Africa News in Brief: Sept. 11 edition

| September 10, 2013

Courtesy of Global Information Network

Oil polluter snared in corruption crackdown

(GIN)—A Chinese oil giant with several polluting investments throughout Africa has been targeted in a sweeping anti-corruption drive in China. Four senior managers have already been detained in the investigation.

Wang Youngchun, vice president of the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), is being questioned by Beijing for “gross violations of party discipline,” a standard euphemism for corruption.

Three other CNPC executives were named the next day and resigned from their posts for “personal reasons.” The four men are said to be facing questions about the award of oil exploration projects.

At the same time, the CNPC has come under a cloud in Africa for operations linked to environmental devastation. The government of Chad recently suspended all CNPC crude oil drilling operations. Chad’s oil minister, Djerassem Le Bemadjiel called a spill which poisoned many trees intolerable.

“Not only do they not have facilities to clean spilled crude, there were also intentional spillages in order reduce costs,” the minister said. Such violations are a crime, he said, adding, “In the oil sector you don’t do this.”

Le Bemadjiel said CNPC dug trenches and dumped crude without safeguards and then demanded that local Chadian workers remove the crude without giving them protective gear.

Also reviewing its China contract is Gabon. In July, Gabon withdrew the right of Addax Petroleum, a subsidiary of Sinopec, to exploit an oilfield citing “bad management,” “instances of corruption,” “shortfalls in the respect of the environment” and dodging taxes on oil exports.

The move appears to be part of a new initiative allowing Gabon to own some of its natural resources and give jobs to Gabonese sub-contractors. President Ali Bongo Ondimba said the new state-run Gabon Oil Company should enable the state “to have mastery over the whole chain in the oil industry, from prospection to production, even to marketing.”

The “bad old days,” when foreign nationals called the tune, may be ending, said one oil official.

“We’re not saying that contracts are too favorable to oil companies, but that unfortunately the benefit to the Gabonese economy is too slim and that (the rules) have rarely been applied,” Minister Etienne Ngoubou said.

Other countries with Chinese oil deals include Angola, Mozambique, Niger, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo. While Chinese interests in Africa have surged, Western states still make the vast majority of investments in Africa and remain highly influential.

 

Gold miners reject 6 percent pay hike as owners sock away cash

(GIN)—Some 80,000 gold miners in South Africa have walked off the job after the industry offered a single digit increase in pay. The stoppage was called by the National Union of Mineworkers which represents two thirds of unionized mine workers. Their demands include wage increases of up to 60 percent.

In advance of the walkout, mine owners upped their cash balance and prepared to “ride out the storm.”

Weeks of talks between unions and companies broke down two weeks ago.

Mining Minister Susan Shabangu told the two sides to “find each other soon,” warning that a protracted strike would impact negatively on the economy.

Union spokesman Lesiba Seshoka, in a press interview, responded: “If the bosses can sit in air-conditioned offices earning millions a year, why can’t they (miners) earn 7,000 rand ($700) basic a month?… We will strike until they revise their offer.”

The more hardline Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), is pushing for a pay hike of 150 percent.

The average South African miner’s monthly pay, including benefits, totaled $1,500 at the end of last year. But, entry-level miners receive only a third of that or just $500 per month.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s four biggest gold producers revealed that they are hoarding cash and lining up access to more as they prepare for the first industry-wide strike since 2011.

According to Bloomberg news wire, Sibanye Gold Ltd. boosted its cash balance sevenfold and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. arranged to borrow more from banks if needed. Gold Fields Ltd. scrapped its dividends to shareholders but spent $300 million to buy three Barrick Gold Corp mines in Australia.

Gold Fields, while cutting costs and spending at its South Deep mine, has imposed a 24-hour, seven-day-week operating model. Labor relations have been “challenging,” they said.

“If we are, let’s say, bullied into a situation that we don’t like, we can ride out the storm for a very long period of time,” Sibanye Chief Executive Officer Neal Froneman told Bloomberg. “That was the reason behind putting cash in the bank.”

CEO salaries also remain strong. AngloGold CEO Srinivasan Venkatakrishnan almost doubled his pay to $4.4 million in 2012 while Gold Fields’ CEO Nick Holland got a total package of $4.3 million. Both companies saw shares drop by double digits.

Striking miners join 30,000 operators at car manufacturers and 90,000 construction employees. Some 72,000 workers at gas stations and car dealerships said they might walk out on early in September.

 

Kenyan actress wins strong accolades for new epic film

(GIN)—Movie critics, swept off their feet by Kenyan actress and filmmaker Lupita Nyongo, are predicting an Oscar nod for the captivating new star who appears in the blockbuster movie “12 Years a Slave.”

Based on a true story, the movie tracks Northern-born free man Solomon Northrup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C., and sold into slavery in 1841.He worked on plantations in Louisiana for 12 years before his release. His autobiography appeared in 1853. The film received a standing ovation during its recent debut at the Tulleride Film Festival in Colorado.

Variety magazine movie critic Peter Debrudge wrote: “Actresses like Nyong’o don’t come along often, and she’s a stunning discovery amidst an ensemble that carves out room for proven talents such as Paul Dano, Alfre Woodard and Brad Pitt to shine.”

Northup’s unforgettable story was also the subject of an American TV film, which aired on PBS in 1984. Directed by Gordon Parks, it was released on video under the name “Half Slave, Half Free.”

Born in Mexico, raised in Kenya and educated in the U.S., Nyong’o is a graduate of Yale’s drama program and has already directed her own documentary about the treatment of Kenya’s albino population. She is best known for her role in MTV’s 2009 series “Shuga.”

The movie, at two hours and 14 minutes, is scheduled for release in the U.S. on Oct. 18.

 

Sisulu University heads for chopping block

(GIN)—The South African university named for anti-apartheid fighter and African National Congress member Walter Sisulu has hit rough waters and appears headed for closure within months.

Newspaper accounts blame the fall of the institution on administrators who overpaid themselves, left the school bankrupt, mired in conflict and corruption.

The Eastern Cape university was closed indefinitely recently, highlighting neglect in a province that was once an African National Congress stronghold and whose education institutions, such as Fort Hare University, produced some of Africa’s most prominent leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Robert Mugabe.

At a recent press conference in Pretoria, the head of department of higher education, Gwebinkundla Qonde cited the unusually high percentage of school income spent on salaries—about 75 percent—when the national payroll norm is between 55 and 62 percent.

“This is a consequence of deliberate misappropriation of funds by members of management” who illegally used earmarked grants provided for infrastructure improvements to pay salaries, Qonde said.

Labor troubles at the university have been ongoing. After nine months of failed talks, a strike was called and is now in its eighth week.

Walter Sisulu University is a product of a 2005 merger of the Eastern Cape Technikon, Border Technikon and the University of the Transkei. It is spread over a large area, including Mthatha, East London, Butterworth and Queenstown and registered over 9,000 students at one time.

Meanwhile, the school’s 27,000 students were given until today to vacate its four campuses.

The downfall of the troubled school may have decades-old roots. According to Dr. Somadoda Fikeni, the former chair of the university council, Sibusiso Bengu, the first post-apartheid education minister, proposed historical redress funding for historically disadvantaged institutions. But he was defeated by a strong lobby against his efforts.

Writing in the Mail&Guardian newspaper, Fikeni observed: “(The) historical, systemic and structural challenges of a merger that combined three severely disadvantaged institutions, each with its own history of instability… was compounded by the poor recovery of student debt, the general culture of poor payment of fees and the reality of servicing one of the poorest regions in the country, as reflected in its demographic features.”

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. 

 

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 11 print edition.

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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.