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7 July ’22 Wrap: Boris quits and Cyril’s annus horribilis

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There’s a right upset over in the land of tea and scones. First, Queen Elizabeth’s role was slimmed down and now Prime Minister Boris Johnson has gone and resigned. It was about time – even the number 10 Downing cat Larry agrees, we hear. Meanwhile our president is having a bad year, with Marikana miners knocking at his door… if they can find it in the dark. (Thanks Eskom). But the good news is that, with the pandemic winding up, rental investments are looking up again!

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: SA’S energy future must be different

Relationships are, usually, about give and take. Not ours with Eskom though. All they do is take! They take your power, they take your money and they even take your joy! Talk about toxic. 😒 We’ve lived with loadshedding for 14 years, but these last few weeks have seen it reach record-breaking numbers.

According to Bloomberg, the current energy shed is the highest ever recorded in a single year… and we’re only in July! 

Constrained power systems and plant breakdowns are often blamed for Eskom’s woes. But this time there was yet another factor at play: an unprotected strike by Eskom workers. Last week Eskom said various power stations were affected when striking staff failed to report for duty. At other plants, non-striking staff were prevented from working. 

As the strike continued, the power utility said the unlawful industrial action had forced it to implement Stage 6 loadshedding for just the second time ever. (The last time was for a short time in December 2019). This meant most of the country has been subjected to at least six hours of loadshedding a day. 

Eskom and its employees reached a wage agreement this week that will see Eskom fork out  R1 billion between 01 July 2022 and 30 June 2023 – a wage bill that neither South Africa nor Eskom can afford. Don’t pack away the candles just yet … Eskom says it will still “take a few weeks for the power generation system to fully recover to pre-strike levels”. (So what’s that? Hovering around a slightly uncomfortable Stage 2, on average?) 

As we’ve said before, there is a solution in the long-term: SA’s $8.5bn deal with wealthy countries to transition to renewable energy could move us away from the ”wet coal” and “broken plant” excuses. Plus Eskom is set to be broken up.

But we need to look at our journey into this abyss. As News24’s Kyle Cowan explains – it’s been two decades of mismanagement and bad decision-making by the ANC government. “We have not spent enough money investing in our electricity infrastructure. We have not properly maintained the infrastructure that we do have. We have not listened to or taken heed of warnings from experts who have for years said the country is staring down the barrel of a loaded gun.”

As we press into a renewable energy future, it’s crucial that this time, the important decisions are made by people who know what they’re doing (experts), not our inept government officials. South Africa can’t afford to be put in this position ever again. We can’t play on broken strings anymore, Eskom.

2. The big story: UK politics: Boris Johnson finally falls on his sword

It took a mass walk-out from high-ranking government officials in the UK to finally push Prime Minister (PM) Boris Johnson into announcing his resignation today as leader of the Conservative Party. 

“No one in politics is remotely indispensable,” Johnson said in his resignation speech, according to Sky News. He said he’d only held on to his position for so long because he thought it was his “job, duty and obligation” to voters. His critics will note it’s more likely because he was used to getting away with breaking the rules for so long. 

Johnson indicated that he would stay on as prime minister until October, when a new Tory leader is elected. But this announcement has unleashed an outcry from his critics – including former PM John Major – who want to see him gone yesterday.

Johnson, who has led the Conservative (Tory) party since 2019, has weathered one scandal after another. Most notablenotably was “Partygate” – birthday celebrations at the PM’s 10 Downing Street residence in the middle of the strictest lockdowns in the UK in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. But the straw that appeared to have broken the camel’s back was when news emerged that Johnson was aware of allegations of sexual misconduct against former Deputy Chief Whip, Chris Pincher, when he appointed him to the position.

Johnson clung on to power as more than 50 officials, from cabinet ministers to trade envoys, resigned over just three days this week in protest.  

Even Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office of the United Kingdom, Larry the cat, had had enough. 😸 The parody account of the 15-year-old tabby at 10 Downing Street (the account has 561,000 followers), tweeted: “I can no longer, in good conscience, live with this prime minister. Either he goes, or I do.”

Johnson rose to power after Brexit. But once that (easy populism) was achieved, his critics said there was a lack of focus and one scandal after the next. 

As The Guardian wrote in a scathing editorial: “The real spurs to action were fear of public wrath and exasperation that Britain did not have a functioning government while Downing Street was focused exclusively on evasive manoeuvres to get the prime minister through each day of cascading crises.” 

Johnson’s replacement is set to be appointed at the Tory party conference in October.  Conservative leaders have been in charge since 2010, following Gordon Brown’s three years in office as the last Labour Party leader. The next election is only in 2025, but Britain’s politics may be well be shaken up by then. 

Briefs

3. Riri’s a billionaire and Queen Lizzie’s slowing down

🔹Rihanna is now the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire, according to Forbes. She displaced Kardashian clan member Kylie Jenner, who controversially took the spot a few years ago. Forbes received backlash for naming Jenner as self-made, given the leg-up from her family’s enormous resources. They later retracted the title saying her finances had been skewed to make her look like a billionaire. Rihanna, on the other hand, is the real deal – with a net worth of $1.4bn. 

You’ll know the Barbados-born powerhouse for her insanely good music but she earned her wealth mostly through her work as the co-owner of Fenty Beauty and Savage x Fenty lingerie line. Riri, real name Robyn Fenty, isn’t just burning through her money though and is quickly earning a reputation as a committed philanthropist. “My money is not for me; it’s always the thought that I can help someone else,” Rihanna told New York Times’ T Magazine in 2019. She has pledged millions to causes like fighting climate change, helping domestic abuse victims and Covid-19 relief efforts through her Clara Lionel Foundation (CLF). Yaaas, queen! 🤑 

🔹Speaking of queens, Queen Elizabeth is finally getting to rest a bit more at age 96. She has a new job description for the first time in 10 years, in light of her declining health and mobility issues. The queen’s role as head of state had been changed to a less specific description, splitting her role into two: head of state and head of nation. 

According to The Telegraph, this means that the duties she “must fulfil” have been removed from the list. Now it’s over to her heir, Prince Charles, to pick up the slack, but he’s decidedly less popular than his mother. Britain’s longest reigning monarch has been a stablising figure through nearly a century of enormous change for the former colonial power. The baton is slowly being handed over to the rest of the royal family, who must now steer their country through even more changes, as more countries choose to leave the Commonwealth and royals must earn their keep. 

4. Adulting: Petrol hikes and ending strikes

Ah, South Africa. Alive with possibilities. Or at least it used to be. Now? We’re barely alive, what with rising petrol prices, rising electricity prices and the ever present demogorgon that is load shedding. (If you didn’t get it, that’s a Stranger Things reference – season four is out, and it’s better than seasons two and three, in our opinion. Although good luck trying to watch it with said load shedding. 😆)

Here’s what you need to know: 

🔹Petrol prices rose on Wednesday to almost 54% more than] it did last year when it stood at R17.39. Look out, cooking oil, you have competition. 👀 The Department of Energy has also announced that the petrol levy relief would be reduced from R1.50 to 75c (but this reduction will end in August). The levy relief has been in effect since April. Although there have been calls to scrap the levy altogether, to ease the impact on motorists, this would see the government’s purse lose at least R90 billion. 

🔹Municipal tariff hikes came into effect on 1 July 2022. In what is likely to be a reprieve for citizens, the City of Johannesburg hiked its electricity prices by only 👀 7.47%, nearly half the previous financial year’s hike. Tshwane also reported a 7.47% increase in the price of electricity.

🔹As noted above, labour unions have accepted a wage deal with striking Eskom workers on Tuesday afternoon, so loadshedding will slowly ease up. As it stands power cuts for the weekend are expected to be between Stage 2 and 3, but this depends on returning generating units. We hope this brings back a sense of normalcy because it feels like we’ve been living in the Upside Down, darkness and all.

5. It’s looking up for buy-to-let investors 

Do you own an investment property? If so, you probably took a knock during the pandemic, when the rental market plummeted. As people lost their jobs, or opted to buy with interest rates at record lows, buy-to-let properties stood empty. People working remotely and moving to cheaper areas didn’t help either, and if you were in the Airbnb or tourism business, it would have been even more difficult. Thanks Covid. 

But it now looks like rentals are back to pre-pandemic levels in South Africa!

That’s according to an in-depth report by Financial Mail, who looked at a range of metrics to confirm the good news – such as vacancy rates, tenant arrears and rental growth.

The most reliable tenants in terms of payment are those in the R7,000 to R12,000-a-month bracket, where the percentage of tenants in good standing is at 87%, according to the report. The riskiest group is for rentals less than R3,000 a month, with payment rates of just 68%.

If you’ve bought property in Joburg’s northern suburbs, things will start to look up even more, according to Chris Renecle, MD of developer Renprop, which manages about 3,000 rental apartments across this area. He said there has been an uptick in the R3,000 to R20,000 rental bracket because people have returned to the office. 

Cape Town, meanwhile, is seeing a demand for high-end rentals as corporates and foreigners come back, according to Dexter Leite, Pam Golding Properties’ Western Cape rental manager. 

The province is still the most expensive in which to rent a property, at a monthly average of R9,399. That’s nearly double the average R5,521 it costs to rent in North West, SA’s cheapest province. 

Along with the rest of the world, the rental market is finally returning to normal after a very difficult three years. If you’re looking to invest, do your homework: the trends differ over areas and brackets.

6. Mass shootings in US and Denmark and what they say about gun laws

This week brought us two more mass shootings, in two very different countries.

The 308th mass shooting in the United States this year occurred on the 4th of July, when a gunman opened fire on a crowd gathered for an Independence Day parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park. Bobby Crimo III has been charged with seven counts of murder. 36 people were injured in the incident. 

In a separate incident in Copenhagen, a man opened fire on a crowd in one of the biggest shopping malls in Scandinavia, despite Denmark having some of the strictest gun laws in the world. Three were killed and four more injured. In total, 30 people were hurt in a subsequent stampede.

“Our beautiful and usually so safe capital was changed in a split second,” Danish Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, said. The attack has been ruled out as an “act of terrorism” by Danish police. It was the first shooting of this kind in Denmark since February 2015.

So this may have you wondering… how much of an impact do gun laws have on deterring mass shootings?

The Denmark shooting was isolated and the fact that it was their first in almost 30 years says everything that needs to be said of the efficacy of their gun laws. America’s gun culture and the constitutional right to bear arms, laid out in the Second Amendment, is a key driver behind their contagion of mass shootings. 

Better gun laws won’t eliminate mass shootings entirely and the incident in Copenhagen is evidence of that. But it’s the frequency at which they happen in the states that provides all the evidence we need to see that gun reform is imperative to prevent more needless deaths.

7. Herbert Baker’s Jacarandas are streets ahead! 

When one thinks of Pretoria, one imagines the Union Buildings, state theatre and Jacaranda-lined streets. Well, one such street, named after the architect of the Union Buildings, has come fourth in a study of the world’s most eye-catching streets. Herbert Baker Street in Groenkloof, Pretoria, beat several other iconic streets in the world for its prestigious placing. Unlike other Jacaranda-lined streets, which explode with brilliant purple flowers every spring, the Groenkloof street also features Jacarandas that have rare white flowers. 

The study, commissioned by a United Kingdom real estate comparison website GetAgent, compiled a list of 50 streets from around the world and showed images of the streets to a sample of 40 participants. Eye-tracking software was used to record the number of times people looked at each image and the duration spent looking at them. The average fixation time was then used to rank each street according to how “attractive” it is. Talk about giving us a second glance. 😆

The number one street was Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto, Japan, holding people’s attention for 6.2 seconds. The street, lined with cherry blossom trees that bloom pink in spring, turns a vibrant green in summer. Streets in France and Italy took second and third spots.

Streets from Scotland, England, The Netherlands and Singapore made it to the top 10 but just couldn’t beat the Jacaranda city’s iconic street. 🌸

8. Cyril’s annus horribilis 

The Marikana massacre will forever haunt Cyril Ramaphosa. Back in 2012, our president was serving as non-executive director of a mining house when a strike ended in the police killing 37 miners. It is one of the darkest chapters in our country’s history. An email exchange revealed that Ramaphosa called for the state to take “concomitant action” against violent, striking workers. He has since apologised for that remark, and The Marikana Commission of Inquiry cleared him of wrong-doing in 2015

But 329 miners who were injured or arrested at the time are not willing to let it go. They are embroiled in ongoing civil court action, looking to claim R1bn in compensation and punitive damages. In their sights are the State, the mining company Sibanye-Stillwater (formerly Lonmin) and, crucially, Ramaphosa himself – in his personal capacity and as director. 

The miners scored a minor victory on Friday at the Johannesburg High Court. Although Judge Frits van Oosten disagreed with their argument that Ramaphosa incited the murder of their colleagues a decade ago, he did leave the door open for him to be linked to the massacre. 

The judge effectively said the idea that Ramaphosa’s actions may have caused the massacre wasn’t too far-fetched to rule out. The miners now have six weeks to submit further particulars of their claim.

This is not a criminal case, but if the miners are successful in their civil action, they could take the findings of the Marikana Commission on review, City Press notes

The Presidency was quick to try put out fires on Tuesday, emphasising that “the proceedings were not a trial and no evidence was led. The court was merely engaging in a legal debate”.

It said it was disturbing that “ongoing politicisation of this tragedy [was] leading to the unfair targeting and isolated allocation of responsibility to the president”.

The onus is now on the miners to legally prove if Ramaphosa is liable in any way. Both the mining company and Ramaphosa’s team have poked several holes in their existing argument. If they submit the same claim against Ramaphosa again, his  lawyers can apply for the case to be dismissed in its entirety, News24 notes

Still Ramaphosa is facing what could only be described as his annus horribilis. There’s the drama surrounding the alleged cover-up of millions of dollars in cash stolen from his Phala Phala game farm in Limpopo,  the ongoing power crisis, rising food and fuel prices. ANC stalwart Dr Mavuso Msimang has called on him to step down while the Phala Phala matter is being investigated. (He probably won’t though and doesn’t have to – the ANC’s step-aside rule only affects those criminally charged). 

No one said the job was going to be easy, but damn. Good luck, Cyril. You’re going to need it. 

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. ✌🏽