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10 March ’22 Wrap: Ramaphosa gets it wrong on Russia

In this week’s edition of The Wrap, we’re looking at SA’s position on Russia and why not EVERYTHING needs to be a Ramaphosa-style talk show. We also roll our eyes at the awkward PR moves by companies trying to celebrate International Women’s Day this week – and celebrate the gains made by women who ACTUALLY impress us, as top female judges are appointed for the first time in courts around the world. Plus we break down how our economy saw its strongest growth in 14 years – and what comes next. 

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

🔊 For the audio version of The Wrap, go here:

🗞 For text, keep scrolling.

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1. Our take: SA flubs Russia vote

It’s day 15 of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and things keep escalating. Two million refugees are said to have fled Ukraine and, according to the UN, there have been 1 335 verified civilian casualties in Ukraine: 474 deaths and 861 people injured. 

One issue that’s coming to the fore is SA’s place in all of this. 

Last week, our country decided to abstain from voting in the United Nations’ resolution against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – one of 35 countries to do so. After a backlash, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the abstention was because the resolution failed to do his favourite thing: call for dialogue. The man who famously helped SA’s warring sides negotiate a peaceful transition from apartheid has long been a fan of talk shops. It’s an aspect of his leadership that’s often criticised but, as is often the case with our weaknesses, it’s also one of his strengths. As he plaintively put it in his weekly missive to annoyed South Africans this week: “The call for peaceful resolution through political dialogue is relegated to a single sentence close to the conclusion of the final text.” 

Considering that we’re a democratic country, the abstention was puzzling for several reasons, including the fact that we don’t have strong trade relations with Russia. It’s not like the economic formation we’re part of with Russia – BRICS – held us back either. Another BRICS country, Brazil, voted against Russia. Plus there’s Russia’s blatant racism towards African residents fleeing the war; Ukraine is guilty of this, too. (More on this later)

So there’s little reason for SA to keep its relationship with Russia intact. Oh, and calling Russian president Vladimir Putin a “man of peace” won’t earn you brownie points either, Jacob Zuma. 🙄  We know you’re besties *cough cough Russia nuclear deal* but seriously? Read the room! 

The same could be said of Ramaphosa. At a time when the world’s attention is fixed on the unfolding war, SA should be on the right side of history. 

2. The big story: Xenophobic opportunism

Xenophobic tension is on the rise again in Gauteng’s townships and there’s a new organisation driving it this time: Operation Dudula. 

A few weeks ago, Kaya 959 reported that a group of Soweto and Alexandra residents marched to Hillbrow to remove undocumented foreign nationals by force. 

Things have intensified. On Monday, three Zimbabweans and a South African were injured during a clash between foreign nationals and people describing themselves as “Dudula Movement” members in Alexandra. The organisation is separate from Operation Dudula.

The organisers of Operation Dudula deny that their actions are xenophobic and say they are saving the townships’ economies.  

But the fact is that South Africans are becoming increasingly hostile to foreigners. The #PutSouthAfricaFirst hashtag on social media continues to trend at times, offering a slightly diluted version of the more aggressive anti-foreigner sentiment we’ve seen in action this week (and, sadly, so many times before). 

All this is taking place against the backdrop of national politics that’s becoming increasingly xenophobic. 

Herman Mashaba led the charge while at the DA and now is even more blatant as part of his popular Action SA formation. Others like the EFF, who were once anti-xenophobia, have jumped on board an anti-immigrant wagon plucked straight out of Donald Trump’s book of xenophobic tricks. 

Globally, the rise of this sort of right-wing sentiment doesn’t happen in a vacuum. 

It’s worth noting that Operation Dudula is partly led by Nhlanhla Lux, the man we once hailed as a hero for guarding Soweto’s Maponya Mall against looters during the July unrest.

But we may have erred. The country heaped praise on Lux when he worked outside the system for a just cause. The problem is that for him – and many other angry and poor South Africans – fighting foreigners also appears to be a just cause. 

It’s not. As many experts note, this is misdirected anger as unemployment and food prices soar. It’s easier to turn on one’s neighbour, who is holding it together a little better and looks different, than to rail against structural problems and the political elites who are to blame. How ironic that it’s these same elites encouraging xenophobia – and distracting from their own failings. It’s disgraceful. 

Briefs

3. Mind the (gender pay) gap

International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on March 8, isn’t just a chance to honour those who make up nearly 50% of the world’s population. It’s also an occasion that causes many organisations’ marketing divisions to completely malfunction. They either use tired tropes that paint absolutely all women as homemakers, mothers and lovers of the colour pink or they unwittingly reveal their biases and shortcomings. 

This year, technology and a couple on a mission provided a twist by turning the day into a series we like to call “hypocritical companies getting gloriously trolled on Twitter”. The UK couple created a little Twitter bot: @paygapapp. As its Twitter bio puts it: “Employers, if you tweet about International Women’s Day, I’ll retweet your gender pay gap 👀” 

The bot uses government data on British companies’ gender pay that has, since 2017, been a matter of public record, the Washington Post reported for companies with more than 250 employees. In 2020, according to the country’s Office for National Statistics, women earned about 85% of what men did. 

And so the little pay gap bot set the cat among the pigeons on Tuesday: many UK organisations boasting about their respect and support for women hurriedly deleted their posts when the bot revealed in-house pay gaps of up to – wait for it – 89%. It’s great to see corporate and institutional hypocrisy revealed in real-time. We shudder to think what a similar bot might highlight here in SA…

Speaking of SA, one of the day’s biggest local losers was Stellenbosch University. In a since-deleted tweet, the institution set out to celebrate the women in its senior management. Great idea – pity that not a single black African woman was featured. After a slew of justifiably angry responses, the tweet quietly vanished and a university spokesman apologised

4. Accountability Monitor: Bathabile Dlamini found guilty of perjury

Lie to me once, shame on you, lie to me twice, you’re guilty of perjury! This one’s for you, Bathabile Dlamini. Yesterday, the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court found the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) president and former Cabinet minister guilty of perjury. The court found that she lied under oath during a 2017 inquiry into the social grants saga. Dlamini, then the minister of social development, put millions of SA’s most vulnerable citizens at risk when her department messed around with the service provider responsible for disbursing grants.

Dlamini will know her fate on 1 April: she may be asked to go to prison or pay a fine.

The big question now is whether the ANC’s recently hard-won “step aside rule” will kick in, forcing Dlamini out as president of the ANCWL. If so, there’s a fat paycheck awaiting the next incumbent. It was revealed in court that Dlamini earns R70 000 a month as ANCWL president – oh, plus a cool R40 000 in pension for her ministerial role!

Meanwhile, the Women’s League may face the same fate as the now toothless ANC Youth League. There have been calls for the disbandment of the ANCWL, the Daily Maverick reports, reducing it to a task team. It has already been dissolved in two provinces. 

It is yet another sign of the ANC’s decline as it repeatedly fails to take accountability seriously. This isn’t the first time Dlamini was convicted – she pleaded guilty to fraud in the 2003 Travelgate scandal as an MP. She simply paid a R120 000 fine as part of a plea deal and was later promoted to Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet. The ANC promised in 2004 to take action against MPs involved in Travelgate. That never happened. 

There was perhaps a tad more accountability when Ramaphosa became president: Dlamini was removed from her position as minister of social development and moved to the portfolio for women before being dropped completely from the Cabinet in a reshuffle the following year. But the fact that she’s kept her cushy Women’s League job is shocking. The courts have yet again proven her guilt. Time for the ANC to act or risk being made even more irrelevant. 

5. Our economy’s best performance in 14 years

We know, we know: It’s hard to think of “South Africa’s economy” and “good news” in the same breath, but trust us on this one – there is some reason to celebrate. 

It centres on the GDP, a measure of how big our economy is; that is, how many goods and services are being sold. Stats SA measures it every three months and on Tuesday released the data for the end of 2021. This means we now have the full picture for 2021 and it’s good news: last year saw our biggest annual growth in 14 years. 

For the full year, GDP expanded at 4.9%, the biggest increase since 2007 – before the global financial crisis. That’s a huge improvement from the 6.4% contraction in 2020 (that dark year that we don’t like talking about).

But it’s not all sunshine, as our wallets and petrol gauges attest. We needed more growth: the bigger the economy, the more jobs and money going around. 

The crappy bit is that there’s plenty ahead to threaten 2021’s fragile growth. Ongoing local bugbears like power cuts (thanks Eskom) and now the war brewing in Europe (thanks Russia) pose a threat to further growth. Plus, last year’s positive growth could have been even better if it wasn’t for the July looting and ongoing service delivery and policy problems. 

There is also a concern about a “jobless recovery”. That means, we have all this growth, but no jobs to show for it. It’s a general problem with SA’s economy: professional services like finance have increasingly dominated our economy and are responsible for this growth, while historical sectors like mining have declined. Our job market just isn’t keeping up (thanks, SA education). We have loads of unskilled workers but a fair number of vacancies for highly skilled jobs. You can read or watch more about this issue – and what we can do about it – in our previous explainer here. (WhatsApp readers, check the PDF for the link). 

6. Adulting: Renew your licence and light some candles

If you’re driving with an expired licence, this is your final reminder! Transport minister Fikile Mbalula said this week his department will not extend the grace period for expired licences beyond 31 March. The grace period was put in place given a massive backlog of licence renewal applications following the closure of licensing centres during Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020. Mbalula, aka “Mr Fix” as he ironically calls himself on Twitter, said that motorists who fail to meet the deadline will face fines and possible prosecution. “We are increasing our capacity, so the backlog will not be an issue. I am making a call for people to go out and renew their cards, because we won’t extend the grace period,” said Mbalula. 

It’s a controversial decision given the issues with renewing our licences after the lone printing machine broke down and was sent for repairs and the closure of several licensing centres across Gauteng following protests about the new electronic system that we told you about last week. 

In other news, you might be reading this by candlelight because SA’s most unwelcome guest, load shedding, is back. Eskom says Stage 4 load shedding will be implemented from 09:00 on Wednesday morning until 05:00 on Friday. You can find your schedule here. Charge your power banks and stock up on candles! 

7. Glass ceilings shatter in courts across the world

There’s been a slew of historic female appointments to courts across the world and we’re here for it. 

🔹US President Joe Biden has made good on his promise to appoint the first black woman to the Supreme Court. Two weeks ago, he nominated Justice Ketanji Jackson, making her possibly the most qualified candidate to ever take up a seat in the US’s apex court – in the US, justices notoriously don’t technically need a law degree. 

Jackson is one of the most experienced candidates for the job, with a 25 year-long career as a public defender and lawyer in private practice. All Jackson now needs is the stamp of approval of the Senate, similar to our parliament here in South Africa. She needs 51 votes to secure her lifetime appointment to the court, which she will likely get as the Democratic Party, which Biden leads, holds the majority in the Senate. 

🔹In SA we are likely to have our own first woman, Justice Mandisa Maya, head our highest court. That’s if the ever-indecisive Ramaphosa were to give his go-ahead for the Constitutional Court Chief Justice appointment. (Now vacant for nearly 140 days. Yes, we’re counting.)

🔹Egypt just appointed its first woman judge to the State Council, a top court in the country. Judge Radwa Helmi’s appointment makes historic strides towards equality in Egypt, a country that has been heavily criticised for its ongoing assault on women’s rights.

🔹Last year, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta made Chief Justice Martha Koome the first woman to lead the country’s top court. 

There’s much more to do but these important appointments are worth celebrating!

8. Chicken Licken clucks it up

Chicken Licken, famous for its hot wings and “soul food”, made headlines this week for an action that lacked any soul: threatening legal action against a self-catering lodge that dared to use the word “soul” in its name. The Durban lodge, Soulhouse, insists it wasn’t trying to be spicy and was astonished to receive a letter from Chicken Licken demanding a name change. Soulhouse won’t be bullied, saying it does not sell food and therefore does not need to remove the word from its name. But Chicken Licken’s lawyers are licking their lips, insisting they’ll go to court if Soulhouse doesn’t blink first in this game of chicken. (We’re sorry.) 

The fast food chain has gone to court to enforce its “Soul Food” and “Soul” trademarks previously, but it lost on both occasions. We love those hot wings as much as the next person but WTF? Does Chicken Licken have an enormous legal budget it really loves spending, or is this some perverse form of marketing? Come on, Chicken Licken, save the heat for your cooking! 🔥

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_ ✌🏽