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COVID-risky simchas ‘like Russian Roulette’

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As COVID-19 numbers remain low, many young Jewish couples are taking the opportunity to get married. But at every simcha, one can see social media and livestream images of maskless retinues and guests, hugging, kissing, dancing, group selfies, large family photos, and Horah dancing. Even some rabbis aren’t wearing masks or keeping a social distance.

Wedding musicians, speaking on condition of anonymity, say it has become too much, and feel that COVID-19-safe simcha protocols need to be widely distributed and closely enforced for the safety of the community, wider population, and vendors who put their lives on the line every time they work at a wedding.

They say they have seen reckless behaviour by adults at many simchas. They are speaking out after a respected videographer landed up in hospital in January on oxygen, and a well-known bass player died from COVID-19 last year. They fear they’ll be next.

The performers say that on previous occasions, they have been pressurised by families to forget about COVID-19 rules. Some have been told that “COVID-19 is over” and that guests flying in from overseas (some of whom have been vaccinated) don’t need to wear masks, or that guests don’t need to abide by the curfew.

But when performing at Barmitzvahs and Batmitzvahs, they say that children and teens are stringent about wearing masks and keeping a distance, which shows that it’s possible to have a COVID-19-safe simcha.

“They all dance and eat apart. They really are leading the way. It’s like that campaign that told children to get their parents to ‘buckle up’. They choose to take it seriously. They don’t want to remember it as ‘when granny died because she caught COVID-19 at my Batmitzvah’,” says a performer.

They have witnessed some families thinking carefully about how to make a wedding joyful and safe. “For example, one mother of the bride got a guarantee from the retinue that they would quarantine for 10 days before the wedding and have COVID-19 tests two days before, and only they would dance at the wedding,” says another vendor.

A member of the community who attended a recent Jewish wedding in Cape Town, speaking on condition of anonymity, says, “When we walked in, everyone was sanitised and temperatures were taken. There were also masks at the door and kippot. People were mostly wearing masks, but as expected, they came off later in the night when people ate and drank and for photos. People were generally quite dispersed as there was an outside section, but I suppose I’d be lying if I said it was proper social distancing – a bit hard at a wedding.”

That may be the crux of the matter – having a COVID-19-safe wedding isn’t easy. And yet our community has been advised by top experts in the field to make it possible. Professor Efraim Kramer, who actually chose to cease advising the community because of its flouting of COVID-19 protocols, says the recommendations he wrote “are the standard wedding protocols that have always been in use [during the pandemic], irrespective of the COVID-19 level. The protocols were given to the Beth Din and any rabbi doing a wedding who wanted them. They are a public resource. All rabbonim are aware of the protocols, legislated precautions, and expert medical advice. They have the power and authority to ensure everybody is COVID-19 compliant for the chuppah ceremony, which they control. Whether they choose to exercise their power to ensure safety is the million-dollar question.”

In the document, Kramer sets out COVID-19-safe guidelines for all Jewish weddings during the pandemic. He recommends that each family should appoint a COVID-19 safety supervisor for the event. At the wedding, each person must go directly to a labelled chair with his/her name on it. They must remain in their seat for the entire ceremony, and wear an appropriate face mask at all times.

The protocols show that during a pandemic, a wedding must just be a chuppah – no dancing, eating, drinking, or socialising. But it’s clear that most weddings under COVID-19 don’t abide by these recommendations.

“Don’t socialise away from ones designated chair,” the protocols state. “Don’t bring food, drink, or alcohol into the premises except wine/grape juice for the chuppah. No dancing should be done at any time. No communal singing should be done at any time except the designated performer. Remain in your seat after the traditional glass has been smashed until the bride and bridegroom have left the chuppah area. You may clap at the appropriate time as often and as loud as you wish. Please leave the premises immediately after the wedding ceremony without any socialising.”

Kramer has also laid out protocols for every aspect of the wedding, from the pre-wedding reception to the bride and groom’s table, to the bedeken, chuppah, and civil-marriage registration. He also provides a “wedding kit” list – everything needed for a Jewish wedding in the COVID-19 era, including a medical screening register document.

Says Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, “As a chuppah is a religious event, there are Beth Din-mandated health and safety protocols endorsed by our medical panel which have been communicated to the rabbonim and shul committees. Regarding private events, including wedding receptions and other simchas, we have strongly recommended and requested that people follow the Hatzolah health and safety guidelines for private gatherings. I joined in the Hatzolah video plea to our community to maintain caution and all protocols to prevent a third wave.”

If these protocols aren’t followed, the ramifications could be serious. Jeffrey Dorfman, associate professor in medical virology at Stellenbosch University, says, “The rate at which people are being diagnosed in South Africa with COVID-19 is low for the moment. However, that will surely change, although no one really knows when. When it does, we will only know after a delay, and the rise will be helped by super-spreader events – particularly in the early part of the rise. I appeal to people not to provide those super-spreader events.

“My colleagues in India are having an incredibly rough time, and when that variant makes it here, again our knowledge about it will be delayed,” he says. “Even for people who feel comfortable about relaxing their guard, that shouldn’t extend to large in-person events. Please, don’t contribute to a new wave, and don’t allow you and your loved ones to be hurt by it. Stay away from large in-person events.”

Professor Barry Schoub, emeritus professor in virology at the University of the Witwatersrand and the former director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, agrees that lower COVID-19 numbers aren’t a signal to relax vigilance.

“Being a respiratory spread infection, the coming cold winter weather may well herald the anticipated third wave. These precautions still apply equally to those who have been vaccinated. Particularly problematic are simchas, when many of us seem to lose our common sense and throw caution to the wind, risking tragic consequences.”

Kramer makes no bones about what these tragic consequences might be. “The COVID-19 pandemic is a classic case of Russian Roulette. Sometimes there are many bullets in the gun chamber, and sometimes there are few, but there are always bullets in the chamber. Remove COVID-19 precautions at mass gatherings, and you pull the trigger and wait to see if someone dies. To ignore standard precautions at these events is against the law, against expert medical advice, and against common sense. We cannot wish COVID-19 away, and sadly, because of our irresponsible behaviour, we will bring on the next COVID-19 tsunami. When it comes, we will only have ourselves to blame.

WEDDING PROTOCOL LIST
DIRECTIONS ISSUED IN TERMS OF REGULATION 37(1)(a) OF THE REGULATIONS ISSUED IN TERMS OF THE DISASTER MANAGEMENT ACT, 2002. (ACT NO. 57 OF 2002)

The Wedding will be undertaken according to the above Regulations and anybody allowed access to the Wedding should abide by these Regulations.
• If you are not feeling well now or in the last 7 days or been in contact with a Covid positive person within the last 7 days, please do not attend.
• Each person should report to the medical screening table, sanitize hands, have an infrared temperature recorded and complete the Wedding Attendance Register using a sanitized pen, as per the Regulations, which have not changed
• Each person shall proceed to a labelled chair with his/her name on it. Please remain in your seat and do not go where the Bride and Bridegroom are located, as to avoid social distancing problems.
• Always remain 2 metres social distancing from any person that you wish to engage socially or communicate with.
• Wear an appropriate face mask always, without exception.
• Do not move any chairs, that have been specifically located 2 metres from each other.
• Do not make any physical contact with anybody.
• Do not swap or exchange cell phones or other items, unless thoroughly sanitised.
• Do not bring food, drink, or alcohol into the premises except wine / grape juice for the Chuppah.
• No person to person contact dancing should be done at any time to avoid physical contact or decreasing social distancing.
• No communal singing, unless outside, should be done at any time except the designated performer to avoid spread of the Covid virus
• Remain in your seat after the traditional glass has been smashed until the Bride and Bridegroom have left the Chuppah area. You may clap at the appropriate time as often and as loud as you wish.
• Please leave the premises immediately after the wedding ceremony without any socialising.

The Kabbalat Panim – Pre-Wedding Reception / Bride Room, which is the traditional reception for the family and friends of the bride to gather in a location to wish the bride and each other a hearty mazeltov, should be avoided so as not to breach the Regulation requirements of 2 metre social distancing. If present, it should be done outside with strict 2 metre social distancing.

Bridegroom’s Room / Table, the traditional reception for the family and friends of the bridegroom to gather in a location to wish the bridegroom and each other a hearty mazeltov and sign the ketubah, should be avoided, so as not to breach the Regulation requirements of 2 metre social distancing. If present, it should be done outside with strict 2 metre social distancing. No alcohol is allowed.

Badeken – Veiling the Bride. Just before the Bridegroom approaches his Bride, all those present should move away from the Bride to allow 3 metre circumferential radius, to allow the Bridegroom to veil his Bride with adequate space and safety. Once this 3-metre social distance has been achieved, the Bridegroom may approach his Bride, the Brides face mask may be removed, and the Bridegroom may traditionally veil his Bride. From this point onwards, if a 3 metre radius of social distancing can be maintained until the Bride is positioned next to her Bridegroom under the Chuppah, including her
walk from the Bride’s Room to the Chuppah, with the exception of her accompanying parents, then she may remain with the veil in place without a face mask. However, if this 3 metre safety radius circumferentially cannot be maintained, for whatever reason (structural design, position of present attending persons, Bride not being accompanied by those with whom she resides etc), then she must wear her mask under her veil for safety.
Although it is medically advisable and government Regulations that everybody wear an appropriate face mask at all times at all mass gathering events, like a wedding, it is understandable and natural that the bride and bridegroom wish to have their faces uncovered, and of their respective parents as well, when each of them walk down the aisle to the Chuppah. If this is the chosen method, albeit it illegal and unhealthy, it is highly recommended that the following be considered in the interests of safety:
• The ceremony should only be undertaken outside to enhance ventilation
• Sanitise hands before beginning the respective walks down the aisle
• Ensure all guests are located at least 3 metres away from the sides of the aisle
• The bride and bridegroom should only be accompanied down the aisle by those who she/he has regular physical contact with, to avoid any potential viral spread
• Social distancing under the Chuppah has to be strictly adhered to by all parties if face masks are not worn

Chuppah
The maximum number of persons under and around the Chuppah must always maintain the safety regulations and considerations in place throughout the Wedding ceremony.
The following physical considerations should be maintained:
o The Bride and Bridegroom must sanitise their hands with 70% alcohol spray before the beginning of the Chuppah process.
o The Bride and Bridegroom may stand next to each other (without the need for any social distancing throughout).
o The officiating Rabbi, who will deliver the service verbally, read the Ketubah, announce the brachot, handle the becher (goblet) of wine and so forth, shall wear an appropriate face mask, throughout the Chuppah ceremony. He shall physically maintain a 2-metre circumferential distance from all other persons nearby except the Bride and Bridegroom where a 1 metre distance is maintained just during the ceremony.
o The accompanying witness to the ceremony shall wear an appropriate face mask throughout the Chuppah ceremony. They shall physically maintain a 2-metre circumferential distance from all other persons nearby, except the officiating Rabbi, where he can maintain a minimum distance of 1 metre circumferentially during the Chuppah ceremony only, for practical considerations that do not breach safety.
o The Bride and Bridegroom’s Fathers and Mothers shall stand to the side of the Bride, always at a 2-metre circumferential distance from all other persons nearby including the officiating Rabbi.
o Both sets of Mothers (or substitutes), who will assist the Bride in drinking from the cup of wine, shall sanitise their hands with 70% alcohol spray before doing so.
o There shall be no pole-holders as this is not a religious requirement and should therefore be discontinued during the Covid outbreak due to safety reasons. There is likewise no need for a best man.
o The relevant “ring” shall be sprayed with 70% alcohol sanitiser beforehand and sealed inside a clean Jiffy type plastic bag until it is required under the Chuppah. Besides tradition, it is recommended that the ring be kept by the Bridegroom’s father to decrease the number of persons under and near
the Chuppah.
o The wine for the Chuppah must be from an unopened bottle of wine. The Wine becher and the bottle of wine shall be sprayed with 70% alcohol sanitiser before the event and sealed inside a clean Jiffy type plastic bag until it is required under the Chuppah.
o The glass used for breaking should be treated in the same manner as the Becher.
o All activities from this point onwards require the need for social distancing of 2 metres, for safety reasons.

Civil Marriage Registration
It is recommended that the civil Marriage Certificate requirements be undertaken before the actual Chuppah ceremony at the office of the officiating Rabbi. Besides the relevant documentation necessary, two new ink pads should be purchased for fingerprint purposes for the Bride and Bridegroom.

Wedding kit
A pack of 6 x new pens for medical screening table / Ketubah signing
Spray bottles of 70% alcohol x 10
Named labels for guest seating
Ketubah inside container
Wine glasses x 3
Grape juice / Wine bottle x 1
Glass for smashing under Chuppah
Large Jiffy type transparent plastic bags for sanitised wine glasses, bottle of grape juice/ wine and glass for smashing.
Spare regulation face masks x 3
New ink pad for civil marriage fingerprints
Wedding attendance register, pre-populated with the full names, contact cell number, current infrared temperature, and any history in last 7 days with a Covid positive person or been ill.

Toilet Use
Be prepared to have limited access to the toilet. (If you absolutely need, you must disinfect the toilet after use. The toilet should be limited to only one person at a time).
Always hand sanitise hands on entering the toilet, before and after touching any doors, seats, handles etc.
Please sanitise or wash hands thoroughly on all hand, palm and between fingers and under nails with soap for 20 seconds minimum after toilet use.
The toilet seat should be closed before flushing to prevent potential spreading of the virus.
Paper towels / wall heater only will be used.
No personal items should be left in the toilet
People may not congregate and socialise in the toilet facility and area
All hand rinsing bowls should be removed for safety reasons.

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Action stations: Jewish politicians dedicated to making things work in their wards

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A number of Jewish candidates are running in the upcoming local government elections. SA Jewish Report journalist Saul Kamionsky speaks to them in the second of a two-part series.

Colin Morris

ActionSA

Johannesburg: Ward 72 (includes Linksfield, Fairmount, Sydenham, Glenhazel, Sandringham, Silvermont, and Sunningdale Bridge)

Captain Colin Morris is a man who has given his life to protect and serve the people of South Africa.

Earlier this year, he retired from volunteering, something he has done for more than three decades. While having a full-time job, he served as a police reservist for 33 years and an emergency medical practitioner for more than a decade. On top of that, he spent 20 years in the Child Protection Unit.

About five years ago, Morris became interested in standing for the Democratic Alliance (DA). He approached some senior people in the party, and they were interested in talking to him.

“But at the time, I was still actively involved in the South African police, so I couldn’t do both,” recalls Morris on 15 October 2021, his birthday. “As a result, I abandoned the idea of going down the political path, and relooked at it again about eight months ago after I had retired from policing at the age of 60.”

With municipal elections on the horizon, he once again approached the DA. “It said it had already made a decision [about its candidates]. I looked for a party with the same ethics and morals that I have, and ActionSA popped up.”

After conducting a process of elimination to identify the best candidate, ActionSA called Morris into a meeting with its senior members, and he was approved as its candidate for ward 72.

Since then, Morris has been in several online meetings hosted by the party. “Everything we talk about at the moment is focused on 1 November,” he says.

Morris shares a story that he tells regularly to explain why people should vote for him.

“Through the elections I have seen growing up in South Africa, I have noticed that the middle class, sort of northern-suburbs people, would always vote for the party that would be the best strong opposition. They didn’t vote for the opposition – a party like the Progressive Federal Party in those days – because they thought they could be in power, they voted because they wanted a strong opposition.”

As Morris describes it, “the beauty today” is that there could be a good party that not only stands as a suitable opposition to the African National Congress (ANC), but also stands a chance of being in power, certainly in Johannesburg.

“That party is ActionSA. It’s seen as a diverse party that’s able to produce results. Why should they vote for me, per se? I’ve brought to the community action that most other people standing in the area haven’t. I’ve got a strong community background and knowledge of what’s going on. And I’ve got a strong background in how to make things work. I’ve been involved with community matters for the past 30 odd years. I’ve also been an ambulance reservist, and I have worked for community-based organisations.”

Some of the highlights of his career include volunteering at the Holocaust & Genocide Centre and the Teddy Bear Clinic for Abused Children.

“Is politics important? No, it’s about bringing results to members of the ward and members of the public. One of the mottos of ActionSA is ‘no politics’. We’re not politicians. We’re people who are committed to bringing action and change to Johannesburg, and certainly to ward 72.”

Gary Trappler

Freedom Front Plus

Cape Town: Ward 115 (includes Green Point, Zonnebloem, Vredehoek, and parts of Woodstock)

Lawyer Gary Trappler has become known as an outspoken activist in his area, ward 115.

In 2019, this martial-arts enthusiast acted as an amicus (friend of the court) against what he describes as the “broad and bold” applications that homeless people had brought against the City of Cape Town in the high court. Representing various ratepayers’ associations and other interest groups, he advanced arguments and won the case.

Trappler is currently involved in the second round of this matter but, this time, he aims to show that, according to the Constitution, homelessness is the city’s responsibility.

By being involved in these two cases, he gained significant insight into the success and failure of bylaws.

As a result, he became more interested in politics, and approached the DA a couple of years ago. “At that stage, it said I was too white for the party,” he recalls.

Trappler attended a few Freedom Front Plus (FFP) meetings with his friend, Paul Jacobson, who went on to be named as the party’s candidate for ward 54 in Cape Town.

In the first five minutes of one meeting, the questions Trappler asked resulted in one FFP member saying, “Gary, it sounds like you might want to be a ward councillor in your area.”

Trappler gave it 10 seconds of thought and said, “Ja, I’m interested.”

Dr Corné Mulder’s eyes went wide. The Western Cape FFP leader consulted with his second in command, and they looked through their papers to see who stood as their candidate in ward 115. Turning around, they told Trappler that he had got the position.

If Trappler is voted ward councillor in the upcoming municipal elections, the self-described “relentless fighter” is willing to fight for two causes in particular.

First, he wants to get the rates for electricity and water reduced.

“How the city determines these rates is shrouded in secrecy, murky water, bureaucracy, and closed-door administrative decisions.”

Second, he promises to address what he describes as an “egregious” sight only 300m off the shore of Camps Bay. “It’s a sewage pipe in which raw effluence goes directly into the sea, and it’s harmful to the marine environment and beachgoers.”

Although the pipe cannot be removed as it falls within territorial waters, Trappler envisions building sanitation plants inland to clean the effluence.

But Trappler’s main dream is for the Western Cape to become an independent country, and he says the FFP is dedicated to achieving that.

“I’ve been drooling about the idea of secession for years. It’s difficult to manage a country with so much diversity as we find in South Africa, and the wishes of the people of the Western Cape should be taken into account.”

Trappler believes that with sufficient pressure, the government will be forced to give Western Cape residents the opportunity to vote for secession in a referendum.

“The likes of me really want that to happen. I can no longer live with any degree of optimism in this country unless I feel free from the tyranny of the ANC, which I believe will soon form a coalition with the EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters]. The future for myself and my children is bleak with that as a prospect.”

Daniel Schay

Democratic Alliance

Johannesburg: Ward 72 (includes Linksfield, Fairmount, Sydenham, Glenhazel, Sandringham, Silvermont, and Sunningdale Bridge)

Politics has always interested Daniel Schay, who matriculated from King David Linksfield in 2006.

With a professional background in structural engineering, he has worked in the private sector over the past decade, watching how fewer and fewer people were investing in South Africa as a result of its politics.

Schay would regularly say to himself, “We’ve got to have better leadership, we’ve got to get more involved and capable people involved in running as politicians, because if capable people aren’t willing to put their hands up and be willing to change this country, we’re not going to see the change we need.”

Unable to bear the sight of South Africa on its current trajectory, Schay decided to enter politics to make the country better.

Having done a lot of research, as always, he chose to join the DA in 2016.

“I have a very capitalist view on life, and the DA’s values align with my values pretty well,” Schay says. “Also, it’s a party with an effective and proven track record in government. On a policy and implementation level, I completely agree with it.”

In 2017, Schay was elected deputy chairperson of the DA’s Youth Johannesburg Committee. Within a year, he was asked to be campaign manager for Johannesburg East in the 2019 election.

“I have stood on the branches since then, and ahead of the upcoming municipal elections, I put up my hand for the first time to be a public representative.”

Schay says people should vote for him as, in addition to his engineering background, he lives in ward 72.

“I understand the infrastructure issues that currently plague our ward. That’s my area of expertise. I can contribute to solutions for the area.”

He believes the ward will improve only if capable people stand up and commit to making it flourish.

“Literally, we need to drive the growth and renewal of this ward, otherwise there’s nothing left, and we’ve got nowhere to go. But I’m passionate about seeing the ward succeed, and I’ve got a vested interest in making sure it happens.”

One of the highlights of his career is “a very small thing” – hosting members of the DA youth from every constituency in Johannesburg for Shabbat lunch as part of a cultural-exchange event.

“To sit around the table and discuss our backgrounds, our religion, and learn from each other was such an amazing experience.”

Other moments that stand out for him are general day to day activities.

“Even now during this campaign, meeting people from all over the ward, learning about their background, seeing what we have in common, and having resident meetings in which residents put up their hand and ask, ‘How can we make this ward better?’, we have people taking ownership and wanting to grow and develop the area. They are being positive, and making sure that we succeed. These are huge moments. I mean, they can seem almost insignificant, but the fact that residents want to get involved in making things better is a massive moment in this ward.”

Joshua Apfel

Democratic Alliance

Johannesburg: Ward 64 (Berea)

Joshua Apfel is a man of action, not words, which explains why his responses to our questions are so short.

To encourage people to vote for him in the upcoming municipal elections, he would gladly take them on a tour of Berea, ward 64, where he is running for ward councillor.

“We could also go past the old shuls in the area,” he says.

The director of Joshua Apfel Attorneys worked for the DA as a volunteer before a friend of his convinced him to run for councillor. “I chose the DA because it’s the only party that represents the diversity of South Africa, and it’s the only party that I believe is capable of delivering services to the city.”

Apfel says people should vote for him “because, at the end of the day, that’s the only way they will receive a voice in council, and I’m busy doing the basic services which the municipality is supposed to do. I’m also the only one to care enough for residents to get what they want – a voice in council.”

He believes in representing all residents, including foreigners, and focusing on issues like safety, accommodation, employment, and litter.

For Apfel, helping his community is frustrating as he has to bear the brunt of the lack of service delivery and history of neglect in Johannesburg but, at the same time, it’s rewarding as there’s a lot of groundwork he can do to uplift others in his area. From a Jewish perspective, he has been able to encourage the Union of Jewish Women to contribute to events in Berea.

Moments that stand out for Apfel are when he tries to get things done for residents with service delivery complaints. “If I’m the effective cause of getting those services delivered, then that’s a highlight.”

Justin Kruger

The Civic Movement of South Africa

Johannesburg: Ward 72

Justin Kruger has never been involved in politics, yet he’s standing as a candidate for the Civic Movement of South Africa (CMOSA) in the upcoming municipal elections.

Established in 2018, CMOSA isn’t a political party. Its candidates have volunteered their services out of goodwill.

However, they can potentially have some sway in the council thanks to one of the organisation’s founding members registering it with the Electoral Commission of South Africa.

Kruger, a dog-lover, joined the CMOSA in 2019. “My reason wasn’t political,” he says. “It was purely out of goodwill.”

He started off by helping the organisation to assist the community. “We were mainly involved in townships and black communities, helping people who had neither received service delivery nor the houses the state had allocated to them.”

Ahead of this year’s by-election in Eldorado Park, where they were crying out for efficient services, Kruger used his own money to run an election campaign there.

“We didn’t win, but we did beat the ANC. So, I got a bit of a feel for the whole election vibe and the great work a councillor can do. And then, two other blokes told me, ‘Well, you know, you’ve done a bit of work in your area. Why don’t you run your area?’ So, we can give it a bash.”

Kruger says people should vote for him as he’s done a lot of voluntary work over the years. “The most voluntary work I ever did was to be a police reservist for more than 12 years. For most of that time, I’ve been working in Sandringham, where my ward is. I know Zulu quite well. I can speak the language, and understand it, so it’s a communication tool I have.”

Moreover, his time in the police has taught him to be strong, brave, and a leader. “I know how to navigate within state departments, and I understand the red tape involved – I’ve dealt with it for years and years.”

By nature, he’s an entrepreneur. “So, I’m quite a versatile fellow and I’m not married either, meaning I’ve got the time to serve the community.”

Asked about where he stands next to the other candidates vying for ward 72, he says, “When a community works together, you can solve any problem. I believe if I can organise other people who live in the ward to assist the area, then I’m doing a good job.”

To Kruger’s mind, “the winning formula” is to utilise the knowledge of cleverer people to solve various issues.

“I’m willing to use the brains within the community to get problems sorted out,” he says.

Kruger receives no funding. In fact, he’s using his own savings to pay for his campaign posters. “Not many people put their money where their mouth is,” he says.

One of his highlights as an entrepreneur was Builders Warehouse selling a kitchen product he invented at home in 2011. “It ran with it at their stores around the country for a couple of years.”

His proudest feat in the police is having managed to stick it out and still be an active member.

“When the new regime came in, a lot of guys fell away and couldn’t cope. Having Zulu as a tool gave me a lot of success. I’ve received a few awards.”

Joanne Horwitz

Democratic Alliance

Johannesburg: Ward 81 (includes Lyndhurst, Bramley View, Corlett Gardens, Rembrandt Park)

Joanne Horwitz was seated on a couch when the results of the 2016 municipal elections were announced.

“As the DA had come so close and I’ve always voted DA, I decided that instead of sitting on my backside, I wanted to be involved in helping out.”

Wanting to use her skills and work experience to assist, the attorney joined the party as a member. During one of its annual general meetings, the DA was looking for a branch secretary. “I put up my hand, and I was elected uncontested. I hadn’t been attending DA meetings with any thought about becoming a politician, but every time something needed to be done, I would put up my hand just to help.”

Horwitz went on to become the DA’s secretary of the constituency and poster champion for the 2019 general elections.

About six months later, the constituency asked her if she was interested in becoming more involved and outspoken as a representative of the DA.

“I had joined the party to become active in helping the DA and suddenly, I was being asked to give more of myself, and it rang true for me that this was something I could do. Now I’m a candidate for ward councillor.”

Horwitz believes her qualifications and work experience are reasons why people should vote for her. “I studied law, majoring in fundamental human rights. So, I’ve always had an interest in upgrading people’s quality of life and providing better services to people across the spectrum.”

She uses the non-profit organisation she ran for about 18 years as an example. Based in Alexandra township, it gave people an opportunity to earn an income and deal with everyday life problems. It helped a few to buy fridges, roof their houses, and pay for their kids’ school fees.

“I see being a politician as that kind of help in a more concentrated way, taking much more of my attention.”

If elected, her priority will be to get residents to confide in her about what they need and want. “I will push their agenda in council. I’m looking forward to being the connection and link between the council and everyday people on the street in our ward.”

Horwitz has already started developing relationships with DA candidates who share a boundary with her – Daniel Schay of ward 72, and Belinda Echeozonjoku of ward 74. “It makes sense to leverage the resources that are made available to us across boundaries. We will get better coverage of service delivery that way.”

One of Horwitz’s highlights was when she was asked to take herself from the background to the forefront of the party. “Becoming a representative and face of the DA was absolutely huge. Shortly afterwards, I was asked to be constituency chair.”

In that role, she helped every ward in the constituency to campaign, host events, and be efficient on the ground.

Graduating with a South African law degree was a memorable moment for her. “I studied law in the United Kingdom before returning to South Africa and basically had to redo the entire degree. The graduation ceremony was a crowning achievement, especially since I had missed two previous ceremonies in my studying journey.”

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Major parties undermined by “angrier, poorer” electorate

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South Africans go to the polls on 1 November in “elections that no parties really want”, according to political journalist Stephen Grootes. In the midst of a pandemic, established parties are losing support “and people have become angrier and poorer” since the last local government elections in 2016.

Grootes was moderating a webinar on Tuesday, 12 October, titled “Navigate the local government elections 2021”, organised by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. The webinar is part of the Board’s mandate to encourage voter registration in the Jewish community, formally observe the elections, and promote political debate.

Are these municipal elections about service delivery or about elements of identity in the context of South Africa’s racialised inequality? According to Nompumelelo Runji, the founder and chief executive of Critical ThinkAR – a research and stakeholder management consultancy – it’s a little bit of both in this highly polarised society.

“Good governance isn’t just about clean audits, sewage infrastructure, and tarred roads,” she said. For many, the yardstick is whether their quality of life is improving or not. They are asking if the African National Congress (ANC) can really deliver for all rather than the elite few.

Political analyst Dr Ralph Mathekga also senses popular anger, but no consolidation of support by any political party to capitalise on the ANC’s failures. “The ANC is held back by its own history,” he said, and hopes to get by on mea culpas [acknowledgement of wrongdoing] and faith. “It’s the devil people know,” Mathekga said. He judged that talk of renewal in the ANC was illusory, describing it as “a party in great difficulty”. “Corruption has been democratised in local government, with mammoth irregularities in public procurement,” Mathekga said, pointing out that criminal elements like protection rackets have filled the vacuum where the state has retreated.

Runji said local elections were “a vehicle for employment, a jobs pipeline for parties. Capacity and skills are trumped by factional allegiances. There is a failure to adhere to financial governance practices like the PFMA [Public Finance Management Act] and the MFMA [Municipal Finance Management Act].” She characterised the problem as a toxic mix of lack of responsibility, no accountability, deficient oversight, and a dearth of consequences for maladministration. “Party loyalty and dynamics become more important than delivering services,” she said.

Wayne Sussman, elections analyst for Daily Maverick, views it as a unique election in which the two major parties have little momentum 20 days before the vote.

“There are only 400 members of parliament, but there are far more council positions up for grabs,” said Sussman. In an environment of high unemployment, the prospect of a middle-class job for five years in a municipal council has proved enticing for many. Independent candidates have mushroomed, and he expects them to do marginally better because of their sheer volume. “They will find it hard to influence politics in the metros, but they will play a role in this election,” Sussman said.

Looking at opposition parties, will the Democratic Alliance (DA) be punished at the polls? A lot depends on differential turnout, according to Sussman. If the suburbs come out in numbers and disillusioned ANC voters stay at home, “the DA may not do that badly. It was the first out of the starting blocks with its posters. But to use a rugby analogy, with the try-line in front of them, they have had knock-on after knock-on in the past week.” He predicts that the party will retain Cape Town and be the biggest or second biggest party in all the country’s metropolitan councils.

“The DA seems to want to attract controversy and get into trouble, and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has no plans to co-operate with anyone,” Mathekga said. “It would be shocked if it actually won a council.” He agreed that the DA often failed to read the public mood, and didn’t appear to have a real strategy for the Gauteng metros. The EFF is growing in South Africa’s neglected small towns, and the party may emerge as kingmaker in several councils, like it did in 2016. But its refusal to commit to coalitions makes for unstable politics. There is the real chance that some councils will be deadlocked and unable to agree on the election of a speaker, a mayor, and to pass the council budget. If they fail to do the latter, they will come under national administration. The speakers predicted there may be chaos like this in Tshwane, the nation’s capital.

Sussman is also carefully watching the performance of former Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA, which has taken a gamble by contesting only in Gauteng’s three metros (Johannesburg, Tshwane, and Ekurhuleni) and in three municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal. It has run a slick social-media campaign. “He has to do well on election night,” Sussman said. “If he does badly, it’s probably the end.”

Finally, the panellists agreed there was merit in retaining separate municipal elections, as it promoted local-level democracy. This particular election will certainly make for interesting analysis in the weeks to come.

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Back to Africa: shlicha’s journey comes full circle in Cape Town

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Exactly 30 years ago, emissaries from the Jewish Agency came to Ethiopia to tell Batya Shmueli’s family that “the way to Jerusalem is open”. Soon after, at the age of 11, she made aliyah as part of Operation Solomon. Now, she has returned to the continent of her birth as a shaliach (emissary) of the Jewish Agency, closing the circle.

She and her husband, Hed Shmueli, and their three children arrived in Cape Town as shlichim the week before Pesach. She has taken on the role of aliyah and community shlicha while he is working as head of Israel education at United Herzlia Schools. With roots in Ethiopia, Romania, and Iraq, they bring the diversity of Israeli society to the southern tip of Africa.

“We always felt we would do shlichut in America or Canada,” says Shmueli. “But when we met Cape Town community leaders Esta Levitas and Julie Berman, we immediately connected and knew this was the community for us.”

It hasn’t been a simple journey. “When we were told we could come to Israel, my father was 81 years old. Every Jew in Ethiopia had waited for this moment. It was the first time I saw my father cry,” Shmueli recalls. The family had lived a difficult life, needing to hide their Jewish identity and battle for survival. While the flight was a moment of joy, adapting to life in Israel wasn’t easy.

“We lived in a caravan near a small town in the Galilee. After living there for three years, I attended boarding school. It was a tremendous culture shock,” she says. Wanting to blend in and be accepted, she threw off her family’s religious values and tried to become a secular teenager. “I even made my hair blonde!” she laughs. She learned Hebrew quickly, and tried to distance herself from her parents and her past.

But after school, she finally started to embrace her history and identity as an Ethiopian Jew. She found out that it was members of the Israeli Navy along with Mossad who had come to Sudan to help Ethiopian Jews come to Israel, and became inspired to join the navy during her army service to “close the circle”. Eventually, she served in the Israeli Navy with an elite naval commando unit.

“My father passed away before he could see me in uniform. So many people helped me in my journey in Israel. This was my opportunity to serve and give back,” she says.

It was in the navy that she met Hed whose family came to Israel from Iraq and Romania. He also had a connection to Africa. “After tragically losing his father, who was only 51 years old, he decided to take himself on a journey to discover the world. Being an artist and sculptor, he spent time as a volunteer arts project leader in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, and learning traditional East-African wood carving in Kenya,” says Shmueli.

“After returning to Israel, the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs sponsored an artists’ mission to Dakar, Senegal. Hed was involved in co-ordinating and leading a group of Israeli artists sent as cultural representatives to Senegal for Israel’s 60th birthday celebrations.”

She also travelled after the army, spending a year in Los Angeles. It was there than she began to regret turning away from her identity and vowed “to return to my roots and culture”.

“I cried a lot that year, thinking about the pain and loss that my parents’ generation felt,” Shmueli says. “I wanted to go back to Israel and explain who we are as Ethiopian Jews. I wanted to be the voice of my parents.”

Returning to Israel, she realised she couldn’t “wait to be invited” to share her story, she had to just start doing it. She began to address audiences, sharing Ethiopian Jewish customs, culture, and cooking. She also got her Bachelor of Arts from Haifa University, where she studied teaching and the history of the Jewish people. She later received her Master’s degree in the history of Israel and Jewish law.

She then developed a programme that taught students about leadership and responsibility. In 2009, she returned to Ethiopia with the Israeli foreign ministry to teach village women about entrepreneurship. For the past 11 years, she has been fundraising for new immigrant populations.

When deciding where to raise their family, the Shmuelis chose to settle in the beautiful artists’ village of Ein Hod. It was a very secular community, however, so they decided to bring their passion for Judaism into the fold by commissioning a Sefer Torah for the village. It was made in the name of their late fathers, who had taught them to hold onto their Jewish heritage no matter what. “One thousand people came to the hachnasat [welcoming] Torah event,” recalls Shmueli. “There were Israelis from every sector of society.”

Eighteen years ago, they also opened their home to travellers hiking the Israel National Trail from the south to the north of Israel. Calling it “Avraham’s Tent”, they hosted more than 20 000 travellers.

The Shmuelis bring all of this passion and purpose with them to their shlichut in Cape Town. Their determination has seen them through delay in arrival as a result of the pandemic. In addition, their three children battled with being uprooted and being under lockdown.

“Israel is a country of children, and there is so much freedom for kids. So they have struggled, but we feel this is the best gift we can give them,” says Shmueli. “We are showing them that they belong to the Jewish people, and to bring that opportunity for connection to others.”

They believe they are in the right place at the right time. “After 20 minutes of talking to Esta and Julie, we looked at each other and said, ‘This is the correct place for us’. It’s a unique community with a unique history. This isn’t just about a new job, it’s something much deeper. We feel it’s the time to support the Jewish community.”

They have spent the past few months immersing themselves in the community and its organisations. “It’s so unique. It’s not every day that you see a community where all the Jewish children go to the same school and where there is so much support for everyone who needs it,” she says.

Just like she was given so many opportunities when she started her new life in Israel, she wants to create awareness about the possibilities that Israel provides, especially for the younger generation. She wants to help the youth feel proud of their heritage and connection with Israel.

“I want to be a bridge between Israel and South Africa,” she says. “We live our shlichut day and night, and are here for the community at any time. And we are here to learn from you too.”

They plan to meet people from all walks of life, sharing the diversity of their family and Israeli society. “We won’t apologise for who we are … we stand strong,” says Shmueli. At the same time, she encourages questions, discussion, and debate.

“The Ethiopian Jewish community never gave up on their dream of going to Jerusalem,” she says. Being part of the generation that got to go back to Israel means that she sees her shlichut as a continuation of that journey. “To be back in Africa as Israelis for the Jewish community – I thank G-d for showing us the way.”

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