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Prophets Of Profit

It’s one of the fastest growing and most controversial businesses in Africa. Many pay millions in the cash-for-prayers-answered game that has fostered a $10-billion investment company.

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It was a strange and unsettling experience on a Thursday night; easier to shrink from than describe.

It was Walter Magaya’s first South African crusade at the Pretoria Showgrounds; 54 kilometers from Johannesburg. The crowd sang and danced as the Zimbabwean founder of Prophetic, Healing and Deliverance (PHD) Ministries took the stage.

As we sat, there was a sudden, soul-rattling chill; accompanied by shrieks. A woman ran through the congregation. Speaking in a strange language no one could understand. She sounded like two different people; one male, one female. She lost control.

“Leave me, Leave me!” she screams, as Magaya’s ushers shepherded her to the front of the stage; closer to the charismatic preacher.

In a green shirt and jeans, the woman squirmed on the ground; tearing her hair. Her eyebrows knit as she appeared consumed by rage.

“Leave me alone!” she shrieked; trying to bite the ushers’ gripping hands.

From the stage above booms the voice of Magaya.

“Come out, come out,” he says, attempting to command the demons he believes are in the frantic woman. The woman vomits.

There are 50 more people; screaming, rolling on the ground and vomiting.

This is the theater of the faithful on which the curtain went up with the arrival of Magaya, at OR Tambo, two nights before. Hundreds filled the Johannesburg airport to welcome him. They sang, danced and carried large posters like he was a rock star or politician.

This is more than worship. It’s also a thriving business that’s turning over millions every year. People risk their lives to get close to Magaya. Last year, 11 people died in a stampede during a crusade in Kwekwe in Zimbabwe.

“We have put measures in place to make sure something like that never happens again,” says Magaya.

On this night in Pretoria, people ran to the stage to offer cash for the answer of prayers.

This frantic scene is being played out across Africa. The commercialization of churches is arguably one of the fastest growing businesses in the continent.

Magaya claims to pull 200,000 people every week to his Harare church. Many of the faithful dig deep into torn pockets. Most earn about $350 a month; yet they pay handsomely for this spectacular display of power from above.

Money is scarce in Zimbabwe right now. According to independent Harare-based economist, John Robertson, the total workforce in the formal sector is about 700,000 people; out of a population of 14 million.

“We employed that number in 1968 when the population was one third of its present size. So employment has gone backwards at an alarming rate,” he says.

“Part of our problem is that production workers’ wages are making many of our goods uncompetitive. Wages are lower in China and many other countries, but productivity is higher elsewhere because businesses have been able to keep up with changing technology. Zimbabwean factories have not. So, wages plus productivity are working against us as all imports are now cheaper than local products.”

No matter how hard times are, still they come. Thousands offer money in hope of riches and health. They call it partnerships; giving to receive.

Magaya claims he is a trillionaire in spirit; but is unable to calculate his worth, that could be frowned upon by the scriptures.

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” so says Matthew 19, verse 23, in the Bible. Magaya believes people should also live comfortably on earth.

“We all want to go to heaven but we all want to stay on earth. No one wants to die now. Before you go to heaven, what about now? [Jesus] was rich yet he became poor for our riches and we should not only focus on one part. We are underutilizing Jesus. He wants you to go to heaven, but he also wants you healthy on earth. He wants you to be happy, married,” he says.

“I don’t see anything wrong with people in ministry living a good life because they represent the largest corporation (Kingdom of God) on the earth.”

It is wealth that began with 45 followers and now has hundreds of thousands who give. His ministry has no board or clear means of regulation. Many, outside the church, question how he maintains his alleged lavish lifestyle. Word is, Magaya makes around $2 million a month.

Critics say churches like Magaya’s exist to boost wallets and egos; without transparency, nor accountability. Magaya counters he is accountable to his financial director.

“I created a team which governs me. My wife has a salary and I have a salary. If I go to [the financial director] and ask for $20,000 to give to someone, they know how God speaks, I have trained them, they will give me that money,” he says.

Magaya says his ministry does not depend on offerings and tithes. It is bankrolled by a multitude that understands, have been healed, or merely want to support – the churches call these donations seed.

“The finance team has pushed a lot for me to have nice things. The people that give money actually think my living standards are low and I should upgrade them. Whenever the church and my financial directors decide to get me things; that’s the only time I get them,” he says.

The Financial Director of PHD Ministries, Nelson Marimo, every inch the accountant, says he makes sure every penny given to the church is banked and accounted for.

“Three people in the ministry, including myself, have access to the account. The prophet has no access to it. He doesn’t have anything to do with the money. It’s our decision what he gets. If he needs anything we advise him correctly about the funds available,” says Marimo.

“We cannot put a price on what he is worth or what he should have. He has done so many things for us and the people.”

Brendon Strauss, the Food Distribution Co-ordinator for the Bryanston Methodist Church in South Africa, says prosperity churches give a bad name to other churches. He says the church is not meant to be run as a business.

“The bible says people should give 10% of whatever God blesses them with to say thank you and that’s all God asks for,” Strauss says.

He says his church helps people in the community without demanding money from the congregation.

“We for example get food from shops and give to the needy in shelters and HIV support groups. We don’t subscribe to selling things in the church. Pastors get stipends for their role and it is enough for them to survive.”

Father Xolani Dlwati of St Monnica’s Anglican Church in Midrand, South Africa, says the most import thing is to help people understand that healing comes from God and churches are just vehicles of healing.

“The challenge is our ignorance where we don’t study the bible and see what the bible says. People need knowledge so they can see if they are being taken for a ride. The grace of God is sufficient for all. You cannot be paying back the priest for blessings God has given you. If you want to give, you can do so voluntarily through giving thanks and not because you are being forced to,” says Dlwathi.

Prosperity preachers sometimes find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Many followers give money for results. A problem arises when the promises are not kept. In Magaya’s words, “When people give money, they partner with the vision [of the ministry]”.

It’s not always that simple. Earlier this year, Magaya was hit with a nearly $2-million lawsuit by a Harare couple who allegedly gave him money and cars to fulfil a prophecy that they would own an airline. The Zimbabwean entrepreneurs, Upenyu and Blessing Mashangwa, behind the lawsuit, allegedly also “seeded” $15,000 towards this prophecy.

Blessing says they came into contact with Magaya when they were selling their eight-bedroom house in the Harare suburbs.

“Magaya requested to see us… about an airline vision he claims he had received from God when he visited the property we were selling. We worship in (UFIC Prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa’s church) and we felt if there was any airline deal then Prophet Makandiwa would tell us, therefore there was no need to meet him and we denied meeting him,” she says.

They eventually sold the house for $450,000 to Magaya.

“At the time we had three offers ranging between $500,000 to $550,000. We sold the house for a lower offer because we felt we were supporting the work of God,” she says.

According to her, Magaya asked them to “seed” for the airline prophecy to come to fruition. The couple seeded a 2014 Land Rover Discovery 4 Limited Edition. Magaya denies this.

So, does Magaya accept gifts from the poor?

“I accept gifts because whoever gives is blessed. If I don’t accept, I will be blocking someone else’s blessings,” he says.

Magaya says that he educates more than 5,000 children each year and passes on 90% of all he receives.

PHD Ministries is not the only church accepting gifts and it can turn ugly.

Zimbabwean single mother, Amanda Tshuma, says she left the Roman Catholic Church in search of miracles. She went to a Pentecostal church in Bulawayo.

“The situation in Zimbabwe is very hard. I was starting a business because I had lost my job. Every Sunday, the pastor would tell us to give money in tithe and offerings and also seed so that God can bless us,” she says.

Because of her search for economic emancipation, Tshuma did what she was told.

“I seeded almost everything I had. I even took the little money I had to start my business and gave to the church.”

After two years of waiting for a miracle, life became unbearable.

“I had debt and couldn’t afford food or a place to stay and I got kicked out,” says Tshuma.

The church, the one place she expected help from, didn’t help.

“The pastor wouldn’t even let me and my children sleep in the church while I thought of a plan. That’s when I saw that he doesn’t care. I left the church and I no longer attend any church because I don’t know who is after my money and who wants to help me go to heaven.”

Tshuma refuses to name the church for fear of retribution.

Like Magaya, many of these preachers are seen to be as much about profit as prophecies. Nigeria’s TB Joshua, Chris Okotie, Matthew Ashimolowo and Chris Oyakhilome live like rock stars and pull large congregations. In South Africa, some pastors have been known to make people eat grass, hair, snakes and drink petrol, all in the name of Jesus.

In the Christian Bible, Jesus turned the money changers out of the temple.

“It is written,” Jesus said to the traders, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers”.

In the 21st century, money has a home in many churches which sell copies of the sermons, gospel music videos and anointing oil. During Magaya’s crusade in Pretoria, worshippers bought both a DVD and anointing oil for R100 ($7.5).

 

Like in any business, style and reputation are huge marketing and selling points. This is not just an African thing. In Los Angeles in the United States (US), some pastors flaunt their wealth through a television reality show called Preachers of L.A. These pastors live in mansions, drive expensive cars and wear the latest fashion.

“P. Diddy, JZ, they are not the only ones that should be driving Ferraris and living in large houses,” says Bishop Ron Gibson on the show’s 2013 trailer.

Pastor Jay Haizlip says “the Bible says that those who sow among us should reap from us, that’s implying that preachers should be taken care of.”

“The Bible says I wish above all things that you would prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers. I believe that,” declares Bishop Clarence McClendon, one of the stars of the show.

Most of those who believe in these charismatic pastors don’t mind coughing up.

“It is our will as congregants to make sure they [pastors] are safe and all their needs are met. The only problem comes when they get richer and forget the poor. The media is only focusing on one side of the story. A lot of good things are happening in the church but no one is reporting about it. Most of them are rich but they take care of the poor. No one sees that,” says one of Magaya’s followers, Panashe Mandebvu.

These fundraising schemes make religion more emotive and controversial. Governments and religious groups in Africa are taking notice. The State is wading into the realm of prayer.

The government-backed Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, in South Africa, recently launched an investigation into the commercialization of religion.

“We are launching an investigative study on the commercialization of religion and the abuse of people’s belief systems in terms of when these institutions are being run, how are they being run, where is their funding going into, who collects how much and what do they do with the money, where does the money eventually go to, what are the governing principles that are there,” says chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva.

Findings will be released in April.

Magaya’s advice?

“If you feel like someone is eating your money, the best thing is not to give them.”

According to Statistics South Africa, based on their 2001 study, almost 80% of South Africa’s population follows the Christian faith. This means about 80% of the population are inclined to give money towards the Christian churches, steering the debate towards church taxation.

In South Africa, churches are classified under Section 15(1) of the Constitution, one of the most liberal in the world. This means they are registered to provide services without intent to make a profit.

According to the South African Revenue Services (SARS), non-profit organizations take a shared responsibility with government for the social and developmental needs of the country. Preferential tax treatment is designed to nurture non-profit organizations.

“The preferential tax treatment for not for profit organizations is however not automatic and organizations that meet the requirements set out in the Income Tax Act, 1962, must apply for this exemption. If the exemption application has been approved by SARS, the organization is registered as a Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) and allocated a unique PBO reference number,” says SARS on their website.

A 2012 report by The Economist estimated the annual spending by the Vatican and church-owned entities in the US to be around $170 billion. According to FORBES, Catholic Charities USA has annual revenue of $4.39 billion. According to a 2012 University of Tampa study, not taxing churches is costing US government coffers an estimated $71 billion each year.

Steven Friedman, a University of Johannesburg political scientist, who has specialized in the study of democracy, says governments need to be careful when they come up with ways to curb the rise of churches making money.

“Some churches are exploitative but it’s simply not clever people preying on the poor. We need to be careful with the interventions we put in place. Everybody should pay tax but where do you draw the line? How do you put it into law when there are so many different churches,” he says.

“I am not sure there is a solution beyond encouraging people that are being exploited to stop being exploited.”

Magaya counters that churches are neither businesses nor exploiters.

“It is very wrong to tax churches because churches are not being celebrated enough for the job they are doing. They [authorities] must actually look at areas where they can make sure that they celebrate churches,” he says.

In Kenya, the government has had enough of fly-by-night churches. Last year, it issued a ban on the registration of new churches; following a television exposé of a Salvation Healing Ministries pastor, Victor Kanyari, tricking his followers into donating seed money.

Kenya’s Attorney General, Githu Muigai, said in a press conference early this year, it is not the policy of the government of the Republic of Kenya to interfere with the freedom of religion and worship. The government also called for fresh registration of existing churches. The religious bodies were also required to file details of their financial returns with the registrar of societies.

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world,” so says the Bible. Maybe words worth thinking about if you go to church this Sunday.

The Day I Was Attacked By Demons

“If I could hit her with my camera, I would have,” I remember thinking.

In the midst of Walter Magaya’s service, it was drama. One by one, men and women were flocking to the stage claiming they were possessed by demons. I clicked away.

Suddenly, like a rugby tackle, I felt someone grab me around my thighs; it was a woman. She grabbed me, lifted me, and the next thing I was on the ground fighting. My one hand was in the air to protect my camera and the other was pushing her away to protect the sensitive parts of my body. She was mumbling loudly and crying. It took three ushers to make her let go.

I got up, ran away from the demon zone to where I was seated, checked for vomit, I was clean but felt dirty nonetheless. An usher who saw the attack ran to me and asked if I was okay. I was fine, but I looked back and thought “what the f**k did I just go through?”

For a split second during my ordeal, I thought the demons were coming for me. Had I known the day was going to be dramatic, I would have taken a long lens, worn a pair of work boots and a helmet.

Despite the ‘demonized’ woman, the hospitality shown by one of the members, Jerome Galiao, was great.

All I have now is a cut on my finger as a reminder.

Focus

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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Current Affairs

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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Current Affairs

Quality Higher Education Means More Than Learning How To Work

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When people talk about quality education, they’re often referring to the kind of education that gives students the knowledge and skills they need for the job market. But there’s a view that quality education has wider benefits: it develops individuals in ways that help develop society more broadly.

In Zimbabwe, for example, the higher education policy emphasises student employability and the alleviation of labour shortages. But, as my research found, this isn’t happening in practice.

University education needs to do more than produce a graduate who can get a job. It should also give graduates a sense of right and wrong. And it should instil graduates with an appreciation for other people’s development.

Tertiary education should also give students opportunities, choices and a voice when it comes to work safety, job satisfaction, security, growth and dignity. Higher education is a space where they can learn to be critical. It must prepare them for participating in the economy and broader society.

This isn’t happening in Zimbabwe. Graduate unemployment is high and employers and policy makers are blaming this largely on the mismatch between graduate skills and market requirements.

Investigating Zimbabwe’s universities
My research sought to examine how a human development lens could add to what was valued as higher education, and the kind of graduate outcomes produced in Zimbabwe. I investigated 10 of the universities in Zimbabwe (there were 15 at the time of the research). Four were private and six public.

I reviewed policy documents, interviewed representatives of institutions and held discussions with students. Members of Zimbabwe’s higher education quality assurance body and university teaching staff were also included.

I found that in practice, higher education in Zimbabwe was influenced by the country’s socio-political and economic climate. Decisions and appointments of key university administrators in public universities and the minister of higher education were largely political.

In addition, resources were limited and staff turnover was high. Universities just couldn’t finance themselves through tuition fees.

Different players in the higher education system – employers, the government, academics, students and their families – have different ideas about what “quality” means in higher education. The Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education understands quality as meeting set standards and benchmarks that emphasise the graduates’ knowledge and skills.

To some extent, academics and university administrators see quality as teaching and learning that gives students a mixture of skills and values such as social responsibility.

But lecturers must comply with the largely top-down approach to quality. They tend to do whatever will enhance students’ prospects of getting employment in a particular market.

The educators and students I interviewed acknowledged that developing the ability to work and to think critically were both central to higher education. But they admitted that these goals were hard to attain. This was because of the country’s constrained socio-political and economic environment. Academics and students felt that they couldn’t express themselves freely and critical thinking was suppressed.

Stuck on a road to nowhere
The study illustrates how an over-emphasis on creating human capital – skilled and knowledgeable graduates – limits higher education’s potential to foster broader human and social development.

University education should do more, especially in developing countries such as Zimbabwe that face not just economic, but also socio-political challenges. Before building more universities and enrolling more students, authorities and citizens should consider what quality education means in relation to the kind of society they want.

It’s possible to take a broader view of development, quality and the role of higher education. This broader approach – one that appreciates social justice – can equip graduates to address the country’s problems.

The road ahead
Universities can’t change a society on their own. But their teaching and learning practices can make an important difference.

Because quality teaching and learning means different things to different people, people need to talk about it democratically. Institutional and national policies must be informed by broad consultations to identify the knowledge, skills and values they want graduates to have.

University teaching and learning should emphasise freedom of expression and participation so that students can think and act critically beyond university.

Also, academics don’t automatically know how to teach just because they have a PhD. Universities should therefore ensure that academics learn how to teach and communicate their knowledge. Curriculum design, student assessment and feedback, as well as training of lecturers should all support this goal of human development.

When universities see quality in terms of human development, their role becomes more than production of workers in an economy. It gives them a mandate to nurture ethically responsible graduates. These more rounded graduates are better equipped to imagine an alternative future in pursuit of a better society, economically, politically and socially.

Patience Mukwambo: Researcher, University of the Free State

The Conversation

The Conversation

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