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You Can’t Get The Kids Off The Computer

It’s the next craze in Africa. Playing computer games before an audience of millions with fame and fortune at stake. They call it eSports.

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When a 10-year-old Dimitri Hadjipaschali started playing computer games his parents scoffed at the idea. Hadjipaschali was housebound, after breaking his ankle skateboarding, when he discovered his brother playing a game called Counter-Strike. This proved to be an existential moment on crutches; gaming became Hadjipaschali’s life.

“I just needed a crosshair and Counter-Strike was the game I kind of stuck with. I decided I was going to be a full-time gamer when I joined [eSports team] Bravado in 2008… I was doing it full time, trying to win competitions. Every time it came to a tournament I was trying to win. Every time I would come in second or third it was the worst day of my life for me. That’s when I knew,” he says.

Eight years later, Hadjipaschali is one of the rising stars in the next online craze in Africa. In bedrooms across the continent a generation of professionals is playing electronic sports, or eSports, for a living.

Competitive online gaming draws millions via streaming websites and where as much as $20 million can be at stake. It’s a bit like the Olympics for geeks and eSports has its own disciplines. Hadjipaschali is the captain for Bravado’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, or CS GO, team.

This is a first-person shooter game where a team of five tries to thwart bombers. In tournaments, teams play off in a best-of-three taking turns to attack and defend. The more games you win, the stronger your team becomes.

CS GO is one of the most popular games in South Africa. Globally it is the fourth highest-earning eSports game, with 5,396 professional players competing for $19.16 million in prizemoney at 1,710 tournaments, according to esportsearnings.com.

In Africa, this multi-million-dollar eStory is just beginning. The competition in South Africa is fierce. For years, gamers have battled for a few spots in international competition. That’s where the money is.

This is why Hadjipaschali is at a team boot camp in the cold hills of Meyersdal, south of Johannesburg. The team is here to train for the Electronics & Gaming Expo (EGE) in Cape Town. On the line is a shot at the international arena – an all-expenses-paid spot at the Electronic Sports World Cup and a chance to win $75,000, in Paris at the end of October.

“If we don’t take first place [in Cape Town] we don’t know when this opportunity will come again,” he says.

It’s going to be a long night for the team. On any given day, Hadjipaschali practices nine hours a day, often finishing at dawn. This weekend, with the promise of Paris looming, they will push even harder.

“A boot camp is for us to be more focused, to get more work done. It forces us to work when we are next to each other.”

It has been an historic and lucrative year for eSports in South Africa.

From Johannesburg is Barry ‘Anthrax’ Louzada, one of the old hands – which doesn’t take too long in this business. Involved in the industry since 1999, Louzada is called the South African godfather of eGaming. He slogged it out for 10 years as a competitive gamer around the world.

“Two years ago, you were at maybe a R100,000 ($7,000) total cash prize money for an event, because there was only one event a year. Now you are looking at over R2 million ($142,000) in just one year,” says Louzada.

These days Louzada is a shoutcaster, in English that means he gives live commentary on the sport.

“When I started out, it was a case of people driving around going to each other’s houses [barbequing] and LANing (network gaming). The internet wasn’t workable in this country for us to actually do any sort of online competing or playing. Now you have got hundreds and thousands of people coming to conventions,” he says.

As Louzada’s days as a competitive gamer are ending, Hadjipaschali’s are just beginning. If you saw Hadjipaschali walking down the street you wouldn’t think he was one of the top online gamers in the country. But those in the know ask for his autograph. For Hadjipaschali it’s more about the rush than the cash.

“In the beginning you can feel that pressure, that big match temperament, where you are not at the comfort of your own home behind your computer at your desk. When you are at home your hands aren’t shaking and it’s easier to play.”

Hadjipaschali’s next step on the road to fame and dollars was at a tournament in the cavernous Cape Town International Convention Centre on July 29. The team strolls in with the ease born of years perfecting their craft. They set up their computers, log in, huddle, and put on their headphones. Once the headphones are on, says Hadjipaschali, they won’t see anything but the screen.

With a crowd of almost a hundred cheering them on, it takes two hours to win their quarterfinal against a team called Energy. The players get up, shake hands and then make their way back to their hotel for some rest.

Hadjipaschali isn’t the only professional gamer in his family. His older brother Andreas, who founded Bravado, also had his shot. Now the team’s manager and coach, Andreas is even more determined to see South African gamers on the international scene.

“You only have one or two options, to make do with what qualifiers we have got [in South Africa] or we go overseas and we try qualify over there, but it gets really expensive. To go overseas, for five days with five players with accommodation, food, drinks we spent easily over R150-R170,000 (around $12,000). It’s different if you are living in Europe and there are qualifiers there all the time.”

Although the industry is booming, it’s not easy for the players of Bravado to play professionally. The team practises online every night. This is to accommodate players like 17-year-old Aran Groesbeek, who is still in school. His parents will allow him to play only once he has finished his homework. Ashton Muller, 24 years old, works part time as a manager at his father’s construction company. He dropped out of university to focus on gaming.

Robby da Loca spent a year in Sweden, the mecca of CS GO, trying to make it. But, with the high cost of living in Europe and having to work part time, he fell short and returned to South Africa. Da Loca is so captivated that when he first started playing, he would sneak onto his brother’s computer to play with his earphones off, so he could hear if his brother came home.

The final member is Ruan van Wyk, a qualified industrial engineer living in Port Elizabeth.

In Cape Town, the competition moves on to its final day. The atmosphere is intense as Bravado huddle before their semifinal. The auditorium is packed with fans. Shoutcasters blast their commentary. Behind the players is a giant screen, where the action is shown. Thousands more watch online. Bravado scores a crushing victory to get to the final.

South Africa has drawn the attention from teams around the world. One of those is Anthony Nell, manager of the South African branch of international brand Flipsid3 Tactics.

“What [Flipsid3 Tactics] are interested in is the player development in South Africa. They are looking for good players that are from parts of the world untapped by the rest of the world,” says Nell.

If you thought that gamers couldn’t earn a salary you would be wrong. Nell says even basic salaries for a player in a reserve league and lower would be around $5,000 a month, excluding prize money and endorsements.

The most lucrative eSports game is Defense of the Ancients 2 (DOTA 2). It attracts total prize pools of $86.7 million. At The International 4 in August, the crowdfunded prizes locked at $20.7 million and the winners, Wings Gaming, from China, walked away with $9.1 million for a week’s work.

Africa might not have as much cash to spare, but the pressure in Cape Town’s final is intense. Hadjipaschali and his team win a contested first set against their rivals, Carbon eSports, from Cape Town, who are playing at home.

Bravado suffers from nerves in the second set, throwing away an eight-point lead as Carbon force a decider. Ten minutes before the crucial final round that will make or break this team, Hadjipaschali gathers outside for a pep talk.

“Play calm and play smart,” he says.

The talk pays off and Bravado wins the final round clinically. The team leaps from their chairs shouting. The elation on their faces is priceless. It’s not the Olympics, nor the World Cup; but for these players it’s just as important. Hadjipaschali is so overwhelmed he cries.

“This is unreal. It may not seem like a lot to people, but this is what most of us do full time,” he says.

Ahead of Hadjipaschali and his team lies Paris and a possible $75,000, and that’s just the start.

How many more young men and women from Africa are going to go out on the international stages in search of millions, earning a living in a way their parents would surely fail to understand. Check your kids in the bedroom.

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Agriculture

Green-Sky Thinking

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In Johannesburg, city-dwellers like Linah Moeketsi have taken the future of sustainable farming into their own hands. Where land is becoming scarce, they look to the skies.


Doornfontein is one of Johannesburg’s older inner-city suburbs with decaying buildings and dingy alleys that wear a dour, monochrome look.

Daily commuters and street surfers jostle with delivery vans and mountains of metal scrap but the grey of the concrete city makes it hard to believe that there could be a patch of green in a most unlikely location.

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Above the humdrum of life here is a rooftop hydroponics farm looking down on the city, but upwards to a new route to restoration and urban preservation.

Atop the eight-floor Stanop building – offering a breath-taking view of the city and the landmark Ponte Towers in the distance – one woman has made it her mission to turn a grimy grey terrace into a green lung on the city’s skyline.

“City life is taking on a totally new direction… even people who think they couldn’t one day farm, find themselves on rooftops,” Linah Moeketsi tells FORBES AFRICA.

Moeketsi grows herbs, used to treat non-communicable diseases (NCDs), in a 250m x 500m greenhouse on the building’s terrace. But her rooftop farm is sans any soil – it uses a hydroponics system.

“I think because we are in the city and we would like to produce for people in the city, hydroponic farming is one of the answers because you can actually harvest more than twice the produce, and the growth rate is quicker and there is produce that you can have throughout the year that people demand because it is in a controlled environment,” she says.

On a windy Wednesday morning in October, we meet Moeketsi at her aerial green facility, a couple of days before she is to send some of her plant produce to the market.

She talks about her journey as an offbeat farmer. It all started when her father fell ill in 2013, when doctors failed to correctly diagnose his disease.

“They couldn’t see that he was diabetic. He didn’t show the signs of diabetes, but he had this foot ulcer that just wouldn’t go away,” she says.

“The future of city farming is great simply because we have more and more young people getting into this space. Even though it’s farming, they are looking at it from a very different angle.

Moeketsi decided to do her own research, so she read up books on African medicinal plants and used some herbs that belonged to her late mother, who had been a traditional healer.

“It took me a good eight months to help my dad and I actually saved him from having an amputation.”

The news of Moeketsi curing her dad’s diabetes using herbs spread. Sadly, her father died in 2016, at the age of 87. But she is proud to have helped prolong his life.

“So he passed away in his sleep, not sick, nothing, he was just old. But he was always grateful; he was like, ‘even when I die, I’m going to die with both my limbs’, so we would make a joke about it.”

READ MORE| Businesses At The Heart Of A Greener Future

After her father’s demise, Moeketsi rented some land and turned her knowledge on natural herbs into a fully-fledged farm. However, when the owner of the land returned, she was forced to vacate.

Land was always going to be a problem in the city. But instead of giving up, Moeketsi looked to the skies.

“Because of this passionate drive for an answer, I found myself researching what’s happening outside Gauteng and South Africa, and I saw in Europe, they were farming on rooftops,” she says.

In 2017, her dream became a reality when she secured a deal with the City of Johannesburg as part of an urban farming program, and started the rooftop project a year later.

When we visit her greenhouse, we are welcomed by the sweet lingering scent of herbs. It’s hot and humid, and two fans whir away to cool the air.

Moeketsi walks around the greenhouse wearing dark glasses and a white jacket, with a syringe in hand – she could easily pass off as a medical doctor.

She elaborates on the hydroponics system. There are four pyramids, each attached to their own reservoirs of water. On each pyramid, different plants, ranging from spinach, lettuce, sage, parsley, basil and dill, rest on beds with pipes connecting them to the reservoirs. Moeketsi plucks out one of the pipes and inserts the syringe; water spouts out of the tube and she returns it to the bed.

“Twice a day, you have to check that water is actually going through the pipes, because that’s how the plants get water and nutrients,” she explains, as she unblocks a pipe using the syringe. She says it’s one of the best ways to farm using little water.

“When you put in certain plants in the greenhouse, you know you are guaranteed sustainable farming because you can produce those plants and harvest them,” she says.

Moeketsi adds that this allows her produce to stay consistent season after season.

“So, from that point of view, it makes the city more sustainable in terms of food produce that is easily accessible and cost-effective for the consumer because not everyone around here can afford the high prices of food but they can at least afford what we sell, whether it is at R10 ($0.5) or R15 ($1).”

As Moekesti continues to tend to the plants, a farmer she works with walks in and begins filling up the reservoirs.

Lethabo Madela has known Moekesti for almost six years.

“When you look around Johannesburg, there is no space, so rooftops have saved us a lot, especially those of us that love farming,” says Madela. “I’m learning a lot and I think she [Moekesti] changed the whole concept of farming for me because I used to farm vegetables. I didn’t know culinary herbs or medicinal herbs.”

Moeketsi speaks of other farmers around the city who have taken to the rooftops to farm plants such as strawberries, lemon balm, spinach and lettuce.

READ MORE| Everything You Need To Know About The Future Of Pesticides And Bees

In a suburb called Marshalltown, a 10-minute drive from Moeketsi’s farm, Kagiso Seleka farms lemon balm also using hydroponics.

He produces sorbet and pesto from his produce which is then used to make ice cream.

“It [hydroponics] is great for farming sensitive plants in terms of temperature. Lemon balm does not like frost. But it’s better to grow even out of season so you can set a higher price,” he tells us.

However, he says hydroponics farming is a luxury not many farmers can afford.

“It [hydroponics] does have a bit of a higher capital upfront, but you get a higher yield and higher quality, so people are willing to pay more. Hydroponic planting saves about ninety five percent of water soil farming in a water-scarce country,” says Seleka.

READ MORE| Local Solutions Can Boost Healthier Food Choices In South Africa

“We do have water shortages, and I know people are on the whole ‘organic trip’ but, is it more important to have an organic plant versus a water-saving environment?”

The Program Coordinator for Agriculture at the City of Johannesburg’s Food Resilience Unit, Lindani Sandile Makhanya, says there certainly are more rooftop farmers in Johannesburg now than ever before.

Converting idle terraces into avenues of profit is becoming a norm. There are new rooftop farms being set up every day, offers Makhanya.

He regularly visits Moeketsi’s farm to check on the progress and collect produce to sell.

“Urban farming in Johannesburg is rising, mainly because the idea of producing our own food is very important because most people are moving to urban areas and therefore it stands to reason that we have to try to produce as much as possible,” says Makhanya.

“[There is growth] even in animal production, although we are moving away from the bigger numbers, but we are involving the smaller ones; because of the space issue, they are increasing overall.”

For Moeketsi, her farm has changed her life and given her hope for a better future. In addition to the teas, tinctures, ointments and medicinal products she processes from her plants, she plans to include more by-products such as syrups in the future.

“The future of city farming is great simply because we have more and more young people getting into this space. Even though it’s farming, they are looking at it from a very different angle,” she says. “That is why the city is changing and rooftop farming is going to get bigger and bigger.”

Clearly, farming in Africa is covering exciting new ground.

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020

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FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.


JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.

NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:

Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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Entrepreneurs

The Life And Wisdom Of Richard Maponya

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He was one of the big names in business in Africa; as gentlemanly. as he was shrewd. He fought the odds and apartheid to stake his place in business and inspire millions of his countrymen to do the same.

Richard Maponya – the doyen of black business in South Africa – passed away in the early hours of January 6, after a short illness. Maponya turned 99 on Christmas Eve near the end of a long and fruitful life that saw him dine with the Queen, laugh with Bill Clinton and chauffer his old friend Nelson Mandela. Mandela asked Maponya, who owned a car dealership, to pick him up at the airport in Johannesburg after his release from prison in 1990.

Ï picked him up at the airport and that was the most frightening time of my life. We were chased by people on foot, helicopters, motorbikes and cars. Everyone just wanted to touch Mandela. They could kill him just trying to touch him,” Maponya recalled to Forbes Africa in a cover story in March 2017.   

Mandela was a close friend of Maponya since the 1950s. The future president, then a young lawyer   helped Maponya set up his first business against the restrictive apartheid laws that shackled black business.

Maponya wanted to open a clothing store in Soweto, Johannesburg; the authorities said no. Mandela lost the fight for the clothing store, but did manage to secure him a license to trade daily necessities. This opened the way for Maponya to start out with a milk delivery business that was to prove the foundation of his fortune.

More than half a century on, Mandela, then a former president of South Africa, beamed with pride, in 2007, as he opened the first shopping mall in Soweto.

Maponya Mall had taken the canny businessman a good deal of patience to put together. He acquired the land in 1979 – the first black man to secure a 100-year lease for land in Soweto – and spent many more years building up the mall.

“Ï fought for 27 years for that mall and was many times denied; they actually thought I was dreaming. When Nelson Mandela cut the ribbon to open the mall, that was the highlight of my life,” Maponya said years later.

It was a mile on a road less travelled by Maponya in a long journey from the tiny township of Lenyenye in Limpopo in northern South Africa where he was born. He moved across the province to Polokwane to train as a teacher and then, like many young men of his generation, moved south to Johannesburg in search of his fortune.

In those days, the gold mining city was booming, but only the few saw the fruits. Maponya was blocked at every turn as he tried to make his way in business; he won through making a fortune from property, horse racing, retail, cars and liquor.

Maponya mentored many black entrepreneurs and inspired many millions more he had never met. One of them was Herman Mashaba, the former mayor of Johannesburg, who made his own fortune with hair care products.

“To myself and the people I grew up with he was an inspiration to all of us to get into business…If he had started out in business in a normal world there is no doubt he would have been even bigger than he was,” Mashaba told CNBC Africa.

Maponya will be mourned by the millions who were inspired to follow him and by a business world that is richer, in more ways than one, for his nearly a century of hard work in which retirement was never an option.

“People who retire are lazy people. You retire and do what? Bask in the sun?  I am not that type of man,” he said in 2017 at the age of 96.

He could never be.

By Chris Bishop  

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