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2 June ’22 Wrap: State capture crooks (finally) get arrested

We missed you! But thanks for letting us have a bit of a break last week. We have a bumper edition for you this week, with loads of big news you should know. From a verdict in the sordid Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard trial, to a bombshell in the Senzo Meyiwa case, plus what you need to know about monkeypox, petrol price increases, and the great news about the state capture crooks getting arrested. 

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

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1. Our take: No one wins In Amber Heard vs Johnny Depp

The US defamation lawsuit between actor Johnny Depp and his ex-wife, Aquaman actress Amber Heard, has been nothing short of sordid, with mutual gory accounts of domestic abuse. And now there’s a verdict. 

The six-week trial ended yesterday with a jury of five men and two women finding both had defamed each other, but effectively weighing more strongly with Depp. He celebrated the win while Heard expressed her intense disappointment

The entire case rested over a line in an oped by Heard, published in the Washington Post in 2018. She said: “Two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.”

Depp sued for defamation for implying he was a domestic abuser, even though he was not named, and sought $50 million in damages. Heard countersued, asking for $100 million.

It’s worth noting that Depp lost a libel case against The Sun tabloid in the UK in 2020 for calling him a “wife beater” – harsher words, and in a country where freedom of speech isn’t as protected as in the US. One media lawyer noted the jury system probably played a role in Depp’s victory. 

The case dominated social media, with TikTok supercuts of the trial mocking Heard. It also exposed a deeply troubling relationship, with horrific episodes involving faeces, chopped off finger tips and words written in blood. 😳

It’s important to note that Heard may well have been abusive to Depp and previous partners, and that Depp also shares a history of violent incidents for which he usually settled out of court. It’s difficult to know the truth in the he-said, she-said account of the events. 

What we do know is that it was deeply unsettling to watch the vitriolic cyber attacks on Heard by Depp supporters. As one commentator wrote: “While the throngs of Depp fans may believe that they’ve picked the right side in this trial, they are also enabling damaging stereotypes about survivors. The public humiliation of Heard will only make victims more afraid to come forward. No matter who ‘wins’ this lawsuit, it feels as if we have all already lost.”

2. The big story: The NPA’s heartening state capture arrests

Accountability. We talk about it all the time here at explain. It was the subject of one of our first videos, where we broke down why no one was in jail for state capture yet. The age of lawlessness under Jacob Zuma may have been over, but we pointed out that the effects of his regime were still being felt. 

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) was responsible for convincing a judge that someone should go to jail, but it had been hollowed out, losing the skills to do it, by the same corruption infecting the rest of the state. Give them time, we told you. You don’t want the judge to throw out a case for lack of evidence. But as we’ve repeatedly noted, even our patience wore thin. People started calling the NPA the national postponement authority. 

So the last two weeks have been healing to watch. The NPA has finally made good on its promises with a series of enrolled court cases, high profile arrests and court appearances. 

The NPA and the Hawks arrested 15 people in a single week. The blitz of arrests started on Tuesday last week, Fin24 reported. By Friday, it culminated in the biggest state capture arrests so far: former Transnet CEO Siyabonga Gama and former Trillian Capital Partners CEO Eric Wood.

These middle men linked to the Gupta family made a whopping R93m for “helping” to facilitate a loan to finance more than 1,000 locomotives. The cost of these locomotives increased from R38bn to R54bn, allegedly to cover kickbacks.

Wednesday also saw Gupta stalwart Ronica Ragavan and two other associates of the family in the dock on charges including fraud and money laundering in relation to the rehabilitation funds of the Optimum and Koornfontein coal mines. More bigwig arrests are expected. 

It’s what we needed to see as South Africans after a decade of state capture and then three years of hearing about it in detail at the state capture commission. 

But beware: there’s still a long road ahead. As we said last week, the wheels of justice turn achingly slowly. Expect a long court process ahead.We hope the criminals – responsible for our country losing almost R250 billion by some estimates – are quaking in their boots. 

Briefs

3. Unemployment drops!

South Africa has the dubious honour of having one of the highest unemployment rates in the world.

But there’s been a slight move in the right direction this week. 

The quarterly labour force survey (QLFS) released on Tuesday showed that unemployment fell to 34.5% in the first quarter of this year – down from 35.3% . In layman’s terms, this means that the number of jobs created rose by 370 000. The industries that grew were community and social services, manufacturing and trade. Private households, finance, construction and agriculture experienced the most job losses.

It’s worth noting that experts are concerned that these numbers might not be accurate

That’s because Stats SA stopped doing face-to-face interviews for the QLFS in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, interviews were done telephonically, and reached fewer people. But the good news is the latest QLFS was done with face-to-face interviews. Stats SA said this helped improve the response rate.

Back to the unemployment figures: while this recent drop is, well, a drop in the ocean, it is encouraging to see a move, however minuscule, in the unemployment numbers. (We’ve previously explained what SA needs to do to change our unemployment problem: check out our site for more). 

4. Time’s up for US gun control

Last week Tuesday, 18-year old Salvador Ramos walked into Robb Elementary School in Texas and shot and killed 19 children and two teachers. It happened when The Wrap was on a break, but it’s still worth unpacking. 

It was the third-deadliest school shooting in “the land of the free”, and the deadliest in Texas. Although there are concerns about the police’s delayed response to the shooting, gun control is the real issue here. 

As the BBC put it: “We all know that the right to bear arms is protected by the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. What is less clear to those on the outside is why a document written nearly 250 years ago in response to a revolutionary war still has such resonance in 2022.”’ 

There a couple of answers to that question:

🔹For many US citizens, the right to bear arms is equivalent to the right of freedom of speech. In most other democratic countries, including ours, one has to pass stringent tests to acquire a weapon. 

🔹The country’s complex legislation model and “partisan” politics, meaning extreme division between the two dominant parties (the conservative Republicans and usually more liberal Democrats), on issues like this. Former Democrat president Barack Obama was blocked by Republicans from passing a gun-control bill following the 2012 Sandy Hook school shootings. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, is hoping to bring more Republicans to the table to change that.

🔹The country’s pro-gun lobby, typified by The National Rifle Association, is very powerful. It went ahead with its Texas conference days after the shooting, pushing the narrative that putting more guns in the hands of the “good guys” is the answer to the problem. Some gun lobby groups are already teaching teachers how to carry and use concealed weapons.

Yet evidence shows stricter gun laws save lives. As the LA Times notes, In 2005, California had almost the same rate of deaths from guns as Florida and Texas. Since then, California repeatedly has tightened its gun laws, while Florida and Texas have relaxed theirs. The result? California’s rate of gun deaths declined by 10% since then. Texas and Florida’s climbed by 28% and 37% respectively. 

Until the US overcomes its divisions and follows California’s lead mass shootings will remain an American constant.

5. Murder most foul: Did Kelly kill Senzo?

The Senzo Meyiwa murder has kept South Africans enthralled for years. We didn’t think the details of the case could get more explosive, yet the stakes ratcheted up a notch yesterday morning, during the trial against the five men accused of killing the football star. 

The defence dropped a bombshell by claiming that they had a witness who could prove that Meyiwa was shot by his girlfriend at the time, musician Kelly Khumalo! There has since been lots of speculation about who this witness might be. Some have suggested it is Khumalo’s estranged sister, Zandile Khumalo-Gumede, after she posted the cryptic lyrics to her new song on Instagram shortly after the court bombshell, where she references blowing a whistle. 

Khumalo-Gumede was one of those present on that fateful evening on 26 October 2014, when Meyiwa was shot and killed. The shooting took place at Khumalo’s mother’s house in Vosloorus, in what has been described as a “robbery gone wrong”. Those present have given conflicting accounts of what happened. 

We unpacked the ins and out of the case earlier this year but as the trial date finally approached, so did the twists in the tale. 

🔹Last year, Sifiso Meyiwa, the brother of the late soccer star, claimed police told him that the five accused men were not his brother’s killers. 

🔹The advocate representing four of the accused, Malesela Dan Teffo, was dramatically arrested WHILE in court for the Meyiwa matter last month. His arrest was related to a separate matter – a failed court appearance in Hillbrow for assault.

🔹A key state witness, Brigadier Philani Ndlovu, died. 

🔹There were arguments against a documentary film crew being allowed to film during court proceedings: the judge ultimately allowed it. 

🔹In some of the more bizarre claims, social media users argue that Khumalo’s song “Ngwathwala Ngaye” (loosely translated to “I made a sacrifice with him”) is proof that she’s guilty of the murder.

Expect even more drama and intrigue as the trial plays itself out, but ultimately, we all want justice for the Meyiwa family.



6. Pacific Islands face a Mandela-like dilemma with China

Last week, US President Joe Biden made headlines when he said that he’d be willing to use force to defend Taiwan in response to a potential invasion from China. 

China’s new military moves in the region have caused concern because it has always been clear about its goal to force Taiwan back under its control. 

The background: China’s bullish stance towards trade and security pacts over recent decades shows it is hellbent on expanding its influence and challenging the US’s global hegemony as the world’s sole superpower. 

Now China is aggressively courting 10 small Pacific nations, including Fiji and Papua New Guinea, to endorse a sweeping agreement covering everything from security to fisheries. One leader warns it is a “game-changing” bid by Beijing to wrest control of the region, according to CNBC

On the surface, China’s proposed pact seems reasonable, particularly as these Pacific Island nations attempt to find ways to economically recover from the pandemic and deal with the existential threat of rising ocean levels. But the real issue is that China will have even greater military advantage over Taiwan should the deal go through. 

The talks have stalled for now, but the Pacific Islands are on the back foot as they need help. 

Why Taiwan? It’s been one of global diplomacy’s biggest stumbling blocks for decades. China refuses to recognise the democratic country as independent, and effectively bullies the rest of the world into doing the same. Our own Nelson Mandela experienced the dilemma facing these pacific islands today, when he tried to provide “dual recognition” to Taipei and Beijing at the beginning of his presidency. 

The political icon retained a sense of loyalty towards Taiwan, which had helped fund the ANC’s election efforts in 1993 and was SA’s sixth-largest trading partner at the time. However, as China’s political and economic clout grew, Mandela was eventually left with no choice and gave in to China’s pressure.

If the pacific islands fold, an attack on Taiwan is the most likely outcome. Like the Russia-Ukraine war, that will have massive implications for the world as a whole. 😬

7. Government tries to help cushion petrol price increases

As South Africans continue to feel the pinch of rising prices, the government has stepped in to help by extending the R1.50 reprieve on the general fuel levy. BUT this is a temporary measure to lessen the economic impact of a general R2.43 petrol price increase. 😕

Some background: The price of 93-grade petrol rose from R16.91 a litre on 1 June 2021 to a whopping R23.94 a year later – that’s an increase of more than 40%!

The record hikes are a consequence of an increase in the average price of Brent crude oil, which is sadly due to reasons largely out of our control:

🔹The sanctions imposed on Russia after it invaded Ukraine;

🔹Increases in demand for petrol during the summer months in the northern hemisphere;

🔹The increase in crude oil supply; and

🔹Various supply shocks were caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The problem with fuel price increases is that it affects everything from the cost of food and clothes, to transport. In an attempt to soften the blow, the government provided temporary relief through this R1.50 reduction on the general fuel levy back in April. This has now been extended until 6 July, after which it will be cut to R0.75 until 2 August, when it will be withdrawn entirely. 😓

The bottom line is that extending the relief measures will cost the government R4.5 billion in revenue. Although the relief had initially been funded through the sale of crude oil reserves from the Strategic Fuel Fund, the extension is still set to have an impact on SA’s national wallet. 

So, the government is buying itself time by providing relief, but it’s effectively an increase in government spending and will only provide relief until August, by which time South Africans will be spending well over R25 a litre. The search for a sustainable solution to the problem continues…

8. Rare virus is nothing to monkey around about

Panicking about a new pandemic that may put you in lockdown again? Don’t. The monkeypox virus everyone is talking about is not like Covid-19: it’s far less contagious, scientists know much more about it, and its similarity to smallpox means vaccines are already available. The current strain in circulation is also less severe than others. 

The World Health Organisation does not believe it will lead to a pandemic. 

The virus normally found in central and west Africa has appeared across Europe and the US in recent weeks – even in people who have never travelled to Africa.

This has caused some alarm and has led experts to believe that it might have been circulating in the United Kingdom for years. 

Some history: The name “monkeypox” originates from the initial discovery of the virus in monkeys in a Danish laboratory in 1958. The first human case was identified in a child in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1970.

The disease is transmitted from one person to another by close contact with lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated materials such as bedding. Its incubation period is usually from six to 13 days but can range from five to 21 days. 

Monkeypox usually goes away after a week or two, but it may be severe in some individuals, such as children, pregnant women, or persons with immunosuppression due to other health conditions. 

South Africans shouldn’t worry too much though. The National Institute of Communicable Diseases said in a statement last week that there were no recorded or suspected cases of monkeypox in the country. 

The NICD has also said that it has the capacity to test for monkeypox. That’s good news for all of us. We can’t take another hellish two years. 😵

9. Matshidiso: A crowdfunding funeral app

Funerals are stressful. Between the grief, making the arrangements and having to cover burial costs it can be too much to handle. 

And a proper send-off is expensive. A report by Sanlam noted funerals can cost anything from R6000 for a low-income group to R50 000 for a middle-class income group, and beyond. That’s a lot of money. 😬

When KZN was devastated by floods, many people wanted to help but didn’t know where to start. The floods claimed 459 lives and some families still need help with funeral costs. 

A new feature on the funeral organisation website and app Sendoff could offer willing donors a way to connect directly with people who have lost a loved one. 

Sendoff is a South African application that allows you to digitally arrange the funeral of your loved one, from picking the casket, to choosing where you want them to be laid to rest. It even has sections dedicated to catering, ordering flowers and even transport options. 

But it is the introduction of a particularly South African feature that has us excited: The app is soon launching a crowdfunding function that will allow people to donate much-needed funds to users to cover someone’s funeral costs. This is a common practice, particularly among black South Africans, and now there’s a way to do it easily. 

The crowdfunding platform, named Matshidiso (meaning comfort in Sesotho), will be launched by August, CEO Zolani Matebese told Business Insider South Africa. 

It will essentially operate similar to a mobile money account that allows users to receive funds from donors.

This app could help South Africans rally together to help people such as the families of the KZN victims give their loved ones a proper sendoff. Now that’s ubuntu.

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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