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Israeli forces kill dozens of Palestinians in Gaza strikes, battle Hamas in Rafah

Israeli forces killed at least 60 Palestinians in aerial and ground bombardments across the Gaza Strip on Thursday and battled in close combat with Hamas-led militants in areas of the southern city of Rafah, health officials and Hamas media said.

Israeli tanks advanced in Rafah's southeast, edged towards the city's western district of Yibna and continued to operate in three eastern suburbs, residents said.

"The occupation (Israeli forces) is trying to move further to the west, they are on the edge of Yibna, which is densely populated. They didn't invade it yet," one resident said, asking not to be named.

"We hear explosions and we see black smoke coming up from the areas where the army has invaded. It was another very difficult night," he told Reuters via a chat app.

Simultaneous Israeli assaults on the northern and southern edges of Gaza this month have caused a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fleeing their homes, and have cut off the main access routes for aid, raising the risk of famine.

Israel launched its assault on Gaza following a Hamas-led attack on southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 people and led to more than 250 hostages, by Israeli tallies. Since then, Israel's assault in Gaza has killed more than 35,000 people, with thousands more feared buried under the rubble, according to Gaza health authorities.

HOSTAGES IN RAFAH

Israel says it has no choice but to attack Rafah to root out the last battalions of Hamas fighters it believes are sheltering there.

"Hamas is in Rafah, Hamas has been holding our hostages in Rafah, which is why our forces are maneuvering in Rafah. We're doing this in a targeted and precise way," Israeli chief military spokesperson Daniel Hagari said in a statement on Thursday.

"We're protecting Gazan civilians in Rafah from being a layer of protection for Hamas, by encouraging them to temporarily evacuate to humanitarian areas... So far we have eliminated dozens of Hamas terrorists, exposed dozens of terror tunnels and destroyed vast amounts of infrastructure."

Israeli forces have killed around 180 militants in Rafah so far, Hagari said in a televised news conference.

UNRWA, the main United Nations agency in Gaza, estimated as of Monday that more than 800,000 people had fled Rafah since Israel began targeting the city in early May, despite international pleas for restraint.

Suze van Meegan, the Norwegian Refugee Council's Emergency Response Leader in Gaza, said many civilians were still stuck.

"The city of Rafah is now comprised of three entirely different worlds: the east is an archetypal war zone, the middle is a ghost town, and the west is a congested mass of people living in deplorable conditions," she said in a statement.

In parallel, Israeli forces stepped up a ground offensive in Jabalia, where the military has razed several residential areas, and struck nearby Beit Hanoun town, areas where Israel declared major operations over months ago. Israel says it has had to return to prevent Hamas from regrouping there.

Hamas media said 12 Palestinians were killed in an air strike on a store belonging to the welfare ministry east of Deir Al-Balah city in the central Gaza Strip, and that 10 more were killed in an air strike on a residential building in Gaza City.

Except for the intensive care unit and the neonatal unit, power was stopped at the Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza Strip amid huge fuel shortages, medics said.

The Israeli military said in a statement forces began conducting targeted raids in Beit Hanoun "to eliminate terrorists, locate and strike terror infrastructure, below and above the ground."

It said its operations had killed Hussein Fiad, the Commander of Hamas’ Beit Hanoun Battalion in an underground area in Jabalia in northern Gaza.

"Fiad was responsible for launching a significant number of the anti-tank missiles that were fired at Israeli territory throughout the war, along with extensive mortar fire toward Israeli communities near the northern Gaza Strip," it said in a statement.

A senior Hamas security official, Diaa Aldeen Al-Shurafa, was also killed in an Israeli strike as he toured residential districts of Gaza City, the interior ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said.

The Israeli military said three soldiers had been killed in the fighting on Wednesday, raising the number killed since Gaza incursions began on Oct. 20 to 286 soldiers.

 

Reuters

RUSSIAN PERSPECTIVE

Putin to discuss ‘second phase’ of nuclear drills with ally

Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Belarus for a two-day state visit that will include talks on the former Soviet republic’s involvement in nuclear weapons drills.

“We’ll talk about the second phase of the exercise,” Putin said after being greeted by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday at the Minsk National Airport. “This is related to direct participation of our Belarusian friends and colleagues in these events.”

Russian troops began the first phase of the tactical nuclear exercise on Tuesday in the Southern Military District, which includes Crimea and four formerly Ukrainian territories in the Donbass region. Moscow said the drills are meant to demonstrate its ability to respond to external threats, thereby deterring further escalation of the Russia-Ukraine conflict by Kiev’s Western backers.

The exercise involves delivery of nuclear weapons to troops from storage sites, the arming of missiles with tactical nuclear warheads, and covert deployment of such weaponry.

After the Kremlin announced the drills earlier this month, citing an unprecedented” escalation of tensions with the US and its allies over Ukraine, Lukashenko immediately ordered similar exercises to test Belarus’ nuclear-capable weapon systems, including Iskander missile launchers.

Last year, Putin agreed to store a small number of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, after Lukashenko made a “friendly request” for such a deterrent. Back then, Lukashenko also stated that he would not hesitate to use them if his country is attacked.

French President Emmanual Macron and other Western leaders have recently hinted at potential deployment of NATO forces in Ukraine and the use of their weapons by Ukrainian troops to strike targets deep inside Russian territory.

Putin said he previewed his visit to Belarus by discussing issues of bilateral cooperation with members of the Russian cabinet. That meeting covered such topics as security, energy and agriculture issues. Some other Russian leaders are scheduled to arrive in Minsk on Friday to participate in the talks.

Lukashenko invited Putin for the visit, which marks the Russian leader’s second foreign trip since being sworn in for his fifth term as president on May 7. Putin traveled to China last week for talks with President Xi Jinping, and he’s scheduled for a state visit to Uzbekistan on May 26-27.

The state-run press service in Belarus said Lukashenko’s talks with Putin will cover the full range of relations between the countries, including trade, humanitarian issues, and joint projects.

 

WESTERN PERSPECTIVE

Ukraine's long-range glide bomb blunted by Russian jamming

Russian jamming has kept many of Ukraine's relatively new long-range GLSDB bombs from hitting their intended targets, three people familiar with the challenges told Reuters.

Ukraine over the last year sought weapons with longer ranges than the 43 miles (69 km) of U.S.-provided GMLRS rockets so Kyiv could attack and disrupt Russian supply lines and muster points.

To answer that call, Boeing Co (BA.N) offered a new weapon to the Pentagon with a 100-mile (161-km) range, the Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB). The glide-bomb has small wings that extend its reach, and it is comprised of the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) and the M26 rocket motor, both of which are common in U.S. inventories and relatively inexpensive.

But the GLSDB's navigation system, which enables it to be steered around obstacles like mountains and known anti-air defenses, has been targeted by Russian jamming, the three people briefed on he matter said.

While Boeing has said the weapon can defeat some jamming, one of the sources said it would take Boeing months to fix.

Boeing and Ukrainian authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The bomb is made jointly by SAAB AB (SAABb.ST) and Boeing, and it was in development well before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Jamming happens when huge amounts of energy are broadcast into an area, overwhelming a device's signal. Russia has used the tactic on Ukrainian radios, drones and even GPS-guidable Excalibur 155 millimeter artillery munitions.

Ukraine has been using GLSDBs since earlier this year and experts have noted that it has not performed well on the battlefield because of jamming.

Ukraine has also been using both short and long range Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) which have a range up to 180 miles (300 km).

Jamming on the battlefield in Ukraine is "simply a reality, and numerous weapon systems have had to contend with these and other countermeasures," said Tom Karako, a weapons expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Whether such challenges are in turn countered with technical upgrades or simply alternative methods of employment, the utility of long range fires is going to persist."

 

RT/Reuters

Friday, 24 May 2024 04:45

One year of Tinubu - Azu Ishiekwene

It wasn’t five months after President Bola Tinubu took office when folks started asking, how far? In middle class and elite social circles in Nigeria, that question, or its variant – how market? – is often reserved for people whose sympathy for a cause or person is imperiled.

I often pushed back by saying that given the enormity of problems that the Tinubu government faced at inception, five months or so were inadequate to judge. And that was not just a convenient deflection. 

There are, of course, American presidents who made a mark after 100 days in office, notably, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Barack Obama. But you don’t make them often, whatever may be the fetish of 100 days in office popularised by the U.S. After all President Clinton had a rocky 100 days in office only to end up the first Democratic president to be elected to two full terms after Roosevelt.

Unusual election

Nigeria’s 2023 election was so contentious that even though voting ended in February and a president was announced almost immediately by the electoral commission, it wasn’t until eight months later that the Supreme Court finally upheld his election. Tinubu was, as we say, hugging the chair with just one side of his buttocks. Of course, he had taken decisions from day one for which he must be held accountable, even if he was hanging on by a thread.

Perhaps the most consequential was his announcement, adlib, that “fuel subsidy is gone.” The removal was overdue. A good number of people agreed, even though some opposed the precipitous announcement and the subsequent merger of the exchange rate as evidence of Tinubu’s overzealous attempt to please the IMF and World Bank. It might also have been an honest attempt by him to preempt being taken hostage by the bureaucracy. 

Whatever the motivation was, it backfired; not because of the announcement, but because the government seemed totally unprepared to manage the fallout. There was, strictly speaking, no government to speak of at the time. The chaos that followed the announcement piled on the chaos that Tinubu met in office.

Buhari did nothing?

It would be unfair to say that Tinubu’s predecessor and fellow partyman, President Muhammadu Buhari, did nothing in eight years. The problem was that those who installed Buhari, chief among whom was Tinubu, and those who thought he could do the job, including myself, were unfair to Buhari. He wasn’t up to the job, but we didn’t care. In his incompetence, he put Nigerians through shege and left behind for his successor a legacy of shege banza, if you’ll excuse my French.

The fallouts of Covid-19 and the supply chain problems off the back of the war in Ukraine made things tough for Buhari. But what has come to light even from the management of these crises was his absence most of the time. He loved his title far more than he understood his job.

Perfect storm

His successor descended into a perfect storm: inflation at nearly 22 percent; unemployment at 33 percent; foreign exchange scarcity and declining revenue from oil sales; a looming debt crisis; a population surging ahead of GDP; an inefficient, lopsided and bloated public service; rampant insecurity; and broken confidence in government. Don’t even add the dysfunctional relationship between the fiscal and monetary authorities. 

In the last four political transitions since 1999, the Buhari-Tinubu transition has been the most fraught, incomparable in hazard with the one between President Goodluck Jonathan and Buhari in 2015, which was supposed to have been a hostile takeover. Yet, the Buhari-Tinubu transition was a handover from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to itself.

Tinubu’s cross

But Tinubu has to be judged by what he has done or failed to do, especially since he has said, repeatedly, that he asked for the job and would not invite any pity party. It was not Buhari’s fault, for example, that he couldn’t form a cabinet until 56 days after taking office. 

Nor was Buhari to blame that when Tinubu finally composed his team, he selected, with a few exceptions, mostly people whose major credential was that they knew someone who knew someone who knew the president. The drama around some of the appointments and the screening are a subject on their own. That had nothing to do with Buhari.

The rot was deep. But the treatment – the radical attempts to scrap market curbs and tighten fiscal and monetary controls – appears, for now, worse than the disease, leaving large sections of the population struggling and impoverished. 

The compound chaos was neither entirely unforeseen nor inevitable. Buhari left behind a near-bankrupt treasury and ran his government for the most part by printing money. Getting the economy back into gear was going to depend largely on the unpredictable receipts from oil sales, which in turn was going to depend on less oil theft and a higher production quota. Foreign investors’ confidence had also been undermined by excessive price controls; while on the domestic front, rampant insecurity kept food prices high. 

Approach matters

A far more careful calibration and better management of public expectations than Tinubu’s government’s zeal suggested might have produced a different outcome. Unfortunately, a lifetime’s worth of suffering appears to have been laid out in a terrifically short time.

Yet, while some of it is inevitable, a few of the problems of the past year have been fostered by vested interests determined to complicate the government’s misery. Take two examples: the pushback by currency manipulators, and the organised crime in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

In the first case, it is difficult to know who was the more complicit – the commercial banks (often in cahoots with state governors) or black-market operators. The incestuous relationship between the two, aided and abetted for years by the Central Bank, fed off cheap government funds, producing an army of white-collar criminals who became multimillionaires by exploiting multiple trading windows. 

Our monkey worked for their baboon to chop. Once Tinubu’s government said enough, the manipulators and their crypto ground soldiers launched a blistering counter-attack. The fight is still on.

The second main war has been with the demon within, elegantly called the MDAs. A source told me not too long ago that some of these government agencies, particularly NPA and NIMASA, among others, illegally locked down about $3.8 billion, from receipts. While they lied and lied that there was no “cash backing” for capital projects, they withheld forex remittances to the Central Bank and also cut deals with bank officials to roll over the principal sums, as they creamed off the interest. 

Tinubu’s searchlight in these places has unleashed a firestorm from vested interests, now aligned with sections of the political class to paint his government in the worst light possible. 

Gift of exaggeration

The problems of Tinubu’s government in the last one year have been partly self-inflicted, and partly unavoidable. But the criticism of his government as a disaster, mostly by politicians who can’t wait for the next general elections in 2027, is exaggerated. 

If ongoing structural reforms are paced, oil production quota keeps trending up, and the government leads by example, finding disciplined ways to manage the impact of tighter monetary controls on the cost of funds, things might yet look up sooner than later. 

It’s doubtful that any of those who vied with him for the presidency could have done better, whatever they might say from their easy chair. What Tinubu still has going for him are his courage, foresight and staying power. Now, he has a shorter runway to make them produce concrete results in the lives of citizens.

** Ishiekwene is Editor-In-Chief of LEADERSHIP

Munera Mokgoko was just three when apartheid fell. She can barely remember, much less fathom, the swell of hope that accompanied Black liberation three decades ago, shaped by Nelson Mandela’s vision of social equality and pan-African solidarity.

“South Africa doesn’t have any ubuntu,” the 33-year-old said, using a Zulu word meaning humanity, ahead of an election in which the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is pledging to crack down on undocumented migrants from the rest of the continent.

“It’s like we don’t know how to welcome people.”

Mokgoko’s Tanzanian husband is among many African migrants who have flocked here since the end of white minority rule and met with the colder side of the “Rainbow Nation”, a name used by Mandela and others in the 1990s to describe South Africa’s aspirations to be a beacon of multicultural harmony.

Public resentment at immigration has become a hot issue in the run-up to the May 29 vote. It’s the first national election in which most people in South Africa – which has a median age of about 28 – have no memory of decades of apartheid, the fight for freedom or the ANC liberation movement’s rise to power in 1994.

Idi Rajebo, Mokgoko’s 34-year-old husband, and thousands of other hopefuls fleeing rural penury in much poorer nations like Tanzania and Malawi have packed themselves into decrepit minibuses, footslogged through bush and bribed border guards to reach Johannesburg, the “City of Gold”.

He and dozens of others ended up crammed into a derelict apartment tower that was being taken over – or “hijacked” – by criminals, where toilets overflowed and drug addicts drooped over stairwells.

“It wasn’t nice,” said Isaac Simon, 39, a Tanzanian friend of Rajebo’s who ran a kitchen on the ground floor.

“We all had the same idea: make some money and get out.”

Dozens didn’t get the chance. Nine months ago, the Usindiso apartment block burst into flames, killing 77 people – mostly migrants – and leaving hundreds homeless.

Reuters is the first news outlet to comprehensively piece together the stories of many of the survivors, before and after the Usindiso tragedy. This article is based on interviews with about 50 people, including 19 migrant victims, government officials and lawyers representing survivors in a public inquiry into the causes of the blaze, plus hundreds of pages of documents submitted as evidence to the probe, much of it not publicly available.

The accounts turn a rare spotlight on the dire conditions endured by many Africans who arrive here searching for a better life in the continent’s most advanced economy, and the hostility they say they’ve encountered from South African authorities as well as bands of vigilantes who blame foreigners for taking jobs and services away from local people.

The public inquiry concluded this month that the fire was caused by a South African man who was high on crystal meth when he strangled another local to death and set the body alight with petrol to conceal the evidence of the murder.

The probe also blamed neglect by local authorities for allowing the building to become a hazardous zone, rife with guns, murder, drugs and combustible trash, findings that led to the provincial premier pledging to swiftly implement the report’s recommendations.

For those who survived the blaze, the ordeal continues. Seven of the 19 migrants interviewed are sleeping on sidewalks or in makeshift tents. Most of the rest said they were living in even more overcrowded and dirty accommodation than the gutted block they escaped, while four have been deported for not having valid immigration papers. In total, 25 survivors of the fire have been deported, according to lawyers representing them at the public inquiry into the fire and as legal counsel during their incarceration.

This month’s election could mark the end of an era for post-liberation South Africa, with the long-dominant ANC expected to lose its parliamentary majority for the first time, abandoned by voters incensed at a litany of national woes including a dearth of decent housing, frequent power cuts, water shortages, poor schools, rampant joblessness and high crime.

Most major parties have put forward plans to crack down harder on illegal migrants as they vie for votes in a tight race. Last month, the government published proposals in its official gazette to scale back its commitments to, or withdraw from, the United Nations refugees convention and related treaties, to “deter economic migrants who come to South Africa disguising as asylum seekers”, a move it said would free its hand in promptly rejecting asylum claims it deemed bogus.

The white paper provoked an outcry from local human rights groups and three U.N. agencies - the UNHCR refugee body, IOM migration organisation and UNICEF children’s fund - said the withdrawal would set a negative precedent and could lead to children born in South Africa becoming stateless.

The proposals also provide a jarring counterpoint to the message conveyed by former ANC leader Mandela, who declared Africans were “one people with a common destiny” after becoming the country’s first democratically elected president.

“When the history of our struggle is written, it will tell a glorious tale of African solidarity,” Mandela told fellow leaders in June 1994. “Africa shed her blood ... so that all her children could be free. She gave of her limited wealth and resources so that all of Africa should be liberated.”

The ANC signed up to the refugee treaties unconditionally in 1995 and 1996. It wasn’t among the many signatories that secured opt-outs from certain requirements, such as giving refugees the same welfare benefits as citizens. In a 1997 speech to mark Africa Refugee Day, Mandela said the answer to managing large refugee flows, often driven by conflict, was to emphasise people’s political and civil rights and for “all of us on the African continent to unite”.

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, who put forward the white paper, told Reuters in an interview that migrants as a whole were proving a heavy burden on South Africa’s resources, citing one hospital, in the northeastern town of Musina, where he said Zimbabweans made up of 70% of maternity ward patients.

Reuters couldn’t independently verify those maternity ward figures. Calls to the Musina hospital went unanswered.

Motsoaledi also said undocumented migrants were allowing employers to undercut the minimum wage, and dismissed any suggestion of xenophobia.

“Every country has got the right to safeguard its interests,” he said. “Pan-Africanism does not mean entering each other’s country illegally.”

The government stance is rejected by Andy Chinnah, a human rights activist who has spent the last nine months helping victims of the fire by providing them with meals and helping organise their legal representation for the public inquiry, which examined the causes of the blaze and who should be held responsible for the tragedy.

Chinnah said the treatment of African migrants reminded him of the apartheid system, but now it was Black people from other countries who were “outsiders.” Political moves to curb migrant rights amount to a betrayal of Mandela’s legacy, he said.

“He wanted one Africa. All the other presidents from the other African countries supported him and the liberation movement to get the freedom that we enjoy today,” Chinnah said.

“We didn’t fight for just the freedom of us in South Africa. We fought for a free Africa. We fought against colonialism.”

Enter operation ‘Force out’

The number of immigrants living legally in South Africa has almost trebled to 2.4 million in 2022 – more than 80% of them from sub-Saharan Africa – from 835,000 in 1996, according to the national statistics office. It said migrants now made up about 4% of the population, with Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Malawi the leading countries of origin. In the United States, another country where immigration is a top issue this election year, foreign-born people account for almost 14% of the populace, census data shows.

The official South African figures don’t include undocumented migrants, for which the government white paper says there are no reliable figures. It says immigration authorities deport 15,000 to 20,000 undocumented migrants a year, and that the number is rising.

Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, where much of the population struggles to eke out even a meagre living from farming, are often willing to take great risks to reach South Africa’s more industrialised economy. They pursue work as child carers, waiters, security guards, artisanal miners and shopkeepers, to name a few occupations.

Of the 19 migrant survivors interviewed by Reuters, nine including Rajebo said they were on valid visas but had lost the documents along with most of their belongings in the fire. The other 10 said they didn’t have valid immigration papers. Reuters couldn’t independently verify their accounts.

There is widespread public frustration with undocumented migrants in South Africa, particularly among young people, according to a survey of 1,000 18-to-24-year-olds published this month by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, a Johannesburg-based rights and conservation advocacy group.

About 88% of respondents said they believed illegal migrants were taking jobs and resources away from South Africans, 86% said they were driving up crime, and 85% thought they should be forcibly removed.

Few movements harness this bubbling anger more thoroughly than Operation Dudula – meaning “force out” in Zulu – a group founded in 2021 with a stated mission to rid South Africa of illegal migrants, whom they blame for many social and economic ills.

The loose-knit street movement has thousands of followers across the country. It has become well known for staging demonstrations against illegal migrant workers, making threats against migrants and sometimes carrying out attacks on foreign-owned businesses.

Operation Dudula registered as a political party late last year, but last month the electoral commission excluded it from the election for missing the deadline for submitting its list of candidates.

About half of the migrant survivors of the Aug. 31 Johannesburg fire interviewed by Reuters said they had been threatened and intimidated by members of Operation Dudula, both before and after the disaster.

Two months before the blaze, members of Dudula swept through the building, clad in their uniform of white T-shirts and combat trousers, demanding to see identification from foreign nationals, searching rooms for drugs and hitting some residents with whips, according to four witnesses interviewed. Their accounts are corroborated by five separate affidavits submitted to the public inquiry and seen by Reuters.

On the day after the fire, as dozens of shell-shocked and homeless survivors sat outside the building, about 30 members of Dudula arrived armed with whips, marched up and began taunting them, according to five witnesses and five affidavits.

“They were shouting, they were singing, they were having joyful laughter,” said Omari Hanya, 44, a Tanzanian survivor who was there. “’These foreigners must go back home or die’, they were saying in Zulu.”

Dudula’s Deputy Secretary General Isaac Lesole rejected the allegations that the group harassed or abused migrants in the block. He said the group’s code of conduct, which Reuters has viewed, allowed members only to ask if someone has legitimate visa papers, not to demand to see them. He disputed the charge of vigilantism, saying their role was always to alert legitimate authorities.

“Yes, in the past, we’ve been in trouble for acting on our own,” said Lesole. He acknowledged that Dudula members had threatened migrants and attacked their businesses in the past, but insisted the group now operates as whistleblowers within the law.

“Yes, there were members of Operation Dudula outside the Usindiso building following the fire, but it was not celebratory,” he added. The aim of the march was to highlight the problem of undocumented migrants and show Dudula had been vindicated in their belief that foreign nationals had taken over too many buildings like this in the town centre, he said.

Asked how authorities viewed Dudula, Home Affairs Minister Motsoaledi said that South Africa didn’t condone the group’s anti-migrant activities. “You don’t take the law into your own hands,” he added. “You don’t follow vigilantism because the country will go into chaos.”

The suspect in the fatal blaze, who is in detention and has been charged with 76 counts of murder and 86 counts of attempted murder, hasn’t yet entered a plea.

In March, the suspect’s attorney publicly stated that he intended to plead not guilty. Since then, the suspect fired his attorney for failing to show up at a court hearing to represent him and a new lawyer hasn’t been named, according to an official close to the case who requested anonymity to discuss the matter.

Beaten for being $11 short

Mokgoko, a South African from Northwest Province, met Rajebo in 2007 in Randfontein, a gold mining town west of Johannesburg, where he was running a grocery shop. Rajebo had arrived a year earlier by bus from the Tanzanian port city of Tanga.

In 2019, they and their three children moved into the fourth floor of the doomed block.

“We had financial problems; it was cheap,” Mokgoko told Reuters outside the tin shack where she now resides. Her one-year-old daughter, Mymuna, giggled as she muddied her pink booties in the dirt.

The Usindiso building was formerly a shelter for women who were victims of domestic violence which closed in 2017 due to lack of funding. When Mokgoko and Rajebo arrived, it was being hijacked by criminal gangs charging “rent” to occupants and newcomers. It soon became crammed with desperate new arrivals, with the criminals and residents dividing its space by erecting tin shacks in bathrooms and on staircases, eight fire survivors told Reuters.

More than 500 people were living in the hijacked building at the time of the fire, about half of them migrants, according to law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, which represented 340 survivors in the inquiry. There are no official estimates.

The gangs could be brutal if you didn’t pay on time, said Simon, a Tanzanian friend of Rajebo’s who ran a kitchen on the ground floor. “They came in groups of five or six, with guns, usually a revolver,” he added. “I saw them beat someone with a bottle for being 200 rand ($11) short.”

The criminals openly preferred to rent to migrants, eight foreign residents told Reuters, because many were too scared to complain to police, since some were undocumented and others had already been extorted by officers.

Seven foreign fire survivors, including Hanya, told Reuters that men in police uniforms with badges often raided their informal market stalls in and outside the building, asking to see their visa papers. If no valid document was produced, or sometimes even if one was, they said, the men often demanded sums of between 500 and 2,000 rand to avoid jail.

Four of those survivors described being driven off in a van to a quiet street to carry out the transaction. Two said they had been locked up in police cells until friends or relatives came with money to get them out.

Malawian street grocer Kenneth Jiro, 32, survived the fire but lost his 26-year-old brother Manis. He recalled having his stall raided every few weeks by men in police uniforms demanding 700 to 1,000 rand each time.

Xolani Fihla, a spokesman for the Johannesburg police (JMPD), said the department was not aware of any such misconduct by officers in its ranks, but that “it would be considered unlawful if it is happening, and if any evidence is brought to the JMPD then disciplinary action must be taken”.

‘Give the baby back’

The night after the fire, Rajebo was among 32 migrant survivors relocated by Johannesburg authorities to a pavilion in Hofland Park, a recreation centre in a leafy but rundown suburb just outside the city centre, six survivors said.

Hanya, a Usindiso survivor who runs a stall selling candy and cigarettes, said the shelter was overcrowded. There was “no privacy, no door on the toilet, barely anywhere to sleep – just a few mattresses,” he said. “People just sitting around waiting for food.” Soon after arriving, he elected to sleep on the street instead.

That proved a wise decision. On Nov. 15, authorities raided the centre, forcing the 32 foreign migrants into security vehicles. The raid was witnessed by a Reuters reporter and cameraman.

Mokgoko remembers seeing Rajebo being hauled towards a group of police trucks and immigration vans outside. “He was with the baby. They were pulling him, saying, ‘You’d better give the baby back to the mother because you’re not going with them’.”

Rajebo handed the infant to Mokgoko, who watched her husband disappear into one of the vans.

Acting Gauteng Home Affairs Chief Albert Matsaung told Reuters on the scene that the officials were taking away the undocumented foreigners to be transported back to their home countries.

The 32 migrants were taken to a police station, arrested, fingerprinted and transferred to Lindela immigrants prison, 40km outside the city centre, according to Rajebo and Rashidi Suleiman Abdallah, 32, another Tanzanian who was detained. Their accounts were corroborated by law firm Norton Rose Fulbright and Lawyers for Human Rights, their legal teams, in an ultimately unsuccessful court case to fight their deportation.

On Apr. 10, they were all deported, apart from seven who had escaped in a jail break in March, according to Rajebo, Abdallah and lawyers representing the 32 detainees. Most of the deportees were Tanzanian, with four Malawians.

The Tanzanians landed in Dar es Salaam. They were detained until families could pay a fine to the Tanzanian authorities of 57,000 shillings ($22), levied against nationals returning after being deported. Rajebo got out after a week, when his relatives cobbled the money together.

The Tanzanian immigration department didn’t respond to requests for comment on the return of the deportees.

Rajebo told Reuters by phone on Apr. 22 that if he wants to see his wife and children again, he has no choice but to return. Bringing them to Tanzania is not viable because of the lack of economic opportunities, he said, even though he thinks they would be far more welcome than he was in his wife’s homeland.

“I’m gonna come back,” Rajebo said. “I want a normal family. I don’t want to be separated from them.”

Even with the hostility he encountered in South Africa, he added, it is still preferable to the grinding poverty of home. South Africa’s annual economic output per person is $5,970, versus $1,220 in Tanzania, according to IMF data.

“You go there, you can make some money,” Rajebo said, chuckling softly. “That’s why we keep going.”

 

Reuters

If you want to attract – and retain – younger workers, pay attention to their values.  

Fifty percent of Gen Zers and 43 percent of Millennials say they've rejected an assignment "based on their personal ethics or beliefs," according to Deloitte's 2024 Gen Z and Millennial Survey of 22,841 respondents from across the globe. That's up from 44 percent and 37 percent, respectively, in last year's survey. 

Forty-four percent of surveyed Gen Zers and 40 percent of Millennials say they've even rejected a job offer due to their ethics or beliefs – also up from last year.  

Purpose has long been a priority for younger workers – and, for the most part, employers are meeting expectations on that front: 81 percent of Gen Zers and 82 percent of Millennials say that their "current job does give them a sense of purpose." Approximately 7 in 10 in both generations say their employers' values "align with their own."  

But, when there is a mismatch, employees are now more likely to act on it. For instance, last year's survey found that factors like "negative environmental impact" or "contributing to inequality through non-inclusive practices" could lead to these kinds of rejections from young employees.  

Thus, the Deloitte report includes, it's important for organizations "to not only set and communicate a clear purpose, but to actively listen and respond to its people to ensure employer and employee values remain aligned."  

When and if an employee rejects an assignment that they say doesn't align with their values, how leaders handle the situation matters. Employees who "experienced a negative outcome when they rejected an assignment" were less likely to say that they planned to stay at the organization for more than five years than employees whose employers "reacted affirmatively" – demonstrating the potential impact on retention.  

The latter approach, according to the report, will therefore "likely foster a workforce which is more engaged, motivated and loyal."  

 

Inc

In the first quarter (Q1) of 2024, foreign portfolio investment (FPI) outflows from Nigeria skyrocketed by 237% compared to the same period in 2023. Data from the Nigerian Exchange (NGX) research department revealed that foreign portfolio outflows reached N119.81 billion in Q1 2024, a significant increase from the N35.59 billion recorded in Q1 2023. This surge reflects the market's reaction to recent policy changes by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Despite the substantial outflows, foreign portfolio inflows also saw a dramatic rise. In Q1 2024, inflows were N93.37 billion, more than five times the N18.12 billion recorded in Q1 2023. However, this increase in inflows did not offset the outflows, resulting in a net outflow of N26.44 billion for the quarter.

The data indicates a significant imbalance in Nigeria’s equity market, with outflows surpassing inflows, raising concerns about investor confidence and market stability. The overall trend shows foreign investors withdrawing more funds than they are investing in the Nigerian market.

Implications of the Huge Capital Outflow from Nigeria

The substantial increase in foreign portfolio outflows from Nigeria has several critical implications:

1. Investor Confidence and Market Stability: The significant outflows suggest a lack of confidence among foreign investors in the Nigerian market, possibly due to recent CBN policy decisions. This lack of confidence can lead to increased market volatility and instability.

2. Economic Impact: A net outflow of capital can strain the economy, as reduced foreign investment may lead to lower liquidity in the financial markets. This can affect the availability of capital for businesses and potentially slow economic growth.

3. Exchange Rate Pressure: Large outflows can put pressure on Nigeria’s foreign exchange reserves, potentially leading to depreciation of the Naira. This is already the case as the local currency continues to lose value in the last 5 weeks. As the Naira weakens, inflation also quickens, with overall negative impacts on the broader economy.

4. Policy Implications: The CBN may need to reassess its policies to address the concerns driving these outflows. This could involve measures to stabilize the currency, improve market conditions, or offer incentives to retain and attract foreign investment.

5. Long-term Investment Climate: Persistent outflows may harm Nigeria’s reputation as an investment destination. Restoring investor confidence will be crucial to attracting long-term investments necessary for sustainable economic development.

Overall, while the rise in inflows shows some positive investor sentiment, the overwhelming outflows highlight significant challenges that need to be addressed to stabilize the market and improve investor confidence.

For the second consecutive day, the tripartite negotiation on Nigeria's new national minimum wage involving the Federal Government, organized labour, and the Organized Private Sector (OPS) ended in a stalemate. The government and private sector employers made only minimal adjustments to their initial offers.

None of the six governors who are part of the negotiation committee attended the meeting, except for Imo State governor, Hope Uzodimma, who made a brief appearance. The meeting has been adjourned to Tuesday, May 28, 2024.

Organized labour, which initially demanded N615,000, reduced its wage request first to N500,000, and then to N497,000. In response, the OPS increased its offer from N54,000 to N57,000, which the government also matched after a brief consultation.

Labour representatives immediately rejected the N57,000 offer from both the government and the OPS. They criticized the government for not being ready to negotiate seriously, despite evidence-based presentations supporting their demand.

Labour's Argument for a Higher Minimum Wage

Labour unions believe the government can afford a higher minimum wage for several reasons:

1. Government Expenditures: Unions pointed out that the government has been spending large amounts on non-essential items, such as N160 million per member for cars in the National Assembly, N90 billion for subsidizing hajj operations, renovating the Senate chambers, the vice president’s office, and purchasing luxury buses for Customs.

2. Increased Revenue: Since the removal of the petrol subsidy and the floating of the naira, crude oil sales have increased significantly, providing the government with more foreign currency revenue.

3. State Governors' Allocations: State governors have been receiving significantly higher allocations post-subsidy removal, yet workers' conditions have not improved.

4. Policy Impacts: Labour leaders argue that the government's policies, such as subsidy removal and currency devaluation, have exacerbated socio-economic challenges, pushing workers deeper into poverty while benefiting political elites.

5. Equity and Justice: Unions stress that the financial hardships faced by workers are not reflected in the lifestyles of government officials, suggesting a disparity that undermines claims of insufficient funds for higher wages.

Labour representatives voiced frustration over the government's insistence on N57,000, which they equated to a wage reduction since current earnings are generally higher. They highlighted that the government has not provided a detailed breakdown of how the proposed N57,000 would cover essential costs like food, transport, accommodation, and health.

The negotiations will continue next week, with labour unions warning that failure to reach an acceptable agreement may lead to industrial unrest.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has mandated that all existing Bureau De Change (BDC) operators re-apply for licenses. This directive was issued in a circular by Haruna Mustafa, Director of the Financial Policy and Regulation Department, on Wednesday. BDCs must meet the capital requirements for their license category within six months.

The CBN outlined that all existing BDCs and promoters of new BDCs must re-apply for a new license according to their chosen tier or license category as specified in the updated guidelines. Significant changes to these guidelines include:

- Removal of Mandatory Caution Deposits: The mandatory caution deposit of N200 million for tier-1 license holders and N50 million for tier-2 license holders has been removed.

- Elimination of Annual License Renewal Fees: The non-refundable annual license renewal fee of N5 million for tier-1 BDCs and N1 million for tier-2 BDCs has been withdrawn.

These changes are part of broader reforms aimed at repositioning the BDCs to fulfill their intended role in Nigeria's foreign exchange market.

The CBN had issued Draft Operational Guidelines for BDC Operations in Nigeria in February 2024, inviting stakeholder comments and inputs.

Israeli forces move deeper into Rafah in night of heavy battle

Israeli tanks advanced to the edge of a crowded district in the heart of Rafah on Wednesday during one of the most intense nights of bombardment of the southern Gaza city since Israel launched its offensive there this month.

Israel's assault on Rafah on Gaza's southern edge has set hundreds of thousands of people fleeing in what had been a refuge for half of the enclave's 2.3 million people. It has also cut off the main access routes for aid into Gaza, drawing international fears of mass casualties and famine.

Israel says it has no choice but to attack the city to root out the last battalions of Hamas fighters it believes are sheltering there. Its troops have been slowly moving into the eastern outskirts of Rafah since the start of the month.

Residents and militants said tanks had taken up new positions on Wednesday further west than before along the southern border fence with Egypt, and were now stationed on the edge of the Yibna neighbourhood at the centre of Rafah. They had not yet entered the district as fighting had been intense.

Hamas's armed wing said it had struck two armoured troop carriers at a gate along the border fence with anti-tank rockets.

Palestinian residents said Israeli drones were firing into the Yibna suburb and had opened fire overnight on fishing boats on the beach of Rafah causing some to catch fire.

"There has been no stopping of Israeli fire all night, from drones, helicopters, warplanes, and tanks," said one resident of Rafah, asking for his name to be withheld to protect his security.

"Tanks made a limited push southeast, still limited but they have advanced under heavy fire all night," he told Reuters via a chat app.

There was no immediate word from the Israeli military on Rafah. It said it had killed a number of fighters in targeted operations in Khan Younis just north of Rafah, and in the northern Gaza Strip where its troops have returned in a major operation in an area where they said they had dismantled Hamas months ago.

UNRWA, the main United Nations agency in Gaza, estimated as of Monday that more than 800,000 people had fled Rafah since Israel began targeting the city in early May, despite international pleas for restraint.

Israel launched its assault on Gaza following a Hamas-led attack on southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7 in which fighters killed 1,200 people and captured more than 250 hostages. Since then, Israel's assault has killed more than 35,000 people, with thousands more feared buried under the rubble, according to Gaza health authorities.

The Israeli military said it had killed a person it identified as Ahmed Yasser Alkara and described as a key Hamas operative, along with two other militants, in a strike in Khan Younis.

"Alkara took part in the Oct. 7 massacre in communities in southern Israel and was a significant anti-tank missile operative who carried out attacks on IDF troops during the war," said the military statement.

The statement also said five other militants were killed and had been operating from inside a school.

In the central Gaza Strip town of Zawayda, an Israeli air strike killed seven people in one house, medics said.

Just after midnight, an Israeli air strike on a house in Al-Nuseirat camp in central Gaza Strip killed eight Palestinians including children, medics said, while another air strike on a mosque, housing displaced families, in Gaza City, killed and wounded several people, they added.

On Gaza's northern edge in Jabalia, the largest of Gaza's eight historical refugee camps, Israeli forces pressed on with a ground offensive that has carried on in parallel with the Rafah assault for two weeks.

Health officials and residents say entire residential districts have been destroyed and dozens of people killed in the operation, in an area where Israel withdrew its forces after claiming to have "dismantled" Hamas in January. Israel says it has had to return to prevent Hamas from re-establishing there.

 

Reuters

RUSSIAN PERSPECTIVE

Ukraine launches drone attack near Europe’s largest nuclear power plant

Kiev’s forces have once again attacked the grounds of the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) using a kamikaze drone, the facility’s press service reported on Wednesday. The facility is the largest of its type in Europe.

According to a message issued by the service on Telegram, the drone reportedly hit a transport workshop of the ZNPP but did not cause any casualties or critical damage to the facility.

The strike comes amid a series of UAV attacks on the city of Energodar, located next to the facility, over the past two days, the press service said. It stressed that the shelling of civilians and attacks on the nuclear plant and its infrastructure are “unacceptable and clearly constitute terrorist acts.”

Throughout the Ukraine conflict, the ZNPP has repeatedly been targeted with drones and artillery since the Russian military captured the facility in the early months of its campaign.

The co-chairman of the council on integrating Russia’s new territories, Vladimir Rogov, also claimed in an interview last month that Ukraine’s special forces were in the midst of conducting exercises that focused on crossing the Dnieper river and capturing a “large man-made object.”According to Rogov, this “object” appears to be the ZNPP.

Moscow and Kiev have blamed each other for the shelling of the plant while Ukraine and its Western backers have accused Russia of using the facility as cover for its troops.

However, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi was unable to confirm the accusations after personally visiting the facility on several occasions. Following his latest visit in April, he admitted seeing armored vehicles and some security presence at the station, but said that there was “no heavy weaponry” or prohibited arms such as tanks, artillery or rocket launchers.

Nevertheless, Grossi was unable to determine which side had been attacking the facility, stating that the IAEA does not have a mandate to make such determinations and that “indisputable evidence” was needed to establish the culprits.

Meanwhile, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, stated last month following a UN Security Council meeting that the West, after accusing Russia of being responsible for the dangerous situation at the ZNPP, has effectively issued Moscow an ultimatum: “hand over control of the ZNPP to Kiev and then the attacks will stop.”

Nebenzya stated that the West had thereby “not only betrayed the Zelensky Regime completely, but also actually admitted to complicity in these irresponsible attacks.”

 

WESTERN PERSPECTIVE

Zelenskiy says Ukraine needs system to defend against Russia's guided bombs

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy issued a fresh plea on Wednesday for upgraded defence systems to protect Ukraine's cities against guided bombs, which he described as the "the main instrument" now used by Moscow in its attacks.

Zelenskiy has long called for improved air defences as Russia intensifies its assaults on energy and other infrastructure. Russia says it does not deliberately target civilian sites, but thousands have been killed and injured since its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking in his nightly video address, Zelenskiy said Ukraine had made progress in developing electronic weaponry, "but in countering Russian bombs much remains to be done."

"There can be no alternative. Ukraine needs systems and tactics that will allow us to protect our positions, our cities and our communities from these bombs," he said.

"This is now practically the main instrument of Russian terror and in the occupiers tactics.

Earlier this month, Zelenskiy said Russia had used more than 3,200 guided bombs against Ukrainian targets throughout April, along with more than 300 missiles and about 300 Shahed-type drones.

Russia has increasingly resorted to these bombs, which are directed to a target by a guidance system, have great destructive potential and pose fewer risks to air crews delivering them.

In his comments, Zelenskiy said four more countries -- Albania, Austria, Chile and Mozambique -- had agreed to attend a "peace summit" in Switzerland in June with the aim of creating a broad front to oblige Russia to agree to a peace settlement under the terms of the U.N. Charter and acceptable to Kyiv.

"Russian aggression has tried to turn the U.N. Charter into a museum exhibit," he said. "Our peace summit, the participation of global leaders, can restore the full effectiveness and full protection of the U.N. Charter to every nation."

Zelenskiy's peace plan calls for the withdrawal of all Russian forces and the restoration of Ukraine's 1991 borders.

Russia, which rejects the plan, is not invited to the June meeting and dismisses as pointless any discussion of the conflict without its participation.

 

RT/Reuters

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