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Ajay Gupta arrest warrant withdrawn

Notorious Gupta brother Ajay is no longer a fugitive from justice after a warrant for his arrest was withdrawn.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 However, the charges against Zuma were provisionally withdrawn in January and ‘an inevitable legal’ consequence was the cancellation of the warrant against Gupta, said Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi.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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