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23 June ’22 Wrap: The State Capture final reports have landed

Toss those masks away! 🙋🏽‍♀️As of yesterday, we officially no longer need to wear them. Ok, but for real, maybe hang on to them a bit longer as we explain why they’re still kinda important (unless you want to test throwing them into a “sexy” trash can – more on that later!). We also take you through today’s big news: the release of the FINAL Zondo reports, the continued fall-out from Ramaphosa’s #Farmgate scandal and how we can do better with local governance. 

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

🔊 There will be no audio version of The Wrap this week

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1. Our take: Mask on, mask off – forever!

It’s time to break out the lipstick again and, well, breathe. As of yesterday, South Africans no longer need to wear face masks!

The last remaining limits in place after we exited a state of disaster in April have been officially scrapped: wearing masks indoors, limiting gatherings to 50% of capacity plus the need to be vaccinated to enter the country. 

Health Minister Joe Phaahla quietly repealed the regulations by notice in the Government Gazette, ahead of a press conference today, Business Insider noted

Many countries have increasingly lifted their mask mandate. As The Telegraph notes: “Most of Britain ditched the divisive face covering back in January, sparking something of a domino effect. Norway and Denmark quickly followed suit, as did a clutch of Eastern European countries … the US is now mask-free and – as of May 16 – France has scrapped all of its rules.”

Most experts agree it’s the right thing to do – even overdue. Renowned epidemiologist Professor Salim Abdool Karim says that every wave tended to be followed by a three-month period in which transmission rates remained low, with the country currently in this stage. This made it the ideal time to relax restrictions, News24 reported.

But he cautioned that large events still remained a risk. “In terms of public health measures, if we do just one thing, it should be to make it a requirement that you are vaccinated or have a negative Covid-19 test before attending a large indoor event,” Karim said.

So, while you don’t have to, experts recommend that we keep our masks on at health facilities as well as at large gatherings. 

Still, we’re pretty excited to see each other’s faces again. Here’s to people actually noticing when you smile at them! 😅

2. The big story: Adieu, Zondo. Now the real work start

Remember when Thanos got the last infinity stone? We imagine that’s how President Cyril Ramaphosa is feeling now after receiving the fifth and sixth reports into state capture on Wednesday night. This is one more than initially expected (six infinity stones, six reports. Just saying). Quite unfortunate that, unlike Thanos, Ramaphosa can’t just snap state capture crooks into jail (or even oblivion, really).

Marvel references aside, there was actually a bit of a drama in the run-up to the reports release. 

Newly appointed Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who headed up the commission of inquiry into state capture, missed his court-appointed deadline. Then the president and the chief justice had to assure the nation that a phone call Zondo made to the president on Monday was not improper. “The president never interfered in any way with the work of the chairperson or of the commission.”

There’s a LOT in these final reports, which each come in several volumes. As with the others, they zoom into large-scale corruption at key government entities like the State Security Agency, Crime Intelligence, the SABC and the Passenger Rail Agency Of South Africa. It also looks at key incidents during the Gupta families’ reign over state resources including the Waterkloof Landing, The Vrede Integrated Dairy Project and issues like the role of the ANC in facilitating state capture and parliamentary oversight. 

Some highlights: The report found that former State Security Agency director Arthur Fraser (the #Farmgate Deep Throat himself – more on this later) had friends in high places. Former president Jacob Zuma and former state security minister Siyabonga Cwele halted an investigation by the Hawks into Fraser, paving the way for him to later be appointed director-general of the SSA and correctional services commissioner. We’re betting Ramaphosa is regretting his gentle touch with him, post #Farmgate. 😏

The SSA played a crucial role in state capture by the Gupta family, Zondo found. It was also heavily politicised, often engaging in activities that were designed to benefit Zuma and his cronies.

Ramaphosa was also called out in the reports, with Zondo saying he could have weakened state capture’s grip on the country.

Zondo found that the ANC under former president Jacob Zuma “permitted, supported and enabled corruption and state capture”. He questioned whether it could have been arrested had then deputy president Ramaphosa “acted swiftly”.

So what happens now? 

In line with a directive of the High Court, Ramaphosa has four months to formally present the full report to Parliament together with how he will implement the commission’s recommendations. Commentators are expecting a Cabinet reshuffle to coincide with the measures announced – Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe is implicated in the report. 

It’s quite unlikely that the kingpins of state capture will come quietly. The challenge is now on for President Ramaphosa to stand firm in his promise to fight corruption. The time is now, Cyril. Phakama.

Briefs

3. #Farmgate a (t)horn in Cyril’s side

Bathong, Cyril. 👀 Is shame in his vocab? The prez held a livestock auction at his now infamous Phala Phala Wildlife Game Reserve on Saturday, just two weeks after the country was alerted to the theft of millions of dollars in cash from the farm in 2020 – proceeds supposedly from the sale of livestock. On Saturday, Ramaphosa’s own lots fetched a paltry (for him) R2.37 million, paling in comparison to his sales of more than R10 million in March.

But his cattle sales are probably the least of his worries. #Farmgate, as it’s come to be known, is causing more trouble for Ramaphosa than a bull in a china shop. He has opted to stay mum, repeating his line about allowing due process to take place, rather than replying to Fraser’s bombshell that the president was allegedly party to the cover-up of the robbery of $4 million – in cash. 

Fraser also alleged that the head of the presidential protection unit, Major-General Wally Rhoode hid the robbery, carried out illegal investigations, tortured suspects and then bribed them to stay silent. Fraser is a controversial figure who has plenty of political motivation to turn on Ramaphosa, and it’s not clear how much of that story may be fabricated. Although Ramaphosa confirmed the theft, he wouldn’t confirm the amount taken, and added that no laws were broken.

Still, the president is facing mounting criticism. As political analyst Justice Malala noted: “Patience is a commodity that Ramaphosa has asked for repeatedly from the South African public. The people’s patience, however, is not endless… He has to give something, and right now that something is truth, transparency and a bit of reassurance.”

Meanwhile, DA leader John Steenhuisen grabbed the bull by the horns and dropped a (rather lacklustre) bombshell of his own on Tuesday – although it seemed designed to appeal more to public outrage than common sense. As part of a nine-step plan to hold Ramaphosa to account, the blue party leader said he would approach the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to look into the issue of stolen currency. 

One problem: the FBI only has jurisdiction in the US. The DA says it’s because the matter involves US currency. But issues of money laundering fall under the purview of the US Secret Service, not the FBI. Perhaps Steenhuisen is watching too many movies. Next, he’ll be contacting The Avengers… 😆

4. Macron loses majority amid right-wing surge In France

French politics was thrown into turmoil on Sunday after a centrist coalition led by President Emmanuel Macron lost control of parliament. It’s the biggest crisis of the 44-year old leader’s career. The most worrying bit is that a right-wing party, the National Rally (RN) won 89 seats (17.3%) – more than 10 times its haul from the last elections. 😳

RN is led by conservative, anti-immigration, Islamaphobe and holocaust denier, Marine Le Pen. 

France is the latest example of a political phenomenon that has been rampant of late: the rise of the right. In the last decade or so, partly as a result of the economic hardships created by the 2008 Financial Crisis, right-wing populists have accumulated a frightening amount of political power. Rather than address the political and economic systems’ inherent flaws, they use racism, xenophobia and blame the “woke mob”. It fires people up, but it doesn’t fix anything. We’ve seen it in SA too. 

But it has been particularly true in Europe. Out of 27 EU member states, 15 are governed by parties that are considered right-wing or centre-right, with values grounded in conservatism and deregulated, free-market economic principles. It’s a far cry from the social democratic order that had dominated European politics and raised living standards since the end of World War II.

So what’s next for France? Macron needs to work with the opposition to pursue his economic reforms and tackle crises in France’s health and education systems. But opportunities for common ground are slim: His government now faces two powerful opposition blocs led by politicians of the far left and far right, The Financial Times notes

It’s a common problem for coalition governments in fractured societies, and one we’ll be seeing more often here in SA. Let’s see if/how France will resolve it – and what we can learn. 

5. Trailblazing Maya one step closer to the ConCourt

It may just be a rubber stamp, but the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) has endorsed Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) president Mandisa Maya for the position of deputy chief justice. This brings her one step closer to being the first woman to hold that esteemed position permanently. 

We, along with many others, thought Maya would have been appointed as our Chief Justice, but when Ramaphosa finally made his decision on the top post in March, he stuck with the safe bet of Zondo, who became a household name during the state capture commission. But by nominating Maya as deputy, he has effectively lined her up to become Chief Justice in two years when Zondo retires from the ConCourt – his term on the top bench ends in 2024. The JSC interview and endorsement means Ramaphosa can go ahead and appoint Maya as deputy.

Some of Maya’s key judgments include:

  • AfriForum v Chairperson of the Council of the University of South Africa which found that Unisa’s new language policy, which had removed Afrikaans as a language of learning and tuition, was unconstitutional and unlawful. Maya made history by writing the first recorded judgment of a superior court in South Africa in isiXhosa. Journalist Marianne Thamm called Maya’s “decision – to speak of Afrikaans in isiXhosa and to defend its right to be spoken… a uniquely South African moment”.

Maya, 58, has long blazed a trail for women in the judiciary – she was the first woman president of the SCA, the second-highest court in the land. But, as she noted in her interview this week, she is the only female head of a court in the country. 

“This is an issue I feel passionate about,” she said. “Gender equality is one of the key 2030 sustainable development goals… no country will thrive if a majority of its citizens are downtrodden. That is a scientific fact.”

Hear hear. Sisters aren’t just doing it for themselves anymore, they’re doing it for the Constitution. 😊

6. Time to turn our attention to local government

We’re tired of talking about the crisis facing South Africa’s municipalities. As the Financial Mail noted recently: “For the past 10 years, Ratings Afrika has been warning of the pending financial collapse of SA’s municipal sector. Over time its warnings have become increasingly shrill. In its latest report they reach fever pitch.” 

The same could be said for the office of our Auditor-General. 

On Wednesday last week our AG Tsakani Maluleke announced the latest numbers: only 16% of SA’s 257 municipalities received clean audits for the 2020-21 financial year. A whole 16% 😱

The worst-performing provinces were the Free State and North West, which didn’t submit a single clean audit. 

Perhaps the most shocking revelation is how much worse municipalities are performing under President Ramaphosa than they were in Jacob Zuma’s final year in office. 

In June 2017, eight municipalities were under administration or provincial intervention. Three years later, that number almost tripled to 23. 

In Ramaphosa’s defence, though, we have been torn apart by a global pandemic, and he did inherit a poisoned chalice in terms of our “junk status” economy (which has improved since). Not to mention, he’s in charge of national governance. But Ramaphosa promised to lead us to a “New Dawn” and, almost four years later, South Africa is still in darkness (no, we’re not talking about Eskom). More focus is needed on local government, which is too often run like personal fiefdoms for corrupt local officials. 

The last time we had a “promising” municipal audit was in the 2015-2016 audit report when then AG, the late Thembekile “Kimi” Makwetu, reported marginal improvements in local

government audit results. We need to figure out what went right there, and how we repeat and scale that success. 

It’s also worth looking at the best performing province in the country: the DA-run Western Cape with 22 clean audits. Credit where it’s due: kudos to the technocrats in the DA who are still keeping the party on track with its promise to showcase its governance – even if its public-facing leaders keep making voter-alienating gaffes. What can we learn from the guys in blue running the municipalities?

We’ve understandably been focused on national problems. Now that the final part of the Zondo report is in and we’re getting more on top of corruption at a grand level, it’s time we turn our attention to the everyday cases of malfeasance – the ones with the greatest potential to ruin towns, communities and local businesses. 

7. Accountability monitor: Judiciary nips corruption in the bud

Corruption is, unfortunately, everywhere in South Africa – whether it’s paying to cut the line at the traffic department or, we don’t know, building a multimillion-rand homestead with a yet to be explained “fire pool”. But never did we expect this rampant corruption to reach the Office of The Chief Justice 👀. 

So, what happened?

Picture this:

  • Three senior employees at the OCJ – chief financial officer Casper Coetzer, chief director of court administration Nathi Mncube, and case management director Yvonne van Niekerk – help approve a contract to supply court software.
  • Thomson Reuters (yes, that Reuters), the company who wins the contract, is required by law to partner up with a local company. 
  • Enter ZA Square. ZA Square was created five days after the contract was awarded, and its three directors? Those aforementioned OCJ senior employees … who had JUST resigned.

But following the Sunday Times exposing the sordid arrangement a few weeks ago, the OCJ has moved swiftly to nip the deal in the bud. They have established an internal investigation of all their supply chain processes and Thomson Reuters has also launched an investigation of their own, while halting the IT deal with the OCJ following the allegations of impropriety.

A review of active contracts will also be done, particularly in the information communications technology (ICT) unit, the office said. It expects the process to be completed within the next three months.

It’s a win for accountability. 💪

8. Sex sells – but will it stop you from littering?

Are you turned on by trash? No, we’re not talking about your toxic ex. 😆 We’re talking about actual trash

As absurd as this question sounds, “sexy” Swedish rubbish bins are making it a legitimate one. The city of Malmö installed two trash cans that make suggestive sounds and comments when litter is fed into their openings.

Because there’s nothing hotter than someone taking responsibility for their litter 😉

“Come back quickly and do that again,” the trash cans say when opened, as shown in one YouTube video. Other phrases like, “Oh, yeah, right there,” and “That was crazy good” are among the other responses they are programmed with, to encourage people to be responsible citizens and properly dispose of rubbish.

It has been described by Marie Persson, section chief of Malmö’s roads department, as “a positive reinforcement to people who do the right thing, by giving them a laugh,” according to Swedish newspaper, Sydsvenskan, as quoted by The Local. The voice heard from the two bins on the Davidshallsbron Bridge apparently belongs to someone famous – but they don’t want their identity revealed. 

Malmö bought 18 “advanced” bins back in 2018, but these two are the first to come with the sexy voice option. And, just a week after the bins were installed, new ones have been installed with a male voice… we wonder which will be more effective? 😂

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_ ✌🏽