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13 January’22 Wrap: It’s been a fiery start to the new year. Here’s what you missed.

Hi there 🙋🏽‍♀️ in this week’s edition of The Wrap, we’re looking at: 

Aaaaand… we’re back! 😁We had a much-needed rest and hope you did too. The news cycle, though, didn’t take any time off: we have a bumper edition this week to catch you up on what happened while we were on pause and what you need to know to start you off strong this new year.

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. 😄

Format:

🔊 Sorry! There won’t be an audio version this week. 

🗞 For text, keep scrolling or check out our PDF below.

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1. Our take: Thank you, Tutu

South Africa’s beloved Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu passed away on 26 December at the age of 90. His environmentally-friendly ashes – water was used instead of fire to process the remains – were interred in Cape Town’s St George’s Cathedral on 1 January 2022. 🌱

Tutu was one of South Africa’s most fervent anti-apartheid icons and freedom fighters and a global icon. He became the first black African Bishop in the 1980s. In 1984, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his opposition to the apartheid regime. ✊🏽

He is remembered for his humility and efforts to restore South Africa after the dark days of apartheid. In 1995, South Africa’s first democratic leader, President Nelson Mandela, appointed Tutu as the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC); it aimed to heal the nation and bring about racial reconciliation while uncovering the atrocities inflicted during apartheid. The TRC invited victims and their families to testify, but it was criticised for failing to ensure that those who upheld and drove the regime were held properly accountable for their actions.

Tutu also popularised the term “rainbow nation”. He was a proud advocate for gay rights. 🏳️‍🌈Though he was not without error – who is, after all? – he remains one of South Africa’s most revered and respectable icons. If we were to take one lesson from him, it’s this: 

“Do your little bit of good wherever you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

Rest well, Arch, and thank you for your remarkable contributions to our country. 🙇🏽‍♀️ 

2. The big story: The next chapter: Zondo report

While we were all enjoying the festive season, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo was dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s in the first of his three reports from the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, which he chaired. 🖊️

The 874-page report was handed to President Cyril Ramaphosa on 4 January and focuses mainly on South African Airways and its associated companies: SAA Technical, SA Express, plus the Gupta family’s infamous New Age newspaper and the South African Revenue Services, with a spotlight on the tax body’s former commissioner Tom Moyane. 

Now it’s time for action: The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) needs to come in, guns blazing, ready to make arrests and prosecute those named in the report. Like the rest of the country, though, we’re getting sceptical. 😏 The NPA can be a strong instrument in supholding our democracy but has had a torrid few years. You may remember that Hermione Cronje, head of the Investigating Directorate in the Office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions, suddenly resigned late last year. The NPA was also taken to task for its slow progress in making arrests and prosecutions in high-level corruption cases. In response the NPA and the Hawks have decided to create a special “task force” to focus on state capture cases, adding that it is “exploring options to boost its capacities, capabilities and resources”, News24 reported. 

Zondo is due to hand over the second part of the report at the end of January. This report will focus on Eskom, Transnet and Denel, and that’s bound to be explosive, knowing all the money these entities cost us. The third part will be handed over at the end of February and will cover the remaining entities while making recommendations on parliamentary accountability and the failure of the criminal justice system and intelligence services to detect state capture in its early days, Daily Maverick reported. Ramaphosa will wait until the third report is out to detail his implementation plan. He’d better hurry: he’s facing an internal ANC election this year and, while he’s on the front foot for now to be re-elected ANC president, that could always change. 

Briefs

3. Lockdown party comes back to haunt Britain’s BoJo

Office parties are a thorny issue: some people are wary of socialising with their colleagues, and etiquette columns are often devoted to reminding employees not to chug too much box wine at the year-end function before drunkenly trying to snog the boss. 😂 In the first months of the Covid pandemic, though, parties were nowhere near top of mind as many countries locked down amid rising cases and deaths. But it seems not even a pandemic could keep staff at London’s 10 Downing Street – the Prime Minister’s residence and executive office – from letting their hair down. News broke late last year about a May 2020 party in Downing Street’s garden, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson dodged the heat until more details emerged this week; yesterday he admitted during a routine parliamentary question session that he had attended the event. He apologised, but added that he’d thought it was a work event, not a party. We’ve all made that mistake…right? 😏

The incident, along with other parties allegedly hosted by members of the governing Conservative Party in breach of lockdown rules, is being investigated by Sue Gray, a civil servant. She’s the second person tasked with this investigation: the first resigned in December after it emerged that one of the parties he was meant to scrutinise was held in, we swear we’re not making this up, his own office. 👀 Ordinary Brits are furious at their leaders’ hypocrisy, with many taking to Twitter to share how they’d been forced by lockdown rules to bid dying relatives farewell via iPad while those in power allegedly toasted each other at garden parties. It’s not clear whether heads will roll; Johnson used his appearance before Parliament to argue that Gray should be allowed to finish her investigation, but even Conservative voters and newspapers usually sympathetic to the party seem gatvol. We hope the wine was worth it, Boris.😪

4. A burning debate: who’s to blame for Parly’s fire?

South Africa’s Parliament in Cape Town went up in flames on 2 January.  Firefighters were quickly on the scene and the fire was extinguished; it flared up again the next day because of strong winds and was again stamped out.🧯 Thankfully no one was hurt, as Parliament was in recess, but the building itself is in tatters and repairing the damages is likely to cost as much as R1 billion, Public Works acting director-general Imtiaz Fazel said. 

Unfortunately, the building isn’t insured – this is the case for government property portfolios in some parts of the world, including SA, as it’s extremely expensive to insure huge portfolios.  A post-incident report compiled by the City of Cape Town’s fire service showed that the sprinkler system did not activate because it had not been serviced since 2017 and valves appeared to be closed; there’s not enough evidence to show if fire alarms were functional. Parliament houses a range of historical documents, art and artefacts, but fortunately most were saved, reportedly thanks to a fire door that was installed as a precaution after a fire in the building early last year. 

A 49-year-old man said to be living in Khayelitsha, Zandile Christmas Mafe, is currently the prime arson suspect and has been arrested and appeared in court twice. The state says camera footage shows that Mafe entered the building as early as 2am on Sunday, around three or four hours before the fire broke out, but his lawyer denies this and authorities have not released the footage. Prosecutors say Mafe suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. He started a 30-day observation at Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital today to see if he is fit to stand trial.

This means the State of the Nation Address will take place in Cape Town City Hall next month. But the fire has reignited (sorry!) calls by the EFF and others that Parliament should move to Pretoria, also home to the Union Buildings, for cost-saving reasons. 

Meanwhile, on 5 January police arrested 36-year-old Paul Makauta, a convicted murderer out on parole, for breaking the windows of the Constitutional Court using a hammer. 😓 Makauta appeared in the Hillbrow Magistrates Court last Friday on charges of malicious damage to property.

Some are calling these incidents an attack on our democracy. We’re glad the justice system responded quickly. 🤞🏽

5. Djokovic vs Australia

Will world number one men’s tennis champ Novak Djokovic realise his dreams of a record 21st Grand Slam at the Australian Open? Not if Australian authorities have anything to do with it. 

The Serbian superstar has been at the centre of a news storm after he was nearly kicked out of the country for arriving without a vaccine certificate. Djokovic has openly opposed Covid vaccines.😑

“Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders,” Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, tweeted. “No one is above these rules.”

But the Australian authorities hardly covered themselves with glory in how they handled the matter. There was conflicting information about whether Djokovic could be granted exemption from having a vaccine as he’d tested positive for the virus in December. A federal court overturned the authorities’ decision and it increasingly seems like it was less of a bold public health decision and more of an appeal to voters ahead of the country’s May polls. A hard line on border control has long been a favourite electing talking point. Djokovic has also come out of the brouhaha looking bad. The date of his positive Covid test coincides with several public engagements, where he appeared without a mask. 🤦🏽‍♀️

What happens now? Djokovic has been included in the Australian Open draw and has been spotted practising, but his visa could still be rescinded as Morrison’s government stews over how to come back from what is rapidly shaping into a PR disaster. Djokovic was detained with other asylum seekers, drawing attention to the country’s often inhumane approach to immigration, and its tendency to detain first and ask questions later. Meanwhile, Australia continues to battle an economy-crippling surge of Omicron infections and a shortage of Covid tests. 

6. Covid, season 3: can’t we cancel it already?

It’s been a rough two years and, like you, we can’t quite stomach the thought of living with the pandemic for a third year. Buuut we think – and research is beginning to suggest – that things might take a turn for the better this year. We hope. We beg.🥺

Researchers at Pretoria’s Steve Biko Academic Hospital found that the Omicron variant – which has been more contagious and less lethal – “may be a harbinger of the end of the epidemic phase of the Covid pandemic, ushering in its endemic phase”, Bloomberg reported. “Endemic” means a disease is less widespread and more predictable, like the flu or even HIV/Aids. 

Infections in South Africa have been under control for the most part. We passed the peak of the fourth wave in late December and authorities thought it safe to lift the nighttime curfew on New Year’s Eve so we at least got to ring in 2022 with some hope. 😌

Cases are, however, mounting on the other side of the world. In Europe, hospitals are being strained by the rapid spread of Omicron, especially after the holiday season. In the US, hospitals are postponing elective surgeries to free up staff and beds, Reuters reported. Hospital staff in Spain, Italy and the Netherlands have also been hit pretty hard, with Dutch authorities even asking staff who are infected but are asymptomatic to show up to work, according to Reuters. 

7. What’s with the weird weather we’ve been having?

We’re not just making conversation: the weather has been seriously strange lately. Cape Town, which usually has dry, hot summers, experienced rains in December, as did the Eastern Cape which has been drought-stricken for several years. Meanwhile, Joburg’s hot girl summer was cancelled because of several unusually cold days, followed by really hot days that left everyone too sweaty to pose. 🙄 We’re grateful that the rains helped the Vaal Dam surpass its capacity. But, seriously: does this mean it’s the start of Armageddon? The Citizen spoke to Liesl Dyson, Associate Professor in meteorology at the University of Pretoria, who explained that recent weather patterns were mostly a result of “cut-off low pressure systems” or COLs. This is a low, large type of atmospheric pressure that develops around seven to 10 km above sea level and largely contributes to rainy weather. Dyson told the publication that rain around this period is not uncommon, but that these COLs are becoming more frequent – as is to be expected because of climatic shifts. The Conversation Africa reported that the southern African region is especially vulnerable to extreme weather conditions. From heavy rains to droughts, extreme heat or biting cold days; four seasons in one day is slowly becoming the norm. 🥵🥶🤷🏽‍♀️

8. Shell’s plans shelved… again

In a momentous victory for environmental activists, the High Court in Makhanda ordered Shell to temporarily halt its seismic survey along the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape. 

The court granted an interim interdict on 28 December; it stands until a ruling can be made on whether further environmental authorisation is required, Bloomberg reported. The survey seeks to detect and extract oil from the mineral-rich area by blasting sound waves into the ocean, potentially causing great harm to marine life. 

Activists have been against the survey from the start. A first interdict was issued against Shell at the eleventh hour on 1 December, but two days later the High Court in Makhanda dismissed the ruling citing lack of evidence, so Shell went ahead with the survey. The second interdict was granted on appeal and sent Shell packing, literally, as Bloomberg reported: 

“…and just a few days later the vessel named the Amazon Warrior headed back around the Cape of Good Hope.” 🚢 Good riddance – let’s hope it won’t be back.

9. #Adulting101: licence cards backlog

Is it real news or is it satire? That’s the question we asked ourselves upon hearing that South Africa has just ONE machine to print driving licences… and it’s broken. But the backlog of more than 300 000 licences the malfunction has created is no joke. The machine reportedly broke down on 7 November because of flooding and was sent to Germany for repairs. Transport minister Fikile Mbalula admitted the machine was an old model that no other country used and that it should have been replaced a long time ago – oh, and it will only be back on the job in March. 👀 Mbaks is promising that new smart licence card machines will be introduced this year, Moneyweb reported. 

Where does that leave you if you need to renew your licence? Remember, we’re still in a grace period thanks to Covid. 👇🏽

According to a previous government announcement, all learners’ licences, driving licence cards, temporary driving licences and professional driving permits that expired between 26 March 2020 up to and including 31 August 2021 “are deemed to be valid and their validity periods are extended for a further grace period ending on March 31, 2022”. Civil bodies have requested a further extension given the latest developments. 

10. An oink-believable medical tale

He’s an ordinary 57-year-old man from Maryland in the US, but David Bennett’s name will go down in medical history: he’s the first person ever to receive a pig heart in a transplant operation. The New York Times reported that Bennett was suffering from a “life-threatening heart disease”; he “would have died without a new heart, had exhausted other treatments and was too sick to qualify for a human donor heart”. Enter an untested solution – the use of a genetically modified pig’s heart. 🫀

Doctors at the University of Maryland’s Medical Centre were given a special exemption by the Food and Drug Administration and granted emergency authorisation to perform the surgery. By Monday, three days after the eight-hour surgery, Bennett was “doing well”, said Dr Bartley Griffith, the director of the centre’s cardiac transplant programme. 

Why, you may be wondering, use a pig heart? Turns out that pigs have been aiding human health for some years; in an earlier article, the New York Times said pig heart valves were routinely transplanted into humans “and some patients with diabetes have received pig pancreas cells”! 🤯 Pigs are easier than our closer primate relatives to raise and they mature much faster than primates do. Griffith explained that pig organs could alleviate the US’s chronic shortage of organ donations. “There are simply not enough donor human hearts available to meet the long list of potential recipients.”

South Africa, too, could use a hand (or a trotter) on the organ donation front.  In 2019, according to the South African Organ Donor Foundation, there were 5000 people on the waiting list for organ transplants. But it remains to be seen whether Bennett’s transplant will be the start of a common, accepted trend – there are ethical and medical issues to consider, experts say. In the meantime, we bet Bennett is glad for the unusual help in saving his bacon. 🐷

That’s it from us at The Wrap, an award-winning product of explain.co.za – simple news summaries for busy people. 💁🏾‍♀ 

The Wrap is sponsored by explain’s agency division. We specialise in content marketing for purpose-driven organisations, often with a pan-African reach. Mail info@explain.co.za for a quote. 

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_Till next time, goodbye from the team_ ✌🏽