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The battle over ... buses

A new bus system sparks outrage from taxi drivers. Soldiers march on government buildings to demand wage increases, despite being shot at. A South African gets refugee status in Canada, arguing that criminals target him due to his white skin. Bureaucracy at the Home Affairs office drives a man to suicide. Caster Semenya —the gender-questioned athlete — returns home to a hero's welcome. World Cup construction goes way over-budget. The deficit is the lowest it's been since 2004, and inflation is down. Plus, politicians receive their weight in gifts.

Top News: With much fanfare, the City of Johannesburg just launched a new bus system. The move is long overdue as many of the city’s black workers live in townships far from the city center and their places of employment — a legacy of the apartheid regime — and public transportation options are cruelly lacking. The new buses will also prove critical to moving soccer fans around during next year’s World Cup.


The bus system has been fiercely resisted by the taxi industry, however, which sees it as a threat. Despite being invited to participate in the running of the bus system by the government, taxi bosses made a last minute effort to block the launch in court and threatened to stage a general strike. The strike didn’t occur, but one bus was shot at by occupants of a taxi, and a taxi union official was gunned down, although the motive for the murder remains unclear.


Police fired rubber bullets on hundreds of South African soldiers marching on government buildings in Pretoria to demand wage increases. The march was strongly condemned by Defense Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who said the striking soldiers would be fired in addition to being fired upon. Security forces were on high alert after learning of a plot by disgruntled soldiers to kidnap top military officials, including the defense minister, one local newspaper reported. Unions, meanwhile, have criticized the soldiers’ dismissals.


Canadian immigration services have decided to grant refugee status to a white South African because the color of his skin allegedly made him a target of criminals. The decision has created a storm in his native country. Brandon Huntley, a 31-year-old unemployed water-sprinkler salesman from the Cape Town area, said he had to flee the country because he had been attacked seven times — and stabbed three times — by blacks who called him “white dog” and “settler.” Canadian authorities originally agreed with his claims but appear now to second-guess their decision after the South African ruling party sharply criticized the move.


A man committed suicide after an official of the Home Affairs Department tore up his application for an ID document. Unable to find a job without an ID, the man decided to take his own life. "I don't want to steal,” he wrote in a suicide note. “I prefer to die than to go to jail." The department is notorious for treating foreigners rudely, losing files and establishing a process for people to verify that they are indeed alive. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the new Home Affairs minister, shed tears at the man’s funeral and vowed that his death would spur significant improvements at the department.


Caster Semenya, the South African athlete whose gender was questioned after she won the 800-meter race at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin, returned home to a hero’s welcome. The runner was mostly silent, but plenty of others spoke for her, including Julius Malema, the president of the African National Congress Youth League, who promised her a monetary prize of about $8,000, and the government of her province, Limpopo, which said it would build a new home for her and her family. She was also paraded through the streets of Pretoria, the capital, and met with President Jacob Zuma and former President Nelson Mandela. Results of her gender test are still unknown.

Money: Construction of World Cup stadiums is putting a strain on city budgets. Building costs for Soccer City, Johannesburg’s flagship stadium that will host both the opening and final matches of the tournament have already topped estimates, and the city has cut its annual budget by about $145 million as a result. In Durban, an official warned that the budget shortfall could affect service delivery.


Power utility Eskom reported a $1.3 billion loss for the past fiscal year, the largest in the company’s history. The loss raises questions about Eskom’s ability to fund a sorely needed expansion program. New infrastructure investment is necessary to avoid blackouts of the sort that brought the country’s mining industry to a standstill for part of last year.


A string of more positive news for the local economy: South Africa’s current account deficit narrowed to 3.2 percent of gross domestic product in the second quarter, the lowest level since 2004; South Africa had no trouble borrowing an additional $500 million on international markets to help cover tax shortfalls; and consumer inflation eased a bit to 6.7 percent in July from 6.9 percent in June.


While workers in many sectors have had to march on the streets to secure above-inflation wage increases, outgoing Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni received a 14 percent raise in the past year, while most other employees of the bank received a 10 percent pay hike.


Elsewhere: The new transport minister was recently criticized for accepting a Mercedes, which he eventually returned, but he is not the only politician who’s received favors. A recent report highlights that recent presents to ministers have included bibles, an airport parking card, a leopard skin valued at about $1,600 and a live sheep.