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A white man has been appointed to the ConCourt. Here’s why that’s a good thing

Brrr! The cold front has arrived just in time for our Youth Day public holiday. 😭 Damn you, Winter! The Western Cape was hit first and Gauteng is now experiencing the chill – just as Eskom aka the princes of darkness warns us the grid is under strain. 🙄 Make sure your gas heater is filled.

Still, we’re determined to enjoy tomorrow, hence sending this newsletter a day early. We hope you are too: take time off and find a way to commemorate or celebrate our youth as we remember the events of the Soweto riots that tomorrow commemorates.

This week we had a bit of fun discussing Comair’s grounding, even if it does mean we’re effectively grounded too with the prices of air travel soaring. We tell you why it’s a good thing a white man has been appointed to the ConCourt, and a bad thing that black women were excluded from breast cancer research! We also give you the latest on Farmgate, our Public Protector, and the Gupta arrests. Read on – and stay warm! 🙋🏽‍♀️ 

Format

🔊 For the audio version of The Wrap, go here: https://soundcloud.com/explain-za/15-june-22-a-white-man-has-been-appointed-to-the-concourt-heres-why-thats-a-good-thing

🗞 For text, keep scrolling or check out our PDF below.

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1. Our take: A white man has been appointed to the concourt. Here’s why that’s a good thing

The Presidency announced Judge Owen Rogers as the latest appointment to the Constitutional Court last week, bringing the Court closer to a full bench of 11 justices. 

This is great news. Last year we told you how strained things were, from the vacancies on the ConCourt bench (and a lengthy period without a permanent Chief Justice) to the awful Judicial Service Commission (JSC) interviews for potential judges. 

The court was also struggling with a heavy caseload and the to-do around its election date judgment didn’t exactly cover it in glory. It needed to improve on the administrative front, too. 

Now things are looking up. Justices Jody Kollapen and Rammaka Mathopo’s appointments were announced in December and Supreme Court of Appeals president Mandisa Maya is expected to join the apex court soon, after her interview for deputy chief justice next week.

Rogers’ race is worth noting. The JSC had previously come under fire for excluding Judge David Unterhalter and advocate Alan Dodson from their Constitutional Court list, with committee members Julius Malema and Dali Mpofu questioning both about their fitness for the court as white men

We’re all for transformation but the questions were bizarre, given that the Constitution clearly states the “judiciary must broadly reflect the demographics of SA in terms of race” and there were no white men on the bench at the time. It’s also petty considering the role that retired justice Edwin Cameron, who happens to be a white man, played in progressing our democracy with landmark judgments. 

Thankfully the JSC is also getting cleaned up and sanity is being restored to our all-important judiciary. 

More on Rogers: he was appointed to the Western Cape High Court in 2013 and practised privately before that. He was previously a judge for the Competition Commission.

Some of his key judgments include his finding last year that the ConCourt had no power to postpone Local Government Elections. The IEC scrambled to comply, and the elections were successfully held on 1 November 2021.

2. The Big Story: Mkhwebane (finally) gets the boot, but the timing? Sus.

And she’s out! Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane is the first high-ranking member of a Chapter 9 institution to be suspended. 

Remember when we told you that President Cyril Ramaphosa wrote to Mkhwebane in March, asking if she thinks she should be suspended while her impeachment hearings were under way? Well, forget the pleasantries. She went to court to stop him and, last Thursday (just as we had published, no less), he suspended her. The next day the Western Cape High Court ruled against her bid to halt both the impeachment and Ramaphosa’s suspension.The drama!

Although many would ordinarily have welcomed these developments, the timing looked sus. The president announced Mkhwebane’s suspension a day after she launched an investigation into the “Farmgate” scandal, in which Ramaphosa is currently embroiled (more on this later). As Sunday Times columnist Barney Mthombothi noted: “Ramaphosa cannot be faulted for suspending Mkhwebane. The only criticism is that he should have done it sooner. Of course doing it now invites the understandable suspicion that he’s taken the decision to save his own skin.”

The president is well within his rights to suspend her because the Constitution allows him to do so at any time after the impeachment process begins. 

That means he could have done this in March, when a huge majority of Parliament (230:40) voted to go ahead with the impeachment process given her dodgy track record. This includes:

  • At least eight of her reports were overturned by courts, making her personally liable for some costs.
  • Lying to the Constitutional Court to justify her findings into Ramaphosa’s 2017 ANC campaign finances 😳.
  • A host of politically motivated reports aligned with the state capture lot, such as her botched South African Reserve Bank/Absa report, where she bizarrely recommended the Reserve Bank’s mandate be changed, or the Estina Dairy Farm matter, which whitewashed the behaviour of Gupta-linked faves like Ace Magashule. 
  • Two instances of perjury (lying under oath) – she’s being investigated by the NPA and will probably be disbarred if found guilty. 

That’s just some of her dodgy behaviour, since she took over from Thuli Madonsela in 2016. 

Mkhwebane likely won’t return: she’s suspended till the impeachment process begins and she probably will get axed permanently. Her deputy, Advocate Kholeka Gcaleka, will act in the role. But expect those aligned with her to make a big stink about her being ousted to protect Ramaphosa. 

Briefs

3. Up, up and away, but not for Comair – it’s just away

You might want to postpone that long weekend trip to the coast. 

Kulula.com and British Airways (BA) operator Comair were placed under provisional liquidation on Tuesday. The operator’s business rescue practitioners said last week that they couldn’t raise the money needed to save the airline. ✈️ Note: this version of BA is a franchise, separate to the flagship British Airways which flies between London and South Africa.

Us ordinary passengers are going to pay:  Comair operates about 40% of SA’s domestic air trips. 

Now tickets for a family of four going to Cape Town could cost up to R30 000! You’re better off planning a staycation or buying a small skedonk to drive there. 🤭

Comair isn’t the first low-cost carrier to uhm, crash and burn, in SA’s aviation industry. 

  • Remember 1Time? The low-cost airline operated between 2004 and 2012 and had a fleet of 11 planes. It went under and stopped all operations in November 2012, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded. 
  • Velvet Sky, the only airline based in Durban operating out of a then newly built King Shaka International Airport, also shut its doors in 2012. (Terrible year for small airlines, 2012). 
  • Mango, a subsidiary of state-owned South African Airways was grounded in August 2021 but recently received funding, after dragging the government to court, to keep flying … for now. It owes R2.85 billion to creditors and also has about R183 million of unflown ticket liabilities. 
  • There was also SANTACO Airlines – that’s right: an airline by the South African National Taxi Council (insert giggle here). The taxi industry was taking to the skies and listen, we were ready for sho’t lefts in the skies and screeching halts in the middle of nowhere. But it was not meant to be. Turns out they had rented the plane for a single day. So much for “democratising air travel”. 🤭

If you were due to fly Kulula or British Airways, there are some measures available such as being accommodated on other airlines at no cost or being refunded.  

4. Could an experimental cancer drug hold the keys to a cure?

Finding a cure for cancer has always been seen as a vague pipe dream that will require an Einstein-like genius to discover and develop.

But a small study that began at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York in 2019 has yielded an incredible return: 100% of patients suffering from rectal cancer entered remission, without the need for follow-up chemotherapy treatment or surgery! 🙌🙌🙌

The study of 14 patients was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

“I don’t think anyone has seen this before, where every single patient has had the tumour disappear,” Andrea Cercek, lead author of the study, told The Washington Post.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t felt the pain of losing a loved one to cancer or witnessing the devastating effects on the body that existing treatments have. 

These results are unprecedented and it has given many researchers and oncologists alike hope that the approach from the experimental drug trial can be used in efforts to cure other types of cancer. This includes immunotherapy treatment. 

We’re cautiously optimistic. This study may be small but still shows a tremendous amount of promise as mankind moves forward in our search for better treatment, or even a genuine cure, for cancer. And, in times like these, this is a giant piece of good news that we all need.

5. The #Farmgate fallout continues

South Africans are still preoccupied with Ramaphosa’s biggest scandal to date: Farmgate, as it’s become known. The term trended several times on Twitter in the past week along with “Phala Phala” – the president’s private game farm in Limpopo where US$4 million in cash was stolen in 2020. It had been kept under wraps until one of Ramaphosa’s political enemies dropped the bombshell this month. 

The fall-out has been significant. 

Ramaphosa’s entire brand is built on anti-corruption. Opposition parties have had to tread carefully around him – his approval ratings as a president have generally been high (62% in 2020 and a whopping 80% in 2021). Significantly, his popularity tracked above that of his party. The EFF and DA couldn’t follow the same strategy they had with his predecessor, the widely reviled Jacob Zuma. 

Until now. 

Last week, opposition parties took on Ramaphosa in Parliament in scenes reminiscent of the #PayBackTheMoney chaos that defined Zuma’s final appearances in Parliament – a political #ThrowbackThursday, if you will. 

Ramaphosa’s budget vote speech on Thursday was overshadowed by EFF MPs demanding he step down. They were easily silenced, however, because most of them attended the session virtually. On Friday, when Ramaphosa returned to reply to the debate on the Presidency budget, it was a different story. The EFF were physically present, and caused a ruckus of note. EFF MPs had to be carried out the chamber, with some alleging they were touched inappropriately. Parliament says it will investigate

DA leader John Steenhuisen delivered a blistering speech, saying: “Phala Phala is your Nkandla. It will forever be a big, ugly stain on your presidency.”

It may be overstating matters. This wasn’t public money and it’s still not clear whether Ramaphosa did anything wrong. But the allegations of kidnapping suspects, roughing them up and paying them off to stay silent continue to haunt him, along with questions about whether the rules were followed in transacting with that much forex. Ramaphosa’s insistence that “due process” be followed in response to journalists’ questions on Friday is looking increasingly weak. 

Of course, all this detracts from the actual work of Parliament and may be a forbidding taste of what’s in store for Ramaphosa, now that this scandal has provided his political enemies both within and outside the party with ammunition. 

On the justice front, the Hawks have received the SAPS docket into the robbery and will take over the probe into it. 

No president in the history of democratic South Africa has served two full terms – although President Nelson Mandela’s stepping down after one term was by choice. Will the same fate befall Ramaphosa? 

6. Could your hair products be making you sick?

A new study shows that a toxic chemical used in hair products for black women fuels breast cancer.

The chemicals are called parabens. Manufacturers favour them because they prevent the growth of mould and bacteria, thus prolonging a product’s shelf life. 

The study found that parabens increased the growth of breast cancer cell lines in black people, but did not affect breast cancer cell lines in white people at the same dose. 

The chemicals have already come under scrutiny as previous research showed parabens can mimic the hormone oestrogen, possibly fueling dangerous cell growth.

But the effect on black women in particular was never closely studied as they were not picked to take part in most research related to the topic, despite having a 41% higher death rate from breast cancer in the US, according to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Studies testing the link with cancer only used breast cancer cell lines from white women. 👀 This is according to Lindsey S. Treviño, the new study’s lead researcher. That thankfully changed with her research. 

Cancer isn’t the only problem. In 2019 other researchers tested 18 hair products commonly used by black women like hot oil treatment, anti-frizz/polish, leave-in conditioner, root stimulator, hair lotion, and relaxers. They found multiple chemicals associated with endocrine disruption and asthma in these products. Frighteningly, the hair relaxers for children they tested contained chemicals prohibited by EU cosmetics regulation, that were often NOT listed on the product label. 😱

It’s a shocking legacy of historical prejudice and insecurity related to black hair, and a still-thriving industry that makes billions off the back of this, using dangerous chemicals. We’re glad that’s starting to be challenged.

7. Gupta arrests: What happens now?

The arrest of Rajesh and Atul Gupta in Dubai this month is by far the biggest development in the fight for justice in the state capture scandal. But South Africans will need to exercise patience. 

The Guptas, who are still behind bars awaiting trial, will probably appeal the extradition request and it may be some time before they are put on a flight to OR Tambo to have their day in our courts. If we win that battle, we’ll have to sit through a LONG trial before they’re sentenced. And then there’ll likely be appeals. 

But the way we eat an elephant is one bite at a time, so let’s look at just the first step: getting the brothers to SA. Gareth Newham, one of the country’s top experts on crime and justice, told the Sunday Times that he has confidence in the NPA on this front. 

“They’re being advised by some of our top extradition lawyers [and have] some of the best legal minds in the country on advisory panels helping them make decisions,” said Newham. “I’m confident that everything that can be done will be done to bring them back to SA.”

There are other promising signs. Remember how the Guptas fled to Dubai when the net was closing in on them in SA? UAE authorities will be opposing bail applications on South Africa’s behalf, so that decreases the threat of a great escape – plus there was the big asset freeze and the red notice issued by Interpol in February. 

The third brother, Ajay, has gone to ground and is yet to be arrested

The Guptas are accused of plundering our state coffers and directing ministerial appointments through their ally, former President Jacob Zuma. The damage they caused to our country and economy cannot be overstated. 

But the charges that Rajesh and Atul are facing now are related to one specific case: the so-called “Estina scam”, stolen money that was intended to uplift poor, black farmers. This will be at the centre of the legal proceedings. Buckle up. It’s going to be a long ride.

8. Billions of reasons for women to celebrate

On Sunday, global tech giant Google settled a lawsuit of R1.86 billion to 15,000 women who were paid less than their male counterparts for the same job. 

It started in 2017, when former employees Kelly Ellis, Holly Pease, Kelli Wisuri and Heidi Lamar filed a lawsuit against Google because they were being paid less than men and were deliberately placed in roles that did not promote growth. 

Lamar, who worked at the Google preschool where employees would leave their children during work hours, earned $18.51 (R296) an hour. Her male colleague with fewer qualifications and less experience earned $21 (R335) an hour, reports Business Insider. 

The case quickly became a class-act lawsuit as more women came forward with the same grievances. 

Last year, in a separate case, Google was ordered to cough up R40 million to more than 5,000 employees after the US Department of Labour found it was underpaying female engineers and wasn’t hiring Asian applicants..

Microsoft found itself embroiled in a lawsuit in 2015 when a female employee claimed the organisation was not paying women the same as men and did not support career growth for women. 

In Africa, where women make up 50% of the workforce, the gender pay gap is immense. For example, South Africa ranks first on the Africa Gender Equality Index but women earn 38% less than men. 

The fight to close the gap is ongoing and we salute women who fearlessly go after corporations that exploit them, ultimately clearing the path so that other women have an easier journey. 

Pease wraps it up: “As a woman who’s spent her entire career in the tech industry, I’m optimistic that the actions Google has agreed to take as part of this settlement will ensure more equity for women.” 

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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