Family tragedy of Somali hotel owners

The owner of Sahafi Hotel in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu has been killed in bomb attacks – three years after his father died in a similar assault.

Somali officials say 20 people died and dozens more were hurt in blasts claimed by Islamist militant group al-Shabab.

Sahafi Hotel owner Abdifatah Abdirashid was a renowned businessman who took over running the hotel from his father, Abdirashid Mohamed.

Al-Shabab said it targeted government officials staying at the hotel.

Reports say armed militants stormed the building guarded by armed officers after the first of at least three bomb blasts.

Eyewitnesses spoke of heavy gunfire in the area.

A Voice of America journalist later shared pictures on social media showing damage to a hotel close to where the three bombs were set off, describing the aftermath as “horrific”.

There are fears that the death toll will rise further.

Sahafi Hotel has been popular with visiting foreigners because of its relative security as well as its view overlooking Mogadishu.

During the civil war in the 1990s, it used to be the only place foreign journalists could be safe amidst the raging war.

Source: Read Full Article

Who are Somalia’s al-Shabab?

Islamist militant group al-Shabab is battling the UN-backed government in Somalia, and has carried out a string of attacks across the region. The group, which is allied to al-Qaeda, has been pushed out of most of the main towns it once controlled, but it remains a potent threat.

Who are al-Shabab?

Al-Shabab means The Youth in Arabic.

It emerged as the radical youth wing of Somalia’s now-defunct Union of Islamic Courts, which controlled Mogadishu in 2006, before being forced out by Ethiopian forces.

There are numerous reports of foreign jihadists going to Somalia to help al-Shabab, from neighbouring countries, as well as the US and Europe.

It is banned as a terrorist group by both the US and the UK and is believed to have between 7,000 and 9,000 fighters.

Al-Shabab advocates the Saudi-inspired Wahhabi version of Islam, while most Somalis are Sufis.

It has imposed a strict version of Sharia in areas under its control, including stoning to death women accused of adultery and amputating the hands of thieves.

What drives al-Shabab?

What are its links to other jihadists?

In a joint video released in February 2012, then al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane said he “pledged obedience” to al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri.

There have also been numerous reports that al-Shabab may have formed some links with other militant groups in Africa, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, based in the Sahara desert.

Al-Shabab debated whether to switch allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group after it emerged in January 2014.

It eventually rejected the idea, resulting in a small faction breaking away.

Al-Shabab is currently led by Ahmad Umar, also known as Abu Ubaidah.

The US has issued a $6m (£4.5m) reward for information leading to his capture.

Al-Shabab wants IS to back off

How dangerous is the group?

Somalia’s government blamed it for the killing of at least 500 people in a huge truck bombing in the capital Mogadishu in October 2017. It was East Africa’s deadliest bombing. Al-Shabab, however, did not claim responsibility for it.

It did confirm carrying out a massive attack on a Kenyan military base in Somalia’s el-Ade town in January 2016, killing, according to Somalia’s then-President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, about 180 soldiers. The Kenyan military disputed the number, but refused to give a death toll.

It has also staged several attacks in Kenya, including the 2015 massacre at Kenya’s Garissa University, near the border with Somalia.

A total of 148 people died when gunmen stormed the university at dawn and targeted Christian students..

In 2013, its gunmen stormed the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, resulting in a siege which left at least 67 people dead.

During the 2010 football World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands, it bombed a rugby club and a restaurant in Uganda’s capital Kampala, killing 74 people watching the match.

Al-Shabab cash targets disillusioned Kenyans

The cleric who predicted he would be killed

How much of Somalia does al-Shabab control?

Although it has lost control of most towns and cities, it still dominates in many rural areas.

It was forced out of the capital, Mogadishu, in August 2011 following an offensive spearheaded by about 22,000 African Union (AU) troops, and left the vital port of Kismayo in September 2012.

The loss of Kismayo has hit al-Shabab’s finances, as it used to earn money by taking a cut of the city’s lucrative charcoal trade.

The US has also carried out a wave of air strikes, which led to the killing of the group’s leader, Aden Hashi Ayro, in 2008 and his successor, Ahmed Abdi Godane.

In March 2017, US President Donald Trump approved a Pentagon plan to escalate operations against al-Shabab.

The US has more than 500 troops in Somalia and conducted 30 airstrikes in 2017, more than four times the average number carried out in the previous seven years, according to The Washington Post.

Although the military operations are weakening al-Shabab, the group is still able to carry out suicide attacks and has regained control of some towns.

The AU is reducing its troop presence – about 1,000 have left and a further 1,000 are due to leave in 2018.

This follows a cut in funding by the European Union (EU), amid allegations of corruption within the AU force, made up of troops from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

What is happening in Somalia?

Somalia has not had an effective national government for more than 20 years, during which much of the country has been a war-zone.

Al-Shabab gained support by promising people security. But its credibility was knocked when it rejected Western food aid to combat a 2011 drought and famine.

With Mogadishu and other towns now under government control, there is a feeling of optimism and many Somalis have returned from exile, bringing their money and skills with them.

Basic services such as street lighting, dry cleaning and rubbish collection have resumed in the capital.

But Somalia is still too dangerous and divided to hold democratic elections – the last one was in 1969.

So, its parliament and president are elected through a complex system, with clan elders playing an influential role in the process.

Somalia’s ‘touch and feel’ e-commerce hit

Somalia’s ‘Mr Cheese’ president has a lot on his plate

Source: Read Full Article

Africa Top10 Business News

1The Biggest Single Deal of the Day at the Africa Investment Forum

South Africa and Ghana signed a $2.6-billion deal that is expected to improve Accra’s public transport system through an elevated light railway system which would provide low cost transport to it citizens. The Ai Skytrain is an elevated light rail, public mass transit system that uses air propulsion technology to drive lightweight, high passenger volume vehicles. The investment forum is the first of its kind in Africa and is taking place at the Sandton Convention Centre this week.

SOURCES: Mail & Guardian

2Linking up Central and West Africa with Fibre Optic

Liquid Telecom was founded 14 years ago by Zimbabwean entrepreneur and businessman Strive Masiyiwa. Last July the company connected Cape to Cairo with fibre optic cable. When it comes to their next target on the map, West Africa from Cameroon to Nigeria and Mali to Senegal, Mokhles says the firm will explore all options including co-builds, which will also mean partnering with local players in the market.

SOURCES: African Business Magazine

310 Reasons to Invest in South Africa

The investment potential lies in its diversity of sectors and industries. South Africa is also a major trading nation, exporting and importing billions worth of goods every year. It is a gateway into African markets.

SOURCES: Africa.com

4Mozambique was One of the World’s Ten Fastest-growing Economies

A few years ago Mozambique was perky. With 30m people and a coastline longer than that of the western United States, the country was feted by aid agencies and plucky investors. A peace deal signed in 1992, at the end of a 15-year civil war, had more or less held. From 1995 to 2015 gdp had grown on average by more than 8% a year.

SOURCES: The Economist

5South Africa’s Biggest Tea Garden gets New Lease of Life

The Magwa farm stretches over 1,800 hectares, and is said to be the largest operating tea farm in the southern hemisphere, was closed for years. But thanks to a government bailout, it’s now back in business, providing much-needed work in an area of high unemployment.

SOURCES: Al Jazeera

6Where are the Highest Paying Jobs in Africa?

Thanks to growing economies and the improving political situation in many African countries, Africa now has plenty of job opportunities to explore. Different countries have their own main economic activities, which largely determine what kinds of job opportunities are available locally. The entry of large multinational companies into Africa has further opened up a competitive job market that is constantly in search of top talent from across the continent, as well as across the globe.

SOURCES: Africa.com

7Angola Invests in Different Income Streams

Angola’s Minister of Fisheries and the Sea, says government is committed to giving greater quality of life to Angolan communities dependent on fishing by investing in infrastructure and training to support the sector on good practices and sanitary conditions for the handling of fish. Officials note that the artisanal fishing subsector continues to be the driving force behind the economic and social progress of communities in Angola.

SOURCES: Ventures Africa

8DRC Children Suffer for the World’s Green Ambitions

Human rights groups say demand for electric vehicles is fueling a rise in child labour in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, urging companies to take action as the industry expands. Cobalt is a key component in batteries for electric cars, phones and laptops, and the DRC provides more than half of global supply. Tens of thousands of children as young as six dig for the toxic substance in artisanal mines in the country’s south-east, without protective clothing.

SOURCES: Business Day Live

9Key Areas for US FDI in Africa

According to Ernst & Young’s Global’s 2018 Africa Attractiveness report, United States businesses and investors made more foreign direct investments (FDI) in Africa than counterparts from any other country last year. These US entities increased the number of American FDI projects in Africa by 43% to 130 in 2017 nearly twice the next country.

SOURCES: Quartz Africa

10Women who make Running a Fashion Magazine in Nigeria Look Easy

The New York Times, profiles four entrepreneurial women, ranging in age from 28 to 61, who are leading publications both new and old to capture this cultural milieu. In doing so, they are serving a wide audience throughout the African continent and within diasporic enclaves in the United States and Britain and telling the story of Nigeria to the world.

SOURCES: New York Times

Source: Read Full Article

WHO Africa Innovation Challenge Calls For New Solutions To Improve Health In Africa

Promoting African Solutions for African people

The World Health Organization (WHO) in the African Region has launched the first WHO Africa Innovation Challenge calling for health innovations with the potential for having significant social impact and addressing the unmet health needs on the continent.

“This Innovation Challenge recognizes the critical need for innovations to address the continent’s challenges in healthcare,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “WHO champions the promotion of homegrown solutions to address health challenges in reproductive, maternal and child health, infectious diseases, noncommunicable diseases and other key areas. We hope this challenge will spark the entrepreneurial spirit of innovators and lead to credible health innovations across the continent”.

The deadline for submission of entries is Monday 10th December 2018 at midnight.

This Challenge will prioritise innovative and scalable healthcare solutions for selection. The three submission categories are Product, Service and Social Innovation. Detailed information on the criteria and the application form is available at: www.afro.who.int/innovchallenge

There will be a dedicated website/platform which will highlight these healthcare innovations. The platform will serve as a dynamic marketplace to connect diverse stakeholders such as ministries of various sectors of the government as well as health experts, academics and public and private investors. Qualifying users on the platform will be able to leverage the global network.

Entries will be assessed by a panel of independent evaluators based on the innovation’s potential impact on health in Africa as well as the possibility of being replicated or scaled-up.

The launch of this Challenge and platform serves as a precursor to the Africa Health Forum to be held in Cape Verde in March 2019, the premier gathering of political and business leaders in the region devoted to health.

Selected Finalists will be awarded a sponsorship covering flights, accommodation to attend the Forum. At this event, they will get the opportunity to exhibit their innovations and meet with top political, government and business leaders in the health space. They will also get a chance to exhibit their solutions at the annual meeting of Ministers of Health from the WHO African Region in August 2019, in Brazzaville, Congo.

Distributed by African Media Agency (AMA) on behalf of WHO Regional Office for Africa.

Source: Read Full Article

Africa Top10 News

1Frosty Welcome for Journalists Visiting Tanzania

Tanzania released two staff members of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a day after they were detained and their passports seized. Tanzanian officials said Angela Quintal and Muthoki Mumo were arrested for violating the terms of their visas by holding meetings with local journalists.

SOURCES: Reuters, Quartz Africa

2Where are the Highest Paying Jobs in Africa?

Thanks to growing economies and the improving political situation in many African countries, Africa now has plenty of job opportunities to explore. Different countries have their own main economic activities, which largely determine what kinds of job opportunities are available locally. The entry of large multinational companies into Africa has further opened up a competitive job market that is constantly in search of top talent from across the continent, as well as across the globe.

SOURCES: Africa.com

3African Scientists Embark on a Project to Break the Malaria Cycle

In experiments conducted over 50 years ago, researchers showed that blood could be taken from adults who had become immune and used to treat children admitted to hospital with malaria. Developments in technology now mean that it’s possible to do this much more efficiently. And we’re really excited that we have been able to exploit these new innovations in Africa.

SOURCES: Quartz Africa

4Cameroon Students Safe and Sound

Students kidnapped from a boarding school in Cameroon’s restive North-West region have been reunited with their parents amid joyful scenes. A driver was also freed, but the principal and a teacher are still being held. The government and English-speaking separatists have accused each other of orchestrating the kidnapping.

SOURCES: BBC

5Madagascar’s Former Foes Come up Tops in the Polls

Former presidents Andry Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana were neck-and-neck in the country’s presidential race according to partial results published by the electoral commission on Thursday. Rajoelina has 43.5 percent of votes, while Ravalomanana secured 42.44 percent, the incumbent President Hery Rajaonarimampianina trailed with 2.93 percent of the votes counted so far.

SOURCES: Al Jazeera

6FGM Awareness Campaigns Yield Results

Research shows that female genital mutilation has dropped drastically among African children this century. Cutting is a rite of passage in many societies, often with the aim of promoting chastity. It can cause chronic pain, menstrual problems, recurrent urinary tract infections, cysts and infertility. Some girls hemorrhage to death or die from infections. It can also cause fatal childbirth complications in later life. The ritual usually involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, including the clitoris.

SOURCES: VOA

7Lifeline for Senegal’s Fishing Industry

Commercial overfishing to feed European and Asian appetites has emptied West Africa’s waters and destroyed the livelihoods of many artisanal fishing communities, including those in Senegal with its long Atlantic coastline. Now the fishmongers of Soumbedioune are moving. A new €2m fishing quay, funded by Morocco and sitting across the bay from the existing market, has been finished. It contains an ice factory, a cold room, a fish-processing area and rows of gleaming counters in the retail market.

SOURCES: The Guardian

8Women who make Running a Fashion Magazine in Nigeria Look Easy

The New York Times, profiles four entrepreneurial women, ranging in age from 28 to 61, who are leading publications both new and old to capture this cultural milieu. In doing so, they are serving a wide audience throughout the African continent and within diasporic enclaves in the United States and Britain and telling the story of Nigeria to the world.

SOURCES: New York TImes

9Large Group of Buffaloes Drown in Botswana

Early investigations suggest the herd was being chased by lions and ran into the river. A local lodge owner told the BBC that it looks like the buffaloes then got stuck because the bank on the other side of the river was too high and that they panicked and stampeded. People living in the area collected the buffaloes and took them home to eat.

SOURCES: BBC

10Blockchain Startup Tackles Africa’s Energy Crisis

OneWattSolar, has come up with a way of allowing thousands of Africans to pay for solar energy using blockchain tokens without having to pay for the solar system infrastructure, which is funded through financial backers. It was a concept Victor Alagbe, the company’s vice president of operations and blockchain strategy, had been thinking on when reading about Elon Musk.

SOURCES: CNN

Source: Read Full Article

Police in South Africa investigate suspected murder of Irish father-of-four

POLICE in South Africa have begun a murder investigation after an Irishman was found dead at his apartment.

John Curran had held a senior position for the Mellon Educate charity in Cape Town.

The father-of-four had previously worked as a school principal in Dublin, and was well-known in education circles on a national level in Ireland.

He was found dead yesterday morning at his apartment. It is understood that police were called after a colleague had gone to the apartment when Mr Curran hadn’t been seen in some time. His family has been informed.

South African investigators confirmed to Independent.ie that the incident is being treated as a murder.

“We can confirm that police arrived at the apartment block and found a body with stab wounds, to the body

“We have assigned a senior detective to the case and carried out a forensic investigation of the apartment and sampling.

“This is definitely being investigated as a case of murder,” Captain Ezra October of the Cape Town Central police department said.

The senior officer added that CCTV footage of the apartment complex where Mr Curran had been living would be reviewed.

His body was today formally identified by a colleague and the company he worked with are liaising with his family in Ireland, Cpt October said.

Mr Curran, aged in his 60s, was living in the apartment.

A post-mortem will be carried out on the deceased either tomorrow or on Monday, according to investigators.

In a statement the Department of Foreign Affairs said it is aware of the situation and is  “is providing consular assistance.”

The Irish Primary Principals Association has issued a lengthy statement on Mr Curran’s passing.

“It is with a profound sense of shock, sadness and disbelief that we acknowledge the sudden passing of John Curran, highly esteemed colleague and friend to all in IPPN, in South Africa today, 7th November.

“We are numbed and finding it very hard to process the information,” they said.

They added that he had been predeceased a son, who died in an accident accident in 2010, and is survived by his wife and three children. 

“Our hearts go out to his family, his very wide circle of friends, his colleagues and all who knew him,” it adds.

“A founding member of IPPN, John served on the IPPN Executive Committee (now the Board of Directors) from 2000 to 2007 and was PRO from 2005 to 2009. During his sixteen years as Principal of Good Shepherd NS, Churchtown, Dublin 14 until his early retirement in June 2005, John was involved in numerous projects with IPPN, including advocating in relation to principals’ workload, boards of management and school funding, as well as supporting fellow school leaders directly and in the development of services through his role on the Executive Committee.

A book of condolence was opened in the school foyer at 11am today.

“We are all indebted to him for all his work over many years, all of which was completely voluntary. On a personal level, we will greatly miss his wonderful sense of humour, his infectious laugh and his ability to lighten the most serious topic.

“John was so passionate about his recent work in South Africa, as Director of Education for Mellon Educate, a role he began in October 2016. He was tireless in empowering teachers and principals.”

Mr Curran was also  instrumental in bringing Irish teachers and principals to Africa as part of the Teachers’ Blitz projects in 2017 and 2018, to build schools, improve existing school infrastructure, and support school leaders’ professional development.

Speaking on RTÉ News at One, IPPN President David Ruddy said Mr Curran was a “visionary” and an “exceptional leader” with an “infectious smile” who was “very much loved.”

Mr Ruddy said that Mr Curran found his work in South Africa “very rewarding and equally very challenging.”

He then recited a famous quote by former South African leader Nelson Mandela – “education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world” – and said that Mr Curran “lived and embodied every piece of that statement.”

Mr Ruddy further said Mr Curran and his family had experienced great sorrow before when they lost their son Eoin in a sailing accident in New York.

Eoin Ruddy was just 30 at the time of the tragedy in July 2010. He was working for Google at the time of his death.

More to follow

Source: Read Full Article

At Least 47 Die in Zimbabwe When Buses Collide

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Two long-distance buses in Zimbabwe have collided on a road after one of them tried to overtake two trucks, killing at least 47 people and injuring dozens more in a country with a reputation for poor roads and bad driving.

The two buses slammed into each other near Rusape, about 100 miles east of the capital, Harare, on Wednesday evening, said a police spokesman, Paul Nyathi. The death toll could rise because 80 people were admitted to the hospital, some with serious injuries.

One bus tried to pass two large trucks on a stretch of the road where overtaking is prohibited, causing the collision, the state broadcaster reported, citing Ellen Gwaradzimba, the provincial minister for Manicaland Province. Both buses were speeding, she said.

The number of dead has overwhelmed Rusape, where the morgue can accommodate no more than 16 bodies, according to The Herald, a state-run newspaper.

Bus accidents are frequent in the southern African country. Bus crews try to make as many trips as possible each day in order to make more money, which effectively creates a financial incentive to speed.

The road where the accident took place was recently resurfaced as part of government efforts to repair collapsing road infrastructure.

Source: Read Full Article

Sudan’s Journalists Face Continued Extortion and Censorship by National Security Agency

The day before Amnesty International released a statement calling on the government of Sudan to end harassment, intimidation and censorship of journalists following the arrests of at least 15 journalists since the beginning of the year, the head of the National Intelligence Security Services (NISS) Salah Goush accused Sudanese journalists, who recently met with western diplomats, of being spies.

Goush made the statement before parliament where he signed the code of conduct for journalists.

“They were called and interrogated to let them know that this [meeting with Western diplomats] is a project of spying,” said Goush to Sudan’s parliamentarians on Thursday Nov. 1. He then announced that the NISS was dropping all complaints against the journalists.

But Amnesty International said in its statement issued today, Nov. 2, that “the Sudanese government have this year been unrelenting in their quest to silence independent media by arresting and harassing journalists and censoring both print and broadcast media.”

“This just shows that Sudanese officials have not changed their ways- they still accuse journalists and activists of being spies and other trumped up accusations,” Jehanne Henry, a researcher on Sudan and South Sudan at Human Rights Watch, told IPS about Goush’s comments to parliament.

On Tuesday, a Reuters stringer in Khartoum and two other local journalists were questioned by the state security prosecutor about their earlier meetings with European Union diplomats and the United States’ ambassador to Sudan.

At the time they were told that they might face charges when the investigation is completed. Prior to Tuesday, five other journalists were also interrogated for meeting the same diplomats and the NISS stated that two more journalists were to be questioned on the same matter.

“What the NISS is doing to us is a form of extortion and it’s a terror act to stop freedom of the press. Journalists have the right to meet diplomats, government officials and opposition and anyone else and they can talk to about freedom of speech or anything else. Journalists are not spies,” Bahram Abdolmonim, one of the three journalists interrogated by the NISS on Tuesday, told IPS. He added “journalism is a message”.

Prior to Abdolmonim’s questioning three female and two male journalists were summoned to the NISS prosecutor’s office and where questioned for meeting with western diplomats and discussing freedom of speech.

These are not the only incidents of clampdown against journalists. On Oct. 16 five journalists were arrested in front of the Sudanese parliament for protesting against the barring of one of their colleagues from parliament.

“Since the beginning of 2018 the government of Sudan, through its security machinery, has been unrelenting in its crackdown on press freedom by attacking journalists and media organisations,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty international Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

Amnesty International also said that there was an increase in print censorship and that editors receive daily calls from NISS agents to question them about their editorial content. The editors have to then justify their storylines. NISS agents also show up at printing presses and either order editors to drop certain stories or confiscate entire print runs.

“Between May and October, the Al Jareeda newspaper was confiscated at least 13 times, Al Tayar was confiscated five times and Al Sayha four times. A host of other newspapers including Masadir, Al Ray Al Aam, Akhirlahza, Akhbar Al Watan, Al Midan, Al Garar and Al Mustuglia were each confiscated once or twice,” the statement said.

Broadcast media have also been subjected to censorship. Earlier last month, NISS suspended a talk show on Sudania24 TV after it hosted Mohamed Hamdan, the leader of the Rapid Support Forces, formerly the Janjaweed troops, who are accused of committing atrocities in Darfur.

Across the country reporting is tightly restricted. Conflict zones like Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, are especially difficult to report from.

“The Sudanese authorities must stop this shameful assault on freedom of expression and let journalists do their jobs in peace. Journalism is not a crime,” said Jackson.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Sudan 174th out of 180 countries on its 2018 World Press Freedom Index, charging that the NISS “hounds journalists and censors the print media.”

Journalists in Sudan are often arrested and taken to court where they face complaints that range from lying to defamation.

Amnesty International called on the Sudanese government to revise the Press and Printed Materials Act of 2009.

“We work in fear in here, when I write something I’m not sure if I will end up going to jail or be interrogated by the NISS,” one journalist who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of their safety told IPS.

Original article published at IPS By Zeinab Mohammed Salih

Source: Read Full Article

The ‘bank heist’ that sparked a parliamentary brawl

A spectacular $130m (£100m) “heist” at a bank in South Africa has provoked a furious political storm, revealing how deeply corruption is now entrenched in local government and beyond, and showing how hard it may be for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government to root out the graft and mismanagement that flourished under his predecessor Jacob Zuma.

The losses at VBS are relatively small compared to some of the more outlandish corruption scandals already buffeting South Africa.

However, the story of the bank’s alleged looting and destruction involves such a wide cast of villains and victims that it has the makings of an era-defining outrage – the scam that stretched from impoverished rural villages all the way to the upper echelons of government, and which now explains the perilous fragility of a nation’s institutions.

“Corrupt and rotten to the core,” concluded Terry Motau, the lawyer appointed by the central bank to investigate VBS.

He called his explosive report “The Great Bank Heist.” And the political fall-out has been huge, drawing in the governing African National Congress (ANC) and the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

In parliament on Tuesday, the chief whip of the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), John Steenhuisen, accused members EFF members of being “VBS looters”. EFF lawmakers reacted angrily, calling him a “white racist”. A brawl quickly followed.

So what is the scandal about?

For many years, VBS was a distinctly modest entity – a mutual bank, largely owned by its depositors, that helped rural communities, living on land owned by tribal chiefs, to secure mortgages or save for family funerals. Almost no-one outside the northern province of Limpopo had even heard of it.

But with staggering speed, VBS was allegedly transformed into a slush fund for corrupt politicians, local government leaders and their business cronies, by way of a breathtakingly elaborate and cynical pyramid scheme.

The bank’s owners are accused of bribing local officials in some of South Africa’s poorest and most dysfunctional municipalities – persuading them to divert, or to pretend to divert, their budgets into VBS’s coffers in return for cash and gifts. They deny the allegation.

This is how the #VBS scam worked. “The bank was effectively a Ponzi scheme to the benefit of certain related parties,” SCOF hears @TeamNews24 pic.twitter.com/gmqFHXydra

End of Twitter post by @gerbjan

“These people were stealing from their next-door neighbours – aunties, grannies. There is real anger about this. People want to see those people punished,” said David Lewis of Corruption Watch.

It was only once VBS was put under the control of South Africa’s central bank in August that investigators discovered the full extent of the alleged looting and political intrigue.

Who was behind the alleged corruption web?

A total of 53 individuals and businesses have since been implicated in the destruction of a bank that had, for years, proudly boasted of its disruptive credentials as a black-owned business seeking to support “radical economic transformation” in an industry it claimed was still dominated by white capital.

The “Heist” report lays most of the blame for VBS’s collapse on the bank’s leadership.

Its chairman, Tshifhiwa Matodzi is accused of masterminding the alleged looting, with the support of a team of highly qualified accountants and lawyers, and a dizzying network of apparently fraudulent shell companies and subcontractors.

But from the moment the authorities began to question VBS’s actions and its liquidity, the bank insisted that it did not do anything wrong and painted itself as a victim of racism.

“Our greatest sin… was running a successful black bank,” wrote Mr Matodzi in a furious open letter to the central bank earlier this year.

He said the bank’s dreams of “radical economic transformation” were falling victim to an elaborate conspiracy led by a white-dominated banking sector “which does not tolerate growing black banks and black excellence.”

South Africa is still wrestling with the economic legacies of the racial system of apartheid and with the merits of black-empowerment schemes designed to correct decades of discrimination.

However, VBS’s claims were swiftly condemned by a range of South Africans.

“There is nothing black about this. This is criminality,” said deputy finance minister Mondli Gungubele.

“The looters have been using that phrase – radical economic transformation – as a pretext for years,” said political analyst Prince Mashele dismissively.

How did the alleged scam work?

Every year South African municipalities lose, steal, or otherwise fail to account for about $2bn worth of public funds. A staggering sum. It is, surely, no coincidence that the municipalities which agreed to cooperate with VBS were among the poorest and most dysfunctional in the country.

The “Heist” report quotes an alleged WhatsApp conversation that reveals the way VBS allegedly dangled cash in front of municipal officials to buy their loyalty.

“We gave her 300k [$21,500] and she cried… We said we will consult with you and will sort her out,” a middleman allegedly texted to the bank’s chairman, in reference to a local mayor who apparently felt she wasn’t getting a big enough “Christmas” present from VBS.

“Go ahead… but she must know the formula,” Mr Matodzi allegedly replied.

Mr Matodzi has denied the allegations against him, describing the report as “not balanced.”

South Africa’s banking regulators have since announced that the 14 municipalities that invested about $1.1bn in VBS are unlikely to receive a bail-out or compensation, leaving their struggling communities to bear the brunt of their leaders’ alleged corruption.

What has been the governing party’s response?

The African National Congress (ANC), which has governed South Africa since the advent of democracy in 1994, has tried to distance itself from VBS’s troubles, condemning all those involved and ordering prompt disciplinary inquiries within the party.

But, as with so many other high-profile investigations, it is struggling to convince the public that its own reputation is not on trial in the VBS scandal.

“We all agree this never should have happened,” said the Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Zweli Mkhize, strongly condemning “the wanton fraud displayed in this saga”.

But the suspicion – fleshed out by recent newspaper reports – is that some of the money looted from VBS made its way into the ANC’s coffers.

“There is a toxic interplay between party and state. If the ANC doesn’t move quickly and really come down on these guys I think it will cost them hugely at elections,” said Corruption Watch’s David Lewis.

“The bloodsucking leeches and parasites that have fed off the savings of some of our country’s poorest citizens must be held accountable,” said DA MP Kevin Mileham.

Why is the EFF under fire?

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has gained a small, but growing following in South Africa by lashing out at the corruption of the Zuma era.

But in parliament recently, the party’s deputy leader suffered the humiliation of having his own anti-corruption catchphrase – so often spat out against former President Zuma – directed back at him.

“Pay back the money!” MPs from a range of parties shouted, gleefully, at the EFF’s Floyd Shivambu.

He has dismissed the allegations, saying at a press conference that it was “pure insanity” to claim he got money from VBS.

Mr Shivambu and his boss, EFF leader Julius Malema, both come from Limpopo province, where VBS operated.

Although neither man has been directly implicated in the “Heist,” Mr Shivambu’s brother Brian, who worked within the EFF, is named as the alleged recipient of about $1.1m for one year’s consultancy work.

Brian Shivambu has denied receiving any money from VBS.

The EFF has also denied any corruption, but questions remain about unconfirmed payments into its accounts. Many observers also wonder why, as VBS was sinking into trouble, the party went out of its way to defend the bank and to attack those involved in trying to regulate it.

Didn’t auditors pick up the problems?

A pattern has emerged in recent South African corruption scandals, and VBS is no exception.

When large, seemingly reputable organisations start to go rotten, they look to prestigious international companies – particularly auditors – to shore up their credibility and, on occasion, to provide direct help in covering up or facilitating their crimes.

The list of foreign companies that have been forced to apologize for wrongdoingin various scandals range from SAP, to McKinsey, KPMG and Bell Pottinger.

In this case, KPMG has once again hit the headlines after their lead auditor was condemned in the “Heist” report for accepting a lucrative fee but then failing to spot, or report, VBS’s looming liquidity crisis.

VBS “is corrupt and rotten to the core. Indeed, there is hardly a person in its employ in any position of authority who is not, in some way or other, complicit,” said the report, recommending that KPMG pay damages for its role.

KPMG has removed one partner implicated in the VBS scandal and has promised to cooperate with any investigations.

In a statement, the firm said it had “already taken many steps” to deal with the issue and it welcomes the “independent scrutiny” of the regulatory board for auditors.

Were there bigger fish?

Up to this point, VBS’s behaviour could be seen as a localised, provincial, containable scandal. But in truth, it wasn’t – or rather, the bank had ambitions far beyond Limpopo.

“The Heist” report spells out in great detail how VBS sought to tap into some of the biggest pots of public money in the country, and came alarmingly close to succeeding.

South Africa’s Public Investment Corporation (PIC) controls some $143bn in state pensions and other social funds.

The report shows how VBS allegedly bribed two senior PIC officials in order to gain access to loans that promptly vanished from the bank’s fraudulent books and were instead handed out in new bribes.

The full extent of the PIC’s alleged involvement and exposure has yet to be revealed.

Meanwhile VBS went after South Africa’s giant railway utility, Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa). And it is here that the process becomes explicitly linked to national politics, and to a furious power struggle between factions within the ANC.

VBS sought, the report alleges, about $70m in deposits from Prasa, and allegedly began smoothing the path with bribes to union officials and others.

But it seems there was one, crucial, factor which would determine the scheme’s success – the result of an ANC leadership battle, which VBS hoped would be won by Mr Zuma’s preferred candidate.

When, instead, Mr Ramaphosa won an election in December to lead the party and, later, the nation, the attempt to lure Prasa into VBS’s alleged scam apparently stalled.

How did the scandal come to light?

It was, curiously, a personal loan to the former president that first put VBS in the headlines back in 2016.

Mr Zuma, who has repeatedly denied corruption allegations, was still president at the time, and in need of money to reimburse the state for funds illegally spent on refurbishing his private Nkandla homestead.

VBS stepped out of the shadows with a $35,000 home loan.

That loan, it is alleged, was a turning point for VBS, signalling its willingness to be drawn into the ANC’s national power struggles – between Mr Zuma, and the man who would soon replace him, Mr Ramaphosa.

The report details how VBS money was allegedly paid to Mr Zuma’s own family foundation.

Perhaps significantly, the bank’s subsequent claim that it was trying to promote “radical economic transformation” was a phrase lifted straight from Mr Zuma’s own increasingly populist rhetoric, as he sought to prevent Mr Ramaphosa’s faction from gaining power.

Perhaps there are some silver linings to this sleazy tale.

For a while, it looked as though thousands of rural investors – who angrily besieged VBS branches in Limpopo fearing that the money they had saved for mortgages and funerals – would lose everything when the bank went into administration.

Instead, the authorities have stepped in, promising to guarantee individual savings of up to $7,000.

You may also be interested in:

More broadly, it is important to note that South Africa’s regulatory authorities did do their job.

They took control of VBS, investigated it, and are now likely to see their conclusions form the basis for a string of criminal trials against those allegedly involved in the looting.

Something similar happened at Prasa, where a courageous official refused to go along with alleged “political” plans to funnel cash into VBS.

So, the system still works. Up to a point. But it will require a sustained, collective effort, over many years to end corruption in South Africa.

Source: Read Full Article