Teatime at Nkandla, AstraZeneca and the mutant strain

Tea as theatre

I was adamant I wasn’t going to add to the verbiage about the Nkandla tea party. But then City Press led with the headline “THE GREAT TEA PARTY FIGHTBACK” (yes they were shouting) to give voice to the strategist supposedly leading the Zuma and Ace defence league and running the campaign to get Ramaphosa out of office. In as far as there was a thread, it goes like this:

Malema was to persuade Zuma to appear before Zondo and avoid being attacked or charged for refusing to do so. Appearing, according to the reasoning, would help the world see Zondo as biased and incompetent and anyway, by the time he handed his report to Ramaphosa, the president would be too politically weak to do anything about it.

The EFF would participate in the vote of no confidence supposedly leaving Ramaphosa’s name and prestige in tatters.

The security services are hostile to Ramaphosa, the playbook continues, especially because of Ramaphosa having allowed the SSA to be trashed in public. The army is furious about the interferon scandal (don’t ask) and because of Ramaphosa’s ideological hatred of Cuba. Just go with it.

Obviously, a campaign in defence of Ace Magashule is a major pincer movement in this battleground. There’s a weird reference to Ramaphosa’s supporters in high heels, and then phalanxes of generals on the “progressive” side, like Zandile Gumede and Brian Molefe.

The only thing that gave me pause was the assertion that Ace has brought ANC membership from 898 000 to 1.4m. That was his RET job after all: build and or/construct ANC branches to strengthen voting for these forces at the 2022 national conference. When, if I understand it correctly, Ace would stand for president (eye-roll emoticon).

There has been some interest and concern that the RET faction and the EFF could linkup either for tactical or strategic reasons at some point. They have the same apparent objectives and complement each other’s demographic gaps. The EFF is young, in fact, it is essentially the Youth League of the ANC that was led by Zuma -and closed down by him when they became too threatening. The RET are elderly men and women, who seem to have consistently lost momentum as their innumerable legal woes increase. These groups are also rent-seekers hiding behind a call for radical economic change. Few would argue that all the individuals involved in the tea party and the supposed fightback campaign don’t primarily seek their own enrichment and protection from the law.

One can never be sure, but my own reading is the ANC group around Zuma and Magashule are steadily losing power and the EFF is reaching a ceiling consisting of the limited number of South African’s who can, frankly, take their policies and style seriously. It was always only about Malema. I believe his setting up of the EFF was intended to establish a powerful ANC Youth League, that the mothership would be forced to invite back as the crew aged and the glorious history of the struggle settled into the sunset. That strategy would only have worked if the Zuma camp was still in power, which helps explain the shared interests. It feels like a desperate gamble for Malema. As the chances of a comeback for the state capture group recedes and their collective and individual names are ever more tarnished as evidence and information pour out of the Zondo Commission and the courts it seems to me that Malema has found himself at the end of a road, where helicopters and tea time at Nkandla is all he has left to entertain his political audience.

Vaccine risks

The Financial Times leaked the disappointing results of the double-blind, randomised test of the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine against the 501Y.V2 Covid strain. Professor Shabir Madhi’s briefing on Sunday expanded on the issues:

The short of it is the vaccine provided little or no protection against mild and moderate forms of the now domestically dominant (90% of all infections) 501Y.V2 variant of the Covid virus. Piling on the woes, it also appears that people infected with the original strain have no more resistance to the new variant than those who were not infected with the original strain.

Importantly, all parties have been careful to note that the paper is not peer-reviewed, published by its authors, and is unable to draw any conclusions about the AstraZeneca vaccine’s ability to stop serious infections, hospitalisations, and deaths caused by the new strain. The main reason is the median age of the 2000 or so subjects was about 31 and none of them went to a hospital or got seriously sick. The confidence interval also provides a wide margin for error.

Possibly because of the stature of Prof Madhi there has been little dispute about what the research actually concludes. Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize immediately suspended the AzstraZeneca roll out and is already indicating South Africa will focus on Johnson & Johnson and the single-dose Pfizer vaccine. It’s difficult to find solace in the idea that government has it it in hand. It hasn’t had much in hand, particularly related to vaccines and I will believe it when I feel the prick in my arm if you know what I mean.

So what?

Those here and abroad predicting global and domestic growth, company performance, stimulus package timing and a host of other factors that have a profound influence on the world, took a long, hard look at the vaccination programmes and made a call on the most likely path and impact. The best of them will have done cross country comparisons and some would have noted risks, either that the programme goes better and quicker than the estimate or that mutations and other issues might seriously prolong the negative environment.

Prof Madhi’s findings appear to be the first unequivocal demonstration that mutation of the virus has seriously impacted the efficacy of at least one vaccine. Would it not be wise to consider the possibility of new mutations, waves of new infections in previously vaccinated populations and a sort of arms race between the virus’s ability to rapidly change its spikes and the drug industry’s desperate tweaks to existing products or a search for whole new classes of drugs?

Obviously, this is a significant risk for South Africa, to pile onto the crisis caused by the government’s slow start. But it is also a global risk and one not likely to recede for a few years. However, we must also consider the potential upside: AstraZeneca and other vaccine makers manage to adjust their vaccines to improve efficacy on new variants, or that the existing vaccine is capable of preventing severe cases of Covid, which may make it somewhat useful.

One thought on “Teatime at Nkandla, AstraZeneca and the mutant strain

  1. Hey Nic, on the OxA/Z vaccine that has now proven to be less effective against mild-to-moderate COVID-19 infection: this is a global risk, not just for SA. This is why universal inoculation is so imperative, because no country is safe until we are all safe. A mutated variant will find a way into countries that are vaccinated even. In addition, the more mutations and variants the harder it may prove to lock down this virus. Vaccination is our best shot, but it is literally all of us or nothing.

    BTW, it’s not very unusual, and something our scientists have been concerned about, and it happened. We saw the same thing when malaria strains became drug-resistant. Physicians tried different combinations of drugs. So this scenario is certainly not unique to OxA/Z vaccine. hoe we can get back on top of it. But it does illustrate the danger that vaccine hesitant or anti-vaxx people can cause if a large enough group refuse to be vaccinated they can spur and variant that is drug resistant. Cheers

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