Almost every morning, I awaken to the sounds of the dogs barking, birds chirping and loud vuvuzelas (plastic horns) alerting the neighborhood that it’s safe to leave home for work. Thieves and vagrants roam the streets to snatch wallets, handbags, anything, on these misty winter mornings.
This is the day unfurling in Soweto, South Africa’s biggest township. Soweto, famously, is an acronym for ‘southwestern township’.
Soweto was not a township back in 1918; it was merely a place where the black oppressors built 20 matchbox-sized houses for squatters and with no electricity or water, just an outdoor tap. Imagine the cold winter mornings then.
As a millennial living in Soweto today, I enjoy the same trappings – hot showers and electric blankets – as the dwellers in Africa’s richest square mile Sandton, a mere half-hour drive away.
In the hall of fame, if Johannesburg and Cape Town are regarded as South Africa’s maximum cities, so is my Soweto, a city in its own right, a city with history, a personality, even its own language and ethos, segregated from the rest.
“Soweto was initially a dormitory location when it started,” says Omar Badsha, a 73-year-old documentary photographer and CEO of South African History Online.
“It was a segregated place which included people of all classes…lower middle class people were also dumped in Soweto. Over time, in the 1970s, it grew into the largest township in Africa as a segregated space and remains a segregated space. It has evolved into a vibrant city with supermarkets, malls and a vibrant youth culture. There are two to three generations who call themselves Sowetans because they lost their links to the rural areas. They created their own social and political ethos, and a language; tsotsitaal. This is a unique aspect of that segregated space. Now there is a very cultural landscape having the first Soweto Jazz Festival.”
I too, am a Sowetan first, a South African second.
This is an identity that many of us, born and bred in Soweto, proudly wear as a badge of honor. It is this multicultural township that characterizes our way of life. Our dialects differ from where our forefathers originated; the farmlands. Our dialects now are one.
Legends were born in Soweto, many lived and died here. I live in Soweto, in the here and now.
On July 18, South Africa’s first black president, struggle hero, anti-apartheid activist and global icon, the late Nelson Mandela would have celebrated his 100th birthday.
Soweto was once his home. This is where he came from Qunu, a small rural village in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province. He wed the late activist and politician Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and it is here they lived, in house number 8115, a tiny red-brick house, now a museum called Mandela House.
Mandela was arrested in Rivonia, on a farm about 50km from Soweto, in 1964, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for treason.
A human rights lawyer and member of the African National Congress (ANC), he would travel from Soweto every day to work in Johannesburg’s Central Business District.
From Soweto, I travel twice the distance daily to work in affluent Sandton, where multi-million rand apartments soar into the skies.
The air is fresher here, in contrast to the squalid, sewage-smelling, potholed landscape of Soweto.
Yet, to celebrate Mandela, we have to first start from Soweto – where it all began.
A struggle hero who unwittingly took Soweto to the world. Soweto was etched into Mandela’s destiny even before South Africa was. It was a place marked with an ‘X’ in his mental geography.
Like most cities and towns, Soweto has its own landmark, the Orlando Towers, constructed in 1955, around the time when blacks were forcibly removed from the multiracial, vibrant Sophiatown during the apartheid era. These towers were built as coolants for coal because the demand for electricity was on the rise in Johannesburg for white homes and businesses. After over 50 years of service, the station was decommissioned.
The saying, when Soweto sneezes, South Africa catches flu, holds true.
On the cold morning of June 16, 1976, students gathered to march to Orlando Stadium protesting the teaching of Afrikaans in school. This resulted in the police firing at students; 13-year-old Hector Pieterson was shot dead. News traveled and aghast at the black-and-white images of the atrocities, the world pressured South Africa to change policies.
At the time, Soweto was still a ghost town, dark and gloomy. On those same paths, we now walk freely under bright street lights, and by a shiny world-class mall built by Richard Maponya, a business mogul who used to sell milk on a bicycle in Soweto in his youth.
The mall is adorned with an elephant at the main entrance. The R650 million ($48 million) mall boasts more than 200 stores and a cinema complex that opened in 2007. Mandela did the honors of cutting the red ribbon.
“I am very proud of the mall. It can stand anywhere in the world and compete. I am proud I have built something for the people of Soweto because I have always wanted it to be an economic hub,” Maponya said of his eponymous mall in the March 2017 issue of FORBES AFRICA.
The twin Orlando Towers, minutes from the luxurious mall, double as an advertising tower and a space for mural art, the largest in Soweto.
The towers are a tourist destination attracting thousands of travelers and locals all year round. They are also known as Soweto Towers, offering adrenaline-driving adventure activities such as bungee jumping, rock-climbing and SCAD (Suspended Catch Air Device) freefall.
I visited the towers for the time last month; embarrassing for someone who has lived in Soweto for 30 years. I meet the site manger Laurence Sithole.
“The company was founded by Bob Woods. He was contracted to install railings on top of the towers for painting and advertising. For them to be able to paint, they had to be able to hood their baskets onto the railings. It took him about seven years to get approval to start this in 2008,” offers Sithole.
Woods leased the space and it’s currently owned by the Joburg Property Company.
Sithole was one of 15 black youths from Soweto hired for the bungee jump operator’s job which included inhouse training. These youngsters were first-timers in the adventure industry.
“I was 22 years old at the time. I remember we were saying to each other, ‘in Soweto, the whole of Soweto, we are the only team that does this [adventure activities]’, so we were very excited about it. Looking at the equipment, I remember we couldn’t pronounce a carabina. Everything was just exciting,” says Sithole.
When the business started, they would have as few as two jumpers a day.
“Unfortunately, Woods died in 2010 – the year of the FIFA World Cup hosted in South Africa – just before the site picked up, literally, two months after his death, we started getting busy and we’d find cars parked waiting for us to open,” he recalls.
Today, the business sees as many as 100 bunjee jumps a day at R550 ($41) per person. Soweto Towers’ Vertical Adventure Centre is the only one providing such services in Soweto.
Would you find anything similar in any other African township?
About 5kms from the towers, is the world-famous Vilakazi Street, once home to two Nobel Peace Prize-winning icons, Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
This is also an enterprising entrepreneurial space for men and women, offering everything from art and fashion to snacks and snakes.
It takes me less than a minute before I see an urban building to my left, The Box Shop, created primarily for locals but with international tourists streaming in and out.
Launched as a fashion store in 2015 employing about 11 staff, it has extended its retail offerings to furniture and food – mouth-watering delicacies such as mogodu (lamb or beef tripe).
Sifiso Moyo, the marketing director of The Box Shop, is one of the store’s four founders who decided to open the store on Vilakazi Street.
“It was a combination of things that made us pursue Vilakazi; we looked at the Gauteng government mandate in terms of revitalizing townships, so we looked at how we are going to align ourselves with that strategy and contribute positively to the dream of township revitalization,” says Moyo.
I walk again for three minutes, and stop, as I see a gentleman with a snake around his neck. I step forward to make sure I am not imagining things.
It is a snake, a real one, a red-tailed boa. After introducing myself to the gentleman, he directs me to the house to meet his mother, Lindiwe Mngomezulu.
Mngomezulu’s business is offering tourists a snake show, called the Soweto Live Snake Show. The inspiration for it came after she joined a snake club in Edenvale, east of Johannesburg, South Africa.
Suitably entertained, I continue my journey down the snaking avenues of Vilakazi Street.
I speak to one of the vendors a few feet from Mandela House. Bongane Ngcobo sells t-shirts, caps and African art. An entrepreneur, he says he makes about R4,000 ($282) on a good day and about R200 ($17) otherwise.
As I stroll further down, the street gets busier. I am drawn to a group of idling youngsters outside an art gallery named Shova Lifestyle Origin.
Thabo Modise, the owner here, started off selling t-shirts in the streets of Soweto; now he owns the gallery and the boutique next to it.
“It is a lifestyle boutique, where we have local fashion designers showing their work and we have a gallery for locals to do the same,” says Modise. He is an entrepreneurial success on Vilakazi Street.
Speaking of entrepreneurship and economy, Moipone Molotsi, Director of the Centre for Small Business Development at the University of Johannesburg in Soweto, says the township economy is money circulating in the township and benefiting people within the township.
I ask her if there has been any growth in the township since Mandela’s death.
“People have moved from tenders and come up with business models that will raise income every single day. That is the change but it is moving very slowly,” she says.
So there is a shift from tenderpreneurship to entrepreneurship.
Taking Soweto to the world
Entrepreneurship is the mantra. Take this group of young men from Soweto who have portrayed it positively using imagery.
They are childhood friends who found themselves merging advertising, photography and film, calling themselves, I See A Different You (ISADY). They are Innocent Mukheli, Fhatuwani Mukheli, Ongama Zazayokwe and Vuyo Mpantsha.
“In 2011, Innocent went to Kenya for a photoshoot. While he was there, he sent us a picture of a guy on a motorbike, that guy was too cool, he was wearing sandals. We didn’t believe that was shot in Kenya and we realized to ourselves that if that is how we see Kenya, imagine how other Africans see Africa. We have been fed so much negativity on the continent,” say Zazayokwe and Mpantsha.
Their ideology changed and a brand was born.
“I See A Different You started off as a movement that changes people’s perceptions about Soweto and Africa,” says Mpantsha.
Indeed, they have done so, and their first start was Soweto. Now, they have moved to other parts of Africa and the world.
I was watching television with the family a few years ago when a commercial come on. We loved it because we could relate. It brought nostalgia, memories of wanting to go watch TV in a neighbour’s house because we had limited channels. This commercial was about soccer. Despite the humour and hint of economic struggle, the advert was about humanity and selflessness, in allowing the unprivileged neighbors to watch soccer.
I believe that is something Mandela would have done. This advert was a DStv campaign, #NiceLifeProblems, communicating to South Africans in their language.
“When brands brief us to create content of whatever they are selling at the time, they use us because we change the narrative on how they show black people and how they tell black stories through advertising,” says Mpantsha.
Driving to work from Soweto, I never miss ISADY’s latest work with the whiskey brand, Scottish Leader. It is a billboard on the Soweto highway positioned prominently as you exit the township. These billboards are to be found across South Africa with different images.
The billboard is on the road that leads to the world-class FNB stadium in Nasrec, Soweto. This stadium was designed as the main stadium for the 2010 FIFA World-Cup and is the largest in Africa. It housed the final match between Netherlands and Spain. Mandela recited his first speech after his release in 1990 in this very stadium, but it also served as a memorial venue after his death in 2013.
Back to ISADY’s billboards.
“It’s just like the whiskeys, there’s three whiskeys: one is smoky, one is smoother and the other is spicy. That is why the billboards are different; it’s about seeing a new perspective,” says Mpantsha.
ISADY has exhibited works in others parts of the world. Taking Africa To The World was exhibited in Japan; it looks at the positives of Soweto.
And then Mpantsha says it, speaking my mind, speaking for all Sowetans taking Soweto to the world:
“Soweto is in our DNA.”
And there are more worldwide, acknowledging this fact, be it in Soweto or Spain.
Enos Mafokate, the first black showjumper in South Africa and an Olympic athlete at Barcelona, runs the only equestrian club in Soweto today.
In 2007, Mafokate realized his dream of opening his own riding stable in Soweto. At the Soweto Equestrian Foundation, Mafokate trains more than 60 children with 20 horses and ponies. The club also trains disabled children.
“It provides therapy for both mentally and physically unstable children and that is working magic,” says Mafokate.
Sport can be therapy, but what is Soweto without its vibrant culture: its art, music, dance or fashion.
I meet with a dance crew from Soweto I hadn’t seen in a long time at a dance competition in Johannesburg. Although a few members are new, their style hasn’t changed.
“We specialize in music, fashion and dance, but our main focus is dance. We call our dance Sbujwa. Sbujwa is a dance culture from Soweto; it started in the early 2000s just as a way of dressing and gradually over time it became a dance genre,” says group choreographer Blessing Dhlamini.
Dhlamini goes on to say that they wouldn’t be dancing for a living if Mandela hadn’t won us freedom.
The group recently won a Crowd Favourites award and came sixth at the World Of Dance in South Africa.
From day to night, would Soweto be complete without a vignette of its bustling nightlife?
I call up an old neighbor, Mncedisi Mnguni, also known as DJ Big Sky, one of Soweto’s biggest DJs and entrepreneurs who recently conducted a United Kingdom tour playing alongside musicians Black Coffee, Ralf Gum and Charles Webster, among others.
“Soweto is very huge, it’s like an entire city. A lot of people come from outside the ’hood come jam in the ’hood. It’s very vibrant and it’s still growing. Just look at Vilakazi Street, it’s no longer a street, it’s a precinct. It has informal trading and formal establishments like the restaurants plus the tourist attractions, just in that street alone,” he says.
Soweto has its flaws like any suburb, town or city. The night can also reveal its peripatetic ugly street layers. Soweto is no saint. But neither am I, neither was Mandela.
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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