Gareth van Onselen: Vaccination Rates and Political Chaos - Comparing Experiences in South Africa and the United States

While the U.S. moves toward normalcy, South Africa is struggling with low vaccine rates and a rise in the Delta variant, fanning the flames of an already contentious political landscape.
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Gareth van Onselen

South African Journalist, Political Analyst and Author

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Failures in South Africa’s vaccination program have left the country facing further strict lockdowns as the Delta variant spreads.

South Africa’s long history of government missteps around health has made parts of the population numb to how the pandemic response is costing lives.

The political landscape in South Africa is in upheaval due to inadequate pandemic response and due to corruption charges against the former president, Jacob Zuma.

Gareth sees parallels between Zuma and Donald Trump in the way they rose to power and in the chaos they left after departing office.


IVAN STEGIC: Hey Everyone! You’re listening to the TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business, and the humans in it. I’m your host Ivan Stegic. My returning guest today is Gareth von Onselen, South African Journalist, political analyst and author, but also an old friend from high school in nineties post-Apartheid Johannesburg. Welcome back to the podcast Gareth. It’s nice to be speaking with you today.

GARETH VON ONSELEN: Yeah, it’s good to hear your voice again. I’m glad to be here.

IVAN: It’s lovely to have you on. Where are you joining us from today?

GARETH: Today I'm in Johannesburg. We actually moved to a new house in Melville, which is kind of sort of old hippie like suburb but very nice. It’s a cold, but nice day in Joburg,

IVAN: My gosh, I haven't heard Melville in a long time. That was certainly a hippie place in the nineties.

GARETH: Yes, it still is.

IVAN: Is it really? Oh, that's wonderful to hear. Are you in a little house somewhere close to all the live bar action and the food and everything?

GARETH: Yeah, there are two main strips in Melville that are sort of populated by a lot of restaurants and bars and that kind of thing. And we are sort of in between them. So quite well situated, but not close enough to be loud or worrisome. pretty much perfect.

IVAN: I love it. And so, Johannesburg is in Gauteng, which is the main province in South Africa. It has 60% I think of the population in South Africa. And you guys are seeing sort of a dire status with the COVID pandemic right now. Everything that I've read says that you are on track to have your third wave of the virus comparable to the first wave approaching the second wave in sort of numbers. And the Delta variant is going nuts.

GARETH: Yes. So South Africa has been curious in the way in which it's, it's experienced COVID-19 in terms of where it's taken off, and where it hasn't taken off. We've got nine provinces in South Africa. And as you say, Gauteng is the most populous, the most densely populated. And the first two waves actually took off elsewhere first. They did eventually get to Gauteng, and it was a problem. But it wasn't the epicenter for wave one and two. But this time around, it is some distance ahead of the other provinces and is really spiking, I mean, the graphs almost going vertical on the new cases every day.

And the scientists tell us that it's the Delta variant that's causing all the damage. So, we've been put into adjusted level four, which is the sort of, we've got five levels, so South Africa five being a kind of total lockdown, and four is pretty close to that, and pretty serious. And, yeah, it's going to be like this for two weeks, and then we'll see where we stand.

IVAN: And what are the parameters of Delta level four? What can you do? What’s closed? What’s open?

GARETH: Well, keeping track of, of everything that the government bans and unbans, there’ll be several, several volumes of work and trying to document it all. But this time around, what's banned is alcohol for alcohol sales for two weeks. All restaurants and bars have been closed. The curfews been moved to 9 PM. Restaurants can serve takeaways, but that's as good as it gets. Retail stores are still open. I think all gatherings have been banned, except for funerals where you can have 50 people or more. And just generally everyone's advised to stay at home and not go out.

IVAN: And it's winter down in South Africa as well. Right?

GARETH: Yeah, it is winter. And for the first time there seems to be some symmetry between the cold weather and the spike. Because our first wave was experienced over winter, it broke just before winter last year, and the speculation was that because it was just in the months leading into winter, by the time the cold got here, it was going to really go through the roof, and that never happened. But this time, yeah, it seems to be well timed with winter as a season and that's obviously not good. A lot of people huddled up close together, small areas, because South Africa is deeply impoverished, and then a lot of people simply don’t have the kind of space that’s necessary to avoid this kind of thing. You’re cramped into small tight areas and it’s just a recipe for stuff to spread.

IVAN: What about schools? Are schools and universities in session?

GARETH: So, schools, they've effectively shut them down. But they've done that by bringing forward the winter holidays. So technically, they're not going to lose too many days, so long as those peaks before holiday period runs out. But effectively, yes, schools are closed.

IVAN: Did South Africa go through sort of the hybrid and online learning phenomenon that we had here in the United States? I have no idea what happened there.

GARETH: No, I mean, big time. Almost every institution, I think, as is the case the world overs has sort of been forced to adopt some kind of online presence and online hybrid way of manufacturing or maintaining a kind of corporate culture with 100 individuals in their private homes or wherever it is that they meet. I mean, people were starting to go back to work before the third wave. There was a lot of hesitancy, there were people returning to head offices and that kind of thing, and certainly restaurants and bars. But I mean, this has put an end to all that. But everyone's pretty well versed in how things work in the lockdown now. We were effectively under lockdown for six months or so the first time around. So yeah, lots been learned, and people sort of know what to do now.

IVAN: And how is the infrastructure in South Africa handling that?

GARETH: Well, [laughing] here's where things are very complicated. So, we've got a series of fundamental infrastructure problems. The biggest by far is our electricity supply, which is, it's a long story as to how we got to the stage. But effectively, there was poor long term planning, and so we've reached a stage where demand far outstrips supply. And because of the pressure on the infrastructure system, proper maintenance has not been done, because stuffs being forced to run longer than it should. And things are breaking down on a routine basis.

And in order to come to this and while they're trying to upsize the distribution supply of electricity, they've introduced something called load shedding, where they effectively shut off the supply of electricity to certain parts of the country on a kind of audit timetable basis in order to manage supply. And we go in and out to these periods of load shedding. It’s been like this for almost 10 years, now. It comes and goes and it's worse in winter when there's real demand on the electricity infrastructure. But yeah, we've had a period of load shedding two or three weeks ago, that was pretty serious. And it's hugely disruptive, especially when you're reliant on a kind of online presence to keep your businesses going.

IVAN: And has the internet access been problematic as well as a result of not having electricity or has bandwidth improved, even despite the load shedding?

GARETH: Yeah, bandwidth has improved, but it's a very slow and painful process. We don't get speeds anything like Europe or America here. We do have 5G in some areas. In fact, I've got 5G at home here. But we don't have the kind of hard infrastructure to capitalize on 5G, so you never really get the speeds that you need. And they’re rolling it out so slowly that the small network of 5G that is available is under intense bandwidth pressure, because the number of people using it is so high and you don't get value for money, but it is getting better slowly.

IVAN: Now, you've been under lockdown in the past for extended periods of time. And I've read about the vaccine distribution in South Africa. We're lucky here in the United States that the Biden administration was able to implement the deployment of vaccines as successfully as it was able to thus far and now, we're dealing with conspiracy theories and hoaxes and vaccine hesitancy. So those are sort of the problems we're dealing with. From the data I've looked at it doesn't look like there has been a great deal of vaccination in South Africa. Primarily it looked like you had the Johnson and Johnson vaccine and I believe the Pfizer vaccine is now starting to pick up as well. But it feels like you're a little bit behind the curve then you should be. What do you think the fundamental reasons are for that?

GARETH: Well, that's very politely put. People at home here have far harsher descriptions for the government's vaccination program. Look, from my perspective, I think it really is dire. I think they've really messed us up on a serious level. The problems are many and various. On the one hand they were very slow of the mark to order supplies and make sure that they have sufficient stock to be able to run a vaccination program. On the other hand, our public health care system, much like the rest of the Civil Services, is very mediocre when it comes to delivery, both in terms of capacity and in terms of the kind of spirit that underpins the public service. It's just not that outcomes orientated.

The result has been we vaccinated I think it's around 2 million people now. We've got up to about 100,000 vaccinations a day on a good day. But I mean, it's taken two months to get up to that. And if we carry on this way, it's going to take sort of five years to vaccinate everyone. And it's a real problem. I mean, underpinned by things like public health care workers won't work on the weekend because they're not being paid overtime, which is insane given the extent of the crisis. And there is money for it. It's not like we're bankrupt or anything, it's just huge inefficiencies and a lack of forward planning. And the result is people are really the hellion. Because everyone, as you can imagine, as this thing is spiking, is relying more and more on a vaccination to feel safe.

IVAN: Have you been vaccinated? Have you been lucky enough to have that done?

GARETH: [laughing] Well, let me put it this way. My brother who's in LA has been vaccinated. That was about almost two months ago now. My sister who is in Brighton in the UK has been vaccinated, both vaccinations, my brother got a single jab, my sister got both. My father falls into the over 60 category, and so he’s one of the first to get vaccinated, has had one of two shots, he’ll get his second one on the eighth of July. They've only just announced that they're going to consider opening the vaccination program to over fifties and above, halfway through July.

I can't see me coming onto the radar for at least another two or three months. And in between, there are a whole lot of kind of ad hoc emergencies, so they suddenly decided all teachers needed to be vaccinated. So they were pushed to the front of the queue, only to shut down all the schools which made that a bit redundant in the face of al. the other demands on vaccinations. So, I think it's going to be a while before I see one.

IVAN: And is there the demand for vaccinations right now? Or are people hesitant to get it?

GARETH: I don't know what the scientific answer to that question is. South Africa is a land that rife with conspiracies so you can be sure there is a section of the population that that harbors the same kind of thoughts. I'm sure the narratives are different to those that exist in the US and elsewhere. But you hear stories about a small number of healthcare workers who were the first in line, obviously, to get vaccinations and you hear a steady stream of stories of people who declined it for various different reasons.

But I don't get the sense that it's a fundamental problem. There seems to be a reasonable demand for it. That said, the uptake is also slow amongst over sixties to date. There’s talk of vaccination sites being half empty at this stage, but it's hard to tell whether that's the bureaucracy that's causing a slowdown or poor uptake from people.

IVAN: If you could change anything in the current vaccine delivery system, what do you think would be an effective change to improve the rate at which you can vaccinate the South African population?

GARETH: Well, I think that the easiest and most fundamental change is to get the stuff done over weekends. I mean, that's two days a week you’re losing. At this rate 200,000 possible vaccinations, even though that's a low number a week, I would find the money for that in double quick time and then make sure that there's a seven day workweek for healthcare workers. That would make a quick and immediate difference. The other problems are kind of not really solved with a sort of instantaneous solution.

You can drive people harder and push for better and more outcomes. But the fundamental problem is the supply of vaccines. And, because we've been slow in ordering and booking them, they're slow to arrive, and you needed to fix that problem six months ago, or at least three or four months ago, not now. And it's hard to overcome.

IVAN: It feels like there's an emergency going on. And some people are simply complacent about the fact that that's happening, and that that's working against you.

GARETH: Well, I wrote a column the other day, about our government's attitude towards death. South Africa has had a tough time of it of the last 20 or 30 years, and there’ve been some very serious problems that have cost a lot of lives, most notoriously was the government sort of dilly dallying over whether HIV caused AIDS about 10 years ago, and that cost a lot of lives. The hesitancy to provide antiretroviral drugs, because of some big pharma conspiracy. And there's a kind of fatalism that accompanies this is such a horrific history and there's so much death in the present that people are kind of blasé on the level about death.

And so, there's not really the kind of outrage I would expect to the vaccination program, because I think there's not a direct link, but there will be people who are dying in South Africa because they didn't get a vaccine in time, and they could have. I don't know how many there are, it's probably not the bulk of the population. But there are people out there and it just doesn't seem to generate the kind of outrage you might find in other democracies.

IVAN: This was the column you wrote about how many deaths is the ANC responsible for? Wat that the one?

GARETH: Yes. And that's an exercise that a lot of people in a lot of different countries try to do. It's not scientific in the sense that you can definitively prove X number of people. But you would have thought given the kind of problems we've had, HIV AIDS problems, there’ve been a number of more localized disasters and tragedies and massacres, which can be directly put at the government's doorstep that some kind of calculation as to how many lives have been lost under this administration, and no one has really tried to do that. And I would really like a serious academic to put their mind to it, because I think it's a significant number and it’s worth knowing.

IVAN: I agree. And the president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, had a family meeting on Sunday, I saw. [laughing] And I thought that was a really interesting choice of words, for a President of a democratic nation to choose for, essentially a public address to the citizens of a country announcing a lockdown. And that sort of ideology is almost the antithesis of democracy, isn’t it?

GARETH: Well, I'm not sure I’d use the word ideology, I think it's more a consequence of culture than ideology. It's no less problematic than how you describe it. I agree that it's a problem for democracy, I'd be quite interested to know where the phrase first appeared and who initiated it. It's one of those things that just kind of happened in South Africa, and it's now been used for a good year or so informally. But it started to be used formally by newspapers and so forth, which is a real problem.

The problem being that this idea that citizens are effectively part of a family, and the President is by implication, the father of the family, whereas you serve all citizens equally, whether they voted for you or not, and certainly a large chunk of people don't regard you as their father figure. And in a society that is patriarchal as ours, it's really problematic the idea of the father figure because it comes with a whole lot of behavior that's often the antithesis of democratic free choice, certainly in private families around South Africa. On the one case, it's very marginal and you feel a bit foolish making too much out of it, but it does speak to a kind of patriarchal attitude on the part of government, which I think is problematic and sends the wrong message.

IVAN: And not just patriarchal, but misogynistic as well. I mean, there's a whole lot of other problems that come with this use of the language the way that he's been using it.

GARETH: Yeah, sure. I mean, I don't know if that's such a big problem with the ANC. I think if we had a woman as President, they'd be quite happy to call her the mother of the nations. It wouldn't stand the same kind of impulse. I think they'd be quite equal in their fronts. But it's the underlying implications that are the problem, I think.

IVAN: And there's this national Coronavirus command council as well that's been set up to sort of deal with the pandemic. And I read one of the threads that you had on online and you made a very good point about how these are two different ideas that kind of go together: a Command Council in an emergency. You sort of have to pick between one or the other. Could you explain that so I can completely understand it?

GARETH: Sure. It’s another interesting sort of language quirk that's kind of particular to South Africa in many ways, but also revealing and tells you something about the way in which power is structured in South Africa. One of the things that I think is a byproduct of any government that sees itself as primary in the way that post liberation movements tend to do but is also suffering the consequences of massive inadequacies over a long period of time and feeling quite insecure, is that they tend to bolster their language with these kind of extreme, militaristic terms.

The ANC is passed master at this kind of thing. If there's any problem in South Africa, the first thing that's established is a warrior moment. We must have a warrior moment on every single problem under the sun. We then have this Command Council, which is sort of a militaristic idea in charge of the Coronavirus response.

But the problem is these terms which imply very powerful formal control, and if you're in a war situation, or you want to extend that metaphor, to the military and to military action, it's the kind of place where you forward plan, strategically think out maneuver your enemy, get all your tactics in place to win the war. But in our case, they're constantly undermined by reality, so you have emergency command council meetings, which sort of implies you're on the back foot and responsive and not really in control of the battle at all. And [laughing] you have these kind of language contradictions that flow through a lot of government jargon. On the one hand, it's very funny. On the other hand, it's very revealing.

IVAN: Does the Democratic Alliance fall into the same sort of jargon and the same sort of traps as the ruling ANC does? Or is the rhetoric from the opposition different?

GARETH: I think their rhetoric is quite bland, to be honest. I don't think it has a distinctive lexicon that you could describe in a certain kind of way. It's different from the ANC in that they avoid a lot that kind of militaristic, revolutionary talk and innuendo. They are more grounded in a kind of modern traditional democratic lexicon. But they're very politically correct and sensitive. And so, they do come across sometimes as quite jargonistic. But for the most part it's pretty much what you'd get anywhere in the world, I think.

IVAN: Do you think there's a chance that the opposition might take a bigger foothold in politics as a result of the pandemic crisis? Is it going to affect politics in South Africa at all?

GARETH: There’s so many variables at play in response to that question that at the end, and there is no reliable polling or data at the moment on this question, so it's very difficult to say. Let me set out some of the variables at play. So on the one hand we have the possibility which was relatively distinct about three or four weeks ago, but is now far more realistic that the elections are postponed unless this current spike is brought under control. The IC is now saying it's not closed off to that possibility, it’s kind of in a wait and see mode, but that option wasn't really on the table about three or four weeks ago. If that happens, that'll be a unique development, we've never had that before, and quite how it plays out in terms of both enthusiasm or apathy is difficult to say.

Outside of that, voter apathy is very low for local government elections in South Africa as it is as a kind of matter of course and the virus, I'm sure, will affect that. Who it affects more, whether it impacts on ANC voters which tend to be largely rural, or on opposition voters who tend to be largely urban, in disproportionate ways, I'm not sure and it's difficult to say but it's a very important variable that you'd need to look into, to get a proper sense for how things are going to play out? And then you have the national political scene in which the ANC is under siege on a wide variety of fronts.

Foremost in everyone's mind is its response to the virus, which is not good, it has received bad press from cover to cover over the last three or four months. Going back even further, still, I think even six months or so. It is mired in a whole lot of corruption scandals, and its trajectory over time has been downward. That's the one factor. On the other hand, you have the opposition, which has been having problems of its own, not just the DA but other small opposition parties as well haven't been able traditionally to capitalize on the ANC decline in the way that you feel they should. I'm not saying that 51% is ever on the table, but you feel they should be doing a bit better than they are.

It's a great unknown as to how all these things are going to come together. It could be quite possible that we have a kind of neutral result in the sense that it more or less mirrors what happens in 2019 where the ANC gets a kind of mid-fifties majority, the opposition win those places where they've really got a stronghold and sort of hold their own, but there's no big developments either way. On the other hand, you could see some big metros fall. Gauteng being one of the most prominent and I think it's definitely on the table for these elections if the opposition is able to capitalize on ANC’s failures.

IVAN: And when are the elections scheduled?

GARETH: Oh, you're going to embarrass me now? I think it's about two months’ time, I think. I'm not sure I'd have to check. It's a while though. It's down the line a bit.

IVAN: Okay, so it's further closer to the end of the year and if they have to get postponed, it could potentially move into the next year even?

GARETH: Well, I actually don't know what it would involve to postpone the elections. It's never happened before. Constitutionally, we're required to have an election every five years. And there's a certain window in which you can have that I think it's sort of three months either side of the five year cycle. If there was a national emergency, like a pandemic or something, and you had to move it out, I don't actually know what the law says about that. What your options are, in terms of moving it.

IVAN: It just brings up so many different constitutional and legal questions that we've never even had to consider in the past.

GARETH: Yeah. Look, that's the one thing about South Africa [laughing], we're kind of a frontier state and you’re always discovering something new and fundamental, which is quite exciting.

IVAN: It is. It's exciting and just keeps everybody on their toes. There was some interesting news that came out today about former president Zuma being sentenced to 15 months in prison. I saw it described as a scathing judgment. He now has to turn himself over to the police. He has I think, five days to do that. Could you talk us through what happened? It feels like it's related to the corruption and all the allegations that were made against him in the past, but I also think it might be a technicality. I guess, I don't know what the details are.

GARETH: Yeah, Jacob Zuma who is our former president, his particular legal woes are very complex indeed, so let me set them out for you in broad terms. Essentially, he has, let's just refer to it as a sort of primary corruption case against him, which involves his relationship with a former businessperson that was accused of bribing him and a company involved in the arms deal from the early nineties, a big arms procurement program that also bribed him. He has managed to sort of evade that case for well, up until today, well over a decade.

But it seems to finally be coming to head and he is going to be appearing in court soon on that particular issue and that case is going to push ahead after a really long battle to get to this stage. Outside of that, there is a Commission of Inquiry currently looking into the extent that corruption got out of control in Jacob Zuma’s administration sort of a period of around eight years that he was in charge. There was huge corruption. It's been epitomized by the phrase “state capture” where the feeling is that a number of very prominent private sector individuals basically got their hands into all sorts of different departments and procurement processes and upturned the way things should be done and bribed and corrupted a whole lot of people.

As President, and this is where his current predicament comes into play. As president, he was required or requested to appear before that Commission to testify obviously, because a lot of the stuff that happened in the executive had implications for him whether he knew or didn't know, or sanctioned or was involved in, to any degree, he made a superficial appearance before the Commission, but then refused to reappear.

And the Commission went to court and said, “We're actually summonsing you. You’re obliged to appear now.” He still refused and the Constitutional Court ruled that he has to appear before the Commission. He then refused to comply with the Constitutional Court itself and so today, after a long deliberation, it found him in contempt of court and sentenced him to 15 months in jail. Now, the thing that's ironic for a lot of South Africans about this is, the background is that primary corruption case, which has been going on forever and a day and people are under the impression that he will never be prosecuted for the stuff that he was involved in, in the arms deal, and he's used every legal trick in the book to obfuscate, to delay, to undermine, to change, to misdirect that inquiry, for as I say, over 10 years.

This particular contempt of court case is entirely of his own. He cooked this up over a period of about 10 months, flagrantly abused the Constitutional Court in a whole lot of public statements saying it was biased and trying to manipulate him and manipulate South African politics and managed to, in a matter of no time at all get himself [laughing] 15 months in jail. So, on the one hand, you've got this great legal trickster who's manipulated an entire legal system. On the other hand, you've got what appears to be a total fool who in no time at all managed to get the Constitutional Court, which has never actually prosecuted anyone in South Africa. The Constitutional Court typically just tells you whether something is constitutional or not, it acts like the Supreme Court. But in this case, he actually managed to get prosecuted by the Constitutional Court, and it's just a triumph of idiocy on a grand scale, I think.

IVAN: Do you think he’ll actually end up in jail for those 15 months? Do you think he'll turn himself in as requested and demanded by the courts?

GARETH: Look, my personal feeling as a gut feeling is yes, but I suspect I'm a minority amongst a lot of people who, for one just can't believe it's actually come to pass that he has received a sentence and now has to go to prison. On the other hand, there is a kind of untested narrative that there is a huge groundswell of support for the former president, and in circumstances such as this, the threat of an uprising will cause the powers that be to quash this or pardon or get around this prison sentence someway. I don't think that's going to happen. I think his time has come and gone and people are over him. And I think there'll be a kind of flash in the pan and some acolytes will be upset, but I don't think it's enough to stop him going to jail. And I think he will end up in prison.

IVAN: For at least the 15 months. And then, does he still get himself out of the 10 year long thing he's been able to avoid?

GARETH: No, that will go ahead, and he'll be required to appear in court on those charges as well, presumably from prison, he'll be released to appear in court. No, that'll absolutely go ahead as well. And that does not look good for him either. There’s a lot of evidence, very powerful, compelling evidence. For one, being that the other party in the bribery scandal has already been found guilty of corruption and of bribing the president. So, kind of half the case has been proven already. So, things aren't looking good for the former president.

IVAN: Yeah. I'm reminded of what Martin Luther King said, which is That the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. And it feels like that's something that's sort of coming to fruition now with former President Zuma. And the parallels and the striking resemblance of the United States and what we've had going on here with the former president is mind blowing. There are all these accusations with Trump as well. And you wonder if you guys are just in South Africa a little bit in the future compared to where we are right now when it comes to our former dictator, I mean, president?

GARETH: [laughing] Yeah, we spoke about this before. I think they're fascinating parallels between Jacob Zuma and Donald Trump on a wide variety of fronts. They're hard parallels, you can draw in the kind of warning signs that were there before they were elected, and the extent to which they were ignored or explained away or downplayed. And then there's softer parallels to do with the way in which their terms played out. There was a kind of grand criminal indictment of both of them lurking in the background for much of their administrations, which they did a lot to avoid as best they could, but sort of ground forward.

And the kind of realization at some point, particularly by those people who supported either our President Jacob Zuma, or Donald Trump, in the form of a number of sort of center leaning Republicans that that this was a big mistake, and this guy was not all that he was cracked up to be and a kind of reawakening. I think there's many parallels to be drawn between the two.

IVAN: Do you have any thoughts and opinions on how the election turned out and what happened in the United States in the months after November 4? I remember the last time we talked; it was just before the election. We were both wondering what was going to happen. The events were quite significant. Any thoughts and observations? [laughing]

GARETH: I haven't followed American politics that closely since the election but that's not insignificant in and of itself. From an outsider's perspective, America used to dominate social media streams and Donald Trump and the degree to which it has vanished off the radar is significant. You just have the impression from a distance that stuff is taking over far more quietly and systematically there than it was before. There's no great upheaval, and no great kind of nuclear war between two sides that are at each other's throats all the time. I'm sure that's still going on on some level, but from an international perspective, it feels less intense.

As for Biden, himself and his performance, I followed the vaccination rollout which I think has been very impressive. I think America has done great on that front. But it's always been excellent at that kind of thing, world class attitude to delivery. And the one problem I am aware of is that the amount of money that's being pumped into the system through all these relief funds, there’s going to be an inflation problem in America at some point. And I think people are getting seriously worried about that now. I don't know enough to know when or if it will manifest, but certainly it's a reasonable concern for a lot of people and not without good reason.

IVAN: I agree. I think there is the risk that there is going to be an inflation problem, and I'm worried about a number of different bubbles popping up as well, as a result of all the money that's been circulating. The housing market is insanely hot right now. I've heard of friends and colleagues who have put their houses on the market for 10, 20% more than the value of their house and they are still getting offers on their houses. And some of the offers are $40,000 to $50,000 more than the asking price, which is already inflated, and I just can't see how this continues to go on.

GARETH: So that's fascinating. Why is that?

IVAN: I think part of the reason is that interest rates are so low and so it's easier to get a cheaper mortgage. And then the values of houses, for some reason are going up. I can't explain that it, it doesn't make any sense. It's absolutely mind boggling. For example, our next door neighbor, they were looking at buying a house in Wisconsin, which is across the river from where we live. It was going to be a house that was going to be close to the river, sort of a cabin away from the city and the house went on the market on a Friday afternoon, at I believe one o'clock, it listed for, I think it was $800,000, they had 45 offers before the end of the day. Some of them sight unseen. Many of them foregoing inspections. And the next door neighbors made an offer on the house as well, that was part of the offer. It was I think, $40,000 more than the asking price. And they didn't get the house. The house sold for close to a million dollars. I don't understand it. I don't understand it.

GARETH: Let's face it, I'm going to have to have a look at this.

IVAN: Yes, please do. And let me know what you think because there's obviously something wrong in the system here.

GARETH: Right.

IVAN: Well, on that note, [laughing] I think that we've exhausted all of the things we could talk about for this time. But please join me again, and we'll see how you guys are doing in six or 12 months. Hopefully, you've got a vaccine rollout that's a little more successful, and I hope you get yours very soon. Do you know which one you're planning on getting?

GARETH: I don't think we have that much choice here. The two that are offered are the Johnson and Johnson and Pfizer vaccine. I think the Pfizer vaccine is the best one out there, so I'll take that one if I can get it. But that is two jabs instead of one, so there's a bit of a way to get both of them.

IVAN: That's okay. It's all science, and it's all working for us. And, gosh, I hope you can get that very soon.

GARETH: Thanks, man.

IVAN: Thanks for joining me on the podcast. It's been really awesome talking to you.

GARETH: Brilliant. I look forward to doing it again.

IVAN: Gareth Van Onselen is a South African journalist, political analyst and author. He lives in South Africa, in Johannesburg, and you can find him on Twitter @gvanonselen.

You've been listening to that TEN7 podcast. Find us online at And if you have a second to send us a message, we love hearing from you. Our email address is [email protected]. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thanks for listening.


This is Episode 122 of The TEN7 Podcast. It was recorded on June 29, 2021 and first published on July 7, 2021. Podcast length is 41 minutes. Transcription by Roxanne Chumucas. Summary, highlights and editing by Brian Lucas. Music by Lexfunk. Produced by Jonathan Freed.

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