South Africa

Record number of ecologists slain in 2020

A record number of environmental defenders were murdered last year, according to a report issued this week by advocacy group Global Witness. The report, "Last Line of Defense," counts 227 activists killed around the world in 2020—the highest number recorded for a second consecutive year. Many of the murders were linked to resource exploitation—logging, mining, agribusiness, and hydroelectric dams. Since the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the organization found on average of four activists have been killed each week.

Rwanda's quick win in Mozambique: how real?

Rwandan and Mozambican troops retook the port city of Mocímboa da Praia on Aug. 9 from Islamist militants—their last stronghold in Mozambique's northern Cabo Delgado province. The 1,000 Rwandan troops, who arrived in the country last month to help the government battle a four-year insurgency, have proved their effectiveness in a series of skirmishes. They are also being joined by units from regional neighbors Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. But analysts are warning that the insurgents—known colloquially as al-Shabab (see list of alternative names)—are choosing not to stand their ground, preferring to retreat into the countryside. Military force doesn't address the drivers of the conflict, nor does it prevent ill-disciplined Mozambican troops—who often struggle to distinguish between insurgent and civilian—from stoking further tensions through abuses of the populace. More than 3,000 people have been killed and 820,000 displaced by the conflict.

Podcast: Hiroshima at 76

In Episode 83 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes signs of hope on the 76th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, with the city's Mayor Kazumi Matsui calling on the world's nations to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. President Trump walked away from US-Russia nuclear arms control treaties, and China is now rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal. Ukraine and Syria are ominously likely flashpoints for superpower conflict. But South Africa provides a shining example of progress—under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, newly post-apartheid South Africa became the first and only nation on Earth to willingly dismantle its nuclear weapons.

South Africa's eruption: not just about Zuma

The violence and looting that left at least 117 people dead in South Africa may have diminished after thousands of troops were deployed onto the streets of the main hotspot provinces. But the unrest was the worst seen since the end of apartheid, and has disrupted a stuttering vaccination program amid a Delta-driven COVID-19 third wave that is straining health services. Protests erupted after the July 7 imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma, who had refused to appear before a corruption inquiry into the "state capture" allegations that blighted his rule. However, the unrest reflects broader frustrations, as pandemic restrictions result in job losses and deepen poverty in one of the world's most unequal countries. As one bystander in Johannesburg told a television crew: "The matter is not about Zuma. People are hungry."

Foreign troops deploy in Mozambique

Mozambique's President Filipe Nyusi is usually wary of foreign military intervention. But the grim situation in Cabo Delgado seems to have forced his hand. Last week, Rwanda began deploying a 1,000-strong police and military force to the insurgency-hit northern province. And troops from the Southern African Development Community regional bloc are also set to arrive in the coming days. Some reports suggest the Rwandans will set up around the Afungi peninsula, where a multi-billion dollar gas project is located. Their battlefield enemy—known locally as al-Shabab—is formidable and entrenched, as Mozambique's army and its mercenary allies know well. Lost in the military chatter is much mention of Cabo Delgado's worsening humanitarian crisis: More than 700,000 people have been uprooted—68,000 since late March—and close to a million are now facing severe hunger.

Uprising and repression in Eswatini

The government of Eswatini, Africa's last absolute monarchy, has launched what Amnesty International calls a "ruthless crackdown" in response to pro-democracy protests, with dozens killed and many others tortured, detained or abducted. At least 150 protesters have been hospitalized for injuries, including gunshot wounds sustained from live ammunition fired by the police. The military has also been deployed to the streets. Protests broke out last month, following the mysterious death of a 25-year-old law student, Thabani Nkomonye, in May, allegedly at the hands of the police. His body was found on a field in Nhlambeni, outside the city of Manzini. In late June, these protests grew into daily marches in several cities and towns around the kingdom. While the demonstrations were mostly peaceful, there were instances in which businesses linked to the monarchy were looted and torched. The protests have waned since the wave of repression was unleashed, but the opposition People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) pledges to carry on the struggle.

Libya: Blackwater CEO trafficked arms to Russia-backed warlord

Erik Prince, former CEO of the notorious private military company Blackwater, violated the UN arms embargo on Libya with a clandestine pipeline to a rebel warlord, according to a confidential report to the Security Council obtained by the New York Times. The report found that in 2019 Prince deployed a force of foreign mercenaries and weapons to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, who has been fighting to depose the UN-recognized Libyan government. The $80 million operation, dubbed "Project Opus," included a shipment of aircraft from South Africa. It also included plans to form a hit squad to hunt down and kill Libyan commanders opposed to Haftar. The accusation exposes Prince to possible UN sanctions, including a travel ban. Prince did not cooperate with the UN investigation, and his lawyer declined to comment to the Times. (Al Jazeera, Daily Sabah)

South Africa: coal mine opponent killed in KwaZulu

Four gunmen shot and killed local anti-mining activist Fikile Ntshangase at her home in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province Oct. 22. Ntshangase, 65, was a leading member of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), which is taking legal action to prevent the expansion of an open-cast coal mine at Somkhele, on the southeastern border of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game park. MCEJO also says the mine's existing operations should be halted because they are not compliant with environmental and other laws.

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