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Shepherd Or Wolf?

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“Our worst fear is that people are going to die.”

These unsettling words come from the Chairperson of the CRL Rights Commission, Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, after a string of controversial incidents involving religious leaders – the most recent being the arrest of Pastor Timothy Omotoso on 22 charges of sexual offences or human trafficking. The CRL Rights Commission, a Chapter 9 institution, was established in 2014 to protect the cultural and religious rights of South Africans.

“Our gut feeling has always been, where there is so much power, there must be problems. We discovered that people truly believe that these are men of God, sent by God, and these men have so much control of people’s lives and of people’s minds,” says Mkhwanazi-Xaluva.

The CRL Bill is being reviewed in Parliament in June next month, and Thoko is lobbying to amend the CRL Rights Act of 2002, which will allow the CRL to set up a peer review mechanism for all religious leaders in South Africa.

Mercy Or Monster?

“So that when they misbehave, they are disciplined like ordinary people. We are saying there should be a licensing process where before you become a pastor you are given the right to operate, like a doctor or a lawyer, so that if you misbehave, we can withdraw that right to operate.”

Omotoso, the Durban-based Nigerian pastor is accused of grooming young girls, recruited from his church, for sex. The commission is currently investigating these allegations. It was also instrumental in investigating the “Prophet of Doom” last year. The unorthodox preacher, Lethebo Rabalago, from Mount Zion General Assembly, was widely criticized when he claimed that spraying the household insecticide Doom on his congregation would heal them.

These unorthodox incidents, which include pastors forcing congregants to eat grass and live snakes as well as drink petrol, has sparked furore and left burning questions about the need to regulate churches in South Africa.

Omotoso was apprehended at the Port Elizabeth airport and was allegedly hiding in the ladies’ toilets at the time. According to the Hawks spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Netshiunda, they had planned to arrest him in Bloemfontein during the Easter weekend, but Omotoso managed to elude being arrested.

Prophets Of Profit

Omotoso allegedly targeted young women that were members of his Jesus Dominion International Church. The pastor is accused of using recruiters to lure young women, who would then be taken to Durban, isolated from their families, and seduced under the pretext of spiritual mentoring.

I saw first-hand the level of cult-like behavior within the Jesus Dominion International Church. During one of the crusades in Durban a few months ago, the congregation fervently prayed for any enemies of their Pastor to die; a disturbing ritual that, according to our sources, is not uncommon. Perhaps this is not surprising when congregants bow down to Pastor Omotoso and literally worship him as a demigod. Former congregants tell us of how they would be expected to kneel when he calls them on their cellphones, even if they were in a public place.

Even more disturbing is the discovery during my investigation of a 50-seat bus parked outside the church. After the service, a bevy of beautiful young women get on the bus. Former congregants tell me that it is used to transport these young women to his luxury house in the affluent Umhlanga, near Durban.

The young women say they are initially approached by an older woman during or after the church service. Numbers are exchanged and they are put in direct contact with the church leader. The women say they are then invited by the recruiter to a house in Uhmlanga where they are introduced to the pastor and taken to his room where he asks them to join him on the bed and then proceeds to perform sexual acts on them.

Cheryl Pillay, a community activist and trauma counselor that often deals with trafficked victims, heads up the Hadassah Centre for Women in the south of Johannesburg. She says it is not uncommon for women to fall prey to sexual abuse by religious leaders.

“It’s trust and power, you automatically trust someone in a religious position – which gives that person a certain level of power over you because they can manipulate you because of the position of power that they hold… and that’s when the window of abuse may open. There is also the fear that if they say something, is anyone going to believe them because this is such a prominent person?”

If this power is allowed to continue, Mkhwanazi-Xaluva’s worst fear may soon be realized. – By Lee McCabe

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Coca Cola South Africa Improves SME Role In Value Chain

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Coca Cola Beverages South Africa (CCBSA) launches an R20 million fund for small supplier development and procurement, annually, for the next five years.

This was announced by the Financial Director, Walter Leonhardt at Gallagher Convention Centre at the third annual Supplier Development Conference.

CCBS is the South African-based subsidiary of Coca-Cola Beverages Africa (CCBA).

Leonhardt said the purpose of this fund is to assist young upcoming black entrepreneurs in the Coca-Cola value chain.

“We are, today, launching the CCBSA supplier fund of access to funding. To address the issue of access to funding which most SMEs experience,” said Leonhardt.

This will enable the entrepreneurs’ procurement process to be easier.

“It is to help them buy equipment, fund working capital and to help them overcome something we have identified as a challenge for upcoming businesses, which is access to capital on quit lenient terms,” said Leonhardt.

Budding entrepreneurs can visit their website to find out how they can access the funds.

There were over 120 suppliers of CCBSA in attendance.

Managing director of CCBSA Velaphi Ratshefola said they spent R2.35 billion last year, supporting 567 black-owned suppliers, of whom, 265 were black female owned suppliers.  

“So for me, it is clear that this is working. We have helped create a very inclusive economy. We need to play our part and we need to ensure that only through an inclusive growing economy we can create a stable environment where businesses can flourish.

“If we do not have a stable environment, a stable economy, we will have a lot of disturbances which are never good for business,” said Ratshefola.                      

“So for all of us, we should not do it just for social reasons, we must do it for the success of businesses and imperative,” said Ratshefola. 

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Zimbabwe Central Bank Borrows $985 Million From African Banks

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Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank has borrowed $985 million from African banks to purchase fuel and other critical imports with current reserves covering imports for just four weeks, underscoring the severity of dollar shortages, governor John Mangudya said.

The southern African nation last month ditched a discredited 1:1 dollar peg for its surrogate bond notes and electronic dollars, merging them into a lower-value transitional currency called the RTGS dollar.

Mangudya said the central bank borrowed $641 million from the African Export and Import Bank, $152 million from Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank, and $25 million from Mozambique’s central bank, among others.

The loans, which would be repaid from future gold earnings, have a tenure of between three and five years and attract an interest of up to 6 percent above the Libor rate, Mangudya said.

Gold is Zimbabwe’s single biggest mineral export earner, accounting for a third of its $4.2 billion earnings last year after a record output, central bank data shows.

“These loans are well structured facilities contracted last year. They will be paid from future (gold) export receivables,” Mangudya told a parliamentary committee.

The central bank takes 45 percent of dollar sales from gold producers and half from other miners to fund imports like fuel and power and repay foreign loans.

But the miners only have 30 days to keep their dollar balances in local foreign currency accounts, after which they must sell them. The companies have asked the central bank to extend the period they may keep their dollars to 90 days, according to mining executives.

OVERDRAFT LIMIT

Unable to get funding from foreign lenders like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank due to arrears of more than $2.4 billion, Zimbabwe has looked to financiers from the continent and local banks to shore up its budget.

The central bank chief said Zimbabwe had just $500 million in reserves, enough to purchase four weeks’ worth of imports.

Mangudya said government borrowing from the central bank reached $2.99 billion in December, about three times its permissible overdraft limit.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has promised to curb borrowing in 2019 under reforms to revive the southern African economy, after the budget deficit soared last year following a spike in spending ahead of elections.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said last week that the local RTGS dollar, Zimbabwe’s new de facto currency, will be backed up with fiscal discipline and the government would allow it to fluctuate but would manage excessive volatility.

On the interbank forex market on Monday, one U.S. dollar fetched 2.5 RTGS dollars, the same rate as on Feb. 22 when the central bank sold some dollars to banks. That compares to a rate of 3.5 RTGS dollars per U.S. dollar on the black market. -Reuters

-MacDonald Dzirutwe

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Volvo To Limit Car Speeds In Bid For Zero Deaths

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Volvo Cars said on Monday it will introduce a 180 km per hour (112 mph) speed limiter on all new vehicles as the Swedish automaker seeks to burnish its safety credentials and meet a pledge to eliminate passenger fatalities by 2020.

While Volvo, whose XC90 flagship SUV currently has a top speed of 212 km/h, has made progress on its so-called “Vision 2020” target of zero deaths or serious injuries, Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson said it is unlikely to meet the goal without additional measures to address driver behavior.

“We’ve realized that to close the gap we have to focus more on the human factors,” Samuelsson said. Volvo did not elaborate on the data but said its passenger fatalities were already well below the industry average before the goal was announced in 2007.

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In addition to the speed cap, Volvo plans to deploy technology using cameras that monitor the driver’s state and attentiveness to prevent people driving while distracted or intoxicated, two other big factors in accidents, Samuelsson said.

The company is also looking at lower geo-fenced speed limits to slow cars around sensitive pedestrian areas such as schools, while seeking to “start a conversation” among automakers and regulators about how technology can be used to improve safety.

Volvo, which is owned by China’s Geely, announced the new speed limitation policy on the eve of the Geneva auto show, where its new Polestar performance electric-car brand is showcasing its second model, the Polestar 2.

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While Volvo buyers often choose the brand for its safety, Samuelsson conceded that the speed cap could be a turn-off for a few in markets such as Germany, where drivers routinely travel at 200 km/h or more on unrestricted autobahns.

“We cannot please everybody, but we think we will attract new customers,” the CEO said, recalling that the roll-out of three-point seat belts pioneered by Volvo in 1959 had initially been criticized by some as intrusive.

“I think Volvo customers in Germany will appreciate that we’re doing something about safety,” he said. -Reuters

– Laurence Frost; additional reporting by Esha Vaish

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