- Created on 30 August 2013
JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- A spokesman for a mineworkers' union in South Africa says gold miners will go on strike next week after talks with South Africa's Chamber of Mines collapsed Friday.
Lesiba Seshoka, a spokesman for the National Union of Mineworkers, said Friday that the strike will start Tuesday after the Chamber of Mines - which represents mine owners - did not improve its last offer of a 6 percent pay raise. The union, which represents about 64 percent of South Africa's 120,000 gold miners, seeks a 60 percent raise for its members.
The strike will affect the country's top gold producers, including AngloGold Ashanti and Gold Fields.
The looming strike threatens to escalate South Africa's labor unrest, with thousands of workers in aviation, construction and auto sectors already striking over wages.
- Created on 29 August 2013
MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — After completing high school in June, 20-year-old Lawrence Bondo spent six weeks working with a private tutor to prepare for the University of Liberia's entrance exam, focusing on the geometry he found so difficult.
Bondo, though, learned earlier this month that he had failed. So had every one of the nearly 25,000 other applicants this year. His cousin was admitted last year before they changed the way the test is graded.
"We live together, eat together and sleep in the same room, so I don't understand how he's accepted and I'm not. He did not prepare as much as me," Bondo said.
Some of the applicants are accusing the university of fraud, and are organizing a march on Friday to demand a refund of their exam fees — nearly $30 per student.
In previous years, candidates had been graded on a curve. Under the new system put in place this year, students were required to earn scores of 50 percent in math and 70 percent in English in order to pass. Around 300 met the math requirement, but no students met the requirements in English, said S. Momolu Getaweh, the university's public relations chief.
Officials declined to provide copies of the test, which was a multiple-choice exam.
The incident has cast a spotlight on the education sector in this West African nation still recovering from a brutal 14-year civil war that ended in 2003.
Along with the undergraduate applicants, all candidates for graduate programs in law, pharmaceutical studies and six other graduate programs also failed, according to a university press statement.
After the dismal results were in, Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf laid out a plan Wednesday to relax admission standards to enroll 1,626 undergraduate students as well as a handful of students in each graduate program. She said the test results underscored the need for further reforms.
"We concentrated in the early years on enrolment because we wanted to get all these young kids into schools," said Sirleaf. "We wanted to get them out of the farms, out of the markets, out of the street selling, and we did that. Enrolment has quadrupled since we started."
The next step, Sirleaf said, is improving education quality.
"That's the most difficult task. You got thousands of teachers in our school system, some of them with only a high school education," she said. "You don't turn that over in three years or four years or five years."
Not everyone agrees with Sirleaf's analysis. The university spokesman suggested the students might be to blame.
"Perhaps they didn't study, because our students don't like to study," he said. "Liberia itself, it's not a reading public. Go around and ask the people in the street, 'Did you read a newspaper yesterday?' They will say no . That culture of not reading, if you bring it to college you're going to fail."
Getaweh acknowledged there had been some problems in administering the test in previous years. He said that up until last year, the official in charge of testing used "statistical analysis" to determine how many students would be admitted on a curve. The exact formula was a mystery to every other official at the university, Getaweh said, but the system went unquestioned until last year, when 7,800 students were admitted -- more than double the previous average total.
When top university officials went to the official, he refused to explain his methods or provide raw scores, leading to his suspension.
- Created on 28 August 2013
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) -- In an area of Nigeria where an Islamic insurgency has caught fire, security forces are carrying out night raids in residential neighborhoods and have arrested many people. No one knows where the detainees have wound up, whether they're in good health or even if they're still alive.
Distraught relatives, human rights organizations and journalists have asked the army, the police, intelligence services and government officials where the arrested people are, to no avail. No one even knows, or is saying, how many people have been detained.
Human rights monitors are deeply troubled that scores or possibly hundreds of detainees have gone missing in a country where security forces have a reputation for human rights abuses.
The Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria has received "hundreds and hundreds, up to 3,000" calls from people across northern Nigeria complaining that loved ones have disappeared after being arrested by the military or police in the past three years, said Shehu Sani, an activist with the organization.
Habiba Saadu's two sons and her daughter were taken on Aug. 3 by soldiers who went from house to house in a night raid in Maiduguri, accusing them of participating in the uprising by Boko Haram, an armed Islamic group that has been waging a bloody war in Africa's most populous nation for four years.
"Up to now, I have never seen my children!" Saadu said.
Visits to police stations, the army barracks, the intelligence services and local politicians gave no clue to the whereabouts of her children, Kundiri Muhammed, a 32-year-old kola nut trader, and Ka'adam Muhammed, a 29-year-old fuel seller and a daughter whom Saadu declined to name who is a high school student.
Boko Haram - which means "Western education is forbidden" - is blamed for the deaths of more than 1,700 people since 2010. The sect has attacked Christian and Muslim clerics, government health workers and security forces, school teachers and students in its quest to overturn democracy and install strict Sharia law across this nation of more than 160 million people that has a mainly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south.
President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency on May 14 in the northeastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, giving a Joint Task Force of soldiers, police, intelligence and customs and immigration officials the right to detain people and move them from place to place, as well as the right to search without warrants.
But even under the state of emergency, Nigeria's constitution dictates that anyone detained must have access to lawyers and family and must be brought before a magistrate within 48 hours, said lawyer Justine Ijeomah, executive director of the Human Rights, Social Development and Environmental Foundation.
"Any other detention is incommunicado and is against the law," Ijeomah said. Even so, such disappearances are common, he said.
Asked about people disappearing, Joint Task Force spokesman Lt. Col. Sagir Musa told The Associated Press only that "if they are arrested, then they are being held."
In its half-year report published last month, Nigeria's federal prison service said it was holding 202 Boko Haram suspects by the end of June. Yet the military, the police and civilian vigilantes say they have arrested hundreds upon hundreds of suspects. Every day there are reports of people being detained. The disappearances of detainees began even before the state of emergency.
Journalist Hauwa Hassan Kida has spent the better part of the year searching for one of the missing. For her, the mission is a personal one.
On the night of Oct. 28, 2012, security forces took her brother, Samaila Hassan Kida, from the family home in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. Hassan and her mother got the news by telephone in Abuja, the Nigerian capital where they shared a home.
"The Joint Task Force came heavily armed in two Jeeps. They demanded everyone come out and form a queue, and when they were lined up they started beating everyone up with the rifle butts, their fists and their boots," the reporter said, citing accounts from family members. The raiders asked for her brother by name and beat him so badly that he was unable to get into the security vehicle on his own when they ordered him inside, she said.
A family member reported Kida's arrest to the police station opposite their home. Siblings went in search of their brother as soon as a nighttime curfew was lifted the next morning. They got leads that he had been taken by two soldiers and learned their names.
The reporter and her mother rushed to Maiduguri, where the reporter spoke with police and military officers and a leading politician but still found no trace of her brother.
"After some days, I found the soldiers that arrested him and pleaded with them, but I did not press them too much for fear they would kill him," she said. "They are all denying they arrested him."
Sani said his organization, based in the largest northern city of Kano in Kano state, has been receiving more phone calls in recent months despite the fact that the military had cut cellphone and Internet service to three other northeastern states and relatives had to travel to another state just to make a telephone call. Service to one of the states, Yobe, has been reinstated.
"If we go to the police, the police will say that they are not with them but may be with the military," Sani said. "The military will say they must be with the intelligence service, the intelligence service say they don't keep detainees - even though they do - and say they hand them over to police. So there is this cycle of confusion. The conditions in which people are being detained is very secretive."
He had asked some families of detainees to join together in a lawsuit against government agencies and officials, including the federal attorney general, to challenge the legality of the arrests but they are afraid that doing so could put their detained loved ones in mortal danger, Sani said.
Hauwa Hassan Kida, the journalist, has returned to her work in Abuja after learning nothing about the whereabouts of her brother. Her mother refuses to join her until she finds her son.
"We still don't know if he's alive or dead," the reporter said.
- Created on 27 August 2013
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The inconveniences of the daily routine in the nation's capital will be a selling point as Washington, D.C., makes a push to host the 2024 Olympics.
"We are the safest and most secure city in the world," said Bob Sweeney, president of DC 2024. "The largest expense of any Olympic Games is security, and the fact that we've got it pretty built in to our everyday life here in Washington, we would leverage that asset tremendously to put on this high-profile event."
Sweeney announced Tuesday the formation of a nonprofit group aimed at making D.C. the first American city to host the Summer Games since Atlanta in 1996, and the first to host an Olympics since the Winter Games were held in Salt Lake City in 2002.
The bid has a long way to go. Washington was one of 35 U.S. cities to receive a letter from the U.S. Olympic Committee to gauge interest, and Sweeney expects about 10 to step forward as serious candidates. The USOC hasn't even decided for certain that it wants to bid for the 2024 Games, which will be awarded by the International Olympic Committee in 2017.
"They need to make sure there is a strong horse to ride," Sweeney said. "And we certainly intend to be that."
Los Angeles, which hosted the 1932 and 1984 Olympics, Philadelphia and Tulsa, Okla., have announced their interest. San Diego wants to host a cross-border Olympics with Mexican neighbor Tijuana. Other potential 2024 contenders from around the world include Paris; Rome; Doha, Qatar; and a city in South Africa.
Washington made a push for the 2012 Games a decade ago and was thought to be the favorite to be the U.S. representative, but the USOC chose New York instead. There was concern at the time that the D.C. bid was tainted by hearings held by Congress in connection with the Salt Lake City bribery scandal, the thought being that the IOC would not want to put the Olympics in the city where its then-president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, was grilled by lawmakers under oath.
New York went on to finish fourth in the international bidding, losing out to eventual winner London. Chicago made a bid for 2016 and suffered a stinging first-round exit, with Rio de Janeiro winning the games.
Chicago's defeat was blamed partly on a revenue-sharing feud between the USOC and IOC. The two sides have since resolved the dispute, and USOC leaders have worked hard to improve their standing in the international Olympic community.
"It's a different USOC than it was, certainly, for Chicago," Sweeney said.
Sweeney, a former president of the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, helped out with D.C.'s 2012 bid and said he has no concerns about the political problems that hurt that effort. He pointed out that Washington was recently chosen to host a major Olympic meeting - the general assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees - in 2015. D.C. is also making a push to host the 2017 fencing world championships, which would be timely if Thomas Bach, a former German fencer, is chosen as the next IOC president in an election next month.
Sweeney said he hopes to raise $3 million to $5 million to support the D.C. bid by the end of 2014. He estimates the cost of hosting the Olympics in D.C. would range from $3.5 billion to $6 billion, although he expected it would be toward the lower end because a good deal of the infrastructure is already in place.
There will be the need, however, for a new stadium to host the opening ceremony and track and field. Sweeney said he has met with the Washington Redskins, whose lease at their current stadium in Maryland expires in 2026. D.C. leaders will be pushing hard for the team to come back to the city at that time, so a stadium built for the Olympics could become an NFL stadium shortly afterward.
Otherwise, DC 2024 boasts that the area has "more sporting facilities in a 40-mile radius than any other city in the U.S." and "more than 100,000 hotel rooms." Sweeney said the events would stretch from Baltimore to Richmond, Va., but would be mostly concentrated around D.C.
"We are the only major capital city in the world," Sweeney said, "not to have hosted the games yet."