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After an inauguration that included an invitation to Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, South Africa’s new president named 34 ministers. Women and leftist allies are well represented. The US says terrorists lurk among South Africa’s Muslims. Unemployment rises, mining output falls. And scandal erupts at “Idol” competition.
Top News: After the African National Congress’ landslide victory in legislative elections last month, ANC leader Jacob Zuma was officially elected by South Africa’s parliament as the country’s fourth president since the end of apartheid. He received 277 votes. The Congress of the People’s Mvume Dandala’s took 47 votes.
Zuma was sworn in as president at the Union Buildings in Pretoria in a formal ceremony complete with a 21-gun salute and a flyover by South Africa’s air force. Few high-level western officials attended, but many African heads of state were present, including Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, who was sporting his trademark oversized sunglasses.
Zuma showed glimpses of his conciliatory leadership style by warmly greeting both Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his rival, Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Zuma also embraced his own political nemesis, former President Thabo Mbeki, and lauded Mbeki’s achievements in a speech that announced a new era of “hard work.”
Drama also surrounded the inauguration ceremony. South Africa extended an invitation to Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, who was issued an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court earlier this year for war crimes in the Darfur region. South Africa admitted it would have had to arrest its guest, but the dilemma was averted as al-Bashir didn’t show up. Separately, a Durban businessman was arrested for allegedly attempting to bribe an official to get a seat close to Zuma at the inauguration ceremony.
On his second day as South African president, Zuma announced the composition of his highly anticipated cabinet, which includes 34 ministers, including 14 women. Zuma’s leftist allies have been rewarded: South African Communist Party leader Blade Nzimande was named minister of higher education, and trade unionist Ebrahim Patel was selected to head the new ministry of economic development.
The new government is likely to continue on the same growth-focused path, however, with revered Finance Minister Trevor Manuel getting an even more powerful position as the head of a new planning commission. Manuel is replaced at the finance ministry by Pravin Gordhan, who successfully reformed South Africa’s tax-collection agency over the past 10 years. Kgalema Motlanthe, who took over as president after Mbeki’s ousting last September, will serve as deputy president.
Other notable appointments include that of right-wing Afrikaner Pieter Mulder as deputy agriculture minister and the relocation of Health Minister Barbara Hogan, who was praised for tackling the AIDS epidemic, to the ministry of public enterprises.
A U.S. government report faulted South Africa’s department of home affairs for lax passport supervision, and said foreign terrorist groups may have a presence within South Africa’s moderate Muslim community.
From now on, Zimbabwean migrants to South Africa will be able to receive a free 90-day visa. The move is an acknowledgment of the huge flow of Zimbabweans leaving their country’s battered economy to secure work in the region’s economic powerhouse.
The art collection of late mining magnate Brett Kebble fetched a record $6.2 million, but the amount is unlikely to satisfy Kebble’s creditors, who are seeking about $230 million.
Money: The Johannesburg Stock Exchange reacted rather positively to Zuma’s cabinet announcement. Meanwhile, rating agencies adopted a wait-and-see attitude.
Gordhan, the new finance minister, unsettled local markets when he said the government’s longtime inflation-targeting policy should be debated.
South Africa’s unemployment rate rose to 23.5 percent during the first quarter from 21.9 percent for the previous three-month period, underscoring the challenge of the new government’s promise to create jobs in a faltering economy. Mining output fell 13 percent during the first quarter.
Eskom, South Africa’s power utility, asked the energy regulator for a 34 percent rate increase, which the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) said would be a blow to small businesses.
Cosatu unsuccessfully tried to block the public listing on the local stock exchange of Vodacom, a telecommunications company. Telkom, the government-owned communications company, sold its Vodacom stake to U.K.-based Vodafone, and the union federation is concerned over potential job losses.
Vodacom was one of several cell phone operators summoned to appear before the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa, a regulator, for complaints about dropped calls and other service problems, which they blame in part on poor weather and the theft of wires.
Elsewhere: Scandal erupted at South Africa’s version of the Idols singing show after it emerged that the wrong competitor was crowned the winner. A technical glitch had prevented thousands of votes from being counted in time. In an unprecedented move, organizers decided there would be two winners this year.
Joel Santana, the coach of South Africa’s national soccer team, decided to drop striker Benni McCarthy from the squad that will compete next month in the Confederations Cup, which is seen as a dress rehearsal for next year’s World Cup. Many fans said “good riddance,” as McCarthy has often dragged his feet when called up to play for his country, but the decision could also spell doom for a team that is light on world-class players.