Category: Perspective

Dear President Zuma

An open letter to South African President Jacob Zuma from a young citizen.

Jacob Zuma (Pic: Gallo)

Dear Mr President

I hope you are well today and thank you for taking the time to read my letter (just practising). I can only imagine how busy you are. It’s the big day, election day. I have been waiting for this day for so long. You see, I love politics and I cannot express enough in words or actions how honoured I feel to cast my vote. It is my second time voting, but it feels like my first.

As a country, we need to just breathe and be grateful. Twenty years of democracy is an achievement, don’t you think? Yes, we have a long way to go but let’s think about what we have now that we didn’t have 20 years ago. I know some people give you a hard time and say that nothing has changed, but I want to believe that deep down in their hearts they are telling a different story.

But Mr President, I write this letter with a broken heart and a deep frustration. I look around and see young people graduating, but the minute they get off that stage they become a statistic that contributes to the unemployment figure in this country. Luckily South Africa’s unemployment rate eased to 24.1% in the fourth quarter of last year from a revised 24.5% in the third. According to Stats SA, the number of jobs had increased by 141 000 in the quarter, largely because of an increase of 123 000 jobs in the informal sector and 64 000 jobs in the formal sector. Quite an achievement, Mr President. But I must say things feel like they are becoming unbearable.

The cost of living has become too high. I recently discovered that there are people out there who earn a salary of R2 500. I am not referring to internships here, I am talking about people who have worked for years in a particular company. I was once that person but I had the advantage of living at home, therefore I did struggle much to survive.

The second thing that breaks my heart is the allegation of you spending more than R200-million on your private property. Really? R200-million, Mr President? No disrespect towards you or your family, but if this is true, did you really need that much to build and upgrade your own property? Whatever your reasons were, in the process of planning did you think about those who don’t live life but are forced to survive because of extenuating circumstances? I don’t want to believe that you upgraded Nkandla without considering the service delivery that still needs to be attended to more than ever. RDP houses still have to be built and the education system is shocking, from textbooks to children still being taught under trees. Yes, things have changed, but there is still more to be done.

This country is angry, Sir. Young people have a growing anger in them and I fear for the future. I feel as though one day our people will release their anger and it won’t be pleasant. The Egyptian people in 2012 came together, walked down the streets and voiced their concerns. Violence erupted and suddenly it was the people who were fighting back. They overthrew the government, living by the rule that says the people shall govern. I don’t want that to happen to us, I don’t want my people to resort to violence to be taken seriously by those we thought could rule this country better. If that happens, innocent people will be hurt and we won’t be moving forward as a country.

Mr President, you talk a lot but let’s try something new for a change. Listen to your people, we did put you in the position that you are in. We listened to you when you were campaigning for our votes and you became the president of South Africa. Take a minute of every day of your life and listen to the cries of the people. We don’t feel politically cheated by your actions, but I for one feel socially and emotionally cheated. I trusted you but I feel as though you have broken my trust. People are painting you as a selfish leader and no matter how hard I try to defend you and convince myself that’s not true, my heart breaks.

I hope these allegations about you are wrong because if they are true, I fear voting for the ANC because you will win and be the president again. Will you spend R200-million for your personal use again? Can you promise me that? I don’t want to vote for another political party other than the ANC but I fear, I fear that you will remain as the president and you will continue not to listen to my people.

My only plea to you is that if the ANC wins the election, please step down and give someone else the opportunity to rule this country. You have done well, Mr President, but I feel your time is up.

Kind regards,

Sindiswa Nene

This article is published in partnership with – a non-partisan, youth-led organisation that innovates engagement and ignites action on democratic, social and economic issues in South Africa with the aim of advancing the implementation of solutions to those issues.

It’s time for African leaders to invest in agriculture


The African Union has declared 2014 the Year of Agriculture and Food Security, recognising that this is the issue of our time.

In January 2014, ONE and its partners launched the “Do Agric, It Pays” campaign at the AU Summit in Addis Ababa. Through this campaign we are asking African leaders to invest in our farmers, our food and our futures.

The 2003 Maputo Declaration was supposed to ensure that Africa could feed itself and that poverty was reduced through investment in agriculture. However, only eight countries have so far met their commitments by spending 10% of their national budgets on agriculture.

In sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture growth is 11 times more powerful in reducing poverty, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s director general, José Graziano da Silva. By investing in agriculture, we can lift hundreds of millions of Africans out of poverty, provide jobs and boost the continent’s economy by 2024.

We know that this is achievable, as Africa holds 60% of the remaining global arable land and so can potentially not only  feed itself but the rest of the world too. While smallholder farmers produce 80% of the continent’s food, it is ironic that this sector of the population also bears the brunt of rural poverty. Our governments can facilitate access to the resources that smallholders need to thrive by implementing smart targeted policies and public spending designed to benefit those who derive their livelihood from agriculture.

Improved irrigation, farming equipment, storage, market access, and women’s land rights would mean brighter futures for millions. Equally key to their success is access to credit, quality inputs and extension services and training. Public investment in agriculture – as in Europe, the United States, Brazil and China – not only allows for inclusive development as it promotes the development of the value chains but is also a catalyst for private investment and participation in the agriculture sector.

Farmers’ stories
Over the past months, ONE has been working with like-minded partners including farmers organisations and associations across the continent to mobilise and collect signatures from hundreds of thousands of African citizens who are demanding that their leaders step up to the Maputo challenge and “do agric”. We are therefore listening to what farmers are saying, and relaying their stories to governments across the continent.

Adam Yakubu, a cocoa farmer from Ghana, says that transportation has to improve. “You will harvest your product and it will stay at the roadside for a week. Sometimes the food perishes before it gets to the market. And when you get to the market, the pricing kills your soul,” he says.

“It’s not easy. You don’t get income daily, sometimes it’s a yearly affair. Sometimes you have to go on borrowing so [that even] before production begins you are already in debt.”

Maria, a sweet potato farmer from Tanzania, was able to receive training in soil irrigation, crop multiplication, and dividing vines. As a result, she has been able to grow orange sweet potatoes, which are high in vitamin A. “I work happily knowing I will be getting out of poverty by doing what I am doing. I am now a leader in my farming group and teach others what I have learnt,” she says.

In Benin, a high-level agriculture policy forum was organised by ONE and the Beninese National Platform of CSO Actors (PASCiB) in order to boost dialogue between government, farmers’ representatives, civil society organisations, donors and the private sector. This resulted in the Cotonou Consensus ,a policy strategy plan signed this year and already  implementing action to the identified national priorities according to the agreed action plan and timelines.Benin seeks to become an agriculture champion and the rest of Africa should too.

We’ve also launched one of Africa’s largest musical collaborations to date, Cocoa na Chocolate, featuring 19 of the continent’s top recording artists. D’Banj and Femi Kuti from Nigeria, DR Congo’s Fally Ipupa, Côte d’Ivoire’s Tiken Jah Fakoly, Kenya’s Juliani and Victoria Kimani, and South Africa’s Judith Sephuma, among others, have come together to help rebrand agriculture and tell African youth that their future lies beneath their feet and in their hands.

Their voices, in support of African agriculture, are sending a powerful message to the young generation: it’s time for African leaders to scale up public investments in agriculture and ensure policy interventions are targeted to benefit smallholder farmers.

Be part of ONE’s campaign to transform agriculture in Africa by signing the Do Agric petition.

Dr Sipho S. Moyo is Africa director for ONE.

Zimbabwe learns to laugh at itself – but just how much?

Zimbabwe’s largest arts event, the Harare International Festival of the Arts (Hifa), came to a controversial end last night when popular South African Afro-fusion band, Freshlyground, was prevented from performing its closing show. With the highest priced ticket – US$25 – of all the performances at this year’s Hifa, the band was set to bring to an end the 15th edition of the festival, held under the theme ‘Switch On’.

Fielding questions from Zimbabweans via Twitter late last night, the band stated that upon arrival at Harare International Airport yesterday, they were immediately ordered to leave the country with no explanation offered.

The only plausible reason for this, and their inability to gain accreditation to perform, is the 2010 release of their song Chicken To Change. The music video features President Robert Mugabe as a latex puppet in a re-enactment of his 1980 Independence speech. The video incorporates political characters derived from the satirical South African show, ZA News, including Jacob Zuma, Helen Zille, Zwelinzima Vavi, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. Towards the end of the video, Mugabe’s caricature turns into a chicken, underscoring the song’s message that the leader has lost his standing and respectability due to an inability to change with the times.

In the same year as the song’s release, Freshlyground had their working visas to Zimbabwe revoked just before a scheduled performance in Harare. Before the release of Radio Africa, the album which features Chicken To Change, the band had previously played in Zimbabwe at the 2009 National Arts Merit Awards (NAMA) ceremony and at Hifa in 2004.

Mixed emotions have been expressed by Zimbabweans via social media about the cancellation with some feeling that state censors have acted irrationally to curtail freedom of artistic expression, while others feel that the festival organisers should not have publicised the band’s appearance if accreditation for the performance was not guaranteed. Some feel that the group should not have expected entry into the country again after releasing their controversial 2010 song.

Not the only controversy at this year’s festival, the play Lovers in Time came under intense scrutiny – from both the state and the public –  for its reworking of the historical narrative of the 1800s anti-colonial figures, Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi, who are transported into contemporary post-colonial Zimbabwe wherein they switch sex and race and experience Zimbabwe in different bodies.  Its last showing yesterday was delayed by almost 30 minutes and featured police presence and audience protest.

Stand-up comedy
Amid the web of controversy, stand-up comedians seems to somehow have managed to get away with it at this year’s festival.

Two of the comedy shows on offer, 75% (comprising three local comedians, Comrade Fatso, Michael Kudakwashe and Clive Chigubu) and Carl Joshua Ncube’s one-man act held audiences in braces of laughter with jokes about the adventures and misadventures of Zimbabwean life.

Attracting a racially mixed audience at the Reps Theatre auditorium – a venue of historical privilege which is still patronised by a largely white audience in between Hifa performances – the performers showed a consciousness and ease about discussing race. In one of his skits, Kudakwashe joked that while the black people in the audience may have had reservations about coming to the show, they couldn’t resist it when they heard it was comedy (as opposed to high art). Also, Comrade Fatso took to unpacking the different colloquialisms used among Zimbabweans – black, white, Indian and coloured – to show their concurrent hilarity and inaccessibility to those outside each racial grouping.

While it might seem risqué for a white performer in Comrade Fatso (real name Samm Monro) to make fun of race, he is of the long tradition of satire and political commentary in Zimbabwe. Starting out about a decade ago as a dreadlocked spoken word artist, his moniker is a deliberate play on the socialist tradition of comradeship among Zanu-PF’s leadership, while Fatso is a common corruption of the Shona name, Farai, which Monro has adopted. Monro is also co-anchor of Zimbabwe’s satirical comedic news show, Zambezi News, which provides commentary on politics and the state in Zimbabwe.

Nevertheless, it was Carl Joshua Ncube who raised the stakes higher in his one-man act. Everything came under humorous attack including the weakened MDC party, the state broadcaster’s idolisation of Mugabe and tribal differences among Zimbabweans, which all elicited howling laughter.

Carl Joshua Ncube. (Pic: Fungai Machirori)
Carl Joshua Ncube. (Pic: Fungai Machirori)

“Initially, political comedy had to be ambiguous because people always felt that if you made fun of Mugabe you were MDC, and if you made fun of Tsvangirai, you were Zanu-PF,” he states.

Joking about religion
When Ncube turns his humour to religion, however, the contrast is striking. Stifled audience response is offered as he makes a sexual joke veiled as a prayer and when he references the popular Pentecostal prophet, Emmanuel Makandiwa, who has promised to walk on water.

“My biggest challenge right now is religious leaders,” says Ncube adding that he has received death threats from church leaders and congregants of different churches and denominations he makes jokes about.

Ncube identifies as a Christian.

“Right now, I am deliberately holding back a lot of content because I need to get to a point where I am not seen as the anti-Christ,” he adds.

Ncube, who has steadily become a household name in Zimbabwean comedy, sees increasing acceptance of his more political content as a natural progression of political discourse in Zimbabwe; something which is not apparent in religious discussions.

Zimbabwe-born Takunda Bimha, founding director of the South-Africa based comedy agency, Podium The Comedy Merchants, concurs.

“Compared to South Africa, it’s been a lot more difficult to get a comedy industry going in Zimbabwe given the many issues the country is going through and the obvious sensitivities around politics and religion,” he observes.

Bimha’s agency has managed big South African names in comedy including Trevor Noah and currently boasts names like Kagiso Lediga and Loyiso Gola.

“Comedy comes from pain and a place where you need to say something,” Bimha adds. “And given Zimbabwe’s circumstance, this makes for great content.”

While this year’s local Hifa comedy performances have shown an increasing ease among Zimbabweans to laugh at themselves, they also underscore that with the return to one-party rule and the seeming demise of the MDC, religion is increasingly gaining purchase as the new and untouchable political paradigm in Zimbabwe.

At the same time, it is also clear that Zimbabwe’s political history remains off limits to humorous representation and artistic re-interpretation.

Zimbabwe can laugh … just not at everything.

Fungai Machirori is a blogger, editor, poet and researcher. She runs Zimbabwe’s first web-based platform for womenHer Zimbabweand is an advocate for using social media for consciousness-building among Zimbabweans. Connect with her on Twitter

Criminalisation will not stop FGM in East Africa

Since female genital mutilation (FGM) has been outlawed in Ethiopia, some rural families have been holding clandestine circumcisions, said parents at confidential focus group discussions in Ethiopia for Oxford University’s Young Lives study. Often, the ritual takes place at night in order to evade prosecution, with girls at even greater risk due to poor lighting or the use of less experienced practitioners.

As a 10-year-old, Ayu, who lives in the rural Oromia region, wanted to complete her education and become a teacher instead of getting married young. But at the age of 14 she underwent FGM and by 16 she had left school and got married.

Ayu’s mother explained that the cutting was done at Ayu’s request. “After she heard a girl insulting another who was not circumcised, my daughter came home and asked me to organise her circumcision. She told me she does not want to be insulted in the same way.” And while her mother thought Ayu was not ready for marriage at 16 she was much more concerned about the risks her daughter would face as a young woman without the protection of a husband. “We live in corrupt and dangerous times,” she said. “It is better that she is married early.”

In Somaliland, the health messages about the risks associated with FGM (sometimes referred to as FGC, female genital cutting) have led to more girls undergoing clitoridectomy (the removal of the clitoris) instead of the more extreme infibulation (which involves the removal of the clitoris as well as the narrowing of the vaginal opening by creating a covering seal). But a World Vision study, “Examining the links between the practices of FGM/C and early marriage”, found that since the pressure to stop infibulation has increased, the pressure on girls to marry young has intensified because they fear being perceived as more open to premarital sex if they have not had the procedure. As 15-year-old Faiza explained: “It is better for my dignity to have a husband and children now.”

Kenyan teenage Maasai girls attend an alternative right of passage at Kilgoris, Trans Mara district, at a ceremony organised by an anti-female genital mutilation, campaign, Cherish Others Organisation. (Pic: AFP)
Kenyan teenage Maasai girls attend an alternative right of passage at Kilgoris, Trans Mara district, at a ceremony organised by an anti-female genital mutilation, campaign, Cherish Others Organisation. (Pic: AFP)

Martha Tureti, World Vision’s gender and development co-ordinator in Kenya, believes criminalisation has failed to eradicate the practice in the country. And stand-alone interventions, such as setting up rescue centres or introducing alternative rites of passage, have not been enough to alter deeply imbedded attitudes that put a high premium on girls’ sexual reputations and premarital virginity.

“If you only focus on the girls, the community still go ahead with the cutting anyway,” Martha told us. “We realised the importance of including boys so that they understand the dangers of FGM because otherwise they still demand to marry girls who have been cut.”

In northern Kenya, World Vision has sponsored the development of rites of passage that retain traditions like teaching the girls about their future adult roles, but replace FGM with reproductive health education that includes knowledge about the effects of genital cutting. One key to success has been persuading communities to identify their own adaptations to old traditions instead of trying to impose change from outside; holding ceremonies that include public endorsements from community leaders; and offering alternative income sources to the cutters. For example, a World Vision-sponsored ceremony involving 10-year-old girls in the northern district of Naivasha included the public endorsement of a local politician, as well as pledges from former cutters that they would abandon the practice in return for the gift of some goats that would provide them with alternative means of earning a livelihood.

A clear message from both the Young Lives and the World Vision research is that legal prohibition and intensive advocacy campaigns have not been enough to eradicate FGM. This is often because families feel unable to take the social consequences of making changes that go against the norm in close-knit traditional communities. So work towards the abandonment of FGM and early marriage must engage with the whole community and address the social norms that underpin the practices.

It is difficult for outsiders to predict what unintended consequences might arise in each circumstance as every community responds to change in different ways. But the Young Lives’ focus group findings demonstrate the importance of understanding from community members why some continue practicing FGM despite prohibition. World Vision’s experience has been that change is more likely if all the different interest groups in a community are involved in a non-judgmental dialogue about which solutions will work for them.

Ultimately, strategies to prevent FGM need to engage with the root causes of both FGM and early marriage: namely the unequal status of women and men, the desire to control female sexual activity and limited economic opportunities for women and girls.

Names have been changed at the request of World Vision.

Kirrily Pells is policy officer at Oxford University’s Young Lives study of childhood poverty, and Lorriann Robinson is senior child rights policy adviser at World Vision UK

Angola’s hidden crisis

What exactly constitutes development for a post-conflict African country? Is it the built environment or investment in human capital?

That’s a question I think about daily here in Luanda, Angola’s rapidly changing capital. On paper, Angola is a success story and a frequently cited example in the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative. It has enjoyed double-digit economic growth during the last decade, fueled by its plentiful crude oil deposits, and is experiencing a construction boom. It’s even attracting big-name luxury brands, such as Porsche, Gucci, Prada and Armani.

Luanda’s skyline is dotted with construction cranes and our nascent middle class is expanding. But it isn’t just (some) Angolans benefiting from the boom. Perhaps most striking of all, Angola has become a sort of El Dorado for the Portuguese, Angola’s old colonial power. In Angola, the Portuguese are finding much better livelihoods here than in Europe, where they’re one of the most prominent victims of the continent’s financial slowdown.

Luanda cityscape at dusk. (Reuters)
Luanda’s cityscape at dusk. (Reuters)

But for all the investment in the built environment, investment in human capital is severely lacking. I’d even venture to say it’s Angola’s hidden crisis. Speak to anyone in any industry and they’ll tell you about the great difficulty they have in hiring competent Angolans, let alone highly skilled ones. And the skills we’re talking about are as basic as properly reading and writing in Portuguese. A friend of mine who works for a television studio put it bluntly: “We’ll need expats here for the next 40 years. I have staff that can’t write a simple email without glaring spelling mistakes.”

Angola’s lack of investment in education isn’t exactly news. Portugal’s colonial system rigorously discouraged education among its African subjects, with its missionary schools the only exception to this rule. The long, brutal civil war that wrecked the country immediately after independence further hampered education efforts. But now, 12 years after peace has been achieved, investment in education remains depressingly low. And it shows.

In the many multinationals and large national firms that operate in Angola, Portuguese workers have a strong presence in middle management and senior roles. It’s true that Angola’s lack of skilled workers was exacerbated by the war years and foreign help is not only warranted but acutely needed. Yet, I see no evidence of any effort being done on a governmental level to change this reality. In fact, we are one of Africa’s worst investors in education, regularly spending less than 10% of our national budget on this expenditure. When compared to post-conflict countries such as Burundi and Côte d’Ivoire, who each last year spent over 20% of their budget on education, this is especially startling. Angola, in comparison, dedicated just 6.2% of its budget on education.

So how do these statistics translate to our day-to-day reality? Three of my family members are professors in both public and private universities in Luanda, and all three often complain about just how intellectually poor their students are, to the point where they cannot properly read, write or solve basic mathematical problems. We’re talking about university-level students. But the professors stress that it’s not their fault – rather, they’re the product of a seriously deficient educational system at the primarily level. Professors are required by law to pass 80% of their students onto the next grade, regardless of their skill and intelligence. By the time they get to university, many of these students are lacking even the most basic skills to succeed and learn.

And if you think that the government is addressing this important issue, think again. Just this year, they further slashed public investment in primarily level education by an outrageous 33%. Instead, and despite our 12 years of peace, the government preferred to invest its earnings in military equipment. So much so that Angola is sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest military spender. The wisdom of spending $6.1-billion on military equipment, a lot of it nearly obsolete, during peacetime, to the detriment of proper spending in education, is extremely worrying.

Although it likes to think of itself as a regional leader and enjoys flexing its financial muscle, Angola does not have a single university in Africa’s top 100. Its existing universities, with very few exceptions, are utter shambles.

Continuous and sustainable investment in education is a must if we are to have a properly functioning society and economy run by Angolans. Human development is our most pressing need because human capital is our most valuable commodity. Oil will run out one day, and the financial crisis in Portugal that brings so many Portuguese to our workforce will one day end. Who then, will run Angola, and with what education?

Claudio Silva is Angolan. He has spent time in New York, Washington DC, Lisbon, Reading (UK) and attended university in Boston. In 2009, he started Caipirinha Lounge, a music blog dedicated to Lusophone music. Claudio contributes to several other blogs including Africa is a Country and Central Angola 7311. Connect with him on Twitter.