Menu Close

Forecast Podcast: Olympic torch relay, Virgin Galactic test flight, Bulgaria snap elections, Jacob Zuma hearing, Eswatini protests

2020 Tokyo Olympics torch relay Day 5 at Nasushiobara, Tochigi, Japan

Listen to the full podcast episode here:


  • More than a year after the 2020 summer games were postponed, the Olympic torch relay finally arrives Friday in the Japanese capital engulfed in rising concerns over the sporting event.
  • A new era of space tourism kicks off on Sunday when billionaire Richard Branson will go to space aboard his Virgin Galactic ship.
  • Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev announced new elections will take place on Sunday.
  • On Monday, South Africa’s Constitutional Court is scheduled to hear former President Jacob Zuma’s challenge against his jail sentence.
  • Pro-democracy protests in the Kingdom of Eswatini — an interview with Factal editor Sophie Perryer.

These stories and more are available in our weekly Forecast email and you can subscribe for free.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Irene Villora, Jeff Landset, Jess Fino, Jimmy Lovaas and Sophie Perryer.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.


This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is July 8th.

In this week’s forecast we cover the Olympic torch relay in Tokyo, Virgin Galactic’s test flight, snap elections in Bulgaria, former South African President Jacob Zuma’s court hearing and protests in the Kingdom of Eswatini. 

You can read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

Olympic torch relay arrives in Tokyo

Information compiled by Irene Villora

JIMMY: On Friday, the Olympic torch relay will finally arrive in Tokyo — more than a year after the 2020 summer games were postponed. And when it gets there, it will find a city awash in rising concerns over the sporting event.

Of course, this year’s torch relay will be different from prior games in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus. 

The original plan called for the torch to be carried in a parade through the city center until July 23rd, when the opening ceremony will be held. The new plans, however, involve lighting ceremonies across Tokyo without public spectators. 

Organizers also plan to switch the relay route to less populated areas of the city during the first eight days to further curb the virus’ spread. 

The torch will then be taken to Tokyo’s National Stadium, marking the start of the international competition.  

Now, while Japan hasn’t been hit as hard by the pandemic as other nations, vaccination rates remain as low as 10 percent of the population and just this week Tokyo declared a state of emergency due to a recent surge in cases.

That may not only alter the torch relay plans, it could very well lead to Olympic events in Tokyo to go on without spectators. 

What’s more, there’s also talk of other prefectures possibly extending their states of emergency. That could lead to even more events without spectators. 

Virgin Galactic test flight

Information compiled by Jeff Landset

JIMMY: On Sunday, a new era of space tourism will kick off when billionaire Richard Branson goes to space aboard his Virgin Galactic ship.

Now, space tourism really got its start back in 2001 when a company called Space Adventures partnered with the Russian government. Together they sent fee-paying tourists into space aboard the Soyuz capsule. 

Clients, such as Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté, have paid millions of dollars to go to the International Space Station. 

Around the same time, billionaire businessmen started forming their own private space companies, including Jeff Bezos with Blue Origin, Elon Musk with SpaceX, and Richard Branson with Virgin Galactic. 

Of course, they’ve had their successes and failures, including in 2014 when a Virgin Galactic test pilot died in a crash. 

Even so, last month Bezos announced he would go to space on July 20th. And then a few days later, Branson announced he would go to space nine days before Bezos.

Over the years, each man has built up their respective companies, calling them a way to help humanity leave a damaged Earth

Still, competition aside, this launch is important for the growing commercial space tourism and travel industry. If something goes wrong during Sunday’s flight, it could set the industry back decades.

Bulgarian snap parliamentary election

Information compiled by Jess Fino

JIMMY: Also on Sunday, voters in Bulgaria will head to the polls for early parliamentary elections. President Rumen Radev announced the elections after an inconclusive election in April left the country’s parliament fragmented.

That election saw Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s GERB party finishing in first place, but with only 26 percent of the votes. 

Then, after the GERB party failed to form coalition governments with the next two largest parties, retired general Stefan Yanev was appointed as caretaker prime minister.

Now, Sunday’s election may not have the same outcome as April’s. One reason for that is because the nation’s electoral laws have changed. In the aftermath of the April elections, lawmakers removed voting restrictions for Bulgarians living abroad. 

The last several months have also seen Yanev working to restore stability in the country after month-long anti-government protests, while also managing the coronavirus pandemic. 

Still, polls suggest the center-right GERB party remains the most popular. But its main rival, a new anti-establishment party led by TV host Slavi Trifonov, is a close second.

Former South Africa President Jacob Zuma hearing

Information compiled by Jimmy Lovaas

JIMMY: On Monday, South Africa’s Constitutional Court is scheduled to hear from former President Jacob Zuma. Zuma is challenging his 15-month jail sentence — that the same court sentenced him to — for his failure to appear in court in a corruption case.

Now, Zuma was supposed to present himself to police for arrest by July 4th. Instead, he held a press conference at his homestead in Nkandla and claimed his sentence was a sign that the country was “sliding back to apartheid rule.” He then waited until early this morning to comply with the incarceration order, handing himself into a correctional facility in KwaZulu-Natal.

Now, before he turned himself in, his legal team had also argued before the Pietermaritzburg High Court on July 6th, asking the regional court for a stay of his arrest pending his application in the Constitutional Court.

That regional court judge is expected to hand down his decision on Friday, but with Zuma turning himself in it’s unclear if that even matters. 

What is clear, is that if Zuma didn’t comply with the incarceration order on his own, he likely wouldn’t be in custody. Police officials have previously said they wouldn’t act on arrest orders until after the Constitutional Court rules.

Once the top court does rule, Zuma may find himself incarcerated for a while. If that happens, many will be watching to see how he and his supporters react. 

It also remains to be seen how this situation could impact his other corruption charges.

Eswatini protest

Information compiled by Sophie Perryer

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on the pro-democracy protests rocking the Kingdom of Eswatini. For more on that I spoke with Factal editor Sophie Perryer.

JIMMY: Hi Sophie.

SOPHIE: Hey, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Glad you’re able to catch us up on what’s going on in Eswatini. So what’s the latest?

SOPHIE: Well, according to Amnesty International, at least 20 people have been killed and 150 others injured after the country’s military instigated a crackdown against protesters who are calling for a transition to democratic rule.

JIMMY: Because they’re not a democracy, right?

SOPHIE: No, they’re not. Eswatini, or rather the Kingdom of Eswatini, is Africa’s last absolute monarchy. So it’s headed up by King Mswati III.

JIMMY: When did the protests start? And why?

SOPHIE: So the demonstrations first broke out in the country in early May following the alleged police killing of law student Thabani Nkomonye.

JIMMY: It seems like the protests have expanded beyond just the tragic killing of one law student though and it’s not like the country just became a monarchy. So what’s fueling the fire?

SOPHIE: Well, as the student-led protests grew, people actually began delivering petitions to local government offices calling for this transition to democratic rule. And these petitions also garnered support from some MPs in the country’s parliament. But Eswatini’s prime minister demanded that this practice ended immediately. Now this only further fueled the demonstrators and, in turn, the military began to use significant force in a bid to quash the protests. So we have seen footage showing security forces beating demonstrators and firing live ammunition as well. Now, for their part the government has also implemented an overnight curfew and has reportedly ordered telecommunications networks, including MTN, to block internet access — the idea of that being to prevent information about the demonstrations from circulating.

JIMMY: Well, we’ve seen how the people of Eswatini have reacted to all this. What’s the response from the international community like?

SOPHIE: UNOCHR, which is the UN Human Rights body, has called the violence deeply concerning. It’s called on the government to open a dialogue to address protesters’ demands and also to restore internet access as a matter of urgency as well. And the South African Development Community dispatched a mission to the country. That mission met with several civil society organizations as well.

JIMMY: What’s next on this? What should folks be watching for?

SOPHIE: While the South African Development Community has a second mission planned, as they said in their first visit, they didn’t get a chance to meet with all of the stakeholders in the crisis. But a date that this has not yet been set. And local media reports suggest that the situation has calmed down. Businesses appear to be returning to operations and people appear to be going about their business, as more normal anyway. But it does remain unstable and we should be prepared for further demonstrations. The government doesn’t appear to have made any moves towards democratic rule. In fact, it appears to have strongly resisted the protests and therefore it’s very likely that the question of such a transition will rear its head again in Eswatini.

JIMMY: Well, thanks for laying it all out for us. It’s a country that doesn’t get a ton of news coverage and I’m sure our listeners will appreciate your work here.

SOPHIE: Of course, I do my best, but we must also say thank you to our local sources, be they eyewitnesses, aid workers, all local media, many of whom are working tirelessly to bring us the most accurate on the ground information, despite any potential risks to their own personal safety.

JIMMY: Couldn’t agree more. Such an important point. Hey, thanks, Sophie. 

SOPHIE: Thanks for your time. 

JIMMY: Take care. 

JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Irene Villora, Jeff Landset, Jess Fino and Jimmy Lovaas. Our interview featured editor Sophie Perryer and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing hello at factal dot com.

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Top image: 2020 Tokyo Olympics torch relay Day 5 at Nasushiobara, Tochigi, Japan. Source: Miyuki Meinaka | Wikimedia