24 March ’22 Wrap: Life beyond covid is here

Expect to pay more on your loan repayments. 😕 The South African Reserve Bank has just announced that it’s hiking the repo rate by another 25 basis points to 4.25%. This brings the prime rate to 7.75%.

As an example of what that could cost you: if you have a home loan of R2 million at the prime rate, your monthly payment will increase by around R300, according to Fin24. 

The move was widely expected – especially off the back of troubling inflation data released yesterday. 

Statistics South Africa announced that the annual Consumer Price Inflation was 5.7% for February; that’s the same as in January. CPI is driven by the rising costs of food, housing and utilities and transport – which increased by 14.3%!

That 5.7% number is too close to our country’s target of keeping inflation below 6%, so a move to nip it in the bud was expected. 

We’ve explained what inflation means before. In short: this sort of intervention is needed so that the rands in your pocket don’t lose value. But it sucks nonetheless. 

We’ll unpack this in more detail next week. For now 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. 😄


🔊 There is unfortunately no audio this week. We’ll be back next week!

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Our take: E-hailing drivers are taken for a ride

Today is the third and final day of a strike by Uber, Uber Eats, Bolt and Didi drivers. They want the government to regulate the industry and protect them from being exploited. Here’s why. 

Drivers in the e-hailing industry are considered neither full-time nor part-time employees. That means they don’t earn a fixed monthly stipend. Drivers are instead “self-employed” and earn their bucks based on commission; Uber drivers fork out as much as 20% (or more) of their earnings to the company for use of its app. They also have to cover their own rising petrol costs. So these drivers who make our lives easier are going home with very little money. 

When thousands of drivers switched off their app on Tuesday, swathes of passengers were stranded. Those lucky enough to find a driver had to pay exorbitant prices. Business Insider reported that in some instances, a 15-minute Uber trip could cost anywhere between R200 and R800! But forget our personal inconvenience: there is a much bigger issue at play. 

Drivers are correctly calling for change – and for a better vetting system to ensure their own safety when picking up passengers. 

One driver this week told Business Insider:

“There is no proper verification of a client taking our ride; as a result we end up picking up criminals.”

Some drivers have found ways to work around the system, with passengers’ help. As online publication restofworld.org explains: once a driver accepts and confirms the cost of a trip, they can, with the passenger’s permission, cancel the trip, drive the passenger to their destination – and pocket the full payment directly outside of the app. But they really shouldn’t have to hack the system to earn a living.

This isn’t just a South African problem. Last year, Uber and Lyft (another e-hailing service) drivers in the US state of California went on a 24-hour strike, calling on Congress to give them the choice to unionise and grant gig workers contract status so they get proper benefits.

Locally, drivers issued a list of their complaints to the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition on Tuesday and are also awaiting the outcome of a mediation process that started last year. A thoughtful, fair and equitable solution would benefit us all.

The big story: SA looks tentatively to life beyond covid

On Saturday it will be exactly two years since South Africa entered a super-strict 21-day lockdown. Masks became the hottest new sartorial item and toilet paper became SA’s rarest commodity. When Covid collided with an already over-stretched healthcare system, grief, panic and fear became our constant companions. Many of us longed for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s comforting “family meetings” – accurate information was as precious as loo roll.

Boy, how things have changed. When Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Tuesday to announce a raft of new freedoms, many of his “fellow South Africans” complained that his speech could have been an email. Here’s how we think it should have read:

“Dumelang, sanibona, molweni, howzit okes. Covid sucks. Science rules. You can stop wearing a mask outdoors, but keep it on when you’re in an office, classroom or any other busy public space. It’s cool to have more people in one place (50% capacity), whether you’re jolling indoors or outdoors, but ask your guests for proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test. The same goes for folks entering the country. Oh and listen, we’re moving away from those controversial and extended “national state of disaster”. Joe (Phaala, the Health Minister) is working on some draft regulations so we don’t lose a grip on this Covid management thing. Kind regards.”

Meanwhile, the oft-extended state of disaster continues to court controversy. Scientists, legal experts and civil rights groups have many questions. In an op-ed for Daily Maverick, a group of scientists criticised the draft regulations, calling them incoherent, illogical and out of tune with reality. For example, the draft proposes a limit on funeral gatherings, but large gatherings are allowed at stadiums and concerts. The scientists are also calling for continued urgency around vaccinations. The draft regulations are open for public comment until 15 April – check them out here. (Link in PDF for WhatsApp readers). 

Amid these latest shifts and spats, it’s easy to forget what an arduous journey we’ve undertaken in the past two years. Just under 100 000 people have died in South Africa. So many others have fought for their lives while others are still navigating the horrors of long Covid. Collins Khosa’s family is yet to see justice after he was murdered, allegedly by soldiers who took lockdown enforcement brutally too far. Money meant to keep health workers and ordinary people safe instead lined influential pockets. As we move forward – and move forward we must – it’s crucial to hold space for others’ grief, loss and anger and to cut ourselves some slack as we try, tentatively, to claw back some version of normal. 


3. Tennis star Barty takes “early retirement” to new extremes

“Early retirement” might be the most beautiful phrase in the English language. Who hasn’t dreamed of making a ton of money, retiring early and enjoying the rest of one’s days on an island, snorkelling and drinking cocktails? (Though not at the same time, guys, safety first.) We at The Wrap long for such a soft life. So on Wednesday we were torn between sobbing uncontrollably and cheering for Ash Barty when the world number one announced her immediate retirement from tennis. She’s 25. 😭 

Look, Barty deserves this. In a career spanning just 12 years, she bagged trophies at Wimbledon, the French Open and, earlier this year, her home tournament, the Australian Open. In the process, she became the first Aussie to win the Australian Open men’s or women’s singles title in 44 years. She is also only the second Indigenous Australian to win the Wimbledon singles title. 

Announcing her retirement, Barty said she doesn’t have the physical and emotional drive to compete in the top levels of tennis anymore: “I think I just know that I’m absolutely, I am spent. I just know physically I had nothing more to give and that for me is success.”

It’s not just tennis that’s left her physically exhausted. Barty, an athletic overachiever, had a stint in professional cricket too – she played in the Women’s Big Bash League, an Australian Twenty20 cricket league. So, what’s next? Never mind snorkelling and cocktails, Barty will devote the next season of her life to providing Indigenous Australians with “more opportunity to get into the sport (tennis)” from a young age. We’re in awe.

4. Political heartbreaker Makhosi Khoza does it again

In the beginning of a political relationship it’s all hearts and roses: “You hang up – no, you hang up!” (Remember that infamous kiss between Helen Zille and Mamphela Ramphele?) But, as even a cursory listen to most music genres will remind you, love doesn’t always last. 

Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA, a newbie on the scene, is already experiencing the pain of separation thanks to serial political heartbreaker Makhosi Khoza. The party released a detailed statement on Tuesday saying it was ending Khoza’s membership after she was involved in a series of public spats with Mashaba. She’s accused of plotting against the party’s leadership, colluding with the ANC and bringing ActionSA into disrepute. “Her loyalties do not lie with ActionSA and instead lie with aspiring to grow her own political aspirations, at the great cost of her constituency and ActionSA.” read the statement. Ouch. 

Khoza was once considered a figure of great integrity. A former senior ANC Member of Parliament, she faced death threats as one of the few party leaders to call out former President Jacob Zuma at the height of the state capture years. 

After quitting the ANC in 2017 she formed African Democratic Change…before being suspended for bringing the party into disrepute (seems to be her thing) following internal disputes with party members. She later resigned from the party and politics as a whole. But the single life can be lonely, so last year she joined ActionSA ahead of the local government elections as its mayoral candidate for eThekwini, also landing other high profile roles in the party. 

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga told News24 this was ActionSA’s first taste of the ego battles that haunt new parties once they enjoy some success. And it should serve as a warning to the party to be more careful, he said: “Questions should be asked why ActionSA would have courted her without scrutinising her.” He’s right: you can’t just match on political Tinder and hope for the best. You have to Google your crush, too.

5. …And Mbali Ntuli dumps the DA

Speaking of political breakups, the DA continues to steadily haemorrhage talented black leaders. Last Thursday Mbali Ntuli, who was recently in the running to become the DA’s leader, quit the party and decried the poor state of South African politics. 

Ntuli was a shining example of the DA’s laudable attempts to “grow its one timber”. She joined the party as a teen and quickly rose through its ranks to head its youth structure, then embarked on an impressive career as a local legislator in KZN, growing the DA’s reach in rural areas. Along the way she had repeated run-ins with then leader Zille and was treated increasingly poorly by a party that’s shown itself to be hostile to its black leaders. 

But it’s not just the DA she’s gatvol of. Speaking to News24 last week, Ntuli said: “I am tired of politicians, who are not prepared to do the hard work, but want some of the perks that come with it… Those people are not taking their jobs seriously, and no one is taking them to account because of the way our political party system is set up.”

She’s been on the political scene for 15 years but she’s still just 33 years old and clearly has a fire in her belly. We have high hopes for her next move. 

You might be wondering why all this politicking matters. It’s simple: both the ANC and the official opposition DA are waning forces. Politics can stay the same for decades – like the years the ANC dominated the polls – and then change very suddenly. Our politics are currently in a state of great flux as we enter the messy world of coalition governments and new parties. Keeping an eye on these shifts is a good way to help you decide how to vote and how to mobilise beyond the polls. 

6. Heavy lies the head that wears the Crown

Poor old Queen Elizabeth II (or Queen Gqeberha, as some salty locals call her because of Port Elizabeth’s name change). This was meant to be a triumphant year, marking her Platinum Jubilee (70 years on the throne). Instead of basking in her subjects’ adoration, though, the Queen is being fired by several countries that vividly remember how badly they were treated by the British Empire. Now her grandson Prince William and his wife Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, are not having a jolly old time on the heir’s Commonwealth tour in the Caribbean. The two were forced to cancel one of their first engagements in Belize on Saturday after indigenous people at Indian Creek village took issue with the royals’ helicopter landing on their land. They fared no better in Jamaica: instead of rum cocktails, they were greeted by demonstrators calling on the Royal family to pay reparations and apologise for its role in the slave trade and its ill-treatment of Jamaicans. (In a speech at a dinner yesterday with Jamaican dignitaries, William echoed his father Prince Charles’s previous condemnation of slavery, saying: “I want to express my profound sorrow. Slavery was abhorrent. And it should never have happened.”)

The tour hasn’t been entirely a wash-out. The Queen remains a popular and even beloved figure among many ordinary people in the Caribbean and William and Kate were generally received like rockstars. But it’s clear that something is shifting in the region’s attitude to its former colonisers. Jamaica, like the Bahamas, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, is still under the British Monarchy – Queen Elizabeth is their head of state. The royal tour is a “charm offensive” to dissuade these countries from following Barbados in ditching the Queen and becoming a republic. That ship may have sailed; reports say Jamaica has already taken a step down the republic road.

7. Mkhwebane’s bad days at the office keep piling up

Are we clairvoyant? Last Thursday we told you that Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s days were numbered after her attempts to stave off impeachment hearings failed. Shortly afterwards, President Cyril Ramaphosa wrote to Mkhwebane asking if she thinks she should be suspended while her impeachment hearings are underway. 

Ramaphosa is empowered by the Constitution to suspend Mkhwebane while impeachment proceedings take place. But he must also protect the independence of the Public Protector’s office. By writing to Mkhwebane, Ramaphosa is shielding himself from allegations that he’s playing politics by removing her – she’s previously made adverse findings against him, after all.

Mkhwebane was given ten working days from 17 March to write back to Ramaphosa on how she would like to be disciplined. Should he suspend her, Deputy Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka will act in Mkhwebane’s role until a new person is appointed to the top job. In the meantime, it may be wise for Mkhwebane to dust off her CV because ziyakhala ke manje… ish is about to go down.  

Quick background: As we told you last week Mkhwebane has been making history for all the wrong reasons. Last Tuesday a huge majority of Parliament (230:40) voted to go ahead with the impeachment process to remove her because of a track record of dodgy reports and legally unsound findings. If successfully impeached, she will be the first head of a Chapter 9 institution to be removed so unceremoniously from her duties. Only the EFF, UDM, Al Jamah-ah and ATM voted against her impeachment. The EFF is also promising to halt the impeachment process by hauling parliament to court. Mkhwebane’s own legal challenges to the process have hit a wall.  

Mkhwebane is rapidly running out of perks. But at least she gets to force the country’s president into asking how she would like to be disciplined. 🤭

8. Hey succulent thieves, you suck

We know SA has a huge crime problem, but we were still astonished to discover that not even our succulents are safe. There’s no need to get a guard dog for your plants just yet: thieves are focusing their attention on a succulent that’s indigenous to one SA region and part of Namibia. International syndicates operate as part of a brisk black market trade in the rare plant  (which has not been named, to protect it) is a type of dwarf succulent found mostly in the Knersvlakte Nature Reserve. It stretches from Namibia through the Northern Cape and parts of the Western Cape and is home to nearly 2 500 rare succulents. These are protected by both provincial and national legislation and it’s illegal to harvest, possess or sell such plants without a permit. That hasn’t stopped the syndicates: In the past three years, GroundUp reported, 1.5 million of these dwarf succulents were removed from the wild, mostly for export to Asian countries. 

It’s not known what’s driving the demand, though some speculate it’s used medicinally and others believe its rarity makes people covet the plant. GroundUp reported that our high unemployment rate has pushed some into the illicit plant-poaching business – each succulent is sold for between R30 and R100. The cost to our biodiversity is far higher. Once these plants are harvested, they cannot be replanted and it takes close to six or seven years to grow from the seed. 😕

In happier plant news, big shot Hollywood director Ridley Scott was smitten with SA’s foliage while shooting his acclaimed sci-fi series Raised By Wolves in the Western Cape recently (it’s the biggest budget show filmed in South Africa to date!). Scott told Forbes: “Half the work was done, just by the location.” He was particularly taken by our quiver trees (also known as kokerboom trees); they ended up forming a key part of the storyline. Scott got local permission to replant them. If only all fans of our plants would be as respectful! 

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_ ✌🏽