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Zuma delivers "boring" State of the Nation

Zuma's speech is criticized for lacking depth. Protests flare in the Siyathemba township over a lack of basic services. A minister promises to speed land transfer to blacks. A student is arrested for flipping off Zuma's motorcade. Economists applaud the finance minister's new budget. South African Airways violates the Competition Act. World Cup ticket prices are slashed for South Africans, and a tent city is promised for those who can't afford hotel rooms. Plus, a genome study finds that Archbishop Tutu is related to Kalahari hunter-gatherers.

Top News: Facing widespread scrutiny for his sexual indiscretions, President Jacob Zuma delivered his much-anticipated State of the Nation address but failed to hit the mark. The speech, which came less than a week after the polygamous president was forced to apologize for fathering a child out of wedlock, was criticized by analysts, opposition politicians and the public for being a boring laundry list, lacking in specifics and depth. Zuma’s wide-ranging speech focused on education, job creation, racial reconciliation and the need to make the upcoming World Cup a success.

Zuma had moved the address up a day to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela, whose presence for the speech seemed to highlight Zuma’s shortcomings. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who is an African National Congress member of parliament, was also present but created problems for event organizers by taking the seat of Zuma’s first wife. Earlier that day she failed to show at a widely publicized ANC celebration to mark Mandela’s release from prison, reportedly due to a dispute with the party.

Protests flared in the restive township of Siyathemba, near Balfour in Mpumalanga province, a community angry at the provincial government’s failure to address their concerns over basic services such as electricity, water supplies and jobs. They called on Zuma to follow through on promises he made to the community when he visited a year ago. Rioters looted shops owned by foreign nationals, clashed with police and burned down the local library.

South Africa’s rural development and land affairs minister said that his government would this year introduce legislation aimed at speeding up the process of giving land to blacks. The land reform process in South Africa is intended to help reverse the inequality in land ownership between blacks and whites. The country’s white minority still owns most of the farmland.

A University of Cape Town student was roughed up by police and arrested after giving the middle finger to Zuma’s noisy motorcade as it drove past. Opposition Democratic Alliance party leader Helen Zille tried to capitalize on public outrage over the incident by announcing the banning of “blue-light convoys” in the Western Cape province, referring to the controversial use of blue lights and sirens by politicians, except in case of emergency.

Julius Malema, the controversial leader of the ANC Youth League, who has pushed for the nationalization of the country’s mines, came under attack for his luxurious lifestyle when a newspaper called for an investigation into his assets. The South African Revenue Service has said that it will be conducting “lifestyle audits” of people seeming to be living beyond their means.  A leading newspaper reported that Malema profits from lucrative government tenders awarded to companies that he owns.

Money: Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan released a cautious budget that pledged to keep inflation in check and warned of a potential tax increase next year, but said that the budget shortfall would be less than expected. The budget was Gordhan’s first since taken over from veteran finance minister Trevor Manuel, and was generally well received by economists and the markets but had a mixed reaction from trade union leaders.

Gordhan said that South Africa’s economy is expected to grow 2.3 percent this year, boosted by the World Cup, but job creation will remain a problem. The official unemployment rate is 24.3 but it is as high as 40 percent when discouraged jobseekers are included.

The Competition Tribunal ruled that South African Airways had used prohibited practices that harmed rival airlines, paving the way for complainants Comair and now-defunct Nationwide to file civil claims against SAA that could amount to more than R1 billion (US$130 million). The case, which found that an SAA incentive scheme with travel agents contravened the Competition Act, was a follow-up to a 2005 complaint by Comair.

World Cup tickets prices were slashed for South Africans in an attempt by FIFA to fill stadiums for the soccer championships, which starts in June. Prices will drop dramatically for at least 30 percent of the three million Category 2 and 3 tickets.

Amid complaints about the price of hotel rooms during the World Cup, Johannesburg has announced that it will open a tented village in a city park to house fans. Tent City will have room for 1,480 people at a cost of R530 (US$70) a night, including a rented tent. But soccer fans who book tents are being warned that temperatures can drop to freezing overnight in the middle of South Africa’s winter.

Elsewhere: Archbishop Desmond Tutu has discovered that he is related to the San, a hunter-gatherer population mainly found in the Kalahari Desert area, after participating in a genome health study published by science journal Nature. Scientists researched genetic diversity and health by decoding the genomes of Tutu and four Bushmen elders. They found vast genetic differences between the Bushmen – for example, any two of the Bushmen were found to have genes as distinct as those of a European and an Asian. The study is an attempt to redress the lack of genetic research among Southern Africans, and could help pharmaceutical companies with the development of drugs.