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The ANC has a new leader: but South Africa remains on a political precipice

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Rumours that President Jacob Zuma has instructed the South African National Defence Force to draw up plans for implementing a state of emergency may or may not be true. Nonetheless they are evidence of South Africa’s febrile political atmosphere.

But any assumption that the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as the new leader of the African National Congress (ANC), after winning the race against Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, will place South Africa on an even keel are misplaced. Indeed, the drama may only be beginning.

It’s useful to look back to 2007 when President Thabo Mbeki unwisely ran for a third term as ANC leader. His unpopularity among large segments of the party provided the platform for his defeat by Zuma at Polokwane. Within a few months the National Executive Committee of the ANC latched onto an excuse to ask Mbeki to stand down as president of the country before the end of his term of office. Being committed to the traditions of party loyalty he complied, resigning as president some eight months before the Constitution required him to do so.

The question this raises is whether South Africa should now expect a repeat performance following the election of a new leader of the ANC. Will this lead to a party instruction to Zuma to stand down as president of the country? And if it does, will he do what Mbeki did and meekly resign?

There’s a big difference between the two scenarios: Mbeki had no reason to fear the consequences of leaving office. Zuma, on the other hand, has numerous reasons to cling to power. This is what makes him, and the immediate future, dangerous for South Africa, and suggests the country faces instability.

READ MORE: Lessons for South Africa’s Jacob Zuma in Robert Mugabe’s misfortunes

Why Zuma won’t go

It is not out of the question that Zuma may say to himself, and to South Africa, that he is not going anywhere. He is losing court case after court case, and judicial decisions are increasingly narrowing his legal capacity to block official and independent investigations into the extent of state capture by business interests close to him.

With every passing day, the prospects of his finding himself in the dock, facing 783 charges, including of corruption and racketeering, also increase.

Zuma will have every constitutional right to defy an ANC instruction to stand down as state president until his term expires following the next general election in 2019, and the new parliament’s election of a new president. In terms of the South African Constitution, his term of office will be brought to an early end only if parliament passes a vote of no confidence in his presidency, or votes that, for one reason or another, he is unfit for office.

But today’s ANC is so divided that it cannot be assumed that a majority of ANC MPs would back a motion of no confidence, even following the election of Ramaphosa as the party’s new leader.

In other words, there is a very real prospect that South Africa will see itself ruled for at least another 18 months or so by what is termed “two centres of power”, with the authority and the legitimacy of the party (formally backing Ramaphosa) vying against that of the state (headed by Zuma).

READ MORE: ‘Zuma The Thief Must Go’

Throwing caution to the wind

As if that is not a sufficient condition for political instability, we may expect that Zuma will continue to use his executive power to erect defences against his future prosecution. He will reckon to leave office only with guarantees of immunity. Until he gets them, Zuma will defy all blandishments to go. And if he does not get what he wants, he may throw caution to the wind and go for broke.

Hence, perhaps, the possibility that he is prepared to invoke a state of emergency.

The grounds for Zuma imposing a state of emergency would be specious, summoned up to defend his interests and those backing him. They would be likely to infer foreign interference in affairs of state, alongside suggestions that white monopoly capital, whites as a whole as well as nefarious others were conspiring to prevent much needed radical economic transformation. Present constitutional arrangements would be declared counter-revolutionary and those defending them doing so only to protect their material interests.

After a matter of time, such justifications would probably be declared unconstitutional by the judiciary. It is then that there would be a confrontation between raw power and the Constitution. If such a situation should arise, we cannot be sure which would be the winner.

READ MORE: Anger At The Corporate Slippery Slope

South Africa’s army

It is remarkable how little the searchlight that has focused on state capture has rested on the Defence Force. Much attention has been given to how the executive has effectively co-opted the intelligence and prosecutorial service, as well has how the top ranks of the police have been selected for political rather than operational reasons.

It seems to have been assumed that South Africa’s military is simply sitting in the background, observing political events from afar. But is it? Where would its loyalties lie in the event of a major constitutional crisis?

The danger of the present situation is that South Africa might be about to find out.

Were the military to throw its weight behind Zuma the country would be in no-man’s land. Of course, there would be a massive popular reaction, with the further danger that the president himself would summon his popular cohorts to “defend the revolution”.

And South Africans should not assume that Zuma would be politically isolated. Those who backed Dlamini-Zuma did so to defend their present positions and capacity to use office for personal gain. If they were to rise up, the army would then be elevated to the status of defender of civil order.

What is certain is that in such a wholly uncertain situation the economy would spiral downwards quickly. Capital would take flight at a faster rate than ever before, employment would collapse even further, poverty would become even further entrenched.

READ MORE: The Southern Slug Fest

Reasons to be hopeful

Is all this too extreme a scenario? Hopefully yes. There are numerous good reasons why such a fate will be averted.

Zuma’s control over the ANC is waning, as is his control over various state institutions, notably the National Prosecuting Authority. And the country has a checks and balances in place: there is a vigorous civil society, the judiciary has proved the Constitution’s main defence and trade unions and business remain influential.

The ConversationEven so, it remains the case that what transpires now that the ANC’s national conference is over will determine the fate and future of our democracy. South Africa is approaching rough waters, and a Jacob Zuma facing an inglorious and humiliating end to his presidency will be a Jacob Zuma at his most dangerous. – Written by Roger Southall, Professor of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand

This article was originally published on The Conversation

Current Affairs

Johnson & Johnson Moves to Limit Impact of Report on Asbestos in Baby Powder

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 Johnson & Johnson on Monday scrambled to contain fallout from a Reuters report that the healthcare conglomerate knew for decades that cancer-causing asbestos lurked in its Baby Powder, taking out full-page newspaper ads defending its product and practices, and readying its chief executive for his first television interview since investors erased tens of billions of dollars from the company’s market value.

J&J shares fell nearly 3 percent Monday, closing at $129.14 in New York Stock Exchange trading. That drop was on top of the 10 percent plunge that wiped out about $40 billion of the company’s market capitalization following the Reuters report Friday. J&J also announced Monday that it would be repurchasing up to $5 billion of its common stock.

Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, on Friday sent a letter to the head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration calling on the agency to investigate the findings in the Reuters report to determine whether J&J misled regulators and whether its Baby Powder products threaten public health and safety.

J&J Chief Executive Alex Gorsky, in his first interview since the Reuters article was published, defended the company during an appearance on CNBC’s “Mad Money” with host Jim Cramer on Monday night. J&J knew for decades about the presence of small amounts of asbestos in its products dating back to as early as 1971, a Reuters examination of company memos, internal reports and other confidential documents showed. In response to the report, J&J said on Friday that “any suggestion that Johnson & Johnson knew or hid information about the safety of talc is false.”

A Monday full-page ad from J&J — headlined “Science. Not sensationalism.” — ran in newspapers including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. The ad asserted that J&J has scientific evidence its talc is safe and beneficial to use. “If we had any reasons to believe our talc was unsafe, it would be off our shelves,” the ad said.

J&J rebutted Reuters’ report in a lengthy written critique of the article and a video from Gorsky. In the written critique, posted on the company’s website, J&J said Reuters omitted information it supplied to the news organization that demonstrated the healthcare conglomerate’s Baby Powder is safe and does not cause cancer; that J&J’s baby powder has repeatedly been tested and found to be asbestos-free; and that the company has cooperated with the U.S. FDA and other regulators around the world to provide information requested over decades.

“Since tests for asbestos in talc were first developed, J&J’s Baby Powder has never contained asbestos,” Gorsky said in the video. He added that regulators “have always found our talc to be asbestos-free.”

A Reuters spokeswoman on Monday said the agency “stands by its reporting.”

Reuters’ investigation found that while most tests in past decades found no asbestos in J&J talc and talc products, tests on Baby Powder conducted by scientists at Mount Sinai Medical Center in 1971 and Rutgers University in 1991, as well as by labs for plaintiffs in cancer lawsuits, found small amounts of asbestos. In 1972, a University of Minnesota scientist found what he called “incontrovertible asbestos” in a sample of Shower to Shower. Other tests by J&J’s own contract labs and others periodically found small amounts of asbestos in talc from mines that supplied the mineral for Baby Powder and other cosmetic products into the early 2000s.

The company did not report to the FDA three tests by three different labs from 1972 to 1975 that found asbestos in the company’s talc.

The Reuters story drew no conclusions about whether talc itself causes ovarian cancer. Asbestos, however, is a carcinogen. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has listed asbestos-contaminated talc as a carcinogen since 1987. Reuters also found that J&J tested only a fraction of the talc powder it sold. The company never adopted a method for increasing the sensitivity of its tests that was recommended to the company by consultants in 1973 and in a published report in a peer-review scientific journal in 1991.

The ad J&J ran in newspapers Monday also pointed to an online talc fact page the company created with “independent studies from leading universities, research from medical journals and third-party opinions.”

That website has changed since early December, according to a Reuters review of online archives.

The website, for instance, no longer contains a section headlined “Conclusions from Global Authorities” that as recently as Dec. 5 listed organizations including the U.S. FDA, the European Union and Health Canada as among entities that have “reviewed and analyzed all available data and concluded that the evidence is insufficient to link talc use to cancer.”

On Dec. 14, the day Reuters published its report, that section of the website had been removed. It is not clear exactly when the online page changed.

The Canadian government released a draft report this month that found a “consistent and statistically significant positive association” between talc exposure and ovarian cancer. The draft report also said that talc meets criteria to be deemed toxic.

The draft report put forth proposed conclusions that are subject to a public comment period and confirmation in a so-called final screening assessment, Health Canada said.

If the conclusions are confirmed, Canadian officials will consider adding talc to a government list of toxic substances and implementing measures to prohibit or restrict use of talc in some cosmetics, non-prescription drugs and health products, Health Canada said.

A J&J spokeswoman said the company removed the website section after the Canadian government issued the draft report. “We chose to be conservative while that draft is under review,” the spokeswoman said.

While J&J has dominated the talc powder market for more than 100 years, the products contributed less than 0.5 percent of J&J’s $76.5 billion in revenue last year. – Reuters

  • Mike Spector, Lisa Girion and Ankur Banerjee 

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South Africa’s Tamaryn Green is first runner-up at Miss Universe pageant

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 Catriona Gray from the Philippines was crowned Miss Universe on Monday, the fourth time the Southeast Asian country has won the international beauty pageant.

Gray, a 24-year-old Filipino-Australian model, won the title in the Thai capital Bangkok where the pageant included for the first time a transgender contestant.

“My heart is filled with so much gratitude. There were moments of doubt where I felt overwhelmed and I felt the pressure,” said Gray, who wore a red and orange dress that was inspired by Mount Mayon, a volcano that erupted this year.

Miss South Africa, Tamaryn Green, 24 was the first runner-up, followed by Miss Venezuela, Sthefany Gutiérrez, 19.

Gray was asked during the contest about her views on legalizing marijuana and replied that she supported it for medical uses.

After she was crowned, Gray told reporters the question was “definitely relevant” and “an active topic”, in an apparent reference to the war on drugs in the Philippines that has killed thousands of Filipinos and caused international alarm.

Gray said during the pageant that working in a Manila slum had taught her to find beauty in difficult situations.

“If I could teach people to be grateful, we could have an amazing world where negativity could not grow and foster, and children would have a smile on their face,” she said.

Miss Spain, Angela Ponce, 27, made history as the first transgender contestant in the 66-year-old pageant.

Gray is the fourth Filipina to win Miss Universe and the second in three years. The pageant was shown live on the country’s biggest television network and dominated social media.

Salvador Panelo, spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte, said her win would put the country on the world map for its “beauty and elegance.”

“In her success, Miss Philippines has shown to the world that women in our country have the ability to turn dreams into reality through passion, diligence, determination and hard work,” he said.

The Philippines previously won Miss Universe titles in 2015, 1973 and 1969. – Reuters

  • Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Neil Jerome Morales 

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Youtube, Under Pressure for Problem Content, Takes Down 58 Million Videos in Quarter

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YouTube took down more than 58 million videos and 224 million comments during the third quarter based on violations of its policies, the unit of Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google said on Thursday in an effort to demonstrate progress in suppressing problem content.

Government officials and interest groups in the United States, Europe and Asia have been pressuring YouTube, Facebook Inc (FB.O) and other social media services to quickly identify and remove extremist and hateful content that critics have said incite violence.

The European Union has proposed online services should face steep fines unless they remove extremist material within one hour of a government order to do so.

An official at India’s Ministry of Home Affairs speaking on the condition of anonymity on Thursday said social media firms had agreed to tackle authorities’ requests to remove objectionable content within 36 hours.

This year, YouTube began issuing quarterly reports about its enforcement efforts.

As with past quarters, most of the removed content was spam, YouTube said.

Automated detection tools help YouTube quickly identify spam, extremist content and nudity. During September, 90 percent of the nearly 10,400 videos removed for violent extremism or 279,600 videos removed for child safety issues received fewer than 10 views, according to YouTube.

But YouTube faces a bigger challenge with material promoting hateful rhetoric and dangerous behavior.

Automated detection technologies for those policies are relatively new and less efficient, so YouTube relies on users to report potentially problematic videos or comments. This means that the content may be viewed widely before being removed.

Google added thousands of moderators this year, expanding to more than 10,000, in hopes of reviewing user reports faster. YouTube declined to comment on growth plans for 2019.

It has described pre-screening every video as unfeasible.

The third-quarter removal data for the first time revealed the number of YouTube accounts Google disabled for either having three policy violations in 90 days or committing what the company found to be an egregious violation, such as uploading child pornography.

YouTube removed about 1.67 million channels and all of the 50.2 million videos that were available from them.

Nearly 80 percent of the channel takedowns related to spam uploads, YouTube said. About 13 percent concerned nudity, and 4.5 percent child safety.

YouTube said users post billions of comments each quarter. It declined to disclose the overall number of accounts that have uploaded videos, but said removals were also a small fraction.

In addition, about 7.8 million videos were removed individually for policy violations, in line with the previous quarter. – Reuters

– Paresh Dave and Sankalp Phartiyal 

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