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Zuma pledges 4 million new jobs in five years. South Africa hosts a World Cup dress rehearsal. One of the worst mining tragedies in the country’s history kills more than 80. Plus, South Africa's Bernie Madoff, a famous fugitive gets caught, the "world’s oldest person" dies from shock, and 113 people crunch inside a minibus.
Top News: Accompanied by his three wives, South African President Jacob Zuma gave his first State of the Union address to Parliament in Cape Town. Zuma promised the creation of 500,000 jobs by the end of the year and a total of 4 million by the end of his term in 2014.
The promise is a bold one as the country has just entered its first recession in 17 years. The unemployment rate recently climbed to 23.5 percent. Zuma was short on specifics on how he would achieve that goal but indicated that much of the job creation would stem from the government’s plan for massive infrastructure spending.
Zuma also announced the creation of a National Health Insurance scheme that would develop public-private partnerships to rehabilitate public hospitals and improve working conditions for health professionals. Again, details of the plan are unknown, but it has already received the support of a union of health workers, and condemnation from the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, as it could prove too costly. Overall reaction to Zuma’s speech was mixed,with most praising the African National Congress-led government’s goals but expressing doubts it will be able to deliver on its lofty promises.
Zuma has barely started his first term in office, but the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) already claims he will serve a second one. ANC leaders said succession issues will be discussed in due time. Cosatu, whose support help propel Zuma into the presidency, is testing its political strength and called for Tito Mboweni, the Reserve Bank’s governor, to be replaced when his term expires in August. The union federation said the recent interest-rate cuts are far from being sufficient and called the recent moderate cuts “stupid policy."
South Africa kicked off the Confederations Cup, one of the most important sports competitions ever staged in the country. The eight-team soccer tournament, which counts Brazil, Italy, Spain and the United States among its participants, is seen as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup that will take place here next year. With security and transportation concerns looming large for next year’s event, the opening day went fairly smoothly. The South African team failed to reassure local fans, however, tying a modest Iraqi team. Meanwhile Spain thrashed New Zealand 5-0, and the United States will open its tournament on June 15 against world champions Italy.
More than 80 illegal miners died in what is one of the worst mining tragedies in South Africa in recent years. A fire seems to be the cause of death, and bodies were recovered over the week as the disused mine was deemed too dangerous for rescue teams. The accident shed light on a widespread illegal activity that claims lives and costs mining companies millions.
Problems continued to mount at the South African Broadcast Corporation after several board members resigned. The beleaguered broadcaster is in a dire financial situation and has faced heavy criticism for refusing twice to air a political satire that poked fun at Zuma and other senior politicians.
Money: South Africa found its own Bernard Madoff in alleged fraudster Barry Tannenbaum. Tannenbaum is accused of having orchestrated a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme. Former Pick ‘n Pay CEO Sean Summers is said to be one of several high-profile victims.
Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan was lambasted by her ANC bosses for publicly suggesting that underperforming state-owned companies could be sold. It is the second time in recent months that the outspoken Hogan finds herself criticized by her own party after she denounced the government’s decision earlier this year to deny the Dalai Lama a visa to South Africa.
Eskom, the state-owned electricity utility, said it has been forced to delay several projects because of funding constraints. The power company is seeking a 34 percent rate hike to fund a $48 billion expansion.
Sizwe Nxasana will become the first black chief executive of one of South Africa’s major banking groups when he takes over as head of FirstRand in December.
Elsewhere: Moloko Temo, the unofficial world’s oldest person, died at the reported age of 134, althouth this hasn’t been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. Temo, who apparently was until recently not aware that apartheid and AIDS ever existed, is said to have died of shock after her 70-year-old daughter (which would have made her a rare 64-year-old mother) recently died.
Minibuses that are used as public transportation are regularly overcrowded, but a recent case might have broken a record. When a minibus set to carry 26 passengers was stopped in a Cape Town township recently, 105 children and eight adults – including the driver – stepped out of the vehicle in front of speechless police officers.
After three years on the run, alleged pedophile and high-profile international fugitive Dirk Prinsloo was arrested during a botched bank robbery in Belarus. The trial of Prinsloo’s co-accused, Cezanne Visser, continues in Pretoria.