12 May ’22 Wrap: State capture crooks set for court

State capture crooks in jail?? Yes please! In this week’s edition we’re delighted to say that the NPA is, at last, cracking on with its critical work now that the Zondo Commission has wrapped. We also celebrate African talent doing amazing work on the global entertainment stage, an SA-first in clean energy and how NFTs are being used to partially redress the historical theft of African art. Plus we unpack why things look particularly difficult for public sector workers this year, as they’re asking for a big increase in a tough economy. We explain what you need to know and why there aren’t necessarily any easy answers or sides to take here. 

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: Accountability Monitor – NPA (finally) on a roll

Shamila Batohi is starting to understand the brief. 

The head of our National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) realises that South Africans are impatient for accountability. 

More than three years of testimony at the Zondo Commission laid bare the incredible extent of state capture. But the question remains: When are people going to go to jail?

So Batohi made a splash on Tuesday about how the NPA has collaborated with the commission and the work done so far by its own super sleuthing department, the Investigating Directorate (ID).

The ID has managed to “enrol” 20 cases they’ve got those onto the court roll and obtained a date for a hearing. This is a big deal. Getting a case ready to be heard by a judge takes a fair amount of work, and the state prosecutors must be confident of the evidence they’re presenting. The 20 cases involve 65 accused people. 

Nine additional corruption matters are being prioritised for enrolment within the next six months.

The ID was gazetted by Ramaphosa in 2019, and the NPA is now calling for it to be made a permanent structure.

Batohi made the announcement while appearing before her organisation’s relevant oversight committee in parliament. She also assured the country that the ID was back on track after the surprise departure of its former head Hermione Cronje last year. 

This isn’t the first time the NPA has made a big announcement. In February, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said the NPA was looking into 37 cases linked to State Capture, and that 14 had been enrolled in court. It’s not clear if these are included in the latest announcement.

Nonetheless, the prosecutions are an important step. We told you when we launched in 2019 that successfully prosecuting crooks a precursor to putting them in jail is difficult, and we should give the NPA some time, hollowed out as they were after the Zuma years.

But like the rest of the country, our patience wore thin. Civil society group, Open Secrets, has previously lambasted the NPA for delays and failing to deal with dodgy remnants of state capture in its own ranks. 😳

The NPA and its ID may have big plans but the real question is if they can get the money and capacity to go after the 1200 people and organisations implicated in Zondo’s reports. On Tuesday Batohi also asked for an additional R1.7bn. Experts have agreed this amount is necessary for both the organisation and SA to rebuild. Without it, fewer crooks will go to jail. It’s one of the best uses of our public money we can think of, so we say give it to the NPA, and let’s get more cases enrolled.

2. The big story: Unions and government face off

A battle over money is brewing between public sector unions and their bosses in government. 

Public service unions, which speak on behalf of more than 1.3 million teachers, nurses, police officers and other public servants, have asked for a 10% wage hike. The problem? SA’s purse strings are tighter than ever. 

10% is a big figure. It’s nearly double inflation, which is at 5.9%. Plus it’s being demanded in a year when many other South Africans have had to navigate salary cuts or freezes. Business Maverick notes that the demand is high by historical standards too: hikes have typically been agreed at two percentage points above inflation. 

But the unions say they’re making up for the past: over the past two years public servants weren’t awarded inflation-linked wage adjustments, because Treasury embarked on a wage freeze, a union boss told Business Maverick. 

The public sector wage bill currently accounts for the biggest share of government spending. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration is under pressure to cut spending. This is key to bettering our credit rating, which in turn means cheaper loans to fix state-owned enterprises, build infrastructure, etc. Finance minister Enoch Godongwana vowed in his inaugural budget speech this year to keep the public sector wage bill down. The 10% hike, if given, would cost the state R66.4 billion. An earlier demand of seven percent would have cost R46.6 billion.

Unions have asked for a number of other changes to how things are usually done, including negotiating year-by-year instead for three years at a time, as is the current case because it helps the government to plan.

It feels like the stage is being set for a bitter battle. Business Day quotes a source at the presidency as saying that these sorts of demands amount to labour unions “spoiling for a showdown”. 

It’s worth noting these unions lost their case at the Constitutional Court in February to force the government to implement backdated wage increases of about 8% in 2020. As Carol Paton notes in Fin24, this came after government did the previously unthinkable: breaking an existing wage agreement and freezing public servant wages. “This caused enormous anger and can hardly be seen as anything less egregious than a violation of the social contract,” Paton writes. Trade unions generally are less organised and weaker than they once were. This means desperation, which is not likely to lead to good outcomes for any of us. 😬

We’re sympathetic to the likes of nurses and teachers who earn far too little for the important and onerous work they do. Balancing those needs against a troubled economy is a tricky business. Government is expected to respond to the wage demands next Thursday, so we’ll update you in the next Wrap.


3. “Digital repatriation” brings looted African art home

For centuries, colonial powers stole countless pieces of art and other cultural artefacts from African countries. Trying to repatriate those treasures has proved an arduous task, though at last some museums and cities are coming to the party.

One young Nigerian man isn’t prepared to wait any longer: he’s decided to “loot” African art right back. He won’t break any laws to do so, nor stage a heist straight out of a Mission Impossible film. Instead, the art will be turned into non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

An NFT is a digital asset that represents real-world objects like art, music, in-game items and videos. They are bought and sold online, frequently with cryptocurrency. 

Chidi (he prefers not to share his surname) and three colleagues are set to launch their website, Looty, on Friday 13 May, 2022. The name is, er, stolen from a pretty eye-popping moment in colonial history: Looty was a Pekingese dog given to Queen Victoria after the British looted China’s Yuanmingyuan palace in 1860.

As part of their “digital repatriation”, the Looty team has visited museums in France and the United Kingdom to snap pictures of stolen art pieces with their smartphones; these images are turned into NFTs.

Their earnings will be used to support artists across Africa: “On purchase of any pieces of artwork on Looty, 20% of that will go to the Looty Fund. From that fund, we are going to start giving grants to artists from the continent. We will donate money and equipment for artists to use,” says Chidi.

We’re excited to see what Looty achieves in its quest to empower today’s African artists. ✊🏿

4. ANC builds up to elections

Forget about calculus, trigonometry or Einstein’s theory of relativity: nothing is more complex than the ANC’s internal voting processes. You’ll be hearing a lot about those procedures in the coming months because the party’s national elective conference is set for December. That’s where the future of both the party and the country will be decided. 

Last weekend, the Eastern Cape leg of the conference got off to a rocky start after a faction backing Babalo Madikizela headed to the Eastern Cape High Court to prevent certain ANC branches from taking part. Things became increasingly nasty but, somehow, delegates managed to get down to business; Oscar Mabuyane was re-elected as the party’s Eastern Cape chairperson. ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa gave a closing address in which he praised conference delegates for “proving their critics wrong.” This despite the chaos that marked the conference. 👀

Ramaphosa will be feeling upbeat about Mabuyane’s win and will hope for the same continuity elsewhere. Success for his allies at the provincial level will be key to his aspirations of winning a second term as ANC president. But, as News24 explains, while Ramaphosa is widely expected to emerge victorious in December, it won’t be easy. 

EWN has put together a handy guide that explains how new leaders are chosen at the ANC’s provincial conferences. Political animals may want to print it out and stick it to the fridge. After all, when the governing party sneezes, the rest of us invariably catch a cold so it’s worth understanding the process. 

5. A Rwandan Dr Who and a shining SA star: African talent soars

The next Time Lord is from Rwanda! 🙌🏿

If that sentence made zero sense to you, you’re obviously not a fan of the long-running BBC TV show Doctor Who. It’s a combination of sci-fi, action, gothic horror and dark comedy and its titular character has been played by 13 actors. Number 14 was announced this week: Ncuti Gatwa, who plays Eric Effiong in the hit British comedy Sex Education, will step into Doctor Who’s time-travelling shoes (and time-travelling device, the TARDIS). 

Gatwa is the first person of colour cast as the Doctor. He was born in Rwanda and moved to Scotland with his family in 1994 to escape the genocide that tore his home nation apart. The show has taken some important strides in the representation stakes over the past few years: In 2017, Jodie Whittaker made history as the first woman to play Dr. Who. Gatwa is her replacement. 

Speaking of time travellers, Elisabeth Moss (of The Handmaid’s Tale fame) is starring in an adaptation of The Shining Girls, a novel by South African author Lauren Beukes. The novel is about a Depression-era Chicago man, Harper Curtis, who finds a key to a house that opens on to other times. There’s a dreadful, brutal catch, as the book’s blurb explains: “He has to kill the shining girls: bright young women, burning with potential.” Grimly true to life, right? The adaptation is streaming on Apple TV+. Beukes has expressed her excitement at Moss portraying one of her characters. “When they told me Elisabeth Moss was on board, I was hugely excited. She’s such a phenomenal actress,” Beukes told Esquire. Moss isn’t the only global star involved in the project: Leonardo diCaprio, whose production company acquired the rights to develop the show for TV, is also credited as an executive producer.

We love seeing talent from Africa rocking the world stage! 

6. ICYMI: Gardee murder a stark reminder of SA’s femicide shame

It’s a horrible fact: South Africa has one of the world’s highest femicide rates. Women and girls are under attack, often by the men who claim to love them

These murders crowd news headlines every week and sometimes, a story crashes into the public consciousness because of its sheer brutality or the people involved. You’ve probably heard the name “Hillary Gardee” by now or seen photographs of the smiling young woman. A quick recap: the 28-year-old Gardee, whose father is former EFF secretary-general Godrich Gardee, was reported missing on 29 April; she had last been seen at a shopping centre in Nelspruit’s central business district. Days later her body was found amid some bushes near Mbombela.

Police Minister Bheki Cele was quickly on the scene. He activated a 72-hour action plan. It worked: three men were quickly arrested for Gardee’s murder; one suspect, Philemon Lukhele, is a researcher for the office of the ANC’s Mpumalanga chief whip. He, Sipho Mkhatshwa and Albert Gama have already appeared in court and charged with conspiring to murder the young IT student. Gardee was buried on Saturday in Kamagugu, Nelspruit; she was remembered as a fighter. “From the moment you were born, you were named after great women leaders of the world, for in you we saw a bright future. Little did we know you’d die a tragic death,” said her devastated father. 😔

The police’s 72-hour activation plan has been used in other cases and exemplifies the kind of swift, focused police work that can deliver justice to victims, their families and communities. It should not be the exception and it can’t exist in a vacuum massive structural changes are needed to tackle the combination of patriarchy and toxic masculinity that drives femicide.

7. Palestinian journalist’s shooting sparks global outrage

Just last week we marked an important occasion: World Press Freedom Day, which falls annually on May 3. That makes the fatal shooting of veteran Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the contentious West Bank on Wednesday even more galling. Abu Akleh, an Al-Jazeera correspondent, was shot while covering a raid by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) on the West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says Israel forces are “fully responsible” for Abu Akleh’s death and has vowed to approach the International Criminal Court to demand an investigation. Israeli officials say that the 51-year-old reporter was killed in an exchange of gunfire but that they have not yet determined who fired the fatal shot. A state service was held in Ramallah, Palestine, yesterday to honour Abu Akleh.

Her death comes nearly a year after an Israeli airstrike destroyed a building in Gaza that housed the offices of Al Jazeera and The Associated Press. Journalists covering conflicts are protected by international humanitarian law and other reporters who were with Abu Akleh when she was shot say she was targeted despite wearing a jacket that clearly identified her as a member of the press corps. Abbas is correct: a robust independent investigation is needed so that Abu Akleh’s killers can be brought to justice. Journalism is not a crime.

8. Hydrogen truck powers miners towards a greener future

South Africa’s mining industry took a big step forwards toward a carbon-free future last Friday when Anglo American unveiled the world’s largest hydrogen-powered truck, in what President Cyril Ramaphosa described as a “historic moment” for the future economy.

The fully hydrogen-powered 220-tonne truck is intended to be the first of a fleet of similar vehicles that Anglo American hopes will help it reach the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2040. The truck uses solar panels to provide the energy required to split water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules. This process has the potential, says the mining giant, to remove up to 80% of all carbon emissions that are currently created through its existing global fleet of diesel-powered trucks.

At its unveiling at the Mogalakwena mine, about 250km outside of Johannesburg, Ramaphosa said: “This is a gigantic leap for South Africa’s hydrogen future economy.” 

Hydrogen has often been labelled the fuel of the future, thanks to its abundance in nature and its clean-burning nature that emits only water vapour. Investment bank Investec believes that there is huge potential for investment in the green hydrogen sector particularly- the cleanest form of hydrogen energy. In an investment note it argued that South Africa was well-endowed with renewable sources of energy, and was poised to become a leader in this field. 

As Ramaphosa noted: “What we are launching is not merely an impressive piece of machinery, it is the genesis of an entire ecosystem powered by hydrogen.”

Much more must be done to mitigate pollution in the country’s large industrial sector, particularly in the mining industry. But this is a good move and, alongside last November’s pledge from the UK, France, Germany, and the United States to offer $8.5 billion (R136.13 billion) in technical assistance to help South Africa move towards a low-carbon economy, sets us on the right path. 

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_ ✌🏽

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