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Zuma corruption charges dropped

Jacob Zuma no longer needs to fret conviction, but the presidential front runner's campaign is now hobbled by a gaffe about “true white Africans.” Fitch downgrades big banks. Irate taxi drivers could disrupt next year’s World Cup. Oprah’s boarding school rocked by another sex scandal. And a database allows citizens to determine if they’re officially dead or alive.

Top News: Jacob Zuma — in all likelihood South Africa’s next president after the April 22 elections — cleared his last hurdle as the National Prosecuting Authority dropped its corruption case against him Monday. Zuma’s camp had long claimed political interference in the case, and the NPA’s national director agreed. Former President Thabo Mbeki has repeatedly denied interfering in his case. Mbeki had fired Zuma as his deputy president over corruption allegations in 2005 and was later beaten by Zuma to head the ruling African National Congress.


The ANC’s strategy to court minority groups has backfired as Zuma said Afrikaners were the only true white Africans in the country. English-speaking whites were appalled, and Zuma was left scrambling to reword his comment.


After trading barbs for the past few months, the ANC and the Congress of the People — a party formed late last year by ANC dissidents — are trading members. Mlungisi Hlongwane, who had quit the ANC last year to become Cope’s elections coordinator, has now left Cope to rejoin the ANC. Cope says Hlongwane was an ANC mole all along.


Thousands of taxi drivers took control of downtown Johannesburg as they protested over job losses resulting from a new bus system. The standstill was an indication of the power wielded by the taxi drivers, who could disrupt next year’s soccer World Cup if their demands aren’t met.


Three men were sentenced to life in prison for the murder of local reggae icon Lucky Dube during a botched carjacking in 2007. The conclusion of the trial turned bizarre: two of the accused attended sporting bloody head bandages after trying to escape, and their lawyers recommending the harshest possible sentence for their own clients.


Oprah Winfrey’s South Africa-based boarding school for disadvantaged girls was rocked by another scandal as four girls were expelled and three others suspended for sexual misconduct. Two years ago, a school matron was accused of sexual abuse and fired. Winfrey said she was “disappointed” by the latest events and that it’s “disheartening” when students have to be expelled.


South Africa will host the Indian Premier League, a major cricket tournament originally set to take place in, well, India. The event was moved because of fears of terrorist attacks. This is the second major cricket competition relocated to South Africa recently, and organizers of the 2010 soccer World Cup here see the relocations as proof of the country’s preparedness to host international events.


Money: As was widely expected, the Reserve Bank cut its basic lending rate by 100 basis points to 9.5 percent. Analysts hope the Bank will cut the rate further when it next meets as the country is facing the prospect of its first recession in 17 years.


Indeed, most economic indicators seem to suggest a slowdown of the local economy. Bankruptcies increased 70 percent in February compared with a year earlier, while inflation came in higher than expected at 8.6 percent for February. The South African government also said that job growth slowed 0.3 percent during the fourth quarter of 2008 in a country where a quarter of the population is unemployed, and one economist sees up to 300,000 jobs vanishing this year.


Meanwhile, ratings agency Fitch downgraded South Africa’s biggest banks on concerns over their performance and financial positions. At the beginning of the global financial crisis, South Africa’s banking sector congratulated itself for the conservative policies that had spared it from the troubles facing its American and European counterparts.


In more positive news, South Africa-based Standard Bank will receive a $400 million credit line from the World Bank’s International Finance Corp. to boost trade on the African continent. The country’s trade deficit narrowed surprisingly in February to $63 million as exports of vehicles and precious metals picked up.


Elsewhere: Never mind the global financial crisis. Sol Kerzner, the South African developer behind the casino resort of Sun City, opened his One & Only luxury hotel in Cape Town with much fanfare. The hotel, which includes a restaurant operated by Briton Gordon Ramsay, was inaugurated in the presence of Clint Eastwood, Sharon Stone, Robert De Niro, Mariah Carey and Matt Damon.


A little more than a year before the first soccer World Cup on African soil, supporters of the national South African team, known as the Bafana Bafana (the boys), are worried. In a preparation match against Portugal, the South Africans failed miserably, and World Cup organizers have made it clear that they see the national team’s performance as critical to the success of next year’s event.


South Africa’s Home Affairs department has launched an Alive Status Verification Self-Help Service for South Africans to determine whether they are officially dead or alive. Some citizens, it appears, have been fraudulently declared dead, although the department gave no explanation of why. The callers declared “deceased” must visit a nearby police station and bring proof of their “alive” status.