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Ready for the World Cup

Stadium construction is "on schedule." Caster Semenya will keep her gold medal. The Housing Minister and his predecessor dispute a pricey theater project while millions await housing. President Zuma reiterates calls for legally-binding carbon targets. The country is officially out of recession, but job creation is slow. Eskom receives a large loan to build a power station. And a reggae singer causes outrage by butchering the South African anthem.

Top News: South Africa is preparing to host the final draw for the soccer World Cup – the last significant event before the competition starts next June. Almost all the new stadiums are ready, and organizers say everything is on track on the logistical front. The draw, which takes place on Dec. 4 in Cape Town, will decide which teams will face each other during the World Cup’s first round. On paper, the first World Cup organized in Africa appears to be one of the strongest in recent decades, with all major nations and international soccer stars present for the month-long event. The tournament will also feature six African teams for the first time.


Caster Semenya, the teenage South African runner whose gender was called into question after she convincingly won the 800-meter race at the World Athletics Championships this summer, will be able to keep her gold medal, South Africa’s sports ministry announced after communicating with the International Association of Athletics Federations. The sports ministry said that the IAAF had also agreed to keep the results of Semenya’s gender tests confidential, bringing an apparent end to the saga.


New Housing Minister Tokyo Sexwale said he would scrap a theater piece that had cost $3 million of taxpayer money last year at a time when millions of South Africans are still waiting for subsidized houses. The decision prompted a public spat between Sexwale and his predecessor, Defense Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who initiated the theater project. The two African National Congress stalwarts made up after the ANC called for a ceasefire.


Meanwhile, Sexwale said his department have fired 932 government officials for their apparent involvement in low-cost housing scams. The latest move is part of the ANC’s campaign promise to root out corruption. According to Transparency International’s latest Corruptions Perceptions Index, South Africa ranks 55th among 180 countries but has slipped two percentage points over the past two years.


President Jacob Zuma took advantage of a bilateral meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at a Commonwealth summit in Trinidad and Tobago to reiterate his call for legally binding emission reduction targets for developed countries. This is a particularly important point for African countries, which bear the brunt of climate change while Western countries are the principal producers of greenhouse gases.


Money: It is now official: South Africa has exited its first recession in 17 years. Economic growth resumed during the third quarter at a tepid 0.9 percent rate after three quarters of negative growth. Confirming the country’s rebound, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said that it predicted a 2.7 percent growth for South Africa in 2010 — a significantly more optimistic forecast than the official estimate of 1.5 percent. Also, Statistics South Africa said inflation fell within the Reserve Bank’s preferred range of 3 to 6 percent for the first time in 30 months as the consumer price index rose only 5.9 percent during the third quarter.


Tempering South Africans’ enthusiasm, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said the recovery would be slow, especially when it comes to job creation. South Africa has lost about 1 million jobs since the beginning of the recession, and its unemployment rate now stands at a staggering 24.5 percent. Indeed, September retail sales figures were down 5.1 percent, more than expected by analysts, confirming that South Africa’s economy was still wobbly.


New Reserve Bank Governor Gill Marcus left the repo rate unchanged at 7 percent in her first rate decision since she took over from Tito Mboweni. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) condemned the decision, saying cutting the basic lending rate would promote economic growth and job creation.


Cosatu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi also called for South Africa to fix the exchange rate at R10 per $1 to promote the country’s ailing manufacturing sector. Currently, the exchange rate hovers around R7.40 per $1. Economists warned that such a move could have an opposite effect and damper economic growth.


Beleaguered power utility Eskom secured a massive $2.8 billion loan from the African Development Bank to fund the Medupi project, the company’s first base-load power station in more than two decades.


Elsewhere: South Africans were shocked after Ras Dumisani, an unknown South African reggae singer, butchered the country’s national anthem ahead of a rugby match between France and South Africa’s Springboks. Dumisani, who lives in France, appeared not to know the tune or some of the anthem’s lyrics. South African rugby supporters said the choice of Dumisani was meant to upset their beloved world champions, who ended up losing the match, but it later emerged that Dumisani had been suggested to French authorities by the South African embassy in France. Dumisani first expressed surprise at the barrage of criticism before blaming the equipment and finally apologizing for the poor performance. He promised to make amends and asked for the opportunity to sing again at next year’s soccer World Cup.