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Will strikers or terrorists disrupt the World Cup?

Unions are using the World Cup as leverage for higher wages. Controversial ANC youth leader “shuts up,” for now. A strip club mogul is murdered. And at long last, white rugby fans travel to Soweto.


Top News: three-week strike over wages by Transnet, the South African state-owned logistics group, disrupted the country's railways and ports, and fueled fears of strikes and protests during the World Cup.

The strike stranded commuters who use Johannesburg's Metrorail service, caused backlogs of cargo at ports. It also took a toll on exporters of fresh fruit and on the mining and manufacturing industries. The strike is estimated to cost the country’s economy more than $900 million and is likely to cause job losses, with South African producers losing some contracts to other markets.

In the weeks ahead of the World Cup, South Africa's powerful unions are using the threat of striking during the upcoming soccer championships as a chance to push for wage increases. A strike by diamond miners at De Beers was put on hold when the company offered a new wage deal, and a strike at state power utility Eskom was stopped by the courts, while drivers on Johannesburg’s Bus Rapid Transit system went on strike over their employment contracts.

Meanwhile South Africa is again fending off international concerns over security during the World Cup after an Iraqi security spokesman said that a captured al Qaeda militant had confessed to planning an attack targeting Dutch and Danish fans during the tournament (al-Qaida later denied that it was behind the alleged plot). The U.S. State Department issued a travel alert warning Americans of a “heightened risk that extremist groups will conduct terrorist acts within South Africa in the near future.”

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi apologized for the deaths of 17 babies at two Johannesburg-area hospitals in May. Many of the deaths were due to the outbreak of the norovirus klebsiella and lack of proper infection control, drawing attention to staff shortages and overcrowding at South Africa’s public hospitals.

Julius Malema, the African National Congress youth leader, was let off with a light punishment after his party held a disciplinary hearing over his controversial statements and singing of a banned song judged to be racially divisive. Malema was ordered to publically apologize and agreed to begin anger management counseling, as well as pay a $1,300 fine. A profile of Malema in Time magazine noted the sudden silence in the South African media: “Julius Malema has shut up.”

Strip club kingpin Lolly Jackson, infamous in South Africa for his oversized personality and controversial billboards advertising his “Teazers” clubs, died in a hail of bullets, allegedly after a dispute about borrowed money. The murder of the self-proclaimed “King of Teaze” provided a field day for newspapers, which ran headlines such as “Lolly iced” and “Lolly popped.” 

Money: SABMiller Plc, the brewing giant, said it will spend $22 million in South Africa during the World Cup on promotions, including at fan parks and by revamping township bars, in an attempt to increase beer sales. The brewer’s Castle brand dominates in South Africa, with nearly 90 percent of market share.

In the weeks leading up to the World Cup, SABMiller has clashed with Heineken NV over the pricing of beer by township retailers. Heineken's Amstel brand launched a campaign called "Ask Why" that tells consumers they should only be paying 10 rand ($1.26) for a 660ml bottle of Amstel, claiming that SABMiller had told tavern owners that they should charge more for the brand.

Credit demand fell for the eighth month in a row, showing continuing uncertainty in South Africa’s private sector about the country's future economic situation. Demand fell by 0.86 percent year-on-year in April, more than expected.

Elsewhere: Top South African rugby team the Blue Bulls played for the first time in Soweto, the black township south of Johannesburg, in a display of racial harmony. In South Africa, rugby fans are mostly white Afrikaners, and for many the trip from Pretoria to watch their team at Orlando Stadium was their first trip to Soweto. Some observers noted that it was the most white people in Soweto since the Soweto Uprising of 1976, when apartheid police and soldiers cracked down on schoolchildren protesting the forced instruction of Afrikaans in schools.

The Bulls played two consecutive Saturdays in Soweto because their home field in Pretoria is a World Cup stadium and had already been taken over by FIFA. Archbishop Desmond Tutu described the first of the two games as an iconic moment and the “most important development in the sport since the Springboks won the World Cup in 1995.”

The atmosphere at the games was incredible, with white fans joining black Sowetans at “shebeens,” or local pubs and posing for photos together. Locals welcomed the visitors, some shouting “Don't be afraid, it's Soweto!” – these days, some parts of the township are middle class – while others took cell phone photos of the white people dressed in outlandish fan gear walking past their homes.