Dear politicians: stop with the Covid conspiracies

It’s mid-Jan 2021, which means two things: we’ve all forgotten what getting a salary feels like, and we’re in the thick of a second Covid surge.😓 So we’re all thrilled that SA’s first batch of vaccines is en route, right? Wrong! Turns out our politicians just won’t stop with the conspiracy theories, and this week, we tell you why Quentin Tarantino would be proud of some of them. 💁🏽‍♀️ There are new WhatsApp rules that really aren’t as bad as you think, and we can’t help but wonder what the Real Housewives of Durban has in store… Grab your popcorn and dig in! 😉

So, let’s dive into your weekly simple news update, brought to you by Verashni Pillay and the explain.co.za team 😄.



With Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the outcome of the US election, and the storming of Capitol Hill last week by his supporters, more than just the US’s democracy was at stake: the entire liberal democratic project (of which the US is the oldest and most influential) hung, for a moment, in the balance.

The world held its breath as Trump seemingly refused to step down. This, in a country with a history of over two centuries of peaceful transfers of power. 😶

Luckily the safeguards put in place by the US to ensure that a sitting president can’t cause an insurrection and get away with it held firm. Trump this week became the first US president in history to be impeached TWICE. (He was first impeached in November 2019 for alleged electoral interference.)

But it was a close call. It was also a warning sign: the democratic system and ideals we’ve adopted in SA, and that many of us hold dear, are not a given. Forces all over the world threaten to undermine them, from the rise of the far-right and fascism in the US, Europe and elsewhere, to the unsustainable levels of inequality and crime that plague us here at home – and which historically have led to the rise of dangerous populists.

What happens next in the US’s hallowed halls of power is this: now that Trump has been impeached by one part of its version of our National Assembly, it’s up to the second part, the US Senate, to hold a trial against him. That’s expected to happen on 20 January, the day that US president-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated. But if Trump is no longer president, what’s the point? 🤷🏽‍♀️ Well, the Senate can still bar Trump from running for president again in 2024. But what happens next in the rest of the world is anything but certain. The events of the past week show that democracy is fragile. Plus, a question mark over its legitimacy hangs over the sort of democracy that’s held up by a predatory form of capitalism. We need to ensure an inclusive form of democracy, where everyone has a seat at the table, thrives. It is, after all, the disenfranchised who are exploited by populist demagogues.😏


SA is in the grip of a deadly second Covid-19 surge. Thousands are infected daily, and the death toll is rising. Enter the nation’s political peanut gallery, whose members seem to think that spreading nutty ideas about Covid-19 vaccines is an appropriate intervention. 😐

Exhibit A: Cosatu president Zingiswa Losi said that some vaccines are “not organic”, adding, “as African people we have our indigenous herbs”, TimesLive reported. Then, ANC eThekwini councillor Sfiso Mngadi called for all 5G towers to be dismantled, in a nod to a completely discredited conspiracy theory claiming Covid comes from 5G towers. Meanwhile, ANC Gauteng secretary Jacob Khawe said any vaccine not developed in Africa should be rejected, EWN reported. It doesn’t end there: ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe first said Covid test kits from China were contaminated, and then called for the unbanning of Ivermectin, a drug that should not be used for Covid-19 treatment (more on that below). Then there’s the ANCYL in Tshwane, which circulated posters urging people to steam their nasal passages with eucalyptus or Vicks because extreme heat paralyses the virus.🙁

It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. Government has a mammoth task on its hands, not only to secure vaccines but to roll them out at scale. President Cyril Ramaphosa said that the vaccine rollout will be the most ambitious programme in the country’s history – more logistically difficult than running our elections. An estimated 150 000 people will have to be vaccinated PER DAY if the government is going to pull this off, AFP reported. Fake news peddlers trying to convince people that they shouldn’t get the shot is the last thing we, as a society, need.

Vaccines have saved millions of lives, prevented and sometimes eliminated diseases like measles and polio. Babies are vaccinated everyday in SA, yet our political peanut gallery is (thankfully) silent on that.

So why the attack on Covid-19 vaccines? Political relevance? Pure ignorance? Each of these politicians has a following. Each of them influences a segment of society. They should be called to order by all of us. 🦸🏽‍♀️

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 3. BRIEFS ✍🏽

🔸 What’s up with Bill Gates

This week, “Kill Bill” trended on Twitter. Nope, it wasn’t a new Quentin Tarantino movie, as some Uma Thurman fans might have hoped. (After two films, that Bill really is dead.) Rather, “Kill Bill” was about killing Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates. Apparently, Gates and his merry band of thieves over at the World Health Organisation are trying to implant microchips in vaccines. 🙄 Tarantino would be proud. Actually, The New York Times reported, Gates and his foundation have poured billions of dollars into (legitimate, non-microchipped) vaccine development and distribution around the world. He isn’t profiting from vaccines in any way. There is some criticism over Gates’ approach, in terms of upholding the status quo: for-profit corporations as the main supplier of vaccines. But with his access to the right networks, pharmaceutical honchos and governments, he has helped mobilise help for millions. Kill Bill? Let’s all get vaccinated instead, please.

🔸 Gorillas get covid and no, it’s not the band

It may sound bananas, but it turns out that humans are not the only ones getting Covid-19. Two gorillas at the San Diego Zoo caught the virus, The New York Times reported. And no, we don’t mean the virtual band that has us dancing to Feel Good Inc all of 2010 🎧. The animals apparently caught the virus from asymptomatic staffers – a reminder that the virus is often spread by people who don’t know they have it. But before you cut off contact with all the animals in your life (which would be awful for the pet lovers among us), the US Centers for Disease Control says that the risk of animals transmitting the virus to humans remains low, and more studies are needed. In the meantime, infected people are urged to keep their distance from animals. So you can’t get puppy cuddles if you’re sick. Another reason this virus sucks. 😔

🔸 The verdict’s out on Ivermectin

And the science is unanimous: despite what you’ve heard about Ivermectin, it is NOT a miracle cure for Covid-19. The antiparasitic drug for animals has been touted on social media as an effective treatment for Covid-19. Some politicians lobbied for its use too. 🤦🏽‍♀️Last week a man was arrested for trying to smuggle the drug into SA. But the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, the body which approves of medicines in SA according to strict scientific rules, has not approved it for human use. It’s mostly for animals, and only rarely allowed to be prescribed to patients with scabies or head lice. And as News24 reported, the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19 has also advised against using it for the virus. Let’s stick to the science, folks.

🔸 YouTube bans Trump

You know things are bad when even YouTube thinks your videos are insane. YouTube, where you can watch anything from monkeys with British accents to cats bullying each other into boxes “without any remorse” (yes, we checked)😸 , has temporarily banned Donald Trump.

Forbes reported this week that YouTube took down a video posted on Trump’s channel for violating its policies about inciting violence, and has banned him from posting any more content for a week. It’s not clear what the offending video entailed, but it appears to have been a clip from a recent rally. This follows bans by both Twitter and Facebook, after the social media giants drew enormous criticism for not acting sooner. Trump used his accounts to praise rioters who stormed the US Capitol last week and spewed lies about the US election. Facebook’s timing, particularly, is rather opportunistic: The platform tiptoed around Trump and his followers, who spent enormous amounts on advertising on the platform. Mark Zuckerberg famously said the social media giant should not be the final arbiter of free speech. Now that Trump is out, and the platforms are accused of having blood on their hands, they have FINALLY acted. 🙅🏽‍♀️

🔸 Garish play from Gary Player

South African golfing legend Gary Player is under fire for accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Donald Trump, a day after the President’s supporters stormed the US Capitol last week. Many people, including Player’s son Marc, urged him not to accept the award, Sport24 reported. The debacle has also revived criticism of the 85-year-old golfer: he was close to the apartheid regime and defended it on several occasions. In his 1966 book, Grand Slam Golf, he wrote: “I must say now, and clearly, that I am of the South Africa of [Hendrik] Verwoerd and apartheid” before going on to praise how civilised white South Africans were among “alien barbarians” – i.e. Africans who “practise ritual murder and polygamy”. Yeesh. 😱 He later condemned apartheid, saying the regime had “pulled the wool over our eyes” but with a history like that, he’s got to do a lot more to make amends. Getting awards from Trump ain’t it. 🤷🏽‍♀️

🔸 Is WhatsApp REALLY changing?

The 4 January announcement by WhatsApp that it would be sharing user data with Facebook was… alarming. But we can all calm down to a mild panic. WhatsApp isn’t changing significantly. Ever since Facebook bought the messaging app in 2014, there’s been some level of data sharing between the two, but not the content of your messages, which are kept private. However other info, like how you interact with the app and your contacts, is shared. So, last week, WhatsApp simply forced us to agree to what it is already doing or to leave the app. ☝🏽 BUT there are changes for WhatsApp Business account users, Facebook later clarified. Essentially, WhatsApp Business users risk having more information about their conversations shared with Facebook, so they can be targeted with more personalised ads. South Africa’s Information Regulator is in talks with Facebook over these changes and its impact on SA users, EWN reported. You can read our full explainer at explain.co.za.

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🔸 Pope: yes to women leading Mass, no to priesthood

Catholic women can officially read the Bible at Mass, serve at the altar and distribute communion. This has already been happening in churches for years, but wasn’t formally allowed until Pope Francis changed the Church’s rules this week, The New York Times reported.

It’s another positive sign for Catholics from a Pope many consider to be the most progressive in the Church’s history. Pope Francis has already said that the church should not reject homosexuals (although they can’t get married). In small ways, he’s bringing the Catholic Church up to speed with the human rights norms of the 21st century. Many have said the latest move is not enough, and that the Church still discriminates against women (who still aren’t allowed to be Catholic priests). But in the context of a Church with a centuries-old tradition of excluding women from religious life, it is progress. 🙌🏽

🔸 Young and restless: Ugandans head to the polls

Ugandans cast their votes today in the East African country’s general election, but it’s unlikely anything will change. President Yoweri Museveni (76), has been in power for 34 years, longer than many Ugandans have been alive – and election fraud is expected to keep things that way. But the largely young population is increasingly gatvol of the dictator, which is why one of the opposition candidates, popularly known as Bobi Wine, is probably making Museveni quite nervous. A popular musician, actor and politician who is half Museveni’s age, Wine (real name Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu) has been repeatedly arrested by state forces and allegedly tortured. Pre-election violence in November saw over 50 people killed. Museveni may have stabilised the region back in the day and lifted many out of poverty but he’s lost the plot. It’s not clear how much longer the geriatric can keep suppressing the will of his young nation.

🔸 Sex and the cities

By now you’ve probably heard that there’s a Sex and the City remake coming to a small screen near you soon. No, we’re not talking about the 90’s show featuring Carrie Bradshaw and her buddies, although that’s happening too: we mean sex and the other city, eThekwini (Durbs). 😉

The Real Housewives of Durban airs 29 January on DStv; in Bradshaw’s place, you’ll find Nonkanyiso Conco – Jacob Zuma’s 20-something fiancée and mother of one of his children. The 78-year-old former president is unlikely to make an appearance: he’s busy fighting off legal challenges left, right and centre. But Conco, who is set to become Zuma’s fifth wife, confirmed to TimesLive that she’s been filming the show. And while this drama doesn’t feature the dishy but much-loathed Christopher Noth (the real Sex and the City’s “Mr Big”)🤭, it does highlight, shall we say, awkward relationships. Conco reportedly described her betrothed as a “calm and wise being”. We can’t help but wonder why those features weren’t on display when he was president. Oh well, consider our popcorn grabbed! 🥂

🔸 Lights are out but renewables are in

Eskom will implement stage two load shedding from today until Sunday after two of its generation units tripped. The power utility said its systems were vulnerable and warned it may have to extend the power cuts if needed (sigh!)😢. But on another note, the renewable energy industry is booming thanks to an uptick in SA businesses turning to renewables like solar power, BusinessLive reported. We wrote a simple guide to keeping the lights on when Eskom can’t – read it at explain.co.za.

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 Sarah, Verashni, Aarti, Nontshi, and Tash ✌🏽

3 thoughts on “Dear politicians: stop with the Covid conspiracies”

  1. Pingback: THE BIG STORY: Trump impeached: will democracy hold the line? – explain

  2. Pingback: OUR TAKE: Conspiracy theories are a risk to us all – explain

  3. Pingback: BRIEF: What’s up with Bill Gates? – explain

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