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“If You Speak Up You Die”

It is not for the faint-hearted. It is a big step many people face when they see a policeman taking a bribe, an accountant embezzling funds or a government worker stealing taxpayers’ money. Whistleblowing – the choice is yours and it could be fatal; so says this cautionary tale of small town sorrow.

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A family man, who stood up for what he believed in, paid with his life. In the coalmining town of Dundee, situated in a valley of the Biggarsberg mountains, in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province, it is one of the many sad, yet largely unsung, stories of whistleblowing in Africa.

Blowing the whistle is a tough game in 21st-century Africa, but, it’s as important as ever in a world of more and more dirty secrets. In many parts of the world, whistleblowers have become household names,  such as Chelsea Manning, after disclosing sensitive military and diplomatic documents, and Edward Snowden after he leaked classified information from the National Security Agency. In Africa, online warrior Baba Jukwa, who leaked sensitive information about Zimbabwe’s ruling party Zanu-PF; and Kenya’s John Githongo, who embarrassed the powerful with his book It’s Our Turn To Eat, are far from lauded.

Sadly, many whistleblowers in Africa are ruined or die unsung. They are shunned, harassed, jailed and left jobless.

In the small town of Umzinyathi District in KZN, South Africa, whistleblowing ended with a bullet. Grishen Bujram, from Dundee, was respected and hardworking. He had been an activist since he was 15 and a councillor. One day, he found that free houses for the poor were being sold for profit. South Africa has built millions of the so-called Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) houses, putting a roof over millions of heads.

Bujram was outraged and alleged the mayor of the African National Congress (ANC)-controlled Endumeni municipality, Thandeka Nukani, had sold 17 RDP houses and also taken one for herself; even though she had a well-paid job.

Bujram confronted the mayor and reported it to the council. On June 15, 2007, he was allegedly called for a meeting. His widow, Shirley Bujram, kissed him goodbye at the door at 6:30PM, unaware it was the last time she would see him alive.

“I was home with my children and I heard someone pounding at the door. When I went to the kitchen it was dark but I could see the police blue lights. I assumed my husband went and smashed someone or something else had happened. When I opened the door I saw the police and his nephew there. I said to the nephew, ‘if your uncle is in trouble I will leave him in jail till the end of the weekend,’” says Shirley.

The men in blue asked Shirley to sit down as they delivered the news. They said Bujram had been shot many times at the wheel in a township near Dundee.

“He was like a father to all of us in the community,” says resident Muzikayifani Khumalo – eight years later.

Another resident Thando Dube* says, “The thing that ended his life was his hatred for corruption. People like Bujram are the people who die for telling the truth. In this district, we are scared to talk because we are face to face with the gun. This place is corrupt but if you speak up you die.”

In the days after the death, Nukani, according to Shirley, visited the family to pass her condolences.

“Her exact words were ‘your husband’s killers must rot in jail’ which is shocking because she had previously sent me messages saying my husband is interfering with her work and has a jealous syndrome. If he continues on his path against her, he will be sorry,” she says.

According to the widow, a woman who was with Bujram, minutes before the assassination, testified in court that Bujram knew he was being followed by the mayor’s car, but thought nothing of it. Two brothers, on their way home from work; witnessed the mayor’s boyfriend, Bongani Shangase, shoot Bujram and her nephew, Siyabonga Nukani, used the car as a getaway vehicle.

This breakthrough gave way to disappointment for the Bujram family. They say Dundee police had the case for three months but no arrest was made until the widow went to the organized crime unit.

Police arrested Nukani, but charges were dropped for insufficient evidence. Detectives arrested Shangase and Siyabonga Nukani. Shangase received a life sentence; Siyabonga turned state witness and got 20 years.

“Thandeka planned to have her nephew poisoned because he had turned state witness. Her boyfriend worked with other inmates to make this happen but the inmates couldn’t go through with it,” says Shirley.

There were charges for the attempted murder of Siyabonga Nukani, against Thandeka Nukani. They were withdrawn, in 2011, due to insufficient evidence.

Shirley Bujram and the police, with Siyabonga Nukani’s cooperation, also found there was a hitman, Mzamo Majola.

“I found out that when [Bujram] was killed it was the third attempt which became successful. The hitman had tried two times before. On the day Bujram was killed, Mzamo Majola couldn’t go ahead with it because there were people around. Shangase got agitated and killed my husband himself,” she says.

The police offered Majola a deal to turn state witness. Based on his evidence, police arrested Thandeka Nukani again.

In August last year, Judge Isaac Nkosi withdrew the Bujram murder charges against Thandeka Nukani after Majola went on the run.

For the second time, the former mayor walked free.

Thandeka Nukani has been redeployed as the personal assistant to Umzinyathi District mayor, James Mthethwa. She lost her mayoral seat after it was found R100,000 ($7,410) in legal fees, for the Bujram case, were allegedly paid for by the ANC.

Thandeka Nukani did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Nearly eight years on, Bujram’s comrades carry whistleblowing forward at equal risk. Mzwakhe Sithebe and Yussuf Kader are fellow activists who fight corruption in KZN and are often ridiculed for doing so.

“During the apartheid era we were fighting for justice together with Grishen Bujram. Now, in a democratic country, we are still faced with the same tendencies. The problem is people driven by greed,” says Sithebe.

“The problem is that politicians have been elevated and are like a law [unto] themselves. We will always fight for justice. The issue of being eliminated unfortunately is the fate for all of us who stand against corruption. We will raise questions that need to be raised irrespective of who will be offended and decide to kill us. We have lost a number of whistleblowers in this area. We need some kind of system that protects people willing to come forward with sensitive information.”

Kader, a businessman who now drives a bulletproof car, says whistleblowers risk their lives for the good of the country.

“Houses of the poorest of the poor are being taken by those in power. Some RDP houses get sold and there is a lot of inside corruption which we continue to fight against,” says Kader.

Because of the corruption, Kader has written a letter demanding the dismissal of five government employees.

“As it stands, I can be killed at any time but I am not afraid to die for the poorest of the poor.”

Endumeni Municipality’s Mayor Thulani Mahaye, the successor to Mayor Nukani, encourages people to come forward with any information that exposes irregularities.

“I am proud of the police and the community right now. They are working together to make this area safer and ensure arrests are made when a crime is committed. If someone needs to blow the whistle and they are afraid of being eliminated, they can secretly come forward and protection will be given to them,” he says.

Despite this, controversy over houses, that saw the death of Bujram, rumbles on.

A five-minute drive outside Dundee lies the small town of Glencoe. Its residents are up in arms against the municipality. They allege 71 names, for RDP houses, in Glencoe’s Sithembile Phase 2 projects, have been removed from the list.

“It is unclear how so many people lost houses they had applied, and had been approved, for. It can only be corruption. People’s names are disappearing from the list or being withdrawn without reason. For some people, untrue claims of application withdrawals are even made,” says Glencoe resident Sifiso Madi.

“An RDP house that I applied for was approved but when the houses were built they said I withdrew my application which I never did. They also said that they looked for me to come and sign documents but didn’t find me. This is not true because no one ever contacted me or my next of kin, sent a letter or came to where I stay to look for me,” says one Dundee woman who wants to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.

Another frustrated resident says “my cousin died in 2008 but an RDP house had been approved for him. He left dependants, so in 2013 when the houses were being built I decided to check on the progress to make sure his children have a place to stay. Funnily enough, they gave me a list that says my cousin withdrew the application. How is that possible when he is dead? Did he wake up from his grave to withdraw it? I asked the human settlement people to show me where my cousin signed to withdraw his application for the house he had already been approved for, but obviously, because it never happened, they were not able to provide any proof.”

Many who rocked the boat like Bujram also paid with their lives.

In June, just 55 kilometers from Dundee, Vusi Ntombela, an Nquthu Municipality council speaker for the ANC, and teacher and deputy principal at Luvisi Primary School, was gunned down while teaching a Grade 6 class. A gunman walked into his classroom and shot him four times. Two pupils were caught in the crossfire. Thirteen-year-old Elizabeth Nhleko died from a stray bullet.

The widow, Thembelihle Ntombela, told journalists she believes Vusi was killed because of tensions within the ANC. In December last year, Vusi had resisted an instruction from the ANC sub-region to resign as speaker. His murder is allegedly related to political tensions in the governing party’s Inkosi Bhambatha region and in the council itself.

Police arrested Mbhekiseni Khambule and Sibongiseni Mdakane for the murder. Khambule is the bodyguard of Nquthu mayor, Emily Molefe. Mdakane was later sentenced to life imprisonment. He confessed that he had been promised R15,000 (around $1,100) for the hit by his co-accused.

In May 2008, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) councillor Peter Nxele was shot dead in his driveway for speaking out against corruption just a week after raising questions about R50,000 ($3,700) that had gone missing from a council business grant. He also requested a forensic audit into the spending of the Endumeni municipality. One of the five men accused of gunning down Nxele is Bongani Shangase, the same man who killed Bujram.

In June 2009, 124 kilometers from Dundee where Bujram was killed, Tony Malunga, an ANC councillor and regional executive committee member, was gunned down at his home in Greytown. He was allegedly killed because of his fight against corruption. Malunga was found lying in a pool of blood outside the ANC offices.

Back in Dundee, Shirley Bujram vows to fight for justice for her husband’s murder.

“My husband was diabetic but a month before he died he said to me he was not going to be killed by diabetes because there is a bullet there for him; and by the bullet he died.”

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Climate Explained: How Much Of Climate Change Is Natural? How Much Is Man-made?

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How much climate change is natural? How much is man made?

As someone who has been working on climate change detection and its causes for over 20 years I was both surprised and not surprised that I was asked to write on this topic by The Conversation. For nearly all climate scientists, the case is proven that humans are the overwhelming cause of the long-term changes in the climate that we are observing. And that this case should be closed.

Despite this, climate denialists continue to receive prominence in some media which can lead people into thinking that man-made climate change is still in question. So it’s worth going back over the science to remind ourselves just how much has already been established.

Successive reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – mandated by the United Nations to assess scientific evidence on climate change – have evaluated the causes of climate change. The most recent special report on global warming of 1.5 degrees confirms that the observed changes in global and regional climate over the last 50 or so years are almost entirely due to human influence on the climate system and not due to natural causes.

What is climate change?

First we should perhaps ask what we mean by climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change defines climate change as:

a change in the state of the climate that can be identified by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer.

The causes of climate change can be any combination of:

  • Internal variability in the climate system, when various components of the climate system – like the atmosphere and ocean – vary on their own to cause fluctuations in climatic conditions, such as temperature or rainfall. These internally-driven changes generally happen over decades or longer; shorter variations such as those related to El Niño fall in the bracket of climate variability, not climate change.
  • Natural external causes such as increases or decreases in volcanic activity or solar radiation. For example, every 11 years or so, the Sun’s magnetic field completely flips and this can cause small fluctuations in global temperature, up to about 0.2 degrees. On longer time scales – tens to hundreds of millions of years – geological processes can drive changes in the climate, due to shifting continents and mountain building.
  • Human influence through greenhouse gases (gases that trap heat in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide and methane), other particles released into the air (which absorb or reflect sunlight such as soot and aerosols) and land-use change (which affects how much sunlight is absorbed on land surfaces and also how much carbon dioxide and methane is absorbed and released by vegetation and soils).

What changes have been detected?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report showed that, on average, the global surface air temperature has risen by 1°C since the beginning of significant industrialisation (which roughly started in the 1850s). And it is increasing at ever faster rates, currently 0.2°C per decade, because the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have themselves been increasing ever faster.

The oceans are warming as well. In fact, about 90% of the extra heat trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases is being absorbed by the oceans.

A warmer atmosphere and oceans are causing dramatic changes, including steep decreases in Arctic summer sea ice which is profoundly impacting arctic marine ecosystems, increasing sea level rise which is inundating low lying coastal areas such as Pacific island atolls, and an increasing frequency of many climate extremes such as drought and heavy rain, as well as disasters where climate is an important driver, such as wildfire, flooding and landslides.

Multiple lines of evidence, using different methods, show that human influence is the only plausible explanation for the patterns and magnitude of changes that have been detected.

This human influence is largely due to our activities that release greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, as well sunlight absorbing soot. The main sources of these warming gases and particles are fossil fuel burning, cement production, land cover change (especially deforestation) and agriculture.

Weather attribution

Most of us will struggle to pick up slow changes in the climate. We feel climate change largely through how it affects weather from day-to-day, season-to-season and year-to-year.

The weather we experience arises from dynamic processes in the atmosphere, and interactions between the atmosphere, the oceans and the land surface. Human influence on the broader climate system acts on these processes so that the weather today is different in many ways from how it would have been.

One way we can more clearly see climate change is by looking at severe weather events. A branch of climate science, called extreme event or weather attribution, looks at memorable weather events and estimates the extent of human influence on the severity of these events. It uses weather models run with and without measured greenhouse gases to estimate how individual weather events would have been different in a world without climate change.

As of early 2019, nearly 70% of weather events that have been assessed in this way were shown to have had their likelihood and/or magnitude increased by human influence on climate. In a world without global warming, these events would have been less severe. Some 10% of the studies showed a reduction in likelihood, while for the remaining 20% global warming has not had a discernible effect. For example, one study showed that human influence on climate had increased the likelihood of the 2015-2018 drought that afflicted Cape Town in South Africa by a factor of three.

Adapting to a changing climate

Weather extremes underlie many of the hazards that damage society and the natural environment we depend upon. As global warming has progressed, so have the frequency and intensity of these hazards, and the damage they cause.

Minimising the impacts of these hazards, and having mechanisms in place to recover quickly from the impacts, is the aim of climate adaptation, as recently reported by the Global Commission on Adaptation.

As the Commission explains, investing in adaptation makes sense from economic, social and ethical perspectives. And as we know that climate change is caused by humans, society cannot use “lack of evidence” on its cause as an excuse for inaction any more.

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The Rage And Tears That Tore A Nation

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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

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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.  

READ MORE | Not Just Equality, But Recognition Of Excellence

“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.

READ MORE | Challenging The Gender Divide

“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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