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5 May ’22 Wrap: US abortion rights under threat

News broke this week that access to safe abortions was under threat in the US. It’s a serious issue you need to hear about no matter where you stand. Back home, we unpack the latest Zondo report, and ask what the heck the DA’s John Steenhuisen was doing in the Ukraine when we have plenty of conflicts on our own doorstep. We also tell you about this week’s big wins for accountability, how Trevor Noah has made us proud yet again and what you need to know about renewing your driver’s licence. 

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: US pro-choice law under attack

Pro-choice advocates worldwide are in an uproar after a leaked draft US Supreme Court opinion indicated that Roe v Wade, a landmark 1973 ruling that made access to safe and legal abortion a constitutional right, could soon be overturned.

In the leaked version of Supreme Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion, dated 10 February and leaked by Politico on Tuesday, he states that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start.” 

The court has confirmed the document is genuine but it is a draft and the final version may differ. 

The US Supreme Court is roughly the equivalent of our apex Constitutional Court. We’ve told you before that the US court system is notoriously political because judges are appointed by politicians for life. Here in SA, our judges are appointed for 12 years through a mostly impartial process. Donald Trump may not be in office anymore, but the consequences of his unprecedented mass appointments of conservative judges during his term will be felt for decades to come.

Alito was appointed by former President George W Bush. His opinion shows what can be expected from the other conservative judges who make up a majority on the bench and are typically “pro-life”. However a final judgment is only expected to be released in June.

Roe vs. Wade has divided the US in the nearly five decades since the ruling and the legalisation of abortion hasn’t been codified in the US unlike, for example, in South Africa. The extent to which it is legal (such as cut-off times or circumstances) has been a grey area; different US states have different legal frameworks.

This is just the latest salvo in a long battle. Last September the state of Texas made abortion illegal after 6 weeks, a point before which a woman is unlikely to even know that she’s pregnant. 

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, 22 states have abortion bans that would quickly become law. Many of those bans contain no exemptions for rape or incest, the Atlantic notes. The consequences could also stretch far beyond the US, including to the African continent. Some foreign aid could become conditional based upon a particular country’s abortion laws. 

It’s the vulnerable who will suffer most: in the absence of safe abortions, women are often driven to dangerous back alley procedures. We will watch the final ruling later this year with great trepidation. 

2. The big story: Zondo’s fourth report shines light on Eskom’s capture

It’s been a dark week thanks to load shedding. So it’s fitting that last Friday Chief Justice Raymond Zondo released the fourth instalment of his state capture report that looked at the capture of the country’s power utility plus irregularities at our state-owned diamond mining company Alexkor and a number of failed projects in the Free State. Here’s what you need to know. 

🔹The report recommended that the NPA start prosecuting key figures involved in state capture and corruption. The most prominent figure mentioned was former minister of mineral resources Mosebenzi Zwane; Zondo called him “incompetent”, brazen and “a bad leader.” Zondo says that eight former state-owned enterprise executives should also face prosecution, among them former Transnet CFO Anoj Singh, Former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe of Saxonwold Shebeen fame and the famous tweeting engineer himself, former acting Eskom CEO Matshela Koko. 

Koko has made a career in recent years of defending himself on social media and broadcast interviews. He’s been at the forefront of a misplaced movement to characterise state capture justice as an attack on “radical economic transformation”.

🔹In the Free State, the report found that there was widespread corruption during Ace Magashule’s tenure as premier. There were also irregularities pertaining to the Estina (Pty) Ltd dairy farm, the Free State asbestos project and the Free State R1bn housing project. Magashule, who became ANC secretary-general in 2017 and stood down as premier early in 2018 to assume his new role, is currently facing charges related to corruption and money laundering in the asbestos matter. This matter was the reason the ANC asked him to step aside as secretary-general.

🔹The report also recommended that Alexkor be investigated for a tender given to Scarlet Sky Investments to sell diamonds. The report found that SSI had no mining experience prior to or after being handed the tender. 

The fifth and final chapter of the report is due on 15 June after Zondo was granted his eighth extension by the Pretoria High Court on Thursday. That many extensions may seem comical but most are in support there was far more information that came out of the commission than expected and we’d all rather Zondo be given the chance to get this right. 

Briefs:

3. Not so boo’d up: striking miners reject Cyril

How did you spend your Worker’s Day? Whatever you did, it was probably better than President Cyril Ramaphosa’s experience: he became the latest South African president to be booed off a stage. Ramaphosa was due to give the keynote address at Cosatu’s May Day Rally in Rustenburg on Sunday, but was instead whisked off to a police Nyala after Sibanye-Stillwater miners chanted “Cyril must go” before booing the president and storming the stage. 

The mine workers have been striking for over two months, demanding a R1000 pay raise, which the mine says it cannot afford. CEO Neal Froneman’s salary, by the way, was R300 million in 2021. 😬

Ramaphosa’s chilly reception is rather ironic considering that, as a founding member of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), he led one of the biggest mining strikes in South Africa’s history in 1987. Their demands? Better living conditions and wages.

Ramaphosa addressed the incident in his weekly newsletter, saying that political and union leaders had “all heard the workers and understood their frustration… we are firmly committed to take the necessary action to improve their lives and their working conditions.”

It’s also coming up on the 10th anniversary of the Marikana massacre, in which 34 miners were gunned down by police (a total of 44 people died during the violent strike). Ramaphosa was at the time a non-executive director of the mine’s then owner Lonmin and has apologised for using what he has called “unfortunate language” in the lead up to the killings.

Ramaphosa’s predecessor Jacob Zuma was an old hand at getting heckled. At a 2017 Cosatu May Day rally in Bloemfontein, Zuma was booed and workers chanted “Zuma must go!”. Zuma was also infamously booed at the memorial service of former president Nelson Mandela in 2013. Heavy is the head that wears the crown!

4. Trevor Noah wows Biden and White House correspondents 

Tuesday was World Press Freedom Day and, after some tough years, there were a few things to celebrate. As journalists we have come through an unprecedented time of change in our industry. Newsrooms faced deep cuts to their resources as social and search giants sucked up most of the advertising revenue that once funded the fourth estate’s work. So it was comforting to note a recent Reuters Institute survey and report that found trust in news media had climbed following the pandemic. 

We were also proud to see local comedian turned international star, Trevor Noah, driving home the importance of journalism at the prestigious White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on Saturday. Noah joined a long line of comedic luminaries to host the dinner, which honours distinguished print and broadcast journalists for excellence in overall coverage of the US presidency. 

Noah roasted everyone across the political spectrum while giving a reassuring reminder that free speech is alive and well in the United States.

“The reason we’re here is to honour and celebrate the Fourth Estate – and what you stand for: An additional check and balance that holds power to account and gives voice to those who otherwise wouldn’t have one… Every single one of you, whether you like it or not, is a bastion of democracy.”

You can watch the full speech here. (Link in PDF for WhatsApp subscribers). 

To help support the work we do tell your friends to subscribe to the wrap at explain.co.za/subscribe! And mail info@explain.co.za with work for our communications agency – it funds the work that we do. 

5. Accountability Monitor: SASSA and the NPA score big

It’s been a good week for accountability. Two developments you should know about:

1. The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) this week revealed that it has recovered R12.6 million from state employees who were receiving grants. The more than 3000 employees were not eligible to receive grants. 

Sassa CEO Busisiwe Memela-Khambula said in an interview that these civil servants had been reported to their departments and that disciplinary action and garnishing orders had been recommended. 

Sassa also said it was also assessing if a further 100 000 civil servants qualify for the grants they’re receiving. Civil servants earning grants cost the government up to R200 million per month. This is very suspicious: an individual is only allowed to earn a grant after a means test which assesses how much income you and your household are currently receiving. Most civil servants pass that threshold and should not qualify for grants. 

2. The National Prosecuting Authority also had a big win on Tuesday, related to an eye-watering R1 billion in assets linked to none other than our other former presidents, the Gupta family. In October 2020 Gauteng High Court Judge Maletsatsi Mahalelo ruled that assets valued at R1 billion belonging to Gupta-linked company Regiments Capital should not be frozen. These assets are allegedly connected to the looting of Transnet. 

But this week a full bench of the Gauteng High Court overturned the 2020 ruling. It also granted the NPA’s request that the total value of the proceeds of alleged Regiments corruption be adjusted from R1 billion to R1.6 billion.

What does it all mean? Well, it blocks the Guptas and their associates from accessing assets allegedly acquired through state capture – and it’s an important step to clawing back money that ought to have been used to serve the country. Here’s to more such judgments and more accountability wins!

6. (Traffic) lights, action … but hang on, where are the cameras?

It looks like Big Brother hasn’t been watching you, Joburg. 

Traffic cameras in the city haven’t worked for over a year, Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department spokesperson Xolani Fihla revealed this week. He said this also put a halt to prosecutions for speeding.

In an interview with eNCA Fihla said the previous service provider contract for the cameras ended on 31 May 2021, but the city hoped that by July 2022, a contract and a service provider would be picked to resume speed prosecutions.

Before the last contract ended, the city of Joburg received R3 million in fines per month from motorists. That’s a potential loss of R36m – ouch for them, but yay for us?

Don’t use this news to unleash your inner speed demon, though. Fihla says that because the cameras haven’t been working, JMPD officers have been more visible in hotspots and were still issuing handwritten fines.

Meanwhile, the City of Johannesburg has reintroduced “smart roadblocks”. These use automatic number plate recognition technology to see who has outstanding fines, cloned number plates or even outstanding traffic warrants. The system, mentioned by mayor Mpho Phalatse in her state of the city address, has already helped collect R14 Million in outstanding fines.

Motorists with outstanding fines can use credit or debit cards and even cash to pay their fees on the spot during these roadblocks. The absence of a payment method could lead to an arrest. Remember that before you quench your need for speed.

7. What is Steenhuisen doing in Ukraine?

As we told you last week, the ANC-led government hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory with its handling of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. 

This would normally be an opportunity for the opposition to score some political points. Instead Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen has scored an own goal with his bizarre “fact-finding” mission to Ukraine.

On Monday, the DA tweeted about Steenhuisen’s trip, saying that he’ll be spending the next six days travelling through the region to “see, first-hand, the effects of the Russian invasion”.

But his trip has been criticised by the likes of political analyst Jamie Mighti as a publicity stunt. Others are asking why the DA is spending its resources on investigating a foreign conflict, rather than focusing on domestic affairs, and whether this has anything to do with the demographics involved.

A violent insurgency in Mozambique has been ongoing since 2017 and claimed thousands of lives. Steenhuisen has yet to embark on a fact-finding mission. Even closer to home, in the DA-run Western Cape, many have referred to the epidemic of gang violence in suburbs on the Cape Flats as reminiscent of a “warzone”. 

Steeenhuisen stated that he wants to tell the “unfiltered truth” about the conflict because he “owe[s] it to the people of Ukraine”. Exactly what gives the DA leader more credibility than the global press remains unclear. Steenhuisen, who holds no diplomatic authority as leader of the opposition, may also have a difficult time meeting or entering negotiations with the region’s government officials.

8. Adulting: More motoring matters 

A bit of good news for (some) motorists: Petrol prices were lowered by 12c a litre on Wednesday. Unfortunately for the diesel heads, the price of diesel rose by 98c (0.05% sulphur) and 92c (0.005% sulphur). Paraffin also rose by 79.60c per litre.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered an oil price shock. Russia, the world’s third-largest producer of crude oil, has been locked out of Western markets, pushing oil prices higher. 

The price of fuel in South Africa has risen dramatically in the past year. South Africa buys oil in dollars. Factors like international oil prices and the rand-dollar exchange rate have an impact on how much motorists end up paying.

While it may now be cheaper to fill your tank, don’t hold your breath for an end of licensing backlogs any time soon. Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula says that the latest driving licence “grace period” would not be extended. Motorists have until 5 May 2022 to renew their expired cards… that’s today!

Mbalula said his department had planned ahead for the large number of people expected to arrive to renew their licence before the end of the period. These include two more hours of open time at licensing centres and even having centres open on weekends.

The Public Servants Association has called for Mbalula to extend the grace period, which has previously been extended three times, citing system challenges and says that Mbalula needs to “reassess the situation”.

9. Met Gala: it’s called fashion, sweetie, look it up

Fashion doesn’t get more elite than the Met Gala, which lit up New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art on Monday in a burst of sequins, diamonds and sartorial elegance.

Founded in 1948 and taken over by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour in 1995, the gala is a fundraising event for the museum’s Costume Institute. With the notoriously icy Wintour at the helm, the event has become ever more exclusive, with tickets that cost $35 000 (that’s nearly R550 000, gulp) per paying attendee.

This year’s “Gilded Glamour” dress code was a homage to the Gilded Age: a period of rapid prosperity, industrialisation and growth in the US during the last decades of the 1800s. But it was also a time of terrible poverty and inequality during which a high concentration of wealth became more visible as millions of impoverished immigrants poured into the United States. 

Many found the theme distasteful, what with the US economy reeling thanks to the global pandemic and Russian war. “It’s too-on-the-nose for the Met Gala to have a ‘Gilded Age’ theme on the same day we know the US economy is contracting,” a Business Insider reporter tweeted.

But if attendees had objections, they kept quiet on the night and let their outfits do the talking. Our favourite reality star, Kim Kardashian, made headlines in the sheer dress originally worn by Marilyn Monroe when she famously sang happy birthday to President John F Kennedy in 1962. Kardashian worked her connections so she could wear this piece of history but yet again failed when it came to body positivity. The star boasted that she lost 7kg in three weeks to fit into the dress. 

This isn’t the first time she’s come under fire for promoting unrealistic beauty standards. Her infamous 2019 Met Mugler “wet dress” corset affected her ability to breathe and go to the toilet. She’s also accepted money to promote “appetite suppressant” products on her highly influential Instagram account. 

As Glamour puts it “reinforcing thinness at any cost… [is] an age-old tactic to distract, demoralise, and exterminate women and to profit off our insecurities.”

Might the world’s most exclusive fashion event ever make it to the 21st century? Stay tuned for next year…maybe the theme will be “Eat the rich”…

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_ ✌🏽

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