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The Oscar Pistorius trial for the murder of Reeva Steenkamp has begun. 

This morning in Pretoria, Oscar Pistorius’ trial for the murder of his then girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, who was killed by Pistorius on 14th February, 2013, began at the North Gauteng high court.

Pistorius has plead not guilty to all charges, including that of premeditated murder, and claims he mistook the 29-year-old model for an intruder.

Parts of the trial, which can be livestreamed here and here, will be televised live - a first for South Africa, and the entire audio will be made available for the public to hear. According to the BBC, “The testimony of the accused and his witnesses is exempt.”

Media interest is high as both local and international news and information agencies gathered outside the court buildings this morning. Protesters from the ANC Women’s League were seen outside the court were they called for harsher sentences for men who commit crimes against women. 

There are no jurors at South African trials. His fate will ultimately be decided by Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa, which, according to the Guardian could pan out like this:

Criminal law experts believe that if the prosecution fails to prove premeditated murder, firing several shots through a closed door could bring a conviction for the lesser charge of culpable homicide, a South African equivalent of manslaughter covering unintentional deaths through negligence. Sentences in such cases range from fines to prison. They are left to courts to determine and are not set by fixed guidelines.

So far, testimony from the state’s first witness Michelle Burger, who lives about 177m away from Pistorius’ home but did not know him personally, has been given in court. Burger stated that she heard screams from a woman followed by four gun shots. Her witness testimony was not televised.

Court has adjourned and will be back later this afternoon but the streams are broadcasting recaps of today’s opening trial session.

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All Africa, All the time.

Ugandan Tabloid Paper Publishes List of ‘Top 200 Homos’ in the Country.

A day after President Musoveni signed a controversial anti-gay law in Uganda, ‘Red Pepper’, a local tabloid paper - one of the country’s biggest - has published a list of Uganda’s ‘Top 200 Homos’.

Concerns about this leading to a ‘witch-hunt’ against the named individuals are high as this bares a striking similarity to what we saw four years ago in the now defunct Ugandan tabloid newspaper ‘Rolling Stone’. Many say Rolling Stone’s actions led to the brutal murder of leading Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato months later.

In Nigeria, following the recent enactment of a law that criminalizes homosexuality, many reports have surfaced that claim that gay men in various parts of the country have been attacked and arrested as a result of this measure. 

"Jomaa Meter" Set Up by Tunisian Group to Track Leader’s Performance.

In a similar fashion to Egypt’s “Morsi Meter" that tracked the performance of Mohammed Morsi’s short-lived presidency, the founders of the Morsi meter have helped Tunisian organization "I Watch set-up up a “Jomaa Meter" to evaluate the progress and promises of their leader Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa.

The founders of the Jomaa meter hope this initiative will help foster a greater sense and culture of accountability in Tunisian politics.

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All Africa, All the time.

Pic of the day: Journalists around the world are uniting for the release of Al Jazeera journalists arrested in Egypt under the hashtag:  #FREEAJSTAFF 

If you want to know what’s going on concerning the latest news headlines of the racism against Africans happening in India, this op-ed from the NYTimes will put a lot of it into perspective.

NEW DELHI — The Africans — Nigerians, Ghanaians, Ugandans — began leaving my neighborhood in New Delhi around December. Each week, more and more families exited. Some went to parts of Delhi considered more accepting of Africans; others to areas where the residents were thought to be less interfering in general. I have heard that some of the Ghanaian families had gone back to Africa, but I don’t know that for sure.

For years, they had been a part of the swirl of cultures, languages and races that makes up this part of the capital. The Nigerian women in their bright dresses out for evening strolls and the Cameroonian family with the curious-eyed baby at the ice-cream van had made a life for themselves alongside the Afghans, Tamils and Iranians.

On Oct. 31, about a month before the departures started, a Nigerian national, rumored to have been in the drug trade, was found dead in Goa. Nigerians in the coastal state protested his murder as an act of racism, while posters read: “We want peace in Goa. Say no to Nigerians. Say no to drugs.” One state minister threatened to throw out Nigerians living illegally. Another equated them with a cancer. He later apologized, adding that he hadn’t imagined there would be a “problem” with his statement.

The controversy has reverberated across the country, including in Delhi, 1,200 miles away, where the tolerance of African neighbors has turned into suspicion and even hostility.

One night, a police constable rang my doorbell. “Have you seen any man from the Congo entering and leaving the building?” he asked. “African man,” he clarified. He said he had received a report that a local resident was friendly with Africans, and he wanted to know, was this true? The question surprised me; neighborhood battles here are waged over water and parking spaces, not over ethnicity. Now neighbors had become nervous of neighbors.

Once the African communities had been singled out, complaints against them bubbled up like filthy water, in Jangpura, in Khirki Extension, in the alleyways off Paharganj, anywhere in Delhi they lived.

The fragile hospitality gave way to a familiar litany of intolerance: They were too loud, exuberant and dirty; the women were loose, the men looked you directly in the eye, they were drug takers and traffickers, and worse.

Residents of Khirki Extension, whose rambling lanes had seen an influx of artists, journalists and migrants, conducted their own investigation of their African neighbors, which they called the “black beauty” sting.

Coinciding with the city’s darkening mood, the newly elected Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi started a wave of cleanups as part of its mission to control “lawlessness.” The city’s law minister, Somnath Bharti, led a raid into Khirki Extension, claiming to be acting on residents’ complaints that Nigerians and Ugandans were involved in prostitution and drug trafficking. Media reports suggest that on the night of Jan. 15, he entered Africans’ homes with a group of vigilantes, without a warrant. In the fracas, a Ugandan woman was allegedly forced to give a urine sample, on the street, in the middle of the crowd. After she filed a complaint, Delhi’s court ordered the Police Department to pursue her case against Mr. Bharti.

These recent events have awakened dormant prejudices against Africans in India, aggravated by our tendency to prize fair skin over dark. “Habshi,” derived from the word “Abyssinian,” has become a common epithet for people of African descent.

So, on one hand, the racist turn in Delhi and Goa is unsurprising. On the other hand, we have a long, and neglected, history of cross-migration with Africa. While Indians have been settling on that continent since at least the 15th century, African roots in India run even deeper. Africans were brought over in numbers around the 13th century as slaves, but also as generals, guards, merchants, bodyguards and craftsmen. Many never went back. Now tens of thousands are here to study, and others work as chefs and in the garment and textile businesses, among other industries.

Despite our close ties and the shared history of colonialism, Africa doesn’t figure on the Indian map of curiosity and desire. Our admiration of China’s economic prowess is commonplace and unabashed; we are obsessed with the West, in terms of education, ideals of beauty and economic might. But Africa is invisible. Racist views can be spouted without consequence. Africa simply doesn’t matter.

There will be few repercussions for the Aam Aadmi Party if it continues with blanket policies against Africans. The party won on the promise of change, yet here it is, proving that it shares the same blindness as other, older parties.

These days, the Afghans and Indians stroll in my neighborhood park, enjoying the winter breeze. The Ghanaian and Cameroonian families moved away when their landlords doubled the rent only for them; the young Nigerian women left after one police visit too many.

Delhi’s residents say that the city belongs to everybody, because it belongs to nobody. As Bangalore and Mumbai became insular possessions, with political parties often driving out anyone who was from elsewhere, the capital claimed that it had room for all kinds of migrants, expats and outsiders. If the Aam Aadmi Party continues the divisiveness that older parties have excelled at, we’ll soon find reasons to go after all the people who live differently from “us,” who don’t belong here, who should go back to the places they came from.

Nilanjana S. Roy is an essayist and critic, and author of the novel “The Wildings.”

Central African Republic elects first woman president.

After the country’s first Muslim leader and former interim president stepped down on January 10th after both internal and external pressure over his failure to curb the ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR), an election was held to determine who the country’s next interim president would be.

With six candidates knocked out in the first round, lawyer, businesswoman and now former mayor of the capital city of Bangui Catherine Samba-Panza went to head-to-head against Desire Kolingbe, the son of a former president Andre Kolingba, winning 75 votes against Kolingba’s 53 in the second round of voting. 

In her victory speech, Samba-Penza called on her fellow citizens to ‘put down their arms and stop all the fighting’.

Although a Christian, the BBC reports that President Samba-Penza is seen as ‘politically neutral’ at a time where tensions are high between CAR’s Muslim and Christian population.

Made up of mostly of people of Eritrean and Sudanese descent, thousands of Africans living in Israel marched through the country’s capital to protest the ill-treatment of African migrants.

According to BBC Africa, the protest was spurred by “a law that allows illegal immigrants to be detained for a year without trial.”

Full story on the BBC’s website.

Egypt is a dangerous place for African immigrants, mostly from the horn of Africa, either in transit to seeking a better life elsewhere, or those kidnapped from their homes and brought there by traffickers.

Here, Al Jazeera English talks to Eritrean victims of heinous torture committed by ruthless traffickers in Egypt’s Sinai region. Read story with caution, best not for sensitive readers.

Here are a few testimonies:

"I just want to leave Egypt. I hate it here," says Mohamed. He was shot in the leg a year ago, months after he arrived in Cairo. As Mohamed lay in the street with blood soaking his pants, he heard the shooter’s friend say as they walked away, "Leave him. He’s just an African."

""Sometimes when I walk down the streets, people throw stones at me," says Nabiet, a 15-year-old girl with tightly woven braids and a small picture of Jesus hanging from a chain around her neck. Nabiet, who says she never wanted to leave Eritrea in the first place, was kidnapped from her home country and brought to the Sinai, then held for ransom. Full of energy yet shy, she grins when she speaks about her memories of English class in school. But the smile disappears when she recounts her challenges in Egypt."

A South African court began sentencing on Monday 20 right-wing extremists convicted of high treason for a plot to kill Nelson Mandela and drive blacks out of the country.

The “Boeremag” organisation had planned a right-wing coup in 2002 to overthrow the post-apartheid government.

The trial lasted almost a decade until the organisation’s members were convicted in August last year, the first guilty verdicts for treason since the end of apartheid in 1994.

"The accused had aimed to overthrow the government through unconstitutional methods that included violence," said High Court judge Eben Jordaan as he began the two-day sentencing hearing.

"They planned a violent attack against people of colour that would certainly be followed by retaliation attacks against whites as a result," Jordaan said at the hearing taking place in the same Pretoria courtroom where Mandela was convicted of treason in 1964.

One woman died and dozens of people were injured in blasts that shook the Johannesburg township of Soweto in October 2002.

All 20 accused were convicted of treason, but only five of murder and the plot to kill Nobel peace laureate Mandela, South Africa’s first black president.

The state is seeking life sentences for the group’s leaders and bomb specialists, and 10 to 15 years in prison for the other defendants.

South Africa does not have the death sentence.

"We are hoping for a good conviction," said Paul Ramoloka, spokesman for specialist police unit the Hawks, who investigated the plot.

Security was tight around the courtroom, with police carrying out body searches of the public.

The Boeremag, Afrikaans for “Boer Force”, a reference to the descendants of the first Dutch colonisers, had planned to sow chaos through bomb blasts then take over military bases, replace the government with white military rule and chase all blacks and Indians from the country.

Far-right organisation the Boer Republicans bussed in its members to support the defendants during sentencing.

"I support them 100 percent because their plan was right," the group’s leader Piet Rudolph told AFP.

"Our people are being oppressed, we are servants, and people should revolt against that."

The sentences are expected to be handed down on Tuesday.



The Contentious Egg

Article :Nebras elHidili 
Illustration :Amro okacha

 Tunisia’s Minister of Culture Mehdi Mabrouk had his own taste of egg diplomacy when filmmaker Nasreddine Shili pelted the minister with one single egg.

Danger in knowing the truth

The Minister of Culture was attending a 40-day memorial ceremony for Azzouz Chennaoui on August 16 at the Ibn Khaldun House of Culture in Tunis. Najib al-Obeidi, who witnessed the incident, said that Shili tried to approach the minister to express his condemnation of the ministry’s negligence of artists and its lack of support for them, which were allegedly among the reasons that led to the death of Cehnnaoui. 

"Your support to Chennaoui now has no value," Shili told the minister in a protesting tone. "We have been asking you to help him when he was being treated in the hospital.  But you did nothing." 

The minister allegedly refused to speak to Shili and asked his escorts to push Shili away, telling them that he didn’t want to see him.   

Nasreddine quickly left and came back carrying an egg, which he hurled at the minister’s face.   

In the meantime, Mourad Meherzi, a cameraman, was covering the memorial and his camera was quick to capture the egg-throwing event.

The footage quickly become a source of trouble for Mourad and a source of embarrassment for the minister.

Aftermath of the egg

Shortly after the incident, several media outlets started to spread news about the minister’s statements in which he spoke about physical violence against him.  He also claimed that he was punched on the face. The Minister, after this incident, was allegedly taken to the hospital. 

However, the video clip of Mourad’s lens, which accurately shows the details of the incident, made the media correct the previously broadcasted news.   

Less than two days after the incident, the anti-crime force knocked on the door of Mourad’s home late one night. Mourad opened the door and asked the force members to give him some time to bring with him some essential personal items.  As Mourad was preparing himself, the force stormed the house and took Mourad’s camera and personal computer.

Najib al-Obeidi, a political activist, said that Mourad was arrested because he gave evidence about the false statements made by Mehdi Mabrouk, the Culture Minister. The evidence caused the minister, the prime ministry and everyone who supported him embarrassment and made it difficult for the minister to take revenge.  

After three more days, the major actor of this incident, Shili, was arrested. The security forces were able to tighten their grip and to follow Shili, who was accused of a premeditated and deliberate attack on the minister. Shili, who left his house and sought shelter at the house of Ibrahim Raouf, his fellow artist, in the coastal city of Sousse, soon discovered that Mourad has been imprisoned in one of the Tunis’ civil prisons.

"This is a political incident par excellence," said Obeidi.

"The Minister of Culture has provoked artists with his double standards. He has recently bought one of the paintings of the Abdelliya exhibition. When he was personally attacked by the Salafists, he started to criticize the artistic nature of the exhibition.  This time, he ignored all our calls to save the life of Shinawi before his death," he said. 

"We were surprised to see him attending the memorial. If given the opportunity, I would throw eggs at the members of this failed government without any hesitation." 

A penalty of five years imprisonment

Ayoub Gdhemsi, one of the lawyers on Mehrezi’s and Shili’s case, said that there is a lawsuit filed by the minister accusing Mehrezi and Shili of violent physical and verbal assault against him. “My two clients were arrested by the anti-crime force and the public prosecution issued their imprisonment order against charges of deliberate violent assault on a public official. The two were also accused of being under the influence of alcohol, inciting disorder and chaos and insulting other people through the use of the public communication network.”

Ayoub Gdhemsi, “The minister deliberately exaggerated the incident, claiming that he was punched, based on the presence of the egg-attack mark on his face and the egg on his clothes, but the video of Mourad firmly refuted his claim,” asserted the lawyer.

The lawyer went a step further by stressing that his client, Shili, was subjected to extreme violence by the Minister’s escorts, based on the statements of his client and Mourad’s video.    

Ayoub Gdhemsi considered the arrest of his client Mourad as illegal because it took place without obtaining permission from the prosecutor. Moreover, the arrest intimidated his elderly parents.  According to Gdhemsi, the arrest by the anti-crime force is unjustified and it is an act intended to intimidate people. 

Gdhemsi added that if convicted, the charges would be punishable by up to five years imprisonment. He claims however, that there is no evidence to support the charges; he feels assured that they will not be imprisoned for a long period.  Moreover, the law related to public servants offenses does not apply on this incident. 

"My client Mourad was present because he was performing his job as a cameraman covering an ordinary event," Ayoub said, adding that "he has an official assignment from his superiors to cover the memorial." Ayoub commented saying that "implicating Mourad in this way is an act of revenge."   

"My client did not commit any criminal act. His behavior is an act of protest practiced in democratic countries and in some incidents presidents were attacked in a similar manner with no repercussions whatsoever in many of such incidents," he concluded.


More than 100 people drowned and over 200 were unaccounted for after a boat with African migrants caught fire and sank off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa on Thursday.

The disaster occurred when the boat’s motor stopped working and the vessel began to take on water, Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said.

People on board burned a sheet to attract the attention of rescuers, starting a fire on board: 

Once the fire started, there was a concern about the boat sinking and everyone moved to one side, causing the boat to go down,” he told a news conference.

The 20-metre (66 foot) vessel, believed to be carrying around 500 people, sank no more than 1 km (half a mile) from shore.

Bodies pulled from the water were laid out along the quayside as the death toll rose in what looked like one of the worst disasters to hit the perilous route for migrants seeking to reach Europe from Africa.

It’s horrific, like a cemetery, they are still bringing them out,” Lampedusa Mayor Giusi Nicolini told reporters.

After 94 bodies were recovered from the surface, divers inspecting the wreck, sunk in 40 meters of water, saw dozens of bodies, bringing the total of known dead to well over 100 with more than 200 still unaccounted for, coast guard official Floriana Segreto said.

Alfano said three children and two pregnant women were among the victims.

Dozens of students are reported to have died after armed men stormed a college dormitory in Nigeria’s northeast, shooting at them as they slept, according to the military.

Sunday’s attack, believed to be carried out by the armed group Boko Haram, targeted the College of Agriculture in the town of Gujba in Yobe state, Lazarus Eli, the area military spokesman, said.

"There was an attack at the College of Agriculture in Gujba this morning by Boko Haram terrorists who went into the school and opened fire on students," while they were asleep, Eli said.

Boko Haram is a Nigerian armed group that claims to be fighting Western influence and wants to form an Islamic state.

The literal translation of Boko Haram is “Western education is forbidden”.

Molima Idi Mato of the College of Agriculture told AP news agency that classrooms were torched in the attack, which occurred at about 1am local time.

The college is about 40km from the scene of similar school attacks around Damaturu town.

Security forces were at the scene but details on the number injured in the attack were not yet available, Eli said.

Gujba is roughly 30km from the state capital of Damaturu.

A police source, who requested anonymity, told AFP news agency that initial reports indicated the death toll could be high but he was not prepared to discuss figures.

Other news source reports:

Follow these twitter accounts for live-tweets about the on-going developments concerning the Westgate Mall incident in Nairobi Kenya:

In Johannesburg, South Africa,  ‘Walk-in vagina’ garners mixed reactions

It lets out a high-pitched scream as you enter, then a sneering laugh. It’s a walk-in vagina, a conceptual art installation that has South Africans wagging their fingers and scratching their heads.

When 30-year-old South African artist Reshma Chhiba was asked to produce artwork for a disused apartheid-era women’s jail in Johannesburg, she wanted to make a statement about women’s power.

What she came up with was a talking “yoni”, or vagina in India’s ancient language, Sanskrit.

“It’s a screaming vagina within a space that once contained women and stifled women,” she told AFP. “It’s revolting against this space… mocking this space, by laughing at it.”

Visitors enter the 12 metre (39 feet) red padded velvet and cotton canal by first stepping onto a tongue-like padding. Thick, black acrylic wool mimics pubic hair around the opening.

The shrill soundtrack that assaults visitors as they stroll through the tunnel is a revolt against the women’s jail, built in 1909, that held some of South Africa’s leading anti-apartheid activists.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was incarcerated there twice in 1958 and 1976.

“I definitely did not make this work for the sake of controversy,” said Chhiba.

For her, it was about artistic freedom and challenging deeply entrenched patriarchal systems .

“You don’t often hear men talking about their private parts and feeling disgust or shamed,” as women often do, she said.

“And that alone speaks volumes of how we’ve been brought up to think about our bodies, and what I am saying here is that it’s supposed to be an empowering space.”

The artist also wanted to address the scourge of rape in South Africa, where nearly 65 000 attacks on girls and women are reported a year in one of the highest incidences of rape in the world - with little improvement.

But the installation, on display throughout August, has collided with some sensitive cultural and religious taboos.

“It’s the most private part of my body. I grew up in the rural areas, we were taught not to expose your body, even your thighs let alone your vagina,” said Benathi Mangqaaleza, 24-year-old female security guard at the former prison that is now a tourist site.

“I think it’s pornographic, I think they have gone too far.”

Twenty-four-year-old gardener Andile Wayi thought the exhibition - on the site of the Victorian-era brick women’s jail and another that once held Mahatma Gandhi - as well as the Constitutional Court - was wrong.

“The Constitutional Hill is respected, it’s a heritage,” he said.

The fine arts graduate,who is also a practising Hindu, has spent years of research into the Hindu goddess Kali whom she views as a symbol of defiance.

She expressed “shock” at the media onslaught and allegations of blasphemy from some Hindu followers who complained through radio talk shows.

“To talk about the vagina, or visualise it, is something that is not out of the ordinary,” she insisted

The exhibition, entitled “The Two Talking Yonis”, was the product of two years of discussion with curator Nontobeko Ntombela on the mythology of female power in patriarchal systems.

Visitors have to take off their shoes to walk through the softly cushioned canal.

“By talking off your shoes, essentially you are respecting it, making it a divine space, a sacred space,” said Chhiba.

Gender Links, a lobby group promoting gender equality in southern Africa, praises Chhiba’s artwork for re-igniting discussion on a subject normally avoided.

“It is bringing the private into the public, that the woman’s body is not necessarily a private matter,” said Kubi Rama, Gender Links boss.

THIS DAY IN HISTORY: Central African Republic becomes independent of French colonial control.

August 13, 1960 is celebrated annually as the day that this landlocked central African country became a nation independent of French control. However, the country was ruled by a series of presidents, military rulers and an emperor, the notorious Jean-Bédel Bokassa, most of whom gained power through coups, often with the backing of France. Central Africa’s first democratic elections would not be held until 1993, 33 years after independence.

The country is currently in the midst of a violent crisis that came about as a result of political unrest, spurred by the resistance movements against the CAR government by rebel armies who have formed a coalition known as Seleka (meaning ‘union’ in the Sango language).

As of March this year, the rebels had seized the capital city of Bangui, causing President Francois Bozize to flee the country, essentially living CAR without a government. Following this, rebel leader Michel Djotodia declared himself president. Djotodia also dissolved the government and suspended the country’s constitution. 

On-going unrest continues as many civilians have become vulnerable to violent attacks with many fleeing to neighbouring countries as refugees and IDPs. Furthermore, many children face the threat of being recruited as child soldiers, amongst other human rights abuses and violations.