After prison to presidency, Nelson Mandela passes away; Bezos’ drone is more than a joke; Fast food workers strike for better wages





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1 After prison to presidency, Nelson Mandel passes away (Louis Freedberg in San Francisco Chronicle) Nelson Mandela, the most celebrated political prisoner of the 20th century who emerged from 27 years in jail to negotiate an end to apartheid, South Africa’s harshly enforced system of racial segregation, and become his nation’s first democratically elected president, died Thursday. He was 95. South African President Jacob Zuma made the announcement at a news conference, saying, “We’ve lost our greatest son.”

Mr. Mandela had been hospitalized in Pretoria in early June, after a series of lung infections that may have been related to his bout with tuberculosis while in prison a quarter-century ago. Mr. Mandela’s emphasis on racial reconciliation led to a largely peaceful transition to democracy in South Africa, an outcome much different from the turmoil that beset many other African countries in the post-independence period. Along with F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last white president, Mr. Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for his role in transforming South Africa into a multiracial democracy.

Mr. Mandela’s story has few parallels in world history. As the movement against apartheid gathered strength during the 1970s and 1980s, he became a focal point for the struggle against the Pretoria government’s segregationist policies. During his years behind bars, most of them on Robben Island, a fog-shrouded island seven miles off the coast of Cape Town, he became a world hero, embraced at home and abroad as the undisputed leader of South Africa’s disenfranchised black majority.

In a brilliant tactical move, he secretly offered to negotiate with the government. He did so without consulting his colleagues in the African National Congress, the banned organization that had worked to end segregation in South Africa since its founding in 1912. As he explained in his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” it was highly likely that the ANC leadership would have overruled him.

He was brought from prison to meet with then-President P.W. Botha in the presidential mansion in Cape Town, dressed in a suit his jailors bought for him to replace his prison garb. The meeting, unknown to all but a handful of senior government officials, was friendly, but Botha spurned the overture to negotiate. Botha was forced out as president after suffering a stroke in February 1989 and was succeeded by de Klerk, who reached an entirely different conclusion. Mr. Mandela, de Klerk believed, represented the ruling party’s best hope for preventing the destruction of the South African state and the standard of living enjoyed by its white minority.

On Feb. 2, 1990, in a declaration that the movement to end apartheid had waited decades to hear, de Klerk announced that the ban on the outlawed ANC would be lifted and Mr. Mandela would be released within days. Mr. Mandela left his prison cell on a bright morning on Feb. 11, 1990, walking slowly with his wife, Winnie, at his side, both of them with clenched fists raised above their shoulders. He was unrecognizable to almost all South Africans and to the vast international audience watching on television. Mr. Mandela had gone into prison with the physique of an amateur boxer and came out a gray-haired, dignified figure who remained fiercely determined to bring an end to racial rule in his country.

2 Bezos’ drone is more than a joke (Farhad Manjoo in The Wall Street Journal) Let’s get this out of the way first: Jeff Bezos’ announcement that Amazon is working on a way to deliver goods by unmanned aircraft was little more than puffery—a brilliantly wafted bit of vaporware that, like a lone drone making its way across a bleak landscape, arrived at its destination beautifully intact. Though Mr. Bezos has no idea when drone delivery will become operational—the plan is blocked by US regulation and is both technologically and economically questionable—his unveiling of the project carried three important public-relations payloads for the firm.

First, the plan got everyone talking about Amazon and its Prime subscription service right at the start of the holiday shopping season. Next, it gave investors a taste of the scope of Amazon’s investment plans, forestalling any expectation that the company plans to begin making big money soon. And it cemented Mr. Bezos’s image as the biggest thinker in tech, a guy who won’t let little things like “illegal,” “implausible” and “kind of silly” stop him from considering better ways to deliver your toothpaste.

And yet, despite all this, I’m very happy Mr. Bezos is backing unmanned aerial vehicles. Too often, we worry solely about the worst possibilities of drones, without considering their substantial promise to improve much of the world around us. A billion people around the world live in areas that aren’t accessible by roads during all seasons. In such places, including large swaths of Sub-Saharan Africa, drones might deliver medicine or emergency-relief items without incurring the time, expense and environmental destruction associated with road building. In this way, drones are similar to cellphones, which blanketed the world with communication without incurring the cost of laying down copper lines.

3 Fast food workers strike for better wages (BBC) Fast-food restaurant workers across the US are staging a 24-hour strike in protest against low wages. Walkouts were reported in New York, Chicago, Washington DC, and also Detroit, Michigan; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Organisers hope workers in as many as 100 cities will participate in what is the latest in a series of such actions. Unions want a $15-an-hourfederal minimum wage. The current one, set in 2009, is $7.25 per hour.

President Barack Obama, who has backed a Senate measure to increase the minimum to $10.10, specifically mentioned fast-food workers “who work their tails off and are still living at or barely above poverty”, in an economic policy speech on Wednesday. The American fast-food industry has come under increasing scrutiny because part-time jobs, including retail and food positions, have made up most of the job growth since the recession.


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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