20 May ’21 Wrap: The Soviet Union had nothing on Zuma

Our take : Zuma and the stalingrad tactic

If we had a rand for every time former president Jacob Zuma used a legal delaying tactic we’d be… not rich, exactly, but we could probably afford a pretty fancy generator to dodge load shedding this winter, or a good communications team for the DA.

As we’ve told you before, Zuma’s decades-old arms deal trial is about to kick off. We think. We hope. That’s because, on Monday, when the trial was set to start and we THOUGHT he was without options, Zuma’s new legal team pulled a rabbit out the hat. They want seasoned state prosecutor Billy Downer to recuse himself. We’re waiting to see the actual “special plea” and motivation but political analysts say Zuma may claim that Downer is biased and has a political agenda. 🤦🏽‍♀️ Downer has been on this case for two decades. 

Most experts believe this is yet another “Stalingrad tactic” by Zuma. The approach is named after the famous Soviet Union battle that wore down attacking German forces over five months. But the Soviet Union has nothing on Zuma, who has evaded prosecution with endless appeals to higher courts. Not to mention even becoming state president and ensuring those pesky charges, first brought in 2005, were squashed. 

So, if the Pietermaritzburg High Court turns down his request – which it’s likely to do for various convincing legal reasons – bingo! He may appeal it up to the highest court in the land, the Constitutional Court. Remember this is his right: the system HAS to show he has been given a fair trial. 

When the case does finally get going, it’ll dominate news headlines. 

The arms deal is nearly as old as our democracy, and its sins have haunted us for decades. In the 90s the new ANC-led government acquired military arms we didn’t need with billions of rands we couldn’t afford. From this deal, thousands of rands in bribes from French arms manufacturer Thales were paid to high-ranking ANC politicians, including Zuma through his then financial advisor Schabir Shaik. Thales and Zuma face charges of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering in this trial. 

Recent history has shown the Zondo Commission was wise to Zuma’s delaying tactics and went straight to the Concourt itself when he looked like he was going to try his tricks. Hopefully, something similar can happen this time to speed things up. It’s been 20 years, guys. We’re tired. Phansi Zuma delays, phansi. 👎

The big story: Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout kicks off

South Africans over the age of 60 are showing off their first shot of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine and we’re here for it! It’s such a relief that phase 2 of the vaccine rollout strategy finally kicked off this week, aimed at our senior citizens. And it’s going much faster than the first phase, which was still a trial and had more checks in place, slowing things down. But still, it’s had challenges. At the start of the week, elderly people waited in queues at one of the 87 public health sites, but this is far short of the 3000 sites the government hoped to have up by Phase 2. 

We have to play our part, too. The initial turnout has been slow. Of the 5 million citizens older than 60, only 1.2 million citizens registered. Talk to your parents and grandparents, folks. 

Meanwhile, phase 1B of the Sisonke trial is running concurrently with Phase 2. Under the first part of Phase 1 (stay with us) about 500 000 healthcare workers were vaccinated. That ended on 15 May and now Phase 1B kicks off, for the remaining 750 000 healthcare workers. 

Phase 2 in its totality targets about 16 million people, including essential workers, people living in crowded areas and people over the age of 40. 

That means we’re going to need a whole lot more vaccines. We’ve secured about six million Pfizer vaccines, due to come in batches, with plans to vaccinate 250 000 people a day in the coming weeks. 

Things will need to speed up sooner rather than later especially as the third wave looms. On Wednesday more than 3 000 new cases were reported in South Africa. Gauteng premier David Makhura said last week the province is officially in the third wave, while the Free State and Western Cape are on high alert as a resurgence begins. Experts are concerned about the intensity of the third wave – so brace yourself, we might see some new restrictions shortly. Hint: buy your alcohol soon. 


SA actress makes it big

A 29-year-old actress from KZN has Oprah Winfrey singing her praises. Thuso Mdebu has wowed audiences with her performance as Cora Randall in Amazon Prime’s series, The Underground Railroad, based on Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about slavery in the US. 

Mbedu worked her way up in the local acting scene, on shows like Mzansi Magic’s Saints and Sinners, Isibaya and Scandal. In 2015 she landed a leading role in the award-winning Is’thunzi drama series. She was nominated twice at the International Emmys, in 2017 and 2018, for her role as Winnie and while she was in the US for the awards ceremony, her agent encouraged her to audition for The Underground Railroad. You’d think an outsider with no international experience wouldn’t stand a chance, but Mbedu wowed director Barry Jenkins.

Now she’s set to feature in yet another big series to be shot here in SA: The Women King starring Oscar award-winning actresses Viola Davis and Lupita Nyong’o. 

As Trevor Noah put it, she’s living the ultimate dream. She made it big in the US and got people to come back to SA with her to make another show, thus scoring herself a round-trip ticket. 😂

The big wildlife breeding debate

If you’ve petted lion cubs you’ll hopefully know it’s a contentious activity. Now authorities want the country to move away from captive breeding operations generally and instead manage animals more efficiently in game reserves. Minister of forestry, fisheries and the environment, Barbara Creecy, said as much when she released a long-awaited report on the issue earlier this month. The 582-page report was put together by a 25-member panel, which she set up in 2019 to review policies related to the management, breeding, hunting and trade of lions, rhinos, leopards, and elephants. 

Government plans to stop granting permits to breed, keep, hunt or interact with lions in captivity and it will revoke current breeding permits. It’s been greeted with uproar (sorry, very punny 😏) from private breeding industries. Meanwhile, some conservationists think the recommendations don’t go far enough, saying leopards for instance will continue being hunted despite their dangerously low numbers. This is a pretty big issue so we’ve rounded up the for and against for the rules on our site along with our take. Read it here or scroll down to “explainers” on explain.co.za. 

Will Israel face sanctions? 

As we write, Israel shows no signs of letting up its offensive on Palestinian territory Gaza, where already 230 people have been killed. US President Joe Biden told Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday that he expected “a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire”. But Netanyahu said he was “determined” to continue bombarding Gaza until Israel’s “aim is met”, Al Jazeera reported. Meanwhile, though, it seems the global tide may be slowly turning against Israel. There have been marches and petitions from various countries demanding a ceasefire.

Perhaps more importantly, some companies may be starting to hit Israel where it hurts: in the pocket. The FT reported that in Norway, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund had excluded two Israeli companies “for constructing and letting out buildings in Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank”. Here at home, activists have called for President Cyril Ramaphosa – who said in an interview with France24 this week that Israel’s actions could be compared to apartheid in South Africa – to impose sanctions and end trade with Israel. We import R3.4 billion worth of Israeli goods and services each year, including computer software, chemicals and electrical items. The US, despite Biden’s call to Netanyahu, remains a staunch Israeli ally: Biden’s administration has approved the potential sale of $35 million in precision-guided weapons to Israel.  

Is Bill Gates who he says he is?

Microsoft founder and billionaire Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates recently announced they would be divorcing, saying they could no longer grow together. We thought it was quite a shame to see such a power couple split. Now we’re questioning everything we thought we knew about Bill Gates after a New York Times expose this week alleged he pursued a number of women who worked for him and created an “uncomfortable working environment”. His conduct at work-related meetings was also questioned after he asked one of his women employees out for dinner. His office denied the allegations of mistreatment of employees. A representative for Bill Gates also confirmed the mogul had an affair with a staffer about 20 years ago. Gates was married to Melinda for 27 years. 🤐 Previous reports noted that Gates also met with convicted sex offender Jeffery Epstein on several occasions, which made Melinda uncomfortable. Bill, a little word of advice: no amount of money makes that kind of behaviour OK. 

It’s capitalism over culture for Amazon

Amazon is planning to convert the River Club development site in Cape Town into its Africa head offices. The problem? The site is considered sacred by some Khoisan communities. Legal battles are now underway to stop Amazon from “paving paradise to put up a parking lot”. Observatory Civic Association (OCA), an NPO in the Observatory region, has written to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos but received no reply. You and the rest of Amazon’s workers, OCA. At least you guys don’t have to pee in bottles. 😬

They’ve even tried writing to Mackenzie Scott, Bezos’s ex-wife, to convince him to not go ahead with the plans. They might have better luck there: Scott became the one of the richest women in the world when she left Bezos and has made it her mission to give away his money. 

Meanwhile, we’ve got questions for the City of Cape Town. It has a history of being a little too welcoming to private property developers at the expense of the poor and vulnerable. There were the controversial evictions in Bromhof Street, Woodstock, plus the ongoing gentrification in areas like Bo-Kaap. Booming property prices have pushed up rates, slowly forcing out the historic Cape Malay population, who cannot afford them. 

Property development company Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust said it’s important that the Amazon offices are built, saying several thousand jobs are on the line, but we think there has to be a better way. 

Tired? Us too! Here are some tips to beat languishing

Feeling fatigued lately, and maybe even experiencing low-key dread? Thanks to the events of 2020, psychologists say it’s pretty normal for us to feel this way. It was a torrid year. But now things are kind of getting back to normal, meaning it’s time to FLOURISH. We loved a recent article on this concept from the NYT, with tips on how to do just that. Here are a few of our favourites. 

  • Renew your relationships. Call a friend, meet up for lunch, have a good laugh and talk about all the things that happened in the past year. Catharsis heals. 
  • Practice gratitude. Numerous studies have shown that keeping a gratitude journal is a game changer for your mindset.
  • Reward yourself. It was hard at times to do the bare minimum, but as you get into the groove of things, notice your little achievements and milestones. It can be as simple as cooking a simple meal or finally cleaning out that closet you’d been avoiding. 
  • Find new interests. We don’t blame you if you got bored of the puzzles and painting projects you took up when lockdown started.
  • Do good. Find communities where you can volunteer, or set up your own volunteer programme. The act of giving gives us greater purpose and fulfilment. 

#Adulting 101

This week in our newish series we’re looking at the cost of electricity, vaccination sites, and the City of Johannesburg’s new debt rehabilitation programme. 

  • The cost of electricity 

The COJ has scrapped its ridiculous planned charge for prepaid customers after a public outcry. Go team! Had the COJ gone ahead with plans, as of 1 July you would have had to pay R200 extra for your household, and R400 for your business. Phew! 

Buuut… if you’re not a prepaid electricity user, then expect a 14.59% electricity tariff hike for the COJ that will kick in on 1 July – if the proposal is approved. We’re sorry, we know it sucks. 

  • Debt rehabilitation programme

Speaking of the COJ, if you’ve racked up a big municipal account, the city has revamped its existing debt rehabilitation programme to help people out during Covid. You could qualify for up to 50% off your existing debt. You have until the end of July to apply. The new policy has increased the qualifying property value from R600 000 to R1.5 million, and how much you get off depends on what you earn. To apply, hit the link here or google COJ debt rehabilitation.

  • How to register for your vaccine shots

Wondering how the government’s electronic vaccination system will work? The EVDS is a little confusing, so we love this explainer from the health journalists at Bhekisisa. In a nutshell: If you haven’t already, register yourself on the EVDS, wait (and pray) for your SMS, and then go to your allocated site with the unique vaccination voucher you were sent, along with your ID and medical aid details. Sites include Dischem and Clicks. 

Accountability monitor: Bathabile coughs up 

Remember the drama over the dodgy contractor in charge of our social grants in 2018? If you don’t, no worries – so many scandals, so little time! Then Minister of Social Development and ANC Women’s League President Bathabile Dlamini was ordered to personally pay 20% of the legal costs of Black Sash and Freedom Under Law, who successfully dragged her to court over the entire fiasco. Naturally, Dlamini did no such thing, pleading poverty. 

Now she’s finally paid the R65000 owed to the organisations. 

The landmark judgement was the first of its kind that held leaders personally accountable for wrongdoing, and it created a welcome precedent. Since then, judges have repeatedly made personal cost orders against government leaders acting recklessly. It’s important because otherwise, we as taxpayers are essentially footing the bill when they lose cases and have to pay the other party’s costs.