Another major issue in Davos was Artificial Intelligence. This promises not only the development of new technology to take the backbreak and tedium out of life, but also to replace workers with robots. Exciting times for many, yet maybe worrying times for us all if one of the many briefings was anything to go by – one man’s bank account can be another radical’s cash cow. Experts painted a bleak picture of threats and radicalism lurking on the dark web.
“I wouldn’t put my credit card into a machine today. This is happening right now,” exclaimed retired US Marine Corps’ four-star general, John Allen, a former commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. I had asked him about how far away we were from cyber-terrorism cleaning out bank accounts.
“A cyber terrorist can open a bank account on a Monday, start cleaning people’s accounts out on a Tuesday and start supplying money to their cause on a Wednesday. I saw a case of a bank in Bangladesh that was cleaned out of $80 million in one day. We have to develop strong systems to defend our financial systems.”
Cyber- terrorists are becoming ever more clever and ubiquitous, warns Karin von Hippel, a former senior advisor to the US Department of State, who worked on security for the United Nations and European Union in Somalia and Kosovo. The Islamic Isis movement, in Syria, attracted 40,000 volunteers from 120 countries and many used internet to further their cause, she says.
“They are all out there in the cloud and the dark web doing their work. They move so fast that it is very hard to keep up with,” says Von Hippel.
“If we spent half as much money on easing the causes of this terrorism, as we do fighting it, we would not drive so many youths into the arms of the radicals,” says Allen.
Don’t panic, too much, cautions Von Hippel.
“Despite all of this, you’ve still got a bigger chance of dying in the bathtub than you do in a terrorist attack,” she quips to ease the tension at the end of a worrying, yet eye-opening, session.
If you listened to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at Davos, on a cold Wednesday night, you would have bathed with abandon and slept soundly in the snow afterwards.
“We are casting our nets here and finding big fish,” says Ramaphosa, the master of the metaphor, at the press briefing earlier in the day.
In Davos, Ramaphosa would have faced awkward questions from investors over why his government is propping up loss-making state enterprises, taking time to cut back government expenditure and the civil service, plus the thorny issue of expropriation of land without compensation.
That night, at the customary presidential dinner, in Davos, Ramaphosa, with microphone in hand, was as optimistic as a leader should be in an election year.
“When we see people here, they ask us how we manage to get business, government and unions working together for the economy of our country,” says Ramaphosa.
“They say tell us what magic you have. What I tell them is that there is a renewal and determination to make South Africa work. ”
The most chilling view of the future was yet to come. It came from the lips of grey-haired global investor George Soros, the man who broke the Bank of England, who invited us to the plush Seehof Hotel, one icy Thursday night, for an icier speech.
The 88-year-old hedge fund tycoon, worth $8.3 billion according to FORBES, reportedly made $1 billion in one day, in Britain’s sterling crisis of 1992, by shorting the British pound.
“I want to use my time tonight to warn the world about an unprecedented danger that’s threatening the very survival of open societies,” were the dramatic opening words.
Soros delivered a potted history of his early life in the shadow of oppression. When he was 13, in 1944, the Nazis invaded Hungary and deported Jews to concentration camps. His father, a lawyer, understood the system and arranged false papers and hiding places for the family.
When the Soviets moved into post-war Bucharest, Soros took refuge in England where he put himself through the London School of Economics by working as a waiter and railway porter. He became a leading hedge fund manager by analysing the weaknesses of prevailing theories guiding investors.
“Running a hedge fund was very stressful. When I had made more money than I needed for myself or my family, I underwent a kind of midlife crisis. Why should I kill myself to make more money?” he says.
Then, Soros began his philanthropic work, in 1979, by supporting scholarships for black students at Cape Town University. To this day, his Open Society Foundations aims to protect the human rights and freedom he fears are under attack.
“An alliance is emerging between authoritarian states and the large data-rich IT monopolies that bring together nascent systems of corporate surveillance with an already developing system of state-sponsored surveillance. This may well result in a web of totalitarian control the likes of which not even George Orwell could have imagined. Tonight, I want to call attention to the mortal danger facing open societies from the instruments of control that machine-learning and artificial intelligence can put in the hands of repressive regimes,” says Soros.
“China isn’t the only authoritarian regime in the world, but it’s undoubtedly the wealthiest, strongest and most developed in machine learning and Artificial Intelligence. This makes Xi Jinping the most dangerous opponent of those who believe in the concept of open society. But Xi isn’t alone. Authoritarian regimes are proliferating all over the world and if they succeed, they will become totalitarian.”
Soros also criticized US foreign policy on China. “My present view is that instead of waging a trade war with practically the whole world, the US should focus on China. Instead of letting ZTE and Huawei off lightly, it needs to crack down on them.
If these companies came to dominate the 5G market, they would present an unacceptable security risk for the rest of the world. Regrettably, President Trump seems to be following a different course: make concessions to China and declare victory while renewing his attacks on US allies. This is liable to undermine the US policy objective of curbing China’s abuses and excesses.”
The final chilling words for anyone who loves freedom: “My key point is that the combination of repressive regimes with IT monopolies endows those regimes with a built-in advantage over open societies. The instruments of control are useful tools in the hands of authoritarian regimes, but they pose a mortal threat to open societies.”
Journalists at least closed a heavy night with a lighter moment. They asked Soros whose side Facebook and Google were on.
“I think Facebook and the others are on the side of their own profits,” says Soros to a gale of laughter.
All the time we were listening to these predictions of AI surveillance doom at Davos, in a warm lounge at the Seehof Hotel, we were surrounded by armed police, airport security, surveillance cameras and cell phones that tell the world where you are, who you are and what you are doing, or saying, maybe doomsday is already here.
Cyclone Idai Aftermath: No Maize, No Money, No Future
The deadliest African cyclone, to date, tore through Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique in March, leaving a trail of death and destruction. The worst is yet to come for survivors.
The deadliest cyclone to ever hit Africa, Idai, overnight, ripped through Mozambique and then tore into Zimbabwe and Malawi, leaving a long trail of destruction in its wake.
Trees were uprooted, so were people, in the millions.
Roads were washed away, houses destroyed and bridges torn from their edifices. Worst of all, the raging muddy waters killed at least 847 people, affected about two million and destroyed several hundreds of thousands of crops. The devastation caused by the cyclone is almost unimaginable as, in these three countries, bodies could be seen floating in water where there used to be villages.
“This was unimaginable. I am in the military but I have never seen such. People are desperate for help and have lost everything,” says Brigadier General Joe Muzvidziwa, who is helping survivors in Zimbabwe.
For those who did survive, the worst is yet to come. Many of them will mourn the deaths of their loved ones on empty pockets and growling stomachs.
The drive to Zimbabwe’s hardest hit district, Chimanimani, is long and painful. A mere six days after the furious waters swept away most parts of the villages in the area, the ground is dry but the pain and destruction still palpable.
We struggle to drive into the villages as trees and debris still block the roads and bridges have been decimated.
We continue our journey on foot and meet many with no place to call home. One of them is Tsitsi Mungana.
As we meet, she is trying to climb over a tree blocking the road, to make her way to aid agencies for her first decent meal since Cyclone Idai. She is walking barefoot and is wearing the only dress and doek (headwrap) she now owns. She mutters a few words to herself as tears stream down her cheeks.
“It’s been the worst time of my life. I don’t know how I am going to move on from this. I don’t have anything else left. My husband was swept away by the floods and was found about 10km away… We spent hours looking for my grandson. The rocks which fell off the mountain due to the heavy rains and wind covered his body and it took many people to find him. All our belongings and livestock are also gone,” says Mungana as she begins to weep uncontrollably.
She is one of hundreds of families who have lost loved ones, and thousands who are most likely going to starve this year.
According to Wandile Sihlobo, Chief Economist of the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa (Agbiz), Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi will collectively have to import over a million tons of maize this year to feed its people.
He says Zimbabwe’s maize imports could reach 900,000 tons in order to meet the annual needs of roughly two million tons a year.
“Meanwhile, Mozambique will most likely double the typical maize import volume of about 100,000 tons a year,” he says.
It’s going to be hard to find suppliers of maize because the key suppliers, South Africa and Zambia, are expecting low harvests this year.
“If we assume that South Africa’s expected production of 10.6 million tons materializes, then the country could have about 1.1 million tons of maize for export markets. A large share of this will, most likely, be destined to the BNLS countries (Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, and Eswatini), thus leaving a small volume for Zimbabwe and Mozambique,” Sihlobo says.
There is also very little to be expected from Zambia as the International Grains Council forecasts the country’s 2018/19 maize harvest at 2.4 million tons, down by 33% year-on-year. This will be enough only for domestic consumption.
Cyclone Idai also affected trade.
In its wake, according to the UN Economic Commission for Africa Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe, the cyclone cost Africa infrastructure worth more than a billion dollars.
Port of Beira, the main corridor for Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Eastern DRC, closed its doors.
“We closed the port two days before the cyclone hit to allow us time to prepare for it by reorganizing and removing all potential hazards. There was a lot of damage to the port. It took another two days to clean up and, at least, make the port accessible. The damage was several millions of dollars. We are currently in talks with insurance to know how much exactly. It will take time and money to fix everything up. We are currently improvising just to make sure business goes on,” says Jan de Vries, Managing Director of Port of Beira.
Before this disaster, Beira port controlled 60% of the country’s imports and 40% of its exports.
“We handle about 300,000 containers per year and about three million tons of general cargo per year and a lot of fuel but we had to put services on hold… On the first day, it was tough to go around. Nearly all the roads were blocked, to some extent, with trees, electricity cables and many things. There was a lot of destruction. A lot of roofs damaged, buildings completely collapsed. This place looked like a warzone,” de Vries says.
He says at the port, roofs, doors and warehouses were destroyed but they are lucky because it is currently low season.
“Electricity supply had been cut off but we are very impressed by the government because power is being restored. Technicians from all over the country are working hard. Major industries have been reconnected and a few residential areas are now being connected. Rail and road infrastructure is also being fixed. Although we have to struggle a bit, we have opened the port and business continues,” he says.
The president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) Sifelani Jabangwe says Beira is one of the major ports for the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region and its closure, no matter how short-lived, affected trade.
“Zimbabwe imports fuel and wheat through the Port of Beira. The closure caused a strain on the supply of these two commodities. We had trucks that were stuck in Beira for a number of days. The bigger impact is also on businesses located on the eastern sides of the country, like timber estates, fruit and tea producers, and even the diamond company, in that area, is now revising its targeted output because of the flooding,” Jabangwe says.
Henry Nemaire, the Chairman of the CZI Trade Development and Investments Promotion Committee based in Mutare, says most businesses have been severely affected and are looking for funding to rebuild.
“Some businesses are in areas that can’t be accessed with 30-ton trucks which they used to move their goods like timber… Power lines are cut off and there are issues around water supply systems which have been damaged. Smaller businesses were the most affected. Most of them are now trying to apply for loans to get new trucks and rebuild so they can get back on track,” Nemaire says.
Jabangwe agrees with Nemaire. He says it will be a long and harsh road to recovery.
“We are still waiting for reports from various companies affected by the cyclone which should start coming in soon so we can understand the actual loss that has occurred… there are already teams working with government to import the required maize to feed the country. We need additional support to make sure that people are catered for. We would need to feed people in that area for at least 12 months, which means a full-fledged program has to be put in place,” he says.
Cherukai Mukamba, a local smallholder farmer, says he relied on farming to make money. “I would sell maize and chicken, and sometimes cows, to make money to be able to take care of my children. A week before the cyclone, I had hired people who were going to help me with harvesting when the time came,” he says.
Like many in this area, Mukamba spent the night fearing for his life and that of his family.
“I was asleep and was woken up by very loud winds that I have never heard before. I went outside to look and right in front of me, was a bus rolling down the mountain. I could hear people scream and it crushed them before my eyes. I tried to go help but it pouring and I could see rocks fall off the mountain right into the fields and I had to go back in the house and say a prayer.”
The next day, Mukamba says he woke up to the biggest horror.
“Everything was destroyed; all my crops, livestock and part of my house. I went to check on the bus but didn’t find anyone inside. I heard that there had been three people in the bus and their bodies were found over 100km away. I couldn’t believe it. It is the worst thing to ever happen to us,” he says.
Mukamba’s story is one of thousands of stories in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique.
These countries have weathered many storms over the years like Cyclone Leon–Eline and poverty, but this massive natural disaster will go down in history books as the worst and southern Africa will bear its scars for generations to come.
South Africa’s Informal Sector: Why People Get Stuck In Precarious Jobs
South Africa has a jobs crisis. In the fourth quarter of 2018, 6.14 million people were out of work, an unemployment rate of 27.1%, which is one of the highest rates in the world, along with sub-Saharan African countries like Lesotho, Mozambique and Namibia.
South Africa’s labour market has another important distinction. Only about three million people who are working – about 18% of all employed (16.53 million) – are in the informal sector. That’s much lower than other developing countries. For example in India and Ethiopia, up to 50% of those with jobs are employed in the informal sector. The figure is as high as 90% in Ghana and Mali.
There are two schools of thought around the role and value of a country’s informal sector. Some argue that it’s an important alternative to the limited opportunities available in the formal sector; a survivalist strategy that allows those without much formal education to work and earn money. In addition, others argue, the informal sector is also an important space for entrepreneurs.
But there are some who disagree, arguing that employment in the informal sector tends to be poorly paid and precarious. A mere 20% of informal sector employees are hired permanently, compared to 70% of those in the formal sector.
Little is known about how many people transition between the two sectors, a phenomenon called “churning”. Addressing this knowledge gap is important for a number of reasons. These include the fact that informal workers may be spending some time in the formal sector, getting valuable skills and work experience to boost their chances at formal employment, with the hope that they eventually settle permanently in the formal sector, which would be good news.
Conversely, knowing whether there’s a high rate of transition from the formal to the informal sector would be cause for concern because it would suggest high rates of retrenchment and fewer formal job opportunities.
We set out to understand “churning” between South Africa’s formal and informal sectors. To do this we analysed data from the country’s National Income Dynamics Study – a study that was conducted four times between 2008 and 2015 by the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit based at the University of Cape Town’s School of Economics.
We found there was a lot of movement between the informal and formal sectors during these years. But there were very few instances of people making successful, lasting transitions from informal to formal sector employment.
This emphasises South Africa’s skills mismatch. The formal sector requires skills that those in the informal sector simply don’t have. More education and support is necessary to bridge this gap.
Our data were drawn from the National Income Dynamics Survey, which is the first national household panel study in South Africa. It examines the living standards of individuals and households over time.
By analysing data from the four waves of the study we were able to make some key findings about churning, and about the informal sector more broadly. These included:
- Only 8% of those surveyed were inactive (7%) or unemployed (1%) in all four waves – that is, throughout the seven-year period. About 54% were employed in one to three waves, meaning they worked transitorily but not continuously;
- only 3% worked in the informal sector in all four waves;
- only 12% always worked in the formal sector during the seven years under review; and,
- 8% of individuals worked throughout the seven years under review but transitioned between the two sectors.
These results clearly indicate that a high proportion of the labour force participants have been in and out of employment (which is not surprising, given the country’s high unemployment rate), some workers enjoy the privilege of always working in the formal sector, and most importantly, churning between the informal and formal sectors definitely takes place to some extent.
The findings also emphasised how precarious the informal sector is. For instance, 67% of those who started off working in the formal sector in 2008 remained there seven years later. This suggests that for those who initially secured work in the formal sector, retrenchment likelihood is not as high as perhaps anticipated. The retention figure in the informal sector was just 39%. Only 27% of those in the informal sector successfully transitioned to the formal sector.
The country’s many social inequalities were evident in the data. Black women without school leaving certificates aged between 25 and 44 years were most likely to remain in the informal sector. Highly educated white men living in the urban areas of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces were most likely to successfully transition from the informal to the formal sector.
Filling the gaps
Given what we’ve learned from this research, how might the government and policy makers deal with those who “churn”?
First, the country’s education system must do more to produce skilled labour in the areas the economy requires. Formal firms could help here, by providing assistance and information on what skills are needed and how to develop these. This implies that strengthening the partnership between industry and universities is important, as this would help those who are able to access higher education.
Those who don’t go on to higher education, or don’t complete their secondary schooling, also need to be helped. The government should more actively provide workshops and specialised assistance to enhance entrepreneurship skills and advise small informal firms on growth strategies. These incentives will assist in their growth, long-term sustainability and successful transition to the formal sector.
In addition, larger, more established formal firms can also play a role by helping to develop and train informal sector workers and providing expert guidance to informal firms. This assistance can be incentivised through tax reductions and the prospects of a larger collective market via the informal sector.
Lastly, the government should continuously alleviate the numerous barriers to the informal economy. These include limited credit and training opportunities, poor infrastructure and the red tape that makes it difficult to start a business.
–Moegammad Faeez Nackerdien Lecturer, University of the Western Cape
–Derek Yu Associate Professor, Economics, University of the Western Cape
SMMEs Meltdowns Continue Because Of Eskom Power Cuts
Small medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) that are feeling the strain from Eskom’s load-shedding are appealing to the South African government to come up with a solution, because they are forced to shut their doors.
South Africa has been experiencing stage 4 load-shedding from the beginning of March. As a result, power cuts are forcing small businesses to shut their doors as swiping facilities and security cameras do not function.
Johannesburg based Gim Bekele, who owns a clothing store in Randburg, says they are losing a significant number of customers as a result of load-shedding.
“When there is load-shedding we are forced to closed the shop because people can’t come in when it is dark. The cameras are not working as well as the cashier machines,” he says.
“So that means we lose out on a lot of money. On a normal day without load shedding we make above R5,000 but when there is load shedding, it is a struggle to even reach R1,000,” says Bekele.
Bekele says between the loss of customers and an increase in the monthly expenses he can no longer afford to pay his employees.
“I had to let go of two employees because I could no longer afford to pay them. The rent is high, and now we are barely meeting our sales target because of load shedding, how could we continue to pay for their salaries as well?”
“We can’t even afford a generator at this point,” added Bekele.
Another entrepreneur, Shaodong Zhuang who owns a takeaway shop in Randburg says his stock is compromised.
“I usually sell fresh meat and some of my meat gets spoiled and I have to throw it away,” says Zhuang.
I am basically making a small change. Our government is really not good. The people are suffering heavily because they are not running things properly.
Energy expert Adi Nchabeleng says that small businesses should brace themselves because there won’t be any turn around soon, but they could expect to see some form of solution a year from now.
“It is a delayed reaction that caused this whole advent of load-shedding. The current executive and the new democratic dispensation inherited the current dispensation of Eskom years ago and they didn’t do anything with any of power stations. They just used them as they are,” says Nchabeleng.
Nchabeleng says that it is unfortunate that small businesses have to take the heat for poor planning.
“If they do not have enough electricity reserves it means their shops and businesses must be closed. A lot of people are going to be out of jobs… So the impact of load-shedding on businesses is so severe.
“In order for the business to survive, you need to spend R500 ($7,25)-R1,000 ($14,49)daily, just to make sure that the generator has fuel, and I don’t think the government understands the seriousness of this matter,” says Nchabeleng.
“They have not woken up to the reality of what the people go through,” he added.
He advises that in order for small businesses to weather the electricity crises, they need to reduce their expenditure but he does not foresee that as the best solution for employees.
“The usual expenses that the majority of businesses will choose to cut are their staff. They will say ‘when we have load-shedding we don’t need workers.’ We cannot go for that solution, we need to look at a much more different solution in relation to businesses,” says Nchabeleng.
He believes that the South African government should take responsibility for providing SMMEs with assistance.
“I would suggest that the government compensate the losses incurred by small businesses. This is a direct cost problem; this is not something that happened sporadically. The government knew that there was going to be load-shedding, they knew that there was not going to be enough power available,” says Nchabeleng.
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