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The Complex And Contentious Land Reform

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South Africa’s land expropriation debate continues to roil everyone from farmers to foreign investors and financial institutions. What has the government done to address land reform?  

It’s a five-hour drive from Johannesburg to Smithfield in the Free State province of South Africa. As we arrive, the sun is shining its warm golden hue over 1,200 hectares of Eddie Prinsloo’s land. As we drive on the long dirt road towards the farm house, the smell of manure hangs thickly in the air. On the right is a beautiful view of the mountains towards Lesotho. It is quiet and peaceful here but debates about white-owned farms are getting louder and louder.

The issue of land in South Africa is big. Many black South Africans were pushed off commercial farms and even denied opportunities to own land during white colonial rule. In a democratic South Africa, it has caused heated debates around dinner tables, in political party headquarters, and parliament and even had United States President, Donald Trump, tweeting. It has also given birth to opposition political parties like Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and Andile Mngxitama’s Black First Land First (BLF).

Most black South Africans say they want land. The African National Congress (ANC) government agrees. It wants to change the Constitution to make it possible to take land from white farmers and give it back to black South Africans. It is calling it expropriation of land without compensation.

“The ANC will, through a parliamentary process, finalize a proposed amendment to the Constitution that outlines more clearly the conditions under which expropriation of land without compensation can be effected. The intention of this proposal is to promote redress, advance economic development, increase agricultural production and food security,” said South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa after the ruling party’s two-day National Executive Committee (NEC) Lekgotla in South Africa’s capital, Tshwane.

This news sent shivers down the spines of farmers, banks and some investors. The government is however adamant expropriation without compensation should happen to give opportunities to the blacks who had land unjustly taken from them.

Prinsloo, a white man who started sheep farming in 1974 when he inherited the farm from his father, says he is one of the few farmers already trying to empower blacks. We meet him in his thatched office. Awards and photographs of sheep hang on the wall.

Two years ago, he asked the government to buy one of his four farms on condition it will give it to his nine workers.

“In 1994, I wanted to give my people a farm because they sell a lot especially to the Lesotho people. That is their part of the business… In 2016, I offered the 1,500-hectare farm to the government on condition that my workers will be the new owners and they get title deeds,” says Prinsloo.

The process took two years. It worked. Currently, the farmworkers have 49% shareholding in the farm, while Prinsloo retains 51%.

“I will help them by training them on the business side of farming and letting them use my equipment for their sheep. Black farmers are good farmers, they do all the work but they don’t know about accounting and other stuff but these things can be taught. I want them to know every aspect of this business so that they are able to run their own farms,” says Prinsloo.

According to Prinsloo, who is fourth generation South African, the longest-serving workers will get more shares to the farm compared to newcomers.

“The government was very supportive. It just took too long and I almost sold the farm to another farmer who wanted to do this with my employees.”

Asked about his views on Ramaphosa’s plan for expropriation of land without compensation, Prinsloo does not appear worried.

“It has never scared me. I believe that before the elections, [the ANC] makes a lot of scary announcements but I have never been scared. I think it will just go on as we farm now. I don’t think it’s fair to expropriate land without compensation. Seventy five percent of all black people want to become a part of agriculture but only one percent wants to farm,” he says.

Prinsloo says his fear is that when people get things without paying for them, they would not value or look after them.

“The government must now give the black people who want farms a low interest rate so they can be able to buy land. In the old days, there was Agri bank. It helped poor farmers who couldn’t get a loan from the land bank. The government must bring it back.”

Prinsloo however says he is against farmers who have land here but are living overseas leaving the land unattended.

“Those farms should be taken and given to black people, like my staff members, who deserve it.”

Palesa Phantsi is one of Prinsloo’s workers set to benefit from this deal with the government. She has worked as a maid for Prinsloo since January 2012.

“I am so happy that I am getting land. I never thought this would ever happen in my life. Now, I will grow and be able to do many things I couldn’t do before,” says Phantsi.

Lebogang Phomane is another employee set to benefit from this initiative. He walks us around the sheep kraal showing us what his day-to-day work with sheep entails. He has worked for Prinsloo for 30 years and knows most of the work except the administrative side.

Lebogang Phomane. Photo by Motlabanna Monakgotla.

“I am so happy because a lot of farmers don’t do this kind of thing. When he started talking about it two years ago, I didn’t believe him. Now he is helping us create our own legacy. I stopped going to school in grade nine so this is going to be life-changing,” says Phomane.

Prinsloo says he will train these soon-to-be land owners on the business side of sheep farming and even help them with equipment and a place to sell their sheep or wool.

This initiative has won him a lot of support but also criticism. One of those against his actions is BLF, a South African political party founded in 2015.

“This is a scheme by whites to hide the fact that the likes of Prinsloo gets paid for stolen land. There is no prescription for historical land theft – and the white Prinsloo still benefited by selling the stolen land. This is a clear indication of the impunity with which whites continue to act – they will never return land without receiving payment,” says Free State Chairperson Luyolo Busakwe.

Millions of people lost land during colonisation in South Africa.

According to Professor Ruth Hall, from the University of the Western Cape’s Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, between 1984 and end 1993, 1,832,000 blacks were displaced from commercial farms and 737,000 were evicted from farms.

Professor Ruth Hall.

The numbers get worse. From 1994 to the end of 2004, 2,351,000 people were displaced from farms and 942,000 were evicted. After attaining democracy, the government started a land reform initiative to give land to those who had lost it. Some of the displaced were placed in other farms but 3,716,000 were permanently displaced and 1,586,000 permanently evicted.

In the Free State, where Prinsloo lives, there hasn’t been a lot of land redistribution. It is number three from the bottom on the list of land distribution numbers across South Africa’s nine provinces. Only about 400,000 hectares of land have been redistributed here. For some of those who received land, it ushered in years of court proceedings, pain, fear and poverty.

In QwaQwa, a part of the Free State province, 560 kilometers from Prinsloo in Smithfield, is Mmabatho Mphuthi. She is in the autumn of her life but spends her days moving from court to court trying to fight for her farm.

Mmabatho Mphuthi. Photo by Motlabanna Monakgotla.

We meet her as the sun sinks behind the rugged mountains. Mphuthi says she fears dying without ever being able to make good money from her farm.

She was given land by the government in 1994 under the land reform program.

“The ANC said if you have 15 members, they would give you land. I organized people who were willing to join me and in total we are 17. We went to government and they gave us a big farm which was divided among us to work as small holder farmers,” recalls Mputhi.

Mputhi, and the other small holder farmers, moved into the farm on December 16, 1997. They were given title deeds to the land and were trained by the department of agriculture on how to farm and sell. They also learned how to supply milk to big dairies around the province.

“I was so happy because finally, after so many years of struggle under the white rule, we had our land back and could earn a living,” she says.

Trouble came when a white farmer moved into their property.

“One day in the year 2000, I was busy with my own work and saw trucks come in. A white man was moving into the other end of our farm. He said the department of rural development had given him a lease on the property. I don’t know how that happened because I had the title deeds to the farm and we are the rightful owners.”

Mphuthi says she tried and failed to get help from all departments in the area.

“At first, I was told that he was coming to help us while we were being educated on how to farm but that never happened. Instead, he came in and terrorized us. He closed us off from the areas around the farm that we needed… Everything we farm gets destroyed by the rain because we don’t have access to the equipped area of the farm,” she says, as tears roll down her wrinkled face.

“How can you lease someone a farm that belongs to someone else? That is wrong. I am the one getting bills for services and taxes but I can’t farm or use the land because someone else has taken it over,” she says.

Mphuthi says her efforts to seek help have been futile.

“I have paid agents thousands of rands over the years to get help and get a lawyer for this to be fixed but each time, the case gets postponed. When I go to the police, they tell me to go to the public protector but no one responds. He even got a protection order that prevents me from going to that part of the farm yet I have the title deeds of the land in my hand and it seems there is nothing I can do about it.”

Mismanagement, like this, of the redistribution processes is one of the big apprehensions.

“Over the years, the government has failed to effectively redistribute land to blacks and now they want to change the Constitution yet they have failed to use the Constitution they already have. First, government must clean out corruption and then understand what land it owns, what land has already been redistributed and iron out any ongoing cases on redistributed land before trying to change the Constitution,” says Mphuthi.

That is exactly what the government has been trying to do.

According to Professor Hall, South Africa has 122 million hectares of land and 86 million hectares of that is private commercial agricultural land. That is 67% of the land in the country held by white South Africans.

Another problem is, since 1994, the government has only redistributed 9.7% of commercial farmland to blacks under the land reform program.

“For many South Africans, this pace is too slow. There is frustration because not much land reform has happened. Land reform can and should be made to work. There is a huge demand for small holdings by black emerging farmers. To meet the demand for land, will mean the need to acquire land held by private owners,” says Hall.

It is true. During the ruling party’s public hearings on the matter, many blacks indicated they wanted land. The government says it now wants to make sure this happens faster and more effectively than it has in the past.

“We want to now work on providing greater clarity on how expropriation without compensation can be effected. The proposal (to amend the Constitution) is informed by the views of our people that have been expressed in the public hearings that have been taking place,” said President Ramaphosa in Parliament.

Currently, Section 25 of the South African Constitution allows for expropriation without compensation but says there should be an equitable balance between public interest and those affected. Ramaphosa says he has appointed an inter-ministerial committee on land reform led by the deputy president to work on clarifying how expropriation will take place and under what circumstances.

“The acceleration of land redistribution is necessary not only to redress a grave historical injustice but also to bring more producers into the agricultural sector and to make more land available for cultivation,” says Ramaphosa.

Hall is however of the opinion that the problem is not the Constitution but the failure to use the Constitution as expropriation is already allowed by the Constitution.

“This can be justified in many cases, for example, when state expropriates land, when it wants to build roads or other public infrastructure. Expropriation isn’t new. What is new is the idea that the state will take property without paying compensation. This is not likely to happen in the majority of cases. We may only see it in cases where the state can justify why there is no compensation,” says Hall.

According to Hall, the kinds of cases that would require expropriation without compensation for example would be an abandoned city building, land left unoccupied and unoccupied land where informal settlements have grown in that property.

“There are a small number of landowners who have absolutely not been using their land, who may lose out in the process of land expropriation without compensation. My view is that they are very few in number and I have no doubt they will contest each case in court,” she says.

There is also a question of motive on behalf of the ANC.

Dumisani Nyembe, an ordinary South African who wants land to farm crops, says he thinks the ruling party is only doing this now because of the upcoming 2019 elections.

“I wonder why the ANC hasn’t been doing this for the past two decades. They can see that EFF is gaining a lot of traction because they are the most vocal about the land issue and all of a sudden they are promising us land expropriation without compensation. Whatever they are trying to do is EFF policy and not ANC policy. I don’t trust them a bit and I wouldn’t be surprised if this amendment of the Constitution isn’t passed come elections,” he says.

According to Hall, another problem is money.

“The land reform process is being hampered by corruption and mismanagement. If we sort out those problems, there will be funds to provide basic support to the new farmers being given access to farmland. The land reform budget has always been a very small part of the total fiscus. Right now, the land reform budget is at 0.4% of the total budget. If money is spent well and appropriately, funding would be available,” she says.

Sheep farming in South Africa is part of the country’s R132 billion agriculture industry. Demands are growing for radical land reform to redress dispossession during apartheid. Photo by Motlabanna Monakgotla.

Ramaphosa however reiterates in most conversations about land expropriation that the intention of the proposed amendment is to strengthen the property rights of all South Africans and to provide certainty to those who own land, to those who need land to those who are considering investing in the country.

The ANC will need a two-thirds majority in parliament to be able to amend the Constitution.

“I don’t think this will be hard to get because if they join forces with the EFF, this amendment can be passed. The EFF can’t be seen going against this because it has been their main message since foundation,” says Nyembe.

Hall, however, insists that even when passed, expropriation without compensation is most likely not going to be the norm but likely applied selectively on a case-by-case basis and the courts will review every case.

Even if that is the case, another big fear with this amendment is the potential loss of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the country.

According to David Nathanson, a global equity specialist at Bellwood Capital, investors are concerned.

“South African investors are really over-invested in South Africa and they are worried about many things in the country such as our debt situation, how we are very close to junk rating and the talk of expropriation without compensation. They are concerned about property rights where they are invested,” he says.

Although Nathanson says he doesn’t think investors think their houses will be confiscated in the short-term, they are worried because the country is dependent on foreign investment and when the government talks about land expropriation without compensation, it will make it more difficult to get foreign investment which will make it even more difficult to fix South Africa’s problems.

“We could see the weakening of the rand in the long-term and South Africa could find itself in a situation where it is unable to meet its obligations and we could have a crisis like a Brazil or Argentina,” he says.

South Africa is already in technical recession following two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

“The government doesn’t have a lot of flexibility to be spending money on anything other than the necessities. Things like the National Health Insurance (NHI) and other noble policies that the government is trying to implement; the question is where will the money come from? If they expropriate land, they will need to assist the farmers and maybe give some sort of guarantees to banks…We don’t know the depths of what kind of money could be required to do that but the government probably won’t afford it. We are struggling to manage our public wage bill, so it would be difficult,” says Nathanson.

Ian Matthews, Head of Business Development at Bravura, an independent investment banking firm specializing in corporate finance and structured solutions, has similar views to Nathanson. He says an uncertain regulatory landscape cannot hope to instil confidence in foreign investors. The main concern, he says, has been whether foreign investment assets could be expropriated without compensation.

According to Matthews, in this climate, there is every possibility that direct foreign investment could contract significantly.

Prior to 2018, South African Reserve Bank (SARB) statistics had shown that FDI into South Africa declined from R76 billion in 2008 to just R17.6 billion in 2017 and a UN report, Global Investment Trends Monitor indicates that in 2015, FDI into South Africa fell by 74% to $1.5 billion.

According to Matthews, banks are the biggest source of credit for farmers at 61% and about R148 billion outstanding in loans for agricultural land and R1.6 trillion in property.

“Initially playing down the risk of expropriation of property without compensation, South Africa’s banks have since proposed a fund to help accelerate land transformation. Although no amount has been suggested for the fund, the proposal signifies the banks’ intention of seeking practical solutions to protect the billions of rands in assets that are tied up in farm loans,” he says.

South African banks are worried.

Taking the same view as Hall, according to Nedbank Group, one of South Africa’s commercial banks, the government has not used its existing powers to expropriate land for land reform purposes effectively, nor has it used the provisions in the Constitution that allow compensation to be below market value in particular circumstances.

“Changing [the Constitution] would send a very strange and damaging signal to our people and potential investors. It is our view that the acquisition of land and the current Constitutional provisions have not been a key obstacle to land reform so far and that an amendment to Section 25 of the Constitution would offer little in the way of sustainable solutions in the future,” says the bank in its written submission at the Public Hearings on the review of Section 25 of the Constitution.

It says the key challenges are lack of effective implementation of current powers, lack of capacity, lack of resource allocation and lack of proper and structured support for new land owners.

“As a commercial bank, we are a key role player in funding the economy and any material impact to property prices would adversely affect confidence in the banking system and could trigger a classic banking crisis with significant negative knock-on effects on the economy,” said Nedbank CEO Mike Brown, speaking to the Constitutional Review Committee, which is investigating proposed changes to the Constitution.

Cas Coovadia, Managing Director of the Banking Association of South Africa, says there are better ways of expropriating land for blacks.

“To expropriate land with compensation without ensuring that we have the funds to support those who get the land in the way that fulfils the commitment of the president that it will not threaten food security and agricultural production is going to be a challenge,” he says.

Coovadia says the banks made it clear that the critical thing for the country right now is to get investments and create growth.

“We have been engaging government through the department of land and rural development for the past five years. We have presented projects and initiatives, we think, through a public-private partnership between the banking sector, agricultural sector, and government, can ensure people get land in a sustainable way and get commercial farmers involved to offer support,” he says.

The trick is, according to Coovadia, releasing land owned by the state first and giving it to the people.

“This is a problem that needs to be dealt with but it should be handled carefully… We don’t even know how much land is owned by who and where. We need a land audit to understand these issues. We don’t have enough issues or data on land to understand how exactly to deal with it. We need to stop pretending that having an amendment of Section 25 is going to fix our land reform issues,” he says.

On the other hand, the EFF has welcomed the government’s plans to expropriate land.

“The ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa has finally capitulated and submitted to the basic logic of amending Section 25 of South Africa’s Constitution to allow for expropriation of land without compensation,” said spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi in a statement after Ramaphosa’s announcement.

“The resolute submissions of the people on the ground and in all the public hearings exposed the ANC to the fact that an absolute majority of black people agree with the EFF’s steadfast and consistent position that the Constitution should be amended to allow for expropriation of land without compensation. This illustrates that when given an opportunity, the people of South Africa are always ready to provide resolute guidance on key economic and redress questions,” he says.

Until the motion is brought to a vote in parliament, the land expropriation debate lives on.

Risks of amending the Constitution, according to Nedbank

Any changes to the Constitution, however well-intentioned, would send a negative signal to potential investors and be seen as a risk to future property rights. Should this happen, according to Nedbank at the Public Hearings on the review of Section 25 of the Constitution:
• Fixed investment spending and job creation would suffer
• Borrowing costs could rise at a time that the country – and government – could ill-afford
• Growth would remain below potential

In the unlikely event of a poorly-implemented land reform program, carried out exclusively or largely through Expropriation Without Compensation, the effects would be more structural and significant:
• Property prices would plummet along with other asset prices
• There would be large-scale defaults, with little or no collateral for the banks to offset losses
• Government may have to step in to protect depositors’ funds in the event of a banking crisis
• Borrowing costs generally would soar
• The economy would be severely depressed and unemployment would rise even further
• Food security would be impaired and food prices would increase

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A Statement On The Skyline

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South Africa is on its way to another record with Africa’s tallest building.


A new superstructure is making its mark in Sandton in the heart of Africa’s richest square mile.

The $3 billion project is expected to be completed by the end of 2019 and beat Carlton Centre’s reign as the tallest building in Africa since 1973.

The 223-meter, 50-storey Carlton Centre in Johannesburg has for 46 years stood the test of time as a skyscraper dominating the skyline in South Africa and the continent.

The new building coming up in Sandton will be a 55-storey, 234-meter classical Italian eponym paying homage to Leonardo da Vinci, the Italian artist of the Renaissance era.

READ MORE | Re-constructing Johannesburg The City Of Opportunity

It adds to the luxurious portfolio of hotels by the Legacy Living property group.

As The Leonardo rising from the bedrock and gradually etches its presence on the skyline, Gijs Foden, Director of Retail Management in Legacy Living, says it is a beacon that represents economic growth far beyond the surface.

“From a development perspective, everyone knows about the crisis in construction. There is light at the end of the tunnel, through a tough economy. It is a tough market and we are working our way out of it. We are going up. We are part of the beacon of hope through tough times,” he says.

South Africa has nine out of 20 of the continent’s tallest buildings, amounting to 1,277 meters in total and 5,000 steps up a staircase.

While most of these buildings were erected in the 1900s and early 2000s, records have stayed the same.

Johannesburg’s Ponte City Tower standing as the third tallest building in Africa, coming in after Kenya’s Britam Tower at 200 meters.

The Leonardo was initially set out to be a mixed-use building with 33 floors but has since escalated to dominating the South African skyscraper inventory.

Foden says the development will not only provide investment opportunities for South Africa, but it will celebrate African authenticity.

Set to be completed in the year of Leonardo Da Vinci’s 500th death anniversary, African art will be the center-piece of the tower.

You look out of the window and that is your canvas. Internally, the art in the building is African art.

“We are supporting the African artist, it is what it is. The art defines the building. Keeping the essence of the building and at the same time the warmth and lifestyle will be an attraction, irrespective of the Italian name,” Foden says.

By following due processes in getting the height approved, overtaking Carlton Centre’s record, Foden says: “It [Carlton Centre] is still an icon and no one has been able to beat it. It is different times and it is also different generations. This is our generation which is going to be a timeless building for many years to come. It is an urban flight.”

However, the record by The Leonardo may be short-lived as yet another African skyscraper may overshadow it by the end of 2021.

 The Pinnacle, currently being built in Nairobi’s financial hub, is set to be a 70-storey mixed-use development.

According to a yearly study published by The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), Beijing’s China Zun 528-meter skyscraper was the tallest building completed in 2018, making it the eighth-tallest building in the world.

 The study reports that 16 new buildings entered the 100 tallest lists in 2018; up from 14 in 2017, 76% of these were in Asia.

Co-Arc Director, Francois Pienaar, says the influx of skyscrapers in Africa is a way for property investors and developers to exploit the options of sites.

“Sites can become very valuable. There are a lot of things to do with money – [for] better returns for the investment of the land, and that is why people go up. It takes quite a lot of courage, to go 55 floors.

You need to have a client who is inspired to do it. Especially, with the volatility of Africa,” Pienaar says. 

Despite the competition for a piece of the sky, none of the 2019 projected top 30 tallest buildings will supersede the world’s tallest building in Dubai at a towering 829.8 meters with 163 floors above the ground.

The Burj Khalifa has boasted this record since its completion in 2010.

According to Pienaar, the opportunity to build a structure of this magnitude does not come by every day in Africa.

Breaking his 30-storey skyscraping record, Pienaar, who is currently working on The Leonardo, adds:  “It takes a lot more when it comes to delivering services and the kinds of aesthetics that take place.

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“The building has a skin outside which is imported from Spain. It is a new invention from Spain that reduces the heat load on the glass. We have produced a building that is responsible for the climate. We are trying to keep the building energy-efficient,” he says.

As the global economic outlook develops, there is fierce competition for a piece of the sky.

The taller the building, the more money it pulls in.

As the South African economy picks itself up, the lingering shadow of the Leonardo will represent a symbol of growth and a new dawn.

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Lab-grown Diamonds: Never Mined, It’s Man-Made

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Turns out there is literally no difference between lab-grown diamonds and natural diamonds, well, apart from the price.


Ever wondered what the difference between lab-produced diamonds and natural diamonds was? Well, nothing. They are exactly the same.

As with most things of value, a great deal of information has been produced over the years about the price of diamonds. In short, many believe the real price of diamonds is far lower than what ‘big business’ would have us believe and that it is driven up by our insatiable hunger and the social importance we place on the stones.

In line with this, there is a widely-held belief that they are not rare and the market is being deliberately controlled to create the façade that they are difficult to produce. Therefore, their price is dictated by the fact that they symbolize the most enduring of all human emotions – love.

 With that out of the way, in recent times, society has developed a pragmatic relationship with diamonds, rather than a romantic one that has long sustained the industry.

It might be that we live in the era of instant gratification or that we have stopped romanticising the idea of waiting millions of years for the precious stone, but more people have embraced the idea of purchasing lab-grown diamonds.

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Unlike an imitation gem like cubic zirconia, it has the same physical characteristics and chemical components as a natural diamond but production time is much shorter, enabling producers to create it in a matter of weeks.

Lab-grown diamonds producer Ross Reid offers FORBES AFRICA a very sobering perspective with the following analogy to describe man-made diamonds.

“If a couple can’t fall pregnant using conventional methods, they do IVF where the baby’s origin of life is manmade. Is that not a real baby when it’s born?”

The room falls silent as all contemplate this question.

“So by that logic, it is a real diamond,” Reid states emphatically.

Reid is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Inception Diamonds, One of South Africa’s first Diamond companies to offer lab-grown diamonds and fine jewelry.

The world’s leading diamond producer, De Beers, however, has a different perspective.

“We view natural diamonds and lab-grown diamonds as very different products as they have completely different production processes. Natural diamonds are created in the earth, under intense heat and pressure over billions of years. Each diamond is rare, finite and unique,” says Bianca Ruakere, a De Beers Group spokesperson.


De Beers Lightbox range. Picture: De Beers

Reid says he recognizes the market potential for global growth in being able to offer conflict-free, environmentally-friendly lab-grown diamonds, especially to the millennial market.

“With the creation of laboratory-grown diamonds, it allows you to offer the consumer the same thing optically, physically, and chemically at a big discount. So you can have the same beauty, the same hardness, the same look and the same feel for less money,” Reid says.

Large diamond producers have also recognized the same potential.

De Beers Group has been producing synthetic diamonds for industrial purposes for more than 50 years. “Last year, we launched Lightbox in the United States to market a range of fun, fashion jewelry using lab-grown diamonds. They are accessibly priced, and a distinct product offering compared with natural diamonds,” Ruakere says.

 Price is not the only reason that encourages the market to opt for lab-grown diamonds. They are also other ethical factors such as having a guarantee that the rock on your finger is conflict-free.

 Shogan Naidoo, who proposed to his fiancé, Preba Iyavoo, on Valentine’s Day at the popular independent cinema house, The Bioscope, did so with a healthy bank balance and clean conscience.

They were traditionally engaged in July last year, so by the time the ring engagement happened, Iyavoo was caught completely off-guard and was pleasantly surprised.

“Shogan is the most endearing person, but he’s not romantic in the slightest,” says a giddy Iyavoo, who recalls the proposal that happened in a filled theater, with a movie Naidoo had created just for her.

The couple are besotted with their lab-grown diamond. Naidoo says after doing exhaustive research to find the perfect ring to propose with, all conventional options had failed him.

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 He says his final ring choice far exceeded his expectations in price and design. Naidoo explains that Iyavoo has a very specific preference and that he was not willing to compromise in getting her the perfect ring but the one he initially wanted was in the range of R80,000 ($5,500).

  “We were planning a wedding and we’d just bought a house,” he says. The exorbitant cost of retail rings led him to search out of the box, and eventually the box returned with the perfect gem.

 The couple who lead a very environmentally-conscious lifestyle, say they are especially proud to be the custodians of this ring because they are guaranteed it’s conflict-free and no miners were exploited.

 Reid says he has to grapple with a great deal of scepticism because many are not ready to fully embrace the idea of lab-grown diamonds despite their advantages.

“The Federal Trade Commission has changed the definition of a diamond. It does not need to come from the ground.

“We have opened up the market for people to be able to afford beautiful pieces without compromising on quality,” Reid says.

Change is inevitable and with that, there will always be those resistant to it. But one thing is for sure, society’s relationship with diamonds are changing.

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A New Language Doesn’t Hamper Kids Learning. Other Things Do

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South Africa is a linguistically and culturally diverse country. There are 11 official languages and several other minority languages. But English continues to be preferred as the language of learning and teaching.

Many South African children are still in the process of learning English by the time they first start going to school. In a single English-medium classroom, one can find children with various levels of English proficiency; from children with English as their mother tongue to children who have never learnt English before.

This situation poses a range of challenges for both the teacher and the children. One of the biggest challenges is that a certain level of proficiency in English is required for the children to be able to perform well academically in an English-medium school. It’s a widely known factthat academic success is very much dependent on language competence and proficiency.

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This means that there’s a great need to understand how language develops in children’s early school careers. It is also important to understand the cognitive mechanisms that underlie language learning. To further explore how this happens in the early years of schooling I did a study involving pre-primary children in an English-medium school in Cape Town.

The group consisted of children who were still learning English as well as children whose mother tongue was English. The children were very diverse – there was a total of nine different home languages in the group of children who were still learning English.

The findings showed that the ability of children to develop their language skills didn’t depend on whether they were proficient when they started out. Their ability to learn and advance – or not – was in fact dependent on a range of other factors, none of which had to do with English language proficiency.

The findings

The research aimed to understand the link between language and working memory development. I did this by tracking how working memory developed for the children chosen to take part in the study.

Working memory is the ability to store and use information in the short-term and is important for our everyday lives. For example, we use working memory when we need to remember an address that we just heard while we are looking for a pen to write it down. Working memory also underlies many important academic competencies, like reading and mathematics.

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The children were broken into two groups: those with English as their primary language, and those still learning English. They were given the same tasks; these were an English language assessment and working memory tasks. They were assessed three times over the course of the year – at the beginning, middle and end.

The results showed that both groups improved over the year on the assessment of English language abilities. The results also revealed that great improvements were made in language development during the first year of formal schooling.

Results from the working memory tasks indicated that children who were still learning English, as well as the children who have English as their mother tongue, performed the same on these tasks and achieved comparable scores. Children in both groups saw their language abilities and working memory abilities improve over the year.

The most interesting finding is that the route, or trajectory, the children’s cognitive and language development followed was the same for both groups, regardless of the English abilities they had at the beginning.

Importantly, the result that working memory scores between groups were comparable also indicated that the amount of knowledge of English that a child had didn’t affect their working memory abilities.

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What this points to is that, if a child’s working memory scores are low and the trajectory of the development is not the same as their peers, there may be cause for concern. In this case, the children should be referred to an occupational or speech therapist for further assessment. Our research shows the fact that they’re struggling can’t simply be explained away as a “symptom” of the child not knowing English well enough.

Falling through the cracks

Studies like these are important for giving professionals better ways of seeing if a child has a disorder or is only struggling because they have not acquired a sufficient level of English yet.

In the context of a classroom with various languages and proficiencies of English, it is easy for a child with a disorder to be overlooked.

Along with the under-resourced schools and over-burdened teachers, heterogeneity among learners results in them not receiving the support that they need, be it academic or linguistic. Those whose primary language is English as well as those learning English suffer alike. The upshot is clearly seen in the worsening educational crisis in South Africa.

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