When the shares of Multichoice Group jumped by 8.5% to 102.62 rands on Wednesday at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, South Africa, a lot of observers were shocked by the news, as it had not recorded such feat in months.
The development, some observers said could be attributed to the 2020 full-year result of the group, which was released on Wednesday. The pay-TV announced a 5% growth in its subscribers base when it rose to 19.5 million. While it recorded revenue growth of 3% to close at R51.4 billion, its core headline earnings were up by 38%. No wonder, it could afford to pay a dividend of R2.5 billion to its shareholders.
Other observers argue that the development could also be attributed to the news the group broke in the financial report. The group stated that it had signed a deal with Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com, its US rivals to offer its streaming services through its new decoder. This move, no doubt, would help Africa’s largest pay-TV firm retain teeming subscribers and attract potential viewers.
The deal was disclosed in MultiChoice’s results presentation, tagged ‘Improve Retention’ shared on its site.
The financials stated that the group recorded 8% year-on-year subscribers growth in Nigeria, highest in Africa, as it recorded losses in Zimbabwe (41%), Zambia 11%, Angola 2%, while Kenya was constant. It also recorded a 22% growth in subscribers revenue in Nigeria.
No doubt, it stated in the report that the group expects it’s new bouquets and 1H FY2020 migration would earn more for the company by the end of the 2021 financial year-end.
Meanwhile, Netflix has also made an effort to produce more African content. Dramas “Queen Sono” and “Blood and Water”, both South African, debuted on the service this year, supported by extensive marketing campaigns.
Pierre Nkurunziza, Burundi’s football-loving president and self-proclaimed pastor, has died at the age of 55. By all accounts this was death most cruel. He was soon to hand over power to his handpicked successor, Major General Evariste Ndayishimiye.
Ndayishimiye, the former army major, recently won a controversial election which was reaffirmed by the constitutional court only a few days ago. This would have been the first time in Burundi’s history that power was transferred peacefully from one leader to another, albeit from the same party.
So what does Nkurunziza’s passing mean for the transition process in Burundi? And to Burundi’s regional relationships?
When Burundians look back, some will remember their president as a man who laid the foundation for a belated political transition. Others will see his departure as good riddance. History will judge Nkurunziza as someone who brought unnecessary pain to a nation that had long suffered from political misrule, but who in death bequeathed it a golden opportunity for renewal.
Nkurunziza had been president of Burundi for the past 15 years. He came to power first as a parliamentary nominee in 2005, later winning two controversial popular elections.
He ruled with an iron fist, making few compromises. For example, his insistence in 2015 on changing the constitution to enable him to have a controversial third term in power plunged Burundi into civil unrest of near civil war proportions. Thousands died and many fled the country.
To many, Nkurunziza was a hardliner within his National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy party. He presided over wide-scale purges of opponents and the muffling of the press. He also oversaw the rise of the much dreaded Imbonerakure – militias that terrorised any real and perceived opponents.
His untimely passing, therefore, presents the nation of 11 million with an opportunity to chart a new path.
We could anchor Burundi’s political transition to Nkurunziza’s decision not to seek a fourth term of office, which he first signalled in 2015 and reiterated in 2018. Having muscled his way to a third term through the intimidation of judges of the constitutional court, and subsequently winning controversial elections, Nkurunziza must have understood the ramifications of his continued hold on power.
His decision to “step aside” was instrumental in tempering political opposition and potential violent challenge to the status quo. Handpicking a successor, like many African strongmen, ensured both change and continuity – actions borrowed from the playbook of neighbours such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola.
It is highly unlikely, therefore, that transition in Burundi will dramatically deviate from the existing status quo, given the existence of entrenched interests, particularly the military and ruling party elites.
The fact that there’s an institutionalised dominant party will ensure ideological continuity, regime endurance and the strategic sequencing of transition or succession.
It is also crucial to appreciate that when authoritarian leaders die in office, more often than not regime elites coalesce rather than fragment. Regime elites are best served by ensuring the maintenance of the status quo.
In Burundi’s case this means rallying around Nkurunziza’s chosen successor, Ndayishimiye.
The sudden death of Nkurunziza is therefore unlikely to result in a fundamental change of direction.
Protecting the legacy
In handpicking the trusted party secretary, Nkurunziza ensured that his legacy wouldn’t be challenged or derailed by either the opposition or an outsider.
Nkurunziza had taken other steps to ensure that his influence on matters of the state continued uninterrupted. He had designated for himself the role of “supreme guide of patriotism”. This was no doubt designed to ensure a “subservient” successor president whose fortunes would have been at the behest of the ex-president.
The incoming president is considered to be more open-minded and less prone to violence than other generals. But the death of his predecessor doesn’t necessarily provide him with an open hand to do as he pleases, given the need to balance various competing elite interests within the party and the military.
The country’s new leader will also have to consider mending fences with its neighbours.
Burundi’s regional and international relations have ranged from frosty to toxic. Burundi blamed the failed coup attempt against Nkurunziza in 2015 on its northern neighbour, Rwanda. Bilateral relations and trust plunged to an all time low.
Rwanda saw Burundi as sympathetic to the FDLR rebels in the DRC fighting against the Rwanda government. In turn, Burundi accused its neighbour of actively supporting opponents of Burundi’s own regime. Many of those opponents found shelter in Rwanda. So did thousands of refugees.
Burundi took exception to this. Nkurunziza’s personal relationship with Rwandan leader Paul Kagame was, at best, frosty. His death presents the ideal opportunity to reset relations between Burundi and Rwanda.
Burundi under Nkurunziza was cast as a global pariah. International financial and economic support was all but frozen. Long accused of gross human rights violations, Burundi became hostile towards the international community. It purged national and international NGOs, and expelled the personnel of international institutions. The World Health Organisation’s country representative was the most recent casualty.
President Ndayishimiye now has the opportunity to be his own man, and chart a different course for Burundi. The hope is that it will be one of prosperity, and peace and good neighbourliness.
When Khimbini Hlongwane spent most of his small safari tour company’s savings on the deposit for a new minibus in February, it seemed like a safe bet.
His revenues had doubled in the previous year. And bookings by American, British, and Brazilian tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of elephants, giraffes and lions at South Africa’s famous Kruger National Park were up.
Now, with borders closed and airlines grounded due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Africa’s multi-billion-dollar safari industry is unravelling and he can no longer afford the payments on the new 21-seater, which sits collecting dust in the parking lot.
“It hasn’t moved since the day we bought it,” said Hlongwane, who has been forced to stop paying the salaries of his five employees. “We could’ve been using that money to survive right now.”
From Kenya’s Masai Mara to the Okavango Delta in Botswana, rural communities that depend on safaris for income are seeing their livelihoods and dreams shattered. Hundreds of thousands of people rely on the sector, not to mention their dependents.
A slump in tourist dollars has hit conservation projects hard. And even as countries around the world loosen lockdowns, game parks, lodges and travel agencies face a grim future.
The safari industry generates some $12.4 billion in annual revenues for South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania Uganda and Zambia - Africa’s top wildlife tourist destinations - according to an estimate by SafariBookings.
But a survey of over 300 tour operators conducted by the online safari travel platform this month showed that almost 93 percent reported a drop in bookings of at least 75 percent due to the pandemic. Cancellations have also spiked, the majority of them said.
‘HOW LONG CAN WE CARRY ON?’
Leon Plutsick’s Distinctly Africa lodge on the Manyeleti private game reserve bordering the Kruger National Park had been full in March.
Today, his employees are sitting at home and baboons have ransacked his unstaffed kitchen.
“We’re getting to a point where we have to ask ourselves how long do we carry on?” he said. “A lot of us are living on reserves just to survive.”
Plutsick is not alone.
A survey of close to 500 businesses in the Kruger Lowveld district - South Africa’s safari heartland - conducted by the local tourism agency last month, found 90 percent believed they would not survive even if international borders opened immediately.
Over two-thirds of them have laid off employees.
The lack of tourist dollars is forcing wildlife projects across Africa to make cuts, and beyond the human cost, conservationists worry that growing desperation in rural communities hit by Covid-19 could fuel a wave of poaching.
Three popular game parks in South Africa recently dehorned dozens of rhinos as a preventative measure, hoping that it would make them less attractive targets for poachers.
In Mabarhule, a community on the edge of Kruger National Park, roughly half of residents were already jobless before the pandemic.
Freelance workers like Sipho Nkosi - a tour guide and father of four who typically makes around 550 rand ($33) per tour - have found themselves without a safety net.
“We’d saved some money. But its running out, so we’ll start starving,” said Nkosi, standing outside a half-completed community hall that was being built using tourist donations.
‘A BIGGER HOLE?’
The Madilika Craft Centre sits so close to the boundary of the Kruger National Park that lions can sometimes be heard roaring in the distance.
A layer of dust now coats the pink walls of the women’s cooperative, which shut when the private game lodges where it sold its traditional Xitsonga beaded jewellery closed down in March.
Now, with her income gone, co-founder Jane Mashele is hoping the sweet potatoes and spinach in her garden will be enough to feed her four orphaned grandchildren.
“We started the centre because we were tired of sitting at home with no jobs,” she said. “This is terrible.”
In South Africa, which has recorded the most Covid-19 cases of any African nation, Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane warned parliament last month that up to 600,000 jobs were at risk if the sector remained shut until September.
Governments’ relief initiatives - like South Africa’s offer of 50,000 rand ($3,000) one-time grants to small tourism businesses - will do little to staunch the losses, some operators said.
In the face of looming financial calamity, the Tourism Business Council of South Africa - the industry’s lobby group - is pushing for international tourism to resume as early as September.
With the pandemic’s peak on most of the continent still predicted to be months away, that appears unlikely.
South Africa’s government has instead said regional and international tourism are only expected to resume next year.
Kenya, Namibia and Rwanda also remain closed to international visitors, while in Zambia tourists are permitted but face a two-week quarantine upon arrival. Tanzania has dropped quarantine requirements and is welcoming foreign guests.
One East African tour operator said even if restrictions were eased, international travellers could be discouraged by the possibility of quarantines when they return home.
In the meantime, South Africa, for one, hopes domestic visitors can drive the first phase of a recovery. South African national parks are now opening for self-driving safaris.
But overnight visits and travel across provincial borders remain banned under current restrictions. Even when permitted, some operators worry that local visitors will not be enough to save their businesses.
“To open for two or four or six people, is it actually worth it?” asked lodge owner Plutsick. “I’ll just be digging myself a bigger hole.”
Zimbabwe’s central bank is limiting the number of internal bank transfers customers can make to two a day, as the central bank moves to curb trading in the parallel currency market.
Some “entities” were using their accounts to purchase foreign currency using a network of buyers, the Harare-based central bank said in a letter dated June 4 and seen by Bloomberg.
“These illicit transactions manifest in the form of daily, multiple payments from one account to beneficiaries who hold accounts in the same bank,” the central bank’s financial intelligence unit said in the letter.
The new measure follows a limit imposed last month by the central bank on the amount that banks may transfer via a payment platform with 2 million users. Companies that need to make more than two internal bank transfers a day will need to obtain approval from the lender’s management, it said. Central bank Governor John Mangudya was in a meeting and unavailable when sought for comment.
The Zimbabwean dollar trades at about 76 to the U.S dollar on the parallel market, while authorities have pegged the exchange rate at 25 to the greenback.
Lesotho’s former prime minister Thomas Thabane and his wife paid assassins a down payment of $24,000 to kill his estranged wife Lipolelo three years ago, according to a police affidavit seen on Wednesday.
The details were the latest twist in a scandal that has rocked the southern African state and prompted Thabane to resign last month under pressure over accusations he hampered the investigation.
Thabane and his then-wife Lipolelo Thabane, 58, were in the middle of a bitter divorce when she was shot and killed outside her home two days before her husband’s 2017 inauguration.
Thabane has not yet been charged, but the police said he was involved in the plot to kill Lipolelo using hired killers and his wife Maesaiah is in custody accused of murder.
In an affidavit filed on Tuesday but seen by AFP on Wednesday, Deputy Commissioner of Police Paseka Mokete said Thabane and Maesaiah “wanted the deceased dead so that (Maesaiah) …could assume the position of First Lady”.
Ex-premier “Thabane physically pointed out the residence of the deceased to his co-accused,” Mokete said.
Police have said they found Thabane’s mobile number in communications records from the crime scene.
Thabane has denied involvement in the murder. He married Maesaiah two months after the death of Lipolelo.
The police commissioner said the couple had promised to pay the killers the equivalent of $179,485, which was to be paid in instalments.
“They would be remunerated in cash… and through employment opportunities, should they carry out the murder of the deceased prior to (Thabane’s) inauguration as prime minister,” Mokete said.
Initial payments totalling 400,000 maloti ($23,931) were made after Lipolelo’s assassination on 14 June 2017, police said.
A first attempt to kill Lipolelo failed on 12 June 2017, police said.
One of the accused killers has since turned state witness.
Maesaiah, 43, was charged with murder in February and spent half a night in jail before a High Court freed her on a 1,000 maloti ($57) bail.
She returned to custody last week after a court revoked bail. She applied for fresh bail on Thursday and a hearing is scheduled for 16 June.
In the application, she sought release to allow her to take care of her “critically ill” husband who has “been diagnosed with an advanced prostate cancer” for which he underwent an operation in South Africa on 29 May 2020.
Police oppose the bail application.