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Moments Before An Air Crash

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In a metal tube 40,000 feet above the ground, anything can go horribly wrong. A survivor recounts the moments before her plane crashed, and pilots tell us why we needn’t be as apprehensive today. 

This is your captain speaking, we are about to land,” said the voice on the intercom, as the passengers fastened seat belts.

The plane was descending calmly when it suddenly began to shake – vigorously.

A woman started shrieking.

Shock and horror all around.

Two students held hands in prayer.

In minutes – but what seemed like an eternity – the aircraft crashed into the ground, bursting into flames, killing 108 passengers.

Kechi Okwuchi, one of the two students who prayed, lived to tell the tale.

She was also one of only two survivors.

Thirteen years on, her scars, external and internal, run deep.

On December 10, 2005, 16-year-old Okwuchi, from Imo State in Nigeria, was heading home for Christmas with her school mates.

She was traveling on Sosoliso Airlines Flight 1145 from Abuja to Port Harcourt.

“I remember just being in shock at what was going on and I couldn’t quite grasp that this was reality. You only see these kind of things in the movies. You never actually are involved in it. It is just surreal,” she recounts to FORBES AFRICA.

“I remember the plane was late and when we all boarded, everything was normal.”

Okwuchi was in an aisle seat next to one of her friends.

“It wasn’t until about 15-20 minutes before we landed that things started to get a little crazy and the turbulence kind of got out of hand,” she says.

“People started panicking. I remember a lady in the back who screamed and that was what got everyone in chaos and screaming. The last thing I remember was hearing these metal scrapping sounds, whose origins I didn’t know. It was just this loud sound in my head.”

The plane had crashed.

“My next memory after that was seeing my hand raised up in front of me like I was lying and I could see my skin hanging off my arm. And I was looking at my hand back and forth…My skin was hanging,” she says of the aftermath.

Five weeks later, Okwuchi opened her eyes again for the first time since the crash. She was now at the Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg, being treated for third degree burns that scarred her entire body.

Kechi Okwuchi, Air crash survivor. Photo provided

She was told none of her school mates had survived.

“Prior to that time, I thought that I if I was alive, everyone else was alive,” says Okwuchi.

“I just remember feeling shock and my friends’ faces were flashing before my eyes like someone flipping a scrap book in front of me…I was in that state of shock, depression and denial for about two-three days, just crying and crying.

“No one could comfort me from the pit of depression I was in,” she says.

To date, Okwuchi has undergone more than 100 surgeries – she has almost lost count.

At the time of the interview with FORBES AFRICA, she had just undergone yet another surgery in Los Angeles.

Okwuchi’s life is a miracle.

Despite the experience, she says she is not afraid of flying. She is a frequent flyer now pursuing a busy career.

She is studying for an MBA degree at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas.

She is also a vocalist, and has released her first single after being a finalist on the 12th season of America’s Got Talent last year.

Auditioning in front of thousands, including celebrities Simon Cowell, Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum, she fearlessly performed a rendition of Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud after sharing her life story.

She is also now a motivational speaker and has featured in TED Talks.

Kechi Okwuchi. Photo provided

The same decade as Okwuchi’s crash – the 2000s – Nigeria had experienced five major and fatal plane crashes. Experts suggested they were due to engine failure, bad weather, poor airport design or dysfunctional runway lighting.

Since then, the number of airplane accidents have thankfully declined.

On a continental level, a quick Google search reveals 23 headline-grabbing plane crashes in Africa in the first decade of this century.

Post 2010, there were five, the deadliest being the Algerian Air Force Il-76 crash as recently as April 11, 2018, when all 257 people on board were killed.

One of the reasons airplane accidents have come down today is thanks to the advancement of aviation technology. And thanks to phone cameras and social media, we also have better insight into what happens moments before an air accident.

However, to date, no technology has been able to solve one of the planet’s biggest unsolved mysteries – the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 in 2014 with 239 people on board.

Flying solo

The same year as the Sosoliso plane crash, thousands of kilometers from Nigeria, trainee pilot Noni Radebe was doing her first ‘night test’ in South Africa.

In the pitch-black sky, the 19-year-old was all by herself in the small plane hovering over Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape.

In the middle of the flight, the engines began to fail. Radebe felt unusual vibrations. Some plane components simply stopped working.

Panic and shock consumed her.

The plane began to lose altitude and flew over a dense forest.

Radebe couldn’t see anything and her plane started losing power. Her only hope was to try and somehow land it on any empty stretch of land.

“I had only been taught to respond to [such a situation] in daylight,” she says recalling what she thought would have been the end of her career – and her life.

In the end, with great trepidation, she somehow managed to land the plane on the runway of her training school.

She passed her pilot’s test and went on to become one of South Africa’s pioneering female pilots. Redebe has been flying commercial planes for the last 13 years.

Noni Radebe. Photo provided

She currently flies her dream plane, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 for Comair, which has advanced technological systems.

 “We have reached a point where you can basically land when you cannot see the ground. That’s how good the technology has become,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

She no longer panics in an emergency. She remains calm and reacts quickly to any potential danger in the air.

She finds flying one of the most enjoyable experiences on earth.

“By the time you actually line up on that runway and are ready to take off, it feels like you’ve been orchestrating this humongous stage play,” she says.

Radebe hopes to train young pilots to be better equipped for situations like the one she encountered during her first flight alone.

READ MORE: Heroes In The Sky

‘AT LEAST 500,000 PILOTS OVER THE NEXT 20 YEARS’

In Germiston, a small city in the East Rand region of Gauteng in South Africa, we meet yet another pilot, Rico Botha, who trains young aspirants at the U-Fly Training Academy in what used to be South Africa’s main international airport, the Rand Airport.

We are with Botha in a flight simulation room, and he fishes out his mobile phone.

He shows us an app on it displaying as many as 10,000 planes criss-crossing the globe in real time.

On the app, they are tiny yellow airplane symbols like colonies of ants. The app makes

it easy for anyone to keep track of the planes traveling in and out of various destinations.

“As air travel is predicted to increase over the next couple of years, we are going to have more planes in that same amount of airspace,” says Botha.

“They predict there will be at least 500,000 pilots over the next 20 years.”

Rico Botha. Photo by Motlabanna Monakgotla

He says there have been significant safety improvements with the arrival of advanced technology.

At the moment, a Boeing 737 is produced 47 times every month catering to a strong worldwide demand. The world’s other leading aircraft manufacturer, Airbus, has been flying the A380 for a decade and is the world’s largest passenger jet.

However, with more planes in the sky, pilot-training has to be undertaken with utmost caution and precision.

“One of the worst things to happen to a pilot is when [he/she] has lost a passenger. Nobody dies on your watch. It’s normally a career-breaker for a lot of people because it was your job to keep them safe…that guilt normally ends a lot of careers,” he says.

With the sky as your daily office, being a pilot may seem like one of the most glamorous jobs on the planet, but it comes with its own baggage of stress.

You can hit air pockets anytime in your career if not alert.

Aside from illnesses, if pilots go through any form of depression or trauma, psychometric tests are done and if they fail, they are deemed unfit to fly.

In 2015, a German co-pilot committed suicide by crashing his aircraft, killing all 144 passengers and crew members in the process. He initiated a deliberate descent until the aircraft impacted a mountain and blew up. Doctors had declared him “unfit to work” but he allegedly concealed that information from his employers.

“Family life is also a very big factor – your wife, your kids. You are going to miss birthdays, you are going to miss Christmas, you are going to miss the birth of your kids. These things do affect pilots and they do tend to become a little depressed at times,” Botha explains.

As for the planes, a thorough inspection must be conducted before take-off.

Botha takes us to one of the planes he uses for training purposes and demonstrates how a simple issue such as water mixing with fuel could cause combustion.

“Because fuel is so dense, you need to make sure there isn’t any water that gets in because water actually sinks in the fuel reserve,” Botha says, showing us a fuel test tube with water.

Both Radebe and Botha praise the level of training they have received.

“The training and level of maintenance in South Africa is one of the greatest in the world,” Radebe says.

Botha agrees, saying a majority of his students are overseas students who choose to study aviation in South Africa as opposed to their own countries.

“Africa is very much on par in terms of technology and also in terms of safety and training with the rest of the world,” says Radebe.

“Technology is changing every single day…

“[Planes are] burning less fuel, [there’s] less carbon emissions and they are much better for the environment…we are [using only] half the fuel we used 10 years ago just to get to Durban from Johannesburg…,” she says.

With an estimated 10,000 planes flying at any given moment, there is a sizeable population of humans up in the air, hopeful technology is on their side and that their pilots are not having a bad day.

 

Sit Back, Relax And Enjoy…?

These business travelers and frequent flyers have encountered some nerve-racking moments.

Claudette Thorne

Country General Manager, Southern Africa for Travelport

Before Travelport, her job entailed traveling to over 22 African countries. There’s one particular flying experience she will never forget.

Working in the mining industry, Thorne, only 22 at the time, boarded a chartered plane from Kinshasa to Lubumbashi in the DRC. It was a 45-minute flight.

“I remember it so clearly. It was a Rolls-Royce – the engine was literally almost held together with duct tape. And then I got on to the plane and that was the time I literally saw nuts and bolts next to me. So yes, petrified wasn’t even the word,” she says.

“I still have so much to accomplish in this life,” says the 37-year-old who finds herself on a plane at least four to eight times a month.

 

Thando Hopa

International model, writer, actress, lawyer

Turbulence while on a plane is Hopa’s worst nightmare.

“I suppose in my own mind it would feel like I should say a prayer because I’m about to die. That’s what I at least thought initially,” she says.

“It’s a resilient discomfort, I have to say,” says the 29-year-old.

Her first overseas flight was to the Sundance Film Festival in the United States. It was 23 hours of flying that Hopa had to endure including transit stops.

Due to albinism, Hopa has problems with her eye sight and requested special assistance.

“When I got there, they gave me a wheelchair and said ‘no, if you want special assistance, you have to sit in the wheelchair’,” Hopa laughs.  “I don’t need the wheelchair, I just need somebody to walk with me; the issues are with my eyes and not my legs,” Hopa told them.

In the end, the South African model, known to sashay down the country’s fashion runways, was pushed through the terminal on a wheelchair. It was an amusing on-ground experience.

If anything were to happen mid-flight, Hopa says her first thoughts would be her immediate family.

 

Brian Dodo

CEO and Founder, MAPP Africa and BmDodo Strategic Design

Resident in Canada, Dodo often travels to South Africa for business and to Zimbabwe, his home country.

There was that one flight he was on overseas that failed to take off.

He was headed to Havana from Montreal, and the passengers waited on the plane for two hours due to some technical issues before take-off.

“They didn’t explain why or give us anything to eat or drink that entire time,” he says. It was stressful not knowing the perceived danger.

As a frequent flyer, Dodo says flying is “taken for granted and the experience is no longer special”.

“I remember when people would clap once the plane has landed. Now, it doesn’t happen… it’s become really commuting more than flight travel,” he says.

 

Fred Eboka

Fashion designer

He has dressed up the rich and famous including tech billionaire Mark Shuttleworth, and the first lady of South Africa, Tshepo Ramaphosa.

His work takes him places, and he says he travels on a plane at least eight times a year.

He recalls a flight he once took from Cape Town to Johannesburg in the midst of a raging thunderstorm.

“We were all looking at each other like ‘what next?’ It was very scary. Suddenly you are feeling your stomach, your heart and your head, and praying!” he says.

The pilot had to turn back.

Eboka is grateful aviation technology has come a long way today.

“We feel a lot safer and we feel like the plane is becoming more and more intelligent,” he says.

Eboka’s philosophy has prepared him for any exigency.

“I plan as if I am going to live forever and I live as if I am going to die tomorrow,” he says.

Current Affairs

VE DAY MARKS THE END OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR-BUT THE WORLD IS STILL AT WAR

Just like the world is desperately seeking a cure to end the coronavirus pandemic which has killed over 275,000 people so far and leaving a trail of human, economic and social misery, the world too must find a way to end wars, or else we may be defeated as a civilization.

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calls on President Ashraf Ghani during a visit to Afghanistan’s capital Kabul to show solidarity with the Afghan people. Photo UNAMA / Fardin Waezi/June 2017.

The world commemorated the 75th Anniversary to mark the end of the 2nd World War also called VE Day on May 08, 2020.

With her nation, and much of the world still in lockdown, due to COVID 19, England’s Queen marked 75 years since the allied victory in Europe with a poignant televised address. From Windsor Castle, Queen Elizabeth said, “ the wartime generation knew that the best way to honour those who did not come back from the war, was to ensure that it didn’t happen again”.

But the world is still at war. Proxy wars or localised conflicts are wrecking havoc on human development and humanity in virtually every corner of the world. By the end of 2018, wars, violence and persecution have driven record numbers of over 70 million people from their homes worldwide, according to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. This is the largest ever displacement of humanity, post 2nd World War.

Never has the appeal by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres been more pertinent: “The world is in pieces; we need world peace.” 

The United States signed a historic deal with Afghanistan that outlines a timetable and exit plan for American troops, setting the stage for the potential end to nearly 18 years of war in Afghanistan.  The UN Secretary General welcomed the US-Taliban peace agreement on February 29, 2020.  The United States also won the unanimous backing of the UN Security Council to this ambitious peace deal on March 10, 2020.

The implementation of the peace agreement will need leadership, courage and resolve and there will be spoilers who will attempt to upend the peace process. The road to peace will be characterized by violence, set-backs and numerous false starts, but it will need diplomacy, determination and drive to keep the peace process on track.

Hubris must not prolong the agony of this appalling war. 

The war has cost over $2 trillion and killed more than 2,400 American soldiers and 38,000 Afghan civilians. Casualties among Afghan security forces are estimated to have reached around 40,000 between 2007 and 2017.

Wars are appalling. As a combat veteran, I have witnessed first-hand how armed conflicts have transformed some of our finest soldiers into shells of the people I once knew. Combat is savage, it is brutal, it is reckless, it diminishes us as human beings and jeopardizes our humanity.

General William Sherman once said, “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, and more desolation. War is hell.”

There are no winners in Afghanistan, but let’s consider the consequences on all the women and men who fought in it.

Today, research backs up what soldiers have described for decades, and what was once called shell shock or combat fatigue. We have terms like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), chronic depression, cognitive impairment, and traumatic brain injury to help explain the symptoms suffered by active and returning soldiers.  

U.S. Army soldiers on security duty in Paktīkā province, Afghanistan, 2010. Sgt. Derec Pierson/U.S. Department of Defense

For a long time, many of the grim statistics about war centred on fatalities and did not include the conflicts’ deep mental wounds. Today we have a better understanding of the kind of moral and psychological toll wars take on soldiers, their families, and communities.

The United States is a leader in the understanding of psychological and emotional damage to soldiers and has taken some steps to address their mental health. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have left between 11% and 20% of military personnel suffering from PTSD. As many as 375,000 US veterans have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries between 2000 and 2017, mostly caused by explosions. 

But suicides in the US armed forces have continued to rise in recent years, reaching record levels in 2018 when there were 25 deaths per 100,000 service members. Former defence secretary Leon Panetta once said that the “epidemic” of military suicide was “one of the most frustrating problems” he had faced.

More than $350 billion has already gone to medical and disability care for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Experts say that more than half of that spending belongs to the Afghanistan effort.

Homelessness among veterans is pervasive, and soldiers still struggle to access benefits and healthcare if they suffer from mental health issues rather than from physical wounds. At any given time in the US, more than 40,000 veterans are homeless, constituting around 9% of all homeless adults in the country. 

In the United Kingdom, spurred by a dozen suicides among Afghan war veterans in just two months, the government expedited new mental health programs to help deal with former military members’ PTSD and addiction. 

What does this now mean for the Afghan security forces? They and their families do not have the same support structures.

All this ‘hell’, but to what end? Afghanistan remains one of the world’s largest sources of refugees and migrants. Since 2004 alone, more than 1.8 million Afghans have become internally displaced. Afghanistan’s human development and progress has been set back by decades. Women and children have suffered the most and countless are emotionally and psychologically scarred for life.

While we like to see soldiers as stoic and heroic, we must open our eyes to the fact that wars scar minds as well as bodies, often in ways medical science cannot yet comprehend.

Just like the world is desperately seeking a cure to end the coronavirus pandemic which has killed over 275,000 people so far and leaving a trail of human, economic and social misery, the world too must find a way to end wars, or else we may be defeated as a civilization.

Siddharth Chatterjee, is the United Nations resident coordinator to Kenya. He has served with the UN and the Red Cross Movement in various parts of the world affected by conflicts and humanitarian crisis. He is also a decorated Special Forces veteran and a Princeton University alumnus. Follow him on Twitter @sidchat1

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.​​​​​

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Climate Explained: How Much Of Climate Change Is Natural? How Much Is Man-made?

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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.

Weather attribution

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.

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Current Affairs

The Rage And Tears That Tore A Nation

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Snapshots of the outrage against foreign nationals and protests against sexual offenders in South Africa in recent weeks, captured by FORBES AFRICA photojournalist Motlabana Monnakgotla.


As the continent’s second-biggest economy, South Africa attracts migrants from the rest of Africa. But mired in its own problems of unemployment and political instability, September saw a serious outbreak of attacks by South Africans on foreign nationals and foreign-owned businesses. And they have been ugly.    

The spark that fueled the raging fire was in Pretoria, the country’s capital, when a taxi driver was shot dead by a foreign national who was selling drugs to a youngster in the central business district (CBD).

The altercation caused a riot and the taxi industry brought the CBD to a standstill, blocking intersections. It did not stop there; a week later, about 60 kilometers from the capital in Malvern, a suburb east of the Johannesburg CBD, a hijacked building caught fire, leaving three dead. As emergency services were putting out the fire, the residents took advantage and looted foreign-owned shops and burned car dealerships overnight on Jules Street.

The lootings extended to the CBD and other parts of Johannesburg.

To capture this embarrassing moment in South African history, I visited Katlehong, a township 35 kilometers east of Johannesburg, where the residents blocked roads leading to Sontonga Mall on a mission to loot the mall and the foreign-owned shops therein overnight.

Shop-owners and workers were shocked to wake up to no business.

Mfundo Maljingolo, a worker at Fish And Chips, was among the distressed.

“This thing started last night, people started looting and broke into the mall and did what they wanted to do. I couldn’t go to work today because there’s nothing to do; now, we are not going to get paid. The shop will be losing close to R10,000 ($677) today. It’s messed up,” said Maljingolo.

But South African businesses were affected too.

Among the shops at the mall is Webbers, a clothing and footwear store. Looters could not enter the shop and it was one of the few that escaped the vandalism.

Dineo Nyembe, the store’s manager, said she was in disbelief when she saw people could not enter the mall.

“We got here this morning and the ceiling was wrecked but there was no sign that the shop was entered, everything was just as we left it. Now, we are packing stock back to the warehouse, because we don’t know if they are coming back tonight,” lamented Nyembe, unsure if they would make their daily target or if they would be trading again.

 Across the now-wrecked mall are small businesses that were not as fortunate as Webbers, and it was not only the shop-owners that were affected. 

Emmanuel Nhlane’s home was robbed even as attackers were looting the shop outside.

“They broke into my house, I was threatened with a petrol bomb and I had to stand outside to give them a chance; they took my fridge, bed, cash and my VHS,” said Nhlane.

Nhlane had rented out his yard to foreign nationals to operate a shop. He does not comprehend why his belongings were taken because he doesn’t own a shop. Now, it means that the unemployed Nhlane will not be getting his monthly rental fee of R3,700 ($250).

Far away, the coastal KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, was also affected as trucks burned and a driver was killed because of his nationality. This was part of a logistics and transport industry national strike.

Back in Johannesburg, I visited the car dealerships that were a part of the burning spree on Jules Street.

The streets were still ashy and the air still smoky, two days after the unfortunate turn of events.

Muhamed Haffejee, one of the distraught businessmen there, said: “Currently, we are still not trading.” 

Cape Town, in the Western Cape province of South Africa, which hosted the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa from September 4 to 6, was also witness to protests by women and girls from all walks of life outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre, demanding that the leadership take action to end the spate of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country.

There were protests also outside Parliament. What set off the nationwide outcry was the shocking rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a 19-year-old film and media student at the University of Cape Town, inside a post office by a 42-year-old employee at the post office.

There was anger against the ghastly crimes and wave of GBV in the country that continues unabated. According to Stats SA, there has been a drastic increase of women-based violence in South Africa; sexual offences are up by 4.6%, from 50,108 in 2018 to 52,420 in 2019.

A week later, on a Friday, Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile and one of the biggest economic hubs, was shut down by hundreds of angry women and members of advocacy groups from across Johannesburg. They congregated by the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), the cynosure of business, singing and chanting, to demand “a 2% levy on profits of all listed entities to help fund the fight against GBV and femicide”.   

Among the protesters was Cebi Ngqinanbi, holding a placard that read: “I’m not your punching bag.”

“We came here to disrupt Sandton as the heart of Johannesburg’s economic hub. We want to make everyone aware that women and children are being killed every day in South Africa and they [Sandton] continue with business as usual, sitting in their offices with air-conditioners and the stock exchange whilst people on the ground making them rich are dying. That is why we are here, to speak to those that have economic power,” said Ngqinanbi.

She added that if women can be given economic power, they will be able to fend for themselves and won’t fall prey to abusive men, since most women stay in abusive relationships because men are more financially stable.

Amid the chanting and singing of struggle songs, Nobuhle Ajiti addressed the crowd and shared her own haunting experience as a migrant in South Africa and survivor of GBV. She spoke in isiZulu, a South African language.

“I survived a gang rape; I was thrown out of a moving car and stabbed several times. I survived it, but am I going to survive xenophobia that is looming around in South Africa? Will I able to share my xenophobia story like I can share my GBV story?” questioned Ajiti.

She said as migrants, they did not wake up in the morning and decide to come to South Africa, but because of the hardships faced in their home countries, they were forced to come to what they perceived as the city of opportunities. And as a foreign national, she had to deal with both xenophobia and GBV.

“We experience institutionalized xenophobia in hospitals; we are forced to pay huge amounts for consultation. I am raped and I need medical attention and I am told I need to pay R5,000 ($250).

“As a mere migrant, where am I going to get R5,000? I get abused at home and the police officer would ask me where I’m from because of my accent, I sound Zimbabwean. What does my nationality have to do with my husband beating me at home or with the man that just raped me?” she asked.

Women stop traffic while they hold up placards stating their grievences against GBV. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

Addressing the resolute women outside was the JSE CEO Nicky Newton-King who received the memorandum demanding business take their plight seriously, from a civil society group representing over 70 civil society organizations and individuals.

The list of demands include that at all JSE-listed companies contribute to a fund to resource the National Strategy Plan on GBV and femicide, to be launched in November; transport for employees who work night shifts or work after hours; establish workplace mechanisms to provide support to GBV survivors as part of employee wellness, and prevention programs that help make workplaces safe spaces for all women.

Newton-King assured the protestors she would address their demands in seven days. But a lot can happen in seven days. Will there be more crimes in the meantime? How many more will be raped and killed in South Africa by then?

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