If you want to know of the damage and desperation of debt, just ask 63-year-old Memory Oosthuizen.
Oosthuizen and her partner, Carol, felt the wrath of the 2008 recession when they lost their jobs. Money was tight and the going tough. They used up R750,000 ($56,000) of their retrenchment packages, retirement funds and even took up a second bond on their home to start a car washing business. It ushered in more financial problems.
“The business wasn’t doing so well because money was tight for a lot of people. We had to pay 10 of our staff members and pay our own bills. We also had to pay R25,000 ($1,900) rent at the business premises,” she says.
They turned to credit cards and loans to keep the business running.
“I had three credit cards and my spouse also had three credit cards. We got them so easily. I know that we have to be in control but when you are in a situation like that, it’s so easy to see it as a way out. You can have a credit card without a credit check in just a day. They would call you and say you have been pre-approved, even if you haven’t applied,” says Oosthuizen.
In just a year, the pair racked up R1.2 million ($90,000) in debt. Their landlord took their car washing equipment in lieu of unpaid rent.
“It was the toughest time of our lives. We struggled and had nothing. It was quite a humiliating situation… We managed to get out of debt through debt counselling but it took us years. I never want to be in debt again. Funnily enough, just the other day, I got an SMS from a bank offering me a credit card of R50,000 ($3,800). The banks tempt you by sending you such messages when you are in a bad situation.”
It may be tough to say no, but there is help. The two dug themselves out through debt counselling that is becoming a boom industry.
There is also a volunteer, Nicolette Mashile, who left her nine-to-five job to teach people how to handle money.
“I noticed people sign up for these financial products but they don’t really know what they are, what they will pay out or when they will pay out. I once had a policy with Old Mutual. It was the easiest thing to get into. I just filled in a contact form on the internet, they asked for my ID and all of a sudden I had a policy. The day I wanted to withdraw my money, it was a struggle,” says Mashile.
The worst thing, according to Mashile, is that qualified people are the most vulnerable. They have a salary and qualify for loans.
“A friend of mine wanted to buy a home and she got an approval at 16%. The prime at the time was 10.25%. Banks have a target to reach but remember sometimes it can be at your expense.”
Mashile, a social entrepreneur and self-taught financial literacy educator, says the problem is people don’t learn how to handle money at a young age.
“Most of us grow up in homes where it is cool to be in debt and they perpetuate the idea that everyone is in debt and it’s easy to get loans. Even at the ATM, there are options you can click to get a quick loan. You also find many people who have never had money and all of a sudden, they start working and they have R25,000. Why would they not buy a car? The other issue is that people don’t prioritize. Our attitude towards debt is a problem, we wish it away,” says Mashile.
She says people have to talk openly about debt and money, ask questions before taking credit, read contacts, understand their financial situation and live within their means.
“If you can’t afford something, you can’t afford it. Don’t become a slave to debt. Also don’t agree to interest rates that are high. Remember the bank needs you more than you need it,” says Mashile.
The big picture is frightening.
Statistics from the National Credit Regulator (NCR) show that, in South Africa alone, about 25 million people have active credit records and 10 million are in severe arrears. In the 2015/2016 financial year, total consumer credit in the country amounted to R1.66 trillion ($125 billion), an increase of 2.94% year-on-year.
South Africa saw a shift when government introduced the National Credit Act (NCA), in June 2007, to open up credit to those who struggled to get it. It worked, but problem is, it also steered the country down a slippery slope of debt. South Africa is one of the most over-indebted consumer nations in the world.
“The designers of the NCA naively thought this credit would be spent on ‘wealth creating assets’. What has transpired over the last 10 years is that the increase in mortgages and use of credit in funding businesses has been relatively dismal, and the vast majority of the increase in credit has been in expensive unsecured credit that has been spent on consumption with the recipients having very little, if anything, to show for it at the end of the last 10 years,” says DebtBusters CEO Ian Wason.
Wason says approval rates, for borrowing, have slowly been falling and are currently around 50% with some credit providers having approval rates in single figures. The regulators believe credit shouldn’t be given to those who can’t afford it. What is happening is some credit providers look at their books of business and ignore the individual’s affordability to pay.
“A good example is the furniture sector which tends to have 50% non-performing loans and the difference is those who pay are charged high interest and fees thus in the end making the business profitable. What is deeply frustrating is that the NCR has the power to increase the minimum expenses threshold that the credit providers have to use, currently at around 9% and less, and it has not done so,” he says.
At first glance, South Africans look relatively financially healthy with the debt to income ratio at 74%, compared to the UK at 145%. The difference is, the bulk of this debt, in developed nations like the UK, is backed by bricks and mortar, through mortgages, typically at interest rates around 2% and, in South Africa, unsecured debt is the big boom in town.
“Nearly 50% of South Africans’ debt is in expensive unsecured credit over shorter terms. Of the consumers that approach DebtBusters for help, they are spending an average of 98% of their income on debt repayments,” says Wason.
The World Bank’s Global Findex database found that, between 2013 and 2014, 86% of South Africans borrowed money. According to the survey, which interviewed 150,000 people over the age of 15 from 140 different economies, sub-Saharan Africa had the highest number of borrowers at 54%, with 42% using family and friends as sources of new loans. It’s not always the consumer’s fault. Lack of financial literacy and unscrupulous credit providers are some of the causes of Africa’s personal debt problem.
African Bank was arguably one of South Africa’s notorious biggest lending banks. At its worst, in August 2014, the bank had a loan book of around R60 billion ($4.5 billion). According to the Myburgh Report, the bank was receiving 60 to 80 complaints of reckless lending a month, mostly from debt counsellors, and was granting between 100,000 and 120,000 loans monthly.
That’s not all.
Capitec Bank, founded by one of Africa’s richest people and FORBES AFRICA cover, Michiel Le Roux, recently found itself in the headlines when consumer watchdog, Summit Financial Partners, served the bank with High Court papers. It was about the banks former multi-loan practices which relied on one prime agreement that gave the consumer 12 different payday loans.
“Their product was most certainly illegal in that it was either reckless, because no proper affordability assessment was done, or charged initiation fees incorrectly… Unsecured credit in South Africa charges interest on a fixed rate basis, thereby not affecting the consumer when rates increase. However, interest, initiation and service fees on these payday loans mean the total cost of such multi-loans vary between 150% and 450% making prime rate adjustments immaterial. Capitec has been able to create a few billionaires sitting in Stellenbosch by charging such ludicrous rates on payday loans, since their inception, to the financially ignorant masses who don’t understand the consequences of such high yields. Further, we have many cases where Capitec actually prey on these ignorant, vulnerable groups to get stuck in debt spirals thereby relying on Capitec’s monthly payday loans to stay afloat,” says Clark Gardner, CEO at Summit Financial Partners.
There is more.
In March this year, the NCR announced that it had referred Wesbank, a division of FirstRand Bank, to the National Consumer Tribunal, for alleged breaches of the National Credit Act 34 of 2005, after an investigation found that Wesbank, through its debt collection agents, coaxed defaulting consumers into surrendering ownership of their motor vehicles.
“Consumers are reminded that a credit provider can only repossess a motor vehicle from the consumer if there is a court order authorizing the credit provider to do so,” says Jacqueline Peters, NCR’s Manager for Investigations and Enforcement.
Wesbank says it respects the NCR’s decision to refer the matter to the National Consumer Tribunal, however, disagrees with the conclusions.
“This referral does not constitute non-compliance with the National Credit Act but is instead a result of differing interpretation of the applicable legislation. WesBank has a strong commitment towards achieving fair treatment of our customers and will continue to cooperate with the National Credit Regulator and the National Consumer Tribunal,” it says in a statement.
Small credit providers are also guilty.
In September 2015, the National Consumer Tribunal cancelled the registration of credit provider, Mayibuye Cash Loans, following a lengthy investigation that found the company failed to conduct affordability assessments; to provide copies of pre-agreement statements and quotations; and charged interest and fees in excess of the prescribed rate.
It can destroy lives.
Maybe it’s time you get your head out of the sand.
‘You Can’t Borrow Your Way Out Of Debt’
The tale of an entrepreneur who saw money in the keys that free people from debt slavery.
Imagine working all your life and more than 98% of your income goes towards debt? Maybe it was that luxury car you knew you couldn’t really afford or that fateful day you said yes to a credit card?
Ten million people, in South Africa alone, plus millions more across the continent, are in severe debt according the National Credit Regulator. On the other side of the coin, smart entrepreneurs have seen a gap.
Neil Roets saw an opportunity to make money, from people without money, when the National Credit Act was introduced in 2007. At the time, he was in conveyancing where he saw the ravages of a tough recession and struggling economy.
“I experienced first-hand how people were struggling to pay their bills and couldn’t get loans. I realized people needed debt counselling so I did a course, and thereafter went on the quest to start Debt Rescue,” says Roets.
Debt Rescue makes a repayment plan, through budget advice and negotiation with credit providers, for reduced payments and the restructuring of debts.
The difficulty for the business was very few people knew about debt counselling.
“Coming out of a legal background, I understood the process but just getting the word out to people, so they know there is help out there, was the most difficult… because of the name, people sometimes think debt counselling is just sitting on a couch and talking but that’s not the case,” he says.
Another problem was people didn’t understand how debt counsellors make money from helping people who are already struggling to pay their bills.
“The fees are regulated and worked out based on what you can afford to pay your credit provider on a monthly basis. After we have worked out what your monthly instalment would be, the first instalment comes to us, and is capped at R6,000 ($450). We also have an aftercare fee of 5% of the amount that needs to go to the credit provider which is also capped at R400 ($30).”
Debt counselling is big business. Debt Rescue, alone, signs close to 1,000 clients a month and employs 110 people. Imagine how much debt that is? Roets feels a lot more people should be under debt review.
“The National Credit Regulator statistics show that 45% of all credit active consumers are over-indebted meaning that they are in areas with at least three payments on one of their accounts. That amounts to more than 9 million credit active consumers in South Africa that can benefit from debt counselling but currently there are close to about 300,000 people under debt review,” he says.
Many of these consumers are in a fix because credit providers are pushing unsecured credit.
“People are financing their lives, and even buying clothes and food, through credit. That’s very worrying because you should never finance your life through credit. If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. People forget that if you finance it now, you have to pay it back with interest meaning next month you will be in a worse situation. You can’t borrow your way out of debt,” says Roets.
There may be a business opportunity in the debt counselling industry but Roets warns it needs entrepreneurs of steel, who also understand legal processes.
“There are over 3,000 registered debt counsellors but you only really see the big five companies featuring all over. The process is not easy, you have to form relationships with the credit providers otherwise you won’t get a good deal for your client.”
Debt is not going to go away, in Africa, in the 21st century.
Did you know?
To qualify for debt counselling, you need to be over-indebted as defined by the National Credit Act – that is, you can’t repay your minimum monthly instalments. This is determined by a debt counsellor. While you are on debt review, you can’t take out further debt.
Tips To Avoid The Debt Trap
- Say no to a credit card
- Check your interest rates
- Don’t buy without a budget
- Look for best value when making purchases
- Don’t finance living expenses and luxury goods with credit
- Never take out a loan
- Have an emergency fund
- Pay bills on time
- Save and buy cash
- Always read your terms and conditions and understand your contract before signing on the dotted line
Daughter Of Debt
The life of a college graduate who grew up watching her mother pile up debt, and feels the pain 30 years later.
Debt reaches down through the generations. At just 30 years old, Luba Dube* has seen enough debt for three lifetimes. It all started when she was in primary school, when her parents separated.
“At first it was subtle. I remember on payday, my mom would buy us a lot of things and three days later we would be broke again… She would send us to go borrow small amounts like R50, or send us to return money she had borrowed,” she says.
When Dube went to high school, it got worse.
“My sister, at the time, had just started working and wasn’t making a lot of money but a lot of responsibility fell on her. I was a weekly boarder and she even had to pay R250 per week towards my boarding fees.”
Dube realized something was seriously wrong. Her mother never had money. She searched for a way out – there was none. Debt loomed ever larger.
“There were times we had to suddenly move because of unpaid rent… Whenever it was approaching the first of the month, I could see there was a lot of tension and stress in the house. We, as kids, would also get stressed because the landlord would come ask for rent and we would have to open the door when mom wasn’t home. Sometimes she would come home very late at night trying to dodge the landlord and we were the ones who had to answer,” she says.
Older sisters tried to help. They moved Dube’s mother to a cheaper house where she would use one bedroom, and have tenants in two others, so she could pay as little as R1,000 ($75) in rent. It didn’t help.
“Even though the tenants paid rent, she collected the money but it wasn’t going where it was supposed to. I realized that if the relationship with money doesn’t change, it doesn’t matter what we do to try and help.”
According to Dube, the worst thing was that her mother appeared desensitized to borrowing money that she never returned. Her children ended up more worried about the debt than she was.
“She would even borrow someone else’s rent money with the promise to return it, in time, knowing she might not be able to. I have not been able to understand her lack of respect for other people’s money,” says Dube.
In Dube’s view, when her over-indebted mother needs to get money, she tries to get it at all cost. One of the worst examples was when her mother spent close to a R100,000 ($7,500) of her client’s money. She was supposed to put the money in a trust so her client could buy a home. To make matters worse, this was money from a disability pay out.
“These were people’s livelihoods. We just had to do what we could to make sure the people got their money back. I had to borrow money I had no intention to borrow. For a good year, my stuff was on hold so I could pay that back.”
It wasn’t the first time Dube has bailed her mother out.
“Sometimes I have had to say ‘no’ because her relationship with money still hasn’t changed. When I was a kid there was nothing I could do but now, because I’m a grownup, I try to have these conversations with her but it’s very difficult because of the child/parent relationship,” she says.
So, if you are in debt up to your ears, it’s not only you who is suffering; just ask your daughter.
How Your Socks Can End Up Around Your Ankles
Sbusiso Ngwenya jumped for joy when he made the FORBES AFRICA 30 under 30 list with his money-making colourful socks. What you don’t know is that, last year, he lost it all in a dangerous dance with debt.
It all began, so innocently, with a golden opportunity to put his socks on the shelves.
“I was so excited when Stuttafords gave me the opportunity to list my products. I was so happy I signed the contract out of trust only to find that, by listing my products there, it means that I agree to only buying retail space… I signed a deal I didn’t understand that just emptied my pockets,” he says.
It cost a pretty penny to buy shelf space at Stuttafords, one of South Africa’s top retailers. Sock sales came to about R40,000 ($3,000) a month at best and a mere R2,000 ($150) or R1,000 ($75) at worst.
“There was also a big spend on making sure we market the products and drive traffic to the store. At the time, the store itself wasn’t doing well and less and less people were going there… it was tough but we tried to keep up appearances for it to seem like we are doing well,” says Ngwenya.
It was expensive. He started taking money from his corporate division, that distributes bulk unbranded socks, to finance Skinny Sbu Socks. The problem was he was also living a life of a rock star, traveling, partying and buying gifts for girls; all through the business account.
“Stuttafords was taking a big percentage of the money and all in all, in just a year, all these things cost me R800,000 ($60,000).”
The whole business suffered. He tried to take up speaking engagements to supplement the income. It didn’t help.
“I started borrowing money from friends and family just to survive. I lost my apartment, car and everything. I couldn’t afford the life I was living anymore and my debts kept piling.”
He moved back home, to Tsakane, a township east of Johannesburg, with his grandmother. It humbled him. It was time to start over.
“My sister went out of her way and took a huge personal loan to help me. My uncle also played a huge role in helping me. I needed someone who could look out for the numbers of the business so we didn’t mismanage the money,” says Ngwenya.
His uncle was what he needed. He helped him revive the dying business.
“We did a whole turn around to make sure we build up the business again. I am now very careful with every rand. It was a huge character-building experience that taught me not to rush into things and not to treat a business account as a personal account.”
Together with his uncle, they are also reassessing the business marketing strategy and ensuring Ngwenya concentrates on the creative design of the socks.
“I am happy this happened now rather than in 10 years when I have a family and larger responsibilities. Someone once said to me ‘you didn’t go to school to study what you are doing. This mistake was your school fees. You needed something that was going to wake you up’. Unfortunately I had to pay close to R1 million ($76,500) for my fees,” says Ngwenya.
Let’s hope he pulls up his socks.
Did You Know?
- If you default on your debts your credit provider can, and will, take legal action against you which will result in a judgement and can involve an emolument attachment order, or garnishee order as it is more commonly known, where the court can order your employer to deduct a payment from your salary every month to pay your debt.
- A default will stay on your credit record for six months, and sometimes up to 12 months. Judgements are on there for 30 years unless you repay the debt! If you do repay a judgement then it has to be removed from the bureaus within seven days.
- If you spend money you don’t have, on things you don’t need, to impress people you don’t even like, maybe it’s time to get help.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Quality Higher Education Means More Than Learning How To Work
When people talk about quality education, they’re often referring to the kind of education that gives students the knowledge and skills they need for the job market. But there’s a view that quality education has wider benefits: it develops individuals in ways that help develop society more broadly.
In Zimbabwe, for example, the higher education policy emphasises student employability and the alleviation of labour shortages. But, as my research found, this isn’t happening in practice.
University education needs to do more than produce a graduate who can get a job. It should also give graduates a sense of right and wrong. And it should instil graduates with an appreciation for other people’s development.
Tertiary education should also give students opportunities, choices and a voice when it comes to work safety, job satisfaction, security, growth and dignity. Higher education is a space where they can learn to be critical. It must prepare them for participating in the economy and broader society.
This isn’t happening in Zimbabwe. Graduate unemployment is high and employers and policy makers are blaming this largely on the mismatch between graduate skills and market requirements.
Investigating Zimbabwe’s universities
My research sought to examine how a human development lens could add to what was valued as higher education, and the kind of graduate outcomes produced in Zimbabwe. I investigated 10 of the universities in Zimbabwe (there were 15 at the time of the research). Four were private and six public.
I reviewed policy documents, interviewed representatives of institutions and held discussions with students. Members of Zimbabwe’s higher education quality assurance body and university teaching staff were also included.
I found that in practice, higher education in Zimbabwe was influenced by the country’s socio-political and economic climate. Decisions and appointments of key university administrators in public universities and the minister of higher education were largely political.
In addition, resources were limited and staff turnover was high. Universities just couldn’t finance themselves through tuition fees.
Different players in the higher education system – employers, the government, academics, students and their families – have different ideas about what “quality” means in higher education. The Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education understands quality as meeting set standards and benchmarks that emphasise the graduates’ knowledge and skills.
To some extent, academics and university administrators see quality as teaching and learning that gives students a mixture of skills and values such as social responsibility.
But lecturers must comply with the largely top-down approach to quality. They tend to do whatever will enhance students’ prospects of getting employment in a particular market.
The educators and students I interviewed acknowledged that developing the ability to work and to think critically were both central to higher education. But they admitted that these goals were hard to attain. This was because of the country’s constrained socio-political and economic environment. Academics and students felt that they couldn’t express themselves freely and critical thinking was suppressed.
Stuck on a road to nowhere
The study illustrates how an over-emphasis on creating human capital – skilled and knowledgeable graduates – limits higher education’s potential to foster broader human and social development.
University education should do more, especially in developing countries such as Zimbabwe that face not just economic, but also socio-political challenges. Before building more universities and enrolling more students, authorities and citizens should consider what quality education means in relation to the kind of society they want.
It’s possible to take a broader view of development, quality and the role of higher education. This broader approach – one that appreciates social justice – can equip graduates to address the country’s problems.
The road ahead
Universities can’t change a society on their own. But their teaching and learning practices can make an important difference.
Because quality teaching and learning means different things to different people, people need to talk about it democratically. Institutional and national policies must be informed by broad consultations to identify the knowledge, skills and values they want graduates to have.
University teaching and learning should emphasise freedom of expression and participation so that students can think and act critically beyond university.
Also, academics don’t automatically know how to teach just because they have a PhD. Universities should therefore ensure that academics learn how to teach and communicate their knowledge. Curriculum design, student assessment and feedback, as well as training of lecturers should all support this goal of human development.
When universities see quality in terms of human development, their role becomes more than production of workers in an economy. It gives them a mandate to nurture ethically responsible graduates. These more rounded graduates are better equipped to imagine an alternative future in pursuit of a better society, economically, politically and socially.
–Patience Mukwambo: Researcher, University of the Free State
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