Daily Archives: April 27, 2018

Malawians Protest Corruption Ahead of Former President’s Return

Business came to a standstill in Malawi’s commercial capital Friday, with the city’s main road almost deserted and many shops and businesses temporarily closed, as hundreds of people marched against corruption and bad governance.

The demonstrations, drawing thousands of people nationwide, were held one day before former president Joyce Banda returns home after spending the past four years in the U.S. Investigations into corruption during her administration are ongoing.

The march in Blantyre was peaceful, despite fears of a repeat of the 2011 anti-government demonstration in which 20 protesters were shot dead.

“I should commend our colleagues, our citizens, that we have really demonstrated peacefully and we believe nobody has been injured or [their rights] violated,” said Masauko Thawe, coordinator for the Blantyre demonstrations.

In a petition entitled “Time to Reclaim Our Destiny,” organizers demanded that President Peter Mutharika reverse his appointment of Rodney Jose as the acting inspector general of police. Jose was implicated in the murder of university student Robert Chasowa in 2011.

The protesters also demanded the government end ongoing power outages, stop attacks on albinos, and change the electoral system to elect the president by simple majority vote.

Activists have given the president 90 days to respond to some of the issues, according to Thawe, but “we have other issues which are very pertinent which we require immediate response, we have given them 15 days to respond.”

Charles Mphembo of Blantyre District Council received the petition on behalf of the president.

“I want to assure you, those who have brought it, that it is, indeed, received and it will reach the authorities at the right time today,” Mphembo said.

The demonstrations coincided with the planned return of Malawi’s former president, Joyce Banda, on Saturday.

Banda left the country in 2014 amid a $32 million corruption scandal known as Cashgate, in which several convicted suspects named Banda as a mastermind.

Last year, police issued an arrest warrant to question Banda on the allegations. Speaking to VOA Friday, police spokesperson James Kadadzera would not say whether police will try to take Banda into custody.

“All I can say in a single sentence is the warrant of arrest is still valid. I will stop there, that it is still valid,” Kadadzera said.

Banda’s spokesperson, Andekuche Chanthuya, told VOA that the warrant for arrest does not scare Banda.

“Dr. Joyce Banda is not afraid or intimidated by their announcement that their warrant of arrest is still valid because all Cashgate cases were investigated and prosecuted by the Anti-Corruption Bureau,” Chanthuya said. “Now, the head of the Anti-Corruption Bureau has made it clear that JB [Joyce Banda] is not linked to any Cashagate, whether as a beneficiary or as a masterminder.”

He says Banda has been abroad to conduct personal business, give speeches and run her foundation.

Chanthunya said Banda will hold a political rally for her People’s Party in her home district, Zomba.

Source: Voice of America

Nigerian Shi’ite Group Vows More Protests Until Leader Freed

The Islamic Movement of Nigeria demonstrated again on Wednesday in Abuja. A rally by the group Monday descended into violence, leading to dozens of arrests and injuries. The IMN is demanding the release of its leader, who has been in state custody since a deadly military crackdown on the group more than two years ago.

IMN members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria have been gathering in the Nigerian capital every day since mid-January to protest. Each day, they repeat the same chant.

They’re calling for the release of the Shi’ite cleric Ibraheem Zakzaky, the founder and leader of the IMN. He and his wife have been detained since December 2015. Authorities have refused to comply with a 2016 court order to release them.

IMN’s spokesman Ibrahim Musa told VOA that Zakzaky had a minor stroke and is experiencing eye problems. He said the government has denied Zakzaky’s request to travel abroad for medical treatment.

He is suffering a lot in detention,” Musa said. “So I would believe that the federal government is just buying time probably for him to die in detention and that is why apart from the legal path we have taken, we resorted to protest so at least our voice can be heard by the world.

The Nigerian government has repeatedly said that IMN breaks laws and incites unrest.

Police have shut down IMN rallies this week.

A protestor shared cell phone footage he shot Monday with VOA.

The video shows police officers on horseback. Some of the officers grab the protestors by their arms. Protesters throw stones at armored tanks.

IMN member Abdullahi Musa, 32, told us what he saw.

They threw much tear gas and water cannon. Later on used live bullets on us and they shoot a lot of people,” he said. “Yesterday, myself, I was injured. On my knee, they hit me with a stick. I have many, like three friends that were seriously injured by gunshots.

Nigerian police have not responded to accusations that officers used live bullets. In a statement Monday, police said at least 115 people were arrested and 22 officers were injured.

Amnesty International has been investigating the government’s response to IMN since 2013. Isa Sanusi, the media officer of Amnesty’s Nigeria office, spoke to VOA.

We call on the government to allow them their right to lawful protests and lawful assembly and freedom of expression so that they can be able to voice their grievances, voice their anger,” said Isa. “They have been peaceful, and they’ve never been a threat. We see no reason why the government would actually resort to the kind of excessive use of force against them as displayed in Abuja in the last two days.

Nigeria’s Shi’ite minority says it has faced repression for decades, something IMN attributes to the centuries-old rift between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims.

The IMN does not recognize the authority of the federal government. Some Nigerian states have banned the IMN, describing its members as extremists and insurgents.

Six out of nine of Zakzaky’s children have been killed in clashes with security forces in the past 20 years. In December 2015, soldiers attacked IMN’s headquarters in the city of Zaria in northern Nigeria. More than 300 IMN supporters were killed.

A Nigerian commission of inquiry investigated the incident and said it found evidence of mass graves in Zaria as well as the use of excessive force by the military.

The spokesman for the IMN tells VOA the group will continue to demonstrate until Zakzaky is released.

Source: Voice of America

Pompeo: Trump Likely to Leave Iran Deal ‘Absent a Fix’

New U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says no decision has been made on whether President Donald Trump will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, adding that negotiations are ongoing.

At his first news conference in his new job, Pompeo said, Absent a substantial fix, absent overcoming the shortcomings, the flaws of the deal, he (President Trump) is unlikely to stay in that deal past this May. Pompeo spoke in Brussels at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, one day after he was sworn in.

Pompeo said he had discussed the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, with his NATO counterparts. The top U.S. diplomat said this issue likely would be high on the agenda when he travels to the Middle East after leaving Brussels.

Pompeo also fielded questions on countering Russian attacks on Western democracy, Ukraine, his visit to North Korea and morale at the State Department.

Asked about a demoralized work force back in Washington, Pompeo said he had met with State Department officers at the NATO mission in Brussels. He said they may have been demoralized, but seemed in good spirits.

They are hopeful that the State Department will get its swagger back, that we will be out doing the things that they came on board at the State Department to do, to be professional, to deliver American diplomacy around the world; that is my mission set.

Pompeo indicated he would meet with State Department employees on Tuesday after returning to Washington.

Asked about his recent meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Pompeo declined to say if Kim is stable. Pompeo did say he believes Kim is serious about a planned summit with Trump. Pompeo congratulated the Republic of Korea and North Korea on a historic meeting, and the Korean people’s aspirations for peace and prosperity.

Let there be no doubt, we would not be where we are today without President Trump’s maximum pressure campaign, and the work that has been done all around the world to apply pressure to North Korea.

Making his first trip hours after he was confirmed sent a strong signal of U.S. support to its NATO allies, Pompeo said:

I hopped straight on a plane and came straight here, Pompeo told NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. There’s good reason for that. The work that’s being done here today is invaluable and our objectives are important and this mission means a lot to the United States of America.

Pompeo said President Trump very much wanted me to get here.

Stoltenberg and others leaders in Brussels say they appreciated Pompeo’s quick action to attend Friday’s talks.

I feel that that’s a great expression of the importance of the alliance and the importance we attach to the alliance and I very much look forward to talking with you, on the need to adapt NATO to a more demanding security environment, the NATO secretary general told Pompeo.

Stoltenberg added, Your valued and long experience will make you a perfect person to be the top diplomat of the United States.

International leaders and foreign policy experts will likely observe Pompeo closely in his first weeks on the job to get a read on where the United States stands, as North Korea, Syria and Iran dominate headlines.

Pompeo is said to be more hawkish on the Iranian government than his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, who wanted the U.S. to stay in the Iran nuclear agreement.

Tillerson was abruptly fired by Trump last month, just hours after returning from a trip to Africa. Trump said he and Pompeo are much more on the same wavelength on Iran and other issues.

During his confirmation hearing, a number of Democratic senators expressed concern that Pompeo is too close to Trump, and may not stand up to Trump when the two disagree on policy. Republican lawmakers noted Pompeo’s close relationship to Trump will be a great asset on the world stage.

Pompeo heads to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan after Friday’s NATO meeting.

Source: Voice of America

Cape Town’s Gang Violence ‘Makes for Intolerable Living’

Fourteen-year-old Zinadene Pelton was walking to his grandmother’s house after school one day when gunfire erupted.

“I just heard the gunshots, and I heard somebody shout, ‘It’s Zinadene!'” his grandmother, Maureen Johnstone, recalled days after the shooting in Cape Town’s Hanover Park township.

Standing at a street-side memorial to the boy, Johnstone added, A group of us rushed over here. He was lying with his backpack still on his back. We picked him up and rushed him to the hospital. But, even as he lay here, I could see he was already gone.

Police said Zinadene, shot in the chest, had gotten caught in gang crossfire.

Grim distinction

Zinadene’s fatal shooting in March 2017 was one more validation of Cape Town’s sorry title as South Africa’s murder capital � with gang violence a key contributor.

Last year, Cape Town recorded 62 homicides for every 100,000 people � double that of almost any other in the country, according to the South African Cities Network, which promotes best practices in urban development and city management.

The epicenter of that violence is the Cape Flats, a cluster of impoverished neighborhoods � on the outskirts of Cape Town’s affluent city center � where mixed-race or “colored” people were forcibly resettled in the 1960s during apartheid rule. The displacement fractured communities, fueling joblessness and poverty. Gangs sprang up, offering vulnerable youths a sense of belonging and control.

Today, authorities estimate some 130 gangs operate in the Western Cape Province, which encompasses Cape Town. The gangs support themselves through weapons smuggling, contract killing, drug and human trafficking, prostitution and more, recruiting children as young as 9 into the trade.

The largest and most notorious gang is the Americans, whose factions include the Young Americans, the Ugly Americans and the JFKs � short for Junky Funky Kids, not John F. Kennedy, the 35th U.S. president.

To set themselves apart from rival gangs such as the Hard Livings or Sexy Boys, the Americans wear red, white and blue, sometimes adorned with stars and stripes. Or they flaunt clothes emblazoned with logos � legit or counterfeit � of U.S. brands.

Some sport tattoos with the Americans’ motto, In God We Trust, a phrase borrowed from U.S. currency.

But gang violence can make the Cape Flats feel like a forsaken place.

Pressing for change

“It makes for intolerable living here,” said Jean-Pierre Smith, who serves as Cape Town’s safety and security chief. “…You can’t keep clinics open. Everything is under stress. You can’t run proper sports programs, you can’t get public-sector investment, you can’t get job investment, you can’t create jobs because the bullets keep on flying.”

Outside the building where Zinadene Pelton’s funeral was taking place, Hanover Park resident Fatima Blankenberg circulated a petition asking the mayor or other government officials to halt the bloodshed.

“This is an innocent child who got killed. We want government to do something about it,” said Blankenberg, who said she has lost relatives and neighbors to shootings.

Some residents, and advocacy groups such as Gun Free South Africa, have asked parliament to enforce existing gun laws or enact tougher ones in a country where at least hundreds of thousands of illegal weapons circulate.

Some guns have come from corrupt police. In 2016, a former Cape Town senior officer was sentenced to 18 years in prison for selling confiscated weapons to gangsters in the Western Cape. As Eye Witness News reported, Christiaan Prinsloo and some of his colleagues stole 2,400 guns over eight years.

To counter what they see as a gang war on their doorsteps, some Cape Town residents have urged bringing in soldiers. Last October, Fikile Mbalula, then national police minister, said he had requested the deployment of army troops to the Western Cape to combat “the large groupings and military training of some of the [gang] perpetrators,” the News 24 website reported him as saying.

But no troops were sent. The current police minister, Bheki Cele, said he has no plans to seek troops’ aid in fighting gangs in the townships, South Africa’s Eye Witness News (EWN) reported in March.

Tracking shootings

While gangs such as the Americans perpetrate crime on the Cape Flats, American technology and American-style interventions are being used to confront it.

Cape Town authorities have turned to ShotSpotter, a real-time gunfire detection system developed in the United States. Audio sensors pick up the sound of gunfire on the streets. GPS technology pinpoints where the shots were fired.

That information gets relayed to a 24-hour monitoring center in California, where it’s processed. The center promptly feeds details � about the precise location and shooting context � to Cape Town police.

ShotSpotter technology, originally brought to South Africa to tackle rhino poaching, isn’t a magic bullet. But Smith, Cape Town’s security chief, said its use coincided with a decline in shootings in gang hot spots such as Hanover Park.

Quick law-enforcement response brings “a suppressive element, a disincentive to shoot,” he said.

Human intervention

Cape Flats community leaders say boots on the ground are just as essential as technology.

Pastor Craven Engel says he runs a special kind of ministry: Project CeaseFire, an intervention program that deploys former gang members to Hanover Park’s streets as “violence interrupters.” They act as mediators in helping gangs work out their differences, by using words instead of bullets. They also head off retaliation after shootings � and try to keep kids out of gangs in the first place.

“Our job is to get to the shooter, to quarantine him and alter his behavior for him not to shoot. That is our job,” Engel said.

Introduced in Hanover Park in 2012, the project is modeled after CeaseFire, a violence prevention program launched in 2000 in a tough neighborhood of Chicago, in the U.S. state of Illinois. It reduced shootings there by 67 percent in its first year, according to Cure Violence, the nonprofit group responsible for the health program.

The CeaseFire model has been adopted by at least 50 other U.S. cities as well as international sites.

Interrupters have “beats,” gathering information about potential conflict including planned shootings. The work requires the “street cred” that can only come from being an ex-gang member, Engel said.

“They come out of prison, they understand the gang language,” the pastor said of his team. An interrupter “cannot go talk to the gangs about sugar and tea. He’s got to talk to them about the issues at hand. On the other hand, he needs to act like a normal community member, so I’m expecting this double life of them.”

The Cape Flats CeaseFire project has come under criticism. A 2015 report by local law enforcement members called it ineffective and complained its members refused to work with police, South Africa’s Independent Media reported that year.

But security chief Smith was quoted as defending the program, citing “a 31 percent reduction in murders compared to the period in the preceding years in Hanover Park.

If interrupters associated with police, Smith added, they would lose gang members’ trust and “would no doubt be killed very quickly.”

The death toll already is too high on the Cape Flats. There, families like young Zinadene’s console each other and press for change, hoping for an end to the gang violence that has left so many with little more than memories.

Source: Voice of America


JOHANNESBURG– South African power utility Eskom says it has put in place measures to address its current challenges resulting from coal stock shortages but dismisses fears of load-shedding.

It said in a statement here Wednesday that the challenge of coal stock levels being below the required target of 20 days at seven of its power stations was not ideal given that the country is heading into the (Southern Hemisphere) winter period which will see higher electricity usage.

Eskom has, however, put measures in place to address the current coal shortages. Eskom is highly cognizant of the significant impact insufficient coal supply would have on its operations and the entire country.

Eskom is currently facing imbalances where several coal-fired power stations, particularly those in the Mpumalanga Province, are affected. However, it is also important to note that at this stage, the level of coal stock days in more than half of the 15 coal-fired power stations in the Eskom generation fleet is maintained above the grid code target of 20, it added.

Coal stock levels are below the required target of 20 days at the Arnot, Tutuka, Majuba, Hendrina, Camden, Kriel and Komati power stations. Although the total current coal stock day levels of 35 days (excluding Medupi and Kusile Power Stations) are within an acceptable range, it is necessary to have all stations at the required stock day levels, Eskom said.

A number of factors, including the historical underinvestment at cost-plus mines due to capital constraints and the undersupply on both coal quality and quantity by the Tegeta mines which are under business rescue, have negatively impacted stock levels and production. Eskom has informed Nersa [National Energy Regulator of South Africa] of the current coal supply challenges and planned remedial actions as per regulatory requirements, said the utility.

Eskom’s recovery plan includes securing additional coal supplies for the affected stations and a further redirection of coal stock is underway to address the imbalance.

Eskom’s interim Group Chief Executive Officer, Phakamani Hadebe, also dismissed media reports of impending load shedding as unfounded. The recent media reports on impending load shedding due to a shortage of coal are unfounded. Eskom has contracted 84% of the coal it requires over the next five years. A recovery plan is in place to address the short-term imbalance of coal and to improve the stock days at the seven stations below minimum. Eskom is working on ways to expedite the coal procurement process at these mines, said Hadebe.

He added that the situation cannot be compared to 2008 when South Africans experienced load shedding. During that period coal production and delivery were severely affected with wet coal being at the centre of the various challenges experienced at that time.

It remains standard practice at Eskom to increase vigilance on all critical processes particularly during the traditionally higher demand winter period in order to manage for the unexpected and to ensure that the lights stay on.