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Obama meets Zuma

Zuma and Obama talk conflict resolution at L'Aquilla. A strike threatens World Cup plans. The movement to nationalize mines picks up steam. An Indian outsourcing firm outsources to South Africa. And why Jo'burg is the best place to be in this recession.

Top News: South African President Jacob Zuma had his first face-to-face meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy. According to a spokesman for the ruling African National Congress, the two leaders talked for about half an hour and got along well. Topics discussed included conflict resolution in Africa and increased interactions between the two countries. Asked directly whether he planned to visit South Africa for soccer’s World Cup next year, Obama said that it his goal to do so. Obama last visited Africa’s largest economy in 2006, as a U.S. senator.




The Congress of the People, a party formed late last year by ANC dissidents, is facing an existential crisis after two prominent figures of the party resigned from their respective positions. Cope, as the party is known, was seen as a potential alternative to the dominant ANC but finished a distant third behind the ANC and the Democratic Alliance in general elections in April. The fledgling party has been plagued by internal leadership squabbles from its inception in December.



As wildcat strikes by doctors finally appeared headed for resolution, construction workers laid down their tools at several World Cup sites, prompting local World Cup organizers to get involved in the talks between employers and workers. About 70,000 workers received a proposal for increased wages, but it remains unclear whether the strikers deem it acceptable.




The number of confirmed swine flu cases continued to rise to at least 54, including a four-year-old boy returning from Hong Kong. The increase is significant, because the country still had no confirmed cases until a few weeks ago. Authorities downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak, saying the virus is very similar to seasonal flu.




Crime rates have been decreasing of late in South Africa. Or have they? Evidence surfaced that crime statistics had been manipulated in three of the country’s nine provinces. In some instances, police failed to report and investigate rape cases, including that of a four-year-old child.




About one million residents of the Eastern Cape city of Mthatha went without power for three weeks. Local authorities blamed (in part) bad weather for the power failures, but the crumbling infrastructure — a recurring theme throughout the country when it comes to electricity production and distribution — appears to be the main cause of the blackouts.




South African National Parks sparked controversy as two schemes to raise money were widely criticized. The agency decided to drop its plan to sell up to 350 white rhinoceroses to private reserves after 10 of them died and others broke out. SANParks is also moving to create a new area on the western edge of the famed Kruger National Park that would be open to trophy hunting. Forty-five white rhinoceroses and two black rhinoceroses have been poached from Kruger National Park since early 2008.



Money: Calls are mounting for the nationalization of South Africa’s mines. The ANC Youth League and the Congress of South African Trade Unions both argue that this is enshrined in the Freedom Charter, the 1955 document that serves as a blueprint for the ANC-led government. The ANC’s secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, first dismissed the calls but now says the subject is open to debate. Mining Minister Susan Shabangu opposes the move and told private companies that the government doesn’t intend to nationalize the mines.




South Africa’s antitrust authority launched an investigation into possible price-fixing practices by major supermarket chains. The probe comes at a time when inflation and food prices remain stubbornly high despite the country’s first recession in 17 years.




SABMiller, one of the world’s largest brewers, announced a major Black Economic Empowerment deal. The transaction, valued at more than $700 million, would put about 10 percent of the company’s shares into the hands of black shareholders.



South Africa’s economy is not out of the woods yet. Manufacturing output fell 17.1 percent in May, while mining output declined 14.5 percent that month. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan warned that South Africa could face a $7 billion tax revenue shortfall this year.




On a more positive note, India-based Essar, which just bought South African rival CCN Group, announced that it planned to invest about $60 million over the next three years in the local call-center industry. The move is expected to lead to the creation of 5,000 jobs.




Elsewhere: The Confederations Cup wasn’t the only major sporting event in South Africa over the past month. The British and Irish Lions, a selection of the best rugby players from those countries, toured South Africa for the first time in 12 years. South Africa won on all counts with a 2-1 victory in the test series and a still-unknown financial windfall as an estimated 40,000 Lions supporters visited the country.



Something to ponder in a global recession: According to a recent survey, Johannesburg is the cheapest city in the world for expatriates. The research by Mercer, which compared prices for housing, food, entertainment and other products and services across 143 cities, found that Tokyo was the most expensive.