas gone rogue DONE

Meanwhile, former SAA Technical board chairperson Yakhe Kwinana turned to food at the Commission this week, to explain why she had allegedly meddled in the awarding of tenders at the airline to her benefit. 

“If my daughter sells fat cakes and someone next door is also selling fat cakes, why would I buy next door instead of supporting my daughter?” she said. It’s an explanation that makes perfect sense in the context of magwinya but is frankly baffling when you’re talking about spending the national budget to help out your friends. 

Kwinana is also objectively wrong. Everyone knows the best magwinyas are not her daughter’s, but can be purchased from the Ausie’s at the corner of Kingsway and Fawley in Joburg. 

If you’ve (understandably) lost track of events at Zondo after the last few months, catch up with the year’s developments in our Keeping Up With The Commission piece at explain.co.za. 

Keep up with all the latest in the fight against corruption with our Accountability Monitor at explain.co.za.

Banyana Banyana’s golden boots gleam DONE

Our national football team (the one we should all be paying attention to anyway), Banyana Banyana, is off to an amazing start to the Cosafa Cup. The team beat Angola 2-0 on Tuesday, in the opening game of the Cosafa Women’s Championship. Banyana Banyana has won the title six times before, including last year. The win over Angola was made even more impressive by the fact that the women haven’t been able to play all year due to Covid-19. 


President Cyril Ramaphosa is calling us into a family meeting next week: get ready for a scolding. According to a statement, his Cabinet is concerned that “some people are behaving recklessly and irresponsibly as if Covid-19 no longer exists”. We’re looking at you, Tin Roof. But don’t panic. Last week, Ramaphosa dismissed claims of a return to a Level 3 lockdown.

This week, matrics started writing exams after the lockdown contributed to making this one of the most difficult academic years on record. Expect to hear a lot of news related to this, as Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga monitors various exams.

Later this month, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Ramaphosa will be back in court for the final stage of their fight over the president’s 2017 campaign financing. Mkhwebane is challenging a high court judgment that set aside her report into Ramaphosa’s 2017 ANC presidential campaign funding, where she found that Ramaphosa had lied to Parliament about receiving certain donations. If the Constitutional Court now rules in Mkhwebane’s favour, it will mean that her reasoning – that Ramaphosa lied to Parliament and the nation about who funded his campaign – stands. Ramaphosa says that simply is not true. 

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 Verashni, Tash and Sarah ✌🏽