Khamis, 7 November 2013

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The Star Online: World Updates

Radical reds upset South Africa's political colour balance


BEKKERSDAL, South Africa (Reuters) - Colour has always been central to South African politics, but now, nearly 20 years after the end of apartheid, the tint of your T-shirt matters as much as that of your skin.

While the yellow, green and black of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) remains dominant, it is the bright red of an ultra-leftist party founded by expelled ANC youth leader Julius Malema that is making the big splash.

With the silver-tongued Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) only 100 days old and untested by any opinion poll, it is hard to say precisely how much impact they will have on next year's elections in Africa's biggest economy.

But the garish shirts and red Che Guevara-style berets popping up in the sprawling townships and shanty towns of Johannesburg and Pretoria suggest the Fighters, as they like to be known, will make their mark in the first election for the 'Born Free' generation - voters born after apartheid ended in 1994.

The anger of the millions of blacks for whom life has changed little in the two decades since the end of white-minority rule has provide fertile hunting ground, and any EFF success is almost certain to be at the expense of the ANC, which won two thirds of the vote in the last election in 2009.

"We are recruiting people every day," said Happy Lefekane, a 39-year-old EFF activist in Bekkersdal, a run-down township 40 km (25 miles) west of Johannesburg which experienced a week of rioting last month over shoddy public services.

Although township riots are common - one major "service delivery protest" happens every two days, according to monitoring group Municipal IQ - the Bekkersdal uprising was notable for its intensity and explicit rejection of the ANC.

When provincial premier Nomvula Mokonyane went to try and calm the crowd, she made matters worse by telling them the ANC did not need Bekkersdal's "dirty votes". She had to be rescued from the mob and drive out in a police armoured vehicle.

To the EFF activists feeding off the public frustration at the ANC's perceived failings - corruption, inefficiency and arrogance - it was a gift.

"Nomvula has opened up a can of worms. She is the best recruiting agent we've got," Lefekane told Reuters. "We don't want her apology. We want radical change."

Ominously, at the height of the unrest 20-year-old EFF activist Themba Khumalo was shot dead outside his tin shack by unknown gunmen. No arrests have been made but Khumalo's friends are in little doubt he died because of the colour of his beret.

"The ANC people are the ones who started this," said EFF activist Ruth Mogatwe, 30, at a wake held for Khumalo a week later. "There's no proof but I think they're the ones who killed the guy."

The ANC denies it resorts to political violence and has called for tolerance and "good behaviour" from its members.


Malema, who holds up Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe as a political model for his seizure of white-owned farms, was kicked out of the ANC 18 months ago, officially for ill-discipline - unofficially for challenging President Jacob Zuma.

The 32-year-old quickly found a political lifeline in the police killing of 34 strikers at Lonmin's Marikana mine in August last year, an incident that brought comparisons with the Sharpeville massacre by apartheid security forces in 1960.

Cashing in on simmering worker discontent in the mines, which are still overwhelmingly owned and run by whites, and on public outrage at the shootings, Malema formed a party with an unashamedly populist message to take on the ANC from the left.

It formally launched - at Marikana - on October 13.

"The Economic Freedom Fighters is a radical and militant economic emancipation movement," its website declares, outlining expropriation of land and nationalisation of the mines and banks without compensation as central policies.

It says it has no major financial backers and funds itself through small donations and wholesaling party regalia. It also declines to release membership numbers.

The mainstream dismisses the EFF as sloganeers, but the raw promise of change - irrespective of the ability to deliver it - has struck a chord with blacks fed up with waiting in dead-end townships for houses, jobs and sewers that never arrive.

"The EFF will take voters from the ANC's populist flank," said political analyst William Gumede of Wits Business School in Johannesburg. "On a very good day, if they can get their voters out, they might get 8 percent nationally. But it could be anywhere from 1 percent to 8 percent."

Independent political consultant Nic Borain also admits that forecasting the EFF vote is pure conjecture, but his estimates are rising and now stand at 3-5 percent.

More social unrest and they could rise further.

"Malema et al are preternaturally good at identifying issues to maximise mobilisation and are excellent at 'flying picket' type organisation," Borain said.

"If they get moving, they might just take off."


Having won nearly 66 percent of the vote in the last elections in 2009, there seems no prospect of the ANC losing its majority next year after two decades of a steady hand on the economic tiller and a broadly pro-business policy agenda.

However, its share has been waning ever since the euphoria of Nelson Mandela's accession to power in 1994, and if it polls below 60 percent, the knives will be out for Zuma, whose five years in office have been marked by scandal, feeble growth and a good deal of social unrest.

The broadening appeal of the Democratic Alliance (DA), the main opposition party, has been nibbling at the ANC in the centre, but it is the sudden arrival of the EFF on the left flank that has ramped up the chances of an ANC bloody nose.

Whereas frustrated blacks have always moaned about the ANC in the run-up to previous elections, on voting day it has always been a leap too far to vote for the DA, still seen as the party of white privilege.

The EFF carries no such race-tinged baggage, and at Bekkersdal and other protests it has demonstrated a canny knack for grass-roots organisation and keeping itself in the limelight.

This week's defection to the Fighters of high-profile ANC lawyer Dali Mpofu has even stirred speculation the EFF might lure "Mother of the Nation" Winnie Mandela, former wife of Nelson. She emerged as a heavy-hitting Malema backer in his internal party struggle with Zuma.

But the ANC denies it fears bleeding votes or members to the EFF, saying other new parties have come and gone since the advent of democracy with no meaningful dent to its popularity.

"When people vote, they vote for physical change, for improvement of their lives," spokesman Keith Khoza said. "They don't vote for people who just shout slogans. They vote for people who have what it takes to change their lives."

(Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

South Koreans cram for dream jobs at Samsung


BUSAN, South Korea (Reuters) - In a cram school in the South Korean port city of Busan, 70 college students packed into a classroom, chanting "We can do it!" as they studied for an exam they hope will guarantee them a job for life with Samsung Group.

The promise of Samsung, whose sprawling business empire spans consumer electronics to ships, offers not only a good salary and benefits but also holds the key to a good marriage in this Asian country where Confucian traditions run deep.

The twice-a-year recruitment rounds by the "chaebol", conglomerates such as Samsung and Hyundai, have spawned a cottage industry worth millions of dollars as young Koreans do what they have done from the age of 5 - cram to get ahead.

"I came here at 10 this morning and will be preparing for the interview until 8 p.m.," said 25-year-old Shin Seong-hwan, whose father is a Samsung employee near Busan.

Shin has already passed the company's aptitude test and now faces gruelling interviews that end late in November.

In its current recruitment round, Samsung will hire 5,500 young people from more than 100,000 applicants, adding to the pressure cooker environment.

"Jobs at conglomerates can save face for you and your parents," said Hur Jai-joon, a senior researcher at the Korea Labor Institute, a government-funded research body.

It is an impossible dream for most to achieve as the top 30 conglomerates employ just 6.8 percent of the total workforce, the Federation of Korean Industries says.

Samsung has not always used such rigorous tests. Thirty years ago, according to former employees, a fortune teller who specialised in reading faces sat in on the interviews.

Now, spots at the top conglomerate are so coveted that students spend heavily on cram schools, workbooks and online lectures. The phrase "Samsung Gosi" describes the arduous process, borrowing from the term "gosi" that refers to public service exams that South Koreans study for years to pass.

"If you don't come here, you won't have the right information," said Im Chan-soo, head of LCS Communication, which runs private classes for Samsung job interviews in Busan.


Aptitude test workbooks cost around $20 each and figure prominently in every bookstore in South Korea. Private tutoring costs can run into thousands of dollars.

"I had doubts about going to cram school. It wasn't cheap but they are professional and I am learning a lot," said Han Nam-gyu, a 27-year-old engineering graduate who paid 280,000 won ($260) to LCS Communication.

Critics of the system say it adds yet another layer of misery for graduates, who have crammed from pre-school all the way through high school to try to get into a top university.

In South Korea, 65 percent of those in the 25 to 34 age group went to university, the highest rate among the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's 34 member states.

That is a huge shift in a generation. Just 13 percent of people in the 55 to 64 age group went to university.

Samsung appears to recognise that the super-competitive process may not be healthy for the country's young people, warning recently of rising "social and financial costs" of the recruitment system. Still, it did not identify a solution.

For many students like Han the engineer, "Plan B" is to come back again next year for another shot at Samsung.

"My mother cried after I passed the second stage. She was really happy," said Han, who applied to Samsung C&T Corp, the group firm that handles engineering, construction, trading and investment.

"I want to get into Samsung so my mother will be able to boast about her son." ($1=1,060.75 Korean won)

(Editing by David Chance and John O'Callaghan and Clarence Fernandez)

Police detain man over bombings in north China city


BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police have detained a man in connection with several small bombs that exploded in front of a Communist Party building in the northern Chinese city of Taiyuan earlier this week, state media reported on Friday.

The suspect is Feng Zhijun, 41, who had previously spent nine years in prison for theft, according to state media.

"Police found home-made explosive devices at his residence, and a large amount of evidence of his crimes," state television said on its official microblog. "Feng Zhijun fully confessed to the evidence of his crimes."

Police caught him early on Friday, it added, without providing other details.

Wednesday's bombings killed one person and wounded eight, according to state media reports.

Such incidents are not uncommon in China and underscore the government's worries about stability in the world's second-largest economy, with a widening gap between rich and poor and growing anger at corruption and environmental issues.

The Chinese government blamed Islamists for an attack in central Beijing last week when a car ploughed through bystanders on the edge of Tiananmen Square and burst into flames, killing three people in the car and two bystanders.

The incidents come as China ramps up security before top leaders gather on Saturday for a plenum meeting in Beijing to discuss key reforms.

In 2011, a farmer bombed three government buildings in Fuzhou city in Jiangxi province after failing to get redress over seizure of his land. Two people and the farmer were killed.

A 42-year-old farmer with terminal lung cancer detonated a home-made device aboard a bus in Fujian province in 2005, wounding 31 and killing himself, possibly to protest prohibitive healthcare costs.

(Reporting by Adam Rose; Editing by Ben Blanchard and Jeremy Laurence)


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