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Speeding Into The Future

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Bloodhound supersonic car

Five years ago, I stood on one of the most barren stretches of land in the north-eastern corner of South Africa waiting for a small turbo-prop passenger aircraft to land.

For almost two years (and allowing for a number of weather breaks due to flooding), hundreds of the local inhabitants had been clearing the runway by hand… picking up stone by stone in the searing heat.

For the vast majority of these hardy Northern Cape folks, it was their very first job in life. There is not much in the way of commercial development surrounding the flat and seemingly endless stretch of baked mud and salt called Hakskeen Pan in the Kalahari desert.

But if all goes according to plan – or pan as it happens – a massive dust storm across those golden-brown sands will suddenly become the focus of the world’s media.

The satellite images will show a yellow column moving at more than a thousand miles per hour and at the center of it what looks like a very low-flying aircraft catapulted by rocket and jet engines.

This 7.5-ton supersonic Tessie will skim across the pan at such a speed that tyres would be shredded by the G-forces. So each wheel will be engineered from 100 kilograms of aerospace aluminium.

You’re right… the fastest wheels ever created!

Around midday there was the sound of whining engines and the incongruous sight of a Beechcraft King Air touching down with a veil of billowing dust.

The Bloodhound Project team, headed by former land-speed record holder Richard Noble, climbed down the folding stairs to explain why they had selected this remote location for one of the most ambitious endeavours of our time.

To annihilate the world land speed record with the Bloodhound SSC (supersonic car), driven by current holder Wing Commander Andy Green, reaching 1,000 miles-per-hour on that scorched earth. Think about that for a second… 1,600 kilometers-per-hour, Mach 1.4, faster than the low-altitude record for aircraft.

It is 20 years since the 55-year-old British Royal Air Force pilot set the mark of 1,228 km/h at the controls of Thrust SSC in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. If successful, it will be the biggest leap in land speed history.

According to the Bloodhound research team, if you fired what used to be the most powerful handgun in the world, Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum, at the tail of the pencil-shaped car as it passed and Green toggled the hybrid rocket as the revolver went off, the bullet would never hit the car.

READ MORE: A Concept Car That Captivates

They originally looked at Verneukpan to the south which has lured speedsters for many decades. The most famous was Sir Malcolm Campbell who set out to break the record of 350km/h way back in 1929 in his Bluebird.

The track that he compacted on the pan is still visible today. But it was not a glorious escapade for Campbell. He lost his briefcase with vital performance data, his aircraft crashed into a tree near Calvinia, dust devils were a major hazard and the 26-kilometer track looked directly into the rising sun. But it was the sharp stones and thorny brush that were his final downfall and tyre damage forced him to abandon the attempt.

Recent inspections revealed that the shale bed of Verneukpan was breaking up. So Hakskeen Pan it is and we wait for Bloodhound SSC (which had its first outing at Cornwall Airport recently) to set the world alight with this “engineering adventure”.

On the sidelines will be the people so removed from the fast lane of modern motoring technology who played that vital role of clearing the undefined ‘track’ so Bloodhound does not end up in the same dire situation as Bluebird.

Building a car quicker than a fighter jet is not, however, the main aim of the project. It is rather to inspire future generations to take up careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Unlike all other forms of motorsport – especially Formula One (F1) – there are virtually no restrictions on the design of a land speed challenger with all developments and research being shared on a public platform.

READ MORE: The Golden Road Ahead

Many manufacturers claim to feed off F1 technology but few have embraced and refined it to the extent of Mercedes-AMG Project ONE.

Construction of the first all-wheel drive Project ONE hypercar is still almost two years away and much is being kept under tightly bound wraps, despite the international launch at the Frankfurt motor show.

But it is projected that one of these magnificent machines will set you back around $2.8 million and less than 300 of them will be produced.

In line with the engine downsizing of the decade, the powerplant is a 1.6-liter V6 hybrid which incorporates the best of AMG plus the finely tuned hi-tech of F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton’s racecar. Sounds like a difficult act to follow – quite literally!

And that muscular mill works in tandem with four electric motors, two to drive the front wheels when you are cruising.

This mid-engined Merc monster is being designed to rocket to 200km/h in under six seconds. And quite easily breeze past the 350km/h that Malcolm Campbell was chasing on Verneukpan.

Overall design elements are also being influenced by the racetrack. Aerodynamics are a given but it also needs a plethora of air intakes for cooling and generating downforce along with a massive wing which arises above the squat and threatening rear end.

The similarities with Hamilton’s F1 don’t end there. The Project One steed will have to go in for a “mechanical revision” at 50,000 kilometers. At least it’s a longer cycle than the Petronas racecar’s 20,000 kilometer upgrade.

“Motorsport is not an end in itself for us. Faced with intense competition, we develop technologies from which our production vehicles also subsequently benefit. We are drawing on our experiences and successes from three constructors’ and drivers’ world championships to bring Formula One technology to the road for the first time,” says Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars.

One of the biggest challenges for the Project ONE team is decibels. The scream of the high-revving engine may be a welcome feature around Spa-Francorchamps but maybe not so popular around the suburban shopping center.

It’s envisaged that the idling speed will be around a quarter of F1’s 4,000 revolutions per minute!

The timing is synchronized with AMG’s 50th birthday – definitely an occasion to make some noise about.

Bloodhound and Project ONE – two brave ventures to steepen the parabolic curve of technological advancement even further.

According to that famous quote, attributed to Albert Einstein, “Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible.” – Written by Derek Watts

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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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Life

Challenging Social Norms Through Body Art

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Imagine a pinup calendar that revisits history through color, and woven in a manner that depicts your past and future in an amusing way. Confused?

Well that is what the future looks like for South African performing artist Athi-Patra Ruga, known for his flamboyant performances and tapestries that challenge social norms.

Growing up in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, Ruga knew at a young age he would become an artist, taking lessons, after school, at Belgravia Art Centre. He then received a scholarship to the Gordon Flack Davidson Academy of Design in Johannesburg.

“I had always known my body would be a site for telling stories. I feel the drive to tell stories, [I] overcame my fears – about it never been done before,” he says.

When he cut his teeth in art, he dabbled in fashion designing, incorporating fashion and art into one.

“Fashion has the power to dictate our movements physically and socially, to [a] great consequence. I have never seen it as a huge leap as both those mediums are concerned with the body,” says Ruga.

His current body of work is Queens in Exile, addressing issues of belonging and identity. However, it is his piece on the queens of Azania that put him on the cultural map.

“I feel it sparked something in the audience that [binds] our generation together. Witnessing the betrayal to the constitution I was raised with and also rainbowism, a utopian construct, played out in the country that is economically the most unequal in the world,” says Ruga.

Ruga was the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year in 2015 and has done work for luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton. Believing the world is alive with possibilities, he held on to the hope he would one day travel the world.

“I had always dreamt of going to the south of France and now for the past five years, my husband and I have been going to Toulon for the Hyères festival,” says Ruga.

The Eastern Cape has produced some of South Africa’s great political leaders, from Nelson Mandela to Steve Biko, so it is little wonder Ruga’s work has strong historical references.

“History has the ability to arm us as a dispossessed youth, with knowledge that our forefathers went through the same things we are going through and we need that knowledge to arm us to find sophisticated ways of mobilizing for economic and cultural currency,” says Ruga.

He desensitizes “uncomfortable” topics using vibrant colors. His work is represented by the WHATIFTHEWORLD gallery in Cape Town, and in Paris, by InSitu Fabienne Leclerc.

There is also a lot of story-telling in his work which comes from his father being a journalist.

“I come from a family of people who enjoyed telling stories and I gravitate to that tradition of storytelling in my art,” says Ruga.

His industry is faced with numerous challenges, but Ruga chose early on in his career to not focus on the negative.

“I’m honestly not concerned with focusing on challenges, that’s not how I got here. It is the attitude that defines how I will overcome that is ultimate. Our education system is something we all need to face and improve as that leads one to art and in return empathy for others,” he says.

Ruga encourages upcoming artists to venture into different spheres such as photography, art and designing as they are lucrative.

He says there are more than enough role models across the continent one could look up to such as Nicholas Hlobo, a South African contemporary artist who creates sculptures and explores ethnicity, masculinity, and sexual identity. He too looks up to him.

Despite the global exposure and success at home, Ruga is convinced the best is yet to come.

“I always feel my big break hasn’t happened yet,” he says. That will be a story for another time.

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Entrepreneurs

Making of the July Forbes Africa cover with Gbenga Oyebode

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The July cover of the prestigious Forbes Africa magazine features Gbenga Oyebode, of Aluko and Oyebode, one of the largest integrated law firms in Nigeria with over 70 lawyers and three offices in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. The Firm provides a comprehensive range of specialist legal services to a highly diversified clientele including top-tier Nigerian, international and multinational clients.

READ MORE: The Tall Lawyer, Investor And Philanthropist In A Power Suit

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