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World Cup dress rehearsal

South Africa hosted the Confederations Cup, performing well enough to please FIFA, despite low ticket sales and incessant horn use by spectators. The US nearly pulled off its first soccer victory on the world stage. FIFA’s president says Obama will attend the 2010 World Cup. A quarter of South African men have committed rape, a study says, and many were HIV positive. Doctors strike for higher pay. Regulators approve a 31.3 percent electricity hike. Zuma claims ANC will rule until Jesus returns. Sharks and whales called up to reinforce the Big Five.



Top News: South Africa hosted the Confederations Cup, a soccer tournament viewed as a dress rehearsal for next year’s World Cup. It was the first time the event was held on African soil, and Sepp Blatter, president of the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), said he was globally satisfied with the organization of the competition. This augurs well for South Africa’s hosting in 2010 of the World Cup, which is the most popular sporting event in the world and has never been held in Africa in its 80-year existence.


The eight-team tournament, which included world champions Italy, European champions Spain and perennial favorite Brazil, was plagued early on by the lack of reliable transportation, relatively sluggish ticket sales and poor attendance, but thanks to ticket giveaways and growing enthusiasm for the local team, the Bafana Bafana, stadiums were almost full by the end of the competition.


The biggest debate of the tournament revolved around vuvuzelas, long plastic horns that create an incessant buzzing noise and are favored by South African fans. Some journalists, players and television viewers complained about the sound and called for the instrument to be banned from World Cup games.


On the field, the biggest surprise came from the United States, which after losing to Italy and Brazil, squeezed into the semifinal round, beating Spain to reach its first final on the world stage. The Americans led five-time world champions Brazil at half-time but suffered a cruel defeat in the last minutes of the game. Hosts South Africa finished at a respectable fourth place.


For weeks, South Africa had been spared by the swine flu, but the pandemic finally reached South African shores. Four cases have been diagnosed in about a week.


A study by the local Medical Research Council revealed that a quarter of South African men have committed rape at least once. The shocking statistics also disclosed that nearly 20 percent of the rapists were HIV-positive.


President Jacob Zuma sparked outrage after declaring that the African National Congress, the ruling party since the end of apartheid, would remain in power until Jesus’ return. The ANC scrambled to backtrack, saying only that it was confident voters would continue to support the party in future elections.


Public hospital doctors staged wildcat strikes in several parts of the country and asked for large pay increases. The government has apparently proposed a substantial pay hike, but striking doctors have deemed it insufficient.


Bujelwa Sonjica, the new minister for environmental affairs, vowed to crack down on environmental crimes thanks to the creation of a new unit. South Africa’s justice system and law enforcement agencies, dealing with one of the world’s highest murder rates, have been unable to devote large resources to issues such as wildlife poaching and environmental pollution.


Money: Never mind South Africa’s current recession, Geoff Doidge, the new minister of public works, said Zuma’s ambitious goal to create 4 million jobs over the next five years is “conservative.” The difficulty of the government’s task was highlighted by the announcement that South Africa had lost 179,000 non-agricultural jobs during the first quarter.


Consumer inflation slowed slightly in May, dropping to 8 percent from 8.4 percent the previous month, but it remained well above the government’s target of 3 percent to 6 percent.


Cash-strapped consumers faced another round of bad news with energy regulators approving a 31.3 percent hike for electricity tariffs. The increase, which is slightly less than the 34 percent raise Eskom had asked for, is meant to help the power utility fund a much-needed expansion. The energy department announced that gas prices would also increase by about 5 cents a liter.


Meanwhile, South Africans got no relief from the Reserve Bank as it decided to leave its basic lending rate unchanged at 7.5 percent after several successive rate cuts. Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni suggested that there would be no further cuts in the near future.


As an indication of the toll the current recession is taking on South African consumers, retail sales fell 6.7 percent in April.


Elsewhere: Barack Obama will come to South Africa next year! FIFA President Sepp Blatter said the U.S. president has accepted his invitation to attend the opening of next year’s soccer World Cup. The United States is hoping to host the tournament in 2018 or 2022. The White House said no firm plans have been made yet.


Forget the Big Five and make room for the Big Seven. South African national parks and game reserves have long used the Big Five as a marketing tool to attract tourists. Lions, leopards, elephants, rhinoceroses and buffalo have done a fine job attracting hunters and photographers alike but were deemed in need of reinforcement and will be joined by sharks and whales, the environment minister announced.