The World Today for August 03, 2016


Losing Faith

For the past 22 years, South Africa has been running on faith.

Steeped in the lore of Nelson Mandela’s long struggle and eventual victory against apartheid, the 104-year-old African National Congress (ANC) has done better than win elections. The storied political party has taken more than 60 percent of the popular vote in every poll held since the hated racist regime was dismantled in 1994.

Now, though, their unassailable run looks to be coming to an end, thanks to growing dissatisfaction with government corruption, generally, and the voters’ acute dislike for 73-year-old South African President Jacob Zuma.

In municipal polls on Wednesday, Zuma’s ANC is likely to lose its majority in three key cities: Johannesburg, the country’s commercial center; Pretoria, its political capital; and Port Elizabeth, one of its largest metros. Moreover, the party’s overall share of the vote could drop as low as 54 percent for the first time, from the 62 percent it notched in the last national elections two years ago, according to a South African Citizens Survey poll cited by Bloomberg.

If the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) or Economic Freedom Fighters can deliver the expected shellacking, it’s likely to lead to louder calls for Zuma to step down – a development that would to an extent validate the criticism that under his leadership the ANC has “become everything it once fought against,” as one DA leader puts it.

The second-largest economy in Africa, after Nigeria, South Africa has averaged economic growth of about 3 percent since the end of apartheid. But the good times have mostly come to an end since Zuma – who was already battling charges of rape, money-laundering and racketeering at the time – first won the presidency in 2009. With the economy contracting for the first time since that year in the first quarter of 2016, growth is expected to remain flat for the year, even as nearly a third of South Africans are jobless, according to the BBC.

But continuing allegations of corruption and a seeming addiction to flamboyant displays of wealth and power have turned Zuma himself into a larger disaster for the ANC, argues the Financial Times.

With the moral authority of its victory over apartheid, the ANC has always been expected to be different from the continent’s other liberation movements – glorious and then disastrous, by and large, from Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya to Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Instead of redistribution by force, after all, the ANC started with “truth and reconciliation.”

With his unapologetic polygamy and huge country mansion – renovated illegally at the taxpayers’ expense – Zuma has brought postcolonial politics as usual to South Africa. But without the most vital piece of the puzzle, his critics on the left say. Without moving to repossess the assets of white South Africans as recompense for apartheid, Zuma and his ANC predecessors have struggled to deliver economic opportunities for the impoverished blacks who comprise the bulk of their supporters.

That has left Mandela’s party facing threats from both sides – the right-leaning, pro-market DA and the left-leaning, pro-redistribution Economic Freedom Fighters. And while Wednesday’s polls may not deliver a killing blow, they could well augur a day when the ANC is afforded no greater respect than Mugabe’s Zanu-PF or Zambia’s United National Independence party – which cannot boast even a single member of parliament.


A Moving Farewell

A diverse crowd of nearly 2,000 mourners came to Rouen Cathedral on Tuesday to pay their respects to Father Jacques Hamel, who was murdered by two terrorists last week while he said mass in his own church.

Attendees of the ceremony included French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve and religious leaders, including representatives from the Muslim and Jewish communities.

Hundreds more watched a broadcast of the ceremony on a big screen outside the cathedral.

The archbishop of Rouen, Dominique Lebrun, praised Hamel for his loyal service to the church, describing him as “a loyal disciple of Jesus,” and called for peace and tolerance in the world.

Hamel was murdered last week by two attackers, Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean, who stormed the church at Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray in Normandy and slit his throat.

The attackers were the shot dead as they attempted to flee. Another three men are currently in custody and being questioned in their connection to the attack.

Making Good on Promises

Since Rodrigo Duterte took office as president of the Philippines last month, the body count has been rising from his promised war on drugs.

Since late June, 420 people have been killed in the anti-drug campaign, in which police and military have been given free rein to kill suspects, according to local police reports.

While most were killed in confrontations with police, 154 of the deaths came at the hands of “unidentified vigilantes.” The uptick in deaths has prompted another 114,833 people to turn themselves in as drug addicts or dealers.

Duterte shows no signs of slowing down. In his first State of the Nation address last week, he ordered police to “triple” their efforts against crime.

Still, others say that the majority of fatalities from the crackdown were poor Filipinos who had nothing to do with the drug trade and were simply shot down in the streets, without an arrest or trial.

“These are not the wealthy and powerful drug lords who actually have meaningful control over supply of drugs on the streets in the Philippines,” Phelim Kine, a deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Asia, told the New York Times.

A Severe Reproach

Tokyo issued strong warnings against North Korea after a ballistic missile fired by the Hermit Kingdom early Wednesday landed unusually close to Japan’s shores – only 150 miles west of the Akita Prefecture in northern Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the missile landed in Japanese territorial waters and called the launch an “unforgivable act of aggression that represents a grave threat to the security of Japan.”

Abe said that Japan lodged a protest with Pyongyang and would coordinate with the U.S. and South Korea over “resolute measures” in response to the missile launch.

While North Korea frequently test launches ballistic missiles in defiance of UN bans, they rarely pose an immediate threat to other countries, writes the WSJ.

This morning’s missile came closer to Japan than any since a 1998 missile that flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific Ocean about 200 miles east.

Pyongyang has now launched over 30 ballistic missiles since current leader Kim Jong Un took power in 2011. In June, North Korea successfully tested a new type of midrange missile that analysts say could pose a threat to US bases throughout the region.


No Mammoth is an Island

One of the last pockets of wooly mammoths perished from thirst around 5,600 years ago, scientists have concluded.

The mammoths on St. Paul Island in Alaska were holdouts from the Ice Age as mankind was inventing civilization in Egypt and elsewhere.

But the warming climate and rising sea levels were drying up the fresh water pools on the remote island in the Bering Sea. That in turn likely caused the pachyderms to damage the remaining pools as they jockeyed to slake their colossal thirsts, the researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers used radiocarbon dating on mammoth remains as well as their dung to reach their conclusions.

The findings provide insights into similar events today.

Scientists recently found that rats on Bramble Bay Island in Australia died off after climate change made their island an unlivable trap, The Washington Post reported.

Humans, please take note.


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