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100 days to the World Cup

The World Cup is only 100 days away and much is still under construction. With his newest wife, Zuma visits London where he is maligned by the press and honored by the Queen. North Korean weapons are intercepted in South African waters. A huge tax hike for Eskom may put thousands out of work. Zuma is attacked for not disclosing his financial statements and the ANC Youth Leaguge leader is under investigation for not paying taxes. "Pornographic" photographs upset the cultural minister. And a popular puppet comedy show is back on the air.

Top News: South Africa marked 100 days until the World Cup, which begins June 11 at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium with the opening match between South Africa and Mexico. While FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke said that he is happy with the standard of the country’s 10 stadiums in nine host cities, the roads and grounds around several venues are still under construction and there are more serious concerns about the pitch at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit. Local World Cup boss Danny Jordaan has insisted that the stadiums will be ready.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s Central Drug Authority warned that 40,000 prostitutes are expected to flood into South Africa ahead of the World Cup, provoking concerns about drug use and sexual transmitted diseases.  

President Jacob Zuma, on a three-day state visit to London with newest wife Thobeka Madiba-Zuma, received a warm welcome from the Queen but was savaged in the British media, with the Daily Mail tabloid calling the polygamous South African leader a “sex-obsessed bigot” and a “vile buffoon.” Many South Africans were angry over Zuma’s “racist” treatment by the British press corps, and Zuma himself reacted to the reports, accusing the British media of being stuck in a colonial mindset and believing that Africans are “barbaric” and “inferior.” While in London, Zuma pushed for sanctions to be lifted against Zimbabwe, but failed in his attempt, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown insisting that sanctions should remain until more progress has been made in the uneasy power-sharing coalition led by President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.  

Zuma was named an honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, a title drawn from a traditional ceremony which involved bathing as a symbol of purification. A story in Johannesburg newspaper The Star cheekily pointed out that the president “is more notorious for his advocacy of a shower for cleansing,” referring to Zuma’s infamous comment at his rape trial in 2006 in which he said he showered to prevent HIV transmission.  

South Africa seized a shipment of North Korean weapons headed for the Republic of Congo. The weapons, which are banned under a UN Security Council resolution against North Korean arms exports, were reportedly bound by ship for Brazzaville via the port at Walvis Bay in Namibia, and were intercepted in South African waters.  

Money: South Africa’s energy regulator approved a 24.8 percent tariff hike for Eskom, the South African power utility, this year, to be followed of increases of more than 25 percent in 2011 and 2012. The tariff increase, which is to be used to build new power plants to deal with the country’s energy shortage, has been widely opposed by consumers, businesses and industry. The South African Chamber of Commerce says it expects 250,000 people to be put out of work because of the price hikes.  

Minister of Rural Development and Land Affairs Gugile Nkwinti warned that 90 percent of farms bought by the government and redistributed to rectify the injustices of apartheid are unproductive, undermining food security and economic growth in South Africa. Nkwinti also warned that foreigners are buying up land three times faster than the government is able to in order to meet land reform targets.  

Zuma returned from the U.K. to South Africa to a controversy over his finances, with opposition politicians attacking him for not declaring his financial interests within 60 days of taking office, as is stipulated under the government’s ethics code.  

Also under attack was Julius Malema, the outspoken leader of the African National Congress Youth League, who is under investigation for not paying his taxes. Malema has faced relentless critical stories in the South African media in recent weeks over his “lavish lifestyle” and companies alleged to have received lucrative government tenders for construction projects in his home province of Limpopo.  

Standard Bank Group announced that its profits fell 20 percent for December as customers struggled to repay loans in a tough economic climate as the country climbs out of a recession. Rival banks are facing a similar problem, as individuals are taking longer than expected to pay off their debts.  

Elsewhere: Lulu Xingwana, the arts and culture minister, stormed out of a government-sponsored art exhibition that she was supposed to open, describing it as “immoral” and “pornographic.” The exhibit by black female artists at Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg features photographs by lesbian activist Zanele Muholi that show nude women embracing each other. Artists involved with the event called Xingwana’s reaction homophobic and unconstitutional, charges that she denied.

A South African dance-rap group called Die Antwoord (Afrikaans for “The Answer”) became an Internet hit, drawing attention for their oddly catchy songs, bizarre videos and use of Afrikaans slang. However the “zef rap” group (zef meaning hick, or redneck) has also drawn questions about whether not what they are doing is “blackface.”

A puppet comedy show called ZA News, South Africa’s answer to the legendary British program “Spitting Image,” finally hit TV screens after being dropped by state broadcaster SABC two years ago for being too controversial. ZA News, a collaboration involving the provocative political cartoonist Zapiro, can also be viewed online.