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‘With Covid-19, See How Resilient Nature Is’

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Adjany da Silva Freitas Costa; image supplied

Adjany da Silva Freitas Costa, the youngest minister in the Angolan cabinet, is an intrepid adventurer, biologist and conservationist committed to saving the world’s last wild places.

Adjany da Silva Freitas Costa is not your ordinary minister. At 30 years old, the Luanda local is currently the youngest minister to serve in the Angolan cabinet and an intrepid adventurer with an inspiring hands-on background.

In 2015, Costa was one of the braves who undertook a four-month journey from the highlands of Angola, meandering 2,400km by mokoro (a traditional canoe), camping wild along the Okavango River until they reached the town of Maun in Botswana. The trip illustrated how the Okavango Delta relies on Angolan rains, but also highlighted the costs of Angola’s lengthy war to its landscapes.

In April this year, Costa assumed the government position as Minister of Culture, Tourism and Environment. “It is not exactly unusual for a woman to join the Angolan government,” says Costa, “but it’s not exactly common either.” Currently, there are seven women ministers in the Angolan cabinet, creating a gender split of roughly 35% female.

“We bring a lot of benefit for the simple fact that we can bring inclusion to the politics forged in society,” says Costa. “I think that every single one of us brings a different perspective to the whole context of politics. Currently, I am the youngest minister to serve in the Angolan cabinet. It makes me feel like there is hope for youth and hope for the future. I do think we bring an innovative way of thinking and innovative vision into the current system that is very beneficial to change and to the improvement of the system here in Angola.”

The cross-country expedition revealed new species (to date, ongoing field trips have resulted in the discovery of 26 species new to science, more than 75 species potentially new to science, and more than 130 species previously unknown in Angola). It also embedded in Costa a life-long commitment to saving the world’s last wild places. It short, it changed her life.

“It changed the whole perception that I had of everything, personally, professionally, academically,” Costa admits. “The trip helped me see the world and my participation in the world, in a very different way. In a very concrete way and I don’t think I would be sitting here answering these questions if I hadn’t participated. I have never, ever in my entire life “envisioned myself as a minister. I don’t think I’ve ever envisioned myself being part of politics, but there is a writer who once said, ‘You don’t choose politics. Politics chooses you’, and that’s exactly what happened. I see it as an opportunity to bring change from the outside. I am someone that has always applied the policy that’s created by decision-makers. I think it’s an opportunity to bring that applicability into the system and make it much more action-focused – and more than a piece of paper.”

In 2017, Costa was named an emerging explorer at National Geographic, and in 2019, she became the Young Champion of the Earth for Africa in the United Nations Environment Program. Before taking a seat in the government, Costa worked as an ethno-conservationist to pioneer projects that developed working conservation models for communities living alongside crucial wildlife hubs.

“Being a biologist is also a great advantage for this position. I believe that policies should be made to be applied and not archived,” Costa says. Another benefit for her position is that she knows all about being on the ground. “I started my journey in conservation, looking specifically at biodiversity and working directly with the specimens. I started with turtles, and all we did was patrol the beaches and look after the nests – and that was it. There was no engagement. For a long time, I always thought there was a separation between humans and wildlife – and that the separation was needed for us to protect wildlife. Working for the past five years in the East of Angola, I realized that it is the complete opposite. The gap that we’ve created with nature is what causes us to destroy nature in the first place.”

Costa has a masters degree in Biology and a PhD in International Wildlife Conservation Practices from Oxford University. In the wake of Covid-19, we are just beginning to see the harsh effects of tourism loss to wilderness protection.

“Rural communities are the true protectors of the environment around them,” Costa says. “Ethno-conservation is the art, and it is our privilege of being able to work with communities for the sake of nature. Not just for the conservation of biodiversity, but also the improvement of their own lives.”

The drastic decline in visitor numbers in the wilds of Kenya, Zimbabwe and across the African continent highlights the importance of such a conservation model more than ever as decades of conservation successes hunker in jeopardy due to tourism collapse. 

“Our main target for tourism in Angola is internal tourism. We have 29 million people that don’t know most of the country,” says Costa. “We have a lot of potential though; whether it’s landscape, culture, adventure or eco-tourism, it’s possible in Angola. We are very much focused on creating the services and infrastructure for internal tourism before we look outside of our borders.

“In terms of tourism, Angola’s biggest asset is definitely diversity,” Costa enthuses. “Not just naturally and not just culturally. The conditions that you find from one place to the other are so unique that you can go, within Angola, to 10 different places that feel like completely different countries. We literally go from a tropical forest, all the way to a desert in one row. Angola has partnered with different collaborators to assure the protection of these spaces. Whatever happens in Iona National Park is completely different from what happens in the Luengue-Luiana National Park (which feeds the Okavango Basin), and that’s completely different from what happens in the Quiçama National Park.”

She also believes that protecting such wild spaces enables wildlife to flourish.

“Nature has this incredible thing that is, to me, one of the most fantastic traits. It is resilient. Even now, with this Covid-19 situation, we have seen how resilient nature is. Wilderness itself can resuscitate, and wilderness can find a future – if we just know how to protect it.”

When asked about inspiration and the future, Costa cites other intrepid conservationists, Jane Goodall and Sylvia Earle as strong influences.

“If I have to send a message to young women around the world, what would it be? Do it. That’s something that I always say. Do it. Whatever it is that we set our minds to do. We can most definitely, definitely do it. We can achieve impossible things. I’m a minister today. That says a lot!”

 – By Melanie van Zyl

Heroes & Survivors

The Test, Trial And Triumph

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Motlabana Monnakgotla on an assignment for FORBES AFRICA

After 14 days in isolation as a Covid-19 patient, this FORBES AFRICA photojournalist recovered to see the world with new eyes and realize he had the gift of life.

It was around 3PM on June 24 when a nurse called to tell me that I could now officially end my 14-day self-isolation period at home. I had tested Covid-19 positive three weeks before and now was in total disbelief that I had survived this particular physical trial and mental ordeal.

Before testing positive, I was like any other ordinary South African, pursuing my work from home, and as a FORBES AFRICA photojournalist, recording the impact of the coronavirus.

I had thought my face-mask and hand-sanitizer were my armour against the virus, but I guess one can never be too careful.

The first 72 hours of knowing that I had confirmed positive for Covid-19 came with its own set of emotions and experiences. Some friends, and even family, criticized and judged me for carrying the virus, but I also came to know about the ones who cared.

A group of doctors visited me at home to check if I needed hospitalization. They were young and not cloaked head-to-toe in PPE as I had thought. One of them was wearing a camouflage top and sported a few tattoos on his left arm. After his consultation with me, he spoke excitedly about the baby he and his wife were expecting, due later in the year.

There was hope in the world.

I was confident my health was getting better until a nurse called me a few days later. She was the pin that burst my bubble, as she stated things I didn’t want to hear at the time. They were facts, she clinically warned, as she sees people dying daily of the virus.

My mind raced to the previous two nights, when I experienced mild short breaths and thought how the attack could have been worse. I could have died at night all by myself, just trying to breathe. I shed tears as she spoke.

Soon after that, an old friend of mine, who had been shot (and injured) in the spine during an armed robbery attack, called. His timing was perfect. He encouraged me to live on and smile, and told me that the nurse was only doing her job, in advising me to keep to a healthy diet during this time. He brought a smile to my face.

A week later, it was my mother’s birthday. Every year, I visit her with a gift and a cake. This time, all I could do was video-call her; she was both happy and sad not to be able to see me. Two days later, it was my own birthday. I felt low and lonely, but was glad to be alive as my two weeks in self-quarantine was going to be over soon.

“I asked if I would be added on as a statistic to the official recovery numbers, and she laughed.”

I was reluctant to leave the house, but on June 24, the call by a lady who identified herself as “Nurse Nomsa from the Department of Health” liberated me. She was following up on my health status for the previous two weeks and I had ticked all the right boxes. I asked if I would be added on as a statistic to the official recovery numbers, and she laughed. She told me I had recovered, but should continue maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Today, I can stand outside my home in Soweto and watch the neighbors’ kids play, shout and scream, asking from their yards, “Malume (uncle), are you okay?”

With a gentle laugh and nod, I acknowledge my story of survival to them.

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Sustainable Development In Africa Can Be Amplified By The Media

The COVID-19 pandemic has struck the world like a bolt of lightning exposing the contours of deep inequalities. Media reports have helped reveal the interwoven threads of inequality and health, with poorer people suffering a strikingly disproportionate share of the fallout from the virus, either through infection or loss of livelihoods.

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In 2018, the United Nations Secretary-General Mr António Guterres, launched an SDG Media Compact to leverage their resources to advance the Sustainable Development Goals. By disseminating facts, human stories and solutions, the Compact is a powerful driver for advocacy, action and accountability on the Sustainable Development Goals. Photo- UN

When 17-year-old high school student Darnella Fraizer filmed the last minutes of George Floyd’s life under the knee of police officer Derek Chauvin, she could not have imagined that her footage would reignite the explosive global question of racial inequality and the subsequent clamour for reforms in policing.

This act of filming validates the force of the media globally, we need a similar drive for urgent action in Africa. We need the continent’s media to help ensure the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are achieved and the life of every African afforded the opportunity they deserve.

“Around the world, success in achieving the SDGs will ease global anxieties, provide a better life for women and men and build a firm foundation for stability and peace in all societies, everywhere,” said the UN Deputy Secretary General, Amina Mohammed

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, a wave of demonstrations from Lebanon to Chile, from Iran to Liberia, was sweeping across countries. This was a clear sign that, for all our progress, something in our globalized society is broken.

The COVID-19 pandemic has struck the world like a bolt of lightning exposing the contours of deep inequalities. Media reports have helped reveal the interwoven threads of inequality and health, with poorer people suffering a strikingly disproportionate share of the fallout from the virus, either through infection or loss of livelihoods.

The global sweep of protests due to years of disenfranchisement and racism has made it clear that the world must change to offer equal treatment to all people.  

Media can do the same for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Achieving the SDGs, and so improving the lives of millions of Africans, depends heavily on increasing public awareness, and on the focused action and funding that such awareness ignites.

One major shortcoming of development progress is the lack of widespread knowledge about the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda. We must look to the media to push the SDG discourse; what is reported and how it is reported helps shape policy and has implications for the millions of people whose lives are affected. Knowledge is power and if citizens are aware of the issues, they are empowered to help determine the national response.

Traditionally, development experts have failed to explain the relatively new concept of sustainable development to influencers such as educators, politicians, and the media. Doing so is key, so that easily understood narratives are developed to raise public support.

We are already a third of the way towards the 2030 Agenda deadline which 193 UN member states committed to. But at the current pace of change – notwithstanding the global pandemic – Africa is likely to miss out on the time-bound targets in key sectors – including health, education, employment, energy, infrastructure, and the environment. 

Improved public awareness of the SDGs themselves, and of the actions needed and the bodies responsible for such actions is essential. By stepping up to address and explain the global quest for social justice and equality which the SDGs represent, the media can help galvanise civil society, business, international bodies, regional organizations, and individuals.

Pressure from an informed public, pushes policymakers into action, offering hope to millions of poor people.

Development is never far from the media agenda in Africa, so the opportunity to build understanding of sustainability is there. Sustainable development experts must explain why the SDGs are important, and why ‘business as usual’ in development is no longer viable in the face of increasing populations and climate change. Then, news outlets, who would then be able to develop compelling narratives to make the concept understandable by all can help raise the SDG profile, thereby raising public support.

We must “flip the orthodoxy”.

What is reported, how it is reported, and on what channels helps in shaping policy and has implications for the millions of people whose lives are affected.

To this end, the media must be brought into the conversation and be made to understand the role they can play towards the greater good.

The SDGs pledge that “no one will be left behind” and to “endeavour to reach the furthest behind first.” In practice, this means taking explicit action to end extreme poverty, curb inequalities, confront discrimination and fast-track progress for the furthest behind.

The media can shine a spotlight on those left behind, for example by using COVID-19 to examine the wider issue of universal health coverage, the subject of SDG 3.

It also plays a critical role in holding governments to account for their Agenda 2030 commitments. Though these commitments demand that countries have clear reporting and accountability mechanisms, most nations still have no reliable data on their progress towards specific goals. This matters because countries can only unlock financing for the SDGs by disaggregating data to understand where resources are required. In Africa, where national commitments are rarely backed by adequate investment, this is particularly important.

Rapid mobile penetration in Africa offers unparalleled opportunities for content sharing on digital platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Though lack of affordable internet connections and poor connectivity remain a challenge, mobile technology is a powerful enabler across many sectors.

One in every six people on Earth lives in Africa; its problems are the world’s problems and solving them is the world’s responsibility. If Africa fails to achieve Agenda 2030, the implications will be felt across the planet through conflict, migration, population growth and climate catastrophe.

The media in Africa is a stakeholder in the achievements of the SDGs. Let us support the media and enlist their help in the quest for economic, environmental, and social justice across the world.

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya. He has served in various parts of the world with UNFPA, UNICEF, UNDP, UNOPS, UN Peacekeeping and the Red Cross Movement. A decorated Special Forces veteran, he is an alumnus of Princeton University. Follow him on twitter-@sidchat1

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.​​​​​

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From The Singing To The Shooting: ‘Will Never Forget For As Long As I live’

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Oupa Moloto poses in one of the classrooms at Morris Isaacson High School where the protests started; image by Motlabana Monnakgotla

Forty-four years ago on this day, bullets tore through a peaceful school protest in South Africa ending in bloody riots and an uprising that got the world’s attention. Two of the students from the time shudder as they reflect on that cold, dark morning in June.

Forty-four years ago on this day, ‘Soweto Uprising’, South Africa’s famed student protest, led to bullets, fire and tears and an iconic photograph the world came to associate with the country’s brutal apartheid regime.

On June 16, 1976, a day etched in blood in South African history, 13-year-old school student, Hector Pieterson, was shot dead in the police firing that ensued, a moment captured for posterity by photographer Sam Nzima.

Even today, there are those who distinctly remember the coldness of that dark day, when all that the students protested was being taught in Afrikaans, a language they felt was oppressive.

Oupa Moloto, now 63, who was then a student at the Morris Isaacson High School in Soweto where it all started and who was thrown into prison after that horrific day, recalls it vividly. He thought it was going to be a peaceful protest, but it turned out to be a day filled with bullets, police dogs, burning tyres and angry students.  

Moloto had first spoken to FORBES AFRICA in 2016 when he had shared all the details. The memories of that day will never fade away.

“Finding ourselves singing in the streets as young people, challenging the government of the day, it was just excitement. The sadness that is going to remain with us and going to be indelible in our lives is when the police started shooting at young people, that is the one incident that one will never forget for as long as I live,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

The protests started in Soweto and quickly moved to other townships in South Africa such as Alexandra and Tembisa. Towards the end of the week, the whole country was standing up against the government and everybody got involved; even adults and children in Bulwer, a small town in the KwaZulu-Natal region where Duduzile Dlamini-Ndubane was a student at Pholela High School.

Duduzile Dlamini-Ndubane in KwaZulu-Natal

She says they were told not to go to class by a group of male students on that Wednesday morning, and she was not too sure how they had received the information on the nationwide protest against teaching in the Afrikaans language.

“We made our way to the school grounds, we started singing, some students didn’t even know what was happening but nonetheless stayed with the group. We were then chased out of the school grounds and told to go back home. It was a noisy protest but no police came and there were no injuries,” remembers Dlamini-Ndubane.

Today, she is a professional nurse based in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa and Youth Day to her is a constant reminder that unity is key.

“When we unite behind a great cause, we change not only the current situation, but we make history. Youth need to unite and fight the right causes to change the world for the greater good,” she says.

Back in Soweto, Moloto says the struggle of today is an economic one for young people.

“Students are looking for economic freedom, hence #FeesMustFall; they want to get into the institute of learning without being in debt because they believe education can help them to be part of the economy of the country,” he says.

“When Hector died in 1976, he belonged to no party, he was just a student who died for all political affiliations of the time.”

However, going back to the Soweto Uprising, Moloto disagrees on how the commemoration of it has changed from then to now.

“In 1977, when we were commemorating, it was more of a unity, all political parties would gather at Regina Mundi to celebrate, today, the fight is no longer in a unified fashion. The municipalities and organizations have their own way of commemorating like AZAPO visits the Tsietsi Mashinini grave and the City of Johannesburg visits the Hector Pieterson Museum. That lack of unity is what concerns me. As long as we are not united when we commemorate, this day does not have an impact,” he says.

“When Hector died in 1976, he belonged to no party, he was just a student who died for all political affiliations of the time; we need to unify.”

After that eventful day, the liberation movements benefited because thousands of students joined political parties inside and outside of the country. June 16 was a catalyst in South Africa’s struggle for democracy, and scripted by the students in the nation’s history books.

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