Malawi said Friday that several of its diplomats had been expelled from South Africa, which said they had been found guilty of peddling duty-free alcohol.
Malawi’s foreign affairs ministry in Lilongwe said South Africa had given the diplomats and their families 72 hours to leave the country.
Pretoria took the decision because the diplomats “were found guilty of engaging in illicit trade in duty-free alcohol” following an intensive investigation into their flouting of diplomatic privileges, South Africa’s ministry of international relations said in a statement.
Pretoria said investigations into similar transgressions by other missions accredited to South Africa were “at an advanced stage and similar action will be taken should they be found guilty”.
Several diplomats of Lesotho were expelled from South Africa on Thursday on similar grounds.
South African media have reported that cash-strapped Lesotho diplomats have been bringing alcohol into the country without paying duty and then re-selling it in bars and restaurants.
Malawi’s foreign ministry expressed “regret” that “Malawian diplomats…have been declared persona non grata” by South Africa.
It vowed disciplinary action when the officers return home.
South Africa’s government announced Friday it would sell a majority stake in cash-strapped flag carrier SAA to a consortium that includes the operator of a local budget airline, effectively privatising it.
The airline, which is emerging from a rescue plan, will effectively be privatised as investors will hold a majority stake.
“Having evaluated the current environment, the government has agreed to the (strategic equity partner) owning of 51 percent of the shareholding and government 49 percent,” Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan said in an online media conference.
The consortium includes Harith General Partners, an investor in African infrastructure and airports, and airline management firm Global Airways, an aircraft leasing firm that recently launched local budget airline LIFT.
“With this partnership, we believe we are closer to achieving the important objective of having a sustainable national airline,” Gordhan said.
“The new SAA will not be dependent on” the government.
SAA, one of the continent’s largest airlines, was placed under a state-approved rescue plan in December 2019 in an effort to save it from collapse.
The carrier, Africa’s second-largest after Ethiopian Airlines, had not posted a profit since 2011 and survived for years on state bailouts.
A symbol of the mismanagement of state-owned enterprises that characterised ex-president Jacob Zuma’s reign, the airline was forced to abandon many routes even before the Covid-19 pandemic.
The consortium, whose name Takatso translates to “aspire” in Sesotho, will initially inject 3.5 billion rand ($255 million; 211 million euro) into the airline.
“The partnership represents a robust, exciting South African-bred solution,” said the consortium chair Tshepo Mahloele, who is the founder of Harith, which owns Lanseria airport in northern Johannesburg.
Takatso CEO and co-founder of LIFT Gidon Novick expressed confidence that SAA would turn into an efficient and innovative airline that could catalyst for the growth of the country’s economy.
“We believe it is the best time,” he said during the briefing. “Airline models around the world are being challenged… We have the capital and financial insights of Harith,” said Novick.
A legal battle is looming over plans to build Amazon’s multi-million-dollar African headquarters on land cherished by South Africa’s indigenous Khoi San people.
Amazon is setting up its African HQ in Cape Town — a project with the promise of thousands of jobs in a country where unemployment is cripplingly high.
City authorities last month approved the construction of a nine-storey business and residential complex on a greenfield site that will be anchored by Amazon.
Its offices will provide total floor space of 70,000 square metres (7.5 million feet) — equivalent to almost 10 football pitches.
But some of the country’s first inhabitants, the Khoi Khoi and San — whose presence in the southern tip of the continent has been dated by archaeologists to thousands of years — say the project desecrates ancestral land.
They say it lies on a battlefield in which the Khoi defended the territory from Portuguese colonisers in 1510.
“Our heritage will be completely wiped out,” paramount chief Aran Goringhaicona told AFP this week. “There is so much spiritual significance to this place.”
He represents the Goringhaicona Khoi Khoi Indigenous Traditional Council, which is among the indigenous, environmental and community activists contesting the scheme.
Led by a neighbourhood group, the Observatory Civic Association (OCA), they wrote to the developer Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust (LLPT) this week stating their intention to appeal the project in the courts.
Construction of the four-billion-rand ($283 million / 234 million euro) complex is due to start little more than a month from now.
The group is also questioning environmental approvals for the riverside site, said OCA chair Leslie London.
Cape Town is already struggling with episodes of severe floods and drought — a risk that could be amplified when climate change goes into higher gear, London argued.
City authorities say the impact on floods is “minimal” and the site will be built up above the 100-year flood line.
Amazon, which has been operating in South Africa for 15 years, declined to comment on the development.
The site had been protected under a two-year provisional heritage designation, which lapsed in April 2020, according to city authorities.
To acknowledge the history, LLPT said it will build a heritage, cultural and media centre that will be operated by indigenous groups. It will also include a medicinal garden, trail and outdoor amphitheatre.
Some indigenous groups see this as a victory.
“Those plans place the First Nations at the centre of this entire development, right opposite this building that everybody’s talking about, the Amazon building,” said chief Garu Zenzile Khoisan, who heads the First Nations Collective representing several clan formations.
Both the group and the developer said the proposal had been endorsed by the majority of indigenous peoples in the area.
“It is therefore perplexing that a small group of naysayers who claim to work for better inclusive housing opportunities or respectful celebration of local heritage and sustainable environmental upgrades wouldn’t support our plans,” LLPT said in a statement to AFP.
But opponents, including Goringhaicona, say divide-and-rule tactics are being used to stifle or sideline dissent.
City officials have lauded the potential job creation at the site at a time when official unemployment reached 29 percent in the last quarter of 2020.
The project will create 5,239 jobs during construction and close to 900 jobs once the project is up and running, according to LLPT.
Once hunter-gatherers known under the now-discarded label of Bushmen, the Khoi San suffered deeply under colonisation and apartheid.
Many in their community say they still endure wide social inequalities and economic opportunities today, and their past remains overlooked.
“Going onto someone’s sacred terrain and building something on top of it, saying ‘we’re going to offer employment in doing so’ is a morose and sick form of arguing the notion of job development,” said Tauriq Jenkins, high commissioner for the Goringhaicona council.
“You don’t employ the descendants of the Khoi Khoi and San… to dig up their ancestors’ graves”.
Forced to resign three years ago in the face of a litany of corruption scandals, embattled former South African president Jacob Zuma is due back in court on Monday in a graft case dating back more than two decades.
But whether the cunning and charismatic 79-year-old will answer his accusers is the big question.
The court in Pietermaritzburg is examining 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering relating to a 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military gear from five European arms firms for 30 billion rand — equal to almost $5.0 billion at the time.
Zuma, then serving as deputy president to Thabo Mbeki, is accused of accepting bribes amounting to four million rand from one of the firms, French defence giant Thales.
He has lodged a string of unsuccessful series of appeals to have the charges dropped.
In the latest development, all his lawyers quit last month, without publicly giving a reason.
Observers speculate the surprise step could be a ploy to seek yet another postponement, ostensibly to allow a new legal team to prepare his defence and further delay the trial.
“It’s almost inevitable that he or his new team (if there is one) will ask for a postponement — and be granted,” said James Grant, a South African lawyer who is not linked to the case.
Ensconced in his home in rural Nkandla — refurbished during his 2009-2018 presidency with millions of dollars of public money in the name of “security upgrades” — Zuma often appears to be baiting his opponents and the judiciary.
His middle name, Gedleyihlekisa, means “one who laughs while crushing his enemies” in Zulu.
But his public persona is more approachable, as in a TikTok video posted last week showing Zuma dancing with some of his granddaughters.
– ‘Secrets’ – From humble beginnings herding cattle, self-educated Zuma rose to become a leading figure in the anti-apartheid struggle and ruling African National Congress (ANC) party.
As well as enjoying fervent grassroots support and backing among the political class, “he was in charge of intelligence… and he holds a lot of secrets” that he has threatened to spill, said independent political analyst Asanda Ngoasheng.
Affectionately known to his supporters as “JZ” or “Msholozi”, Zuma’s role as intelligence chief made him the feared hunter of traitors and informers during the ANC’s apartheid-era exile.
He also spent 10 years on Robben Island as a political prisoner.
But his fall from grace was to come just a year before the end of his second presidential term, when he became enmeshed in a web of scandals and alleged abuse of power.
Since then, he has constantly played cat-and-mouse with the anti-corruption commission that he himself set up in early 2018 in an abortive bid to convince the country that he had nothing to hide.
For now, Zuma’s repeated refusal to testify to the commission has led to a judicial stalemate.
But he has been named directly or indirectly by more than 30 witnesses before the panel, whose findings may be used for investigation and prosecution purposes.
The former president is no stranger to the courts.
In 2006, he was acquitted on charges of raping the 31-year-old HIV-positive daughter of one of his former comrades.
He shocked the country when he told the court he had showered to supposedly avoid contracting HIV after having unprotected sex with the young woman.
Widely mocked for espousing an idea with no backing in science, Zuma was drawn for years afterwards by local cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro as having a shower spout affixed to his head.
South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) party has suspended its Secretary-General, Elias “Ace” Magashule, over graft charges in a move seen as a political victory for President Cyril Ramaphosa in the divided party.
But a defiant Magashule, who is the first top party official to be temporarily forced out under a new policy aimed at turning the page on a litany of graft scandals, said he was not going anywhere.
Instead, he said he was suspending Ramaphosa from his position as ANC president.
Magashule, 61, was given a 30-day ultimatum on March 30 to step aside after being charged with embezzling public funds while he was premier of the Free State province.
He ignored the deadline and refused to resign voluntarily, forcing the party to suspend him.
“You are hereby temporarily suspended with effect from 3 May 2021 until the final outcome of your court proceedings,” his deputy Jessie Duarte informed Magashule of his suspension in a letter.
The letter, dated Monday and leaked to the media on Wednesday, said the decision to suspend him would be “in the best interest of the organisation”.
But Magashule, countered in a letter Wednesday night sent to Ramaphosa and Duarte, saying he was “appealing this unconstitutional suspension” and that until the appeal was heard he would keep his job.
In a dramatic and strange outburst, he said he was invoking powers vested in him as the Secretary-General of the ANC, to “summarily” suspend Ramaphosa.
But the ANC immediately issued a statement saying its resolution stands and asked Magashule to “respect” the party’s decisions and “subject himself to the discipline of the organization”.
Magashule has been indicted on charges of corruption and fraud, or theft and money laundering, along with around a dozen other co-accused.
The ANC of Nelson Mandela, which has been ruling the country since the end of white minority rule in 1994, has been at pains to clean up its image, marred by years of graft.
– ‘Turning point’ –
David Lewis, head of the Corruption Watch NGO, hailed Magashule’s removal as the “first really strong sign that the ANC is prepared to clean up its own ranks”.
The suspension is a “turning point” for the ANC, setting a “serious precedent” that will be difficult to ignore in future, said political analyst Mcebisi Ndletyana.
“It is a win for the ANC as a whole,” Ndletyana told AFP.
Magashule is to be paid his salary during his suspension but not permitted to represent the ANC or speak publicly about the party.
Charges against Magashule relate to public funds that were set aside to vet government-built housing with asbestos roofs in 2014 when he headed the provincial government, dubbed a “gangster state” in a book by investigative journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh.
The hazardous roofs were never removed, and investigators believe that the equivalent of over $12 million (10 million euros) was pocketed.
Magashule was briefly arrested in November and granted bail on graft charges. He is next expected to appear before a high court in August.
His removal is seen as a first major political score for President Cyril Ramaphosa who first came to power in 2018 vowing to fight corruption when he succeeded the scandal-tainted Jacob Zuma.
“The suspension will bring some credibility to the president’s longstanding pledge of addressing corruption within the ANC,” said Aleix Montana, analyst at risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft.
But analysts note that Magashule, a renowned political infighter with a permanent scowl, a Zuma confidant with an entrenched following within the party, will deepen the factionalism woes in the ANC.
The historic party has been suffering a decline in support in elections in recent years. The country goes to local government polls in October this year.
John Steenhuisen, leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance party, said it was not enough to just suspend Magashule, demanding that the party makes sure that “he is put behind bars.”
South Africa on Tuesday suspended the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine over potential blood clot risks reported by the United States, the health minister said.
The announcement delays an already sluggish vaccination campaign in Africa’s worst-hit country, which has so far only administered the US-made jab.
“We have determined to voluntarily suspend our rollout until the causal relationship between the development of clots and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is sufficiently interrogated,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in an online briefing.
Earlier Tuesday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control recommended a pause in the use of the single shot J&J vaccine over potential links to a rare type of blood clot.
The US agencies said they were acting “out of an abundance of caution”, but J&J has since delayed the rollout of its jab in Europe.
Mkhize said that although no blood clots had been reported among vaccinated citizens in South Africa, the FDA’s advice should not be taken “lightly”.
“We hope that the deliberations will only take a few days,” he added.
“Given the preliminary literature at hand, our scientists are confident that the FDA decision is only on a precautionary basis, and we expect that this will not result in the complete withdrawal of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”
South Africa has vaccinated just under 290,000 health workers since February 17.
The second phase of the country’s rollout plan, which will target essential workers and the over-60s, is scheduled to begin on May 17.
Officials had already been forced to scrap plans to start vaccinating with the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab after a study suggested the formula was less effective against a dominant local virus strain.
So far, South Africa has secured 31 million doses from J&J and 30 million from Pfizer, a first batch of which is scheduled to be delivered in early May.
Another 1.2 million doses will be donated by the international vaccine sharing facility Covax, and an undisclosed amount from the African Union.
South Africa has secured more than enough doses to vaccinate 40 million people — roughly 67 per cent of the population — by the end of 2021, said Mkhize.
Even in the “extremely unlikely event” that the J&J rollout is “completely halted”, the arrival of the Pfizer jabs would allow the second vaccination phase to begin on time, he added.
The latest developments “provide comfort that medical authorities keep a vigilant watch on new products”, he argued, calling on citizens to remain calm and patient.
South Africa’s coronavirus outbreak has remained relatively stable since a second surge in infections during December, although experts warn of a looming third wave over the upcoming southern hemisphere winter.
To date, the country has reported over 1.5 million coronavirus cases and 53,356 deaths.
South Africa accounts for more than 35 per cent of all infections recorded in Africa, according to an AFP tally.
South Africa’s ex-president Jacob Zuma has until Wednesday to suggest what sentence he should be given if found guilty of contempt of court, in a marked deviation from the standard rule book.
Zuma, who turned 79 on Monday, repeatedly snubbed a judicial panel investigating the plunder of state coffers during his nine-year rule, claiming bias on the part of its chair and political interference in the judiciary.
The former head of state testified only once in July 2019 before staging a walkout days later.
On January 28, the Constitutional Court ordered Zuma to appear before the commission — led by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — but he ignored the order.
Zondo then petitioned the country’s top court to jail the scandal-tainted former leader for two years for contempt.
A defiant Zuma skipped the hearing last month and did not file the required affidavits.
The court now wants Zuma to determine “what constitutes the appropriate sanction” if he is found guilty.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng last Friday directed Zuma to file an affidavit of no longer than 15 pages on or before Wednesday explaining “the nature and magnitude of sentence that should be imposed” on him.
It is still unclear if the former president will honour the directive.
Neither his lawyer nor his foundation — the two avenues for his communications — replied to repeated requests for comment.
Experts say it was uncommon for the court to issue such a directive.
— ‘Mafia state’ —
The decision creates an impression of special treatment, said James Grant, a constitutional lawyer, but he added that a soft landing could also spell bad news for Zuma.
The court’s judges are “bending over backward to accommodate him… and are preparing to give him a harsh sentence.
“They want to show themselves as having taken every possible opportunity to hear from him,” Grant explained.
Law professor Omphemetse Sibanda of the University of Limpopo warned that the court’s actions could spell disaster for the country.
In the long term, courts risk being abused by a “clique of rogue powerful elite and politicians as if South Africa is a mafia state where the judiciary is responsible to the politicians,” he wrote in a column on the News24 website.
Zuma had earlier this year compared the courts to the apartheid judiciary functioning under white minority rule.
While highlighting his own anti-apartheid exploits, Zuma said in a statement that he was ready for “the law to take its course” and did not fear being arrested, convicted or incarcerated.
“The wrath visited upon me as an individual knows no bounds,” he said.
Zuma’s defiance has split his ruling African National Congress (ANC) party with one faction, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, vowing to stamp out corruption.
The country’s highest court will make its ruling at an undecided later date.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Appeal on Tuesday declined to set aside a 2018 ruling stripping Zuma of state-funded legal costs incurred by him in his personal capacity.
The court said it was “egregious” to award the former leader a blank cheque to pay private lawyers and that “a web of maladministration” had enabled them.
Zuma has been ordered to return the funds that had been advanced to him.
The embattled leader, who came to power in 2009, was forced to resign in 2018 over graft scandals involving an Indian business family, the Guptas — who won lucrative contracts with state companies and were allegedly even allowed to choose cabinet ministers.