December 26, 2013
By George E. Curry
Most of the leaders and dignitaries who converged on this capital city earlier this month from around the world to attend the official memorial service for former president Nelson Mandela have departed, but grateful South Africans continue to fill the streets by the thousands to honor their beloved icon.
Thousands continued to file briskly past his outstretched, encased casket as his body lay in state here for the last day on Friday December 13 at the Union Buildings, just steps away from the seat of power.
“I need this opportunity to see him,” said Mapula Pilusa as she stood in a line that slowly inched its way toward Mandela. The line snaked for miles, curving off of Steve Biko Street onto Stanza Bopape and curving again on Hamilton Street, past McDonald’s and the Pretoria Hotel on one side of the street and Nana’s Hair Café on the other.
“As you can see, the queues are long, but I am happy for that,” Pilusa said, referring to the lines leading to the Union Buildings from different directions in the city. “I’m glad I am getting at least one opportunity to see him.”
At 23 years old, Pilusa did not live under pre-1994 rigid racial segregation known as apartheid, a system that required Blacks to carry passbooks at all times.
“I am young and I don’t know that much about apartheid,” she said. “I am learning more and more about it and know you can now do anything you want to do.”
What many have wanted to do was leave flowers, posters and other mementoes in front of the Mandela residence as dignitaries filed in and out of the stately house to comfort Graca Machel, his grieving widow. Visitors from near and far gathered out front during all hours to reflect, to take photos or simply to mourn.
Vendors have remained nearby, hawking flags, T-shirts and buttons bearing images of the Nobel Prize winner who became one of the world’s most venerated figures. He is alternately referred to as Nelson Mandela, Tata (father) or Madiba, the clan name he preferred.
It was more important what he did than what he was called, judging from the reaction of South Africans. As thousands lined up to view the body, Pretoria became a city of honking horns and dancing. Without prompting, people would break out into tribal chants, shout “Mandela, Mandela” or perform a dance called the toyi-toyi.
On December 13, there were constant squeals of sirens piercing the air, helicopters circling the city, often indicators of official Pretoria traveling from one point to another point.
Kefilwe Molefi said the mood stood in sharp contrast to when she first learned that Mandela died a week earlier at the age of 95.
“He died [December 5] . I heard the news on [the next day] at 6:30 a.m.,” she recalled. “I told my flat mate, ‘I think I heard something about Mandela passing.’ She said, ‘What?’ I brought my phone into the room, put it on a speaker and we listened. I couldn’t believe it. I was almost late to work. It was sadness. It was not like it is now, when they have accepted it, digested it, and are now celebrating it. It was just sad and less smiles. The man was old and they knew at some point he would die. But it still came as a shock.”
When she was interviewed, Molefi was standing in front of a huge picture of a smiling Mandela that rested on a makeshift stand nestled on Steve Biko Street between two fast food restaurants, Wimpy and a KFC that remains open around the clock. Like other impromptu memorials, the area became an instant shrine, where hundreds came to take snapshots next to a larger-than-life photo of Mandela.
Mothusi Gill ended up at the site, though not by choice.
“[On December 12], I had some business to do in the morning. I was free after 12 in the afternoon, so I went at 1 o’clock and waited until half past three, when they told us it wasn’t possible. I came back the next morning. At half past six, I was there. But I was turned back just as I was about to go into the Union Buildings.”
For the three days Mandela lay in state, thousands lined Kgosi Mampuru and Madiba streets as his flag-draped coffin was taken to and from 1 Military Hospital. Instead of risking not getting a chance to view the body on Friday, Gill found the popular alternative site on Steve Biko Street.
Dressed in a white, v-neck Nike T-shirt, dark slacks and green and white head scarf, Gill also handed his cell phone to others to photograph him standing next to the large photo of Mandela.
“For me, he’s the greatest man that has ever lived in my lifetime,” Gill said, referring to Mandela. “I don’t think there will be anyone else like him in my lifetime.”
On December 14, Mandela’s body was flown to Qunu in the Eastern Cape, where he was buried Sunday December 15 in a family graveyard.
Public celebrations continued following his funeral, beginning Monday morning with the unveiling of the tallest statue of Mandela in the world, an event that was scheduled prior to his death. At eight meters (24 feet), it’s two meters (6 feet) larger than the 6-meter statue of him at Sandton Square in Johannesburg [a meter equals three feet].
Other major statues of Mandela include the ones erected at The Hague in Holland (3.5m); the Drakenstein Correctional Facility at Paarl and the South African Embassy in Washington (each 3m); Parliament Square in London (2.7m); and the Waterfont in Capetown (2.15m).
The bronze statue of Mandela displayed in Pretoria, officially observed as Reconciliation Day, weighs 4.5 tons.
Last week, Lydia Ramulwela was already thinking about life after Mandela.
“Because we’ve learned so much from him, I don’t think it will change if we can follow his principles,” she said. “We’ve learned a lot from him. He opened our minds and we thank God. He taught us about forgiveness. We compare him to Jesus.”
Barring the imminent return of Jesus, however, Ramulwela says she already has a preference for South Africa’s next president.
“We really like Obama,” she said, excitedly. “If Obama can come here after he finishes in the U.S., we’ll be fine. Nobody will be like Mandela. But maybe Obama can come and rule South Africa. We like him so much.”
December 26, 2013
By RAY FAURE
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, has denied that his family is engaged in a “succession or dynasty” battle amid media reports of a family feud. She also said the anti-apartheid fighter’s eldest daughter is now the head of the family.
The Johannesburg tabloid The Times reported earlier this week that Mandela’s grandson Mandla had found himself locked out of the Mandela homestead in the Eastern Cape hamlet of Qunu where Mandela was buried on Sunday.
According to the report, Mandela’s eldest daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, had ordered the locks changed after she arrived while Mandla was keeping vigil next to his grandfather’s coffin as the body lay in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria for three days. Mandla also reportedly found his home on the Mandela estate without electricity and water on the day of his grandfather’s burial.
He declined to comment on the matter. His spokesman, Freddy Pilusa, told The Associated Press: “He (Mandla) doesn’t want to confirm nor deny the report. He wants to focus on promoting and upholding the legacy of his grandfather going forward.”
Madikizela-Mandela, in a statement issued on her behalf by her spokesman, Thato Mmereki, lashed out at what she called “mischievous innuendos and newsroom slugs designed to disgrace the family” through “apartheid-style” tactics.
She said she is disappointed with the media’s “interference in closed matters of the Mandela family.”
“These reports have done nothing but use half-truths to cast a shadow on the Mandela family during their time of bereavement,” she asserted.
Madikizela-Mandela noted that three daughters survive Nelson Mandela: Makaziwe Mandela, Zenani Dlamini-Mandela and Zindziswa Mandela.
“In accordance with customary law and tradition the eldest daughter, being Ms. Makaziwe Mandela, will head the family and will make decisions with the support of her two sisters. To this end there is no misunderstanding, or debate. Mr. Mandla Mandela is respected as one of Nelson Mandela’s grandchildren, the next generation of the Mandela family,” she said.
December 19, 2013
By CHARLTON DOKI and RODNEY MUHUMUZA
JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — Gunfire continued to ring out in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, Tuesday as the military “cleared out remnants” of soldiers accused of mounting a coup attempt, the foreign minister said, while more than 13,000 people sought refuge at United Nations facilities.
The coup attempt happened on Sunday when a group of soldiers raided the weapons store within the main army barracks in Juba but were repulsed by loyalists, sparking gunfights Sunday night and early Monday, Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told The Associated Press. He described the alleged coup plotters as “disgruntled” but gave no other details.
At least 26 people, mostly soldiers, have since died in the violence, according to Makur Maker, a senior Ministry of Health official. Other groups put the casualties in the hundreds.
The fighting has forced about 13,000 people to seek shelter inside or in the immediate outskirts of two U.N. facilities in Juba, according to the U.N.
The South Sudanese military has arrested five political leaders with suspected links to the coup attempt and many more are still being traced, said Benjamin. Chief among the wanted is former Vice President Riek Machar, who is now believed to be in hiding after he was identified by President Salva Kiir as the political leader favored by a faction of soldiers who tried to seize power earlier this week, he said.
“They are still looking for more ... who are suspected of being behind the coup,” Benjamin said, referring to the military.
The United States Embassy in Juba and the U.N. Mission in South Sudan denied they are harboring Machar, he said.
The hunt for Machar, an influential politician who is one of the heroes of a brutal war of independence waged against Sudan, threatens to send the world’s youngest country into further political upheaval following months of a power struggle between Kiir and his former deputy.
Machar, the deputy leader of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, said he would contest the presidency in 2015 after Machar fired him in July. He has openly criticized Kiir, saying that if the country is to be united it cannot tolerate “one man’s rule or it cannot tolerate dictatorship.”
The international community has repeatedly urged South Sudan's leaders to exercise restraint amid fears the military’s actions in the aftermath of the attempted coup could spark wider ethnic violence.
United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon told Kiir in a telephone conversation Tuesday that he expected him “to exercise real leadership at this critical moment, and to instill discipline in the ranks of the (Sudanese military) to stop this fighting among them,” according to Martin Nesirky, a spokesman for the secretary-general’s office.
There are “disturbing reports of ethnically-targeted killings,” with most of the fighting pitting soldiers from Kiir’s majority Dinka tribe against those from the Nuer tribe of Machar, said Casie Copeland, the South Sudan analyst for the International Crisis Group.
“The fighting has been fierce and parts of Juba have been reduced to rubble,” she said. “Reported casualty figures are well over 500 and we should expect this figure to increase. The conduct of the (Sudanese military) in the coming days will be a good indicator of how South Sudan will come out of this and how ethnic diversity will be managed moving forward.”
The oil-rich East African nation has been plagued by ethnic tension since it broke away from Sudan in 2011. In the rural Jonglei state, where the government is trying to put down a rebellion, the military itself faces charges of widespread abuses against the Murle ethnic group of rebel leader David Yau Yau.
December 26, 2013
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News
A radiant French teenager whose mother hails from Benin was crowned Miss France on live TV, thrilling those who acknowledge the diverse population of the European nation.
Flora Coquerel, who is from Orléans, France, was voted Miss France 2014 by a combination of votes from the TV audience, estimated at 8.2 million viewers, and a celebrity jury.
Within minutes of the crowning, social media outlets were inundated with comments, many of which were racist. A portion of the comments were horrifying: “I’m not a racist, but shouldn’t the Miss France contest only be open to white girls?” and “Death to foreigners.”
Last month, the pageant’s former lifetime president, movie star Alain Delon, resigned after it was revealed he supported the National Front, France’s far-right, anti-immigration party.
December 19, 2013
By ALAN FRAM
WASHINGTON (AP) — Fresh from shackling the traditional blocking ability of the Senate's minority party, Democrats are ready to muscle through President Barack Obama’s nominees for pivotal judgeships and other top jobs.
Despite last month’s Democratic power play, Senate Republicans retain the power to slow, though not derail, Obama’s appointments.
Left unchanged were other rules that the out-of-power party could use to grind the chamber’s work to an excruciating crawl. That ranges from requiring clerks to read voluminous bills and amendments to forcing repeated procedural votes.
“There are so many ways of slowing things down in the Senate,” said Robert Dove, the Senate’s former long-time parliamentarian.
Monday starts a two-week, year-end Senate session in which Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hopes to finish work on a modest budget deal, a defense bill and other lingering items.
It will also be the first test of how Republicans respond to the Democratic changes.
Monday’s meeting marks the chamber’s first since irritable lawmakers left town Nov. 21 for their Thanksgiving break. Earlier that day, Democrats used their 55-45 edge to reshape how filibusters work, trimming the number of votes needed to halt procedural delays against most nominations from 60 to a simple majority.
Democrats pushed through the changes after tiring of what they consider excessive GOP efforts to derail Obama's nominees. The move angered Republicans, who argue that Democrats frequently tried blocking President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.
How the GOP responds will become clearer when they return to the Capitol. But in a chamber whose arcane rules give any single senator the ability to throw the brakes on much of its work, partisan friction can hurt.
“The fact is it changes personal relationships with everybody on the other side,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. “It has damaged the ability of us to move forward.”
The Senate is vulnerable to delays because its rules technically require votes on almost anything it does. This includes agreeing to not read aloud an entire amendment, agreeing to begin considering nominations, even letting committees meet while the Senate is in session.
To save time, the Senate usually does such things by unanimous consent — a quick voice vote to which no one objects. But angry senators can block fast action.
Democrats could make GOP delays as painful as possible, such as keeping the Senate in all night and on weekends.
“We’re going to seek to achieve as much as we possibly can and hope Republicans will cooperate with us, instead of just using knee-jerk obstruction,” said Adam Jentleson, spokesman for Reid.
Republicans are already using the rules to flex their muscle.
When the Senate recessed for Thanksgiving, it did not approve a batch of noncontroversial nominations and bills, which it usually does before such breaks. With 60 votes still required to end filibusters against legislation, GOP senators are blocking final passage of the defense bill until Reid allows votes on Republican amendments.
On Tuesday, the Senate planned to vote to confirm Patricia Millett to become a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. A vote had been planned for Monday but was postponed because winter weather was making travel difficult.
Millett is a prominent private lawyer who worked in the solicitor general’s office under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, arguing 32 cases before the Supreme Court. Republicans used the old 60-vote requirement for stopping filibusters to prevent a vote on her nomination in October, a blockade that helped prompt Democrats to force the changes.
Her nomination was viewed as key by both sides. The appeals court is disproportionately powerful because it rules on White House actions and federal agency rules. Her ascension will tip the balance of that circuit’s judges to five appointed by Democratic presidents, four by Republicans.
Minutes after the Senate altered the filibuster last month, senators voted by simple majority — and along party lines — to end GOP delays against her. A roll call on final approval has been locked in, and Republicans can do nothing but vote against her.
Over the next two weeks, Reid plans to push five more major nominees through the Senate.
They include Janet Yellen to lead the Federal Reserve, Jeh Johnson to head the Department of Homeland Security and Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency. There are also two more Obama picks for the remaining vacancies on the D.C. court — attorney Cornelia “Nina” Pillard and U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins.
There is little doubt all five will be approved. But time-consuming GOP delays are possible, especially against Watt. Some Republicans say he is not qualified to run an agency that oversees federally backed home lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
“Their objective was to guarantee success, not to make the Senate more efficient,” said Donald Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “There’s nothing they did that makes the Senate go any faster.”
Under Senate rules, once a filibuster is defeated, senators can debate nominations for circuit court judges and Cabinet-level appointees for 30 hours before a vote on final confirmation. For a lesser post like Watt's, the maximum is eight hours.
“I’m sure he’ll get eight hours of debate because the American people need to know he’s not qualified to fill that position,” said Coburn.
Democrats say Watt, a 21-year veteran of the House Financial Services Committee, is well suited for the job and say Republicans consider him too liberal.
Republicans can also force at least one procedural vote on each nominee before roll calls are taken to end filibusters and for final approval. Each requires only a simple majority for Democrats to prevail.