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The firefighter on a boat

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This canoeing champion had challenges paddling through life, but his talent caught the eye of those who helped change his circumstances.


For many rural communities, the river serves as a source of life-giving waters with multiple streams of functions. It is what locals turn to for the sustenance of their livestock, to keep clean, and for many children, a source of entertainment – for them to live with reckless abandon. It is through self-expression in this unrestrained environment that a young village boy acquired an affinity for canoeing – a sport that rarely makes its way to lesser-affluent communities.

Nzolo Nkosi, a 32-year-old born in rural Mkhambathini outside Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), South Africa, was introduced to the sport at the age of 12.

“I did canoeing from school when someone introduced it as a sport in the valley back home. The valley is called the Valley Of a 1,000 Hills.”

The valley hosts one of the country’s biggest canoeing events, the Dusi Canoe Marathon,  which is where it all started for him.

Nkosi never looked back and seized every opportunity to be inside a canoe, rowing back and forth the valleys of the capital of KZN, Pietermaritzburg. His passion, love and dedication earned him a spot in the South African junior national canoeing team at the age of 17, contending in his first international competition in Senegal. There, he managed to get himself two gold medals and two silver medals in 2005, just before he moved to Johannesburg. 

“I came to Johannesburg in 2006 when I was 18 to look for greener pastures. I was initially here to visit my friend, who also canoed. I lived with him and that’s when I decided that I am not going back to KwaZulu-Natal. This was because I couldn’t go to university, my parents were not working. It was clear to me that there was no way that I was going to study,” Nkosi says.

When he moved to Johannesburg, he battled at the beginning. It was never going to be easy in the City of Gold.

As he was already involved in the sport, he would frequently visit the Dabulamanzi Canoe Club at Emmarentia Dam, in the north of the city. He would borrow a boat to paddle around and people began to notice him and would ask about him. That’s how he bagged his first job as a gardener. One of the canoeists at the club, Jacques Theron, eventually gave Nkosi the job after enquiring about him. Theron told Nkosi he had to start somewhere to get somewhere and gave him a place to stay. However, he had to pay rent.

He left the friend’s house to start a life of his own in Johannesburg.

He worked hard to stay afloat.

“I was using the money that I earned to pay rent and put food on my table, that’s when I was pushing harder in my canoeing, making sure I win some cash at events. It was about R200 ($14) an event. Winning every weekend could tie me over for the month so I had to make sure I train and work hard to win and eat,” he says.

Nkosi was approached by another canoeist, Brad Fischer, this time, offering him a job as a driver. Thinking it would be easy, he started saving more from his canoe winnings for a driver’s licence. He received his license and the job was his.

“I chose Nkosi because of his enthusiasm, discipline, his drive and his concern for the younger guys and his team mates. He stood out,” says Fischer.

Nkosi recalls his first day on the job.

“The following morning, I went dressed in my nice clean clothes, they were not fancy. My job was to deliver documents to clients. I was given a few envelopes and a map book. It was the first time seeing a map book. I had six documents that day, I only delivered one and it took me the whole day because I couldn’t use that book. I had to study the book that night and later things got easier and I earned R20 ($1) an hour.”

That was more money and he still kept the garden job. He also trained at the Soweto Canoe and Recreation Club. At this point, he had three incomes, which wasn’t much combined but it was better than what he had initially.

With his savings, he went on to train as a basic ambulance assistant in 2007 after seeing that there were a lot of injuries in the sport.

In 2008, another canoeist approached him and offered him a job at a retail store; he quit within 10 months because his love for aquatic activities was diminishing.

Fortunately, he got an offer from Fischer to manage the canoe club in Soweto. The previous manager had left the watercourses for another job.

Due to the persistence of his employer encouraging him to forge his own path, Nkosi saw a fire-truck and pursued being a firefighter.

By this time, Nkosi had qualified to move to the senior category in his professional canoeing career.

“It was tougher there, but because of my hard work, I made the Gauteng team and eventually, the senior national team. We went to the African Championships in Ivory Coast in 2009, there I got two silver medals. By that time, I was already a coach of the Soweto team,” he says. 

The same year, he registered for basic training which was for four months; he had more money saved because of the multiple incomes. He then volunteered at the Rosebank firestation. Shortly, Nkosi was a full-time firefighter for the City Of Johannesburg.

“When I started working at the station as a full-time firefighter, I saw the club was going down and losing members. I thought to myself, ‘there’s something missing’. When I came to Johannesburg, I got help from a canoeist, my career started with these guys, the sport worked as a stepping stone for me to be a full-time firefighter,” he says.

“So on my off days, I would go and put my energy at the club and make a change in other people’s lives. Four days at work and four days with the club.

“I teach kids how to swim, how to canoe, and take them to racing, as well as, assist with school work, this is how I relax when I’m off work. I am giving back because this is the sport that changed my life and I want it to be a part of changing other people’s lives.”

Tinyiko Nahwayi is a mother of three children who are part of the club in Soweto. She is proud of her children, seeing their grades improving at school and participating in the sport.

“The kids are in the house, if not, they are at gym or at school. We also get food parcels for each child. I’d like to thank Nkosi.These kids are like this because of him. He has time for them, he can communicate with them and treats them the same. He always inspires the kids,” says Nahwayi.

Back when Nkosi started canoeing, he says KZN was the only team that had most black players compared to the rest of the teams in South Africa. Today, there is an increased number of black people who participate at a national level.

Nkosi says, internationally, the sport does not receive much support.

For a majority of black people, it is not easy self-funding the sport. The organization Canoeing South Africa covers a certain percentage but the individual has to cover the rest. That is why you find black people targeting mostly only the events taking place in South Africa, he says.

The Dusi Canoe Marathon, which runs for about 120kms from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, has three stages and has a grand prize of R40,000 ($2,913). That is one of the biggest prize monies won in South Africa. If one wants to prepare for and win the marathon, they will be spending more than the R40,000 to prepare. The funding goes towards buying the best equipment by those who can afford it.

A canoe costs about R16,000 to R30,000 ($1,165 to $2,185).

Besides canoeing, Nkosi is a runner because in the line of duty, his body needs to be fit, hence exercise is important. He also cycles for charity, raising funds for the underprivileged.  

The firefighting canoeist still competes and is studying fire technology.

“My goal is not to go and win a gold medal; with the silver medals I’m happy. The win that I want is the win that is won by someone I taught to swim and canoe; to see a young kid from an underprivileged background having a smile on his/her face, happily jumping and claiming that win, getting gold and finishing a race. Seeing them smile makes me happy, that’s good enough for me, it’s not about the money,” Nkosi says.

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Current Affairs

Roadmap For African Startups

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Francois Bonnici, Head of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, explains how African impact entrepreneurs will continue to rise.


Does impact investment favor expats over African entrepreneurs? If so, how can it be fixed?

There is a growing recognition all over the world that investment is not a fully objective process, and is biased by the homogeneity of investors, networks and distant locations.

A Village Capital Report cited that 90% of investment in digital financial services and financial inclusion in East Africa in 2015-2016 went to a small group of expatriate-founded businesses, with 80% of disclosed funds emanating from foreign investors.

READ MORE | It’s Time For Africa’s Gazelles To Shine

In a similar trend recognized in the US over the last decade, reports that only 3% of startup capital went to minority and women entrepreneurs has triggered the rise of new funds focused on gender and minority-lensed investing.

There has been an explosion of African startups all over the continent, and investors are missing out by looking for the same business models that work in Silicon Valley being run by people who can speak and act like them.

In South Africa, empowerment funds and alternative debt fund structures are dedicated to investing in African businesses, but local capital in other African countries may not also be labelled or considered impact investing, but they do still invest in job creation and provision of vital services.

There is still, however, a several billion-dollar financing gap of risk capital in particular, which local capital needs to play a significant part in filling. And of course, African impact entrepreneurs will continue to rise and engage investors convincingly of the growing and unique opportunities on the continent.

READ MORE | The World’s Most Generous Billionaires Outside Of The US

What are the most exciting areas for impact investing and social entrepreneurship today?

After several decades of emergence, the most exciting areas are the explosion of new products, vehicles and structures along with the mainstreaming of impact investment into traditional entities like banks, asset managers and pension funds who are using the impact lens and, more importantly, starting to measure the impact.

At the same time, we’re seeing an emergence of partnership models, policies and an ecosystem of support for the work of social entrepreneurs, who’ve been operating with insufficient capital and blockages in regulation for decades.

Francois Bonnici, Head of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. Picture: Supplied

The 2019 OECD report on Social Impact Investment  mapped the presence of 590 social impact investment policies in 45 countries over the last decade, but also raises the concern of the risk of ‘impact washing’ without clear definitions, data and impact measurement practices. 

In Africa, we are also seeing National Advisory Boards for Impact Investing emerge in South Africa and social economy policies white papers being developed; all good news for social entrepreneurs.

READ MORE | Naomi Campbell: Africa Is One Of The Leading Continents In The World

What role does technology play in enabling impact investing and social entrepreneurship?

The role of technologies from the mobile phone to cloud services, blockchain, and artificial intelligence is vast in their application to enhancing social impact, improving the efficiency, transparency and trust as we leapfrog old infrastructures and create digital systems that people in underserved communities can now access and control.

From Sproxil (addressing pirated medicines and goods), to Zipline (drones delivering life-saving donor blood to remote areas of Rwanda) to Silulo Ulutho Technologies (digitally empowering women and youth), exciting new ways of addressing inclusion, education and health are possible, and applications are being used in many other areas such as land rights, financial literacy etc.

While we have seen a great mobile penetration, much of Africa still suffers from high data costs, and insufficient investment in education and capacity to lead in areas of the fourth industrial revolution, with the risk that these technologies could negatively impact communities and further drive inequality.

READ MORE | Why Now Is The Time To Invest In African E-commerce

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Businesses At The Heart Of A Greener Future

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With every day that passes by it becomes more apparent that the Earth is deteriorating and time is running out to save it. Scientists have estimated that we have less than a decade to save the planet before it is irreversibly damaged, mainly due to climate change.

Businesses claim the largest percentage of global emissions (at approximately 70% since 1988, according to The Guardian) which is an alarming statistic, especially in a time when the planet’s well-being is being compromised.

Many large business corporations are hastily coming on board with operating sustainably by transforming their practices and placing business ethics at the forefront of their priorities.

READ MORE | The Most Sustainable Companies In 2019

Last week, a round table discussion was held at the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel, Sandton hosted by Environmental Resources Management (ERM) – the world’s largest sustainability consulting firm. Their aim was to discuss how imperative it is for African businesses to get on board with sustainability.

“We have been talking about how to be sustainable for a long time but now it is time for us to do sustainability,” says Thapelo Letete, Technical Director of ERM.

An engaging and thought-provoking panel discussion ensued with representatives from ERM and mining companies, Anglo American and Gold Fields. They emphasized the importance of sustainability being recognized by investors, especially in mining and oil companies that rely solely on Earth’s natural resources.

Civil society has a colossal role to play in ensuring the sustainability of businesses. Due to the law of supply and demand in production, consumers are being urged to be mindful of their buying habits and to make sustainable decisions. These are as simple as minimizing the utilization of plastic straws by replacing them with metal or paper straws and reusable shopping bags and by recycling selected items.

READ MORE | Challenging The Gender Divide

“Research suggests that socially and environmentally responsible practices have the potential to garner more positive consumer perceptions of (businesses), as well as increases in profitability,” according to an entry in Sage Journals published in May.

The advancement of science, artificial intelligence and the rapid growth of the technological industry make it an undeniable fact that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway. Many businesses across the globe seem to be well prepared for this change. However, businesses in Africa seem to be vulnerable. 

“It is difficult to say that all businesses in Africa are prepared for it. It is not a country specific thing but it does vary across corporations. There will be businesses that are well prepared and businesses that are not so well prepared,” says Keryn James, CEO of ERM.

A large part of sustainability also relies on empowerment and equality. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of female-owned businesses who contribute a large amount of money towards their respective countries’ GDPs. However, most of these businesses struggle with the issue of scaling.

“Women sometimes underestimate their ability and they don’t necessarily  have the confidence that they should have about the value that their businesses present. Women often take less risks than men,” says James.

“The issue of scaling is one that we see globally. One of the issues are access to funding to support in the investment and growth of their businesses.”

READ MORE | Mastercard: Diligent About Digital In Africa

Going forward, the availability of mentorship programmes and skills development opportunities for women, especially black women in business should be encouraged.

According to a study done by the UN Women’s organization, an average of 3 out of 7 women score higher in performance when they are placed in senior managerial positions. Additionally, if more women work, the more countries can exponentially maximise their economic growth.

Women will be empowered when given the correct skills and opportunities to be able to run their own businesses independently which would ultimately lead to the scaling of female-owned businesses in Africa and sustainable development.

The Nedbank Capital Sustainable Business Awards aim to recognize the efforts of businesses that operate sustainably and to encourage other corporations who intend to adopt more sustainable strategies into their practices. Initiatives such as these prove that business value also depends on how sustainable they are.

It is clear that the prioritization of sustainability and accountability in businesses is the only way forward in the midst of this global crisis. With a combination of will and the rigorous work that African businesses have put into sustainability initiatives and strategies, it is easier to be optimistic about our planet’s wellbeing.

-Buhle Ntusi

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Ex-Google Staffer Says After Split With Chief Legal Officer David Drummond: ‘Hell Does Not Begin To Capture My Life’

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Former Google employee Jennifer Blakely has written a scathing blog post with allegations about how her affair with chief legal officer David Drummond unfolded.


A former member of Google’s legal team who says she had a child with the company’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, has written a scathing blog post about the way that their relationship unfolded within the search engine giant, including that he issued “terrifying threats” to take custody of their child after initially refusing to pay child support.

In a Medium post, Jennifer Blakely says that she was inspired to detail her experience after an explosive New York Times story last fall put a spotlight on how the company shielded top executives from harassment claims and sparked massive employee protests.

“Looking back, I see how standards that I was willing to indulge early on became institutionalized behavior as Google’s world prominence grew and its executives grew more powerful,” Blakely writes.

READ MORE | Google, Facebook, Twitter Fail To Live Up To Fake News Pledge

“Women that I worked with at Google who have spoken to me since the New York Times article have told me how offended they were by the blatant womanizing and philandering that became common practice among some (but certainly not all) executives, starting at the very top.” 

While her relationship with the married Drummond was included in the Times story and first reported byThe Information in November 2017, this is the first time Blakely has written about the experience herself.

Drummond is one of several current and former Google executives who has reportedly had relationships with employees or extramarital affairs, including Eric Schmidt, Sergey Brin, and Andy Rubin.

READ MORE | Calling Out Sexual Harassment

Blakely alleges that after their relationship ended, Drummond had another relationship with a subordinate, which is against Google’s workplace policy. He is still employed by Google and made more than $47 million last year. 

Blakely says that she started working in Google’s legal department under Drummond in 2001 and that after he told her that he was estranged from his wife, they began a relationship in 2004. She says the two had a child together in 2007 and that Google’s human resources department then told her that one of them had to leave the department.

She moved to sales, an area where she had no experience, and subsequently struggled with her work. Blakely alleges that after she ultimately left the company at Drummond’s urging in 2008, but that while they were living together in Palo Alto, he broke off their relationship via text message.

“‘Hell’ does not begin to capture my life since that day,” she writes. “I’ve spent the last 11 years taking on one of the most powerful, ruthless lawyers in the world. From that fateful night forward, David did things exclusively on his terms.” 

She alleges that Drummond initially refused to see their son or pay child support, and then fought against her in a custody battle. While she says they ultimately reached a settlement and he began paying child support, she writes that “months or years” would go by when he wouldn’t see their son. In 2014, Drummond allegedly showed her an article about Eric Schmidt’s reported history of extramarital affairs during an argument, implying that the executive’s position granted him impunity.

READ MORE | Young women in Soweto, South Africa, say healthy living is hard. Here’s why

“His ‘personal life’ (which apparently didn’t include his son) was off limits and since I was no longer his ‘personal life’ it was time for me to shut up, fall in line and stop bothering him with the nuisances or demands of raising a child,” Blakely writes.

Blakely’s story is the latest in a string of public posts from former Google employees highlighting issues with the company’s culture and policies (or their lack of enforcement).

One of the women who helped organize last fall’s protests, Claire Stapelton, recently wrote about her experience with retaliation, another employee detailed the disappointing way the company’s human resources department dealt with her harassment reports, and former senior engineer Liz Fong-Jones posted about “grave concerns” with the company’s decision making in general.

The outspokenness of Google employees exemplifies — and has helped spur — a broader activism in the tech sector that has seen workers speaking out against their employer’s internal policies and business decisions.

Blakely’s post also taps into the larger #MeToo movement which has drawn attention to sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace across industries.

“Until truth is willing to speak to power and is heard, there’s not going to be the sea change necessary to bring equality to the workplace,” she writes.

Neither Google nor Drummond immediately responded to a request for comment. 

This story is developing.

-Jillian D’Onfro; Forbes

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