Saturday, December 20, 2014

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Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo:

Last month, a rare thing happened. A video made in the town of Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) went viral. Moreover, featuring musicians, dancers, students, vendors and expatriates, the film wasn't depicting the usual themes of grief and crisis associated with the region, but colourfully celebrating Goma's fun, vibrant and joyful side.

The video was an adaptation of Pharrell Williams' song ‘Happy', whose 24- hour music video for the track had already inspired local artists across the world − from Abu Dhabi to Okinawa to Curaçao − to create their own versions. And on 7 June, Goma joined them.

Happy from Goma is the production of Kivu Entertainment Youth, an artisanal multimedia house led by Kelvin Batumike. Working with a dozen filmmakers, photographers, and graphic designers, Batumike's objective is to promote local talent from all walks of life.

In his youth, Batumike started to experiment with music and soon recorded his first album with the help of the international NGOs War Child and UNICEF. Self-taught and determined, he continued to pursue his passion, recording jingles as well as mobilising other musicians in Goma.

“Local radio and television don’t really exploit the local scene and present ordinary life in Congo," he says. "We want to megaphone what’s happening here.”

Talking to Batumike reminds me of Mapendo Sumuni, the owner of a small art house in Goma which was recently featured in Think Africa Press. Both have a burning desire to express themselves and be the masters of imagery in Goma, a town that is often synonymous with instability and conflict and which is located in a region that has been labelled the “rape capital of the world.” Sumuni's vehicle for this is art, Batumike's music and film.

Goma's Amani Festival, in which 25,000 Gomatriciens congregated for three days of music, performances and fun this February, also fits into this category and, according to Batumike, has acted as encouragement for him. "[The event] ignited a spark of hope in Goma that we wanted to keep alive,” he says, his feelings seemingly echoing Happy's refrain of: “Bring me down/Can't nothing bring me down/My level's too high.”

Since it was uploaded, Happy in Goma has been viewed over 35,000 times on Youtube and the some of the comments made below it speak volumes: “We have been through whatever we have been through but we came out of it alive and strong,” one commenter said, while another added “I am happy to see people of Goma smiling again. We will always be proud of what no one can take away: our happiness.” The video of course doesn’t negate the many problems still facing the unsettled region despite the defeat of the M23 rebels last November, but it does highlight the town's resilience, the creativity of its youth, and Gomatriciens' strong desire for change and hope.

Since the video was made, residents of Goma have also tried to keep its message going and launched a photo campaign expressing their pride of calling the city their own.

Happy!

Furthermore, on 16 June, the Day of the African Child, the crew behind Happy in Goma organised a Happy Concert in the town and released a new version of ‘Happy’ in Swahili, called Tunafurai.

“Clap along.”

If you want to learn more about the filmmakers at Kivu Youth Entertainment, follow them on Twitter at @KEYasbl (#HappyFromGoma), like them on Facebook  and watch their videos on Youtube.

Think Africa Press welcomes inquiries regarding the republication of its articles. If you would like to republish this or any other article for re-print, syndication or educational purposes, please contact: editor@thinkafricapress.com.

For further reading around the subject see:

 


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I have recently spent a lot of time with young Americans wanting to learn about global development and humanitarianism. Most of them envisage a career in the development or aid industries. Almost all of them grew up in the relative privileges of the US or Western Europe but do not believe that their work will be in these places. Rather, they anticipate, as they take classes and plan study or internships abroad, that they will be solving the problems of any number of African, South and Central American, or Asian countries.

These young people are masters of social media and show creativity and incredible drive in the ways they approach the problems that they think need to be solved. They blog, tweet and instagram but they also form organisations, raise money and create projects. They travel to African villages, build schools, teach, dig wells, coordinate planning committees, and volunteer in clinics. When they return, many are smart enough to realise that they did very little to change anybody's lives except their own and that they may have even been disrespectful to the people they were supposedly helping. Yet they continue working mostly within the same kinds of programmes, inspired by Nicolas Kristof and Bill and Melinda Gates, believing that in these they might find a better way for them to save the world.

These individuals also inspire the work of an increasingly diverse group of high-profile musicians and actors and even celebrities created by the aid industry itself. They might be suitably ironic about the impact made by these celebrities, but they remain convinced that their power to raise awareness is invaluable. In the same vein they enthusiastically embrace the clicktivist campaigns such as Kony2012 and #BringBackOurGirls as powerful ways to raise awareness.

Yet there is a growing critique of these young people's work and enthusiasm, which has produced its own hashtag: #WhiteSaviourComplex.

A new generation

These critiques might begin with the understanding that the whole aid and development industry is deeply problematic and requires a complete overhaul or, in some people's views, eradication. But they also speak to the particular character of this generation's forms of engagement, the main issue being its focus on hope as a goal in and of itself and its emphasis on supporting a cause and its associated organisation over and above actual attempts to fundamentally eliminate the causes of poverty. Most damning is the idea that these activists are driven not by the compulsion to effect change per se, but primarily by a desire to feel good about themselves and their role in the world.

Meanwhile, many contest that raising awareness about depoliticised issues that may or may not be important to the people supposedly being helped often does little besides from raising funds for an organisation founded and staffed by Westerners.

Some might ask what the problem is with trying to do good in places where you don't live. Indeed, it is not easy to critique anyone's good intentions. However, it is necessary to critique the context and content of the actions these intentions produce.

On the issue of context, it is impossible to escape the history of colonialism. This era is thankfully over, but its consequences shaped the present and continue to echo through ongoing inequalities that determine who gets to be the saviour and who has to be saved. Recognising this could help construct programmes that take into account these power imbalances, but in general that is not happening. Instead, colonial dynamics go largely ignored, while the white saviour complex in fact adds a new layer to these global imbalances.

The development industry, which previously consisted of agencies and governments giving and spending aid, is now joined by a new generation − one whose personal goals involve influencing the lives of people about whom they may know almost nothing, and one that can influence a vast array of political, news, entertainment and social sites and media. Today's white saviour complex thus inherits the problems of traditional forms of development and aid but in combination with extremely powerful technologies and social media that usher in a whole new universe of inequality and dispossession.

One of the most intrinsic characteristics of the white saviour complex is its ability to engrain and spread the notion that Westerners are the solution to African problems. This requires portraying the latter as helpless and recirculating images of abandonment and violence or innocence and primitivism while ignoring alternative and just as available images. Another trait of the white saviour complex is that unlike the imperial and top-down 'white man's burden', it takes place in a shared virtual space between the saviour and the people being saved and in a world in which the goals, personalities and projects of white saviours can be immediately beamed out, as well as commented on and liked or retweeted, into the worlds of Africans themselves.

This can undermine the work of Africans in their own communities. Africans are, after all, actively mobilising new technologies and social media to shape their own worlds and engage directly with the ways that others represent them. So why, even in these shared spaces, do narratives in which Africans are just the backdrop to American saviours' stories still persist? Why do even influential writers such as Nicolas Kristof, for example, argue that his readers will not care about stories about Africa unless he puts the American centre stage?

These are some of the questions our film FRAMED tries to answer, while also showing that Africans such as author and commentator Binyavanga Wainaina and photographer and activist Boniface Mwangi are not exceptions but simply a couple of the strong, visionary, innovative and passionate Africans that are struggling to make things better in the real and virtual worlds.

The film will be directed and co-produced by Cassandra Herrman. You can watch the trailer and support the film here.

Think Africa Press welcomes inquiries regarding the republication of its articles. If you would like to republish this or any other article for re-print, syndication or educational purposes, please contact: editor@thinkafricapress.com.

For further reading around the subject see:

 


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From the age of four until I graduated at eighteen I was lucky enough to attend the International School of Uganda, a beautiful school perched on the edge of a hill overlooking Lake Victoria, on what used to be an old coffee plantation. I never really appreciated how lucky I was until I got involved in various community service projects, many of which were in aid of local schools.

I can remember one of my first visits to a rural school. I was utterly amazed at the crumbling grey building, and the few tattered posters dotting the walls. The classroom was filled with children squeezed onto tiny wooden benches and standing up around the edges of the room. As we shuffled towards the back, it became clear that not all the children in this ‘Early Years’ class were of the same age. Several of the children looked to be around ten or eleven yet had been lumped together with five and six-year-olds.

I’ve gone on to visit many Ugandan schools thanks to the success of my book, ‘How the Crane Got Its Crown’, and these sorts of crowded and mixed classes have become an all-too-familiar sight. In Uganda, it is quite common for students to have a delayed start to their education, often because the children are needed at home to help care for their siblings or to work in the fields or as cow herders. Other older students might also be kept in the same class because they fail their end of year tests or don’t complete enough days of schooling to move into the next year as a result of illness.

But late starters aren’t the only problem. Uganda has the second highest primary school drop-out rate in the world. A shocking 68% of children won’t complete primary school, and over 10% will repeat at least one year.

One issue at the heart of this problem is the lack of pre-school learning opportunities. Many younger children drop behind, fail their tests, or don’t turn up to school simply because they are completely and utterly unprepared for what school is. They arrive on their first day not knowing what to expect and without the confidence they need to do well.

Most countries now recognise that children need an opportunity to learn through play in their early years – they need to grow up in a culture where learning is valued, and nurtured. But in many parts of Uganda, and particularly the most rural, that is far from the case.

Instead, young children suddenly go from helping out at home or working hard in the fields, to travelling long distances to alien, crowded classrooms, often with 100 children to a single teacher, surrounded by children they don’t know, who are much older than them. They are expected to start learning in a regimented way, and they are punished if they don’t manage to keep up. Bullying is also rife by older children and by some teachers. And children can often go entire days at school without food, finding it impossible to concentrate, before they face the long walk home again.

It’s not an experience conducive to learning, but nevertheless the children know that trying to learn is their best chance at a route out of poverty.

Although it is easy to criticise Ugandan schooling, I’ve often been impressed by the sheer commitment and dedication of the teachers, and the children’s appetite for learning, all within the most difficult of conditions. The seeds are there, but they need better cultivation.

It is only now, having completed my school education, and ready to leave Uganda to live in the UK, that I can appreciate how well my experiences and privileged education have prepared me for life. I really wish more Ugandan children had an education of the same quality as my own, and yet that depends on many factors – one of the biggest being a positive start to schooling. Development charities such as Build Africa, which focuses on improving education and livelihoods in some of the most deprived rural areas, are doing work in this area that is vital and represents a step in the right direction.

Think Africa Press welcomes inquiries regarding the republication of its articles. If you would like to republish this or any other article for re-print, syndication or educational purposes, please contact: editor@thinkafricapress.com.

For further reading around the subject see:

 


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Dear Reader,

Dozens of people were killed this morning when two bomb blasts hit a busy bus station on the outskirts of Abuja, Nigeria. No-one has claimed immediate responsibility for the attack, but suspicion has fallen on the militant group Boko Haram. The Islamist insurgents were reportedly behind an assault last week in the north-eastern Borno state in which at least 60 people were killed, and are believed to have been responsible for the abduction of two Italian priests and a Canadian nun in Cameroon at the start of the month. If their involvement in the kidnapping is confirmed, it will have been the group's third abduction in Cameroon and could signal a shift in tactics.

Several sources within the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), an instrument set up by the African Union to encourage good governance, have alleged that the organisation is fraught with high-level corruption, mismanagement and political manipulation. In an in-depth investigation conducted by Think Africa Press, officials as well as a number of senior figures in the APRM claimed that there has been widespread fraud and misuse of funds, and that the mechanism's integrity and independence have been undermined. Some allege that the responsibility for APRM's state of affairs goes right to the top.

Momentum is continuing to build towards Egypt's 26 May elections, which are widely expected to see Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stroll into the presidential office. The rise of the field marshal to the presidency will see the military's grip tighten even further, but it is not just in the political arena that the army's power is likely to expand. Since the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, the military appears to have increased its involvement in the economy. The army is already estimated to control up to 40% of Egypt's GDP, and in recent months it has signed a number of mega-infrastructure deals worth several billions of dollars.

North: Egypt's Military Economy: Money is Power, Power is Money

West: Nigeria: Federalism Works

Central: What Does the Tactic of Foreign Kidnappings in Cameroon Tell us about Boko Haram?

East: Rwanda's 20 Year Miracle: "We Had Nowhere To Go But Up"

South: S. Africa: Parliament Forms Committee to Probe Nkandla

Below are a few highlights from the past week:

All the best,

The Team at Think Africa Press


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Dear Reader,

A grenade attack killed eleven people in Bangui last week in one of the latest incidents of ongoing violence in the Central African Republic. In the year since President François Bozizé was overthrown by the Séléka rebel alliance, the country has experienced widespread violence in which thousands have been killed and one million of the country's 4.5 million population is estimated to have been displaced. Despite the presence of thousands of international peacekeepers, the violence − which has become largely polarised along religious lines − has continued. Many so-called anti-balaka forces specifically target Muslims in an attempt to 'cleanse' the region, while a Séléka-led group in the north-east recently declared the establishment of a new northern state.

The leader of a new Tuareg group in northern Mali warned last week that the country could face another uprising if stalled negotiations do not continue soon. Progress in talks with the government has been slow since early 2013, when French forces pushed out Islamist militants from the region. There have always been divisions within the Tuareg movement, but it is likely that the recent formation of the Coalition for the People of Azawad (CPA), a breakaway faction of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), points to differences over long-term strategy and over which third party country should mediate the discussions.

On 22 March, World Water Day highlighted the importance and shortfalls in the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene in Africa and across the world. In Africa, 327 million people lack access to safe drinking water while 565 million lack access to sanitation. It is estimated that at current rates it will take until at least 2030 for sub-Saharan Africa to meet the Millennium Development Goal on water and more than 150 years to reach the sanitation target. A range of experts told Think Africa Press what they believe needs to be done to accelerate progress.

North: Egypt: Presidential Elections to Start May 26

West: Dying for Jobs: Deadly Stampede Highlights Nigeria's Youth Unemployment Crisis

Central: Extraordinary Tales of Everyday Lives in the Congo

East: End of the Line? Allegations of Corruption Knock Kenya's Railway Project Off-Track

South: Bones of Contention: The Politics of Repatriating Namibia's Human Remains

Below are a few highlights from the past week:

All the best,

The Team at Think Africa Press


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Dear Reader,

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) has called on its 340,000 members to join a strike this Wednesday demanding decent jobs and wages for the country's youth. The union, which decided to break with its historical support for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) last December, is highly critical of the government's Employment Tax Incentive Bill which it says is an attack against workers' hard-won gains and instead wants structural economic changes. Meanwhile, the bodies of several informal mineworkers are still believed to be trapped underground in mines in Gauteng province. The official rescue effort to help these illegal miners − many of them immigrants from neighbouring countries − gave up shortly after it began, claiming it was too dangerous and leaving relatives and friends of the trapped miners to retrieve the bodies themselves. 

The political situation in Burundi is getting ever tenser as the 2015 elections approach. In recent months, a number of opposition ministers in the government have been sacked, the president has provoked outcry by attempting to push through controversial constitutional reforms, and incidences of political violence have increased. Both the ruling party's youth wing and the police have been accused of violently breaking up opposition meetings, and the government recently suspended the opposition Movement for Solidarity and Development (MSD) and issued an arrest warrant for its leader.

Nigeria's National Dialogue Conference, a three-month forum at which 492 delegates from around the country will discuss the future of the nation, opens today. The conference has been welcomed by some but criticised by opposition figures who say it is a distraction from the challenges facing President Goodluck Jonathan. Deadly attacks by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, for example, have killed scores of Nigerians in recent days and weeks, and Jonathan's appointment of security veteran Aliyu Mohammed Gusau as his new minister of defence has generated controversy, particularly after reports emerged that he had resigned just days into the job.

North: "It's Not a Place you go to Die, but a Place you go to Suffer": Torture and Trafficking in Sinai

West: Nigeria Election Watch: PDP Tries to Wrest Back Momentum from the APC

Central: DRC Looks to Follow in Uganda's Footsteps with Anti-Gay Bill

East: Burundi on the Brink: Is Nkurunziza Tightening his Grip Ahead of 2015 Elections?

South: Holding Up Half the Sky: How Zambia's Women went from Housewives to Breadwinners

Below are a few highlights from the past week:

All the best,

The Team at Think Africa Press


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Dear Reader,

The Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram has engaged in a series of deadly attacks over the past few days, killing an estimated 150 people. On Saturday, 50 died in bombings in Maiduguri before fighters reportedly destroyed the entire village of Mainok, while on Sunday militants raided the town of Mafa killing at least 29 people. The Nigerian government's inability to protect its citizens and relative silence over recent attacks has done little to inspire confidence. And although youth vigilante groups − known as the Civilian Joint Taskforce − have had some success in defending their communities against Boko Haram in urban areas, it seems the Islamist militants have deliberately changed their tactics in response, moving their focus to civilians in rural locations.

The United Nations has proposed a nearly 12,000-strong peacekeeping force for the Central African Republic to protect civilians. Since December, at least 2,000 people have been killed and over 700,000 displaced in violence that has been coded largely in religious terms, though many other important regional, ethnic and political dynamics are at play. A peacekeeping force would also be necessary to maintain security as fears grow that regional militant groups, such as Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army, could exploit the instability in the CAR to set up camp. However, suggestions that Islamist groups such as Boko Haram or al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb could redeploy to the Central African bush are probably far-fetched for now.  The country is also facing alarming levels of malnutrition, which the Wood Food Programme has said it needs far more funds to address.

Since President Yoweri Museveni signed a new anti-homosexuality bill into law last week, a number of donors have suspended or diverted aid to Uganda, while others − such as the US, the country's biggest Western donor − have said they are reviewing ties. While donors are right to criticise the new bill, which has made sentences for homosexuality harsher and criminalised LGBT activism, their actions could backfire. Western politicians have had years to censure the president's regime for rights abuses and doing loudly on this issue − one of Museveni's choosing and one over which Western pressure could in fact boost his domestic image − could play right into his hands.

North: Egypt's Generals turn to an Old Rival in the Fight against Islamist Militancy in Sinai

West: Nigeria: Breaking Apart the Presidency’s Jamboree Budget

Central: From the Sahel to the Savannah: Could Islamist Militants Set Up Shop in the CAR?

East: Inconsistency Killed the Cause: The West's Outcry Over Uganda is Too Little Too Late

South: Mozambique: Will Guebuza get his way in Choosing Frelimo's Presidential Candidate?

Below are a few highlights from the past week:

All the best,

The Team at Think Africa Press


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Dear Reader,

President Goodluck Jonathan suspended Central Bank Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi last week in a move that shocked both observers and the markets. The presidency accused the widely-celebrated bank governor of financial reckless though gave no details, and many believe the move was motivated by political reasons. Sanusi was an outspoken critic of institutionalised corruption whilst in office and had recently alleged that billions of dollars from oil sales are unaccounted for. Sanusi has said he will not re-take office, but vowed to challenge Jonathan's decision in the interests of the independence of the Central Bank.

President Robert Mugabe marked his 90th birthday on Friday and held huge celebrations in Zimbabwe this weekend. One early present he received from the European Union was the removal of sanctions against eight members of the country's political and military elite, though targeted measures against himself and his wife remain in place. Western sanctions against Zimbabwe have existed in one form or another since 2002, but have failed to effect the removal of Mugabe's regime or arguably promote human rights and democracy in the country.

Think Africa Press has been looking at issues around forced labour this week. In the Ivory Coast, Bram Posthumus challenges claims that hundreds of thousands of children are working as forced labourers on cocoa fields, arguing that while the Ivorian cocoa industry has many problems, child labour isn't one of them. Meanwhile, Neil Howard takes a look at the rising trend of governments passing on the responsibility of protecting workers' rights onto companies themselves, contending that while some measures may be useful they will never be enough.

North: Targeting Tourists: Militant Islamists in Egypt Shift Their Focus

West: "You Can't Suspend the Truth": Worries for Nigeria over Sanusi's Ouster

Central: Congo's Crisis In The Shadows: Katanga on a Knife Edge

East: CCM's Identity Crisis: Comebacks, Constitution and Corruption in Tanzania

South: The Zimbabwe Sanctions Never Worked

Below are a few highlights from the past week:

All the best,

The Team at Think Africa Press


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Dear Reader,

France's announcement last week that it will be sending an additional 400 troops to the Central Africa Republic provides yet another example of the country's increasing rather than decreasing involvement in its former African colonies. The soldiers will help to bolster France's 1,600-strong force already stationed in country, and the French government has defended its multiple military engagements on the continent in recent years by insisting that each case is unique and has international legitimacy. It claims that despite its military presence, France's role today is very different than under the years of so-called Françafrique. But while this may be true on some levels, France's protracted negotiations with Niger over uranium prices reveal how elements of its economic and political influence in Africa may not have changed all that much.

Kenya's Attorney General Githu Muigai appeared in The Hague last week to reject claims that Nairobi has failed to cooperate with the prosecution in the case against President Uhuru Kenyatta. Muigai insisted that Nairobi is fulfilling its legal obligations, but as the crimes against humanity case continues to falter, hope for justice appears to be fading

However, the International Criminal Court is perhaps not the biggest challenge facing Kenyatta and Kenya at the moment. Every year, billions of dollars worth of goods are smuggled into the country through false invoicing, leading the country to lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue each year. This smuggling is facilitated by the presence of tax havens, phantom firms and a lack of transparency, problems which have also allowed Angola to lose several billions of dollars in recent years. 

North: Tunisia's New Constitution: How Compromise Won Out Over Conflict

West: What to Watch as Nigeria's 2015 Showdown Brews

Central: Pentecostal Preachers Blamed for Polio Outbreak in Cameroon

East: The Gulf's New Disposable Workforce

South: Angola’s Biggest Threat Is Offshore − and It's Not Piracy

Below are a few highlights from the past week:

All the best,

The Team at Think Africa Press


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Dear Reader,

The ceasefire in South Sudan remains fragile with multiple reports that fighting is continuing in certain areas. Most recently, rebel forces loyal to former Vice-President Riek Machar claimed that government troops under President Salva Kiir had recaptured the town of Leer in Unity State and was receiving help from the Ugandan army and former members of the Congolese rebels M23. A second round of peace talks are due to start on 7 February where it will be essential that leaders commit to justice and to holding those responsible for the violence accountable. Impunity in the past arguably contributed to the current situation and South Sudan now has the opportunity to turn a new page in its history.

The proposed merger between South Africa's main opposition party and Mamphela Ramphele has fallen through just days after it was announced. Ramphele − a former anti-apartheid activist, medical doctor, businesswoman and academic − had been set to stand as the Democratic Alliance's (DA) presidential candidate in the upcoming April elections, but reneged on the deal. This fiasco is the latest in a series of political missteps by Ramphele since she entered politics last year; even if the merger had gone through, it would have done little to change South Africa's political landscape.

This week, Think Africa Press has been taking a look at narratives about Africa in two fun, but very different, ways. Firstly, Martha Tveit examined how Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina chose to come out, arguing that his choice of a six-part video, filmed and edited by him and his own crew, helped create a space for African discourse led by Africans. Secondly, William Clarke poked fun at the simplistic tropes often used by the international media when talking about Africa by taking them and instead using them to talk about the UK.

North: Review − Soutak, Aziza Brahim

West: Nurses not Curses: Witchcraft Beliefs and Mental Health in Sierra Leone

Central: Rebels Flee CAR Capital

East:  Justice Cannot Wait in South Sudan

South: South Africa: Will the ANC Lose Any Sleep over Ramphele's Merger with the DA?

Below are a few highlights from the past week:

All the best,

The Team at Think Africa Press


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