10 June ’21 Wrap: Shuffle (and cut) that cabinet, Mr President

1. Our take: Shuffle that cabinet, Mr president

What’s your new Health Minister’s name? We don’t blame you if you can’t answer that one yet. We told you last week Zweli Mkhize was on his way out as health minister thanks to the dodgy Digital Vibes contract, and lo, it has come to pass. In a dramatic about-turn, President Cyril Ramaphosa didn’t await the outcome of the Special Investigating Unit’s (SIU) probe as initially planned. Public outrage grew, and Ramaphosa put Mkhize on special leave on Tuesday. 

Look, it’s messy. We desperately need strong leadership on the health front given the pandemic. 

Mkhize’s future will finally be decided once the SIU finishes that probe at the end of June as promised. It isn’t looking good and he’ll probably be axed for good if it’s negative. 

So to answer that first trick question, your new (acting) health minister is former tourism minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane. 

It’s an awkward appointment because Kubayi-Ngubane has no medical track record and hasn’t been particularly good as tourism minister. 😶

Here’s our question: what’s the point of having deputy ministers? Surely they should step into the gap when something like this happens. Deputy health minister Dr Mathume Joseph “Joe” Phaahla has served under Mkhize throughout this pandemic and is surely better placed to keep things ticking over. Plus he’s a medical doctor. 

So why not just make him minister? Insiders say it’s because a much larger cabinet reshuffle is afoot. 

Our ministerial pack of cards desperately needs a shuffle. There’s one vacant position, minister in the presidency, that needs to be filled. It was held by Jackson Mthembu, who passed away in January. Plus there have long been rumours that our finance minister, Tito Mboweni, is due to be replaced. He is often the lone voice of fiscal reason in the Cabinet, though his culinary reason is famously lacking (enough with the death by garlic recipes on Twitter, minister). But he’s never been that enamoured with the politics of his position and openly admits he took the job under duress. 

The trouble is, Ramaphosa needs a SUPER heavyweight in that position – and now also in health. As usual in the weird world of the ANC, things are being held up by internal deliberations. This may be the impetus needed to shuffle those cards – and cut. Ramaphosa was pressured into keeping way too much of his predecessor Jacob Zuma’s bloated cabinet.

According to News24, there are several possible replacements for the all-important job of Finance Minister:

  • Respected South African Reserve Bank (Sarb) governor Lesetja Kganyago, 
  • Former deputy Sarb governor and Absa CEO David Mminele
  • Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas
  • Mboweni’s deputy David Masondo 

If you were president for a day, who would you choose? We’d choose not to be the president for a day. 🤭

2. The big story: A magic bullet for SA’s electricity crisis? 

Tired of all the load shedding? So is SA’s corporate sector. Until today, a company could only create 1MW of energy and relied on Eskom for the rest. As you can imagine, that “rest” is QUITE a lot and Eskom isn’t exactly handling it. In a big announcement today, Ramaphosa said government is raising the 1MW limit to a whopping 100MW, with an amendment to the Electricity Act. He effectively overruled Gwede Mantashe, mineral resources and energy minister, who previously insisted on a threshold of just 10MW.

To explain: a firm can only generate its own supply of electricity up to a certain amount, a topic of huge debate. Self-generation is by far the quickest way to bring additional megawatts onto the grid and lobby groups have been hard at work to increase that threshold, as that really could be the magic bullet to help the country’s energy crisis.  

Today’s announcement is more than even lobbyists had hoped for. Organised business and the Minerals Council SA, as well as Eskom CEO André de Ruyter, recommended that the threshold be set at 50MW.  

A mine would require at least 40MW of power, as Business Day has previously pointed out. Bigger enterprises, which are more likely to have the cash to invest in self-generation, would need even more. 

Here are some of the implications: 

  • It takes the pressure off Eskom. All that loadshedding we’ve been hit with recently is because our national electricity system is like a car that’s been driven hard for ten years and never serviced. It’s falling apart and needs to be fixed. 
  • Companies can plan for their future more effectively, and are more likely to invest and spend their cash reserves, knowing they can guarantee their own energy supply. The private sector often holds back because of uncertainty on this and other issues, which hampers the entire economy. This move could lead to more growth, money circulating in the economy, and jobs. 
  • Companies can sell their extra electricity to the national grid and metros could buy it, meaning potentially more reliable electricity for you and me. The shift opens up a freer market when it comes to electricity, instead of forcing everyone to use Eskom, which can’t handle all the demand anyway. 
  • It will unlock significant investment in the energy generation sector. Think: solar and other renewable energy companies getting more work, and creating jobs. 

Clean energy AND more jobs? We’re here for it. Well done on the bold and decisive action, Cyril. More of this, please!

3. Briefs

  1. Accountability Monitor: It’s a justice bonanza! 

We know we keep telling you “the wheels of justice turn slowly” and you keep asking, quite rightly, when are people going to jail? Well, it’s happening!

This week saw the most high profile arrest to date in the state capture saga, along with charges brought against the Gupta brothers, their wives, and others, related to a dodgy Free State deal that paved the way for the infamous Estina Dairy scandal. That’s the one where money meant to help poor cattle farmers instead paid for a gaudy Gupta wedding in 2013 at Sun City.  

Speaking of gaudy, one of their key allies, local businessman Iqbal Sharma, was arrested and denied bail, as he’d probably flee given half a chance. Sharma and his celeb wife Tareena Patel have often shown off their hideous Morningside Bollywood-styled mansion on Top Billing and social media. Now that mansion, along with loads of other assets belonging to them and the Guptas, has been attached by authorities. Yes, that includes the Saxonwold compound. Things are finally moving. 

You’ll recall the Guptas fled to Dubai in 2018 when they sensed the looting game was up? Well, the UAE has signed an extradition agreement against the Guptas that will give South Africa the right and ability to bring the infamous family to book. We could only apply for extradition once criminal charges were brought, which is why we weren’t able to force them to appear before the Zondo commission. 

And that’s not all! Remember how the brother of the EFF’s deputy leader Floyd Shivambu was implicated in the VBS Mutual Bank saga of pilfering pensioner money? Last week Daily Maverick revealed that the younger Shivambu will pay back the R4.5 million he received, signing an agreement admitting that there was no underlying basis for the payment. The ice is thinning under EFF leader Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu too. 

If you want more details read our full story here

Do you see light at the end of this long anti-corruption tunnel? We sure do. 

  1. The Tembisa 10 

Did a South African woman living in Tembisa, Gauteng break the Guinness world record by having ten babies at once? That’s the question seemingly everyone is asking, after Pretoria News broke the story, showing a VERY pregnant Gosiame Thamara Sithole. Even the BBC is reporting the story. Trouble is, government officials haven’t been able to confirm the birth, and the family isn’t showing the babies, citing health and cultural reasons. This hasn’t stopped social media from throwing the family a “national baby shower”, while the controversial media house behind the story, dubious businessman Iqbal Survé’s Independent Media, furiously denounced cynics. Still, we’ll believe it when we see the ten bouncing babies… 

  1.  Keep it up, economy

More good news: South Africa’s economy, measured by our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), expanded by 1.1% in the first quarter of 2021 to 4.6% – better than the 3.1% that economists predicted. With the positive growth so far, economists have been reviewing their forecasts for economic growth. Some now say they expect the economy to grow and reach at least 5% by the end of this year. Some also say we could reach pre-pandemic GDP levels by 2023. 🎉 The increase in GDP just means that the cost of living will decrease for me and you. Now we just need Eskom and load shedding to behave. 

  1. Where did Covid ACTUALLY come from?

It’s hard to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the pandemic and its associated infodemic – the spread of misinformation. There’s long been a conspiracy theory that the virus was maliciously invented in a lab instead of originating at a “wet market” in Wuhan. The World Health Organisation (WHO) investigated the virus’ origins – but not everyone was satisfied with its findings, so now the US and UK have launched their own investigations. It’s a plethora of probes!

So, what can you believe? We’d probably steer clear of the nutty theories that Chinese authorities planned all of this to take down the world. But could they have potentially covered up a lab accident, where the new virus was being studied and maybe jumped to a human? Look, we don’t know that either. Given how much misinformation, disinformation and how many conspiracy theories proliferate on this issue, we advise that you keep your “fake news” antennae finely tuned and carefully assess everything you read by considering the source and the agendas at play.

  1. You have an $18 000 art piece in your house, you just can’t see it 

Find a square meter in your house, cordon it off with some tape and present it to people as a piece of art. Then sell it. Sounds ridiculous right? Obviously, but it happened. On 16 May, Italian artist Salvatore Garau presented his invisible sculpture to the public. He called it Buddha in contemplations; the artist lists “air and spirit” as the installation’s mediums. The nothingness fetched $18 000 when it went up for sale. We’re not kidding. When questioned about his work, the artist said ‘You do not see it but it exists; it is made of air and spirit. It is a work that asks you to activate the power of imagination, a power that anyone has, even those who don’t think they have it”, he likened it to people buying into the god they have never seen. We’d liken it to the empty promises politicians make, and that people keep buying. The emperor really is without clothes. 😬

  1. Can Bezos pay his taxes before heading off to space? 

What’s a midlife crisis without buying a posh car or dating someone half your age? But recently divorced billionaire Jeff Bezos is taking his midlife crisis to a whole other level: space! Bezos (57) plans to join the first crewed suborbital flight by Blue Origin, his own spaceflight company. Bezos invited his brother Mark to join him on his mission, which he hopes to launch on July 20. SA comedian Trevor Noah, as always, had something funny to say: “Now, if you ask me, I think space travel is a natural fit for the founder of Amazon… Think about it. Astronauts are just workers who have to wear diapers because they don’t get bathroom breaks, so it makes total sense.” You can join Bezos if you want to; he’s auctioning off a seat to a winning bidder. But also know this: Bezos is among the richest men, alongside Michael Bloomberg, Elon Musk and Warren Buffet, who have taken advantage of loopholes in the American tax code, according to a ProPublica investigation that broke this week in the US. It was found that when their wealth increased they paid relatively little or close to nothing in federal income taxes between 2014 and 2018. Imagine being that rich but still finding ways to break the rules. 

  1. Fact-checking America’s favourite doctor 

Don’t believe everything you read – especially if it’s written by a cartoonist who is also a conspiracy theorist. 

As the Daily Maverick reported this week: “The release of thousands of emails by chief medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci to the US president has caused a frenzy among conspiracy theorists globally. In SA, cartoonist Jeremy Nell’s ‘analysis’ of the Fauci emails has been widely shared. But every single claim made by Nell is patently false.”

Nell, who has been openly sceptical about pretty much anything related to Covid, conveniently twisted Dr Fauci’s responses for his own ends. He claimed Fauci said all sorts of things in the mails that he just didn’t, including:

  • that asymptomatic people can’t spread the virus. 
  • masks are useless
  • The emails “explain how the virus was created in a Wuhan lab”. They don’t. 

Nell’s article has been WIDELY shared, including by the African Christian Democratic Party and Professor Tim Noakes.

If you came across the irresponsible article published by BizNews, please, don’t share it. 

  1. French President gets a ‘hot one’ 🔥 

“Down with Macronia”: it doesn’t mean down with macaroni, nor is it anti macaroons (we’d hate to see that happening). Instead, it’s the phrase uttered by one French man in a green t-shirt, a mask and sunglasses after he comically slapped French President Emmanual Macron, who was on a walkabout in southern France. You have to watch the clip here. Look, we obviously don’t advocate violence, but wow do we sometimes also want to slap a politician! The man in the green t-shirt and one other was arrested for the incident, but it will rank up there along with the teenager who ‘egged’ Australian politician Fraser Anning or the time tomatoes were thrown at former US President Donald Trump.  🤭