South Africa Heads to the Polls

Twenty-five years ago, Nelson Mandela's African National Congress (ANC) party ended apartheid in South Africa, but since then it has governed poorly. Four in 10 South Africans still live in poverty. Half of young people have no job. By some measures, South Africa is the most unequal society in the world.

A large part of this has to do with corruption, which thrives at all levels of government. It's no wonder that seven in ten South Africans don't trust their politicians.

And yet as South Africans vote today, the weakness of the ANC's challengers means that the party is set to win again. The question is: will it finally clean up its act in a way that enables the country to prosper?


Some progress has already been made. Last year, the ANC – worried that unchecked corruption was costing the party votes – replaced the venal President Jacob Zuma with his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, a corruption-fighting businessman and former union leader who helped negotiate the end of apartheid in the early 1990s.

Ramaphosa's record since then has been mixed. He strengthened the national prosecutor's ability to nab politicians for graft and moved to recover stolen state funds. But he's had more trouble tackling the deeply entrenched crony networks that have built up over the past quarter century. Local officials and power brokers may be corrupt, but they also deliver lots of votes.

"The dead hand of the Zuma faction [of the ANC] rests very heavily over his neck," South African political analyst Pieter Du Toit recently told Signal.

Whether Ramaphosa can shake that hand free will hinge on how well the party does in today's election. A strong showing for the ANC would signal that his anti-corruption message has helped to stem the outflow of middle-class black voters who've started to abandon the party, while a poor result would embolden those within the ANC who want to double down on patronage-based politics.

What to watch for on election day? A result below 60 percent, a margin the ANC has maintained since the end of apartheid, would be bad for Ramaphosa and the reformist wing of the party. Higher turnout tends to benefit the ANC.

The bottom line: South Africa's future growth and prosperity hinge on whether its deeply corrupted ruling party can clean up its act. Today's election will tell us a lot about whether Ramaphosa will have the political capital he needs to get that done.

Scientists, engineers and technologists are turning to nature in search of solutions to climate change. Biomimicry is now being applied in the energy sector, medicine, architecture, communications, transport and agriculture in a bid to make human life on this planet more sustainable and limit the impacts of global warming. New inventions have been inspired by humpback whales, kingfishers and mosquitoes.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

The drumbeat for regulating artificial intelligence (AI) is growing louder. Earlier this week, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google's parent company, Alphabet, became the latest high-profile Silicon Valley figure to call for governments to put guardrails around technologies that use huge amounts of (sometimes personal) data to teach computers how to identify faces, make decisions about mortgage applications, and myriad other tasks that previously relied on human brainpower.

More

January 27 marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi extermination camp. But even as some 40 heads of state gathered in Jerusalem this week to commemorate the six million Jews who were killed, a recent Pew survey revealed that many American adults don't know basic facts about the ethnic cleansing of Europe's Jews during the Second World War. Fewer than half of those polled knew how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and close to a third didn't know when it actually happened. Here's a look at some of the numbers.

1: The Greek parliament has elected a woman president for the first time since the country's independence some 200 years ago. A political outsider, Katerina Sakellaropoulou is a high court judge with no known party affiliation. "Our country enters the third decade of the 21st century with more optimism," Greece's prime minister said.

More

A quarantine in China– Local authorities have locked down the city of Wuhan, the source of the outbreak of a new and potentially deadly respiratory virus that, as of Thursday morning, had infected more than 540 people in at least six countries. Other nearby cities were also hit by travel restrictions. Rail and air traffic out of Wuhan has been halted. Public transportation is shut, and local officials are urging everyone to stay put unless they have a special need to travel. Wuhan is a city of 11 million people, many of whom were about to travel for the Chinese New Year. We're watching to see whether these extraordinary measures help stem the outbreak, but also to see how the people affected respond to the clampdown.

More