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True Reconciliation is about transformation : Ramaphosa
16 December 2019, 8:46 AM

Dear Fellow South African,

Today, I will travel to Bergville in KwaZulu-Natal to observe our national Day of Reconciliation. It says much about our country that this day, 16 December, marks two events in our history that are enduring symbols of conflict and resistance.

We commemorate the epic battle of 1838 on the banks of the Ncome River, and the founding of Umkhonto we Sizwe on the same day over a century later. These two historical events are of deep significance; and now symbolic of our ability to transcend a bitter legacy and forge a new path.

As we take stock of how far we have come in healing the divisions of the past and building a united nation, we have much to be proud of.

One need only observe the outpouring of joy when the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup in Japan and when our Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe. South Africans of all races took to the streets in an outpouring of national pride.

We see it elsewhere every day. In our sport that is now desegregated, in our Parliament, in our transformed places of higher learning and our schools, and on our television screens where programming reflects the diversity of our nation and its languages and cultures.

Racism and bigotry no longer define our nation. Where they do occur, they are isolated. Where there have been manifestations of intolerance, we have been able to unite behind the values of tolerance and respect for diversity that define our Bill of Rights.

Yet, we still have much further to go.

The SA Reconciliation Barometer Survey 2019, which is published by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, reports that a vast majority of South Africans agree that our country still needs reconciliation. At the same time, just over a half of respondents believe that South Africa has made progress with reconciliation since 1994.

According to the survey, most respondents agree that reconciliation is impossible as long as corruption continues, political parties sow division, those who were affected by apartheid continue to be poor, gender-based violence remains, we continue to use racial categories to measure transformation, and racism in our society remains unaddressed.

This confirms that true reconciliation is not only about social cohesion. It is also about political and economic transformation.

Since we attained our democracy our people have demonstrated time and again their immense capacity to look beyond superficial differences in the quest to achieve true nationhood, and with it, embrace a fuller humanity.

This is not to diminish the impact of the past. The South Africa of today still suffers from the effects of centuries of discrimination, dispossession and unequal development.

As the author William Faulkner famously wrote of the American South: “The past is not dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.”

We must address the unfinished business of our democratic transition. We must close the festering wound of inequality that exists between our people. We must forge ahead with land reform and social development. We must continue to transform our workplaces and restructure our economy so it benefits all.

In this sense, reconciliation is a very practical undertaking. It is about the work that needs to be done to unlock investment in our economy, to reduce the cost of doing business and to promote growth. It is about the urgent measures we need to take to ensure a reliable supply of electricity to homes and businesses. It is about ensuring that our scarce water resources are preserved and equally available to all.

Reconciliation means that we should continue to use the capability of the state to improve the lives of the poor, to have a tax regime that is progressive and public finances that are responsibly managed.

Reconciliation also requires that we reduce the massive inequalities in access to quality health care through, among other things, the introduction of a National Health Insurance. We need to improve the quality of education in township and rural schools in particular and ensure that there is universal attendance in early childhood development centre.

We will continue to seek out and forge durable social compacts to attain our vision of a South Africa that has been fundamentally transformed. We must all play our part if we are to bequeath to our children a society that has truly reconciled.

As the Irish Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire has said: “It is time to put aside egos, individual and collective, for the sake of the youth.”

Let us make a concerted effort to move forward together, focusing on what unites us instead of what divides.

Let us reach out to each other on this day, during this Reconciliation Month, and throughout the year.

I wish you all well over the festive season and all the best for the new year.

Best wishes,

Hong Kong’s Lam heads for pivotal meeting with Xi Jinping
16 December 2019, 6:55 AM

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met with Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam in Beijing on Monday, saying the Asian financial hub was not yet out of its “dilemma” with the city’s economy facing an unprecedented and challenging situation.

Li met with Lam during a regular duty visit where she is also due to hold a potentially pivotal meeting with President Xi Jinping.

The meetings come after Hong Kong police fired tear gas in late night street clashes with protesters on Sunday as the former British colony’s worst political crisis in decades drags on into a seventh month.

“The SAR (special administrative region) government must continue its efforts, end violence and stop the chaos in accordance with the law and restore order,” Li said in his meeting with Lam, the opening remarks of which were broadcast by Cable TV.

Anti-government protests in the city since June have posed one of the biggest populist challenges to Xi’s rule. The unrest has also complicated ties between China and the United States at a time of heightened tensions, including over trade.

Lam’s visit comes amid speculation in local media that talks with Xi could yield fresh directives on the city’s political crisis, including a possible cabinet reshuffle.

The two had previously met in Shanghai in early November when Xi expressed “high trust” in Lam despite the turmoil.

Lam, however, appeared to play down the prospects of a cabinet reshuffle before she left, saying the first task was to curb violence and restore order, while seeking to engage in more dialogue with the public.

Late on Sunday, groups of masked youths – angered by what they see as Chinese meddling in freedoms promised to Hong Kong when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997- blocked roads around Mong Kok district, prompting police to fire multiple rounds of tear gas and baton charge crowds.

It was the first time in nearly two weeks that tear gas had been deployed by police.

Fires were lit and traffic lights smashed, while one student reporter for Baptist University was hit in the face by a police projectile and had to be hospitalised, local television footage showed.

Small bands of protesters marched through several malls, blocking entrances, smashing glass, and chanting slogans including “fight for freedom”. Many shops in affected malls closed early after battalions of riot police stormed in, pepper spraying crowds and making multiple arrests.

Despite the protesters’ demands and anti-China rhetoric, China maintains it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula granting Hong Kong a large degree of autonomy and freedoms denied other cities in the mainland.

Rajapaksa takes early lead in Sri Lanka election
17 November 2019, 8:24 AM

Sri Lanka’s former wartime defence chief Gotabaya Rajapaksa established a lead over his main rival in a presidential election, months after deadly militant attacks in the island, early results showed on Sunday.

Millions of Sri Lankans voted on Saturday to elect a new president to lead the country out of its deepest economic slump in over 15 years, following Easter Sunday suicide bombings that sapped investor confidence and hurt its tourism sector.

Rajapaksa, who oversaw the military defeat of Tamil separatists under his brother and then president Mahinda Rajapaksa 10 years ago, has promised strong leadership to secure the island of 22 million people, the majority of whom are Sinhalese Buddhists.

With a quarter of total votes counted, Rajapaksa had 48.2 percent, while his main rival government minister Sajith Premadasa stood at 45.3 percent, the election commission said.

Rajapaksa held a commanding edge in the Sinhalese-dominated southern part of the island, as well as postal ballots. Premadasa, who campaigned on policies to help the poor, was leading in the north where minority Tamils are predominant.

The election commission has said it expects results to be clear by late Sunday and a new president will be sworn in within a day.

Tamil political parties are strongly opposed to Rajapaksa, who has faced allegations of widespread human rights violations of civilians in the final stages of the war against the separatists in 2009.

Rajapaksa and his brother deny the allegations.

Muslims, the other large minority group, say they too have faced hostility since the April attacks on hotels and churches in which more than 250 people were killed. Islamic State claimed responsibility.

No place for race says Steenhuizen
17 November 2019, 6:41 AM

Democratic Alliance (DA) Parliamentary leader John Steenhuizen says race should not play a role in the election of the party’s interim leader.

Steenhuizen is widely expected to be elected DA interim leader. The DA will elect its interim leader when the party’s Federal Council sits in Johannesburg today.

The party says the council has only one item on the agenda – the election of the Interim Federal leader and interim Federal chairperson to lead the party until the Federal congress next year.

The other candidate is member of the Gauteng Legislature Makashule Gana. Western Cape leader Bonginkosi Madikizela withdrew from the race last last week.

There are three candidates for the position of interim Federal chairperson. Steenhuizen says his race should have nothing to do with his capabilities.

“It shouldn’t matter which colour you are in South Africa… you should be judged on your contribution, and I think that leaders, white, black, indian and coloured, need to step up and show what they can do for South Africa, because the situation is so desperate now… ten-million people unemployed, the economy contracting, people don’t care what the colour of the surgeon is, they want the healing and the medicine, that’s where they need to focus.

Draghi’s parting shot leaves next ECB boss with existential dilemma
13 September 2019, 8:56 PM

Christine Lagarde will face a momentous decision in her first year as European Central Bank (ECB) President: give up on reviving inflation or give in to the temptation of bankrolling governments with never ending bond purchases.

The ECB pledged on Thursday to buy bonds “for as long as necessary” for inflation expectations in the euro zone to rise to its aim of just under 2 percent – a commitment that will haunt the central bank’s decision-makers long after current boss Mario Draghi steps down on October 31.

With the bloc’s economy reeling from a global slowdown and incapable of generating enough growth domestically, the ECB could be in the market for years to come, gobbling up significant swathes of the bonds issued by indebted governments.

Squaring Draghi’s pledge with rules that ban the central bank from financing countries’ deficits, and increasingly vocal discontent from some unhappy ECB policymakers, will be Lagarde’s first challenge when she takes office on November 1, the very day the bond-buying gets underway.

“A purchase programme forever means either the final breach of all European Treaties and the beginning of full state financing… (unless) Draghi and his successor get what they want: an inflation rate of 2 percent or more,” Sentix, a Frankfurt-based research firm, wrote in a note.

Odds on the latter happening any time soon were long, with the ECB itself expecting inflation of just 1.3%-1.6% between this year and 2021 and market gauges of long-term price growth stuck even lower.

But Lagarde won’t have the luxury of waiting.

In roughly a year the ECB will have bought a third of Germany’s outstanding government debt, according to estimates by U.S. brokerage Jefferies, coming up against a self-imposed limit.

Scrapping that cap – designed to prevent the ECB from becoming a blocking minority in any debt restructuring – or diverting purchases to other countries would likely invite fresh legal challenges and accusations Frankfurt is rewarding profligate governments.

But giving up on the ECB’s mission to bring inflation back to its target was not an option for an institution that has price stability as its sole aim.

Lifting of the share of a country’s debt that the ECB could own – likely to 50%, which would still prevent it from becoming the majority owner – was seen by analysts as a possible solution.

This would see Frankfurt go down the route of the Bank of Japan (BoJ), which has hoovered up 45% of its government’s debt as part of an increasingly desperate effort to revive a stagnant economy via quantitative easing (QE) and fiscal largesse.

“This is QE forever and a next step in the euro zone’s Japanification,” Carsten Brzeski, an economist at Dutch bank ING said. “The conclusion that only fiscal policy can still make a difference also echoes Japanese experiences.”

But new ECB President Lagarde would be likely to face push-back on such a move from a sizeable section of the Governing Council, more than a third of which opposed new bond purchases on Thursday, including the central bank governors of France and Germany.
“The very fact there are so many members opposing this could act as an anchor preventing the ECB from following the BoJ,”Angel Talavera, an economist at research group Oxford Economics,said.

POLICY REVIEW

Lagarde has a wild card, however. She has hinted at launching a review of the ECB’s tools and policy framework to weigh up their costs and benefits.

Economists said this could be used to bolster the case for even more stimulus or, on the contrary, acknowledge that the current inflation target is too ambitious and money taps must be finally closed.

When the ECB was founded in 1998, its main preoccupation was to stop prices from rising too fast.

It set its central goal as an inflation rate of “below 2 percent”, tweaked to “below, but close to, 2% over the medium term” in 2003 to clarify that deflation – or falling prices -would not be tolerated.

But that level of price growth has proven elusive since the euro zone debt crisis of 2010-12 due to a combination of sluggish lending, weak domestic demand in peripheral countries and excess savings in Germany.
While nothing is known yet about the spirit of Lagarde’s review, Dirk Schumacher, an economist at French bank Natixis,said he saw it as increasingly difficult for QE supporters to justify more largesse.

“The burden of proof is shifting and if inflation has gone nowhere a year from now it will be hard for the doves to say we need more of the same,” Schumacher said.

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