Hi there 🙋🏽♀️ in this week’s edition of The Wrap, we’re giving you permission to go easy on yourself as the year draws to an end. We also help you do just that with a gentle tour through the news you really do need to know and what it means – from Zuma’s tax records, to those coalition talks, and what came out of the global climate conference in a nutshell.
So, let’s dive into your weekly update of empowering and easy-to-understand news, brought to you by Verashni Pillay and the explain.co.za team. 😄
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🗞 For text, keep scrolling.
1. Our take: You’re exhausted and that’s ok
Feeling a little exhausted?
You’re not the only one. We wanted to start this Wrap by telling you it’s OK if you’re tired, and maybe need to start your holiday a little earlier this year.
2020 was a shock to our system, what with lockdowns and a once-in-a-generation pandemic. But 2021 was arguably worse as the pandemic dragged into its second year and we had to deal with all kinds of loss, economically and personally. You may have lost loved ones and your job. We’ve all lost our ability to connect freely. Even if you got off lightly, the changes wrought in the last two years will have taken a dramatic psychological toll.
Consider this stat: The number of people reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression in the US nearly quadrupled over a single year after Covid hit. More than 42% of people surveyed by the US Census Bureau in December 2020 reported symptoms, up from 11% the previous year.
It would be similar – or worse – for us here in SA. Locally, the October 2021 Salary and Wage Movement survey showed that the leading reason an employee left employment between April and October 2021 was resignation (60%). This reflects international trends – people are burning out after being asked to do more and more, often for less pay, and are simply resigning.
We hope that gives you permission to go easy on yourself. If you need to keep working, try to simplify other areas of your life and don’t feel guilty about saying no a little more often. If superstar athletes like Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles can step away from huge sporting events to tend to their mental health, so can you.
2. The big story: Zuma’s dirty laundry
A major court judgment this week has set the cats among the pigeons over the issue of taxpayer privacy.
It all centres on our dear former president, Jacob Zuma. Because of course it does.
As News24 put it yesterday: “Eight years’ worth of former president Jacob Zuma’s tax records could be in the hands of journalists within the next 10 days, after the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria ordered the SA Revenue Service (SARS) to hand them over ‘in the public interest’.”
The handover probably won’t happen so soon, if at all. SARS has battled intensely to keep Zuma’s tax records under wraps. Not, it says, because of who he is, but because of the “far-reaching implications the disclosure of taxpayer information could have on its ability to collect revenue”, News24’s Karyn Maughan wrote.
The application was brought by journalists from the Financial Mail and investigative outlet amaBhungane.
This is a test of how much information should be made freely available, as per our Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), which is used by the media and general public to access state information.
Judge Norman Davis thinks that access should include tax records when they are in the public interest.
So what’s next? SARS will probably appeal the judgment as it thinks it will inhibit taxpayers from being honest. But the investigative journalists who brought the appeal intend to immediately start digging into the records if they are released at the end of next week. They’re looking to back several explosive claims journalist Jacques Pauw made in his book The President’s Keepers: that Zuma did not submit tax returns at all for the first seven years of his presidency; that he owed millions in tax for fringe benefits he received for upgrades to his Nkandla residence and that he received “donations” from illicit sources like tobacco smugglers, Russian oligarchs and the infamous Gupta family.
Remember, investigative journalists were key to exposing the Guptas in the first place. While the legal tussle over privacy carries on, we’re looking forward to more stellar SA investigative journalism – sooner or later.
3. What a week for the economy
The festive season with its many expenses is looming. So you’d be forgiven for focusing on your wallet and ignoring broader economic news – but don’t worry, we’ve got your back. First, a look at finance minister Enoch Godongwana’s last maiden medium-term budget policy statement (MTBPS) last week. Then we’ll talk you through this week’s inflation and interest rate news.
- MTBPS aftermath
We were looking for differences in policy between Godongwana and his predecessor, Tito Mboweni; the new minister said the only difference was that he had “better shoes” than Mboweni. It’s not a sartorial slight: he means that he has better monetary support, as TimesLive reports. Godongwana has R120bn more revenue available to him than Mboweni did for the February budget, thanks to a glorious commodity boom and higher global economic growth. This revenue could be short-lived, but it does help Treasury to carry out its responsibilities.
- One of these is the R350 social relief of distress grant, introduced early in the pandemic to provide support to the vulnerable. It was briefly cancelled, then reintroduced after July’s unrest. Some analysts expected Godongwana to extend the grant beyond March 2022 but he kicked the can down the road to the big budget speech in February next year. Around 27.8 million people – 46% of our population – are receiving this grant, which is another tier in a multi-faceted social support system. SA’s grant system offers crucial support to millions, but it’s at a cost that rose to R1.1 trillion in 2021/22. There’s pressure to cut government spending. Godongwana proposed restructuring the system: “We’ve got to say, which of these are critical? If I’m providing a basic income grant, is there need for a child support?”. Tough balancing act. Expect his 2022 Budget to hold more answers.
- The good news is that the government has ACTUALLY stuck to its promise to cut spending – albeit slightly – and where it does spend, to do it more on investments that will reap us more rewards later. General government spending is projected to contract for three consecutive years thanks to real growth in recent years. TimesLive reports that this shows the government is sticking to the financial framework tabled in February 2021’s budget. Government is also planning on spending more on fixed investments, especially for economic regulation and infrastructure. This will go down very well with investors.
It was a solid first MTBPS for Godongwana. He’s a capable finance minister and has the clout to push through many reforms. If it’s done right and in good time, our economy (and our purses!) will reap the benefits.
- Inflation and interest rate
Inflation indicates whether the price of food and beverages, among other things, has risen. A number of factors, like global prices and the price of fuel, determine the inflation rate, so economists were expecting inflation to rise given last week’s fuel hike. Inflation remained steady at 5% in October, but things could shift a little after the South African Reserve Bank’s decision today to hike the interest rate to 3.75% from 3.5%.
Meanwhile, the local currency has not recorded much change, hovering around R15.40 – R15.65 to the US dollar over the week. This is something to keep an eye on, especially if you’re planning an overseas trip. The stronger the rand, the less you’ll fork out for an international sojourn.
4. Coalition countdown: time is running out
The DA will work with ActionSA but not the EFF. ActionSA thought about working with the EFF but isn’t into it anymore. No one seems to want to work with the ANC, apart from the Patriotic Alliance (PA), and maybe the IFP.
Trying to keep track of coalition negotiations is dizzying. As we told you last week, following the recent local government elections that delivered shock losses to the big parties, more than a quarter of our municipalities are “hung” – no single party received a majority. This has led to all sorts of talks and horse-trading, like: “I’ll support you to rule in this big city if you support me to run a bunch of small towns.”
We keep hearing little updates from various party insiders, on and off the record, but nothing is clear yet. The biggest development so far is reports that the PA – founded by gangster turned businessman Gayton McKenzie – pulled out of opposition talks with the DA and other smaller parties and is working with the ANC, which is giving Gayton and co the government positions the DA refused. Without the PA’s eight seats in the city of Joburg, the DA can’t pull together a coalition of opposition parties to take the city, so the ANC will hang on to it with the PA’s help.
As political journalist Natasha Marrian puts it, McKenzie is a self-described “coloured nationalist” and the party’s focus on coloured voters is helping it amid the rising tide of nationalist politics in SA’s communities.
But as the talks have revealed so far, nothing is certain. We’ll only know for sure when various mayors and other positions are elected.
Parties are running out of time to find a common cause: they have until November 23 – that’s Tuesday! – to form governments. After that, any “hung” municipality is placed under provincial administration, setting the stage for an election rerun.
5. Global climate talks end with a whimper
The global climate conference, COP26, concluded on Saturday night in dramatic fashion. Negotiations overran by 24 hours. Poorer countries fought against reducing their reliance on coal. Richer nations pushed back in some cases against funding poorer nations to fight the effects of climate change – effects for which said richer nations are largely responsible. Many pledges were made during the talks but there’s little by way of accountability. In short, it was a bit of a circus.
As the talks hit a deadlock the European Commission’s vice president Frans Timmermans stood up, pleading with top government leaders to think about just “one person in your life…that will still be around in 2030” – which is when the world needs to cut emissions by 1.5°C to avoid extreme weather changes.
It provided a moment for the negotiations to forge ahead.
Eventually, nearly 200 countries adopted what is now known as the Glasgow Climate Pact. It’s the first climate deal to explicitly plan to reduce coal, the worst fossil fuel for greenhouse gases. But it still fell short in many ways. Current pledges, if fulfilled, will only limit global warming to about 2.4°C. 😲 They’re hoping to do better at next year’s COP, which will take place in Africa for the first time, but wow. We’re beyond running out of time on this.
India and China, who together are responsible for about a third of global CO2 emissions, fought hard against the phrase “phasing out” coal, pushing instead the phrase “phasing down”. That’s because developing countries – like SA – don’t want to abruptly stop using coal and devastate their economies and communities that rely on it, AND they want financing to fight the effects of climate change, while transitioning their economies to a greener space.
It’s a tricky and touchy set of subjects. And it’s easy to get depressed. These climate conferences may seem like a lot of hot air (haha) with very little achieved but, as the Economist puts it: “It is better than letting the effort slide, just as the UN-sanctioned circus of the COPs is better than leaving the world without any such forum at all.”
6. Miss SA sticks to her guns
Miss SA, Lalela Mswane, is not budging from her decision to attend the Miss Universe pageant that will be hosted in Israel next month. It’s getting more than a little awkward now: the SA government has withdrawn its support for Mswane. 💀 To recap: several pro-Palestinian organisations have called on Mswane and the Miss SA organisation to withdraw and boycott the pageant as a statement against the country labelled by the United Nations as an apartheid state. The South African government has made its support for Palestine very clear, calling the pageant “the upcoming apartheid Israel-hosted Miss Universe”. It says Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land and its gross violation of Palestinians’ rights is reason enough for Mswane and the Miss SA organisation to withdraw from the contest. The organisation insists it’s not political and is going ahead anyway.
This wouldn’t be the first cultural boycott against a beauty pageant. Apartheid South Africa was excoriated in 1956 for creating Miss SA as a whites-only pageant. In the 1970s, several countries withdrew from a Miss World contest to protest South Africa’s participation; the country’s racist policies subsequently saw it banned from Miss World for 13 years.
We’re looking for the same energy against Israel: apartheid wasn’t OK in SA, and it’s not OK anywhere else. Please do better, Lalela.
7. A rough week for the Boks and Bafana
Many of us have one person who lives rent-free in our heads: the ex who broke your heart, or the teacher who said you’d never amount to anything. For World Rugby – the sport’s governing body – South Africa’s Springboks are that “person”. A reminder: the Boks are reigning World Cup champions. In August the team beat long-time rivals the British and Irish Lions in a Test series on home soil and bagged a rare win against the world’s second-best team, New Zealand. Despite these and other accolades, coach Jacques Nienaber’s team announcement on Tuesday, ahead of Saturday’s game against England, was overshadowed by news that not a single Springbok (nor, incidentally, any All Black) was nominated as World Rugby’s Player of the Year. Analysts, pundits and fans, many of them from elsewhere in the world, decried the absence of, among others, inspirational captain Siya Kolisi from the list. The organisation’s spat with former Springbok coach and current director of rugby Rassie Erasmus also reached a crescendo this week: Erasmus has been banned from all rugby for two months and can’t take part in any match day activities “including coaching, contact with match officials, and media engagement, until 30 September 2022”, News24 reported late yesterday. The sanctions are related to a video he released after the British and Irish Lions series in which he criticised refereeing standards. Erasmus and SA Rugby plan to appeal the charges. As Mariah Carey would have it, why is World Rugby “so obsessed” with Rassie? Free up some space in your heads, guys, and let our man go!
Meanwhile, South African soccer fans’ hearts were shattered by a bizarre piece of officiating in Bafana Bafana’s do-or-die World Cup qualifier against Ghana on Sunday. SA was penalised for a tackle in the penalty box that looked like it was done by a ghost. 👻The resulting penalty handed Ghana a 1 – 0 win. SA Football Association boss Danny Jordaan went as far as accusing Senegalese referee Maguette Ndiaye of “match manipulation” – fighting words, and the association has backed them up by lodging an official complaint with world soccer’s governing body, FIFA. It hopes FIFA will order that the match be replayed, giving Bafana another shot at qualifying for next year’s tournament in Qatar. We’re crossing our fingers for a fair outcome.
8. Ghosts of Africa haunt European museums
Centuries of colonialism robbed Africa of many things, priceless artefacts and artworks among them. In recent years there have been growing calls for European countries to return said artefacts – and this week, Benin scored a huge victory.
In 2016 the West African nation, formerly a French territory, demanded that some of its treasures from the Kingdom of Dahomey be repatriated. The artefacts were stolen by French troops between 1892 and 1894 and are held at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris. On Tuesday France’s president hosted his Beninese counterpart for a ceremony to return 26 of the pieces.
The Benin Bronzes are another famous example of colonial art theft. Thousands of these exquisite metal artworks once decorated the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin in what is now Nigeria. Most were stolen by British forces in the late 1800s as they consolidated imperial control of the area. (Maddeningly, Europeans were shocked that people “supposedly so primitive and savage” could create such complex objects. Some even suggested Beninese knowledge of metallurgy came from Portuguese traders – but many of the dramatic sculptures date to the 13th century, hundreds of years before Europeans arrived!)
According to reports, thousands are now held in museums across the US and Europe. Nigeria has pushed for about 1 000 Benin Bronzes to be returned from Germany. In September, Berlin agreed to give back hundreds, starting next July.
Other institutions are holding out, however. The British Museum, which has the largest collection, refuses to return any of its bronzes. It argues that its foreign artefacts, including the Elgin Marbles taken from the Parthenon in Athens, are best housed there, AFP reports. 🙄 It seems some countries’ colonial mindsets can’t be shifted.
That’s it from us at The Wrap, an award-winning product of explain.co.za – simple news summaries for busy people. 💁🏾♀
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_Till next time, goodbye from the team_ ✌🏽