Connect with us

Focus

The Struggle Continues

A medical doctor, activist, anthropologist, university administrator and executive, Dr Mamphela Ramphele is among South Africa’s most accomplished women. One of her goals is to help women achieve the same.

Published

on

It’s the 21st century, but countless South African women still struggle to become entrepreneurs, struggle even to open a small shop. The main culprit is the country’s deeply embedded patriarchal thinking, says Dr Mamphela Ramphele, even though this should have dissipated with its progressive post-apartheid constitution, which guarantees women equal rights.

But it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

“Patriarchal culture remains very strong in South Africa. Women are still regarded as minors. They are still asked if their husband has given permission, for example, if they want to access a loan, even though it is unconstitutional,” laments Ramphele.

Yet, enabling women to become entrepreneurs would have a direct, wide-reaching and often multi-generational impact on a country’s economic growth, she explains: “Successful women educate their children to ensure they escape the poverty trap, whereas with men, wealth remains with men. There are also progressive men, but they are few and far between. When you compare the return of investment in women versus men, it’s far higher for women.”

Ramphele became aware of the struggle for gender equality early on. Growing up in a traditional household in rural Limpopo, one of South Africa’s poorest provinces, she watched her mother, Rangoato Rahab, a strong, self-assured woman, standing up to her husband, father-in-law and brothers-in-law.

“My mother fought patriarchy. And I grew up to assert myself.”

Ramphele remembers how she learnt that a woman’s life did not have to be constrained by her gender. It gave her the confidence throughout her career to pursue her interests and convictions with integrity.

“Whether I’m alone or in a group of a hundred men, I’m not easily intimidated,” she says.

It’s a character trait essential for someone like Ramphele whose career has been marked by ‘firsts’ and ‘onlys’. She was one of very few black women to study medicine during apartheid; in 1996 she became the first black South African and first woman to become vice chancellor of a University—the University of Cape Town (UCT); the first African managing director at World Bank in 2000 and she is still the only black, female executive in some of the country’s boardrooms.

“Throughout my career, I had to bear this burden of being the only woman, the first woman. It’s not something to celebrate. It’s a serious commentary on a society that has not leveraged the talent of women. If anything, it energizes me to fight the battle for gender equality,” she says.

She surely did. At UCT, Ramphele regarded equity not just as affirmative action based on race, but also on gender and class and ensured women were given opportunities to pursue professorships and become academic leaders. A few years later, at the World Bank, she fought for the implementation of a gender policy that not only targeted women in developing countries but was applied to the bank’s internal structures as well.

Responsible for human development at the World Bank—the global financial institution widely criticized for its capitalist structural adjustment policy, which worsened inflation in many African countries—Ramphele tried to get the bank’s hardcore economists to understand the softer issues that make for sustainable development.

Although her task was difficult, her philosophy was simple: “Countries have to drive the partnership with the World Bank based on their own national development plans. One of the problems of African countries is that we lack the self-confidence to know that we can take ownership of these international entities that we belong to, shape them to serve our interests.”

That’s what she did.

“I didn’t apologize for being an African woman, for not being an economist. I said, ‘I know you’re good at doing economics, but I think you’re not doing well enough when it comes to human development’.”

Being non-apologetic is a red thread throughout Ramphele’s career. Already in the 1990s, when she was the first and only woman on the board of mining giant Anglo American, she lobbied for a more gender equitable management structure. Progress has been slow. Today, Anglo’s board is made up of nine men—eight of them white, one Asian—and only two women, one of whom is Ramphele, still the only black executive. Later this year, a third woman will join the board.

Since Ramphele became chair of another mining firm, Gold Fields, in 2010, she has lobbied for more gender consciousness there, too. It’s a lonely battle: “The fact is the board is still very much a male domain. One has to keep fighting. What’s important for women like me to recognize is that their success means very little unless it’s used to support and enhance the success of other women.”

Ramphele doesn’t place the blame with men alone. She stresses the fact that women who have made it in the business world have a responsibility to create networks that support other women in leadership and challenge patriarchal culture.

“There are lots of women who do that, but there are many more who don’t: the queen bees. Once they have made it, it’s only about them.”

Part of the problem is that women are struggling to position themselves, she believes, often out of fear of retribution.

“In parliament, as in boardrooms, women’s voices have been muffled. When women speak up, they are called disruptive, difficult, loud. But when men speak out, they are strong and decisive.”

It’s the gap between theory and practice. Although, theoretically, the glass ceiling that limits women’s success in business should have been lifted; in practice, it still exists. Again, Ramphele argues it has to be women who crack it, because men won’t do it on their behalf.

“The glass ceiling starts in women’s own psyche. The mindset shift has to start with women believing they are as good as anybody,” she suggests.

Women must have the humility to seek help, from other women as well as from supportive men.

“I’ve had mentors who were men—older men, white men. You’ve got to be open and recognize that there are a lot more men than women who have had the experiences you need.”

Another key to women’s success is to ensure their personal, professional and wider social values cohere, Ramphele believes: “Then you are at peace with yourself and don’t get intimidated when you’re alone in a boardroom where people make sexist or racist jokes. You just stand up and say, ‘That’s not acceptable’.”

Ramphele was lucky to grow up in a home that gave her the confidence to overcome many such hurdles. Even though she came from humble beginnings, her parents, both primary school teachers, had high expectations of her.

“They instilled the urge to excel in me. I was always number one in my class, but my father used to say, ‘That’s not good enough. You must now compete against yourself’.”

When her dream of becoming a scientist was destroyed by an apartheid ban on Africans studying mathematics and science, Ramphele enrolled for medicine and was accepted into the University of Natal’s Medical School in 1968, then the only institution that allowed black students to enlist without prior government permission.

“What medicine taught me was leadership, because in the medical profession, you have to take responsibility for every one of your actions,” she recalls, describing her student years as a time of immense personal growth.

It was here that she met anti-apartheid leader Steve Biko, with whom she co-founded the Black Consciousness Movement. She also fell in love with him and had a son by him. Together they fought for black self-worth and economic self-reliance.

Biko—who was killed by South African police 35 years ago—would be dismayed by the society South Africa’s leading African National Congress has created in the last two decades, Ramphele believes, which continues to suffer from high levels of poverty and inequity: “He’d be very disappointed that South Africa has not been able to realize its full potential.”

While the country has made strides in financial management, audited risk and governance, it has failed in areas Ramphele believes would contribute greatest to long-term economic sustainability: education, health and social development.

“We have the money, but there is no appetite within government to do the right thing,” she criticizes in her frank manner. “I can only suggest that they don’t think it’s important enough to invest in human capital.”

One of the greatest failures of South Africa’s development model was to turn 16 million people—almost a third of the population—into welfare recipients instead of promoting entrepreneurship, she argues: “That’s not sustainable and has enhanced inequity. Entrepreneurship is the only way South Africa can grow this economy fast enough, with a broad enough participation rate.” That way, the country could easily boost its economic growth from the currently meager 3.5% to 10%, she believes.

Hence, Ramphele’s latest pursuit is the Citizens Movement for Social Change, an organization she launched in April as a mechanism for citizens to hold government accountable.

“We need a mindset change, away from the notion that politics is for politicians,” she explains, likening South Africa to a business that cannot succeed if it ignores the interests of its shareholders.

“We, as citizens of South Africa, are the shareholders of South Africa Inc. The government is failing us, but the shareholder is missing in action. We need an engaged citizenry. To the extent that citizens acquiesce to the mismanagement of our state affairs, to that extent, we will fail as a country,” she says.

Focus

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

Published

on

By


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.

Continue Reading

Current Affairs

The Rage And Tears That Tore A Nation

Published

on

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?

Continue Reading

Current Affairs

Quality Higher Education Means More Than Learning How To Work

Published

on

By

When people talk about quality education, they’re often referring to the kind of education that gives students the knowledge and skills they need for the job market. But there’s a view that quality education has wider benefits: it develops individuals in ways that help develop society more broadly.

In Zimbabwe, for example, the higher education policy emphasises student employability and the alleviation of labour shortages. But, as my research found, this isn’t happening in practice.

University education needs to do more than produce a graduate who can get a job. It should also give graduates a sense of right and wrong. And it should instil graduates with an appreciation for other people’s development.

Tertiary education should also give students opportunities, choices and a voice when it comes to work safety, job satisfaction, security, growth and dignity. Higher education is a space where they can learn to be critical. It must prepare them for participating in the economy and broader society.

This isn’t happening in Zimbabwe. Graduate unemployment is high and employers and policy makers are blaming this largely on the mismatch between graduate skills and market requirements.

Investigating Zimbabwe’s universities
My research sought to examine how a human development lens could add to what was valued as higher education, and the kind of graduate outcomes produced in Zimbabwe. I investigated 10 of the universities in Zimbabwe (there were 15 at the time of the research). Four were private and six public.

I reviewed policy documents, interviewed representatives of institutions and held discussions with students. Members of Zimbabwe’s higher education quality assurance body and university teaching staff were also included.

I found that in practice, higher education in Zimbabwe was influenced by the country’s socio-political and economic climate. Decisions and appointments of key university administrators in public universities and the minister of higher education were largely political.

In addition, resources were limited and staff turnover was high. Universities just couldn’t finance themselves through tuition fees.

Different players in the higher education system – employers, the government, academics, students and their families – have different ideas about what “quality” means in higher education. The Zimbabwe Council for Higher Education understands quality as meeting set standards and benchmarks that emphasise the graduates’ knowledge and skills.

To some extent, academics and university administrators see quality as teaching and learning that gives students a mixture of skills and values such as social responsibility.

But lecturers must comply with the largely top-down approach to quality. They tend to do whatever will enhance students’ prospects of getting employment in a particular market.

The educators and students I interviewed acknowledged that developing the ability to work and to think critically were both central to higher education. But they admitted that these goals were hard to attain. This was because of the country’s constrained socio-political and economic environment. Academics and students felt that they couldn’t express themselves freely and critical thinking was suppressed.

Stuck on a road to nowhere
The study illustrates how an over-emphasis on creating human capital – skilled and knowledgeable graduates – limits higher education’s potential to foster broader human and social development.

University education should do more, especially in developing countries such as Zimbabwe that face not just economic, but also socio-political challenges. Before building more universities and enrolling more students, authorities and citizens should consider what quality education means in relation to the kind of society they want.

It’s possible to take a broader view of development, quality and the role of higher education. This broader approach – one that appreciates social justice – can equip graduates to address the country’s problems.

The road ahead
Universities can’t change a society on their own. But their teaching and learning practices can make an important difference.

Because quality teaching and learning means different things to different people, people need to talk about it democratically. Institutional and national policies must be informed by broad consultations to identify the knowledge, skills and values they want graduates to have.

University teaching and learning should emphasise freedom of expression and participation so that students can think and act critically beyond university.

Also, academics don’t automatically know how to teach just because they have a PhD. Universities should therefore ensure that academics learn how to teach and communicate their knowledge. Curriculum design, student assessment and feedback, as well as training of lecturers should all support this goal of human development.

When universities see quality in terms of human development, their role becomes more than production of workers in an economy. It gives them a mandate to nurture ethically responsible graduates. These more rounded graduates are better equipped to imagine an alternative future in pursuit of a better society, economically, politically and socially.

Patience Mukwambo: Researcher, University of the Free State

The Conversation

The Conversation

Continue Reading

Trending