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South Africa load-shedding: The roots of Eskom's power problem

Late one Thursday afternoon, last November, a maintenance contractor reached his hand under a huge rotating shaft at an ageing power station in South Africa.

It took the man just a few seconds to unscrew a steel plug, smaller than a coffee mug.

As he moved away from the scene, precious lubrication oil quickly began seeping from the innards of the shaft. The steel bearings inside overheated and before long the coal mill, and with it one of the station's eight turbines, ground to a sudden, and expensive, halt.

If you are looking to understand South Africa's current struggles - its soaring crime and unemployment rates, its stubborn inequality and stagnant economy, its relentless corruption and crippling power cuts, and its broader drift towards what some fear could become "gangster state" or even "failed state" territory - then this one act of industrial sabotage, at a coal-fired power station on the high plains east of Johannesburg, is a good place to start.

The alleged saboteur, Simon Shongwe, 43, was working as a sub-contractor at Camden - a plant that was built back in the 1960s, bombed by anti-apartheid activists in the 1980s, mothballed in the 1990s, and more recently brought out of retirement to help a country now battling to keep the lights on.

There are several theories about the alleged sabotage.

It could have been designed to break the coal mill in order to enable a corrupt repair company to come and fix it at an inflated cost.

It might have been done as a way of threatening Camden's management in to accepting some other corrupt contract.

Or it may have been part of a broader political conspiracy to damage South Africa's energy infrastructure and undermine an ANC government increasingly seen as floundering after nearly three decades in power.

What is certain is that the sabotage at Unit 4 was not an isolated event.

Instead, it was one relatively small act in a vast, ongoing, and highly successful criminal enterprise that involves murders, poisoning, fires, cable theft, ruthless cartels and powerful politicians.

It is an enterprise that risks derailing international attempts to nudge South Africa away from its dependence on coal and towards renewable energy sources.

Over the past decade it has brought South Africa's once-world-class public power utility, Eskom, to the brink of collapse and left most homes around the country in darkness for many hours each day.

Prederick wrote:

China’s loans pushing world’s poorest countries to brink of collapse

A dozen poor countries are facing economic instability and even collapse under the weight of hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign loans, much of them from the world’s biggest and most unforgiving government lender, China.

An Associated Press analysis of a dozen countries most indebted to China — including Pakistan, Kenya, Zambia, Laos and Mongolia — found paying back that debt is consuming an ever-greater amount of the tax revenue needed to keep schools open, provide electricity and pay for food and fuel. And it’s draining foreign currency reserves these countries use to pay interest on those loans, leaving some with just months before that money is gone.

Behind the scenes is China’s reluctance to forgive debt and its extreme secrecy about how much money it has loaned and on what terms, which has kept other major lenders from stepping in to help. On top of that is the recent discovery that borrowers have been required to put cash in hidden escrow accounts that push China to the front of the line of creditors to be paid.

Countries in AP’s analysis had as much as 50% of their foreign loans from China and most were devoting more than a third of government revenue to paying off foreign debt. Two of them, Zambia and Sri Lanka, have already gone into default, unable to make even interest payments on loans financing the construction of ports, mines and power plants.

In Pakistan, millions of textile workers have been laid off because the country has too much foreign debt and can’t afford to keep the electricity on and machines running.

In Kenya, the government has held back paychecks to thousands of civil service workers to save cash to pay foreign loans. The president’s chief economic adviser tweeted last month, “Salaries or default? Take your pick.”

Since Sri Lanka defaulted a year ago, a half-million industrial jobs have vanished, inflation has pierced 50% and more than half the population in many parts of the country has fallen into poverty.

Experts predict that unless China begins to soften its stance on its loans to poor countries, there could be a wave of more defaults and political upheavals.

“In a lot of the world, the clock has hit midnight,” said Harvard economist Ken Rogoff. “ China has moved in and left this geopolitical instability that could have long-lasting effects.”

Belt and Road Initiative is going great.

Several pieces today:

US may restrict visas for Ugandan officials in wake of anti-LGBTQ+ laws

The US may restrict visas issued to Ugandan officials in its latest condemnation to the African country’s enactment of stringent – and highly controversial – anti-LGBTQ+ laws.

Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said that Joe Biden’s White House is “deeply troubled” by the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which was signed into law by Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s president, on Monday. Blinken said that he was looking to “promote accountability” for Ugandan officials who have violated the rights of LGBTQ+ people, with possible measures including the curtailment of visas.

“I have also directed the department to update our travel guidance to American citizens and to US businesses as well as to consider deploying existing visa restrictions tools against Ugandan officials and other individuals for abuse of universal human rights, including the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons,” Blinken said in a statement.

Uganda’s government has faced widespread criticism over the new laws, with the EU, human rights groups and LGBTQ+ organizations all calling for it to be reversed. Biden, who has raised the possibility of sanctions against Uganda, has called the law a “tragic violation of universal human rights” while Volker Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, described the law as “devastating”.

Homosexual acts were already illegal in Uganda but now those convicted face life imprisonment under the new laws, with the legislation imposing the death penalty for “aggravated” cases, such as gay sex involving someone below the age of 18. People convicted of “promoting” homosexuality face 20 years in prison, with Human Rights Watch noting the bill essentially criminalizes “merely identifying” as LGBTQ+.

Anita Among, Uganda’s parliamentary speaker, said on the Twitter the new law will “protect the sanctity of the family”.

“We have stood strong to defend the culture, values and aspirations of our people,” Among said.

But the measure appears to have bipartisan disapproval in the US, with the Republican senator Ted Cruz calling the law “horrific and wrong”. Cruz wrote on Twitter: “Any law criminalizing homosexuality or imposing the death penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality’ is grotesque & an abomination. ALL civilized nations should join together in condemning this human rights abuse.#LGBTQ”

Japan government under renewed pressure to end same-sex marriage ban

I am always entertained when weebs whose only experience of Japan is via anime and other weebs find out that, for all the yaoi, same-sex marriage is not legal.

Pressure is building on Japan’s government to legalise same-sex unions after a court ruled that a ban on them was unconstitutional.

Rights advocates said the ruling on Tuesday by Nagoya district court was a step forward in the campaign to end Japan’s status as the only G7 country not to fully recognise same-sex unions.

It is the second time a court in Japan has ruled the ban unconstitutional, while two other courts have decreed the ban is in line with the postwar constitution, which defines marriage as based on “the mutual consent of both sexes”.

But the Nagoya court, ruling on a lawsuit filed by two men who are in a relationship, rejected the couple’s demand that the state pay each of them 1m yen (£5,715) in compensation for denying them the right to marry.

“This ruling has rescued us from the hurt of last year’s ruling that said there was nothing wrong with the ban, and the hurt of what the government keeps saying,” the couple’s lawyer, Yoko Mizushima, told journalists and supporters outside the court.

Mizushima was referring to a ruling in Osaka last year that the ban was not unconstitutional. A court in Tokyo later reached a similar conclusion but said the lack of legal protection for same-sex families violated their human rights.

While the courts cannot compel the government to act, the latest ruling is expected to reignite the debate over same-sex unions, less than a fortnight after it submitted an LGBTQ+ rights bill designed to avert criticism ahead of the G7 leaders’ summit in Hiroshima.

The government had promised to pass a law to promote “understanding” of LGBTQ+ people before the G7, but opposition from conservatives in the ruling Liberal Democratic party (LDP) forced it to submit a watered-down bill the day before the summit began.

The bill initially said “discrimination is unacceptable” but now says that “unfair discrimination” should not be tolerated – wording that campaigners said had rendered the legislation meaningless.

While lifting the ban on same-sex unions is opposed by “family values” conservatives in the LDP, opinion polls show public support for same-sex marriage as high as 70%.

More than 300 municipalities in Japan allow same-sex couples to enter partnership agreements – covering about 65% of the population – but their rights are limited.

Same-sex couples are unable to inherit their partner’s assets – such as the house they may have shared – and have no parental rights to any children their partners may have. Hospital visits are often possible only at the discretion of medical staff.

The prime minister, Fumio Kishida, has provoked anger by claiming that Japan’s ban on same-sex marriage was “not discriminatory” and that legalising it would “fundamentally change society” and challenge so-called traditional family values.

In February, he sacked a senior aide who said he “would not want to live next door” to an LGBTQ+ couple and did “not even want to look at them”.

China’s Young People Can’t Find Jobs. Xi Jinping Says to ‘Eat Bitterness.’

(NYT Paywall)

Gloria Li is desperate to find a job. Graduating in June with a master’s degree in graphic design, she started looking last fall, hoping to find an entry-level position that pays about $1,000 a month in a big city in central China. The few offers she has gotten are internships that pay $200 to $300 a month, with no benefits.

Over two days in May she messaged more than 200 recruiters and sent her résumé to 32 companies — and lined up exactly two interviews. She said she would take any offer, including sales, which she was reluctant to consider previously.

“A decade or so ago, China was thriving and full of opportunities,” she said in a phone interview. “Now even if I want to strive for opportunities, I don’t know which direction I should turn to.”

China’s young people are facing record high unemployment as the country’s recovery from the pandemic is fluttering. They’re struggling professionally and emotionally. Yet the Communist Party and the country’s top leader, Xi Jinping, are telling them to stop thinking they are above doing manual work or moving to the countryside. They should learn to “eat bitterness,” Mr. Xi instructed, using a colloquial expression that means to endure hardships.

Many young Chinese aren’t buying it. They argue that they studied hard to get a college or graduate school degree only to find a shrinking job market, falling pay scale and longer work hours. Now the government is telling them to put up with hardships. But for what?

“Asking us to eat bitterness is like a deception, a way of hoping that we will unconditionally dedicate ourselves and undertake tasks that they themselves are unwilling to do,” said Ms. Li.

People like Ms. Li were lectured by their parents and teachers about the virtues of hardship. Now they are hearing it from the head of state.

“The countless instances of success in life demonstrate that in one’s youth, choosing to eat bitterness is also choosing to reap rewards,” Mr. Xi was quoted in a front-page article in the official People’s Daily on the Youth Day in May.

The article, about Mr. Xi’s expectations of the young generation, mentioned “eat bitterness” five times. He has also repeatedly urged the young people to “seek self-inflicted hardships,” using his own experience of working in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution.

“Why would he want young people to give up a peaceful and stable life and instead seek suffering?” Cai Shenkun, an independent political commentator, wrote in a Twitter post, calling Mr. Xi’s proposal “a contemptuous act toward young people.”

“What kind of intention is behind this?” he asked. “Where does he want to lead the Chinese youth?”

China’s 11.6m graduates face a jobs market with no jobs

With a master’s degree in applied linguistics from one of Australia’s top universities, Ingrid Xie did not expect to end up working in a grocery store. But that was where she ended up after graduating from the University of Queensland in July last year.

Xie did her undergraduate degree in China, studying English in the shade of palm trees at Hainan Tropical Ocean University. She went abroad for her master’s because she thought that would help her find a better job.

But after working at a Korean supermarket in Brisbane for several months after graduating, in February she decided to return to her home city of Kunming, in the south-west province of Yunnan, to find a job as an English teacher.

Xie soon discovered that “a lot of people studied abroad and want the same thing”. She says a friend in the same city recently sat an English teacher recruitment test, along with about 100 other people. Her friend did not get the job.

Youth unemployment in China hit a record high in April, with 20.4% of 16- to 24-year-old jobseekers unable to find work. Xie is 26 and has not managed to find a job in China since leaving higher education. “It makes me really frustrated,” she says.

Nearly 11.6 million students are set to graduate in June, facing a labour market that looks increasingly hostile.

The problem of overeducated unemployed youths has become so acute that people have started comparing themselves to Kong Yiji, a fictional character from a story by Lu Xun, one of the greats of Chinese literature. Kong is a scholar turned beggar who is mocked by the locals at a tavern he drinks at for his pretentious airs.

State media has criticised these memes, accusing them of being self-indulgent. In March a commentary in state media said youths were “unwilling to engage in jobs that are lower than their expectations”.

China’s economy is suffering from a mismatch between the jobs available and the qualifications of jobseekers. Between 2018 and 2021 the number of graduates majoring in sports and education increased by more than 20%, according to Goldman Sachs.

But in 2021 the government suddenly banned for-profit tutoring, decimating an industry that had previously been worth $150bn. That eased the homework burden for schoolchildren but torpedoed jobs for young graduates, including Xie, who had previously looked at tutoring as a way of getting teaching experience.

The country is also struggling to fill jobs in the right places. Xie has seen job advertisements that require the teacher to work in a rural school for a year. “I don’t like [the idea of] teaching in a rural area as it is hard to survive in that environment, especially for girls,” she says.

Eric Fish, the author of a book about Chinese millennials, says the value of an international degree has diminished in China’s jobs markets. “Some recruiters think that students might have inflated expectations or are too westernised.”

The government is aware of the problem. In April it published details of a set of policies designed to stimulate the jobs market, including subsidies for companies that hire unemployed university graduates. The government wants state-owned enterprises to recruit 1 million trainees in 2023, and has set an overall target of creating 12m urban jobs this year, up from 11m in 2022.

This year the government also abandoned the use of the employment and registration certificate, a document that was used for decades to approve a graduate’s transfer from a university to an employer.

Although the certificate was mostly a bureaucratic relic, its cancellation would “make it more convenient for college graduates to seek employment”, the ministry of human resources and social security said in a notice on 12 May.

China is not alone in struggling to rebalance its economy after being battered by the Covid pandemic. Researchers at Goldman Sachs noted that in 2021 youth unemployment in several European countries was more than 20%, while in the US it was close to 10%.

But the dearth of opportunities also creates pressure to take any job regardless of interest, says Xie. “You don’t even know what you want to do when you’re 25.” For now she is resigned to spending a long time with her parents and looking after her cat, Shrimp. “What I’m looking for is enough private time and a job with work-life balance but I can’t find that.”

Brics ministers call for rebalancing of global order away from West

A meeting of foreign ministers of the Brics group of nations in South Africa has called for a rebalancing of the global order away from Western nations.

South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said the group's vision was to provide global leadership in a world fractured by geopolitical tension, inequality and global insecurity.

Brics is an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Allegations of Russian war crimes in Ukraine have clouded the talks.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over the allegations and, as a member of the court, South Africa would be obliged to arrest him if he attends a Brics summit scheduled for Johannesburg in August.

The Brics is seen by some as an alternative to the G7 group of developed nations, which held its annual summit in the Japanese city of Hiroshima last month, and was also attended by the leaders of Brazil and India. G7 members have been highly critical of Russia and China.

Brics countries have a combined population of more than 3.2 billion people, making up about 40% of the world's roughly 8 billion people.

On the first of two days of talks in Cape Town, Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said the gathering must "send out a strong message that the world is multipolar, that it is rebalancing and that old ways cannot address new situations".

"At the heart of the problems we face is economic concentration that leaves too many nations at the mercy of too few," he said.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira described the Brics as an "indispensable mechanism for building a multipolar world order that reflects the devices and needs of developing countries".

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu said the Brics group could be expanded to provide assistance to developing countries and emerging market economies.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said "more than a dozen" countries including Saudi Arabia had expressed interest in joining the group.

His presence at the event was met with protests, with demonstrators holding a picture of Mr Lavrov with the words "child murderer".

One protester told AFP news agency it was difficult to see South African officials "shaking the hand of a person who is part of these systemic war crimes against Ukrainian children", a reference to the ICC case against Mr Putin.

South Africa's governing African National Congress (ANC) has long-standing ties with Russia that go back to the years of white-minority rule before 1994, and the country has refused to criticise Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Would love to "Yeah, but..." them, but goodness, the glass-est of houses to be throwing stones in.

India train crash: More than 260 dead after Odisha accident

At least 261 people have been killed and 650 are injured in a crash involving three trains in India's eastern Odisha state, officials say.

One passenger train derailed and its coaches fell on to the adjacent track where they were struck by an incoming train on Friday evening. A freight train was stationary.

The rescue operation at the crash site has ended, officials said.

The cause of India's worst train crash this century is not yet clear.

Officials said several carriages from the Shalimar-Chennai Coromandel Express derailed at about 19:00 (13:30 GMT) in Balasore district, hit a stationary goods train and several of its coaches ended up on the opposite track.

Another train - the Howrah Superfast Express travelling from Yesvantpur to Howrah - then hit the overturned carriages.

"The force with which the trains collided has resulted in several coaches being crushed and mangled," Atul Karwal, chief of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) told news agency ANI.

It was the third deadliest crash in the history of Indian railways, he said.

More than 200 ambulances and hundreds of doctors, nurses and rescue personnel were sent to the scene, the state's chief secretary Pradeep Jena said.

Sudhanshu Sarangi, director general of Odisha Fire Services, had earlier said` 288 had died.

The rescue operation recovering people from the wreckage has finished and work to restore the site of the crash begun, India's South Eastern Railway company said on Saturday.

Unmasking the men who sell subway groping videos

Women who are groped on trains in East Asia face the further threat of their assault being filmed and uploaded for sale online. In a year-long investigation, the BBC World Service's investigative unit, BBC Eye, has gone undercover to unmask the men cashing in on sexual violence.

Why is Japan redefining rape?

Days after their rape, Megumi Okano says, they already knew the attacker would get away scot-free.

Megumi, who uses they as a personal pronoun, knew the man who did it, and where to find him. But Megumi also knew there would be no case, because Japanese authorities were not likely to consider what happened as rape.

So the university student decided not to report the incident to the police.

"As I couldn't pursue [justice] that way, he got to live a free and easy life. It is painful to me," Megumi says.

But change may be coming. The Japanese parliament is now debating a landmark bill to reform the country's sexual assault laws, only the second such revision in a century.

The bill covers a number of changes, but the biggest and most significant one will see lawmakers redefine rape from "forcible sexual intercourse" to "non-consensual sexual intercourse" - effectively making legal room for consent in a society where the concept is still poorly understood.

Current Japanese law defines rape as sexual intercourse or indecent acts committed "forcibly" and "through assault or intimidation", or by taking advantage of a person's "unconscious state or inability to resist".

This is at odds with many other countries which define it more broadly as any non-consensual intercourse or sexual act - where no means no.

Activists argue that Japan's narrow definition has led to even narrower interpretations of the law by prosecutors and judges, setting an impossibly high bar for justice and fostering a culture of scepticism that deters survivors from reporting their attacks.