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A world champion athlete is accused of being a man. President Zuma gets positive reviews on his first 100 days, and scores business deals in Angola. Criminals shift their attention from ATMs to shopping malls. South African college students can't read and write properly. The economy contracts, the lending rate is cut yet again, but growth is on the horizon. And scientists find the oldest known cavemen workshops.
Top News: The controversy surrounding the victory of South African athlete Caster Semenya on the 800-meter race at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin sparked outrage in her native land as politicians, local rights groups and sports coaches denounced suspicions over the runner’s sex as overt racism. Eighteen-year-old Semenya, who burst on the international scene last month by winning a gold medal at the African Junior Championships, has been described as a powerfully built athlete with facial hair and a deep voice, but her parents have come out strongly against claims that she is not a woman.
Some have compared Semenya’s plight with that of Saartjie Baartman, a Khoisan woman who was shamelessly paraded in Europe in the 19th century. Julius Malema, the vociferous president of the African National Congress Youth League and hardly a strong defender of women’s rights, said he would not allow Europeans to continue treating black people as monkeys. Meanwhile, the International Association of Athletics Federations said Semenya’s sex testing could take weeks to be complete.
President Jacob Zuma passed the 100-day mark of his first term, and most observers looked favorably on his accomplishments. Some have clamored for a more hands-on approach from the president as the country entered into its first recession in 17 years, but Zuma has been praised for assembling a well-balanced government and for resisting demands from unions for more radical actions. Even Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, one of Zuma’s harshest critics before the April elections, lauded Zuma for his ability to connect with all South Africans.
Zuma chose Angola, one of the continent’s top oil producers, for his first state visit. Relations between the two countries had worsened during the administration of former President Thabo Mbeki, but Zuma and a large business delegation left Angola with several deals, including a refining agreement between the countries’ state oil companies.
South Africa’s criminals have found a new target. After focusing their attention on bombing ATMs and hijacking cash-in-transit vehicles, they are now concentrating on shopping malls. During the month of July alone, 25 malls were robbed, and some shopping centers announced they would start searching customers randomly. The Consumer Goods Council of South Africa said malls have also seen an increase in petty crime in recent months as a result of the current recession.
According to a recent report presented to South Africa’s parliament by Higher Education SA, an education body, most first-year university students cannot read and write properly and are not proficient in mathematics. The report further highlights the challenge South Africa faces in trying to solve skills shortages in crucial sectors, including engineering.
Money: South Africa’s economy contracted by 3 percent during the second quarter, the third consecutive quarter to show negative growth. The decline in gross domestic product was smaller than the 6.4 percent decrease in the first quarter, however, and economists predict the country could emerge from its first recession in 17 years as early as in this year’s fourth quarter.
Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni took analysts by surprise by cutting the bank’s key lending rate by half a percentage point to 7 percent, the lowest level since June 2006. Most economists had expected a hold given Mboweni’s comments in May that a further significant cut was unlikely.
Standard Bank was the latest major South African bank to report lower profits after rivals Absa and Nedbank did so earlier this month. The 31 percent drop in profits for the first half of the year was the result of losses at an insurance unit and overseas earnings hurt by a strong rand, the bank said. South Africa’s banking sector has fared better than its American and European counterparts as it largely avoided the risky investments that led to the demise of several U.S. and European banks.
Eskom, the state-owned power utility, has been forced to postpone five major projects because of lack of funding. Last year, South Africa’s economy was crippled by electricity blackouts, and a lack of infrastructure investment may hamper the country’s economic rebound. Eskom is scheduled to release its annual results this week.
Despite a challenging economic environment, construction company Group Five reported a 22 percent profit increase for the first six months of the year. Chief Executive Mike Upton attributed his company’s success to a switch in focus from the private to the public sectors. South Africa’s government has embarked on a massive infrastructure spending program, in part because soccer’s World Cup will take place here next year.
Elsewhere: Caves outside the coastal town of Mossel Bay may be the oldest known workshops after scientists uncovered evidence of fire-treated tools being used there between 70,000 and 164,000 years ago. South Africa is already home to some of the earliest human fossils in the Cradle of Humankind region near Johannesburg.