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We Won’t Let It Happen Here

Africa is on the threshold of a furious debate over fracking—the destructive hunt for gas that could ease the continent’s energy shortage. In the front line are the farmers of the Karoo.



When Douglas Stern wakes up in the morning, he looks over the beautiful hills of the Karoo, which cradle his livestock farm in the Eastern Cape. This land is close to his heart and defines his life.

On his bad days, he is haunted by the scenes he saw at numerous hydraulic fracturing sites in the United States of America in July. A local agricultural co-operative sponsored his trip to research hydraulic fracturing or fracking. In Pennsylvania, he saw heartache among people suffering from fracking, which is planned for the Karoo and many other parts of the country.

Douglas Stern and his wife, Liz

“They are gagged by the law because they are forced to sign non-disclosure agreements by the various companies’ lawyers, in return for a water supply to replace theirs, which is contaminated by gas. They [gas companies] hold this ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude. It seems they do what they like and won’t be held accountable, but I won’t let it happen here,” says a determined Stern.

Hydraulic fracturing involves horizontal drilling to create fissures. The insertion of pressurized water, sand and fracking fluids release the gas. Shale gas reserves require a high-volume hydraulic process which uses around 20 million liters of water per fracking incident. In short, it could damage the Karoo’s land and possibly its water.

Stern was born and bred in Graaff-Reinet. This land has been in his family since 1948; he inherited it, from his mother, in 1979. He gained an agricultural diploma from Grootfontein College in Middelburg. Farming is his life and he won’t allow gas companies to ruin it. In this part of the country, water is life. His daily water usage for domestic and farming purposes adds up to 1,512,600 liters.

“In my view, it’s the government’s responsibility to tell them to bug off. Our constitution is strong and allows us to earn an honest living and be exempt from such possible water contamination,” he says.

Derek Light, the epitome of a small-town attorney, represents the farmers of Graaff-Reinet, who see themselves as guardians of the Karoo. Many of Light’s 300 landowner clients refer to him as a saint, a humble man and a saviour. He also represents Agri-Eastern Cape, which brings his representation up to thousands of farmers and landowners. The Eastern Cape produces around a third of South Africa’s livestock.

The protestors want to stop the landscape from being littered with drilling rigs. That could happen if international energy companies are granted the rights to exploit gas. “Imagine well pads every three to five kilometres, for thousands of kilometres, which will be interlinked with roads. You’ll have a highway of pipelines all over the country to Mossel Bay, Coega, a Sasol plant or wherever you want it. You won’t recognize this country, it’ll be a wasteland,” he says.

The protestors are not immune from criticism. Their critics ask whether their landownership is valid as they are not ‘traditional’ owners of the property. Light feels that this view is aimed at creating a divide between South Africans and that it has nothing to do with the scientific research in question.

“People tell us to wind our necks in. We’re saying, don’t come with false promises… We don’t want our land harmed to the detriment of all our people. But sadly, people are sometimes persuaded by their political views,” Light says.

It all began in October 2008, when the worried owners of Samara private game reserve, in the Karoo, approached Light. In a lengthy process, Light successfully opposed three of Sunset Energy’s applications for exploration rights before the local regulator, Petroleum Agency South Africa (PASA). Sunset Energy is the Australian subsidiary of South African Bundu Oil and Gas.

More clients approached Light after Falcon Oil and Gas—a Canadian company—applied for exploration rights elsewhere in the Karoo, spanning 30,000km2.

In January 2011, PASA accepted three of Shell’s applications for fracking in three areas in the eastern, central and western Karoo covering 90,000km2.

Light addressed landowners from around Graaff-Reinet. It drew the big names: multi-billionaire Johann Rupert, whose father was a founding member of the World Wildlife Foundation; and Dutch Princess Irene, a Karoo landowner. She even had a full audit conducted to prove that she has no links with Dutch company Shell.

“What had been a lonely fight for me and a handful of landowners suddenly entered the public domain and became big,” he says.

Light filed applications against Falcon Oil and Gas and the three Shell applications in March 2011. PASA directed objections against the five applications to regional committees to be adjudicated. It had been swamped with applications concerning parts of KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and the Free State.

On April 29, 2011, Susan Shabangu, Minister of the Department of Mineral Resources, placed a moratorium on all applications for six months and extended it for another six months to allow for investigation.

The process is determined by the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) of 2002. According to the act, the applicants should determine how the environment will be affected.

“I am satisfied that in law none of these companies have complied with their legal obligations in terms of the MPRDA. There are, in my view, shortcomings in the processes currently regulated, in that it’s certainly inadequate to deal with a situation of this magnitude. I have very little doubt in my mind that the courts will intervene if the applications are granted under the current circumstances,” says Light.

The government and South African citizens have an obligation to preserve their environment for future generations. While the moratorium passed in mid-February, the investigation’s findings are expected to be presented to cabinet by the end of July. Energy Minister Dipuo Peters is awaiting cabinet’s decision. She has conflicting views about fracking: while it could ensure energy supply security, it needs to be done safely.

“If we need 10 years to decide, then we need to take those 10 years,” says Light.

Light questions how fracking fits into South Africa’s long-term energy planning. Do the benefits outweigh the costs? He suggests the government considers the Mozambican offshore natural gas find as an affordable, alternative source.

Stern agrees: “The gas industry in the United States went from boom to bust. At the moment, gas is being produced at a loss because there’s an over-supply. South Africa can purchase gas far more cheaply than it can produce it.”

Light talks about the report by respected economist Tony Twine, who died in March, which was commissioned by Shell. “He had to make huge assumptions about the extent of the gas reserves in the Karoo; the price of gas when it comes into production in 10 to 15 years’ time; and the cost of producing it in South Africa. He [Twine] acknowledged that he had to make those assumptions, which rendered the report nonsense because you could equally make other assumptions,” says Light.

The protestors also claim that the industry in the US was regulated poorly; they made fatal errors and are now putting on the brakes so they can re-regulate.

According to Stern, incidents of water contamination and chemical spillage have been reported throughout the US. The claim from gas companies is that there is a natural barrier of impermeable rock between the area you frack and the ground water.

There is also concern about the chemicals that could be used. They sub-contract the process to other companies that want to protect trade secrets, which means that certain chemicals are undisclosed. Some of the chemicals are known carcinogens and toxic: simply put, hazardous to health.

Two recent studies, conducted in Denver by Petron and Howarth, suggest that 4% of the methane gas was leaking. According to Stern’s research conducted in the States, he found that 5% of wells were failing on an ongoing basis, which resulted in further leaking.

Countries should consider renewable energy sources like solar and wind power as clean, alternative energy sources, say Karoo farmers.

“We [farmers] are very conservative people in the Karoo with regard to our water because it is sacrosanct and we have droughts. As a consequence, I never use more than half of my borehole water capacity. My concern is that they will say to me, ‘But you’re not using the other 50%’,” says Stern.

“The rate of recharge is very low in the Karoo—scientists tell us it’s between 2-3%—and it could take decades or even hundreds of years to recharge when you take water in those volumes,” says Light.

Once exploration rights are granted, the applicants have to conduct a public participation meetings.

“We were appalled by how sly they were,” mentioned a Karoo farmer who was eager to talk and who had attended a public participation meeting.

“They didn’t even show their faces. They sat in amongst us like cowards. It’s a very large area we represent, so I don’t know every farmer within the district and neither does the next. Derek Light was standing in front of us, by himself, waiting for answers from representatives who, it seemed, didn’t even bother to show up. They wanted to see who they were up against.”

The country awaits cabinet’s final verdict. It’s a case of determined farmers versus equally determined international energy companies, who have deep pockets and big-city lawyers.

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Current Affairs

The Rage And Tears That Tore A Nation



Snapshots of the outrage against foreign nationals and protests against sexual offenders in South Africa in recent weeks, captured by FORBES AFRICA photojournalist Motlabana Monnakgotla.

As the continent’s second-biggest economy, South Africa attracts migrants from the rest of Africa. But mired in its own problems of unemployment and political instability, September saw a serious outbreak of attacks by South Africans on foreign nationals and foreign-owned businesses. And they have been ugly.    

The spark that fueled the raging fire was in Pretoria, the country’s capital, when a taxi driver was shot dead by a foreign national who was selling drugs to a youngster in the central business district (CBD).

The altercation caused a riot and the taxi industry brought the CBD to a standstill, blocking intersections. It did not stop there; a week later, about 60 kilometers from the capital in Malvern, a suburb east of the Johannesburg CBD, a hijacked building caught fire, leaving three dead. As emergency services were putting out the fire, the residents took advantage and looted foreign-owned shops and burned car dealerships overnight on Jules Street.

The lootings extended to the CBD and other parts of Johannesburg.

To capture this embarrassing moment in South African history, I visited Katlehong, a township 35 kilometers east of Johannesburg, where the residents blocked roads leading to Sontonga Mall on a mission to loot the mall and the foreign-owned shops therein overnight.

Shop-owners and workers were shocked to wake up to no business.

Mfundo Maljingolo, a worker at Fish And Chips, was among the distressed.

“This thing started last night, people started looting and broke into the mall and did what they wanted to do. I couldn’t go to work today because there’s nothing to do; now, we are not going to get paid. The shop will be losing close to R10,000 ($677) today. It’s messed up,” said Maljingolo.

But South African businesses were affected too.

Among the shops at the mall is Webbers, a clothing and footwear store. Looters could not enter the shop and it was one of the few that escaped the vandalism.

Dineo Nyembe, the store’s manager, said she was in disbelief when she saw people could not enter the mall.

“We got here this morning and the ceiling was wrecked but there was no sign that the shop was entered, everything was just as we left it. Now, we are packing stock back to the warehouse, because we don’t know if they are coming back tonight,” lamented Nyembe, unsure if they would make their daily target or if they would be trading again.

 Across the now-wrecked mall are small businesses that were not as fortunate as Webbers, and it was not only the shop-owners that were affected. 

Emmanuel Nhlane’s home was robbed even as attackers were looting the shop outside.

“They broke into my house, I was threatened with a petrol bomb and I had to stand outside to give them a chance; they took my fridge, bed, cash and my VHS,” said Nhlane.

Nhlane had rented out his yard to foreign nationals to operate a shop. He does not comprehend why his belongings were taken because he doesn’t own a shop. Now, it means that the unemployed Nhlane will not be getting his monthly rental fee of R3,700 ($250).

Far away, the coastal KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, was also affected as trucks burned and a driver was killed because of his nationality. This was part of a logistics and transport industry national strike.

Back in Johannesburg, I visited the car dealerships that were a part of the burning spree on Jules Street.

The streets were still ashy and the air still smoky, two days after the unfortunate turn of events.

Muhamed Haffejee, one of the distraught businessmen there, said: “Currently, we are still not trading.” 

Cape Town, in the Western Cape province of South Africa, which hosted the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa from September 4 to 6, was also witness to protests by women and girls from all walks of life outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre, demanding that the leadership take action to end the spate of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country.

There were protests also outside Parliament. What set off the nationwide outcry was the shocking rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a 19-year-old film and media student at the University of Cape Town, inside a post office by a 42-year-old employee at the post office.

There was anger against the ghastly crimes and wave of GBV in the country that continues unabated. According to Stats SA, there has been a drastic increase of women-based violence in South Africa; sexual offences are up by 4.6%, from 50,108 in 2018 to 52,420 in 2019.

A week later, on a Friday, Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile and one of the biggest economic hubs, was shut down by hundreds of angry women and members of advocacy groups from across Johannesburg. They congregated by the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), the cynosure of business, singing and chanting, to demand “a 2% levy on profits of all listed entities to help fund the fight against GBV and femicide”.   

Among the protesters was Cebi Ngqinanbi, holding a placard that read: “I’m not your punching bag.”

“We came here to disrupt Sandton as the heart of Johannesburg’s economic hub. We want to make everyone aware that women and children are being killed every day in South Africa and they [Sandton] continue with business as usual, sitting in their offices with air-conditioners and the stock exchange whilst people on the ground making them rich are dying. That is why we are here, to speak to those that have economic power,” said Ngqinanbi.

She added that if women can be given economic power, they will be able to fend for themselves and won’t fall prey to abusive men, since most women stay in abusive relationships because men are more financially stable.

Amid the chanting and singing of struggle songs, Nobuhle Ajiti addressed the crowd and shared her own haunting experience as a migrant in South Africa and survivor of GBV. She spoke in isiZulu, a South African language.

“I survived a gang rape; I was thrown out of a moving car and stabbed several times. I survived it, but am I going to survive xenophobia that is looming around in South Africa? Will I able to share my xenophobia story like I can share my GBV story?” questioned Ajiti.

She said as migrants, they did not wake up in the morning and decide to come to South Africa, but because of the hardships faced in their home countries, they were forced to come to what they perceived as the city of opportunities. And as a foreign national, she had to deal with both xenophobia and GBV.

“We experience institutionalized xenophobia in hospitals; we are forced to pay huge amounts for consultation. I am raped and I need medical attention and I am told I need to pay R5,000 ($250).

“As a mere migrant, where am I going to get R5,000? I get abused at home and the police officer would ask me where I’m from because of my accent, I sound Zimbabwean. What does my nationality have to do with my husband beating me at home or with the man that just raped me?” she asked.

Women stop traffic while they hold up placards stating their grievences against GBV. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

Addressing the resolute women outside was the JSE CEO Nicky Newton-King who received the memorandum demanding business take their plight seriously, from a civil society group representing over 70 civil society organizations and individuals.

The list of demands include that at all JSE-listed companies contribute to a fund to resource the National Strategy Plan on GBV and femicide, to be launched in November; transport for employees who work night shifts or work after hours; establish workplace mechanisms to provide support to GBV survivors as part of employee wellness, and prevention programs that help make workplaces safe spaces for all women.

Newton-King assured the protestors she would address their demands in seven days. But a lot can happen in seven days. Will there be more crimes in the meantime? How many more will be raped and killed in South Africa by then?

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How LinkedIn Is Looking To Help Close The Ever-Growing Skills Gap




As the job market has evolved, so too have the skills required of seekers. But when 75% of human resources professionals say a skills shortage has made recruiting particularly challenging in recent months, it would appear as though the workforce hasn’t quite kept pace. Now LinkedIn is stepping in to help close the gap.

On Tuesday, the professional social network announced the launch of a “Skills Assessments” tool, through which users can put their knowledge to the test. Those who pass are given the opportunity to display a badge that reads “passed” next to the skill on their profile pages, a validation of sorts that LinkedIn hopes will encourage skills development among its users and help better match potential employees with the right employers.  

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“We see an evolving labor market and much more sophistication in how recruiters and hiring managers look for skills. … We also see a changing learning market,” says Hari Srinivasan, senior director of product management at LinkedIn Learning. “The combination of those two made us excited about changing our opportunity marketplace to make the hiring side and the learning side work better together.”

So how exactly does it work? Let’s say a user wants to showcase her proficiency in Microsoft Excel. Rather than simply listing “Excel” in the skills section of her profile, she can take a multiple-choice test to demonstrate the extent to which she is an expert.

If she aces the test, not only will a badge verifying her aptitude will appear on her profile, but she will be more likely to surface in searches by recruiters, who can search for candidates by skill in the same way they might do so by college or employer. If she fails, she can take the test again, but she’ll have to wait a few months—plenty of time to develop her skillset.   

The tool has been in beta mode since March, and while just 2 million people have used it—a mere fraction of LinkedIn’s 630 million members—early results seem promising. According to LinkedIn, members who’ve completed skills assessments have been nearly 30% more likely to land jobs than their counterparts who did not take the tests.

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“This has been a really good way for members to represent what they know, what they are good at,” says Emrecan Dogan, LinkedIn group product manager.

While new to LinkedIn, the practice of assessing candidates’ skills has been a standard among hiring managers for decades. But when research commissioned by LinkedIn revealed that 69% of employees feel that skills have become more important to recruiters than education, LinkedIn felt as though this was the time to give job seekers the opportunity to prove themselves from the get-go.

As important as the hard skills that members can put to the test through LinkedIn’s new tool may be, Dawn Fay, senior district president at recruiting firm Robert Half, encourages those on both side of the job search not to forget the importance of soft skills. “You wouldn’t want to rule somebody in or out just based on how they did on one particular skill assessment,” she says.

“Have another data point that you can use, question people about how they did on something and see if it’s something that can feed into the puzzle to find out if somebody is going to be a good fit.”

-Samantha Todd; Forbes

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Why The High Number Of Employees Quitting Reveals A Strong Job Market




While recession fears may be looming in the minds of some, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the economy and job market may actually be strengthening.

The quits rate—or the percentage of all employees who quit during a given month—rose to 2.4% in July, according to the BLS’s Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover report, released Tuesday. That translates to 3.6 million people who voluntarily left their jobs in July.

This is the highest the quits rate has been since April 2001, just five months after the Labor Department began tracking it. According to Nick Bunker, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, the quits rate tends to be a reflection of the state of the economy.

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“The level of the quits rate really is a sign of how strong the labor market is,” he says. “If you look at the quits rate over time, it really drops quite a bit when the labor market gets weak. During the recession it was quite low, and now it’s picked up.”

The monthly jobs report, released last week, revealed that the economy gained 130,000 jobs in August, which is 20,000 less than expected, and just a few weeks earlier, the BLS issued a correction stating that it had overestimated by 501,000 how many jobs had been added to the market in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. Yet despite all that, employees still seem to have confidence in the job market.Today In: Leadership

The quits level, according to the BLS, increased in the private sector by 127,000 for July but was little changed in government. Healthcare and social assistance saw an uptick in departures to the tune of 54,000 workers, while the federal government saw a rise of 3,000.

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The July quits rate in construction was 2.4%, while the number in trade, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality were 2.6%, 3.1% and 4.8%, respectively. Bunker of Indeed says that the industries that tend to see the highest rate of departuresare those where pay is relatively low, such as leisure and hospitality. An unknown is whether employees are quitting these jobs to go to a new industry or whether they’re leaving for another job in the same industry. Either could be the case, says Bunker.

In a recently published article on the industries seeing the most worker departures, Bunker attributes the uptick to two factors—the strong labor market and faster wage growth in the industries concerned: “A stronger labor market means employers must fill more openings from the ranks of the already employed, who have to quit their jobs, instead of hiring jobless workers. Similarly, faster wage growth in an industry signals workers that opportunities abound and they might get higher pay by taking a new job.”

Even so, recession fears still dominate headlines. According to Bunker, the data shows that when a recession hits, employers pull back on hiring and workers don’t have the opportunity to find new jobs. Thus, workers feel less confident and are less likely to quit.

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“As the labor market gets stronger, there’s more opportunities for workers who already have jobs. So they quit to go to new jobs or they quit in the hopes of getting new jobs again,” Bunker says. He also notes that recession fears may have little to do with the job market, instead stemming from what is happening in the financial markets, international relations or Washington, D.C.

So what does the BLS report say about the job market? “Taking this report as a whole, it’s indicating that the labor market is still quite strong, but then we lost momentum,” Bunker says. While workers are quitting their jobs, he says that employers are pulling back on the pace at which they’re adding jobs. “While things are quite good right now and workers are taking advantage of that,” he notes, “those opportunities moving forward might be fewer and fewer if the trend keeps up.”

-Samantha Todd; Forbes

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