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Zuma’s time is up – but what does it mean for South Africa?

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Jacob Zuma ANC

South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) is mired in a serious leadership crisis, and President Jacob Zuma faces an ignominious end to his political career. The 74-year-old has refused to take responsibility amid corruption and conspiracy charges. Having been replaced as party president by Cyril Ramaphosa in December 2017, he faced the choice between resigning or taking his chances with a no-confidence vote in parliament. After days of mouting pressure, he finally walked.

The whole episode carries more than an echo of recent events in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where a bloodless military coup removed President Robert Mugabe but left his ruling ZANU-PF party in power, while the coup’s leaders were rewarded with cabinet posts.

The global public seems glued to every move in South Africa’s political drama. But is the attention actually warranted? Is the country really at one of its most momentous crossroads yet? That will only be clear with hindsight.

Perhaps Zuma’s removal will help transform South Africa’s political culture and regenerate the ANC, which is still stuck in its old anti-apartheid/Mandela mode. If it revives the ruling party and ends the era of old men clinging to power and acting with impunity, Zuma’s departure will be one of the great Rubicons in South Africa’s post-apartheid history.

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

Falling short

Just before the 1994 elections, ANC activist Albie Sachs declared that the ANC had at best two terms in power to bring electricity and running water to the majority of South Africans and to address the inequality in educational, health and infrastructural services. Any longer, he said, and young South Africans would start to challenge its authority.

To give the party its due, what has been achieved is remarkable. It is easy to forget just how momentous the country’s problems were when the ANC took power in 1994. Given it started with one of the world’s largest gaps between the wealthy (at that time almost exclusively “white”) and the poor (almost exclusively of colour), post-apartheid South Africa has been tremendously successful in creating a stable and solid black middle class.

The party had to try and refashion the country on all levels – political, economic, social, cultural – and in some ways, it has made great strides. While it has its many critics, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of the late 1990s helped the nation start to move on from one of the most intense protracted experiences of racial discrimination in recent history.

But some of the deep problems apartheid wrought are anything but solved: millions still live in poverty, and levels of violent crime (notably sexual violence) are strikingly high. All the while, many among the ANC’s elite (not least Zuma himself) have conspicuously accrued tremendous wealth, and their extravagance has become a significant problem for the party’s legitimacy. But instead of cleaning house or changing its ways, the ANC has over and over again chosen to fall back on its victory against apartheid and the memory of its most famous member, Nelson Mandela.

READ MORE: ‘Zuma The Thief Must Voetsek’

Behind the figleaf

In 2013, a month before Mandela passed away, the South African High Commission in London hosted the exhibition “We Love Mandela”, which included a painting by South African artist Simon Dean entitled “The Last Supper”. It portrays Mandela as Jesus, surrounded by an astonishing cadre of “disciples” – from Desmond Tutu, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.

This sort of Mandela-worship has been the party’s figleaf, and a useful device for silencing opposition, criticism, and calls for change. For far too long, it kept the party safe enough from electoral humiliation that Zuma remained secure in his office. But underneath it all, the political crisis that now confronts both the ANC and South Africa writ large has been brewing for years, and Zuma’s demise is long overdue.

To judge by the coverage outside South Africa, with the global public glued to every turn in this political drama, one might think Zuma’s demise had come from nowhere, and that it is guaranteed to change the country for good. But in reality, nothing new has come to light in some time. The latest investigation into his connections with corrupt interests began with exposés by the South African Mail & Guardian newspaper in 2013. Most of the assorted corruption charges against Zuma predate his presidency, as does the controversial rape case against him in 2005-6.

Zuma’s presumptive successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, is not exactly the embodiment of radical change. But Ramaphosa will have the chance to finally seize the impetus for a true political transformation – to find a way of tackling poverty, violence and discrimination while reforming the ANC from top to bottom.

The ConversationOnly if that happens will the end of Zuma really turn out to be the moment of transformation much of the world thinks it is guaranteed to be. – Written by Heike Schmidt, Associate Professor in Modern African History, University of Reading

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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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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