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The Showjumpers Of Angola

Despite showjumping being a sport for the rich around the world, Angola is using it to help those with very little in their pocket.

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In Luanda, Angola’s capital, a group of teenage girls sit together, chatting and giggling. They are excited to share in the parties marking 40 years since their country’s independence. One member is especially jubilant, celebrating a double victory. Earlier that year, Catarina Serra joined a team in Portugal for Angola’s first ever international showjumping tournament, bringing back a silver medal and a heightened sense of national pride.

“Portugal was the highlight… showjumping fascinates me and I always intended to pursue it as a career,” says the 18-year-old Serra, exhibiting a determination belying her age.

Showjumping is an Olympic sport, judged according to a rider’s ability to clear obstacles in the shortest time possible. While participants are not judged for style, it is widely seen as one of the most stylish sports in the world, attracting luxury brand sponsors and a jet-set elite from across the globe. While the sport may appeal to those seeking glamour and excitement, in practice it requires dedication, strength, stamina, balance, as well as empathy with and control of the horse.

Angolan riders must train regularly, face internal competitions at least once a month and are encouraged to take part in at least three regional competitions each year. While her friends enjoy leisurely weekends at the beach or the mall, Serra starts her weekends at 7.30AM, taking the traffic-logged journey to the riding school. Here she tacks up her horse, begins training, showers her down, and then starts all over with another mare.

“It is hard to balance riding, school, family, friends…” she huffs as she runs from one stable to another.

Showjumping began in France and Britain in the 18th century but is very new to Angola, where riding itself can only be traced back to the 1950s. It was then that horses were used for combat purposes by the Portuguese colonial forces against guerrillas in the Angolan War of Independence. These cavalry units, known as the Dragöes de Angola, benefited from a better view of the battlefield above the tall grass. They also held a psychological advantage over their enemy who were unaccustomed to dealing with soldiers on horseback. Since independence, Angola’s cavalry forces were expanded and the mounted unit remains an integral and highly-regarded part of the national police force. Horses were first imported from South Africa, and later from Argentina. The former Minister of Petroleum, Desidério Costa, boosted the equestrian movement further by importing the first Lusitano breed from Portugal and setting up the first riding school after independence.

This school, Gimunalu, on the outskirts of Luanda, remains one of the top training grounds for athletes today, featuring a stadium and a riding school with a covered ring and jumping arena. It also houses a 42-box stable yard, accommodation for the riders, and several fields. In addition, a specialist hippotherapy center provides rehabilitation for people affected by motor, sensory and mental disorders through interdisciplinary training with the horses. Meanwhile, the Huila riding center at Lubango, born out of the dust in 2013, now boasts a three-hectare field, five paddocks, a 34-stable yard, three training rings, as well as accommodation and event rooms.

A mostly rural country, with many farms and a predominantly young population, Angola is now seizing the opportunity to become a major player worldwide. In 2009, it set up its own national federation for equestrian sports, Fequangola. In 2014, it was accepted into the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), the top governing body for equestrian competitions, and in 2015 it sent a team to compete in Portugal at a Grand Prix tour, the highest level of showjumping competition. In the same year, in line with the leading governing body which oversees the breeding of competitive dressage and showjumping horses, it also began its first insemination program for a local line of specialist horses.

It’s an expensive business. Contrast this with Angola’s extreme poverty and one would be forgiven for thinking that its foray into equestrian sports comes at a shameful expense. However, unlike many countries where the sport is traditionally reserved for the affluent, Angola is keen to utilize the sport as a lifeline for the disadvantaged. The mounted police unit gives free riding lessons to children of all staff, while Gimunalu also offers free lessons to stable grooms, relatives of farmers, as well as top students from the neighboring school. FEI Solidarity, a global program to support the next generation of riders, is also being implemented in Angola.

“[Showjumping] is a means to give some hope to children of a poorer background and have them practice this wonderful sport. I just love to see the smiles on their faces when they sit on horseback for the very first time,” says Fequangola Vice President for Foreign Affairs, Ginga d’Almeida.

Considering the slump in oil prices and its need to diversify the economy, Angola’s focus on equestrian sports is also pragmatic. Equestrian sport is just one of several areas targeted for creating jobs and boosting economic growth. The nation aims to attract foreign direct investment through the sale of its showjumping bloodstock to neighboring countries, as well as to boost tourism through top-class riding schools and international competitions.

Unsurprisingly, showjumping is being taken very seriously at the upper echelons of government, with President Jose Eduardo dos Santos attending the first competition held in the country in 2009. Other African nations are providing ample competition, with the FEI now boasting 14 members across the continent. Angola will be focusing on jumping in particular over the coming years, working closely with the FEI, neighboring national federations and the African Confederation of Equestrian Sports.

“I personally intend to pursue efforts… for Angola to become the most equestrian nation in southwest Africa,” says d’Almeida with a determined smile.

Sadly, the fall in oil prices and global economic recession has forced the country to tighten its belt, and the lack of funds is proving a higher obstacle than the jumps themselves. If Angola is to maintain momentum in the world of showjumping, it will need private sponsorship. Top-notch trainers, qualified veterinary surgeons and horse medicine are not readily found within the country and come at a huge cost. Add to this the maintenance of the riding schools, entry fees into international competitions, along with the logistics of getting the team there in the first place, and the costs spiral. For this reason Angola will not be competing at this year’s Olympics in Brazil.

“Unfortunately riding is an expensive sport so we need to find sponsors so we can better finance our activities. I trust that, with time, people will understand this sport better and support us more,” says d’Almeida.

While Angola faces many challenges, it holds a promising future. Serra has her eye on a particular prize.

“I would be very pleased if one day I could get to the World Equestrian Games and maybe, who knows, the Olympics,” she says.

FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez says that this is not such a distant dream.

“This is a real possibility for Angola looking towards Tokyo 2020 and beyond,” she says.

All the more reason for a double celebration at the country’s 50th independence anniversary.

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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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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.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Samantha Todd; Forbes

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Economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Samantha Todd; Forbes

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