Welcome to 2023! 🙋🏽‍♀️ They’ve already released the Kraken, but we may have cured cancer… Just go with it, okay?

We’re on the eve of a cabinet reshuffle that could finally bring about Cyril’s New Dawn. Like, if his overwhelming victory over Ace and co. at Nasrec can’t give him the confidence to vanquish the bad actors, what will? That victory was also one for Mbaks, who has been running his mouth about ageing cabinet ministers since he won the ANC secretary general seat. Talking about running mouths… Prince Harry has a book out and he has been airing all the Windsor laundry to any interview that is willing to pay/listen. 

That’s enough tasting, let’s serve up a full plate of your weekly update of empowering and easy-to-understand news, brought to you by Verashni Pillay and the /explain.co.za/ team. 😄

First, we’re back in audio form! 🔊 /The Wrap/ is now a weekly podcast, and we’re building out other shows as well!

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▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ 1. Our take: The DA’s stunted promise

South Africa may have (barely) survived the state capture years and seems to have turned a hopeful corner on accountability, but simply reckoning with what went wrong isn’t enough. You can see our country’s deterioration by looking at our cities and towns. 

The DA-led Western Cape still has the best audit outcomes in the country, while the economic heartbeat of SA, Johannesburg (and the greater Gauteng), falls into disrepair. The big blue machine was rolling along Solution Road years ago, becoming a diverse party for all. But it has since reversed direction, alienating black leaders and voters alike. 

The party plans to meet in April to elect new leaders. It’s significant that two black women may be in the ring to fight John Steenhuisen and Helen Zille as leader and chairperson of the federal council, respectively. 

Joburg mayor Mpho Phalatse is considering running for leader, while Refiloe Nt’sekhe, one of three deputy federal chairpersons, wants to follow in HZ’s footsteps. An identity change at both those levels may shift the party’s waning popularity with the country’s black majority. But the party’s increasingly right-wing trajectory makes defeating either incumbent an unlikely task. (One of many departing black leaders memorably called the new DA “Freedom Front Minus” 😝).

An opposition party that also governs in parts of the country, as the DA does, isn’t just about politicians. The DA swore to govern well with competent civil servants. Losing leaders at this current pace casts doubt on the DA’s ability to keep and grow the talented technocrats that have set apart its governance from the ANC. 

If the blue machine conquered further cities, how would they staff and transform them if they’re not actively growing their capacity – or proving to be an attractive workplace given how former leaders complain of a toxic environment?

Meanwhile, a mushrooming of small political and civil movements speaks to a more hopeful future. From the Rivonia Circle by Songezo Zibi to former DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s work with independent candidates to another former DA leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko’s work with public officials. 

But as Archbishop Thabo Makgoba puts it in a recent op-ed, “A plethora of independent movements is not enough.” He says we need to come under the umbrella of a new, unified struggle to set SA on course. 

It’s a pity that the DA can’t be that place, given the moves its former leaders are making.

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █  2. The big story: Reshuffling a tired deck

There’s a cabinet reshuffle on the horizon. It may not be a new dawn, but the dissenting likes of Lindiwe Sisulu and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who voted against President Cyril Ramaphosa and refused to tow the party line in a parliament impeachment vote late last year, may have seen their last political sunset.

There are also several other vacancies and changing political fortunes for some ministers that necessitate a shake-up. The problem? Our ruling party’s talent pool in the ANC NEC, where the president must fish from to form his cabinet, is a shallow watering hole for the Buffalo. We’re not holding our breath.

Still, here’s who may likely get the boot 🥾

  • Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. The long-time Ramaphosa wingman looks vulnerable, as does Ebrahim Patel, Minister of Trade, Industry, and Competition – noted by finance journalist whiz, Carol Paton. 
  • Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula. Mbaks was made ANC secretary general at Nasrec. It’s a full-time position, meaning Razzmatazz must give up his cabinet position – judging by his recent comments, the outgoing minister is thrilled. 
  • David Mabuza. DD was replaced as ANC deputy president at the same conference by Paul Mashatile, meaning he’ll probably have to step aside in the government version of the role too. 
  • Other movements. At least five ministers and four deputy ministers are not included in the new NEC – the top 80 decision makers who are also elected at the party’s national conference every five years – and may have to go too. There’s also the office of Minister of Public Service and Administration that is STILL being filled in an acting capacity and needs a dedicated body.

Mashatile told the media that a decision would likely only be made at the end of the month – we’re guessing it’ll be before the State of the Nation address on 9 February. Please Cyril, give us a good Valentine’s…

▁ ▂ ▄ ▅ ▆ ▇ █ Briefs

3. Whoa, we may have cured cancer!

This may put the “great” back into Great Britain (for once 🤭) – Cancer vaccine trials could begin as early as their summer (June, July, August)!

UK health secretary, Steve Barclay, signed a memorandum of understanding with BioNTech on Friday to “ensure the best possible treatments are available as soon as possible” for the nation’s cancer patients.

How? Remember when BioNTech partnered with Pfizer to create a Covid-19 vaccine during the worst stages of the pandemic? Think of that as an app, and the vaccine was one small product from the app. It’s the same technology that they hope to use to tackle cancer.

mRNA vaccines work by introducing a piece of the mRNA (Messenger Ribonucleic acid) from the viral protein to train the cells on how to deal with the virus without actually exposing your body to the virus.

Prof Uğur Şahin, the chief executive and co-founder of BioNTech, said that this agreement is a result of the lessons learned from the Covid-19 Pandemic. “Drug development can be accelerated without cutting corners if everyone works seamlessly together towards the same goal,” he said.

Could we cure the dreaded disease in 2023?

“From tumor biopsy to first vaccine dose, the process can take between eight and 10 weeks,” Moderna (also working on an mRNA cancer vaccine) Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton told the Washington Post. “Repeating this over and over for each patient enrolled in the clinical trial was a major undertaking,” he adds.

Then there’s the analysis and longterm studies, so it’s a long time still. But let’s hope these trials deliver positive results. For now, we’re definitely crossing our fingers. 🤞

4. A royal bust up

It’s getting harder to stay sympathetic towards the UK’s Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex broke records with their bombshell Oprah interview in 2021, detailing why they left the British Monarchy and spawning a million memes.

But with over $100m in content deals rumoured, the glamorous duo must keep various bosses happy – Spotify, Netflix and publishers, which has caused a media tsunami of disclosures, each more controversial than the last.

We’re here for the drama exposing racism and the underbelly of the royal family, but in small servings, please.

Late last year, Meghan’s podcast, Archetypes, featuring a bevy of celebrities did well, and their Netflix docuseries broke records – even as critics panned it as a tedious PR exercise. But the release of Harry’s ghostwritten autobiography, Spare, has tipped the scales.

MORE details, in case you somehow needed them, include:

  • Losing his virginity to an older woman in a field behind a pub. 
  • Killing 25 people as a soldier in Afghanistan, comparing it to picking pieces of a chess board. 😳
  • Allegedly being knocked down by older brother William during an argument (hilariously re-enacted as a fight between two versions of the singer Prince in a skit by US talk show host Jimmy Kimmel).
  • Believing a woman “with powers” who claimed to be in contact with his revered dead mother, Princess Diana. 

Harry is on a noble mission to take on the dirty tabloids that destroyed his and his mother’s life, he is even accusing his family of being in cahoots with them. But he’s exhausting his audience with every detail of his grievances. 

The prince, who was never allowed to talk, now can’t stop blabbing. But is all this good for him? Probably not. But it’s raking in the cash and perhaps that’s what counts most for those behind the scenes.

5. Goodbye TV Licence, hello tax

TV licences could soon be a thing of the past! But don’t break out the bubbly quite yet. 

You see, non-compliance has led the ANC to explore alternative ways of collecting revenue for the SABC. And one of those ways is a TV tax. Clearly, Eskom is not the only state-owned house struggling to keep the lights on. 

During the ANC’s National Elective Conference, Minister of Communications, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, said that TV licences were no longer a sustainable way of collecting revenue for the public broadcaster. 

The ruling party is proposing a device-independent household levy instead, which means that everyone will have to pay a tax, even if they don’t own a TV. 😒

We’re not sure how to feel about a blanket tax – imagine having to pay a fee even if you don’t watch SABC channels or own a TV. Could this be a desperate attempt by the national broadcaster to solve its financial struggles? 

After all, a 21 percent compliance rate by TV licence holders does not do much for the pockets. But it’s the decline in viewership and associated loss of ad revenue that hurts them. 

Over The Top (OTT) services like Showmax, Netflix, and Disney+ offer a variety of viewing options and steal viewers.

If you can watch your favourite shows at your time minus the torture of endless ads, would you opt for traditional TV? Even the SABC is in the streaming wars with its newly launched online platform SABC Plus.

But the broadcaster remains without a board since October last year, a serious concern for the Save Our SABC Coalition (SOS). 

“We would like for the president to appoint the SABC Board as soon as possible to avoid any probable collapse of the SABC”, says Coalition National Coordinator, Uyanda Siyotula.

6. Release the Kraken!

There’s a new Covid-19 variant and it’s called Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5. Rolls off the tongue, right? 

The bad news 

It appears to be more transmissible than the OG “catchiest ever” Omicron strain and is scarily nicknamed Kraken.🦑

The good news 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it does not have any data on severity yet, or a clinical picture on its impact. Yes, that IS good news – see how optimistic WHO’S senior epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove is:

“We do expect further waves of infection around the world, but that doesn’t have to translate into further waves of death because our countermeasures continue to work.”

While they say there is no need to panic, some precautions should be taken. In some spaces, South Africans have started masking up again [Ed: We’re kind of into it].

How did it get here? 

Earlier this month, Stellenbosch University’s Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA) detected the Kraken in a sample specimen from a patient on 27 December last year.

 “We believe that the fact that the dominant variant of concern in China and in the world remains the Omicron, and that the immunity of South Africans from vaccination and natural immunity is still very strong,” said Health Minister Health Minister Dr. Joe Phaahla. 

Before adding that while there is no indication that the strain is causing more severe symptoms, the government is urging citizens to get vaccinated and boosted. 💉

7. No, your next car won’t be a chameleon

Picture it: a retro-chic electric car with an exterior paint-job that you can change with an app to complement your mood or outfit. Hell, you can even market your business without having to pay for an expensive wrap. The thing of dreams, right?  

Well, what if we told you it’s the second year in a row that BMW took to a Las Vegas stage, trying to convince the world that they’re a) a technology company, and b) even closer to releasing a car that can change its paint-work.🚘

Honestly, it isn’t even the weirdest piece of vaporware you’ll find in Vegas in January. All the big technology companies not named Apple take to the Nevada desert to show off concept products from an amazing future that may happen if only there weren’t the annoying laws of physics and/or economics to hold them back. 

It’s called the Consumer Electronics Show – “CES” to the cool kids – and it’s the biggest annual technology circus on the calendar.  

The reality, once you put down the hallucinogens, is that CES is a TV show. All the major display makers (except Sony this year) launch their new products that you can actually buy in real stores in February.

Sideshows like BMW’s i Vision Dee are just to grab headlines and drive excitement for brands that maybe don’t have anything interesting to launch in the first half of the year. This car in particular was probably made to capitalise on the NFT hype that died spectacularly at the close of 2022.     

CES is for dreams, and this year the dreams were wild.

8. Citizen solutions to government problems

As part of our solutions journalism series, we’re looking at how projects across the country can offer a potential fix to some of the country’s problems. This week we’re featuring sanitation in Diepsloot. 💦

The Johannesburg township is ground zero for evidence of the ANC’s service delivery decline. 

Though parts of Diepsloot are formal, the majority of its residents live in shacks; recent figures are hard to come by, and many do not have regular access to indoor plumbing. Ablutions are performed with water collected from communal taps, and a late-night trip to answer nature’s call means leaving your home to use one of the area’s 644 shared toilets.

Now the community has stepped in.

The Water, Amenities and Sanitation Services Upgrade Programme (WASSUP Diepsloot) was started in 2011 to turn around the state of toilets in Extension 1 – where as many as 60 households rely on one toilet – and has quickly spread to service other parts of Diepsloot.

The intention was to rely (and wait) less for the local government to do its job by upgrading or maintaining the area’s sanitation infrastructure. Instead, WASSUP successfully sourced both local and international private donors to support its voluntary plumbing services on communal toilets. According to the founders, what came after Wassup Diepsloot’s establishment was unprecedented in its reach and impact. Read the full story here.

We love these stories of local solutions that can scale to nation-changing movements. If you know any similar solutions stories to share, message us on WhatsApp and we may feature them.

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_ ✌🏽