Africa News in Brief from May 8-14 edition

Courtesy of Global Information Network

The Rev. Jackson to SA students: ‘You’re free but not equal

(GIN)—Globe-trotting civil rights activist, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, was in South Africa last week where he was acknowledged by President Jacob Zuma for his many years organizing Americans against apartheid.

At a ceremony marking “Freedom Day,” Jackson received the Order of the Companions of O.R. (Oliver) Tambo from President Zuma. The prize goes to foreign citizens who have promoted South African interests and aspirations through cooperation, solidarity and support. It is named after the late Oliver Tambo—the African National Congress’s president-in-exile for many years.

Addressing students at the ceremony in Pretoria, Jackson said pointedly: “I want the present generation to know that the struggle is not over. You are free but not equal. You have freedom to equality and to globalization but that doesn’t mean you’re free from the humiliation of skin color apartheid, or apartheid in land ownership, apartheid in education, apartheid in healthcare, apartheid in banking and apartheid in who owns ships and airplanes and trade and business.”

“This generation,” he said, “must continue the work started by those activists who went to jail more than 30 years ago and those who went to Robben Island and exile and were murdered like Chris Hani and Steve Biko.

“That generation pulled down the walls. This generation must build the bridges. This generation must seize education in order to close the gap in engineering, medicine and industry and capital investment.”

Jackson’s remarks appeared to reference the country’s enormous wealth gap with a small very rich and powerful elite and an enormous “underclass.”

Bishop Robert Kelley, a member of the Democrats Abroad based in Johannesburg, affirmed the choice of Jackson.

“He was a vocal and active voice for the freedom of South Africa. He went to jail for South Africa in perhaps a more profound way because it caused millions of leaders and the congress in the US to wonder why Jackson, black leaders and legislators would go to prison and fight for the freedom of people on a continent and land so far away,” said Kelley.

However, he added, “Now the quest is that apartheid in SA is in legislative remission but growing in prominence economically. The spirit and the effects of the sin still remain. Only a united people can eliminate its scars of the past.”


Strike season looms for underpaid African workers

(GIN)—With U.S. fast food workers walking picket lines for better wages, in a parallel fashion militancy is growing among South African and other workers around the continent, frustrated by years of minimal benefits and low pay.

In South Africa, the teachers union Sadtu is threatening a full-blown strike and transport union Satawu kicked off the strike season with a bus drivers’ strike last week. An offer of a five percent raise was rejected as far below their demand of 13 percent. Wage talks in the mining, motor manufacturing, construction and chemical industries could make this a winter of discontent to remember, observed reporter Ranjeni Munusamy writing for the Daily Maverick.

Last year, wildcat strike action in the mining sector in 2012 took a deadly turn at the Lonmin platinum mine at Marikana. Security police with heavy weapons turned on the strikers, killing 34, and horrifying the nation. The “massacre” is now the focus of a Commission of Inquiry which heard this week that senior police had no clear idea what was happening when the shooting started.

This year, the head of the ANC labor federation, Cosatu—S’dumo Dlamini—will address the main Workers Day rally in Galeshewe—the capital of the Northern Cape province, along with President Jacob Zuma and SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande.

In a statement prepared for May Day 2013, Cosatu declared: “(Our) challenge is how to radically improve our role as the defender of workers’ rights in the workplace, while at the same time fighting for the broader transformation of the economy, creation of decent jobs and the elimination of poverty and inequality.”

Cosatu called the theme for this year’s May Day celebrations: A united working class for a radical economic transformation.

May Day rallies took place in Ghana with the theme of “Pension, It’s Your Right and Responsibility;” Nigeria with a rally lead by Presisdent Goodluck Jonathan under the banner “100 Years of Nationhood, Challenges of National Development’’ and Uganda under the theme “Skilling Ugandans for lncreased Labor Productivity: A Shared responsibility.”

Known as International Workers’ Day (also as May Day), the holiday is widely celebrated, with as many as 80 countries honoring the date and what it stands for.


Much at stake for Coke, Pepsi in latest Sudan skirmish

(GIN)—Execs of the some of the most popular soft drinks may be finding it hard to chill this week as fighting in Sudan nears the center of the world’s gum arabic industry—an important ingredient in Coke, Pepsi and other fizzy drinks.

Rebels from Sudan’s Darfur region, seeking to topple President Omar al-Bashir, have been moving steadily towards Khartoum, passing through North Kordofan and its capital, El-Obeid.

Until recently, the road between Khartoum and El-Obeid, heartland of gum arabic, had been blocked by fighting, according to the state-afflilated Sudanese Media Centre.

Gum arabic is used in the manufacture of soft drinks, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Its harvest is expected to grow by 20 percent this year as demand from Asian markets grows. Although figures are hard to come by, Sudan exports somewhere between 40 percent and 70 percent of the world’s gum arabic.

Writing in the Daily Maverick, reporter Simon Allison provided background: “Gum arabic is the hardened sap of a specific species of Acacia tree, most of which grow in Sudan. When it’s dried out and ground into a powder it can be used as what’s called an “edibile emulsifier,” which translates as glue we can eat.

“By far its most important use is in fizzy drinks, where gum arabic binds the sugar to the drink; without it, the sugar would just fall out of the solution and collect in a pile at the bottom of the can.”

The most recent data available from Sudan’s central bank show the country earned $81.8 million from gum arabic in 2011, compared with $23.8 million a year earlier.

The commodity’s importance to western markets led the U.S. to exempt it from a trade embargo first imposed on Sudan in 1997 because of the country’s alleged sponsorship of terrorism.

Meanwhile, the multi-layered conflict has created 1.4 million displaced people who rely on food handouts. The African Union this week condemned the armed attacks by rebels in both North and South Kordofan state who destroyed a communications tower and electricity station, and looted civilian property and gas stations.

The rebel attack comes as the Sudanese government and the rebel SPLM-N launch the first round of direct talks—the first since 2011— in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.


Philanthropist fears U.S. is ‘disengaging’ from Africa

(GIN)—One of Africa’s better known philanthropist, Mo Ibrahim, has sounded the alarm over what he calls the disastrous disengagement by the U.S. from Africa, with serious consequences for the continent.

Although Africa is moving forward, the United States is pulling back, said Ibrahim, the billionaire entrepreneur, founder of the Ibrahim Prize to democratically elected presidents, and father of Africa’s mobile phone revolution.

Ibrahim was speaking at the recent African Leadership Award ceremony sponsored by Africare where he received the Bishop John T. Walker Leadership Award in a Washington, D.C., ceremony.

“We are witnessing a gradual and continuous U.S. retreat from Africa,” said Ibrahim. “We don’t understand that. The U.S. has been a great friend all these years, but as soon as Africa found itself starting to move up, the U.S. is really disengaging, to be frank, and as friends we must be frank with each other.”

He continued: “Everywhere in Africa you see Indian, Chinese, Brazilian businesses. Other than Coca Cola and the oil companies, it is very rare to see American businesses.”

Ibrahim’s concerns were echoed last week by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who will attend an African Union summit in Ethiopia next month. Washington had to be more engaged with Africa, he declared.

The May 19 to May 27 summit in Addis Ababa will mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Organization of African Unity, the predecessor to the AU.

Kerry told US lawmakers he was concerned by China’s growing influence in Africa.

“China is now out-investing the United States significantly in Africa,” Kerry told his former colleagues on the Senate foreign relations committee.

Although China was principally focused on resources, which did not pose direct competition to the United States, Kerry said he was worried about possible negative consequences.

In a related development, the Center for Global Development, in a new report, revealed that China committed more than $75 billion to Africa in the past decade, coming close to the level of US money although the nature of Beijing’s support was far different.

A database released by the Center aims to be the most comprehensive account yet of foreign assistance by China.

The report found that China committed $75.4 billion to Africa from 2000 to 2011, just under the $90 billion by the United States and representing about one-fifth of the total from all major donor nations.


Jayne Cortez, renowned American poet, to be laid to rest in Nigeria

(GIN)—Fulfilling a wish of his late wife, Jayne Cortez, sculptor Melvin Edwards, her son and grandson flew to Benin, Nigeria, with her cremated ashes, to lay them to rest in a final burial.

Before she died on Dec. 28 at the age of 78, the celebrated American poet and outspoken human rights activist had instructed her family that she wished to be buried in Africa, the place she called home.

The late poet was a spoken-word performer, a teacher, theatre director and activist. Besides writing a dozen volumes of poetry published under her imprint Bola Press, Cortez founded the Watts Repertory Theatre company for which she served as its artistic director. She toured and recorded with her own band, The Firespitters. She lived in New York and Dakar, Senegal.

Together with Ghanaian writer, Ama Ata Aidoo, she founded the Organisation of Women Writers of Africa (OWWA) and organized the project called Slave Route: The Long Memory.

Information about this year’s OWWA conference from May 16-19 in Accra, Ghana, can be found on the website:


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Portions of this article originally appeared in our May 8, 2013 issue.

Category: Africa Briefs

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GLOBAL INFORMATION NETWORK distributes news and feature articles on Africa and the developing world to mainstream, alternative, ethnic and minority-owned outlets in the U.S. and Canada. Our goal is to increase the perspectives available to readers in North America and to bring into their view information about global issues that are overlooked or under-reported by mainstream media.

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