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Strike causes turmoil across South Africa

Babies die as civil servants strike for wage increase. Press freedom under threat. Mandela fund board member resigns over blood diamonds. HSBC to buy a controlling stake in top South African bank. And a new made-in-South Africa addition to the Oxford English Dictionary.

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Civil servants on strike to protest for better salary increases take to the streets of Johannesburg on August 19, 2010. Police fired water cannons and rubber bullets Thursday to block scores of striking workers from a Johannesburg hospital, on the second day of a stay-away by public sector staff. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Top News: More than 1 million civil servants went on strike over their wages, causing havoc at hospitals, schools, courts and government offices. Police and soldiers fired rubber bullets at strikers outside hospitals in an attempt to keep emergency services open. There were reports of strikers disrupting surgeries, while several hospital patients died from lack of care, including at least two babies. Students were prevented from attending school. The government has offered a 7 percent wage increase but unions are demanding an 8.6 percent hike.

A court injunction banning strikers from disrupting emergency services has been ignored by the unions. “We have demonstrated our humanity during the World Cup. Why now are people losing their humanity and prepared to murder?” Health Minister Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi told the South African Press Association.

South African journalists, backed by international groups, went on the offense against proposed legislation that they say would curtail press freedom in the country. The Protection of Information Bill, currently before parliament, and the proposed Media Appeals Tribunal have been criticized as attempts by the ruling African National Congress to clamp down on reporting about official corruption and government waste.

In a separate incident that has also fuelled concerns about media freedom, Mzilikazi wa Afrika, an investigative journalist from the Sunday Times, was arrested on spurious charges after reporting on a questionable property deal by South Africa’s police chief.

The former head of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, Jeremy Ratcliffe, resigned from the charity’s board after admitting that he kept diamonds given to him by supermodel Naomi Campbell. The rough diamonds had been given to Campbell by former Liberian leader Charles Taylor while at a dinner hosted by Mandela in 1997, and have figured prominently in Taylor's ongoing war crimes trial at The Hague.

The Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s largest opposition party, announced that it would merge with a smaller party, the Independent Democrats, to try and challenge the ANC in the next election. ID leader Patricia de Lille has a national profile despite the party’s small size, but the merger is not likely to mount a major challenge to the ANC, which in the last election received 65.9 percent of the vote, compared to the DA’s 16.66 percent.

President Jacob Zuma said that six of the country's 13 traditional monarchies would be abolished to “correct the wrongs of the past.” A six-year government study found that some of the monarchies had been created under the apartheid system to divide populations. Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini and Xhosa King Zwelonke Sigcau are among the rulers who will keep their positions.

Money:  Banking giant HSBC is to buy up to a 70 percent stake in South Africa’s Nedbank for a potential $6.8 billion, a move that would give it presence in 30 African countries. The controlling stake has been put up for sale by Anglo-South African insurer Old Mutual, which has been forced to sell off assets following the credit crunch. Nedbank is one of South Africa's biggest banks.

Four bodies were discovered in an unused shaft of a mine run by a nephew of President Zuma and a grandson of former president Nelson Mandela. Police are investigating reports that up to 20 illegal miners were shot dead by security at the Grootvlei mine, east of Johannesburg. The mine, owned by Aurora Empowerment Systems, whose chairman is Khulubuse Zuma and managing director is Zondwa Mandela, has been at the centre of a pay dispute, as well as being the site of illegal mining.

And an eight-day strike over pay by South African car workers ended with a new three-year wage agreement that will see a 10 percent increase this year and 9 percent for the next two years. South Africa's car industry produces more than 400,000 vehicles a year, accounting for 7 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

The World Bank launched a probe into procedures related to a controversial $3.75 billion loan to Eskom, the South African power utility, for the development of a coal-fired power plant. The Medupi plant, under construction in Limpopo province, has come under attack over concerns about its impact on health and water supplies for residents of the region, allegations that the World Bank will investigate.

Elsewhere: Panjo the tiger, a beloved pet, was found hungry but healthy after breaking free from a truck and going missing for two days about 30 miles east of Pretoria. His owner, Goosey Fernandes, had said that Panjo was harmless and should be treated like a dog. Experts warned that he should not be approached. Tigers are not native to South Africa, but are kept on some game reserves as pets and for breeding.

Vuvuzela, the name of the controversial plastic trumpet that provided the soundtrack to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, made it into the Oxford English Dictionary. The word is defined as “a long plastic instrument in the shape of a trumpet, that makes a very loud noise when you blow it and is popular with football fans in South Africa.”

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/south-africa/110516/strike-causes-turmoil-across-south-africa