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Parties jockey for power as elections approach

Zuma reportedly cleared of corruption charges; Winnie Madikizela-Mandela struggles for comeback; China pressures South Africa to deny Dalai Lama visa for peace conference.

Top News: The possibility that South Africa's next president will face corruption charges while in office appears to have receded. Several newspapers reported that the National Prosecuting Authority was planning to drop its case against Jacob Zuma one month before national elections. The leader of the ruling party, Zuma has faced corruption allegations since 2005 when his friend and financial adviser Schabir Shaik was convicted of soliciting bribes on his behalf. The NPA is mum on its next move, but Zuma’s legal saga is sure to take another twist before the April 22 elections.


Speaking of Zuma’s friend, Shaik created a political storm of his own when he was released on medical parole just a couple of years into his 15-year sentence. Shaik is said to be terminally ill, but the seriousness of his condition is a matter of debate. In a country where scores of prisoners die of AIDS every year, Shaik’s early release arouses suspicion of political meddling. Zuma says his friend deserves a break.


The African National Congress wants Winnie Madikizela-Mandela — the controversial but popular ex-wife of former President Nelson Mandela — near the top of its electoral list. Opposition parties want her out. They say her suspended fraud conviction should render her ineligible. The Independent Electoral Commission is considering the case.


The Congress of the People, a breakaway faction from the ANC that many hoped would challenge the dominance of the ruling party, is finally putting up campaign posters. The lagging campaign is the latest blow to COPE’s hopes after internal squabbles led to the selection of a virtual unknown, Rev. Mvume Dandala, as its presidential candidate.


South African expatriates are to vote in the country’s upcoming elections for the first time, after South Africa’s Constitutional Court ruled on the matter. Many practical hurdles remain, but the IEC is working on them.


A peace conference to be held here Friday is looking to be anything but peaceful. Following apparent pressure from China (a big investor in South Africa), local authorities denied the Dalai Lama a visa to attend the conference. Nobel Peace Prize laureates Desmond Tutu and FW De Klerk have expressed outrage at the government’s decision and threatened to boycott the conference.


Zimbabwean immigrants have taken refuge in Johannesburg’s Central Methodist Church since a spurt of xenophobic violence last year. Thousands have been sleeping on the church’s floor for months, but the city’s local government is finally moving to provide more adequate shelter for the refugees.


Money: The Reserve Bank is meeting this week, and analysts are hoping for a 1 percent rate cut as the country might be facing its first recession in 17 years. The country’s repo rate was cut last month to 10.5 percent. With a volatile local economy, the bank has also increased the frequency of its meetings and will now gather every month.


There is no end in sight for South African Airways’ woes. After operating losses, price-fixing allegations and drug busts of several crew members, the local air carrier is facing a fury over its former chief executive’s golden parachute. Khaya Ngqula, who was ousted earlier this month amid allegations of mismanagement, is set to leave with more than $3 million.


Gold prices may be rebounding as distressed investors around the world seek a safe haven, but it might be too late for local gold mining company Pamodzi Gold, whose creditors are pushing toward liquidation. Pamodzi’s precarious situation is the result of deteriorating credit markets that prevented the company from investing in infrastructure needed to boost production. The company has 15,000 employees.


South Africa is considering its own automotive industry bailout. New vehicle sales peaked at 714,000 in 2006 but are forecast at a mere 385,000 for 2009. The plan hasn’t been unveiled yet, but it could reportedly include bridge financing for struggling automakers, on-the-job training for workers threatened with layoffs and tax incentives to stimulate demand.


Elsewhere: The FIFA World Cup is less than 450 days away, and soccer authorities are getting worried. Ticket sales for the world’s largest sporting event and a rehearsal soccer tournament have been sluggish, and advertisement is minimal. The cheapest tickets are reserved for local residents, but FIFA is facing the prospect of less-than-full stadiums for its flagship event.


A spate of sex scandals have been seizing public attention lately. The father of a 16-year-old girl says a video of her having sex with a group of boys is selling for 50 cents on the Internet. Separately, former rugby star Joost Van der Westhuizen was rumored caught on tape in a compromising position, but he has steadfastly denied he was the man seen on the video. He hired a private investigator and originally vowed to sue the culprits, but on Monday said he had decided to drop the case. Finally, the country has been enthralled for weeks by the trial of Cezanne Visser, who is accused of sexually abusing orphaned girls with her then-boyfriend. Visser, a lawyer nicknamed “Advocate Barbie” for her looks, says kinky sex was like brushing teeth.