17 March ’22 Wrap: Why Comair grounding was a good thing  

Hi there 🙋🏽‍♀️ in this week’s edition of The Wrap, we’re handing Dali Mpofu a tissue for his bloody nose after a week of losses for the advocate and politician, celebrating a local designer getting a foot in at THE Grammy Awards, and hailing Trevor Noah for giving Kanye West a masterclass in social media etiquette. Plus we give you the skinny on Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s ever-nearer impeachment process and explain why the Comair grounding was both good AND bad news for SA. 

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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1. Our take: We won’t be your fool, Dali

One of SA’s most controversial advocates, Dali Mpofu, got a bloody nose this week – and the blows landed from several fronts. 

First: The Johannesburg Bar found Mpofu guilty of misconduct for telling fellow advocate Michelle Le Roux to “shut up” during cross-examination of public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan at the state capture commission last year. It caused a storm of controversy at the time  – Mpofu even told Gordhan to shut up when he reacted! Mpofu was given five days to suggest a sanction against himself, but he’s not taking that route. Instead, Mpofu says he’ll appeal the decision.

Second: He’s on his way out of the compromised Judicial Services Commission (JSC), which he helped into the headlines for all the wrong reasons. His biased and aggressive questioning of would-be judges was disgraceful; he fought battles during interviews with judges that were seemingly related to his other position as a senior politician for the Economic Freedom Fighters. 

Mpofu served on the 23-member JSC as a representative of the organisation Advocates for Transformation (AFT). The SA Bar was inundated with objections to his and others’ conduct during interviews (more on this later in The Wrap). During Mandisa Maya’s interview as a candidate for Chief Justice, Mpofu said he and the female judge had once “spent a night together”… studying, he clarified. 🙄 

Following all the complaints the Bar said it was in discussions with the AFT about replacing Mpofu. Over the weekend the AFT wrote to the JSC that it was withdrawing Mpofu as its representative, Pretoria News reported. He had already served two terms and his latest term ended last year but he was brought back for “continuity”, the AFT said.

Mpofu has a storied history. Remember reports of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s infamous leaked letter to him in the early 1990s, allegedly revealing she’d given him R160 000 in misappropriated ANC funds? The two were accused of having an affair that contributed to the breakdown of her marriage to Nelson Mandela. Mpofu later became the SABC’s Chief Executive Officer and left with a gobsmacking R14.1m golden handshake in 2009; he joked that he was retiring to become a house husband. According to reports, he cost the broadcaster well over R100 million during his two-year tenure.

So we’re glad his recent displays of sexism are catching up with him. This, a week after International Women’s Day, and a few months before our own Women’s Day. As Winnie famously put it in that letter: We won’t be your bloody fool, Dali.

2. The big story: A+ for SA’s aviation safety

Looking to fly to a local getaway over the upcoming long weekend? If you didn’t book way in advance, you probably paid through the nose. On Monday, Kulula and British Airways flights were unexpectedly grounded amid concerns over safety and compliance. Hundreds of travellers were left stranded and other airlines hiked their ticket prices.

In a statement, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said there had been a “spate of occurrences which posed safety risks by Kulula.com and BA Comair airlines”. 👀

The CAA today lifted its suspension on Comair, which operates the two airlines domestically, after a sleepless and tense five nights while audits and assessments were carried out. We’re impressed by both the commitment to safety and the speed in getting things going again. 

On the back of SAA’s poor financial record and the need to boost local travel, this could have been a huge blow to South Africa’s economy.

According to the same statement, our country apparently holds a very high-performance record in terms of aviation safety and security standards. The International Civil Aviation Organisation puts our safety index at level +1: in the areas of operations, support and air navigation, that places us above the average, according to the CAA.

The price gouging by rival airlines is far less impressive. The Competition Commission, which monitors the price of services and products, received reports that some flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town were priced at nearly R5000 per trip. The commission warned against such exploitative practices and instead called on airlines to add more flights to help with the shortage. 

Thankfully, then, you don’t have to cancel your upcoming Comair flight; just be sure to look at the Kulula and British Airways websites to ensure all is in order: the airlines have said NOT to go to the airport unless you have a newly confirmed booking. Once you’re all booked and ready, you can fly safely knowing that our country is doing an A-grade job on aviation safety!


3. Mkhwebane is running out of road

We’re finally getting somewhere with beleaguered Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s impeachment process. 

Quick background: Parliament is embroiled in a (years-long) process to work out how to impeach Mkhwebane. Its caution is necessary – the office of the public protector must be protected against any dodgy attacks by the government. Imagine if the ANC under Jacob Zuma could have impeached former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela! As is her right, Mkhwebane has fought tooth and nail against the process. She’s scored some wins in court on procedural grounds – like the right to legal representation. However, to her dismay, the Constitutional Court ruled earlier this year that the process could go ahead.

So on Friday she filed new papers to the ConCourt telling the land’s top judges that they got it wrong (wow).  Taking a page straight from Former President Jacob Zuma’s Stalingrad book, Mkhwebane has warned she’ll use “protracted” litigation to stop the impeachment.

This all comes on the back of another case that illustrates why she’s being impeached in the first place: her long-running legal tussle with President Cyril Ramaphosa over his campaign payments to become ANC president. Her report was so legally dodgy (she literally changed the wording of the Executive Ethics Code to support her finding!) that it was overturned all the way to the ConCourt. She tried to get the court to rescind (overturn) its ruling against her. Well, she’s run out of legal road on this one: the ConCourt unanimously dismissed her latest rescission application on Wednesday (two days before she launched her latest legal salvo against the separate impeachment matter).

We don’t necessarily think that Ramaphosa’s infamous CR17 payments campaign was without fault. But Mkhwebane’s dubious reports all seem to be in service of the faction that’s aligned to Zuma and the state capture project. Those reports have been aimed at, among others, public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan and the SA Reserve Bank. (She’s currently battling the bank on a separate perjury matter because clearly girlfriend loves fighting it out in court.) 

Parliament is hoping to conclude the impeachment process in September. If it finds against her, this will essentially pave the way for her suspension.

Our Public Protector is an independent ombudsman for government services. It should be the spot where you can complain about any government department. But those in the position historically whitewashed the government’s mistakes, until Madonsela put it on the map by taking the “independent” bit seriously. We’re hoping to see that restored when Mkhwebane finally gets the boot or her seven-year term expires in October 2023. 

4. Of awards, sports stars and proudly SA socks

We love awards season. What better way to ease out of summer than by curling up with some popcorn to swoon over beautiful famous people in ball gowns and tuxedos? On Saturday night we settled in for the SA Sports Awards, celebrating the country’s finest athletes from across disciplines. (At least two members of the Wrap team were hoping to get a glimpse of their unlikely crush, SA Rugby Union Director Rassie Erasmus. 😆) It was a triumphant return after a two-year Covid-necessitated hiatus. The biggest winners of the night were Olympic 200m breaststroke champion and record holder Tatjana Schoenmaker, who walked away with the coveted Sports Star and Sportswoman of the Year awards, and Springbok winger and rags-to-riches hero Makazole Mapimpi, who was named the Sportsman of the Year. Congratulations! 👏🏾

Meanwhile, the countdown to the 2022 edition of the Grammy Awards is underway  – and never mind gowns and suits, we’ll be checking out people’s socks. That’s because local designer Sibusiso Ngwenya, aka Skinny Sbu, is the event’s “official sock partner”, as TimesLive reported. His socks will be the only African brand included in the Grammy swag bag that’s handed out to nominees, performers, presenters and journalists. Looks like international success is afoot for the sock man, who is especially excited to represent South Africa alongside two other local stars, telling City Press: “I look forward to our very own Grammy Awards host Trevor Noah and nominee Black Coffee being there. It’s a big moment for me to be one of the three South African boys representing our country at this prestigious event.” Sock it to ‘em, Sbu.

5. Even in war, racism bubbles to the surface

War has many ugly faces. In Ukraine, which was invaded by Russia late last month, one of the ugliest is racism. Disturbing reports poured out in the early days of the invasion as African and Asian nationals, alongside native (and mostly white) Ukrainians, fled the country. Some were called monkeys and pushed off trains; others reported being turned back at the border and pulled out of buses in favour of white people. Comments made in Britain’s parliament by Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, enraged many. As a report on Yahoo! News smartly put it: “Prystaiko appears to believe more racism is the solution to alleged racism faced by Black people fleeing his war-torn nation.” This, after he told British MPs that “problems arise when young foreigners are prioritised over women and children of Ukrainian citizenship who are trying to get on the same trains”. He added that perhaps it would be better to “put all the foreigners in some other place so they won’t be visible”. 😳 

Many African and Asian university students who fled Ukraine weren’t surprised by these comments, telling ITV News that pets received better treatment than them. “Some people have pets as their, you know, emotional support. That is perfectly understandable but give all of us a fair chance,” one student said. 

Both the African Union and the United Nations have issued statements acknowledging and condemning racism at Ukraine’s borders. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating to see that, amid scenes of incredible humanity and camaraderie emerging from Ukraine as residents pull together to survive the invasion, racism still rears its ugly head. We’re all foreigners somewhere: it’s time to treat even those who don’t share our citizenship with kindness, compassion and dignity.

Meanwhile, the Daily Maverick reports that nearly all 50 South African students who were in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv are back home. Added to the trauma of fleeing the war and dealing with racism, students aren’t sure how to complete their degrees. This week they met with several local universities and pleaded for help to continue their studies here at home. The universities, represented by former UCT Vice-Chancellor, Mamphela Ramphele, told them this would be very difficult.

6. We finally have a permanent Chief Justice!

Some presidents have no respect for deadlines. Last week, just an hour after we told you that women judges were making waves across the world – and predicted that SCA Judge President Mandisa Maya would soon become our first female Chief Justice – Ramaphosa announced Raymond Zondo as his choice instead!

Bruised egos aside, we’re optimistic about Ramaphosa’s decision. Zondo is a brilliant choice from an outstanding field and has been acting in the role for several months. As Sunday Times legal reporter Franny Rabkin put it: “[C]hoosing one of the four nominees was always a nice-life problem for Ramaphosa.” 

Given the fraught nature of the process that led up to his announcement, any choice Ramaphosa made was going to be criticised. The JSC recommended Maya, setting SA up to join other countries, like Kenya, that have finally chosen women to lead their judiciary. 

But, as we’ve said before, the JSC’s process was marred by sexist and bizarre questioning by commissioners like Dali Mpofu and Julius Malema, as well as generally unbecoming behaviour. Commentators noted that Zondo’s appointment was important: it meant he was not seen as being punished for his sterling, independent work on the state capture commission he headed.

So Zondo’s appointment has widely been welcomed – even by Mpofu in his capacity as JSC spokesperson. There is some regret that we didn’t get our first female chief justice after all, but Maya’s time is coming: Ramaphosa has indicated that he plans to nominate Maya as Zondo’s deputy, lining her up to become Chief Justice in two years when Zondo retires from the ConCourt; his term on the top bench ends in 2024. 

Zondo’s appointment could not have come at a more appropriate time for the judiciary. We’ve told you before about the strain the top court has taken because of several vacancies. Last week, it revoked a judgment it had delivered a few days earlier. This was an unpleasant first and, by Zondo’s own admission, is among the major challenges he will face in stabilising the courts during his short stint as Chief Justice. Another thorny issue will be the many implicated figures from the state capture commission approaching the ConCourt for judicial review. ANC chair and Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe has already declared that he’ll seek a legal review of the commission’s findings against him. Should such reviews make their way to the ConCourt, Zondo will have to recuse himself. 

7. Ye comes at Noah for speaking out on abuse   

Ye, the American rapper formerly known as Kanye West, likes beef more than any South African braai aficionado. In recent months he’s launched verbal hand grenades at what feels like half the world. His latest target? SA comedian Trevor Noah, who drew Ye’s ire with comments he made on The Daily Show about the rapper’s relationship with his soon-to-be ex-wife, Kim Kardashian.  

Okay, that may sound like a WHOLE LOT of celebrity gossip you don’t care about. But as Noah himself put it in the thoughtful segment that provoked Ye, this story has transcended mere juicy scandal. As we told you before, Ye’s behaviour towards Kardashian has spotlighted the harassment that countless women face when they try to leave abusive and toxic relationships. In the unscripted 10-minute segment, Noah poignantly referred to his own experiences of witnessing domestic abuse. Fans of the superstar will know that his mother was shot in the head by her ex after their divorce – she survived. Noah recounted heartbreaking memories of going to police (in SA presumably) and trying to get help as the abuse escalated over time, only to be dismissed as overreacting. The same thing is happening to Kardashian. As Noah noted: if Kim Kardashian, whatever you may think of her, can’t get her ex to leave her alone, what hope do less powerful women have?

Ye (who has said he has bipolar mood disorder and refused to seek psychiatric treatment) responded to Noah by posting a picture on Instagram that referenced the song “Kumbaya”. That’s not as innocent as it sounds: He deliberately mis-spelt the lyrics “Koon baya my lord”, a reference to the racist word “coon”.  As one commentator previously put it, the term is used as “an intraracial slur to castigate a certain type of Black person who betrays race”. 

Ye’s attempts to turn this into a race issue are both dangerous and disingenuous. His online behaviour is catching up with him, though: Meta, formerly Facebook, suspended his Instagram account for 24 hours on Wednesday for violating company policies on hate speech, bullying and harassment. It’s not clear if this was directly related to the post about Noah, which has since been removed. Before it was deleted, Noah responded with class and empathy on the post itself. He noted his admiration for Ye, adding: “The biggest trick racists ever played on Black people was teaching us to strip each other of our blackness whenever we disagree.” Amen. 

8. Voters pick their favourite molluscs – for science

As adults, we’re expected to make hundreds of decisions every day. Sometimes they’re mundane and sometimes they’re important. But they’re probably rarely as quirky as choosing one’s favourite…mollusc? Molluscs are a phylum (hello high school biology) of invertebrates that includes octopuses, snails, clams and squid. Genetically, molluscs aren’t very well understood, so scientists in Germany asked the public to choose their favourite of five nominees – including the Naval Shipworm and the Barge-footer. The winner will be announced tomorrow (no word about the venue, though we hope it’s somewhere under the sea). It won’t get a teeny-tiny tiara: instead, the public’s favourite mollusc will have its genome sequenced. That allows scientists to understand the creature’s entire genetic makeup, which is a gateway to better understanding both it and the ecosystem in which it … floats about, we guess.  

If you’re sad to have missed out on voting, take heart. There are also annual competitions of this kind relating to plants and insects so that we can all learn more about undervalued wildlife, The Guardian reported. Meanwhile, we’ll be frantically refreshing the mollusc contest’s website tomorrow to see whether the Sea Butterfly can pip the Painted Snail to the crown.

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_ ✌🏽