Wi-Fi is a tool that not only connects people across the globe but also drives the socio-economic development of a region. Tuesday, June 20th marked this year’s World Wi-Fi day, a day that acknowledges and celebrates the importance of Wi-Fi access for everyone. This year, Wi-Fi provider VAST Networks teamed up with network provider Rukus to give out one gigabyte (GB) of free Wi-Fi to all South Africans on VAST’s network.

Although it may not sound like a lot, one GB of Wi-Fi can go a long way. With just one GB, a person can spend 72 hours browsing the Internet, 20 hours watching videos on YouTube, five hours streaming live TV or send or receive 30,000 emails. All these tools provide Wi-Fi users with a means of interaction, education, research or entertainment.

With unemployment rates at an all-time high, Wi-Fi access is necessary for businesses to post available positions and for individuals to search for jobs quickly and efficiently. VAST Network’s free Wi-Fi gave these opportunities to both businesses and individuals at no cost last Tuesday.

VAST Networks CEO Grant Marais says that VAST was founded with the aim to increase South Africa’s global competitiveness through equal opportunities and inclusivity. Providing the country with affordable data rates and creating opportunities for free Wi-Fi serve as investments in South Africa’s future.

Wi-Fi is a powerful tool that has the capability to raise a country and its individuals out of poverty and World Wi-Fi Day recognizes the need for global Wi-Fi access. There exists the possibility for significant and positive change within communities of all kinds through the access and provision of Wi-Fi.

VAST Networks and Rukus show their support of affordable Wi-Fi as a worldwide necessity by giving one GB of free Wi-Fi as well as making their networks reasonably priced and obtainable every day.

Hannah Kaiser

Photo: Flickr

A U.S. global initiative has made significant strides in helping with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, has provided substantial support programs to the African nation including clinical services, HIV counseling and testing and various programs emphasizing treatment to adolescent girls and young women.

The PEPFAR initiative came into effect during the Bush administration, providing the president with declarative powers to help fight HIV/AIDS and other diseases. The program was renewed and expanded in 2008, and its funding was tripled.

In an article published by the Christian Science Monitor, Sharonann Lynch, the HIV and TB policy advisor for Doctors Without Borders, notes PEPFAR as one of the most significant AIDS relief programs in the region.

“It’s not every day in global health where a program gets to essentially say they’ve turned the tide on an epidemic, and that’s what PEPFAR has done,” Lynch said.

Lynch believes that PEPFAR is integral in bringing awareness to the disease and to the possibility of its future eradication across the globe.

“When PEPFAR was announced, you didn’t have anyone talking about ending AIDS – and now that’s exactly what the US and other governments have committed to. They can see it in sight,” Lynch said.

According to a report published on the PEPFAR website, seven million people of all ages were living with HIV in 2015. Approximately 180,000 deaths were attributed to AIDS the same year.

In 2016, the plan and various other partners and organizations contributed HIV testing and counseling to more than 10.4 million people. These programs have also been integral to providing life-saving antiretroviral treatment to more than 3.4 million people.

PEPFAR focuses heavily on women and children affected by HIV/AIDS. The organization provided antiretroviral treatment to 220,626 expectant mothers to reduce the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission in 2016. The plan has also provided care and support for 407,056 orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS by providing funding to the health and social welfare systems of South Africa.

According to a report published by the CDC, approximately 52 percent of deaths in South Africa were caused by HIV/AIDS in 2006. With the help of programs such as PEPFAR, the number of fatalities has dropped significantly, from roughly one-half to one-third, in South Africa.

Drew Hazzard

Photo: Flickr

The threat of XDR-TB has recently caused great concern. This disease has been reported in 117 countries and is the deadliest strain of tuberculosis (TB). It is highly drug-resistant and is immune to many antibiotics. It is resistant to four standard treatments for tuberculosis. Because of this, treatment options for XDR-TB are less effective, more expensive and have more adverse side effects. The medication used to treat the disease is taken for up to two years and can cause permanent deafness, nerve damage, vomiting and rashes. The disease itself affects the lungs, causes chest pain and the coughing of blood.

The threat of XDR-TB transmission is the highest among individuals infected with HIV. In 2006, 52 out of 53 patients with both HIV and XDR-TB were reported to have died, and most died soon after the diagnosis. Treatment is successful less than 40 percent of the time, and death rates are as high 80 percent.

Cases of XDR-TB have rapidly intensified in South Africa, and it was found to have extensively spread in KwaZulu-Natal. It has caused tremendous concern among authorities. Between 2002 and 2015, there was a tenfold increase in the disease’s prevalence in South Africa. The threat of XDR-TB has become a challenge for many hospitals and community settings, households and workplaces.

This disease spreads similarly to other forms of tuberculosis. When a person with TB sneezes, coughs, shouts or sings, bacteria to float in the air, which can spread the disease. It has also been diagnosed in persons who were previously taking medication for TB, and the anti-TB drugs were misused or mismanaged. However, nearly 70 percent cases are spread from person to person. In a study of 404 patients with XDR-TB, an analysis showed that 69 percent of the cases were transmitted from person to person.

Efforts need to be directed towards identifying and implementing new interventions to prevent the transmission of XDR-TB in hospitals and community settings. Separation of people with suspected TB from other patients, more rapid diagnosis, and more effective medication is required for the disease. National governments need to plan interventions to prevent the threat of XDR-TB from spreading and to ensure supplies of medication are more readily available.

Aishwarya Bansal

Photo: Flickr

Water quality in South Africa is considered a difficult issue, and the country has struggled to supply some rural and local municipalities. People in urban areas, usually provided with fresh drinkable tap water, are concerned with the water quality of this year’s supply.

The engineered part of the water system in South Africa is heavily dependent on the healthy functioning of the natural water cycle. Water quality is poor due to growing pollution caused by urbanization, mining, deforestation and other anthropogenic causes. South Africa’s annual rainfall is 492 millimeters, which is only half of the world’s average.

After a few months of drought, dam levels dramatically lowered, causing a fresh water deficiency. Multiple complaints arose all over the country. Water quality in South Africa has been affected by unusual smell and color properties. Numerous instances of belly sicknesses were reported, and some people were hospitalized.

Governmental officials have been working to ensure that the sicknesses were caused by the seasonal change and from the turnover of the water in the reservoirs, which is to blame for latest water’s aesthetic qualities. Concern about sedimentary levels in water reservoirs, which were raised by the drought, has increased, as high sedimentary levels are dangerous for human health.

Further water inspection unveiled tap water compliance with the South African National Standard (SANS) 241:2015. Analysts warn that the climate change could impact water quality in South Africa. High evaporation levels and temperature increase can cause volumetric water loss. The decrease in its quality, specifically due to higher salt concentration and aging infrastructure, is in response to climatic demands.

Multiple organizations, such as WWF and the Blue Drop Certification System, are taking effort in prioritizing water safety. Their efforts are increasing awareness of the current situation amongst the population. Understanding responsible use in the current environment, in addition to growing a sustainable economy, will improve the ecological situation for all South Africans.

Yana Emets

Photo: Flickr

Techno Girl is helping girls in South Africa access the education they need for successful careers. The initiative’s goal is to actively encourage girls to participate in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields — also known as STEM fields. The initiative provides numerous programs to help participants reach their educational and career goals.

The program is geared towards girls in grades nine through 11, ages 15 to 18. It is part of the Girls and Boys Education Movement in South Africa and is sponsored by the country’s Department for Women, Children and People with Disabilities. It is also supported by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) as well as numerous other public and private sector partners.

South African students are notoriously disadvantaged in math and science. The proficiency of students in these subjects is very low compared to other countries. Furthermore, boys are traditionally much more involved in these areas of study. Girls are not encouraged to pursue STEM subjects, which ultimately impedes their long-term career opportunities. The program works to change this trend by providing girls with the resources to pursue a STEM career.

Techno Girl chooses participants from the most under-resourced schools in the country based on academic merit. Most participants, therefore, come from areas lacking educational and job opportunities to pursue their dreams. Techno Girl motivates these girls to continue to strive for the jobs they desire. The program improves the confidence of girls who would otherwise lack access to the resources they need to succeed in a STEM career.

The initiative offers opportunities for mentorship, shadowing and skills development in a variety of career paths. Many participants say job shadowing is an extremely beneficial opportunity for them, helping them prepare for jobs. Without shadowing, participants would have to seek out individuals employed in these fields first-hand to understand how they work.

Since it began in 2005, Techno Girl has helped more than 6,000 girls throughout South Africa. Many participants have gone on to receive scholarships for higher education as a result of the program. The initiative has seen tremendous results and has received widespread support. As it continues to grow, Techno Girl will provide unparalleled opportunities for girls interested in STEM careers in South Africa.

Lindsay Harris

Photo: Flickr

At the end of January, Cape Town, South Africa played host to the 6th World Sustainability Forum. The journal Sustainability sponsored this international scientific conference. The Molecular Diversity Preservation International (MDPI) organizes the annual World Sustainability Forum. The forum includes the presentation of research in many areas relating to sustainability and sustainable development.

Sustainable Development Goals

The 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in September 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, motivated discussions at the 2017 conference. The sustainability agenda outlined by the U.N. has the main aim that “countries will mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change while ensuring that no one is left behind.” Madame Graca Machel, a member of the SDGs Advocacy Group of the United Nations, was one of the keynote speakers at the conference.

Key Messages

The themes of this year’s forum were environmental management and social and economic development. There were key national and international speakers in attendance, including world-renowned professor of economics Jeffrey Sachs, who is also director of the Center for Sustainable Development and the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Sachs’ messages in his presentation included:

  • Africa needs to significantly increase its investments rates, which would increase its overall growth rate and decrease poverty.
  • The time to end poverty in Africa started on 2015 has to continue through 2030. Doing so will allow it to “become one of the most dynamic centers of the world economy.”
  • Investments in technology are essential steps in overcoming poverty.

Sachs went on to say that “achieving the SDGs is the moonshot for our generation[…]when 193 governments agree on something[…]that is really something for us to grab hold of. That is a lifeline.” Plans are already under way for next year’s conference, which will be held in Beijing.

Kristin Westad

Photo: Flickr

Africa Smartphone Plant
When discussing typical hotspots for smartphone usage, Sub-Saharan Africa isn’t usually the first place that comes to mind. However, thanks to a recent software licensing deal with Google, a South African startup is set to open Africa’s first smartphone plant. After receiving $10.8 million in funding, the Johannesburg-based Onyx Connect is set to begin production in the first quarter of 2017.

Why is Africa’s first smartphone plant so important? While some companies in South Africa are already assembling smartphones from imported kits, Onyx is taking advantage of local talent by manufacturing the device and saving on import duties. The plastic cases are being produced locally, and Onyx has its own research and development capability. Because of this, Onyx claims that it could make a smartphone with one gigabyte of memory and a camera for roughly $30.

The company is licensed to load Google software, including Android and Chrome, onto devices sold under its own brand or products it makes for others.

Africa’s remarkable average annual growth rate of 5.1 percent over the past decade is largely due to increased trade. This continued growth in the world’s most underdeveloped continent creates good jobs and reduces poverty, which in turn helps Africa gain strong economic and trade ties with the U.S. and serves to benefit both parties.

The region has already seen massive leaps into the 21st century with the number of smartphone connections across the continent almost doubling over the last two years, reaching 226 million. Though this is a significant advancement, it leaves ample room for growth to supply Africa’s population of 1.2 billion.

By supporting local production, this deal also helps Google boost sales in Africa, which is one of the few regions where it isn’t the outright browser leader. The company is setting up a distribution center in Ethiopia within the next 12 to 18 months which will create 600 jobs, according to Bloomberg Markets.

Africa’s first smartphone plant is likely to be a big step towards the region’s digital revolution.

Mayan Derhy

Photo: Flickr

President Zuma
South Africa was once the most credible and economically successful country in Africa, an example for evolving African democracies. However, it is now a country tainted with corruption. Statistics reveal that the corruption in South Africa has increased over the years. According to South African Social Attitudes Survey, the proportion of citizens who believe corruption prevention should be a national priority doubled from 14 percent to 26 percent between 2006 and 2011.

Surveys given to South African citizens reveal that 66 percent of citizens believe people working in law enforcement are corrupt, while 37 to 38 percent believe that home officials, officials awarding public tenders and politicians at the national level are contributing factors to corruption in South Africa. When asked why corruption is so prevalent, more than half of those surveyed stated that it is due to the government’s inaction on making it a national priority. Additionally, 33 percent believe that criminals are either given light sentences or not punished at all. Interestingly enough, 30 percent of individuals surveyed state that public money is also not being accounted for.

More recently, an organization named Corruption Watch was created. The organization investigates corruption accusations and gathers and analyzes information to identify patterns and hot spots of corruption. The organization provides a platform for reporting corruption and primarily relies on self-reporting. Examples of corruption in South Africa can be linked to the current president’s misuse of government funds and problems relating to the falsification of work and educational experience.

In regards to corruption in the public sector, South African president Jacob Zuma is one of the reasons why it is so prevalent. Since taking office, Zuma has been surrounded with constant controversy for his misuse of government funds. Reports from the Constitutional Court of South Africa show that Zuma has spent $20 million of public funds to improve his private residence. Although he defended the upgrades as required security precautions, the improvements included an outdoor pool, amphitheater and more. In May 2016, the Independent ran an article on how Zuma purchased 11 new cars over the past three years for his various wives. The money was supplied from the official budget of the police. It was also confirmed that the president planned to purchase a new presidential jet months after the finance minister delivered a draconian budget.

In addition to presidential scandals, several government officials have been caught falsifying their qualifications. In various cases, these officials lacked the qualifications required to hold and perform duties related to their position. For example in 2014, the African National Congress (ANC) spokesperson, Carl Niehaus, was caught being deceitful about the qualifications on his resume. He claimed to hold a Ph.D. from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, which was later determined to be false.

Corruption in South Africa has denied millions of citizens the necessary resources to escape from poverty. Poverty in South Africa is paradoxical. It is a country that is rich in natural resources, yet six million South Africans are living in poverty due to the mishandling of governmental funds, according to Oxford University.

According to José Ugaz, chairman of Transparency International, “Corruption creates and increases poverty and exclusion. Corruption in South Africa allows public officials to live lavishly, while millions of citizens are deprived of their basic needs to things such as food, healthcare, education, housing and access to clean water and sanitation.”

In 2016, Corruption Watch launched a public awareness campaign to guarantee that the Office of the Public Protector remains a foundation for South Africa’s democracy. The public protector role was created to ensure citizens can appoint someone to look after the country’s affairs without bias in order to decrease corruption.

South Africa has taken an initiative to tackle corruption issues through joint efforts with organizations such as Corruption Watch and many others. Ways to prevent corruption can be seen through education, changing governmental procedures, bridging the gap between the government and citizens and instilling governmental transparency.

Interestingly, South Africa has 13 public sector agencies that play a role in combatting corruption. Organizations such as National Anti-Corruption Task Team were established to coordinate the functions of these agencies. South Africa also has dedicated policies, standards and legislation to tackle corruption through both criminal and civil action. Members of the governing body should be reminded that they have a right to vote and have their voices heard. Voting is one way in which citizens can take a stand in putting the right people in power.

Corruption in South Africa can be reduced by increasing direct contact between government and constituents. Although South Africa has struggled with corruption in the past, the country’s efforts toward reform are visible.

-Needum Lekia

Photo: Flickr

HIV Vaccine Trial Begins in South Africa
A new HIV vaccine trial has begun in Johannesburg, South Africa where experts are cautiously optimistic about its potential for success.

The trial, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, is based on a trial that took place in Thailand and yielded moderately successful results. Thailand trial’s results were controversial because it was tested on a segment of the population with a low risk for infection. The trial in South Africa hopes to remedy this by using members of their own population which have a uniquely high rate of infection and thus puts wider swaths of the population at risk.

The HIV/AIDS death rate has greatly decreased with the increasingly widespread availability of antiretrovirals, yet infection rates continue to increase. Scientists and doctors believe that a vaccine is the only possible measure to successfully eradicate the disease, and many of them believe that this trial could be the beginning of the end for a disease which continues to infect more than 1,000 people daily in South Africa alone.

CNN reports that an estimated one adolescent becomes infected every two minutes worldwide. According to Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, there is no reason to believe that the HIV/AIDS crisis is over. In the U.S., infection rates have remained steady for the past 15 years in spite of prevention efforts.

Because of the high HIV infection rate in South Africa, scientists believe that an effectiveness rate of 50-60 percent would be sufficient to enter negotiations with drugmakers, although this is significantly lower than most other vaccines.

The study will enroll 5,400 sexually active men and women between the ages of 18 and 35 who are not infected with HIV. They will receive five shots of the vaccine and three boosters over the course of the study, which is expected to yield results in 2020. It aims to provide greater protection from infection and has been adapted for the HIV subtype that is found in southern Africa.

This trial, which is the first HIV vaccine trial in nearly a decade and is only the seventh full-scale human trial in the world, has been met with both skepticism and optimism. Glenda Gray, the president of the South African Medical Research Council, is leading the study. Although she admits that there is no guarantee that the trial will be successful, she remains optimistic about the results.

The HIV vaccine trial in Thailand was run by the U.S. Army, whose Dr. Nelson Michael called the trial “A signpost for vaccine development. This was a yes-we-can moment: the opportunity to become enthusiastic. The door has cracked open. We are all going to try to collectively crash through it.”

Kenya, who will be monitoring the trial closely, is expected to begin a similar trial early next year.

Eva Kennedy

Photo: Flickr

Refugees in South AfricaRefugees in South Africa face many hardships as they search for safety. A backlog of refugee applicants leads to difficulty finding jobs and poor access to government services. Meanwhile, many refugees experience prejudice and are blamed for escalating crime.

Ahead are 10 facts about refugees in South Africa.

  1. The majority of refugees in South Africa come from countries in Northern Africa.
    These countries include Angola, Somalia, Liberia, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Many refugees see South Africa as a gateway to other continents such as Europe and North America. South Africa is the wealthiest and most developed part of Africa, making it an ideal place for migrants to seek refuge.
  2. Refugees flee their countries for many reasons.
    Most African refugees flee their home countries because of financial crises, cost of living, military crime or high rates of unemployment. Corrupt governments can create instability that drives people from their homes. For example, so many people died in the 1998 outbreak of fighting in the DRC that it was labeled the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II.
  3. Refugees often face violence or treacherous terrain while crossing the border.
    If migrants are fortunate enough to get past police patrols and wildlife, they may wind up in the hands of gangs known as the guma guma. The guma guma have terrorized migrants fleeing to South Africa for many years. They operate in disguise and behave ruthlessly.
  4. The South African government is required to protect all refugees.
    The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) “has liberal asylum legislation that incorporates all basic principles of refugee protection including freedom of movement, the right to work and access to basic social services.” This includes access to health facilities and school enrollment.
  5. South Africa does not have any refugee camps.
    Refugees live mostly without assistance in urban areas and must seek out government buildings if they require additional help. One of the UNHCR’s focuses in South Africa is building its capacity to serve refugees.
  6. Gaining refugee status requires lots of paperwork.
    Refugees must obtain a section 22 permit to be protected from deportation. According to the Department of Home Affairs, all migrants who enter the Republic of South Africa must claim to be asylum seekers before receiving asylum transit permits. Migrants then have 14 days to report to the nearest Refugee Reception Office at the Department of Home Affairs.
    At the Reception Office, migrants’ fingerprints are recorded and initial interviews are conducted. Permits are valid for six months and allow holders to freely work or study in South Africa until their permits expire.
  7. It costs nothing to apply for refugee status.
    There is no cost to apply for refugee status in South Africa. This contributes to the volume of people fleeing there.
  8. South Africa has more refugees than it can handle.
    Due to the high volume of migrants requesting refugee status in South Africa, the status determination process is overwhelmed with applications. Additionally, social service programs face challenges when asylum seekers are allowed to use various services before conclusive decisions are made about their status.
  9. Refugees have to fend off xenophobic attacks.
    Xenophobia is defined as the hatred or fear of foreigners. Xenophobic violence targeted at migrants began in 2008 and hasn’t let up. In May 2015, approximately 1,000 Burundian and Congolese refugees were forced to flee their South African homes.
  10. There are refugee supporters in South Africa.
    After the 2015 surge in xenophobia, the UNHCR put together a three-tiered refugee reintegration package for around 3,000 people. The package included rental subsidies for two months, two months’ worth of food vouchers and one-time provisions of basic nonfood items. The UNHCR is just one of many organizations using their resources and connections to help South African refugees.

While refugees in South Africa face many hardships both on the journey and at the destination, they have international allies. With the support of the UNHCR and others, refugees in South Africa can find the better lives they seek.

Terry J. Halloran

Photo: Flickr