Icasa boss gets 20 years | Gordhan starts Eskom cost cuts hunt | The end of Opportunity | PIC witnesses threatened | The Week that Was

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Icasa boss gets 20 years

The chairman of Icasa (Independent Communications Authority of SA) Rubben Mohlaloga has been sentenced to 20 years in jail for for money-laundering and fraud linked to a R6m Land Bank scam – but he will remain Icasa boss for now because he has been granted permission to appeal his sentence. The court found that he conspired with then Land Bank CEO Philemon Mohlahlane and attorney Dinga Rammy Nkhwashu to irregularly move agricultural empowerment funds to Dingwako Farming Projects, and then spent the money on the purchase of two BMWs for himself, among other things. At the time, Mohlaloga was an ANC MP and chair of parliament’s portfolio committee on agriculture. 

Ajay Gupta arrest warrant withdrawn

Notorious Gupta brother Ajay is no longer a fugitive from justice after a warrant for his arrest was withdrawn. The warrant was issued in connection with allegations that he and Duduzane Zuma offered a R600-million bribe to the then deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas – allegedly an attempt to get him to take over the finance ministry from Nhlanhla Nene. However, the charges against Zuma were provisionally withdrawn in January and ‘an inevitable legal’ consequence was the cancellation of the warrant against Gupta, said Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi. Gupta has said he would come back to South Africa to clear his name if the warrant was lifted, but don’t hold your breath.

Gordhan starts Eskom cost cuts hunt 

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan is starting efforts to bring Eskom’s costs down by seeking new contracts with Independent Power Producers (IPPs) who entered into agreements with Eskom in 2011 and 2012, at a time when production costs were much higher than they are now. Even though newer renewable energy contracts are much cheaper, the early contracts mean that the average unit cost is higher than coal-fired or nuclear energy. The EFF and trade unions are demanding that IPPs be cancelled altogether, arguing they are to blame for Eskom’s financial collapse. Cyril Ramaphosa indicated in his SONA address that government plans to stick with renewables which he said could create 114,000 jobs over 20 years. Eskom meanwhile announced that no load shedding would be needed today.

Trump to declare a ‘national emergency’

After last minute arm-twisting by party colleagues US President Donald Trump yesterday signalled he would approve a spending package that would prevent another government shutdown – but only gives him a fraction of what he had demanded to build a border wall. However, the White House immediately announced that Trump would be declaring a national emergency, which would enable him to build the wall on the Mexican border anyway. Trump had been outmanoeuvred by Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi over the shutdown/wall gambit and ultimately had to fold on his demand for $5.7bn to fund 234 miles of new steel of concrete barriers. The compromise struck between his Republican Party and the Democrats included  $1.375bn for 55 miles of new fencing. Trump’s national emergency is designed to circumvent the political process – where the Democrats now control the House – and honour his campaign commitment to build the wall. He is likely to face several court challenges. According to several polls, most Americans do not believe the situation on the southern border is an emergency.

The end of Opportunity

IDL TIFF file

Nasa’s Mars rover Opportunity, which landed on the red planet in January 2004, has officially been declared dead after being caught in a massive sandstorm last year that prevented sunlight recharging its solar panels – 15 years after it began what was expected to be just a 90-day mission. In all it covered 28 miles – and once a year it sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to itself. Opportunity’s last message to base was ‘my battery is low and it’s getting dark’. Opportunity and its sister rover, Spirit, which also landed in 2004 and survived until 2010 on the opposite side of the planet, sent over 300,000 images back to Earth, including the one above, of the Endurance Crater, and 31 beautiful colour panoramas of Mars that can be seen here.
 


WHAT’S THE BUSINESS?

PIC witnesses threatened

Witnesses to the Commission of Inquiry into the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) have been receiving death threats. Commissions spokesperson Thabi Leoka said the threats had been texted anonymously: ‘We got to hear about the death threats from the evidence leader… it’s death threats against people who have given evidence.’ Witnesses, including former PIC employees, have given explosive evidence on the dealings of the asset manager, including a R4.3-billion investment in AYO Technology Solutions, the company linked to businessman Iqbal Survé. The inquiry was scheduled to deliver its interim report to President Cyril Ramaphosa today.

Rand woes are back

A week ago Fin24 was reporting that the rand was looking like the best-performing currency in the world this year. Yesterday it reported that it was back on its perch as the world’s most volatile currency as investors considered the risk of a credit-rating downgrade amid the Eskom crisis. The release of data showing that mining production dropped overall 1.6% in 2018 just a day after dismal retail figures were released added more pressure, and this morning it was trading at a six-week low.  


IN THE SPORTS CORNER

Live sport on TV

Super heroes take centre stage

The Highlanders claimed the early bragging rights with the first win of Super Rugby 2019 in Waikato with a tight 30-27 victory over the Chiefs this morning, while in Australia the Rebels made it two from two away wins when they beat the Brumbies 34-27 at the GIO Stadium. And for the next 21 weeks rugby fans will spend their weekends on the couch. For South African fans the real action starts tomorrow at 12.55pm when Sharks team take on the Sunwolves in Singapore. Next up is the Bulls and Stormers tomorrow afternoon in what promises to be a fierce clash between two traditional heavyweights, and then the Lions will try to get a rare away win in their fixture against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires just before midnight. It remains to be seen if any South African side can topple the New Zealand juggernaut and grab a spot in the final on July 7, but indications are that the two finalists will come from the Crusaders, Hurricanes, Chiefs and Highlanders.

Faf boosts SA lead

Faf du Plessis fell just 10 short of his century but has batted South Africa into a strong position in the opening Test against Sri Lanka despite a spectacular collapse to end their second innings – they lost their final five wickets for just eight runs, and were bowled out for 259, setting the Sri Lanka a target of 304 for victory in bowler-friendly conditions.  

Xasa gives Caster full support

The South African government is spoiling for a fight over the IAAF’s attempts to change the rules on levels of testosterone in some female athletes, including Caster Semenya. Athletics SA and Semenya, with the backing of the government, are challenging the change. The case will begin on Monday at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and sports minister Thokozile Xasa has made a global call for support. ‘The world once declared apartheid a crime against human rights. We once more call the world to stand with us as we fight what we believe is a gross violation of human rights,’ Xasa said.


HAPPY SNAP

In an effort to counter some of the world’s negativity we ask people – and sometimes dogs – what makes them happy. the.news.letter features a Happy Snap every Friday

Scout, 8, Wynberg

Carousing in the stream on the green belt. Chasing squirrels and sticks. When I hear the car of the mother of the house pull up. Hanging out with my cat friend Molly. Sleeping. Eating, yes, eating anything is what makes me happiest. 


WHAT’S THE BUZZ?

New allegations against R Kelly

Michael Avenatti, the lawyer best known for representing Donald Trump accuser, Stormy Daniels, said he has handed footage of rap star R Kelly sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl to authorities. Avenatti is representing a number of young women who have made allegations of sexual assault against Kelly but says this is a new accusation. Kelly has faced accusations of sexual abuse for two decades but has never been convicted. A number of celebrities have publicly spoken out against him since a damning documentary Surviving R Kelly was released last month. Lady Gaga has taken a song she did with him off her official site and his label, Sony Music, dropped him after the documentary was released. 


SAY WHAT?

Windy with a chance of flying chihuahuas

Capetonians know about wild wind and raging skirt-lifting South Easters but fierce winds in Ohio and Pennsylvania reached the level of ‘hold on tight to your small dog’ warning this week. Cleveland’s Weather Service issued the warning on Tuesday to owners of small dogs to ensure they weren’t blown away as gusts reached speeds of 80km/hr. The service warned people about the winds causing scattered power outages, trees coming down and flying trash can lids while also urging pet owners to ‘hold on to your pooch!’ Tiny dogs have been known to end up gone with the wind, including Tinker Bell, a 2,7kg chihuahua, that got swept up in a 112km gust in Michigan in 2009 and ended up a kilometre away. 
 


TWEET OF THE DAY

The highly prestigious Friday Tweet of the Day goes to Bette Midler (@BetteMidler) – yes, it is the Bette Midler – for her reflection on Valentines Day: 

Some people to Valentines Day, and single ladies do Galentines Day, but my husband & I do Shallentines Day. As in: “Shall we have sex or shall we nap?” It keeps the mystery alive!
 


CRYPTIC CLUE OF THE DAY

Today’s clue is: Truant put straight by headmaster’s hissy fit. (7)

The solution to yesterday’s clue Minor St Valentine’s smash up by natural lovers? (17) ENVIRONMENTALISTS – an anagram of ‘minor St Valentine’s’ (‘smash up’ is the anagram indicator)
 


THE BIG READ

Facebook’s power to accelerate hate and disinformation has translated into real-world violence. The transformation of Facebook into a tool for manipulation was not something that  just happened; it was facilitated and concealed at every step by Facebook itself. The social media platform has also hurt the antidote to fake news — real news. This riveting and frightening read from Mother Jones shows how Facebook Screwed Us All.  (Thanks Leif Petersen.)
 


WHAT WE SAY

The week that was

What made us shout, NOOOIT!
Eskom, bloody, Eskom. It’s been a dark week for South Africa – thanks to the power utility – the economy is in a desperate situation and the consequences of loadshedding are too dire to think about.

But is there light at the end of the tunnel?
Some experts think not, but we are an optimistic nation so we are holding thumbs (but we are still stockpiling candles).

Is there any truth that South Africa is going to change it’s anthem to The Sounds of Silence, which begins: ‘Hello darkness my old Friend’?
None at all. We’re going with Leonard Cohen’s You Want it Darker. There was a little brightness to the loadshedding and that was social media being lit up with memes, jokes, puns, which kept the mood light-hearted.

Who appears to have slipped through the criminal justice cracks:
Ajay Gupta, who is at the heart of the state capture drama.  

But more dirt seems to be piling up at someone else’s feet:
Yes, the controversial businessman Iqbal Survé has a lot of explaining to do after accusations that he sought to mislead the PIC about its investment in Ayo. He has used his newspapers to hit back at his detractors and has shouted racism at the top of his lungs.

Who did we award menace of the week to:
It was another big list of menace contenders this week. Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, who blocked the SABC from filming protesters at the ANC manifesto launch, for one. She apologised and said she was wrong. Terror Lekota, on the other hand, made an outrageous accusation, calling Cyril Rampahosa an apartheid stooge – without any evidence or apology. This is the type of accusation that has seen people get killed. We think this week’s menace should be renamed ‘Error’ Lekota. 

Who made us proudly South African: 
We know what a schlep it is going to the Department of Home Affairs – at some point we’ve experienced endless queues, grumpy officials and paperwork that is ‘lost in Pretoria’. So when there’s someone who makes an effort and is dedicated we need to shout their praises from the rooftops. Nosipho Mkhupheka, a supervisor, assisted 40 people beyond her working hours at the department’s offices in Scottburgh, KwaZulu-Natal last week. Her remarkable efforts attracted the attention of Home Affairs Minister Siyabonga Cwele, who took her chocolates and a bouquet of flowers – and she gets the.news.letter’s stamp of approval.  

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No silver bullet, Prez says | Cyril blasts ‘sellout’ claim | Directors hand back award | Caster – IAAF denies ‘male’ designation plan

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Cyril blasts ‘sellout’ claim

Did President Cyril Ramaphosa sell out party colleagues while they were in detention in the 1970s? That is the disturbing allegation made by Cope leader Mosioua Lekota in the State of the Nation (Sona) debate yesterday. ‘When it was difficult, you wrote to the Special Branch that we put communist ideas in your head, in doing so you condemned us to the Special Branch. I say this because the Special Branch rewarded you and they sent you home and we headed to Robben Island,’ said Lekota. Today Ramaphosa answered Lekota in parliament and outlined his history in the struggle ‘to set the record straight’. He warned Lekota and EFF leader Julius Malema, who had questioned his history in the NUM, that allegations like those they made had led to the deaths of people. He said OR Tambo warned to ‘beware … the wedge-driver, watch his poisonous snake’. ‘These stories are so dangerous,’ he said. ‘I have never been a spy. I have never worked with the enemy. All I have ever done is work for my commitment to the people of this country.’ He also revealed that police had tried to recruit him as an Askari – an ANC member who switched to the security forces – but he refused. 

No silver bullet, Prez warns

Far from providing a big revelation on government’s plans for Eskom today, Cyril Ramaphosa told parliament there was ‘no silver bullet, no one solution’. The present crisis was a reality check that had be addressed on multiple fronts, among them a plan to stabilise its finances. Government would be assisting with funds as this was also a matter of the country’s financial stability he said. Details would be revealed by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni in his Budget speech next week. He emphasised that the break-up of Eskom would result in three 100% state-owned utilities, with no privatisation. He announced the formation of a special cabinet committee led by deputy president DD Mabuza that would monitor the crisis and provide a daily briefing to him on steps to manage it.  Meanwhile the Zondo commission has announced that it will devote two weeks to probe state capture at Eskom, starting next week.

It’s not just electricity …

And if the electricity crisis is not alarming enough, the Daily Maverick’s Rebecca Davis points to another crisis unfolding in parts of the country – water supply

#MensConference takes off

There are apparently a lot of males in this country who would rather avoid the whole Valentine’s Day thing. So much so that some wit came up with the idea of an entirely fictional Men’s Conference taking place from February 12 to 16 (which would, of course, rule them out of today’s hugs, kisses, dinner dates, gifts and whatever). The #MensConference tag soon went viral on Twitter with various contributors posting reminders, fake invitations and even an itinerary with a list of speakers and events. The former included Jacob Zuma (to talk on polygamy), Julius Malema (weight loss) and Malusi Gigaba (penis size – a reference to that video). At midday the proceedings were scheduled to break for ‘Lunch + Weed + Drink’. This morning ‘attendees’ were reporting heavy traffic en route to the undisclosed venue.

Milking it

In case you missed this and the whole Bosasa thing had you thinking fondly of the Guptas, here’s a Netwerk24 scoop on the money that was shipped out of the country during the families plunder of the Vrede dairy farm. According to the news service, bank statements show that R334-million was paid by the Free State Department of Agriculture to a Gupta-linked entity in India over a period of two years.


THE DAILY MENACE

Vaginaman gets owned

Menace Paul Bullen has taken mansplaining to record levels – in fact, we have reached peak mansplaining and can switch off the internet. Bullen mainsplained vagina/vulva to  gynecologist Jennifer Gunter and then happily mansplained mansplaining to her. It all started when the Guardian published the article ‘Me and my vulva: 100 women reveal all’ . The NSFW article was about photographer Laura Dodsworth’s project collating 100 photos of vulvas. Bullen very kindly corrected the author, photographer and the Guardian saying they didn’t know the difference between a vulva and vagina. ‘The correct word is vagina,’ he tweeted. That’s when Dr Gunter pointed out that vulva was indeed correct, but vaginaman Bullen was having none of it and continued arguing even after Gunter sent him a helpful Venn diagram on the difference and Dictionary.com tweeted a definition for vulva, followed by, ‘Well. Actually.’ Twitter showed no mercy but Bullen stuck to his guns. Bullen may not know the difference between a vagina and vulva but just about everyone knows a dick when they see one. 
 


WHAT’S THE BUSINESS?

End of the mine

Hard on the heels of the good news that SA’s unemployment rate had dipped slightly in the last quarter of 2018 comes information that Sibanye-Stillwater is planning a restructure of five mines that could see almost than 6,700 miners lose their jobs. Consultations are under way with union representatives. 

End of the runway

Airbus has announced that it will end construction of its double-decker A380 jet in 2021 after plummeting sales. A reduced order from Emirates Airlines – from 162 to 123 – appears to have sealed the fate of the aircraft that can carry between 500 and 850 people at a time. 


IN THE SPORTS CORNER

IAAF denies Caster ‘male’ claim

The IAAF has denied it intends classifying South African middle distance athlete Caster Semenya as male. In a landmark case in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) next week, Athletics South Africa and Semenya will challenge a proposed IAAF rule that aims to restrict the levels of testosterone in female runners. In a statement the IAAF said it is ‘not classifying any “differences of sexual development” athlete as male. To the contrary, we accept their legal sex without question, and permit them to compete in the female category. However if a DSD athlete has testes and male levels of testosterone, they get … a performance advantage over women.’ You can read more from AFP here.

Proteas bloom 

Dale Steyn and his fellow quicks today led a fightback which gave the Proteas a small 44-run lead going into the second innings of the opening Test against Sri Lanka at Kingsmead in Durban. Resuming on 49 for one this morning, Sri Lanka lost five wickets in the opening session and were eventually bowled out for 191 before tea. It was a team effort from the bowling unit, with all the seamers picking up wickets, but Steyn was the pick of the quartet with four for 48 (live scoreboard). 

Gabriel says what he said

Shannon Gabriel was yesterday suspended for four ODIs following his verbal exchange with England captain Joe Root in the Test in St Lucia. The ICC yesterday announced that the West Indian fast bowler had been fined 75% of his match fee for the incident and handed him three demerit points – taking his total to eight, which carries a sanction of missing four ODIs. Meanwhile Gabriel revealed in a statement that he had asked the England captain: ‘Why are you smiling at me? Do you like boys?’


WHAT’S THE BUZZ?

Award returned

The directors of the Netflix Documentary Two Catalonias won a prestigious German film award on Monday night but handed it back on Tuesday – because it had been politicised. The Cinema for Peace Foundation Award was handed to them at a gala event in Berlin by the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who used the occasion to make a speech criticising the current trial of 12 independence leaders. ‘We do not want to be a tool of information manipulation,’ one of the directors, Alvaro Longoria, explained.


SAY WHAT?

Overbearing 

A State of Emergency has been declared in a Russian settlement in the Arctic after a mass invasion of polar bears has forced terrified residents to stay in their homes. The settlement, Belushya Guba, has a population of about 2,500 people and 52 bears. Authorities have sent out anti-bear patrols, and now special barriers have been erected around schools. Wildlife experts have warned the polar bears’ incursion is the result of shrinking sea-ice, as rising Arctic temperatures due to global warming cause the ice to melt, reducing the bears’ normal hunting grounds. Unable to hunt on the ice as usual, the bears  venture inland to human settlements in search of food. Huffington Post has footage of the bears. 


SEE WHAT?

We’re not going completely soppy on you but here’s a ridiculously charming clip of a toddler, out for a walk with a dog, who passes a puddle. Those looking for hard news should give it a miss.


TWEET OF THE DAY

It was #UKPunDay this week and old favourite Brian Bilston (#brian_bilston) set the ball rolling with:
BONOPOLY: like Monopoly but where the streets have no name.

To which Steve PInches (@spinches) replied:
Got to double figures writing down puns to beat this. But no pun in ten did.

And then there was Goodbye Jumbo (@goodbyejumbo):
There’s a busker playing ABBA really loudly in the town centre. You can hear the drums from Nandos.

And Luke (@Englishhero):
They don’t get The Flintstones in Dubai, but Abu Dhabi do.

And Ben Moore (@80Moore):
The past, the present and the future walked into a bar. Things got a little tense.

Or Richard Pulsford (@RichardPulsford):
I hear Neil Diamond has already had 3 of his 5 fruit and veg portions today: Swede, carrot, lime …

And so forth, endlessly.
 


CRYPTIC CLUE OF THE DAY

Today’s clue, compiled by the brilliant Kieron Callaghan, is: Minor St Valentine’s smash up by natural lovers? (17)

The solution to yesterday’s clue Imbecile gets first aid (6) is ASSIST – a word sum of ASS (‘imbecile’) + IST (‘first’ – 1st) gives the definition of an imbecile. 


THE BIG READ

It’s Valentine’s Day and in a nod to the calendar, here’s a throwback read that will make you think about what the business of love is all about. To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This was written several years back by Mandy Lee Catron who tried out a theoretical approach to love. It is New York Times, though, so it will have to be one of your four-for-the-month unless you are a subscriber. 
 


WHAT WE SAY

Who would want to be Cyril Ramaphosa right now? The country he leads is being crippled by a power supplier that can’t supply power, and its costing the economy billions. Maintenance failures are threatening water supplies to towns in parts of the country.  The organised workforce is up in arms about job losses (which its own actions seem designed to compound). And, perhaps most alarmingly, his own party is evidently at war with itself: yesterday ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule reportedly questioned Ramaphosa’s plans for Eskom while alliance partners Cosatu and the SACP expressed similar misgivings. And then that old rogue Tony Yengeni threw his weight behind  the power utility’s discredited former bosses Brian Molefe and Matshela Koko. And we are now less than two months from an election. Strap yourselves in … it’s going to be a rough ride.
 

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