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Zuma's moment

Jacob Zuma is expected to win the presidency this week, but the big question is whether his ANC will get the two-thirds majority it needs to amend the constitution. The respected finance minister says he’ll stay under Zuma. The Reserve Bank governor predicts a three- to four-year economic crisis. The government seizes a farm under “use it or lose it” land reform policy. And Obama’s stepmother visits on a bingo tour.

Top News: On Wednesday April 22, South Africans are set to vote in their country’s fourth round of national elections since the end of apartheid. 


The main political parties held their final campaign events Sunday. The ruling African National Congress and its presidential candidate Jacob Zuma are widely expected to win, and this was clearly demonstrated by the sheer size of the ANC’s rally in Johannesburg, where about 100,000 supporters packed two stadiums. The ANC scored a major coup as former president Nelson Mandela attended the rally despite his frail state. 


Meanwhile, only about 4,000 supporters showed up at the final campaign gathering of the Democratic Alliance (DA), and 15,000 went to the rally of the Congress of the People (Cope), showing how far behind South Africa’s main opposition parties lag in terms of popular support. 


The main outstanding question of the election is whether the ANC will retain the two-thirds majority it secured five years ago. Two recent polls seemed to indicate that it may fall short, with one predicting the ANC would win 65 percent of the vote and another forecasting a 60 percent victory. 


That two-thirds majority in parliament is crucial as it would allow the ANC to easily amend the constitution without the consent of other parties. Preventing that from happening has become the Democratic Alliance’s main objective, and the opposition party just launched a “Stop Zuma” campaign in the hope of denting the ANC’s dominance. 


One man who has been conspicuously absent from campaign events but present in everybody’s mind is former president Thabo Mbeki. Cope had announced that Mbeki was going to be presented with a gift at a rally in Port Elizabeth, but he didn't show up. He also ignored an invitation to attend the ANC's final event. Mbeki has been accused by Zuma’s supporters of meddling in Zuma’s corruption case, but current President Kgalema Motlanthe came to Mbeki’s rescue this week by condemning the most recent attacks. 


Zuma has gained control of the ANC thanks in large part to his leftist allies, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Communist Party. But it appeared that all is not well in the coalition as alliance partners may not get as much prominence as they hoped in the future ANC-led government. 


Political parties are said to have spent a total of about $44 million on campaigning, with the ANC spending half of the total. 


Land reform — one of the ANC’s priorities over the past 15 years — took a controversial turn as the government seized control of a farm it deemed unproductive. The move is part of a “use it or lose it” approach that seeks to ensure that land reform beneficiaries actually farm the land they receive from the government. 


A nine-day strike by truck drivers that had threatened to leave many of South Africa’s gas stations empty came to an end as employers agreed to pay above-inflation raises to drivers. 


Money: As South Africa’s first recession in 17 years appears inevitable, Reserve Bank Gov. Tito Mboweni said the pain could last three to four years and that the incoming government will have very little room to maneuver because of the global financial crisis. 


Longtime Finance Minister Trevor Manuel provided more reassurance to investors about his future as he reiterated his willingness to continue serving in the incoming ANC government. Manuel is credited for South Africa’s sustained economic growth in recent years. 


South Africa’s largest pension fund, the Public Investment Corporation, lost about $3.2 billion in value last year as its investments performed badly. Beneficiaries won’t be affected as the government guarantees their pension benefits. 


Government statistics confirmed the slowdown of the local economy as factory output, mining production and retail sales all fell in February. Meanwhile, Seardel, South Africa’s largest textile company, announced that it would lay off 1,400 workers as it attempts to return to profitability. 


In an effort to preserve jobs in South Africa’s mining sector, the ANC announced plans to set up a state mining company. ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe said, however, that nationalization of mineral assets was not in the works. 


Elsewhere: South Africa got a taste of Obama fever as Kezia Obama, President Barack Obama’s stepmother, visited the country on a bingo tour seeking to raise funds for a charity. 


Many viewers of the South African version of the Idol singing competition were outraged as Thembi Nkosi was voted off the show. The ousting of Nkosi, the last remaining black contestant on the show, sparked accusations of racism and vote manipulation. 


Mzoli’s Place, an eatery in the populous Cape Town township of Gugulethu, got a major publicity boost as British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver visited the restaurant recently. Mzoli’s, which specializes in grilled meats, was described as “totally sexy” by Oliver.