It was an eventful rainy Thursday afternoon. Workers left their desks to watch the action through their office windows. It was one of the many marches against state capture. On this day, civil society organizations were picketing outside the office of global consultancy McKinsey, right opposite the FORBES AFRICA headquarters in Sandton, South Africa.
McKinsey is one of the many companies, in the country, implicated in alleged corrupt dealings between state-owned power utility Eskom and consultancy firm Trillian. McKinsey and Trillian stood to earn more than $490 million from Eskom.
It has been a year of drama in corporate South Africa. As strange as it may sound, a lot of South Africa’s protests, like this, have one family as the common cause.
Weak-kneed politicians allegedly allowed members of the Indian-born Gupta family to wield undue influence. This influence has gone from meddling with the state’s top jobs to conniving with private and public companies to act in their favor.
Another company in hot water is Bell Pottinger, a British public-relations firm connected to the Guptas by a $130,000-a-month contract. It was stripped of its membership in the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) in the UK, after it was found that the PR agency deliberately fanned racial tensions, with creations like ‘white monopoly capital’, in South Africa, in favor of Zuma, while it worked for the Gupta-owned Oakbay Capital.
“We took this decision because we were not satisfied by the explanations given. We have never passed down such a damning indictment,” says Nicholas Dunn-McAfee, Head of Public Affairs, Policy and Research at PRCA.
It gets worse.
For years KPMG South Africa has said it stands for integrity. Instead, the tax, advisory and auditing firm now stands alleged of giving advice so that money can be taken to Dubai to avoid tax payments. They also turned a blind eye to several conflicts of interest while auditing 36 Gupta-linked companies and compiled the so-called South African Revenue Services (SARS) rogue spy unit report which was used as part of the smear campaign against former Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan.
There are consequences.
For KPMG, for example, pressure has been piling. The firm withdrew all its findings in the ‘rogue unit’ report; senior executives, including CEO Trevor Hoole, resigned; and it has been dumped by major clients, among them, Sasfin Bank, Sygnia Asset Management, the energy investment company Hulisani, and the University of the Witwatersrand.
Like the protesters in Sandton, Magda Wierzycka, Chief Executive Officer at Sygnia Group, an asset management company, says all involved should be held accountable, stripped of their licenses, fined and even jailed.
“There are no excuses. They did what they did for money. They were not ignorant of what they were doing,” she says.
Opposition political parties, rights groups and private citizens are playing their part to make sure unethical companies are punished. The problem is corporate misgovernance affects the whole country.
South Africa was downgraded to junk status and went into a recession. At the time of writing this article, $1 was equivalent to R14.16 at its worst, it went to about R17 to the dollar. It means business confidence is at an all-time low.
“Businesses are feeling the impact of low investor confidence, weakening exchange rates and high fiscal uncertainty,” says Alastair Macduff, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Turnaround Management Association Southern Africa.
“Restoring investor, business and consumer confidence will require a concerted effort to address these pressing issues – and address them in the best interests of the country as a whole,” he says.
“In a funny way, what has happened to KPMG and McKinsey is actually very positive… Positive in terms of waking corporate South Africa to what is happening and to the fact that they can no longer sit on the fence and stay silent,” she says.
According to Wierzycka, South Africa’s corporate sector is suffering from a moral crisis.
“The dilemma is, do you change providers based on the fact of they are implicated in state capture even when it’s inconvenient to do so?”
Wierzycka has lived it. She offered Bianca Goodson, former Trillian CEO turned whistle-blower, a job. This after Goodson’s new employer, Sage, accepted her resignation after she told them she was blowing the whistle on her previous employer. Goodson provided documented evidence that the Gupta-linked firm swindled hundreds of millions from state-owned enterprises Transnet and Eskom. Wierzycka called Goodson, and all whistle-blowers, heroes.
“When I heard what Sage did, I was actually breathless. The true heroes of the story of South Africa are the belittled whistle-blowers… Bianca took tremendous risks in disclosing the information she disclosed on Trillian, McKinsey, Eskom and a number of others. It seemed a completely natural thing to reach out to her, if anything else, to reassure her that she is not alone in this fight. When I did, I met a lady who is incredibly competent. So let’s be clear, I gave her a job, not because she is a Trillian whistle-blower but because I encountered a woman of tremendous bravery with a strong moral compass and qualifications that are arms long,” says Wierzycka.
Goodson has a five-year-old daughter and, according to Wierzycka, she was petrified.
“My biggest concern was her personal safety. If she had died in a random hijacking, no one would think because no one knew her name. So, what I thought was that the most important thing that needed to happen was to get her name out there in the headlines.”
Wierzycka’s good fight doesn’t end there.
Earlier this year, Sygnia started a new money market unit trust and the firm said it will donate 100% of the management fees, earned on the fund, to non-political organizations fighting corruption. Sygnia also fired KPMG when news on state capture allegations broke.
“At the end of the day, I think it’s up to each company to make a choice. In the instance of KPMG, their board of directors make up their own minds as to whether what they’re seeing is what they expect to be seeing from their service provider and how serious they view what the company has done. In the instance of McKinsey, do you honestly want to do business with a company that has robbed South African taxpayers while we have a tiny taxpayer base supporting such vast percentages of the South African population which is living in inequality… Are you happy, morally, to do business with a business like that? That’s a question each board of directors has to ask,” says Wierzycka.
Another problem with some corporate companies is that they use denial as a first response when they are embroiled in a crisis. It creates a bigger mess.
KPMG South Africa, as an example, hired Nhlamu Dlomu, previously Head for People and Change, to clean up the mess as their new CEO. She couldn’t answer many questions posed to her, probably because she wasn’t prepared to be the CEO of one of the four top audit companies in the country that was facing its greatest crisis.
Women CEOs in times of corporate crisis may be a global trend.
A PwC report found that 38% of female CEOs are forced out of the office; compared to 27% of male CEOs. Another study, by Utah State University researchers, found boards are more likely to promote women and minorities to top leadership roles when an organization is in crisis.
“To me, that was a typical response of an international company that thinks putting a fairly attractive female in front of clients is going to solve the problem… I think that the reason they are losing the battle in the court of public opinion is because they’re arrogant,” says Wierzycka.
Before firing KPMG, Wierzycka says she advised the audit firm to withdraw the entire ‘rogue unit’ report and they refused.
“I said, ‘let’s talk about the money then, because we know that this is blood money, whether it’s stolen from taxpayers or the farming community in the Eastern Cape. R63 million ($4.43 million) will go a long way towards fighting corruption. So donate all this money to organizations which are fighting corruption in South African courts. At least try to redeem yourself in the eyes of the South African public.’ I was told no…,” recalls Wierzycka.
KPMG only withdrew sections of the report, under questioning in parliament, admitting that it was wrong about the SARS report and that their conclusions and recommendations were incorrect.
Clearly, it will take more than marches in Sandton to bring about change.
How To Weather A Corporate Storm
Sylvester Chauke loves to communicate. We meet him in his well-decorated office in Fourways, Johannesburg. As we enter, we are welcomed by multiple awards on the walls behind and in front of his desk. It is like we have entered a trophy factory.
“I don’t know how many awards I have. Not all of them are here but this is all inspiration and it is kudos to the hard work we do,” he says.
This is a world away from where it all started.
At 12 years old he went for a TV commercial audition. He loved it. Since then, he knew he wanted to work in the media industry.
There was research and soul searching. It ushered in a marketing and advertising communications degree, from the University of Johannesburg, and an internship. He never looked back.
Five years ago, he founded DNA Brand Architects; a marketing and brand consultancy company that advises people on how to avoid or deal with corporate crisis. He employs 34 people and counts Vodacom, Edgars, Bonang Matheba, Steers and Wimpy among his clients.
“It is all about taking all these fields of communication, whether it’s broadcasting, advertising, and brand communication, into one space,” says the 36-year-old.
According to Chauke, it is very obvious that there is a corporate communication crisis in South Africa. He says in most businesses, communication is just seen as PR. They send press releases and hope for the best. They don’t plan for a crisis.
“Most businesses don’t think that they have to think and plan for it, they just become overly confident, to some extent quite arrogant, to think that they are such great brands that can sort of overcome anything. We are seeing it right now with the likes of Bell Pottinger, KPMG and McKinsey. It is indicative of that communication is a ‘by the way’ thing,” says Chauke.
It is dangerous. When companies say the wrong thing, they risk losing their clients, or worse, the company. According to Chauke, planning for a crisis isn’t rocket science.
“Most of the time you can anticipate issues. For example, when your financial results come out and they are not good, you should plan what you are going to be saying to the stakeholders about the performance. It is the same if you are going to be retrenching 2,000 people, you need to be prepared.”
Chauke says every business needs a crisis management plan, reviewed annually, for crises they can’t anticipate.
“The biggest challenge that we have is people think because you are a CEO, and you speak to a crowd of 1,000 in a conference, you can handle media. That is so not true. You need an experienced spokesperson to handle that.”
He says Africans should inspire the world.
“I think that if the way that we do business is given a chance and doesn’t get distracted by all the corruption, scandals and corporate blunders, the way we do business would inspire others because we push regardless,” he says.
Maybe this is just the kind of inspiration corporate South Africa needs.
How LinkedIn Is Looking To Help Close The Ever-Growing Skills Gap
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
Why The High Number Of Employees Quitting Reveals A Strong Job Market
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.
“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.
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.
“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
No Seat At The Global Table For Indigenous African Cuisine
Gastronomic tourism based on African food could easily increase and create new value chains that unlock billions in untapped wealth for the continent, but what is stopping us?
Food and tourism are an integral part of most economies, globally. Food is undeniably a core part of all cultures and an increasingly important attraction for tourists. To satisfy their wanderlust, contemporary tourists require an array of experiences that include elements of education, entertainment, picturesque scenery and culinary wonders. The link between food and tourism allows destinations to develop local economies; and food experiences help to brand and market them, as well as supporting the local culture and knowledge systems.
This is particularly important for rural communities, where 61% of sub-Saharan Africans live, according to the World Bank last year. These communities have often felt the brunt of urbanization, which has resulted in a shift away from rural economies. If implemented effectively, Africa could get a piece of the gastronomic tourism pie, which was worth $8.8 trillion last year, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.
However, there is currently very little public information to pique the interest of tourists about African food. World-renowned South African chef Nompumelelo Mqwebu sought to remedy this with her self-published cookbook, Through the Eyes Of An African Chef.
“I think where it was very clear to me that I needed to do something was when I went to cooking school. I trained at Christina Martin School of Food and Wine. I thought I was actually going to get training on South African food and, somehow, I assumed we were talking indigenous food.
“I was shocked that we went through the whole year’s curriculum and we didn’t cover anything that I ate at home; we didn’t cover anything that my first cousins, who are Sotho, ate in Nelspruit (in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province); we didn’t cover anything that would come from eSwatini, which is where my mother is from,” Mqwebu says.
By self-publishing, she has ultimately contributed to a value chain that has linked local food producers and suppliers, which includes agriculture, food production, country branding and cultural and creative industries.
“I am a member of Proudly South African, not only my business, but the book as well. Part of the reason is that the cookbook was 100% published in South Africa. So, everybody who worked on the cookbook, and printing, was all in South Africa, which is something quite rare these days because authors have their books published abroad.”
The Proudly South African campaign is a South African ‘buy local’ initiative that sells her cookbook on their online platform as its production adheres to the initiative’s campaign standards. Self-publishing has allowed Mqwebu to promote her book for two years and to directly communicate with her audience in a way she thought was best, while exposing her to a vast community of local networks. She recalls her first step towards creating her own body of work.
“I was in culinary school when I wrote the recipe for amadumbe (potato of the tropics) gnocchi. We were making gnocchi and I thought, ‘so why aren’t we using amadumbe because it’s a starch?’ and when I tasted it, I thought, ‘this could definitely work’. I started doing my recipes then.
“And there was talk about, ‘we don’t have desserts as Africans’. I did some research and found we ate berries, we were never big on sugar to begin with. That’s why I took the same isidudu (soft porridge made from ground corn) with pumpkin that my grandmother used to make and that became my dessert. “I also found that when I went to libraries looking for indigenous recipes, I couldn’t really find something that spoke to me as a chef. I found content that looked like history books. It was not appealing. It was not something, as a chef, I could proudly present to another chef from a different part of the world, so I knew I had to write my book,” Mqwebu says about the award-winning recipe book that chronicles African cuisine.
Financial and health benefits
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, in 2018, the tourism sector “contributed 319 million jobs, representing one in 10 of all jobs globally and is responsible for one in five of all new jobs created in the world over the last five years. It has increased its share of leisure spending to 78.5%, meaning 21.5% of spending was on business.”
To narrow in on how lucrative food can be, the World Food Travel Association estimates that visitors spend approximately 25% of their travel budget on food and beverages. The figure can get as high as 35% in expensive destinations, and as low as 15% in more affordable destinations. “Confirmed food lovers also spend a bit more than the average of 25% spent by travelers in general.”
However, there is a widely-held view that the African continent is not doing enough to maximize its potential to also position itself as a gastronomic tourism destination, using its unique edge of indigenous knowledge systems (IKS).
“We are not a culinary destination and we will never be while we are still offering pasta as the attraction for our tourists,” Mqwebu says.
Dr George Sedupane, who is the Coordinator of the Bachelor of the Indigenous Knowledge Systems program in South Africa’s North-West University, echoes Mqwebu’s sentiments.
“I often cringe when I go to conferences and there are guests from all over the world and we serve them pasta. Why would they come from Brazil to eat pasta here? They can have pasta in Italy. Why don’t we serve them umngqusho (samp and beans)?
“We need to be creating those experiences around our culture. We are failing to capitalize on our strengths. There is a lack of drive to celebrate what we have,” says Sedupane, who also teaches modules and supervises research in indigenous health and nutrition.
Writer and historian Sibusiso Mnyanda says current innovations in African food technology are born out of necessity, rather tourism and cultural ambitions.
“Food security is becoming an issue that is leading to IKS around farming being prioritized. In Nigeria, they are innovating dry season farming, because of deforestation and soil being de-cultivated.
“So those indigenous knowledge strategies are being used in countries where it is a necessity and where there are enough advances related to the fourth industrial revolution. The traditional ways of producing food are not only much more organic, they are also crop-efficient,” Mnyanda says.
Nigeria may have inadvertently innovated a health solution related to colon cancer through its diet. Sedupane tells FORBES AFRICA an anecdote.
“There was a study where the colons of an African country that did not consume a lot of meat was compared to Europeans. The Africans had a much better profile as a result and there are people who want to buy African stool to get that kind of rich bacteria, that you get on an African plant-based diet.”
The study Sedupane is referring to was conducted in Nigeria and it states that: “Nigeria showed the average annual incidence of colorectal cancer was 27 patients per year. This shows that even if it seems that incidence rates are increasing in Nigeria, such rates are still about one-tenth of what is seen in the truly developed countries.”
In a bid to find reasons for this rarity of colon and rectal cancer, the study concluded that, among other reasons, the protective effects of Nigeria’s starch-based, vegetable-based, fruit-based, and spicy, peppery diet, and geographical location which ensures sunshine all year round, played a role in the country’s colon health.
Interestingly, it seems the potential value of African food could not only be based on what goes in but what also comes out as healthy faecal matter is big business globally. In 2015, The Washington Post published that one could potentially earn $13,000 a year selling their poop.
The American-based company OpenBiome has been processing and shipping frozen stool to patients who are very sick with infections of a bacteria called C.difficile. It causes diarrhea and inflammation of the colon, leaving some sufferers house-bound. “Antibiotics often help, but sometimes, the bacteria rears back as soon as treatment stops. By introducing healthy faecal matter into the gut of a patient (by way of endoscopy, nasal tubes, or swallowed capsules), doctors can abolish C. difficile for good… And yes, they pay for healthy poop: $40 a sample, with a $50 bonus if you come in five days a week. That’s $250 for a week of donations, or $13,000 a year,” the publication stated.
Sedupane is of the view that a diet which includes indigenous foods could vastly improve one’s quality of life.
He says small changes could be made, such as including more of indigenous greens, namely sorghum and millet, to breakfast. The grains are gluten-free and produce alkaline which boosts the pH level of fluids in the body and reduces acidity.
“Moving to our legumes, we have indlubu (Bambara groundnut) which is very rich and helps in the secretion of serotonin in the brain. This so important nowadays with the increase of depression. It’s easy to digest, and is great for cholesterol and moderating blood sugar,” Sedupane says.
Mnyanda is also of the view that food is imperative to health and medicinal properties. He says traditional healers primarily use natural herbs in their practice. “These are used in pain relief and healing. Things like cannabis, camphor, African potatao and red carrots. So, food is not just used for nutritional purposes.”
Other African superfoods include, Baobab fruit, Hibiscus, Tamarind, Kenkiliba, Amaranth, Moringa and pumpkin leaves.
Cultural and historical benefits
Gastronomic tourism also includes the promotion of heritage sites that are known to revolve around dishes that are of historic importance. They enhance the travel experience, they encourage the acquisition of knowledge and a cultural exchange.
There is a unanimous view that vast amounts of knowledge have been lost to history and there is a huge knowledge gap in African societies as a result of colonization and urbanization.
“Part of the colonial agenda was to make sure food security did not belong to indigenous groups. Therefore, archiving of these knowledge systems was not a priority. Especially during industrialization, where people moved from their villages to the city you found that the knowledge got left behind,” Mnyanda says.
He offers a contemporary example of how modernization continues to push African practices to the fringes: “To this day, abathwa (the San people) hunt their meat, but you find that because of changing agricultural practices and land reform on the Kruger National Park, they are being forced to move into the cities and industrial areas, therefore they are no longer able to practice their culture of hunting. As a result, their diet is changing.” Sedupane shares the view that the fundamentals of farming and astrology have also been exiled from public knowledge.
“The fundamentals of IKS were based on the understanding of the laws of nature – how and when things were done. Harvest cycles were linked with understanding astrology. They would not harvest until certain stars were visible in the sky. There was a dependence on nature.
“With industrialization, rather than working with nature, humans are seen as being above, as controlling, as directing it. The natural cycle is often tempered with rather than trying to work with it.”
Not all is lost however. There are historical practices that have stood the test of time and continue to be a part the few foods that are internationally associated with South Africa. Mqwebu says that, “historically, we ate more plants than meat because our ancestors had to hunt and the game back then was not tame. So, there were no guarantees that you would return with meat. And that’s where things like umqwayiba (biltong) come from. They had to preserve the meat, because wasting was not part of the culture”.
According to a 2015 exploratory research project conducted under the guidance of research institute Tourism Research in Economic Environs and Society director Professor Melville Saayman, biltong contributes more than R2.5 billion ($163 million) to the South African economy.
Perhaps, like the faecal transporting company, Africa will soon realize the ‘wasted’ opportunity and that there is loads of money to be made in gastronomic tourism for all its inhabitants, whether they are rural or urban, technological or indigenous.
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