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‘They Keep On Expecting To Get Things For Free’’

Higher education is a question of economics as much as learning. With students taking to the streets demonstrating for free education, the question is who should pay?



Whatever way you look at it, higher education in South Africa is expensive. A Bachelor of Science first-year student at the University of Cape Town paid between $3,700 and $4,700 in fees this year. Science students at the University of the Witwatersrand paid between $3,000 and $4,200, while Stellenbosch University students paid between $2,750 and $3,000 and the University of Johannesburg students paid between $2,200 and $3,700.

On top of this, parents pay for accommodation, books and food. The approximate total cost for living in a self-catering single-room residence at the University of Cape Town is $3,600 per year.

“I use about R120,000 ($8,700) on my daughter per year to study and live in Cape Town. Things are expensive and there is just not enough money. My other daughter is starting university next year and I worry about how I will pay for them both,” says single mother, Noxolo Dwaba, from Johannesburg.

This is why students and parents want cheaper education in a country where you pay income tax of up to 41%. It led to mass protests at universities around the country.

At the passionate student demonstrations was a veteran campaigner who spent more than a third of his life behind bars for his beliefs. Ahmed Kathrada, who went to prison with Nelson Mandela, says high university fees will force the poor to drop out.

“While one is well aware that the economy is already under pressure, we believe that government can cut wasteful expenditure and reprioritize education, which itself is essential to addressing inequality in South Africa in the long term,” he says.

Kathrada believes the government can afford it, especially with help.

“Universities can make the necessary changes in terms of expenditure to reprioritize and focus on the essentials. The private sector can also look at its financial commitments and find ways of increasing its contribution to higher education. These three sectors can work together on long term as sustainable solutions to ensure greater access to education, particularly for poor students,” says Kathrada.

The Deputy Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, Kuben Naidoo, agrees with Kathrada and says an African girl in a township school has a 4% chance of getting a university degree as the odds are stacked against her.

“Of course skills are the major challenge in South Africa. Most people focus on quality school education, without underestimating the value of that, most of the things I learned in my career, I learned at work. The workplace is the best generator of skills. It is the best generator of ideas. Global development policy puts too much emphasis on quality education and too little emphasis on employment… In South Africa there are few people working and there are few people learning the skills on the job. Indeed, the fees must fall, the skills must rise,” says Naidoo.

Xolela Mangcu, a professor at the University of Cape Town involved in the campaign to do away with the Cecil John Rhodes statue, says it’s time for the government to get its priorities right.

“This country spends enormous amounts of money on shady deals that are hidden from public scrutiny. We saw that with the arms deal, and we see it now with talk of nuclear energy. In addition, we have a bloated government with 74 ministers and deputy ministers, and nine provincial legislatures that serve no useful purpose other than to balkanize us,” he says.

Economist, Mike Schüssler, says: “Students should pay and we can help them do that, but they should have a responsibility to pay back the money that would have been made available to them by government so that it can be used to educate others.”

“We put R9 billion ($650 million) in one year towards education, we have the private sector and universities also giving bursaries, yet we can’t fund everybody because students are not paying back the money they are supposed to. In a free education system, sometimes people will take the easy route and study things that don’t require that much effort and those things don’t get rewarded well. If they know they have to pay it back, they will study something where they would get a good salary.”

According to Schüssler, other countries have student loans but are more successful in collecting them.

“If we can’t do it properly, we can get the South African Revenue Services (SARS) to do that so that there is always money to fund others after people graduate and get jobs.”

It may be a long wait for the free education students are campaigning for.

Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, says government is looking into community service for graduates.

“We are also looking into the private sector because their contributions are not in line with the benefits that they get. They are the single largest absorbers of university graduates.”

Although it is not his decision, Nzimande believes the cabinet must consider a wealth tax to fund education.

“We should be careful about raiding the skills levy money all the time as that could amount to robbing the poor to pay the poor,” he says.

South Africa’s Finance Minister, Nhlanhla Nene, counters education is one of the best endowed departments. Spending on basic education over 2015/16 is estimated at $14.5 billion. Over the next three years, about $46 billion will go towards basic education.

The government, through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), provides financial aid for poor students. NSFAS increased the number of students they assist substantially from $32 million, assisting 29,176 students in 1999, to $650 million, assisting 414,802 students in 2014.

“Despite the considerable investment in financial aid, we are still unable to fully meet the needs of all qualifying and deserving students. Insufficient student financial aid is a contributing factor that impedes equitable access to university education and undermines government’s effort to respond to the socio-economic inequalities and challenges our country faces. We also have to look at university fees (tuition, accommodation and living expenses) as it is increasing at a higher rate than NSFAS funds,” says Nzimande.

NSFAS Executive Officer, Msulwa Daca, says the scheme helped  more than 400,000 students last year.

“We need R51 billion ($3.7 billion) over three years to fund the students,” he says.

“There are a number of people affected but we don’t have enough money to fund students who are in the lower income bands. We are looking to partner with banks and development finance institutions to create and design a product that can be able to intervene and assist students in the medium income bands,” says Daca.

NSFAS now has a project team working on how to get money back to help current students.

“We are making a plea to former students who were assisted by the scheme and are now employed to start making payments.”

President Jacob Zuma approved a 0% increase for the 2016 academic year; the government is left with a $188-million hole.

“To resolve the immediate shortfall we are working out exactly what different sectors will contribute, together with the minister of finance.”

According to Nzimande, in the future, an additional $1.4 billion per year is needed for university subsidies.

In a statement, Linda Jarvis, Chief Financial Officer of the University of the Witwatersrand, says the 5% subsidy from the government is not enough to cover costs.

“We have to make up our income to cover our expenditure in order to remain sustainable. If we do not do so, we put the quality of our academic project at risk,” she says.

“The government’s policy at the moment is not free higher education for everyone. Students who come from relatively wealthy families and very wealthy families must pay for the system but for the working class, poor and lower middle class, like teachers and nurses who are battling, it is possible that they are catered for,” he says.

For free education to be a reality, Schüssler says we need better economic growth and better efficiency.

“The problem when students get things for free is they keep on expecting to get things for free. In Germany, when students do the equivalent of a master’s here that should take five years, many take more than seven years to complete. So we need to define what is free and for how long.”

Nzimande says a presidential task team has been formed to look at short-term financial issues for 2016. The task team will also look at students who are already in university but have debt from previous years and risk financial exclusion.

“They will also look at the medium to long-term solutions for 2017 onwards. There is no doubt that government will have somehow been able to raise money to begin to deal with some of these challenges,” he says.

“While the government will need to source additional resources, beneficiaries of the scheme and the private sector need to invest in our youth as well.”

Students around the world want the answer to who will foot the bill – clearly they don’t want to.

Government Should Pay

Mandlenkosi Dube

It may be rewarding, but it’s still expensive to be an African studying stateside.

Yale University student, Mandlenkosi Dube (21), says students have a right to complain because the ANC government hasn’t delivered on its promises, two decades into democracy.

“It’s unfair that state education which should serve everyone, especially those who have been historically disadvantaged, should become instead a vehicle to reinforce the privilege of certain racial groups in South Africa who historically have been better off than most black South Africans. And it’s especially ironic that it is an act of government cutting funds to state universities that prompted universities to seek fee increases, and thereby setting off the #FeesMustFall campaign,” says Dube.

He left his home country, Zimbabwe, to study in the United States (US) as a means to explore different fields so he can decide on what to study.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do that in Zimbabwe because universities there require undergraduates to choose a major before starting university.

Dube is currently taking philosophy, literature, historical and political thought, and microeconomics. In the US they are only required to choose majors in their second year of study.

“Education here prepares people for the demands of not only performing well in jobs in the area they eventually major in but also for navigating their way through the more nuanced aspects of life and the world in general,” he says.

Dube relies on a bursary to afford the $45,000 annual fees.


Tick Tock – goes The Time Bomb

Moeletsi Mbeki

Moeletsi Mbeki is with the students and the radicals. He says the government must pay for university fees because it can afford it.

In April, Mbeki warned of a ticking time bomb and an Arab Spring-style uprising in South Africa.

“South Africa is a bomb waiting to explode, all it needs is a little match to spark it and it will go up in flames,” he said.

“The recent student demonstrations were one of the many small bombs that would ultimately lead to an ultimate explosion if government’s approach didn’t change.”

Mbeki, the brother of former South African president Thabo Mbeki, is a political economist and deputy chair of the South African Institute of International Affairs. He says most people can’t afford rising college fees in gloomy economic times.

“There are about 19 million people in the credit system in South Africa, with half that number failing to service their debt,” he says.

“We have a 40 percent unemployment rate among Africans and 30 percent unemployment rate among colored [people] which are the two largest populations in this country.”

He also warned that the underperformance of the economy was part of the reason why most South African families could not meet the education costs.

“To create a competitive economy, everybody should be educated and there should be the right investment into skills that grows the economy.”

Mbeki says the African National Congress-led government needs to spend on education instead of the Holy Grail of building the black middle class.

He does not believe in student loans as he says this would overburden people with debt.

Mbeki dismissed suggestions from the higher education minister, Blade Nzimande, that the private sector had the money to fund tertiary education.

“It is within the domain of the state to fund public education. Nzimande seems not to acknowledge that the private sector in South Africa is becoming thinner as companies are exiting for other African countries like Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.”

Nzimande, in the aftermath of the protests, conceded that the government would meet the deficit resulting from a 0% increase for 2016.

“[While] wealthier universities will make a contribution towards the shortfall, the rest of the money will have to come from the departments of higher education and finance or through reprioritization of other departments,” says Nzimande.

South Africa’s weak student loan system also seems to have failed. South Africa is not alone; the United States (US) is heading towards a bubble that will threaten the financial system with unpaid student loans.

According to reports, unpaid loans in the US sit at around $1.2 trillion.

In South Africa, most students who struggle to pay their fees receive a cushion from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). But the body has also failed the needy by not providing the funding.

Msulwa Daca, CEO of NSFAS, in January 2014, said his organization needed at least $1.45 billion a year for poor students in South Africa. This leaves Vice Chancellors with a huge burden that Mbeki thinks the government should pay for.

‘We Still Have A Long way To Go’

“I don’t care what you know, show me what you can do,” says a pioneer of the formal education system in Ghana, Dr. J.E. Kwegyir Aggrey during a lecture in South Africa many years ago.

Rather than push out knowledge for students to regurgitate, Aggrey pushed for students to be able to use their knowledge to help develop the nation.

For the millions of impoverished people in Africa, education is a step towards prosperity. Education, however, is expensive. The cost of providing 12 years of education for impoverished countries was estimated at $39 billion by UNESCO. Despite the expense, current figures from the World Bank show significant growth in the number of universities in Ghana.

“When we started about 10 years ago, there were not a lot of options for students. You either go to the University of Ghana, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, or the University of Cape Coast. Today, we have several educational institutions offering a number of options to suit each student,” says John Prentsil, the Founder of Liberty International College, one of many private universities shooting up in the country’s capital, Accra.

Liberty International College has 2,000 students and specializes in business and entrepreneurship courses. Prentsil says the increase in enrolled students is due to the partnership with the Students Loan Trust Fund (SLTF). The fund, established in 2005, pays for a significant portion of the students’ tuition. When the students find jobs, they repay the fund through deductions from their salaries.

“At the time of my application to university, my dad had just been made redundant and we did not have enough money to pay the tuition fees. The SLTF is the reason I have my degree,” says Frederick Ofori, a graduate from Zenith University College.

“Education specific projects with the World Bank have increased significantly. Global partnership for education grants total $75.5 million between 2012 and 2016,” says Eunice Ackwah, Senior Education Specialist at the World Bank.

Despite money being pumped into the education sector, challenges still exist.

“I did not receive enough from the SLTF for my tuition and as a result I had to rely on a scholarship from the university to enrol in my course,” says Steven Adjei, a second-year student at Jayee University College.

There is growing concern over fees across West Africa. Public universities are significantly more affordable than private institutions.

“Nigeria’s private universities charge some of the highest fees in the region,” says Olufemi Adebayo, senior consultant at Ignite Africa, an education think tank in Lagos. “Babcock University and the American University of Nigeria charge the most… with average prices ranging from about $4,000 to $16,000 all-inclusive annual fees.”

These universities are generally only accessible to the wealthy.

For those who cannot afford it, there are around 36 state-run universities. Tuition fees for first-year students at the University of Lagos are around N55,000 ($276), while students at Obafemi Awolowo University pay around N60,000 ($300).

One of the top private colleges in Ghana, Ashesi University, charges around $4,600. The University of Ghana charges around $400 for its most expensive courses.

“We still have a long way to go to the point where education is free or for the most part easily affordable for students in the country,” says Adebayo.

For most, a degree is still just a dream.

‘Something Has To Be Done For The Poor’

Christopher Tsolo

How hard can it be to pay for an education? You have a single mother, who works as a domestic worker, supporting you and two other children with $218 a month?

For 20-year-old University of Johannesburg (UJ) student, Christopher Tsolo, this is reality. The second-year BA Psychology student from Vereeniging, in Gauteng, works part time at the university’s Centre for Psychology, earning $87 a month, to make ends meet. Outside school, Tsolo seeks whatever work he can.

Like many South African students, Tsolo has a loan from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), which he’ll have to pay off once he starts working. The loan only covers tuition and student accommodation. He survives on $50 for groceries every month, which he gets from his mother.

“My course is a five-year course and NSFAS only pays for five years. If I were to fail one semester, NSFAS wouldn’t be able to pay for that semester. That means I would have studied for nothing, seeing as I wouldn’t afford the fees. That makes me work even harder,” he says.

Tsolo sees lots of value in the #FeesMustFall protests. Although he wants free education, Tsolo accepts that it’s not going to happen overnight.

In his family, Tsolo is the only person who has gone to university.

“When I start working, not only will I have to take care of my mother and siblings, I will be responsible for my extended family as a whole. On top of that, I still have to pay back my own NSFAS loan. Education is key and something has to be done for easier access to it for the poor,” says Tsolo.

‘They Are Our Future, Invest In Them’

Kgomotso Mautloa dropped out of university to start his business Green Robot Design. It wasn’t laziness or high fees that forced him to leave; it was his entrepreneurial spirit.

“I felt that I was in the wrong place and I didn’t identify with what school was teaching me back then. I would definitely go back,” says Mautloa.

Kgomotso Matluoa

Although he didn’t need a degree to start his successful business, Mautloa thinks a university education is valuable.

“I think that it’s vital for students to get education, it’s important for them to be able to learn from an early age.”

While he salutes the students for fighting against an increase in their fees, he doesn’t necessarily feel that university education should be free.

“I think that there’s a certain fulfilment and gratitude to studying and paying for your fees, because there is more entitlement, more effort that is put in to see your hard work pan out. On the other hand, I do understand that fees are really expensive and that some students and parents find it hard to pay them.”

Mautloa says students need help from both the government and the corporate sector.

“It’s going to be interesting to see what happens next year and the years to follow and how the government intends to solve this problem. I think the government and corporate South Africa needs to play its part, even small businesses. The youth is our future, if we don’t invest in them, then who will and if we don’t take the plights of these young, eager minds to heart, then we are lost.”

Good Education Comes At A Price… But Government Should Pay

Amy Kenyan

It’s not cheap in Britain either. For PhD student, Amy Kenyon, a bursary at Oxford University meant a chance of a lifetime. The 28-year-old South African, from Johannesburg, has spent the last four years in England researching melanomas.

“I study the molecular mechanisms by which these processes occur in an effort to gain an understanding of how the immune response can be targeted for cancer therapy,” says Kenyon.

Kenyon is only able to afford her £24,615-per-year fees thanks to two bursaries – the Wellcome Trust PhD program and the Clarendon Fund – that bridge her international student fees.

“I came to the UK having been through government high school education in South Africa followed by an undergraduate degree, Honours and Master’s at Rhodes. I think this is a very important point. I never for one second felt as though I had received a lesser education for studying in South Africa. Certain tertiary institutions in South Africa are providing world-class education and we should be really proud of this.”

“I think that tertiary education, at a standard that compares to the rest of the world, comes at a price. I don’t, however, believe that that price should be met by the students, but rather government funding. The danger, that an increase in fees prevents talented students from reaching their potential, is one that as a country will cost us.”

Ire On The Rise

As students in South Africa pushed for university fees to fall, students in East Africa watched with a knowing look.

Only two weeks before, the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa felt the heat.

Students of Technical University of Mombasa went on the rampage over what they called an unjustified increase in school fees. They destroyed and torched property before police intervened. Lectures at the institution remain suspended.

In March, students at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, had a similar run in with their administration. They were protesting a new policy where they had to settle their fees in full before being allowed back in class. Paying for higher education in East Africa is a huge burden on parents, students and governments.

Since 1952, Kenya has offered subsidies. The Higher Education Loans Board (HELB) lends money to students joining public universities. The repayment of the loans starts immediately after graduation.

But this has been controversial. The board has been accused of delaying disbursements, which led to many clashes with students. The rising cost of living in Kenya has also seen students demand more money.

The HELB, however, faces a shortage of money. After including students from private universities and other public tertiary institutions, government funding is not enough. The high level of unemployment in Kenya has seen the repayment of the loans dwindle.

The HELB sought a bill in parliament to redefine its mandate to focus only on students at public universities and allow unemployed students to opt out of payment. Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta rejected this, saying it will burden the state.

“Loanees will no longer feel pressured to complete their studies and enter into gainful employment so they can start servicing their loans,” says Kenyatta.

As in South Africa, the debate over who should pay for fees is strong.

Current Affairs


Just like the world is desperately seeking a cure to end the coronavirus pandemic which has killed over 275,000 people so far and leaving a trail of human, economic and social misery, the world too must find a way to end wars, or else we may be defeated as a civilization.



UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls on President Ashraf Ghani during a visit to Afghanistan’s capital Kabul to show solidarity with the Afghan people. Photo UNAMA / Fardin Waezi/June 2017.

The world commemorated the 75th Anniversary to mark the end of the 2nd World War also called VE Day on May 08, 2020.

With her nation, and much of the world still in lockdown, due to COVID 19, England’s Queen marked 75 years since the allied victory in Europe with a poignant televised address. From Windsor Castle, Queen Elizabeth said, “ the wartime generation knew that the best way to honour those who did not come back from the war, was to ensure that it didn’t happen again”.

But the world is still at war. Proxy wars or localised conflicts are wrecking havoc on human development and humanity in virtually every corner of the world. By the end of 2018, wars, violence and persecution have driven record numbers of over 70 million people from their homes worldwide, according to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. This is the largest ever displacement of humanity, post 2nd World War.

Never has the appeal by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres been more pertinent: “The world is in pieces; we need world peace.” 

The United States signed a historic deal with Afghanistan that outlines a timetable and exit plan for American troops, setting the stage for the potential end to nearly 18 years of war in Afghanistan.  The UN Secretary General welcomed the US-Taliban peace agreement on February 29, 2020.  The United States also won the unanimous backing of the UN Security Council to this ambitious peace deal on March 10, 2020.

The implementation of the peace agreement will need leadership, courage and resolve and there will be spoilers who will attempt to upend the peace process. The road to peace will be characterized by violence, set-backs and numerous false starts, but it will need diplomacy, determination and drive to keep the peace process on track.

Hubris must not prolong the agony of this appalling war. 

The war has cost over $2 trillion and killed more than 2,400 American soldiers and 38,000 Afghan civilians. Casualties among Afghan security forces are estimated to have reached around 40,000 between 2007 and 2017.

Wars are appalling. As a combat veteran, I have witnessed first-hand how armed conflicts have transformed some of our finest soldiers into shells of the people I once knew. Combat is savage, it is brutal, it is reckless, it diminishes us as human beings and jeopardizes our humanity.

General William Sherman once said, “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, and more desolation. War is hell.”

There are no winners in Afghanistan, but let’s consider the consequences on all the women and men who fought in it.

Today, research backs up what soldiers have described for decades, and what was once called shell shock or combat fatigue. We have terms like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), chronic depression, cognitive impairment, and traumatic brain injury to help explain the symptoms suffered by active and returning soldiers.  

U.S. Army soldiers on security duty in Paktīkā province, Afghanistan, 2010. Sgt. Derec Pierson/U.S. Department of Defense

For a long time, many of the grim statistics about war centred on fatalities and did not include the conflicts’ deep mental wounds. Today we have a better understanding of the kind of moral and psychological toll wars take on soldiers, their families, and communities.

The United States is a leader in the understanding of psychological and emotional damage to soldiers and has taken some steps to address their mental health. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have left between 11% and 20% of military personnel suffering from PTSD. As many as 375,000 US veterans have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries between 2000 and 2017, mostly caused by explosions. 

But suicides in the US armed forces have continued to rise in recent years, reaching record levels in 2018 when there were 25 deaths per 100,000 service members. Former defence secretary Leon Panetta once said that the “epidemic” of military suicide was “one of the most frustrating problems” he had faced.

More than $350 billion has already gone to medical and disability care for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Experts say that more than half of that spending belongs to the Afghanistan effort.

Homelessness among veterans is pervasive, and soldiers still struggle to access benefits and healthcare if they suffer from mental health issues rather than from physical wounds. At any given time in the US, more than 40,000 veterans are homeless, constituting around 9% of all homeless adults in the country. 

In the United Kingdom, spurred by a dozen suicides among Afghan war veterans in just two months, the government expedited new mental health programs to help deal with former military members’ PTSD and addiction. 

What does this now mean for the Afghan security forces? They and their families do not have the same support structures.

All this ‘hell’, but to what end? Afghanistan remains one of the world’s largest sources of refugees and migrants. Since 2004 alone, more than 1.8 million Afghans have become internally displaced. Afghanistan’s human development and progress has been set back by decades. Women and children have suffered the most and countless are emotionally and psychologically scarred for life.

While we like to see soldiers as stoic and heroic, we must open our eyes to the fact that wars scar minds as well as bodies, often in ways medical science cannot yet comprehend.

Just like the world is desperately seeking a cure to end the coronavirus pandemic which has killed over 275,000 people so far and leaving a trail of human, economic and social misery, the world too must find a way to end wars, or else we may be defeated as a civilization.

Siddharth Chatterjee, is the United Nations resident coordinator to Kenya. He has served with the UN and the Red Cross Movement in various parts of the world affected by conflicts and humanitarian crisis. He is also a decorated Special Forces veteran and a Princeton University alumnus. Follow him on Twitter @sidchat1

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

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



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



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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