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Black Churches Confront the AIDS Epidemic

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By Maya Rhodan
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Some churches distribute food and clothing to the needy. But Rev. Edwin C. Sanders, II, the Senior Servant and Founder of the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tenn. decided to distribute something else – condoms.

Not to encourage more sexuality, church leaders were quick to point out, but because it is an effective weapon to curb the spread of HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS.

“We believe in radical love and love to all in the community. We’re open and honest. We distribute condoms because our goal is a healthy community,” says Rev. Terry Terrell, a staff minister.

Like many Black churches, Metropolitan was forced to act when the disease could no longer be ignored in the church.

When the church was founded in 1981, one of its 12 founding members was HIV-positive and later died from AIDS. The leaders of the church were then moved to address the HIV and AIDS crisis through service and education.

Twelve years later, the church founded the First Response Center, which provides health care and support services to those impacted by or at risk for HIV. From medication to assistance finding housing and preparing for employment, the First Response Center, headed by Rev. Terrell, is open and able to provide to all, even the uninsured and uninsurable. And Rev. Sanders is a nationally-known leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Across the country, Black churches, the pillar of the Black community, are stepping forward to address HIV/AIDS crisis in their community.

“The church has the largest consistent audience of African Americans,” says Paul Grant who created the documentary The Gospel of Healing: Volume 1: Black Churches Respond to HIV/AIDS. “You can tell how the community is doing by going to a church. We get our messages there, that’s where our social norms are set.”

The message of HIV/AIDS in the Black community is a vital one.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Although Blacks represent only 12 percent or the U.S. population, they accounted for 44 percent of all new HIV infections in 2009 and are 44 percent of all people living with HIV.

Black women accounted for 57 percent of all new HIV infections among women in 2009 and 64 percent of all new AIDS diagnoses among women. In 2010, 85 percent of Black women were infected through heterosexual activities.

A similar picture is reflected among teens. Although Black teenagers represented only 15 percent of U.S. teens in 2010, they accounted for 70 percent of all new AIDS diagnoses among teens.

A study in five major cities found that 46 percent of Black men having sex with other men were infected with HIV, more than double the 21 percent of White men exhibiting similar behavior.

“We have a health crisis within the African-American community that is impacting every facet,” says Rev. Terry Terrell, the chief operating officer of the First Response Center at Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville. “If healing is going to happen within the community, it will have to come from within the community.”

More than 800 miles away in Wilmington, Del., the leadership of Bethel AME Church also believes in healing from within the community.

In the lower level of the church, what began as a small AIDS ministry in 1994, a year after Rev. Silvester Beaman and his wife, Renee, relocated from Bermuda to lead the church, has grown to be the leading HIV test site in the state of Delaware.

While on the island, Mrs. Beaman she served as a nurse at a local hospital where she encountered many of her church members and neighbors infected with the virus.

“The nursing director gave me a little black book filled with names and addresses,” Beaman recalls. “These were all of the people on the island with HIV—there were members of the church, political leaders.”

She wanted to tell her husband the information, but new she couldn’t disclose the information. Instead she told him they needed to start a ministry to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention from within the church.

In 2001, the ministry expanded to include Beautiful Gate Outreach Center, which now provides testing, patient care, education, and other services to their predominately Black community, which has some of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the city.

When Mrs. Beaman first opened the center, it took nine months before anyone came in.

“No one came in, all the calls were wrong numbers,” Beaman recalls. “But, after those nine months, we ran out of space for everyone.”

She added, “The thousands of people that we’ve tested, the number of people who were found were positive and got into to care have validated us as a full-fledged HIV ministry. We’re making an unbelievable difference.”

Rev. Keron Sadler, the NAACP HIV and AIDS health program manager, says “We don’t just want churches to create health ministries, we want to change systems,” Sadler says. “ Black faith leaders have great power, people really respond to the voice of their leader, so we begin with the leader.”

Not every church leader was quick to join the campaign against HIV/AIDS.

“Churches are hesitant to talk about HIV because they’re hesitant to talk about modes of transmission. They don’t want to talk about sex, they don’t want to talk about homosexuality, they don’t want to talk about incest and rape,” says Sheila Sullivan, the project coordinator at Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland.

Sullivan works with a network of 16 churches throughout Cleveland that are educated on HIV prevention, treatment and works to keep congregations and leadership open to talking about the disease in the church.

Over the past five years, Sullivan has serviced over 50 church communities outside of the network providing on-site testing, attending health fairs, distributing information, and conducting presentations on HIV/AIDS and its effect on the Black community.

“I remember going to churches that were hesitant, but are now very open. I have churches that have condoms in their vestibule, not because they’re promoting sex, but because they’re promoting safety,” Sullivan explains.

Parnessa Seele is the founder and CEO of the Balm in Gilead. Through the organization she builds the capacity of faith communities by providing information on HIV to help address stigma and get people preventing, testing for, and treating the disease.

In her work, Seele has seen a number of churches open up to the idea of protecting the community from HIV/AIDS, but just as many who want nothing to do with it.

“We still have some churches that don’t want anything to do with it because they believe HIV stems from people living in sin,” Seele says. “Today we have to work to educate our congregations that HIV is still real.”

No one knows that better than Rae Lewis-Thornton, who has been living with AIDS for 20 years. In 1994, she was the focus of Chicago’s CBS affiliates feature series “Living with AIDS,” during which she gave viewers a glimpse into her day-to-day experiences as a woman with the virus which was then seen as a death sentence.

She remembers sitting in a pew of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church on the city’s southwest side one Sunday when her pastor called out to her in the middle of service.

“Lewis, was that you I saw on TV?” she remembers Rev. Clay Evans asking. She responded, “Yes, pastor.”

She had been too scared to disclose her status to her pastor, so she kept the fact that she had AIDS a secret within the walls of the church.

So when her pastor said “good work,” she was surprised, but not as surprised as she was when she asked him to write her a letter of recommendation to a seminary school. After the application sat on her desk for months – again, out of fear – she finally built up the nerve to approach Rev. Evans about her call to ministry. She remembers him laughing at her and saying, “I know, I was just waiting for you to figure it out.”

Lewis-Thornton still waited 13 years after being licensed to get ordained to minister. Now, as a member and pastor at Westpoint Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, Lewis-Thornton is excited to share information on the virus she fights every moment her life – from the pulpit.

“Everyone is going to be talking about HIV and AIDS in my church,” says Lewis-Thornton, who refers to herself as a “diva living with AIDS.”

She explains, “You can’t do a public ministry the way I do and not have a pastor who supports it,” Thornton says. “The fact that God has given me a place that I can worship and do ministry inside those walls for the church, outside the walls for the church and in the community without any shame or friction is a blessing.”

Beaman, the Bermuda native who moved to Wilmington, Del., observes: “To know that there is a church that is really caring about it and not condemning HIV and AIDS is so important.”

The Wilmington Ten: 'Political Prisoners'

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By Cash Michaels
Special to the NNPA from the Wilmington Journal

WILMINGTON, N.C. – Father Paul Mayer, a one-time Benedictine monk, is a White Catholic priest of 55 years. He has traveled the world, advocating for the poor in Latin America, protesting against nuclear proliferation and demanding equal rights for all global citizens. As a young child, Mayer fled Nazi Germany with his parents as the Jews were being persecuted. So the religious leader has a particular disdain for injustice.

While in the seminary, Fr. Mayer traveled to Selma, Ala. in 1965 to march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his drive for voting rights.

“That was a life-changing experience,” the activist minister, who has been part of many of the peace and social justice movements of the last half-century, says today.

“The Reverend Paul Mayer is a lifelong colleague in the civil rights movement,” Benjamin Chavis, leader of the Wilmington Ten, says. “Rev. Mayer is a research scholar, and a transformative social visionary.”

Until now, Father Mayer, an Occupy Movement activist at age 81, has never identified himself as the author of the historic 1977 report by Amnesty International (AI) that first declared the Wilmington Ten as “political prisoners.”

Indeed, the authors of reports – the powerful international organization based in London that chronicles human rights abuses worldwide – are rarely identified for their own safety, making Fr. Mayer’s first and exclusive recollections about his Wilmington Ten investigation – which he writes about in his yet-to-be-published memoir, Wrestling with Angels – all the more compelling.

Mayer writes of how he searched for Rev. Eugene Templeton, the White former pastor of predominately-Black Gregory Congregational Church in Wilmington, which was at the center of the controversy.

Mayer closely followed the 1972 Wilmington Ten trial proceedings. When Ben Chavis, a young, veteran civil rights activist Mayer knew and had worked with previously, and the rest of the Wilmington Ten had been falsely convicted of conspiracy in the 1971 firebombing of a White-owned grocery store, the activist priest knew he had to get involved.

“The outrageousness of this case really had an impact on me,” Mayer recalls. “I saw such a perversion of justice. This was a case of Southern racism.”

In Feb. 1971, Chavis had been sent to Wilmington by the United Church of Christ to assist Black students who had boycotted New Hanover County public schools because of racial discrimination. Racial violence ensued, though there is no evidence that Chavis had anything to do with it.

Chavis, an Oxford, N.C. native, was sent to ensure that striking Black students, who were headquartered at Gregory Congregational Church, only employed the late Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolent confrontation with Wilmington’s White power structure. But it wasn’t long before Chavis and the students became targets at the church, with trucks of marauding White supremacists riding by nightly, shooting at the church and surrounding Black community.

Fr. Mayer decided that he would investigate the case, and reached out to Amnesty International for the assignment.

Normally group would only assign investigators who lived outside of the country they were reporting on, but in Paul Mayer’s case, officials made an exception.

“I think they respected my credentials and my history,” Mayer says, recalling the process for vetting human rights abuse investigations as “excruciatingly thorough and demanding.”

He explained, “They take nothing for granted. Being declared a ‘prisoner of conscience’(which, according to Amnesty International, refers to anyone imprisoned because of their race, religious or political views) is a big deal, a major step. And at that time, they were more [stringent] than they are today.”

Following the organization’s list of criteria, the activist priest began months of intense investigation of the Wilmington Ten case.

Mayer determined that the crux of North Carolina’s charges against Chavis and his nine co-defendants was that they were holed up in Gregory Church, carrying out “an armed struggle,” meaning, that the Black activists had weapons in the church, and were firing them at firefighters and police personnel who were responding to the firebombing of the White-owned grocery store.

At the time, and to this day, Chavis and the surviving members of the Wilmington Ten deny those charges, with at least three members saying they were nowhere near Gregory Church or Mike’s Grocery.

Mayer knew that finding Rev. Templeton, who had gone into hiding for fear of his life years after the convictions, was the key to determining the answer to the burning question: “Did Ben Chavis and the Black students, who were under attack at Gregory Church, have guns there to fight back with?”

New Hanover County prosecutor Jay Stroud maintained they did, and had Chavis and company falsely convicted, and sentenced to a combined 282 years in prison, with each serving some of their sentence.

One of the reasons why Stroud was able to convict – beyond stacking the jury with 10 Whites and two Blacks in the second trial with “KKK and Uncle Tom-types,” Stroud’s own infamous notes showed 40 years later – is because the defense’s prime witness, Pastor Templeton, did not testify.

Templeton was the best witness because he was in the church the entire week of the conflict, especially the evening when Mike’s Grocery was firebombed. He knew that , in fact, with the exception of Ben Chavis, none of the Wilmington Ten were in the church.

Rev. Templeton told The Wilmington Journal last month that Chavis was with him when the grocery store was bombed, preparing in case authorities stormed the church with tear gas. Only a handful of older students were with them, providing protection.

The fact that the lives of Templeton and his wife, Donna, had been threatened by the Klan to keep his testimony from being heard in court, was significant to Mayer.

Mayer finally tracked Rev. Templeton down to Morristown, N.J. in the mid-1970s, serving as a hospital chaplain. It was weeks before Templeton returned Mayer’s phone calls, and finally agreed, under certain conditions (no tape recording) to share what would have been his testimony years earlier.

“I appealed to his conscience that this, perhaps, could save [the Wilmington Ten’s] lives,” Mayer said, indicating that all of the defendants were still in prison at the time.

“[Templeton] was terrified, and when I met him, close to a year [after contacting him], he was still a very frightened man. It took a lot of therapy on my part, and a lot of counseling.”

Mayer also told Templeton that his Amnesty International report could lead to an international campaign for the Wilmington Ten’s freedom, which it ultimately did.

Rev. Templeton began to talk, and he made it clear that despite all of the violence happening outside of Gregory Congregational Church in Feb. 1971, there were no guns inside of his church, and no one was firing weapons from the church, as had been alleged by prosecutor Stroud.

Not only was violence against all that Templeton, who had also met Dr. King, believed in, but it would have violated the trust of Gregory Church’s Trustee Board, which had voted to allow the Black students to use the church for their rallies and classes.

If any church member knew of any weapons there, Chavis and the students would have been kicked out immediately.

The jury in the Wilmington Ten trial, however, never heard any of this.

“[Rev. Templeton] was very clear on this point,” Fr. Mayer recalls. “He had no doubt…these people had no guns. That completely destroys the state’s case against [the Wilmington Ten].”

Mayer says that Templeton’s testimony to him – the “centerpiece” of his 30-page handwritten report – convinced officials at Amnesty International to publish his findings in 1977, designating the Wilmington Ten as “political prisoners.”

The report, which sparked a worldwide campaign, embarrassed not only North Carolina, but also then-President Jimmy Carter.

It wasn’t long before 55 members of Congress urged the U.S. Justice Dept. to investigate. The CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes” did an hour-long broadcast revealing that the three state’s witnesses had committed perjury.

The worldwide pressure for pardons forced then N.C. Gov. James B. Hunt to announce on statewide television that he would not pardon the Wilmington Ten, but at least commute their sentences.

And in December 1980, after several appeals in North Carolina courts failed, the conservative U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned all of the Wilmington Ten convictions, citing gross prosecutorial misconduct.

North Carolina was directed that if it had any real evidence against the Ten, then commence with a third trial. If not, then dismiss all charges.

But nothing happened. The Fourth Circuit’s decision was never appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court; no third trial ever took place; and none of the charges were ever dismissed, even 32 years later.

Today, the man who started it all, Father Paul Mayer, says it’s time for North Carolina to finally deal with an injustice 40 years in the making. He, like many others across North Carolina and the nation, wants Gov. Beverly Perdue to do justice by granting pardons of innocence to the Wilmington Ten.

“I feel deeply about this,” says Mayer . “I give thanks to God that I was a humble instrument. Even though it was years ago, I still feel that it was a major racist miscarriage of justice, and these people were maligned, defamed, and I’m sure it hurt their lives in many ways.”

“We know that racism is alive and well in America,” Mayer adds, “and [granting pardons of innocence] would be a significant step in rectifying [injustice].”

Predatory Lending Practices Continue to Weaken Blacks and Hispanics

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By Charlene Crowell
NNPA Columnist

(NNPA) In the first report of its kind, the Center for Responsible Lending has examined consumer lending markets across-the-board and found that despite recent regulatory reforms – predatory lending continues to undermine American households trying to rebuild their finances after the recession.

The State of Lending in America and its Impact on U.S. Households (State of Lending, http://rspnsb.li/stateoflending) paints a picture of working families struggling to manage debt while coping with stagnant incomes and a substantial decrease in wealth. In fact, the housing crisis has produced the largest documented wealth gap ever between White households and families of color.

From 2000-2010, African-American family wealth dropped 53 percent, and Hispanic families lost 66 percent. By comparison, average White household wealth dropped only 16 percent. The foreclosure crisis and resulting economic downturn have turned back the clock on previous wealth gains, especially in communities of color.

The report states, “There is significant evidence that African-American and Latino borrowers and their neighborhoods were disproportionately targeted by subprime lenders. Borrowers of color were about 30 percent more likely to receive higher-rate subprime loans than similarly situated white borrowers. Borrowers in non-white neighborhoods were more likely to receive higher-cost loans with risky features such as prepayment penalties.”

CRL’s student loan findings echoed these same lending ills.

“Low-income students and students of color are even more likely to need to rely on student loans and to become saddled with large amounts of debt upon graduation,” the report stated. “In 2008, 16 percent of African-American graduating seniors owed $40,000 or more in student loans, compared with 10 percent of whites, eight percent of Hispanics and five percent of Asian-Americans.”

Additional findings showed that:

“Spillover” costs of foreclosures have wiped out nearly $2 trillion in family wealth;

Auto loan interest-rate markups cost consumers nearly $26 billion each year; and

Borrowers in lower credit tiers pay up to 68 percent higher monthly payments on private student loans than on safer federal loans.

The State of Lending is the first of a three-phased and in-depth view of U.S. households’ income, spending, debt, and wealth. It also outlines predatory practices in mortgage lending, credit cards, student loans, and auto loans that undercut the benefits of these products. Incorporating major CRL findings in recent years with pertinent research from sources such as the Federal Reserve Board, the Pew Research Center and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau together provide a broad database for findings.

Despite remaining lending challenges, the report shows that consumers are better off today because of stronger protections on mortgages and credit cards. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which incorporated a number of previous state initiatives to curb abusive mortgage practices, has ended many of the worst practices of the subprime era. And, contrary to industry predictions, the cost of borrowing on credit cards has not increased since the CARD Act passed; transparency has greatly increased and the use of hidden fees has gone down.

The next two State of Lending reports will be released in early 2013. The next release will cover payday loans and other financial products that trap people in long-term debt while portraying themselves as short-term solutions.

The third and final release in the series will examine abusive practices in debt collection and servicing, and conclude with a chapter documenting how lending abuses often target the same households and have a cumulative—and particularly disastrous—impact on low-income households and communities of color.

Former Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chair Sheila Bair authored State of Lending’s foreword, noting that predatory lending harms the entire U.S. economy. She warns, “If abusive lending practices are not reformed, we again will all pay dearly.”

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

FDIC Bank Closures: Is Your Money Safe?

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By Charles Sims Jr.
Special to the NNPA from the New Tri-State Defender

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) recently closed nine banks in one day. The closings boosted the number of failed U.S. banks this year to 115. Given that, and the recent turmoil at CIT Group, you might be worried about the safety of your money in financial services and investment companies.

What advice do financial planners have for Americans who are worried about the money they have in banks and brokerage accounts? Here’s what FPA member Sam Hull, CFP®, CPCC, a partner with Whitewater Transitions, had to say:

Investment accounts at all major brokerage houses and broker/dealers are covered by Federal law through the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC). This insurance against failure or bankruptcy covers stocks, bonds, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and other assets (but not futures or commodity contracts) held up to $500,000 per account, including a $100,000 limit on cash. Money market funds are considered funds, not cash. Most major brokerage houses & broker/dealers also have large amounts of private insurance above and beyond SIPC amounts. Check with your firm to determine their coverage limits.

In addition, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has tough rules about keeping the broker/dealers funds separated from the customer’s investments. If the broker goes belly-up like Lehman Brothers, your money should remain intact. In the unlikely event of a brokerage failure, SPIC will transfer your securities to another firm. If for some reason that can’t be done, SIPC will try to rebuild your portfolio, even buying new shares for you. If that can’t be done for some reason, they will give you cash.

The bad news: all this takes time and thus gives you lots of time to worry.

SIPC does not cover Ponzi schemes or other investment fraud perpetrated by an adviser. If you have the bad luck (or bad sense) to be taken in by a Madoff-type scam, this is not covered by SIPC. Most major broker/dealers do have their own policies to cover fraudulent activities. For example, if you lose cash or securities from your account due to unauthorized activity, they will reimburse you for the cash or shares of securities you lost.

However, if a broker goes bust and your investments are missing from your account, the SPIC will replace them up to the half million dollar maximum. But they won’t compensate you for any losses in value that may have occurred while the securities were missing. It is your responsibility to file a claim with SPIC for missing assets within six months.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

1. Make sure your investment accounts are held in custody by a brokerage firm or broker/dealer – not by your investment adviser or financial planner.

2. Make sure that your brokerage house or broker/dealer is a member in good standing with the SPIC.

3. Check to make sure your trades and other transactions are made through that entity and not some unrelated subsidiary that is not covered by SIPC.

4. Make sure your account is registered by default as a cash account and not defaulted to a margin account. Margin accounts make you just another creditor of the brokerage house.

5. Read the fine print of your account registration form. Don’t authorize your broker to use your account assets for any purpose you don’t authorize. The default language allows them to lend your stock (and charge a hefty fee) to short sellers, hedge funds, corporate raiders and buyout funds without offsetting collateral in house.

6. Ask questions until you are satisfied with the answers and don’t be put off by fast talk or complicated jargon. It’s your money.

A Certified Financial Planner can help you better understand your savings and investment accounts. Visit www.fpanet.org/PlannerSearch.

(Charles Sims Jr. is president/CEO of The Sims Financial Group. Contact him at 901-682-2410 or visit www.SimsFinancialGroup.com.)

Mandela Hospitalized Again, World Prays

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Special to the NNPA from the Houston Forward Times

People around the world are praying for the health of former South Africa President Nelson Mandela as he remained hospitalized since last weekend for reasons that have not been publicly announced.

Widespread reports say the 94-year-old justice icon is doing well, but Associated Press described concerned Sunday morning worshipers at Soweto’s Regina Mundi Catholic Church as praying for the Nobel Laureate, a symbol of freedom and democracy around the world. The church “once served as a major rallying point for anti-apartheid activists,” the AP described.

The country of 50 million people, as well as people around the world, awaited word of his condition this week as an announcement from current President Jacob Zuma said only that he was admitted to a hospital in Pretoria for tests “consistent for his age” and that he is “comfortable.” Zuma reportedly visited President Mandela in the hospital Sunday, causing even greater concern since he did not visit during his last hospitalization for a minor surgery in February.

Additional information was being added early this week.

“There is no cause for alarm … He [Mandela] is in the hands of a good medical team,” said presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj on Monday, according to GIN. An update on Mandela’s health will be relayed once his doctors update the presidency, Maharaj added.

Mandela is receiving medical attention from time to time which is consistent with his age, Maharaj insisted, adding that the family wanted to avoid Mandela’s health being treated like “a movement of share prices on the stockmarket”, and wanted his family to be with him without having to answer questions. It is believed he is being treated at One Military hospital.

A Qunu traditional ruler, Nokwanele Balizulu, told foreign news agency Agence France-Presse she saw Mandela shortly before he was taken to hospital, GIN reports.

“I was called by the Mandela family saying Tata [grandfather] is not well. I rushed there and I saw he is not well,” she was quoted as saying.

Mandela reached world fame as he served 27 years in prison for his opposition to the racist apartheid rule that once divided the country between Whites, Coloreds and Blacks. Millions of American activists, celebrities and politicians joined activitists around the world in decades of protests for his freedom. Released on Feb. 11, 1990, Mandela became South Africa’s first Black president in 1994 and served for five years. According to AP, he has lived in a remote village in the Eastern Cape area since retiring from public life two years ago after South Africa hosted the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament.

The hospitalization comes as South Africa’s National Congress prepares for another presidential election. GIN reports that Zuma appears to have picked up the most votes from the country’s nine provinces, giving him the lead in the upcoming ANC vote for party head and to be its presidential candidate in 2014.

Votes will be tallied this month at the ANC’s national elective conference in Mangaung where factional discord is expected to boil over. Many believe the Zuma regime has buried Mandela’s principles of justice amidst of string of corruption scandals.

“Zuma’s government drew widespread criticism when police opened fire on striking workers at Lonmin Plc (LMI)’s Marikana platinum mine on Aug. 16, killing 34 people. That was followed by a wave of industrial action in mining, transportation and agriculture that has stunted economic growth,” GIN reports.

“When you have someone that’s willing to lead by example like he did, it makes things easier for people to follow,” a worshipper, Thabile Manana, told AP on Sunday. “Lately, the examples are not so nice. It’s hard. I’m scared for the country.”

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BVN National News Wire