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Honed Honda

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Honda call the CR-V a comfortable runabout vehicle. A modest description of one of the best-selling crossover vehicles in the world.

Since spawning this new class of vehicle in 1995, they have sold more than nine million CR-Vs in 150 countries and the recently launched fifth generation looks set to keep the cash register ticking.

That’s despite the heated competition from compact SUV rivals like the Volkswagen Tiguan, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4, Renault Kadjar and others.

After a disastrous start to 2015, and the announcement of Takahiro Hachigo as the new President and CEO, Honda Motor Company is putting a lot of faith in their new rival in this high-margin segment.

In fact Hachigo has hiked up the profit forecast for the year to $6.57 billion based on a more favorable currency exchange rate.

But Japan’s number-three automaker is still struggling to make waves in its largest market, North America, where the Civic and Accord are at the back-end of the drive for bigger models, including SUVs.

To put it all in perspective, Toyota Motor is more valuable than GM, Ford and Honda combined – mainly due to Toyota’s cash-rich position thanks to having the highest average transaction price.

There is a fascinating connection between the Japanese duo. Honda’s founder, Soichiro Honda, was a confirmed petrolhead – fine tuning and racing cars. In the late thirties he won a contract to supply piston rings to Toyota… then lost it because of quality issues.

So Honda took himself off to engineering school and visited Toyota’s factories around Japan to get to grips with their control processes. And by the turn of the decade his company was able to mass produce excellent piston rings, even using unskilled wartime workers.

Eventually making his own name a synonym for motorbikes and developing engines that transformed two-wheelers into a global form of transportation.

Soichiro Honda, a humble visionary who liked to join employees on the factory floor and in the research laboratories, died in 1991, from liver failure, at the age of 84.

At that time Honda, admittedly late starters, were firmly established in the automobile industry. And today that’s by far the biggest business unit, generating $1.3 billion in operating profit last year.

Then come motorcycles, growing despite the global decline in car sales and “power products”, which range from generators to snow blowers.

Going back to the CR-V, this is probably not a segment that is going to blow your socks off. Descriptions like practical, economical and safe spring to mind.

Yet the new contender does present some almost daring exterior styling with a bold “H” emblazoned grille perched above faux aluminum scuff plates, rakish headlights and an elegantly sculpted derrière. It’s certainly a load more robust and chunky in appearance than the predecessors.

The interior features a tasteful mixture of black leather (or cloth in the base 2.0 Comfort model), brushed chrome and dashes of wood – or a realistic impression thereof! All really industry standard and I wonder which brave automaker will break the mold?

The seats are soft, yet supportive. But why, despite the import of hundreds of two-meter-tall rugby and basketball players, and catering for an international market, has Honda “flatly” refused to build a car with seats that go all the way down…or all the way back?

There is more room for the driver in an Opel Adam than in the CR-V or any other Honda vehicle that I’ve tested.

Top of the range is the 1.5T Exclusive. As you might guess, a 1.5-liter turbocharged petrol mill mated with the sometimes controversial CVT, or Continuously Variable Transmission. I’m told that the basics are a metal belt and two variable-diameter pulleys to control the input and output of energy and save fuel. But Honda must have tweaked the formula because it’s by no means sluggish.

READ MORE: A Concept Car That Captivates

The flagship of the range, coming in at more than $48,000, doesn’t flinch when it comes to inclusive features. Which makes it difficult to compare, dollar for dollar, with its esteemed rivals.

For openers there is the handy seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system which incorporates satellite navigation and is naturally Apple CarPlay compatible.

Honda’s first-ever turbocharged CR-V (there is no diesel in the line-up) has what they call an updated Real Time All Wheel Drive with Intelligent Control System. Yes, motoring jargon can be quite tedious!

As I understand it, and not being a qualified engineer, there is a bank of fancy software, hydraulic pumps etc, which take into account the road conditions, gradient and velocity and make instant decisions on how much power to feed to the rear wheels.

So the back wheels kick in when you set off, even on dry tar, get decoupled when you are cruising and stay on standby until you hit a steep hill or need to overcome some rugged terrain. The aim is to improve fuel efficiency without sacrificing performance and driving capability.

Honda CR-V (Photo by www.honda.co.za)

Looking to features that you can actually see or feel, there are electric heated front seats with two memory settings, heated door mirrors (if you get stuck in the Drakensberg mountains in winter), rain sensing wipers, parking distance control and a power operated tailgate.

And don’t forget the panoramic sunroof.

When it comes to that crucial element of safety, the list continues with the “Honda Sensing” driver assist systems – some of which don’t come standard in the leading German marques.

Lane assist to keep you on track when you might stray without signaling, collision mitigation to throw out the anchors in an emergency, and even your behavior behind the wheel is craftily monitored to assess when you need to take a break.

Automatic high-beam headlights (with active cornering) and LED front fog lamps are there to protect you in the mist and after sunset.

READ MORE: The Golden Road Ahead

You have to admit that Honda have set the bar when it comes to safety.

The irony is that Soichiro Honda would probably be more enthusiastic about getting the adrenalin flowing. “The pressures of racing challenges people, forces them to find innovative solutions and demands quick, accurate responses to new problems they’ve never faced before,” was his famous quote.

And they have used racing to optimize the manufacture of faster, stronger, lighter and more durable vehicles. And, of course, reliable engines.

It is difficult to reconcile that ethic with Honda’s nightmare Formula One season, with McLaren, which has left Spanish golden boy Fernando Alonso spitting into his helmet as a result of all the engine failures.

As I see it, the challenge left for Honda is to make their racing engines last the distance and their passenger vehicles a tad more exciting.

And get into the modern trend of low slung seats! – Written by Derek Watts

Big Shots

Celebrating Women With Monumental Strength

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Sixty two years ago, on August 9, 20,000 women of all races, classes and creed marched, singing and chanting, babies on their backs, to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital city, to deliver a petition to then Prime Minister J.G Strydom against the introduction of the apartheid pass laws.

This meant black women were not allowed in urban areas for more than 72 hours unless they possessed a pass with the holder’s details, including payment of taxes and permission to be in these urban areas. The march was led by the struggle stalwarts: Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu, Sophia Williams-De Bruyn and Rahima Moosa.

“I didn’t see much of Helen Joseph at the march, she was in front of the crowd. She was a big strong woman and she led the march with other strong women. They told us that women are holding passes and if we don’t demonstrate against [the government], we [too will one day end up] holding these passes,” recollects Ramnie Naidoo to FORBES AFRICA. She was only was 14 years old at the time, escorting her mother at the march.

Pictured here is Helen Joseph (1905-1992), founding member of the Federation of South African Women, and Rahima Moosa (1922-1993), union activist and member of the Transvaal Indian Congress, both co-leaders of the 1956 Women’s March.

They have been immortalized in the Long March To Freedom, a procession of 100 life-sized bronzes celebrating the pioneers of South Africa’s journey to democracy, at the Fountains Recreation Resort in the City of Tshwane, Gauteng, South Africa.

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Arts

Talking African Writing in London

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Africa Writes, the Royal African Society’s annual literature festival, dwelt on Afrofuturism and where black British artists see themselves in the burgeoning new aesthetic.

(more…)

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Life

Kingdom Calling At The Bushfire Festival

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It’s an early morning in May and as the sun rises, red, orange and yellow hues bathe the swaying sugarcane fields of Malkerns, a small town in the landlocked southern African country of Swaziland.

Swaziland, renamed ‘the kingdom of eSwatini’ in April this year on its 50th birthday, awakens to the sounds of the rustling wind and chirping birds. Very soon, these natural notes will be replaced by the cacophony and camaraderie of thousands of guests jetting into the country for the annual Bushfire Festival, a three-day fiesta of art, culture, music and food in the last week of May.

It’s a busy time of the year for a kingdom that is one of the world’s last remaining monarchies.

Within the Bushfire Festival arena, djembe drums beat to the rhythm of the heartbeat of Africa. Revelers indulge in traditional feasts at the food markets as the musicians take center-stage.

The likes of South Africa’s Samthing Soweto, Brazil’s Flavia Coelho, Nigeria’s Yemi Alade and Mali’s Salif Keita are present, offering a profusion of sounds and melodies.

In the camping arena is a confluence of cultures, as over 29,000 guests who have traveled here to attend the festival make new friends and form unlikely collaborations.

Many stop to admire a hand-crafted grass hat worn by a young woman who has traveled from Lesotho. Anna Thai is originally from Memphis, Tennessee, in the United States.

“The people here are very relaxed and accepting of each other. There are so many from different countries, so many languages and so many different faces and I really enjoy the diversity of it,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

What started as a cultural meet around a small amphitheater, where artistes performed in front of a crowd of no more than a hundred, is today one of Africa’s most talked-about festivals.

 

Swazi-born Jiggs Thorne. Photo by Karen Mwendera.

“We started off as kind of a charity running a business and very quickly learned that it needed to be a business running a charity.” – Jiggs Thorne

Swaziland-born Jiggs Thorne, the founder and director of the festival, always had a passion for the arts, but admits he had to learn the business aspect of the festival the hard way.

“The important thing is I never studied to become a festival director and that’s the thing with entrepreneurs, you are driven by passion; the kind of passion that gets you up and creates that drive you need to make something work. And you have to be incessant,” Thorne tells us.

Born in Manzini, he was inspired by his parents who owned a restaurant. He went on to pursue a degree in drama and politics at the University of Natal in South Africa.

In 1994, when he finished his degree, he decided to return to his home country and apply his passion for the arts. Thorne wanted to develop the local arts scene.

In 2000, he set up House On Fire, the eclectic venue where the festival is now held.

However, its business model wasn’t sustainable, and Thorne realized that if he didn’t act quickly, his dream would slowly fade away.

“Well, I was very much an artiste and I think I’ve become entrepreneurial along the way and we started off as kind of a charity running a business and very quickly learned that it needed to be a business running a charity,” he says.

The Bushfire Festival came into being.

“It was always about a positive light, warmth, about celebrating diversity,” he says.

A majority of the funding came from sponsorships, and partnerships – the festival is called MTN Bushfire.

With his brother Shelton, Thorne fine-tuned the business model to keep its mandate as a creative arts platform and business at the same time. As Thorne came from an arts background, he had to depend on others to make his dream work.

Read More: Setting Fire To Swaziland

“There needs to be integrity in the way in which you deal with people so I think that’s kind of paramount in this equation where you are dependent on others to make it happen,” says the 48-year-old father of two.

The festival grew beyond what Thorne had imagined, he says, contributing over E50 million ($3.7 million) to Swaziland’s economy.

“When the king travels overseas, people ask him about Bushfire, you know. So it’s quite a surreal thing that the concept that came up all those years ago in a sense has become owned by others,” laughs Thorne.

This year, the local newspapers, radio stations and social media were abuzz with news on the festival.

Thorne owes its success to his team and his parents who left the legacy for him and the family to build on.

“It was kind of the fire they started and it’s a light that we’ve been able to follow. They are the legacy, says Thorne, who runs the festival with his siblings and extended family.

“Entrepreneurship is something that you don’t really study, you learn, and it’s something that takes over, and it’s kind of all-encompassing,” he signs off.

After the curtains come down on the festival, it’s back to the idyllic sights and sounds of Swaziland, until next year, when the little town of Malkerns will fire up again.

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