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President marries again, wearing leopard skins

Polygamous President Zuma marries for a fifth time. The World Cup chief addresses concerns over security. The former health minister who denied a connection between HIV and AIDS dies from complications from a liver transplant. The ANC marks its 98th anniversary and reiterates an anticipated slow recovery from recession. Public hearings are held over utility company Eskom's planned 35 percent tarrif hike. Car sales and housing prices are down. And the cricket team prepares to take on England again after a draw last week.

Top News: Dressed in leopard skins and designer sneakers, President Jacob Zuma married his third wife (with whom he already has three children) in a traditional ceremony at his rural homestead in Nkandla, northern KwaZulu-Natal province. The president’s polygamy has been criticized as an outdated practice and an affront to women’s rights and the fight against HIV/AIDS, but his traditional ways have also proved popular. His wedding to Tobeka Madiba was his fifth in total, and Zuma is currently engaged to yet another woman. South African media reported infighting between the wives and also noted the delivery of a big bed to Zuma’s homestead the day before his wedding.

 

Despite the distance and vast differences between South Africa and Angola, World Cup chief Danny Jordaan was forced to calm fears about security at the upcoming soccer championships after a bus carrying Togo’s team came under gunfire while crossing from the Republic of the Congo into Angola’s oil-rich Cabinda province for the Africa Cup of Nations. Three people, including the bus driver, were killed. “It's nothing to do with it and I think everybody understands it has nothing to do with South Africa," Jordaan said.

 

Convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik, a former financial advisor to President Zuma who was controversially released on parole after claims that he was on his deathbed, faces tougher new restrictions after being caught by journalists while violating his parole conditions. Shaik has applied to the presidency for a pardon, but Zuma has denied that the application is being considered.

 

South Africans debated the legacy of Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the former health minister under President Thabo Mbeki who denied a connection between HIV and AIDS and advocated a diet of garlic, lemon and beetroot instead of antiretrovirals. Researchers say that her beliefs may have cost 300,000 South Africans their lives. Tshabalala-Msimang, who died of complications from a liver transplant, received warm tributes from the African National Congress party at memorial services, although others took a more critical stance on her legacy.

 

Education minister Angie Motshekga came under fire after the pass rate for the matric – the set of exams that high school students must pass to pursue a university education – dropped to 60.7 percent, down nearly 2 percent from 2008. In announcing the results, Motshekga erroneously miscalculated that 32 percent of matrics had qualified for higher education, when in fact only 19.8 percent had qualified.

 

Money: During a speech to ANC members at celebrations in Kimberley marking the party’s 98th anniversary, President Zuma warned again that South Africa’s recovery from the global economic crisis will be slow and that job creation will lag behind. Zuma missed his target of creating 500,000 new jobs last year, but maintains that the ANC is still committed to creating 4 million jobs by 2014.

 

South Africa's energy regulator began a week of public hearings over troubled state-owned power utility Eskom’s planned tariff hike of 35 percent annually over the next three years, which unions and businesses have said is far too high. Eskom faces a funding shortfall and has warned of blackouts if the National Energy Regulator of South Africa refuses to allow the rate increase this year.

 

In year-end news, the rand posted its biggest annual gain against the dollar since 2003,  while the Johannesburg Stock Exchange drew a record R76 billion in foreign investment in 2009 on the back of the strong currency after a rocky 2008.

 

New vehicle sales for 2009 were down 25.9 percent, according to figures released by the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa, which said that this represented the lowest annual sales since 2003. NAAMSA noted the impact of a three -and-a-half-year recession on the domestic market, combined with the impact of the global financial crisis.

 

South Africa's residential property market is still lagging, despite improving towards the end of 2009, mostly due to cuts in interest rates and relaxed lending criteria. House price indexes released by South African banks Absa and FNB showed house price deflation during most of last year. However, FNB's index also showed a rise in year-on-year house price inflation for December.

 

Elsewhere: South Africa’s cricket squad is preparing for its fourth and final Test against England at Newlands in Cape Town on Thursday, on the heels of a draw between the two sides last week. England is ahead 1-0 in the series. South Africa had raised concerns about ball tampering after television images appeared to show England fast bowler Stuart Broad pushing the spikes of his boot into the ball. The South African squad was dealt a blow ahead of Thursday after being forced to withdraw Pakistan-born leg-spinner Imran Tahir due to concerns over his eligibility.

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