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Parliament building is still a restoration in progress three months after devastating fire

The Cape winter rains are coming. And not a shred of tarpaulin covers the damaged roof and broken windows of the National Assembly. It’s been more than three months since the devastating fire.
Right now, it’s not clear whether the structure of the National Assembly building where most of the damage from the fire of 2 January seems concentrated will be protected from further (rain) damage.
In a briefing to MPs on April Fools’ Day, it emerged that Phase One of the assessment, the “making safe stage”, is only just about complete, although it urgently recommends “to provide a temporary roof to prevent rain causing damage to lower floors”.
Phase Two of the assessment, which quantifies damages and the cost and timeframe for restoration, is anticipated to finish in May. The start of this phase was delayed because the flooded basement was only pumped dry from 29 March, setting off a cascade of delays also in the Phase One report.
Only once the work of both assessment phases is done can the restoration phase begin – if money is available. When exactly that may be remains unknown.
And it almost also remains unknown what the status of assessments is right now after the devastating fire on Tweede Nuwe Jaar (Second New Year). Read Major fire wracks parliament building, raising questions about why no protection services staff were on duty
Because Parliament was a crime scene, the Hawks’ permission was needed before talking about the state of damage and repairs, according to Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille at the Friday, 1 April briefing to the Joint Standing Committee on the Financial Management of Parliament.
“[Parliament] is still a crime scene,” said De Lille. “We have got an agreement with the Hawks because it is a crime scene that any information related to a crime scene must be approved by the Hawks. The Hawks have looked at the presentation and gave us permission to share this preliminary information with the committee.”
And so it’s now known the fire damage is centred on the National Assembly, from the chamber up five floors, with temperatures having hit up to 900°C, melting metal and damaging concrete.
The artists, the forgers and the murky market of fake art in South Africa
In contrast, the water and smoke damage in the Old Assembly could be quickly repaired.
Word in the parliamentary corridors has long been that the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) section was hardly ...

Sweden and Finland would be welcomed into Nato, says US ambassador

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is driving the two Nordic states into the arms of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
The US would welcome Sweden and Finland into Nato if they requested membership — as they are showing signs of wanting to do after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The US ambassador to Nato, Julianne Smith, confirmed this and said she believed other members would also enthusiastically accept the Nordic states. She insisted on Tuesday that the organisation’s door remained firmly open and that Moscow had no veto over membership.
Though closely aligned to Nato, Sweden and Finland have so far remained outside the organisation, in part out of fear, as Moscow has issued thinly veiled threats to attack them militarily if they do join.
But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, largely motivated by anger at Nato pushing its borders up to Russia’s doorstep, appears to have backfired as Sweden and Finland — the latter of which shares a long border with Russia — have now moved much closer to joining Nato than they have ever been.
Smith briefed journalists on the eve of a meeting of the foreign ministers of the 30-nation Nato council in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday. She was asked if the US would support Sweden and Finland joining Nato and what military assets they would bring. And would accepting them be a bad idea because it could escalate tensions with Russia?
Smith said that in January, Moscow had already tried to get Nato to reverse its open-door policy.
“And the answer that came back in stereo surround-sound from all 30 of the allies was, ‘Absolutely not. Nato’s door will remain open. Full Stop.’ That was non-negotiable.”
But she noted that it was up to Sweden and Finland to apply for membership and up to Nato as a whole to decide whether to accept them.
“You’ve heard them [Sweden and Finland] making statements recently that they’re looking at this more seriously than they have in the past. And we’ll wait to see what their final decision is.
“From a US perspective, we would welcome these two members. We find that they already bring tremendous value to the alliance. They have a very close relationship.”
The artists, the forgers and the murky market of fake art in South Africa
Smith noted that both Sweden and Finland would be attending this week’s Nato council meeting in Brussels to discuss Ukraine and other issues, as they had been attending such meetings ...

The ugly truth about how the ‘War on Leaks’ project became a looting ‘scam’

Six years and some odd findings in the making, the War on Leaks project has been short on outcomes and rich in shortcomings. Its deficiencies have been so severe that the current administration at the Department of Water and Sanitation has been left wondering how even the basics could have been missed. The War on Leaks is one of many projects that have rendered the Department of Water and Sanitation a site of rampant maladministration.
In the winter of 2015 and on the cusp of spring, a new youth job-creation scheme came about. The government would embark on a so-called War on Leaks. As part of the five-year project, 15,000 unemployed youngsters would be trained as plumbers, water agents and artisans.
In the first phase, 3,000 trainees would be taken on board during the 2015/16 financial year. In the second and third phases, 5,000 and 7,000 jobless youngsters would be trained in 2016/17 and 2017/18, respectively.
The project was unveiled on 28 August 2015 in Gqeberha as an initiative of the Presidency that would be implemented by the Department of Water and Sanitation. The Gqeberha announcement was filled with the usual fanfare that was characteristic of the time.
The then Nelson Mandela Bay Metro mayor, Eastern Cape premier, the President, some Cabinet ministers and, of course, unemployed youth were at the event.
“South Africa is a water-scarce country,” we were told. “Leaks cost the country R7-billion annually,” continued the project champions. At the time, the country was in the grip of its worst drought in 30 years and experienced its driest year on record in 2015. That certainly added some degree of credence and relevance to the War on Leaks project.
However, time would show that the project was an elaborate looting scheme symptomatic of the administrative deficiencies that plagued the department between 2012 and 2019 – and continue to do so amid an internal effort to address maladministration.
The current ministry and departmental administration concede that “[the] . corruption in the department during the 2012 to 2019 period was really a scam”.
Some six years and three months after it was announced, the War on Leaks has emerged as a prime candidate for “the ugliest of findings” for a Department of Water and Sanitation project.
Furthermore, the initiative is a case in point of a project undertaken without appropriate cost structures being put in place, “commitments made without confirmed funding, [and] intended purposes not [being] met, with direct ...

A competent SARS is at the heart of building a capable state, and finally we have one again

After Jacob Zuma appointed Tom Moyane as SARS commissioner, the institution went to the dogs. Now, with SARS under the leadership of Edward Kieswetter, we can again aspire to be a capable state.
Over the years, many people have asked me, “Is everything still okay in our country?” To which I used to glibly reply: “Firstly, the detractors of our transformation project have not yet got their hands on SARS, our tax revenue service, because that would spell disaster for us all, and secondly, the next time you call me to ask that question and I tell you I’m at the airport already, you must know it’s too late.”
Usually, this solicited some uncomfortable giggles until one day the Zuma mafia dug their claws into SARS and appointed Tom Moyane as its commissioner. A person who later was found by our courts to be unfit for that office.
Under Moyane the revenue service went to the dogs. We lost so much ground and every now and again the thought would cross my mind to get myself on to the Gautrain and to the airport. Fortunately, the elective conference of the ANC at Nasrec in 2017 gave me new hope because the Zuma faction was defeated for the time being. Soon after this conference and after then president Jacob Zuma was forced into retirement, our new President, Cyril Ramaphosa, indicated that “restoring stability and credibility in the South African Revenue Service was among my foremost priorities when I was elected President in 2018”.
He went further: “Like a number of other key institutions, SARS had suffered from the ill-effects of State Capture, with political meddling, mismanagement and other factors seriously affecting its efficiency. This had the direct consequence of not only undermining taxpayer morality, but also loss of business confidence in the organisation.
“In 2018, I appointed a commission of inquiry into tax administration and governance at SARS chaired by retired Justice Robert Nugent. The commission delivered its final report by the end of the same year. Four years later, SARS has implemented nearly all of the 16 recommendations and 27 sub-recommendations to restore stability to the organisation.
“SARS has driven a focused turnaround strategy to position itself at the forefront of efficiency and service excellence. It has a concerted programme to promote tax morality and compliance.”
Today we reap the benefits of such intervention with R1.5-trillion collected. A truly remarkable feat and just in case you thought ...

Will Smith had his amygdala hijacked and it triggered his fight-or-flight response

The only difference between Will Smith and the rest of us is that our public meltdowns won’t be watched by tens of millions of people all over the world, repeated for eternity or until Google implodes. The consequences though can be just as humiliating and catastrophic.
There’s a small cluster of neurons the size of an almond in the back of each of our heads. It’s called the amygdala from the Greek word for almond. We never really think about it — until it’s too late. The amygdala controls the body’s fight-or-flight response and is activated by perceived threats. When those threats are observed, the body takes over from the rational mind and does whatever is necessary to get us out of the danger zone.
There’s actually a name for exactly that response: amygdala hijack, which was coined by psychologist Daniel Goleman in his bestselling book Emotional Intelligence, Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. When the amygdala gets triggered, cue irrational and destructive behaviour with often catastrophic consequences.
Will Smith got triggered at this year’s Oscars, slapped presenter Chris Rock and is now looking at the wreckage of what had been up until then a stellar career. Within a week, he’d resigned his membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences under whose auspices the awards are presented, but was still facing a full disciplinary hearing nonetheless.
In the process, his behaviour inspired tons of opinions from anyone anywhere with a smartphone and access to social media. Most of them were either weighing in on his defence or condemning him. As the days passed, the opinion pieces developed into speculation about what could have set him off.
But what most of these missed was the fact all of us are at risk of exploding, not just Hollywood megastars having their spouses mocked in public in front of them.
We all have the amygdala and every day it can be hijacked with catastrophic consequences for us as individuals — blowing up at work, leading to road rage, overcome by service rage in a supermarket or restaurant, emoting on social media exposing all our prejudices in one toxic tweet. It happens at home too, arguments between spouses that go nuclear in the flash of an eye, with the same mutually assured destruction to both parties.
The only difference between Will Smith and the rest of us is that our public meltdowns won’t be watched by tens ...

Sihle Zikalala’s trashing of the Constitution signals a personal political agenda

The timing of Sihle Zikalala’s trashing of the Constitution and the judiciary must be seen in the light of 2022 being the year of internal ANC contestation and Zikalala’s fight for relevance and position.
ANC KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Sihle Zikalala’s recent comments at a Human Rights Day commemoration in Ixopo are an indication of a leader using his executive position and platform for political party opportunism. A leader who suffers short-term memory loss and remains in a state of denial of failure. A leader who continually blames systems for his failures and those of the ANC.
Zikalala now believes the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and the judiciary are responsible for the lack of economic transformation, the ever-growing socioeconomic disparities that continue to beleaguer South Africa after 1994, and the lack of radical economic transformation as his revolutionary mantra echoes through the province. Every statement uttered by Zikalala is prefaced with the words “revolutionary” and/or “radical”.
In this shameless appeal to the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction of the party, Zikalala is not only suggesting that the Constitutional Court be scrapped in favour of a “parliamentary democracy” with no legal checks and balances, but that the governing party of the day be given carte blanche to implement policy according to some current liberation-style performance and justice.
The timing of Zikalala’s trashing of the Constitution and the judiciary should be considered in the light of 2022 being the year of internal ANC contestation and Zikalala’s fight for relevance and position. Aware of his failing support in KZN and his continual political schizophrenia, is he with CR or RET, which appears to change with the wind direction? Zikalala is resorting to cheap politicking with this call to populism.
Zikalala should not use his personal political campaign to drive his confused radical revolutionary socialist agenda. Africa and indeed the world is littered with a history of failures of this political agenda. South Africa does not need an autocratic parliamentary state; we had that before 1994 and look where that got us.
The simple reality of effective governance and policy implementation is not based on emotive rhetoric, but on the ability to formulate and implement policies that are able to address the socioeconomic challenges inherited from the masters and implementers of apartheid.
More importantly, policy needs “buy-in”, not forced by masters of radical economic transformation, and ultimately requires a capable state to implement policy. A failed state, like ours, will ...

Mpumalanga murder-accused Mandla Msibi steps aside almost immediately, issuing another challenge to ANC

The weekend election of murder-accused Mandla Msibi to the ANC’s provincial executive in Mpumalanga was short-lived, leaving the party without a functional treasurer-general – and another challenge to overcome in the build-up to the ruling party’s national elective conference in December.
Mandla Msibi stepped aside after he ascended to the top ranks at the ANC’s long-awaited 13th elective congress in Mpumalanga at the weekend.
The party had called for Msibi to step aside after he was elected as ANC Mpumalanga treasurer-general on Saturday, despite having been charged with murder and attempted murder, which he denies.
In a letter to Msibi, dated 3 April, ANC national treasurer-general Paul Mashatile reminded the former MEC for agriculture of the party’s step-aside resolution.
“We note your election as provincial treasurer at the provincial conference of the ANC Mpumalanga province held on 1-3 April 2022. We further note that you have been charged with murder, and that you have previously stepped aside from your duties as a member of the Provincial Executive Committee,” wrote Mashatile.
Mashatile reiterated that, in March 2021, the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) “reaffirmed the resolution of the 54th National Conference that all members who have been charged with corruption or other serious crimes must step aside, failing which they should be suspended in terms of Rule 25.70 of the ANC’s Constitution”.
“Kindly confirm that your decision to step aside voluntarily on the terms and conditions outlined above remains in force,” he continued.
On Tuesday morning, ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe confirmed to Daily Maverick that Msibi had agreed to step down and remained suspended from his position and the party.
“In this instance we did not have a challenge. Comrade Mandla advised the party previously of his stepping aside from the Provincial Executive Committee, as well as from the executive council of the Mpumalanga government,” said Mabe.
He said it was the responsibility of the Provincial Executive Committee to decide who will act as treasurer-general.
Msibi was asked to step aside by the ANC in 2021 after he was arrested and charged with the murders of Dingane Ngwenya and Sipho Lubisi, who were fatally shot outside the Coyotes Shisanyama restaurant in Mbombela on 22 August 2021.
In light of his arrest, the Provincial Executive Committee in Mpumalanga decided that Msibi should step aside from his duties within the party. Premier Refilwe Mtshweni-Tsipane also suspended him as MEC for agriculture, rural development, land and environmental affairs, after he was charged with two counts ...

Navigating South Africa’s bumpy, pothole-filled roads to nowhere

In a country where it takes a whole year to build a single toilet without completing it, it’s not surprising for folks to be told they have to wait another century for proper road surfaces.
A recent drive on a 31km stretch of an alleged road in rural Eastern Cape left me with sore kidneys, a shaken liver, twisted ankles, a vibrating head and a generally severely aching body. Such was the severity of the bumpy ride, I even felt pain in muscles I never even knew made up my sexy body.
So terrible were the potholes on some parts of the road that I feared my eyes would fall out of their sockets and roll down the gorges and hills, never to be seen or see again. I swear some of those potholes were shaped like Gwede Mantashe’s lips.
By the time we arrived at our destination, after almost an hour-and-a-half of this torturous journey, my head was throbbing as if I had just sat through a Julius Malema press conference.
It was quite depressing to imagine this was the daily lived experience of the locals who had to use that excuse of a road to go about their lives. If this was the highway carrying sinners like yours truly to the eternal flames of hell, I have no doubt Lucifer’s forces of darkness would scramble to bribe their way out of the trip.
Later that evening while I rested my sore bones and muscles on the balcony at my lodgings, I wondered if my experience meant the villagers who used the road daily were walking around with vibrating heads and aching bodies all the time.
If this is the case, which I highly suspect it is, then this is an abuse of human rights at the highest grade. Perhaps there are more than reasonable grounds to sue the government here.
This disturbing thought led me to pour myself a stiff shot of a not-so-soft drink to help me deal with the aches all over my body. It was only when I took the first swig that I learnt, to my utter shock, that even my tongue and lips had taken a serious beating from the bumpy ride.
Suddenly the drink tasted like the dust I was forced to inhale along the ride, forcing me to abandon the drinking mission and turn to my smartphone, cracked screen and all, to catch up on the day’s news. Guess ...

SA’s National State of Disaster terminated with effect from midnight

Now is the time to grow our economy and create jobs. Now is the time to get our country back on track. Now is the time to heal, to recover and to rebuild.
My fellow South Africans,
For the past 750 days, South Africa has been in a National State of Disaster.
This is an extraordinary situation that is unprecedented in our country’s history.
The declaration of a state of disaster was a response to a global health crisis that posed a grave threat to the lives and the wellbeing of our people.
There is no doubt that such a response was necessary under these circumstances.
The declaration of the National State of Disaster on 15 March 2020 empowered government to take the measures that prevented many more people from becoming severely ill and saved countless lives.
These measures were effective in slowing down the rate of infection, easing pressure on our hospitals, and providing the time we needed to develop the infrastructure, resources and capacity to manage a large number of people who became ill as a result of Covid-19.
The National State of Disaster also provided the legal basis for the introduction of the special R350 Social Relief of Distress Grant, which continues to bring much-needed relief to those most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
It enabled the establishment of the Covid Ters scheme, which provided wage support to millions of workers.
The National State of Disaster also enabled the provision of relief to small businesses, the extension of the validity of vehicle and drivers’ licences, and the management of the pandemic in educational institutions, among other things.
All these measures were necessary not only to respond to the devastating effects of the pandemic on human health, but also to limit the great cost to society and the economy.
This is precisely the purpose for which a state of disaster is intended: to enable an effective disaster response that saves lives.
It’s put-up or shut-up time for ‘step-aside’ – ANC’s decision on Dlamini, Msibi & Gumede may shape its future
However, in the context of a free and open democratic society, the additional powers that a state of disaster provides are temporary and limited.
They should be maintained only as long as they are absolutely necessary.
As I said in the State of the Nation Address, we have now entered a new phase in the Covid-19 pandemic.
The changing nature of the pandemic in our country was most evident in the fourth wave of the ...

Jupiter-like planet discovered

WASHINGTON, April 4 (Reuters) - Scientists have observed an enormous planet about nine times the mass of Jupiter at a remarkably early stage of formation - describing it as still in the womb - in a discovery that challenges the current understanding of planetary formation.
By Will Dunham
The researchers used the Subaru Telescope located near the summit of an inactive Hawaiian volcano and the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope to detect and study the planet, a gas giant orbiting unusually far from its young host star. Gas giants are planets, like our solar system’s largest ones Jupiter and Saturn, composed mostly of hydrogen and helium, with swirling gases surrounding a smaller solid core.
“We think it is still very early on in its ‘birthing’ process,” said astrophysicist Thayne Currie of the Subaru Telescope and the NASA-Ames Research Center, lead author of the study published on Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy. “Evidence suggests that this is the earliest stage of formation ever observed for a gas giant.”
It is embedded in an expansive disk of gas and dust, bearing the material that forms planets, that surrounds a star called AB Aurigae located 508 light years – the distance light travels in a year, 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km) – from Earth. This star got a fleeting moment of fame when its image appeared in a scene in the 2021 film “Don’t Look Up.”
About 5,000 planets beyond our solar system, or exoplanets, have been identified. This one, called AB Aur b, is among the largest. It is approaching the maximum size to be classified as a planet rather than a brown dwarf, a body intermediate between planet and star. It is heated by gas and dust falling into it.
Planets in the process of formation – called protoplanets – have been observed around only one other star.
Almost all known exoplanets have orbits around their stars within the distance that separates our sun and its most faraway planet Neptune. But this planet orbits three times as far as Neptune from the sun and 93 times Earth’s distance from the sun.
Its birth appears to be following a different process than the standard planetary formation model.
“The conventional thinking is that most – if not all – planets form by slow accretion of solids onto a rocky core, and that gas giants go through this phase before the solid core is massive enough to start accreting gas,” said astronomer ...

Tiger Woods plays 9 practice holes; Fred Couples thinks Woods will contend at Masters

Tiger Woods played nine holes of a practice round Monday with Justin Thomas and Fred Couples at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., attracting hundreds of patrons the entire way.
Woods said Sunday that he would be a “game-time decision” for competing at the Masters, which begins Thursday.
But those who know him best, including Couples, believe he will remain in the field.
“If you want to talk golf, he was bombing it,” Couples said. “I know (Thomas) is not the longest hitter on the Tour, but I know he’s damn long. (Woods) was with him flushing it.
“I never speak for Tiger, so I’m not even going to get into he walked nine holes, I guess he played nine yesterday. But as a friend and the way he looked, he’s very impressive.”
Woods, 46, hasn’t played a round on the PGA Tour since the pandemic-delayed 2020 Masters, which was played in November of that year. The 15-time major champion underwent multiple surgeries on his right leg following a single-car accident near Los Angeles on Feb. 23, 2021.
Woods has won five green jackets, including in 2019, which marked his first major title in 11 years. Couples said he believes Woods can be in contention again this week.
“You can always be in pain, right? But to hit it like that, now it’s just the walking part,” Couples said. “I’ve said it three times. I don’t need to expand much on that. If he can walk around here in 72 holes, he’ll contend.”
Woods is also known to have practiced at Augusta on Sunday and last Tuesday.
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