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A tragic start to the New Year in a township tavern. Zimbabweans line up to avoid deportation. A racist chicken industry? South Africa’s BRIC ambitions. Winnie, the opera. And free sanitary pads from the president.
Top News: Ten people were trampled to death in a bar stampede during New Year celebrations at a crowded tavern in Ipelegeng, a township in North West province. According to reports, the stampede occurred when party-goers tried to escape a fight at around 2 a.m., however the exact cause was unclear. Most of the dead were between 18 and 25 years of age. The tavern owner, who is facing charges of culpable homicide, gave R5,000 ($730) to each of the victims’ families.
More than 275,000 Zimbabweans applied to legalize their stay in South Africa following a change in government regulations. South Africa in April 2009 began allowing Zimbabweans into the country without proper papers to deal with the flood of migrants over the border due to political and economic chaos in Zimbabwe. They had been given until January 1 to apply to legalize their stay in South Africa, leading to lengthy lines at Home Affairs offices. Many faced difficulties in getting supporting documentation such as passports from Zimbabwe. South Africa has temporarily halted the deportation of undocumented Zimbabweans until all the applications have been processed. There are an estimated 1.5 million Zimbabweans living in South Africa.
Residents of Bapsfontein, a shanty town near Pretoria, clashed with police over attempts to relocate more than 3,000 families after huge sinkholes appeared in the area. Hundreds of people unhappy with being moved burned tires and threw stones as police fired rubber bullets and tear gas. The sinkholes, some of which are more than 260 feet across, are said to be caused by the extraction of water by farms in the area, causing cave-ins. Officials say that the area is dangerous and not fit for human settlement.
South Africa began a two-year stint on the United Nations Security Council by saying that it would push for reform. Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said that the current power configuration on the Security Council “is not in favor of the non-permanent members and national interests sometimes override international commitments.” During its last stint on the Security Council, under former president Thabo Mbeki, South Africa was criticized for seeking to shield countries such as Zimbabwe and Burma from sanctions and other international actions.
A chicken scandal hit South Africa after reports that one of the country’s biggest chicken suppliers reprocesses unsold frozen chickens and puts them back on sale with new expiry dates. Blade Nzimande, leader of the South African Communist Party, accused the poultry industry of racism. “I can tell you now that more than 80 percent of ordinary black South Africans, they get their food from the spaza shops [small family-run shops in townships] which means that you are actually selling rotten meat to black people,” he said.
Money: South Africa was invited by China to join the BRIC group of key emerging economies, putting it alongside heavyweights Brazil, Russia, India and China. President Jacob Zuma had been lobbying hard for the country to join the BRIC club, and will attend a leaders' summit in Beijing in April. However analysts and economists say that South Africa, with its comparatively tiny population, small GDP and stodgy economic growth rate, does not fit the grouping, suggesting that the decision was a political move by China seeking to boost its influence in South Africa.
The South African currency ended 2010 by hitting a three-year high against the U.S. dollar. The rand gained more than 10 percent against the dollar in 2010, and in the final days of the year hovered at between 6.59 and 6.65 to the dollar. South African policymakers have been trying to find ways to curb an overly strong rand that is buoyed by investors pouring into emerging markets in seek of higher-risk assets. The rand weakened slightly against the dollar in the first week of 2011.
Controversial businessman Sandile Majali was found dead in his Johannesburg hotel room under mysterious circumstances. The cause of death has not yet been determined. Majali had been charged with fraud for allegedly hijacking mining company Kalahari Resources, and was out on bail at the time of his death. Majali was previously in the public eye for his involvement in the Oilgate controversy, in which he “donated” millions of rand to the ANC ahead of the 2004 elections on behalf of national oil company PetroSA.
Elsewhere: The tumultuous life of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, ex-wife of Nelson Mandela, will get the musical treatment in “Winnie: The Opera,” set to open in April in Pretoria. The producers of the opera have promised a “warts-and-all” treatment of Madikizela-Mandela, with publicity for the show reading: “She gave voice to a time. She gave voice to a place. She gave voice to a people. Love her or hate her … but come and hear her.”
At a rally to mark the ruling African National Congress party’s 99th birthday, President Jacob Zuma made an unusual promise: He told the crowd of 120,000 supporters that he would provide free sanitary pads to menstruating women who can’t afford them. The ANC’s youth wing and the Young Communist League had previously called for free sanitary napkins to women from poor families, saying that if the government can give out free condoms, it should also provide free pads.