20 January’22 Wrap: Sit down, Lindiwe Sisulu

While you were contemplating your 2022 resolutions, Lindiwe Sisulu was probably making her famous activist parents turn in their graves with her unprecedented attack on our Constitution and black judges. But the country didn’t take it lying down. Meanwhile, Oxfam has released a report showing that the world’s richest people doubled their wealth during the pandemic! Those stories and more await you in this 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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▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 1. Our take: Capitalism gone mad

Each year thousands of elites descend on Davos, a mountain resort in Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum (WEF). As the BBC puts it, the event usually draws corporate and political leaders, celebrities, campaigners, economists and journalists for panel discussions, drinks parties and schmoozing. But Covid has intervened: the 2022 in-person event is deferred to the European summer; this week participants will gather online instead for what the WEF calls the Davos agenda – a “headline series of State of the World sessions”.

It’s probably just as well: the protesters who traditionally flock to Davos to express their disdain for the whole shindig are going to be extra mad this year. Oxfam has released a new report showing that the wealth of the world’s 10 richest men DOUBLED during the pandemic. 

(Yes, men. And all white too). 

The charity’s chief executive said: “This year, what’s happening is off the scale. There’s been a new billionaire created almost every day during this pandemic, meanwhile 99% of the world’s population are worse off.”

The situation is deeply unjust – but, as a society, we can’t seem to muster the collective political will to reverse this rapacious form of capitalism gone mad. Why? We like the thoughts of one SA Twitter user responding to the report, Zama Ndlovu: 

“Things have gone terribly wrong and because people have been socialised to believe that with enough meditation and hard work this could be them, it’s hard to galvanise the political momentum to reverse this inequality.”

Our obsession with individualism deepens with each new generation. From Gen x to z, we’re told by rappers, politicians and influencers that we, too, can become one of the obscenely wealthy few. It’s time to put that lie to bed and commit to raising a new generation that champions the collective good above becoming wildly successful and famous at others’ expense. 

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 2. The big story: Sit down, Lindiwe Sisulu

Most of us were still jotting down our new year’s resolutions when Minister of Tourism Lindiwe Sisulu decided to dust off an old chestnut – that the Constitution is to blame for the government’s failings – in a fiery initial op-ed and subsequent responses. These had less to do with the “sea of African poverty” she bemoans and more to do with Sisulu clearly launching her campaign to challenge Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC president by aligning herself with the “radical economic transformation” faction under former president Jacob Zuma. 🥲

In the original article, published on Iqbal Survé’s largely discredited Independent Online, Sisulu accused black judges of being determined to deny poor South Africans economic justice, adding that many were worse than apartheid-era judges. The same judiciary, mind you, have often gone to bat to hold the government to account for its treatment of the poor.

Thankfully some of SA’s strongest minds – including acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, ANC stalwart Mavuso Msimang and Sisulu’s sister-in-law and activist, Elinor Sisulu – issued robust rebuttals. Msimang noted quite rightly that the executive arm of government – Sisulu’s cabinet – rather than the judiciary is responsible for poverty alleviation. The consensus was that Sisulu shouldn’t moan about economic justice considering she has been a high-ranking politician in government for nearly 30 years.

Ramaphosa responded in his usual annoyingly subtle manner, using his weekly newsletter to defend the Constitution and judiciary. 

One of Sisulu’s complaints is that the judiciary, using the Constitution and its much-debated property clause, has stalled land reform. But, as we’ve previously noted, land experts say that’s simply not the case. And no less than Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola agrees; as he put it in a Business Day op-ed following Sisulu’s comments (and quoting a report by former President Kgalema Motlanthe): “The failure was due to poor implementation of policy [and] budget allocation for land reform being woefully inadequate to bring about structural change.” 

If we want to talk about economic empowerment for poor Africans, let’s talk about the infamous  R342 million Vrede Dairy farm project, meant to empower black farmers. Instead, as the Public Protector found, the Guptas and their political partners benefitted unduly. Sisulu laments the legacy of colonialism and apartheid but says nothing of the daylight robbery of the state capture project. 

Thankfully there was positive news about Estina this week: it took the government nearly ten years, but this week it handed the project over to more than 65 community members who were the intended beneficiaries. This is how change happens – through hard work and good governance. Sisulu should take note. 🙄

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ Briefs

3. Protecting our whistleblowers

Over the past week, the homes of two South Africans were burgled. It’s an all too common crime. But the victims – Themba Maseko and Johann van Loggerenberg- have something important in common: they both blew the whistle at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, also called the Zondo Commission.

The first part of the Zondo report, as we told you, was released earlier this month and details the state capture project. Maseko testified about how the Guptas allegedly attempted to capture the Government Communications and Information System during his tenure as the department’s director-general, while Van Loggerenberg, a former South African Revenue Service executive, detailed how the organisation was allegedly captured during Zuma’s presidency. Both believe the burglaries were related to their testimonies. 

You may remember the murder of Babita Deokaran, a senior health department official who exposed corruption in the procurement of protective Covid gear. Athol Williams, who also testified at the commission, fled the country in fear of his life. Attacks on whistleblowers are an ongoing issue in SA. So what’s the solution? The Zondo Commission has recommended compensating whistleblowers with a fixed percentage of any money they help to recover. Whistleblower rewards are a rising trend globally. Once dismissed as a perversion of justice, the intervention has proven to be highly effective. Organisations have also called for the establishment of an agency that provides protection, social, psychological and health resources for whistleblowers, News24 reported – this support is the norm in several countries. It’s about time similar policies are created for the protectors of our democracy. ☝🏽

4. Salute, class of 2021

What do you remember from your matric year? The acne and teen heartbreak were hard enough, right? Now imagine adding rotational learning, masks and social distancing into the mix. A big shout-out, then, to the class of 2021. ✊🏽 The results are out for Independent Examinations Board (IEB) or private schools, and students achieved a 98.06% pass rate, higher than in 2020 and 89.2% of IEB students qualified to pursue degrees. 

The results for government schools will be published in the newspapers tomorrow. This, after a Pretoria High Court ruling in favour of AfriForum and two other parties, who challenged the Department of Basic Education’s unilateral decision to stop publishing results publicly, citing the Protection of Personal Information Act. It’s business as usual for the public school matrics of 2021, who can also collect their results from their schools tomorrow. 

So, what can we look forward to in the year ahead? Rotational learning was a supposedly temporary solution which the education department wants to continue this year. But NPO Equal Education and other organisations say that scholars, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds, suffer more from this arrangement. They argue that reduced restrictions, vaccinations, and new evidence around transmission mean schools can restart full-time. An academic study last year found that 750 000 students dropped out of school during the pandemic – the highest rate since the survey started in 2002. Opinions are divided on this but it increasingly looks like scrapping rotational learning is best. 🤞🏽

5.  #Adulting101: Feed your piggy bank

Janu-worry is real, we know. But take it easy when you finally get paid next week, because both electricity and petrol hikes are on the cards. 💀

Eskom has proposed a 20.5% electricity tariff increase for 2022/23 😱, saying most of that is because of factors beyond its control, such as the requirement to increase energy purchases from independent power producers, and an increase in carbon taxes. Those two factors account for 13.8% of the increase, Eskom says. 

Various bodies are opposing the hike because most South Africans have taken a Covid hit to their wallets – and many are angry about mismanagement and wasteful expenditure at Eskom. We’ll know for sure by the end of February, when national energy regulator Nersa must decide on Eskom’s proposal. 

Secondly, petrol prices, which swung between high and low last year, look to be leaning towards the high side this year. Economists say we can expect an increase in February.

Petrol prices around the world reached an all-time high in 2021 – the R20/L mark we hit towards the end of last year seemed high to us but is the global average. Prices soared in Europe too; there a litre costs around R30 and in Hong Kong it can be as much as R45. Back home, however, the price of petrol in South Africa is higher than most other African nations. In some, like Botswana, Ghana and eSwatini, it hovers around the R17/L mark, while places like Nigeria and Angola pay around R6/L, Global Petrol Prices shows.

6. Chaos in the City of Gold

Group work” is a concept dreaded by anyone who’s ever had to drag lazy, under-performing hangers-on through a school, university or workplace project. But it’s also what underpins any successful coalition government – pity that ANC and EFF councillors in the City of Johannesburg seem determined to avoid it at any cost. In case you’ve forgotten, the city was among those with a hung council after November’s local government elections. As we reported at the time, schmoozing and scrambling ensued, and the DA was pretty much forced to form a coalition to lead the City of Johannesburg, with its candidate Dr Mpho Phalatse donning the mayoral chain. Last week council proceedings descended into a fracas; amid arguments about voting procedures, councillors – Phalatse among them – and council staff were manhandled. 😯 Criminal charges were later laid against some EFF and ANC councillors. Neither the threat of police investigation nor a heavy security presence could prevent a repeat on Tuesday at a special council meeting called to elect council committee chairs and their big boss, the impressively titled chair or chairs. 💺

News24 reports that these committees “help provide oversight for governing the City, and the decisions taken by the mayor’s executive” – in other words, they ensure that councillors are working for the good of Johannesburg’s residents. In the wise words of teenagers everywhere, LOL.😜

Tuesday’s meeting featured numerous postponements, arguments about how voting should be done, and a walkout by EFF and ANC councillors. Just one vote was completed: congratulations (or condolences, given the enormity of her task) to Cope’s Colleen Makhubele, who was elected unopposed as the chair of chairs. The council will reconvene on 27 January to, maybe, elect committee chairs.

It was all rather absurd, but this is no laughing matter. It’s an early and alarming indication that the deposed ANC will do everything in its power to hobble the coalition. That means even less service delivery to already fed-up residents. If the ANC hopes to claw back votes in Johannesburg and other metros, it needs a new strategy – if the local government election results are a bellwether, voters will punish these sorts of antics hard at the polls in 2024. 💁🏽‍♀️

7. Death of an icon and more Djokovic questions

Two big bits of news from the worlds of culture and sport: first, the death of trailblazing fashion guru André Leon Talley on Monday; he was 73. As the New York Times puts it, Talley, who was African American,  shattered his industry’s glass ceiling when he went from the Jim Crow South to the front rows of Paris couture. Talley rose to prominence as the creative director and right-hand person to Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour from 1983 to 1995. 🤩 He left Vogue to live in Paris and returned to the magazine as Editor at Large in 1998, leaving again in 2013. In 2020 he released a memoir detailing his time at the magazine and lifting the lid on widespread racism – like the time a publicist for luxury fashion brand YSL called him “Queen Kong”. Talley used his time at Vogue to quietly and firmly advocate for the representation of black models in the fashion industry.💪🏽

Turning to sport, critics of tennis superstar Novak Djokovic have decried Tennis Australia for being unusually gracious around Djokovic’s Australian Open visa debacle. The body delayed announcing its match schedule while Djokovic defended his refusal to vaccinate, which is a requirement for all entering Australian borders. Critics say tennis bodies would not have extended the same grace to black athletes like Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams. 🤨

The Australian Immigration Minister cancelled Djokovic’s visa last Friday saying his stay in Australia would incite civil unrest due to its strict vaccination campaign. So the Serb misses out on his chance to score a record 21st men’s Grand Slam title and a 10th Australian Open victory. His deportation may also keep him out of other global competitions; many countries are reluctant to issue visas to those deported by other countries. And he’ll have to change his vaccination status, too: the French Open has already said that without a Covid vaccine, he’s not welcome at the competition in May.

8. Court releases Mafe from psychiatric evaluation

Zandile Mafe, the man accused of setting Parliament on fire earlier this month, has been released from Cape Town’s Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital. This comes after Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe ruled that Mafe’s referral for psychiatric evaluation was unlawful, and that bail should have been considered. The Cape Town Magistrate’s court made the referral after a district surgeon diagnosed Mafe with paranoid schizophrenia. Hlophe had strong words about how Mafe was improperly sent for mental evaluation, without having a say in the matter. 🤷🏽‍♀️

Mafe is also charged with terrorism. He was transferred back to Pollsmoor prison on Wednesday but will remain in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19. His bail application will be heard on Saturday at the Cape Town Regional Court. Expect ongoing updates as this case unfolds. 

9. Take the “love” from Clover

You probably haven’t seen much Clover milk on the shelves lately. 🥛That’s because workers have been on strike for the past nine weeks. The dairy company was taken over by an Israeli company, Central Bottling Company, in 2019 and is planning to retrench staff and close factories. GroundUp is reporting that nearly 2000 workers would be affected. Workers picketed outside the department of trade, industry and competition in Pretoria a week ago, and intensified action this week when they stormed stores in the Joburg CBD, removing Clover products from the shelves and leaving them in trolleys. They left behind pamphlets reading “Boycott Clover Products”. Clover says it is forced to make the cuts because of a difficult trading cycle and poor economic growth. 

Speaking of fighting back, remember the group of Khoi and San people fighting against Amazon which wants to construct its 70 000 sqm headquarters on their sacred land in Cape Town? Well those guys, plus some activists, took the US retail giant to the South African High Court on Wednesday to interdict the project. The hearing started yesterday and is set down until tomorrow. But it’s split the community: some feel the project will create more employment opportunities, while others want to protect the land they deem part of their history and home. 🌄

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_ ✌🏽