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AIDS battle continues

Life expectancy falls to 47 years. Logistical challenges plague World Cup prep. The land reform program falls 30 years behind schedule. Allan Boesak leaves COPE. Eskom's CEO resigns. Gold output drops 9.3 percent. The rand rises. And Zuma wins "Africa's Best President" award.

Top News: South Africa’s Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi gave another somber report on the challenges the country still faces in its fight against HIV/AIDS. In the past four years, life expectancy for South Africans has fallen to 47 years from 50.7, he said. In 1990, the life expectancy average was 63.3 years. Without naming former President Thabo Mbeki explicitly, Motsoaledi blamed the former administration's denial of the problem. President Jacob Zuma, elected in May, has already expressed a strong departure from his predecessor’s views, and will take an HIV test on World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 to encourage his compatriots to do the same. Zuma became the target of anti-AIDS activists a few years ago when he said he took a shower after having sex with an HIV-positive woman to fend off infection.


Logistical challenges continue to plague the region as South Africa prepares for next year’s World Cup, the largest event ever held on African soil. The first section of the Gautrain, a high-speed train designed to transport visitors from Johannesburg’s airport to the commercial center, is now scheduled to open in October 2010 — three months after the tournament will have ended. Several airlines have also announced that many long-haul flights to South Africa during the competition are already fully booked. Additional flights may be scheduled after the final draw takes place in December when airlines have a better idea of demand. Accommodation in Kruger National Park has been sold out for months for the duration of the tournament, and logistics may prove the biggest hurdle for World Cup organizers.


The South African government canceled an order to buy eight military planes from Airbus after the price more than doubled to $5.4 billion and the manufacturer wasn’t able to meet deadlines. The decision also seemed to be an effort to avoid repeating an earlier arms appropriation scandal that has engulfed several high-profile politicians.


The government admitted it wouldn’t be able to complete the country's ambitious land reform program by 2014 because of bureaucratic delays and lack of funding. The program, which seeks to redress the wrongs of the apartheid regime by redistributing land held by white farmers to poor black peasants, is now scheduled to be completed in 2025 — more than 30 years after the end of apartheid.


Allan Boesak, one of the Congress of the People’s most popular members, has left the fledgling opposition party less than a year after it was formed because of “faction fighting, strife, pitched battles for political supremacy and duplicity.” Cope, as the party is commonly known, has failed to mount a credible challenge to the dominant African National Congress.


Police arrested 30 illegal miners in the central town of Welkom. The miners, often immigrants from neighboring countries, bribe security guards to gain access to unused shafts and spend weeks underground mining gold. Earlier this year, more than 80 illegal miners died in a fire, the worst accident in years.


Money: After weeks of infighting, Eskom Chief Executive Jacob Maroga finally resigned despite having the support of President Zuma. Maroga has been blamed by many for the utility’s woes and its requests for huge tariff hikes. The company, which suffered crippling blackouts last year, is in dire need of infrastructure investment.


Despite record gold prices of more than $1,200 an ounce, South Africa’s gold mining industry is failing to take advantage of the boon as gold output fell 9.3 percent in September. Part of the problem is structural, as South Africa’s aging gold mines are deep and expensive to operate. The relative strength of the rand, the local currency, has compounded the problem by increasing operating costs. The rand’s rise in value — more than 25 percent against the dollar this year — has also prompted Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel to call for a debate about possible devaluation to stimulate exports.


South African consumers will get some relief when cell phone rates are cut by the equivalent of 5 cents a minute starting next year, Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda said.


Elsewhere: Barack Obama may have received the Nobel Peace Prize after less than a year in office, but Jacob Zuma has been voted Africa’s best president barely six months after being elected. The prize, presented by the Kenneth Kaunda Foundation at the Africa Consciousness Media Leadership Awards, was welcomed by the African National Congress Youth League, which said, “for a very long time, we have said against all odds that President Zuma is one of the greatest leaders, not only in South Africa and the African continent, but in the entire world.”