South Africa: Mind the Gap

In 1913, the so-called Natives Land Act passed huge amounts of South African land from blacks to whites. With the end of apartheid in 1994, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) pledged to return 30 percent of this land to its “previous owners” by 2014. But to maintain investor confidence in the country’s property rights, the government has moved slowly to implement this policy. Best estimates are that, 24 years later, just 10 percent of commercial farmland has been redistributed. Pressure for a dramatic change in policy is on the rise.


As he leads the ANC toward elections next year, President Cyril Ramaphosa has his work cut out for him. The problem extends well beyond land. According to recent data from the World Bank, more than half of South Africa’s population lives below the poverty line. Another 27 percent live at risk of falling into poverty. Just 4 percent are considered wealthy. Just 20 percent of South Africans qualify as middle class. Compare that with 80 percent in Mauritius.

In country after country, in rich states and developing ones, voters have swept aside the political class in favor of outsiders. Ramaphosa, an unelected leader who assumed office after his predecessor’s ouster, will have to find new ways to persuade South Africans, that the ANC, the only ruling party anyone under 30 has ever known, can buck the trend.

When Donald Trump first started talking about buying Greenland last week, we figured it was a weird story with less legs than a Harp seal.

Signal readers, we were wrong. President Trump was so serious about purchasing the autonomous Danish territory that this week he abruptly cancelled a trip to Denmark after the country's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, labelled the idea "absurd."

More Show less

The Amazon in flames – More than 70,000 forest fires are burning in Brazil right now, most of them in the Amazon. That's up 84% over the same period last year, and it's the highest number on record. This is the dry season when farmers burn certain amounts of forest legally to clear farmland. But critics say Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen conservation rules have encouraged farmers, loggers, and miners to set more fires, many of them illegally. Bolsonaro – a science skeptic who recently fired the head of the agency that tracks deforestation – says, without proof, that NGOs are setting the fires to embarrass his government. Meanwhile, the EU is holding up a major trade deal with Brazil unless Bolsonaro commits to higher environmental protection standards, including those that affect the Amazon.

More Show less

Over the past fifty years, the Amazon rainforest has shrunk by an area equal to the size of Turkey. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian government supported settlement of the sparsely populated region for security reasons. Since then, huge swaths of the forest -- which is crucial for limiting the world's greenhouse gasses -- have been cleared for farmland used to feed Brazil's population and support its massive agricultural exports. Greater awareness of the environmental impacts in the 1990s produced tighter conservation regulations, though plenty of illegal clearing continues. In recent years, the annual deforestation rate has begun to rise again, and Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to weaken regulations further in order to support businesses.

3: The US has recruited Australia to join its nascent mission of protecting ships in the critical Strait of Hormuz. Along with Britain and Bahrain, Australia is now the third country to join the US-led maritime mission, as high seas brinksmanship with the Iranians continues.

More Show less