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11 February ’22 Wrap: Ramaphosa’s best Sona yet?

Hi there! 🙋🏽‍♀️ If you were wondering where your trusty Weekly Wrap was yesterday, we decided to hold it till this morning so that  we could break down last night’s State of the Nation Address for you. We tell you what our president promised and what it means. Plus we unpack the disastrous JSC interviews, say farewell to celebrity news legend Kuli Roberts, and welcome back our lone, world-travelling licence-printing machine! 

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. 😄

Correction:

We got it wrong! Huge apologies for an error in the Elon Musk story published in last week’s Wrap. We said that a teenager refused $50k from Musk but he actually refused $5k – he later tried to negotiate Musk’s offer up to $50k. 

Format

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

🗞 For text, keep scrolling.

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1. Our take: Reform the JSC

The long-awaited interviews for our top judge last week should have been a proud moment. It’s a fairly democratic process and President Cyril Ramaphosa welcomed public input for the first time. He also presented four candidates to be interviewed instead of just one. 💁🏽‍♀️

But instead of celebrating the nomination of the excellent Mandisa Maya as South Africa’s first woman Chief Justice, experts have condemned how the interviews descended into chaos. There were sexist overtones to certain questions, and unsubstantiated questions about alleged sexual assault directed at one candidate, Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo. During Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s interview, questions turned into a shouting match between former ANC Youth League mates turned political enemies, EFF leader Julius Malema and Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola, on a largely unrelated issue.  Advocate Dali Mpofu, who sits on the JSC, also came under fire for his questions. 

As we’ve previously told you, our country’s Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has previously landed in hot water for political point-scoring in shambolic interviews, which it was then forced to rerun. Many blame the body’s troubles on the over-representation of politicians on the 23-member body. 

Organisations like Freedom Under Law, the Helen Suzman Foundation and other scholars say Ramaphosa should ignore the JSC’s recommendation as stemming from an unfair and possibly irregular process. Others, like legal academic Nomboniso Gasa, called for Justice Maya to decline the recommendation on the principle of fairness of proceedings. 

Ramaphosa now faces a prickly decision – and the clock is ticking: in typical Cyril fashion he was slow to act before all this drama and the position has been vacant for over 120 days. 😪

Any expectation that Justice Maya gives up a recommendation that she, along with the other four highly qualified candidates, deserves, is unfair to her. But this moment reminds us that there is a need for real reform of the JSC. Legal research group Judges Matter argue that removing politicians may not be useful, given that legal professionals on the JSC also entertained the highly discriminatory questions aimed at Dustan Mlambo for more than two hours. 

Instead, they suggest, clearer criteria are needed to direct commissioners’ questions. We have to agree. 

2. The big story: Ramaphosa’s best SONA yet?

Around Valentine’s Day every year, we receive a love letter from our president: the State of the Nation Address (Sona) with its look back at the previous year and a list of promises for the year ahead. 

This year’s address took place at the Cape Town City Hall last night following January’s fire damage to parliament, where it is typically hosted. 

At just under two hours, it was one of the longest State of the Nation addresses in recent history, and it contained a lot more detail than usual. And if there was one message Ramaphosa hammered home, it’s that old Clinton administration adage: It’s the economy, stupid. 😏

A bald statement that “businesses create jobs” – not the government, elicited applause – and some rumblings from the would-be Communists in the room. 

Ramaphosa has long been accused of dragging his feet on reforms, but as business journalist Carol Paton put it, he took his plans a bit further last night in a largely business-friendly speech. 

Some highlights: 

🔹Industrialising the production of hemp and cannabis, to benefit farmers in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, potentially creating 130 000 new jobs.

🔹Freeing up electricity generation even more to create a competitive market outside of Eskom. 

🔹Cutting red tape for small businesses, with a dedicated new team in the Presidency headed by Sipho Nkosi, chair of the Small Business Institute. 

🔹Setting a deadline of three weeks for the long-delayed auction of high-frequency communications spectrum. (As ITweb points out, spectrum means more affordable data available to firms and households.)

🔹Third-party access offered to private partners on Transnet’s rails. We have heard rumblings of this, but he’s now committed that Transnet will start by making slots available to third parties on the container corridor between Durban and City Deep in Gauteng from April. There are also plans for private partnerships for our declining ports by October. 

🔹A modernised visa application process for visitors to SA: Remote-working visas and start-up visas are being considered.

🔹Offering businesses tax incentives to employ and create opportunities for 50 000 young people. 

Besides the economy, Ramaphosa repeatedly touched on corruption, noting:

🔹 Acting on a recommendation to protect whistleblowers by June. 

🔹 Discussions with the judiciary on a special court roll for state capture and corruption cases. 

🔹 The establishment of a state-owned holding company to house strategic SOEs, a key site of plunder if the state capture reports are anything to go by. This will centralise government’s oversight. 

Ramaphosa also noted that the State of Disaster would end, and the Social Relief of Distress Grant has been extended to the end of March 2023. The Business Day that a R200bn windfall will finance the R350 monthly payments from higher commodity prices. 

As News24 Politics Editor, Qaanitah Hunter put it, Ramaphosa has always been good at taking responsibility for how bad things are and not sugar-coating our problems. But his plans to tackle these problems are either thin on detail or left to government departments too inept or corrupt to effect real change. 🤞🏽 This year’s Sona was perhaps Ramaphosa’s meatiest yet. Let’s see if it yields tangible results. 

Briefs

3.  SA’s lone licence printing machine is fixed!

South Africa’s one and only licence-printing machine is well-travelled. Last year Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula told an astonished country that the only machine which can print licence cards had broken down on 7 November. But, he assured us, the machine was in Germany being fixed. 😶 Now, with apologies to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, it’s back – and that round trip for repairs means the machine boasts more stamps in its passport than we have to show for the past 24 months! 😂 But will it be able to handle the backlog? The backlog was close to 1.5-million two months ago, according to a statement by the Road Traffic Management Corporation in November last year. Over a third of that is in Gauteng. It’s probably a lot more now.

Bodies like the Automobile Association are calling for another extension to the grace period for expired licence cards necessitated by the pandemic. As we told you previously, if your licence expired between 26 March 2020 up to and including 31 August 2021, it’s still considered valid until the end of March 2022. 

Mbalula, who calls himself “Mr Fix” (delicious irony given that broken machine and our disastrous rail system) has also announced a plan to introduce a new driver’s licence card featuring several security enhancements and incorporating new technology like blockchain. It’s all terribly fourth industrial revolution. The card is awaiting final approval by the cabinet. We live in hope. ✊🏽

4. New HIV variant: bad news and good

Worrying news: A new variant of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has been detected in the Netherlands and is said to be more infectious than previous variants.😲Scientists say the new variant, called VB, can affect the immune system faster than others and can also speed up the progression to developing acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). The HI virus causes infection whereas AIDS can seriously damage the immune system. But there’s good news, too: VB responds to current antiretroviral treatments, provided it is treated during its early stages. The variant was detected in 109 people, 107 of them in the Netherlands, through an ongoing research project that explores HIV variants. There are no reported cases in South Africa and, thanks to the huge strides we’ve made in our response to the virus, we’re well-equipped to deal with it if it does reach our shores. South Africa has the world’s largest antiretroviral programme; we’ve made HUGE strides in treating HIV since those awful days of denialism under Thabo Mbeki. Yay us! 🙌🏽

5. Herman Mashaba keeps eating the DA’s lunch

As the founder of hair product company Black Like Me, Herman Mashaba is accustomed to making waves – of the salon-styled kind.  As a fairly new politician, he’s making waves of a different kind. 🌊 This week was particularly busy for the ActionSA boss. On Monday he held a press conference pushing for his coalition partners in Gauteng’s three metros to partner with the EFF in Ekurhuleni. Trouble is, the DA and others promised their voters they’d never do this. Mashaba claims the coalition needs the EFF to survive an impending motion of no confidence from the ANC. His coalition partners think he’s full of nonsense for going public and for his ongoing love affair with Julius Malema’s red berets. (When Mashaba, then a DA member, was mayor of Joburg, reports alleged the EFF was given patronage over lucrative City of Johannesburg tenders as a quid pro quo for working with him.)

Unfazed, Mashaba then ran a Twitter t-shirt competition (we’re not even joking) 👀 for those who could correctly guess the latest high profile leader to join his party. As many corrected conjectured, the DA’s former Nelson Mandela Bay mayor, Athol Trollip, was the man of the hour.

Wooing Trollip is quite the coup for Mashaba, who is steadily attracting disenchanted leaders from the DA while it increasingly caters to a conservative white base. Trollip was close to Mmusi Maimane, the DA’s first black leader, who was effectively ousted after the party’s poor performance in the 2019 national elections. 

Trollip made inroads in trying to clean up Nelson Mandela Bay before the coalition government there fell apart. Now ActionSA has made him its Eastern Cape chairperson and hopes he’ll increase the party’s presence in his native province. 

Mashaba seems intent on presenting himself as a kingmaker to South African voters ahead of the 2024 national elections. His new party was the breakout star of last year’s election and is gaining in popularity – albeit harmfully at times with xenophobic rhetoric. Our politics are dramatically realigning amid the gradual decline of the ANC, which may be pushed out of power nationally by 2024. 🤔 But, coalition politics being as they are now, we’re watching what will follow with some trepidation. 

6. Sports wrap: Senegal wins Afcon; Africa’s Winter Olympics hopefuls

The streets of Senegal’s capital, Dakar, were painted green, red and yellow on Sunday evening after the country claimed the African Cup of Nations (Afcon) trophy for the FIRST time in history. 🙌 In a tremendous victory against seven-time winner Egypt, the West African nation’s winning penalty was scored by Liverpool’s Sadio Mane. The celebrations in Senegal were a huge affair, with dancing, fireworks and jubilation lighting up the streets. Monday was even declared a public holiday because, as its fans know, soccer is life. 

On the other side of the world, the 2022 Winter Olympics kicked off in Beijing. There are no South Africans taking part but six athletes from five other African countries are representing our continent: Eritrea, Ghana, Madagascar, Morocco and Nigeria. Five are competing in Alpine (downhill) skiing and one in cross country skiing. We’re pretty impressed, what with ski slopes not being exactly common in Africa. 😆 As The Conversation reports, no African nation has won a Winter Olympics medal, mainly because our warm climate limits us from training in winter sports. But this could be the year! 💪🏽

7. Riot report released

Remember the eight days of looting and violence last July that started in eThekwini and cost the government R50 billion? A report into the riots, compiled by an expert panel established by the Presidency, was quietly released on Monday. The 154-page report found that at least 354 people died and paints a damning picture of the country’s security apparatus, which failed to do its job. 

During the riots, the report reads, citizens felt a “deep bewilderment” as they were left at the mercy of criminal opportunists, while state security like the army and police were either delayed or overwhelmed, sometimes for days. Community members stepped into the gap, guarding against looters and protecting each other. We’re still in awe of you, Soweto leader Nhlanhla Lux. 🙌🏽

The report expresses concern that the same opportunists will be emboldened next time: “The question, many argue, is not if and whether more unrest and violence will occur, but when it will occur.”

Former president Jacob Zuma’s arrest famously triggered the riots. The panel says it heard several times that “ factional battles in the ANC have become a serious source of instability in the country. This is a matter of great concern.”

But, it points out, structural issues like poverty – exacerbated by Covid-19 – were the root causes of the unrest. Ramaphosa has promised to follow the report’s recommendations, making special mention of it at Thursday’s Sona, saying government would fill “critical vacancies” in the State Security Agency and Crime Intelligence, plus announce leadership changes in a number of security agencies.

We suggest he starts with rethinking the useless National Security Council that he set up in 2020. It’s made up of relevant ministers – or, it turns out, pretty irrelevant ones, since they didn’t even bother to meet the panel when it was compiling its report. The South African Human Rights Commission is also holding hearings into the riots.

So much happens in our country that this may seem long gone. But it was a serious blot on South Africa’s record so we’ll keep you updated on how it’s being addressed. 🤞🏽 

8. What’s with all the rain?

Heavy rains in Tshwane over the weekend caused floods in Centurion, Pretoria West and Mamelodi that claimed five lives. Nearly 800 people were displaced; thankfully, many have been temporarily housed in community halls and churches and provided with food packages until they can get back on their feet. 😓 It wasn’t South Africa’s first flash flood of the year. In January, torrential rain and heavy flooding hit the Eastern Cape; 14 people were confirmed dead and there was heavy property damage. Floods are becoming a perennial problem and meteorologists warn of wetter than usual rainy seasons across southern Africa. It’s not just a result of climate change, but also due to a weather pattern called La Niña which started in December 2021. Experts also say tropical storm Ana, which made landfall in late January, caused heavy flooding while the upcoming tropical cyclone Batsirai is affecting the southern Indian Ocean and will cause another spate of heavy rains and floods when it makes landfall this year. 🌪️ Authorities say this is NOT a cause for panic but it is a scary reality. Stay safe out there. 

9. In memoriam

Famed (and feared) celebrity journalist Nomakula “Kuli” Roberts passed away yesterday. She was 49. She was known for her often controversial column, “Bitches Brew” in Sunday World, which landed her in hot water in 2011 over derogatory comments about coloured people. 

The mother of two did stints as a broadcaster, novelist, actress (she appeared in Mzansi Magic’s telenovela The Queen and Netflix’s film Angeliena) and even dabbled in SA politics, making headlines in 2021 with a short-lived stint in Mzwanele Manyi’s ATM party. It’s not yet known what caused her death. Sithi lala ngoxolo Sis’Kuli. 🕊️🕊️

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_ ✌🏽