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NEED TO KNOW

SOUTH AFRICA

The Color of Land

Twenty-five years after white-only rule ended in South Africa, race is expected to play a major role in parliamentary elections on May 8.

Voters cast ballots along the lines of race. As Quartz explained, nearly all voters who opt for Freedom Front Plus candidates are white – the party vows to protect them against affirmative action favoring blacks. Meanwhile, the Economic Freedom Fighters party, which proposes tax hikes on the wealthy to fund redistributive policies, draws its support almost entirely from black voters.

But the most important legacy of apartheid-era racism in this political cycle involves land, the Atlantic magazine wrote.

When the African National Congress (ANC) took power in 1994, much of the country’s black population lived in “inadequate, overcrowded and informal settlements,” wrote the BBC. The ANC launched an ambitious housing construction program that built around 3.2 million homes through last year. But the peak of building was 1999. Since then, housing starts have slowed while new construction has sometimes been shoddy.

Folks are disappointed.

Nyani Moloi, 59, was overjoyed when the government helped her and her four grandchildren move out of a corrugated iron shack and into a two-bedroom brick house in a $10 million development. She soon discovered, however, that her new home lacked running water and electricity or waterproof walls. “I am heartbroken by the condition of the house,” she told Reuters.

Such stories have eroded the ANC’s popularity. In 2004, the party won 69 percent of the vote, reflecting how most voters couldn’t imagine voting for anyone but the allies of Nelson Mandela. Now the ANC could earn a share as small as 54 percent of the vote as it did in municipal elections in 2016, CNBC reported.

The issue stemming from the ANC’s falling fortunes at the polls isn’t whether the party will remain in power – it’s who will hold power in the ANC. As Bloomberg explained, the party’s image took a beating during the presidency of Jacob Zuma, who resigned last year under a cloud of corruption.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, whose popularity among voters is higher than the ANC’s, is now trying to clean up the party and South Africa’s government. He has much resistance within the party. And if the party doesn’t win a majority at the polls under his leadership, he’ll have a harder time implementing his reform agenda.

If he does, he can make the broad reforms the country needs and get it back on track. He already has started this process by creating new bodies to oversee the prosecution of public corruption, replacing leadership at some state-owned companies plagued by debt amid allegations of mismanagement and corruption, and securing pledges of billions of dollars in investment from China and others, reported the Washington Times.

Bloomberg wrote that what’s at stake in this election is just as important as 25 years ago: Rescuing what little is left of the gains South Africans have made since the end of Apartheid.

In the first 14 years after Apartheid, millions of poor, black South Africans entered the middle class, government and business, wrote Bloomberg. But Zuma and the ANC chipped away at those gains, and “dismantled” the country’s once-respected legal and regulatory institutions, oversaw the deterioration of state companies and allowed the party of Mandela to become synonymous with dysfunction and corruption.

This election will determine if the man Mandela actually wanted to succeed him will be allowed to do a reset.

WANT TO KNOW

IRAN

Backing Out, Not Down

Iran is set to partially withdraw from the nuclear pact that freed it from economic sanctions on Wednesday, a year after President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the accord and began the process of reinstating those penalties.

Citing a report from Iran’s state-run news agency, the Associated Press reported that the terms of the withdrawal are as of yet unclear. However, President Hassan Rouhani will explain the move in letters to leaders of Britain, France and Germany that will be handed to ambassadors in Tehran, the agency said. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif will write to the European Union.

The news comes amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran, following US claims that intelligence sources indicated that Iran had put short-range ballistic missiles aboard boats in or near the Persian Gulf. In response, the US deployed an aircraft carrier and bomber wing to the area – or, as Business Insider details, a “ton of firepower.”

BRAZIL

Guns and Red Tape

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro followed through on a campaign promise Tuesday by signing a decree that loosens the country’s strict gun laws, making it easier for citizens to buy firearms and ammunition amid growing concern over violent crime.

The decree “lessens bureaucracy” and opens Brazil’s gun market to foreign-made weapons and ammo, according to a summary of the decree released by the president’s office, the Associated Press reported.

It also dramatically increases the amount of ammunition that gun owners can buy, increasing the limit from 50 rounds a year to between 1,000 and 5,000, depending on the type of gun license the buyer holds.

Earlier, Bolsonaro eliminated a law that required gun seekers to explain to the Federal Police their reasons for wanting a gun before they could buy one. However, the country still requires buyers to pass a psychological screening and a safety course.

Along with advocating looser gun laws to allow regular citizens to protect themselves, the far-right president also ran a get-tough-on-crime campaign, as more homicides occur annually in Brazil than anywhere else in the world.

DENMARK

Not So Hygge

Denmark’s Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen announced Tuesday that the country will hold a parliamentary election on June 5.

Current polls indicate that the ruling coalition led by Rasmussen’s center-right Liberal Party will lose power to a center-left bloc led by Mette Frederiksen’s Social Democratic Party, Reuters reported.

The campaign is likely to hinge on the future of the country’s popular welfare model, as the two blocs have sparred over spending as the system comes under pressure due to changing demographics, the agency said.

At present, Denmark’s cradle-to-grave welfare system offers universal healthcare, education and services for the elderly. But Danes pay some of the highest taxes in the world to fund it, and during his four years as prime minister, Rasmussen has been pushing reforms and tax cuts to boost growth.

Meanwhile, his rivals in the Social Democratic Party have vowed to ramp up public spending and partially roll back recent pension reforms, Reuters noted.

DISCOVERIES

Feline Invaders

Australia’s government has been dropping poisonous sausages over large areas to curb the population of feral cats on the continent.

Officials and conservationists are trying to prevent the invasive felines from driving many of Australia’s native species into extinction, according to Live Science.

The lethal snacks are packed with seasoned kangaroo meat and chicken fat laced with sodium fluoroacetate, a toxin that occurs naturally in native plants of the Gastrolobium genus. The chemical is safe for indigenous species, which have developed a resistance to it, but it’s deadly to non-native ones, like cats, which first came to Australia with European settlers back in the 1700s.

It sounds like an inhumane thing to do, but Australia’s increasing feral cat population has been slaughtering indigenous species for decades.

Some 34 mammal species have gone extinct, and the feral cats were responsible for two-thirds of them, Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews told Australian newspapers in 2017, when the current cull began.

“We are not culling cats for the sake of it, we are not doing so because we hate cats,” he explained.

Feral cats are now found across the whole continent and on 80 percent of its islands.

Conservation and animal overpopulation are serious matters in Australia.

In 2017, wildlife officials encouraged Australians to hunt kangaroos for their meat and lower their numbers, since the marsupials’ population was double that of humans.