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Africa Month: Shaping Africa with Sheer Self Determination

These people are proof that even under such harsh conditions, despite a lack of human rights and a call for action for them to return home, I could feel that #HopeLivesHere.

Catherine Constantinides

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As we celebrate Africa month and honour a continent that has nurtured us, we embrace the rich diversity, culture and heritage that we share as a people of Africa. It is our responsibility to know our continent and understand her people.

Our calling is to strive to maintain a liberated, united and prosperous Africa. In my quest to achieve these objectives I have had the privilege of learning about a people, a land and a forgotten story of our very own continent.

Everyday life happens, we go about our daily routine, and then as if from nowhere a story finds you, you don’t see it, you don’t expect it, but it’s there and it reshapes your perspective. A paradigm shift takes place and your view point is changed forever.

Related: EY launches Entrepreneurial Winning Women Class of 2015

Six months ago I had no idea that a nation known as the Saharawi, and a country called the Western Sahara even existed, no less than on our own continent, Africa. I had no idea that there were human atrocities happening in North West Africa that in South Africa we know nothing of, it is not spoken of, and knowledge of this is very difficult to acquire.

The Saharawi peopleAfrica-Day_flag-waving

The Western Sahara; commonly referred to as the last frontier of Africa, has been under the illegal occupation of Morocco, in accordance to international law. In 1963 the Western Sahara was added to the United Nations list of non-self governing territories and it was only in 1975 that the Western Sahara saw the departure of their coloniser Spain. The Spanish left and Madrid ceded control of the territory to Morocco and Mauritania.

Both countries claiming sovereignty over the territory this triggered an armed conflict with the Polisario Front, the liberation movement; that the UN considers as the legitimate representation of the Saharawi people. This conflict marked the beginning of a refugee crisis that has become an ongoing and forgotten conflict. Africa can never, ever be free until those across our continent have their basic human rights, self determination and an opportunity to live freely!

Four decades have passed since the Saharawi refugee crisis began; today these people are still living in exile, while their families are back home, in the occupied territory, those that stayed behind are subjected to inhumane conditions. 40 years on, how do a people keep hope alive?

This is a subject that is tabled and included on the agenda of the UN Security Council each year, this is as a result of the groundwork done by the African Union; yet generations later children are being born in a refugee camp, with no idea as to the world outside of the camps.

In 1975 the Saharawi were forced to flee their land and found refuge in south-west Algeria, with the expectation that one day they would return to their home. Traditionally a nomadic people, they have been forced to settle in an arid desert environment with no opportunity to be self-sufficient or productive. A camp set up in the midst of the desert, exposed to extreme heat that reaches 55’celcius, harsh sandstorms, constant drought and infrequent but hostile torrential rains.

Standing up for those who cannot

These are a people that have been denied their home, their independence and their human rights! I know all of this now, because I had the opportunity to visit, learn and engage with these forgotten people. I was invited by the Saharawi Women Organisation to join them at a refugee camp just outside Tindouf in Algeria, in a camp called Smara. There was much debate and discussion before my decision was made to embark on this journey.

A journey, that would take me to a far corner of the African continent and would see me live with refugees, in refugee conditions. For seven days I committed to living with the exiled Saharawi, an urban being in the desert, with no running water, no electricity, no arable land, no food, no basics; I would get to come home after my time in the camp, but the families there would not go home, and they would not have something different tomorrow, they live day to day.

They survive only on the basket of dried goods that is air-dropped every month by the World Food Programme (WFP). These people do not get to go home: this is the only home that they now know…

When this story found me, I was faced by many questions, where was this, what were the logistics involved, what were the security challenges, what were the health risks, the ultimate question, “Could people on our continent be living without the right of self governance, and self determination?” I was challenged to step from the known into the unknown, so as to see, hear and know what truth lay behind this story. I was compelled to seek information and to create an awareness of the human rights issue of the #SaharawiPeople.

I stand in solidarity with a people who have fought for 40 years to be independent and have the right to self determination and decolonisation. I now ask the question, “Are the Saharawi a forgotten people of the world, or is it just easier to turn a blind eye to an illegal occupation?” The total population of the Saharawi is approximately one million people.

The Western Sahara is a land rich in mineral resources, oil, gold, the world’s largest deposits of phosphates and a rich fishing coastline to name but a few of the natural resources, these resources should be the right of the Saharawi people, this should be what they could have built their economy on, and yet they can-not go home and they live a meagre existence in a refugee camp.

Travelling to the forgotten people

It was 23h30, I had been travelling for 18 hours; the last flight had been by military plane into an army base two hours away from the refugee camps. No business class, no luggage conveyor, a cold, war like structure. A seasoned traveller, this was somewhat different; used to gliding through snow white clouds and blue skies.

The military aircraft ploughed through the sky, with much noise and movement, there was a feeling of displacement in the air, my journey was happening. On arrival at the camps the darkness was intriguing. It was as if a thick blanket concealed the story I would uncover in the days ahead. My eyes began to adjust I could see these little tents peering through, dwellings scattered across a vastness of nothing, this was the desert. No markings or indication as to where we were, or where we were going.

Some of the tents and small structures had a gentle shine which I was told was the only light source which was emitted from a solar powered battery, candle light or a rechargeable lamp.

The shadow of light carried an ambiance of hope and comfort. Bumedian, my new friend and expert desert driver, explained to me, “It is easier to drive at night as your bearings lie in the stars and constellations.” I was mesmerised by the light of the moon and the soft glow that fell across the camp that allowed me a glimpse of what I would see when day arrived.

The warm embrace of Shabba and Miriam, two sisters from the family that I stayed with, was overwhelming and emotional. Language was a huge barrier, as no English is spoken by the majority of Saharawi people, who all speak a dialect of Arabic, and a small group also speak French. We made our way into the family tent, where we were asked to leave our shoes outside. Mutha, an English student and the protocol officer, stayed with me.

As day broke, the tender sound of the Muazzin was heard across the camp, and the women of the family I stayed with started their first prayers for the day. Breakfast was a humble helping of dry bread, jam and milk coffee, there is no running water, long life milk is all that is available, and it is considered a luxury for those that do have it. I quickly learnt that water is very scarce and used for washing before prayers and refreshing rinses at the hottest times of the day.

The basic routine of bathing in the morning, washing your teeth and other ‘daily rituals’ were somewhat of a luxury. This family had no toiletry bag filled with the items we take for granted, toothpaste and toothbrushes were not available.woman-washing-bucket_Africa

I stepped out of the family tent, and was struck by the bright light and the vast naked desert. As far as my eye could see, in every direction, tiny dwellings and tents covered the landscape. I paused to get my bearings, as reality and shock started to become reality. Slowly the gentle laughter of children filled the crisp morning air and started to permeate the harsh reality that I could see around me.

These children do not know anything other than this camp; they are playful, happy and content. The desert sand is their playground; nothing grows here, not a shrub, not a blade of grass and not a tree to be found, there is no vegetation of any kind. I quickly realised that there is no oasis in this desert. A ‘lilo’ like plastic is placed alongside each tent, which is filled with rationed water for each family; the water truck comes every few weeks.

My family were insistent that I use as much water as I needed, but I humbly acknowledged that I would get to go home and I would leave these beautiful people here in the Sahara, still with no running water or electricity.

Waiting to go home

As I lay my head on the floor that night, I closed my eyes and I knew that tomorrow would never be the same, I would never be the same; I was a different person… I thought that poverty was what we had to fight, but this surpassed poverty, here there was nothing.

I knew that I could not mistake the soft light, the amazing heavens, the smiles the children shared, their willingness to share love with me, did not mean that all was well. These are people that, 40 years on, still have a packed bag in their tent, so that when they are called, they will be ready to go home.

I ask that people support my call; support their call, to bring about international action, in order to bring about the change that the Saharawi people have been waiting for; they must be given their rights as a people.

A refugee camp is a place of loneliness and nothingness, yet one could easily be mistaken that the bright and colourful material worn by the women of the Western Sahara is what brings light and colour to this bare landscape. However, you would be sorely mistaken as the light in the camp comes from the power of the human spirit within these people.

These people are proof that even under such harsh conditions, despite a lack of human rights and a call for action for them to return home, I could feel that #HopeLivesHere.

We need to stand against the existence of such; we need to demand the right of self determination, self governance and human rights for all people. It saddens my very fibre that people must wait for a monthly food basket composed of nine dry commodities; that never change, there is no variation, it always remains the same, and it is all that there is.

There is a will power, a strength of mind and a community built by the determination and strength of women who play the most crucial role in pushing this movement forward! The human spirit LIVES, it lives in these camps, in those tents and in the heart of all who pass through that place!

Catherine Constantinides; Lead SALead SA Executive, Director of Miss Earth South Africa, International Climate Activist and Humanitarian. Constantinides is an Archbishop Tutu African Oxford Fellow and serves as a Social Cohesion Advocate for the Department of Arts and Culture.

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Entrepreneur Today

Surge In South Africans Swopping Their Cars For Bitcoin

The cryptocurrency Bitcoin has experienced a seemingly interminable rise. Early adopters have experience lottery-sized pay-outs on minor investments as the currency exploded in value in 2017.

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The cryptocurrency Bitcoin has experienced a seemingly interminable rise. Early adopters have experience lottery-sized pay-outs on minor investments as the currency exploded in value in 2017.

As South Africans are itching to get their hands on the digital currency, there’s been an increase in swops and bitcoin-only sales on Gumtree.co.za, says Claire Cobbledick, Head of Core at Gumtree. “This is particularly true for high-value items like cars, bikes and boats. Many sellers are willing to take a gamble with their assets in hopes of a large pay-out.”

This is on trend with other marketplaces. In the United States a McLaren 720S was put up for sale in exchange for 25 bitcoin, a theoretical value of $425,000.

Related: 11 Things You Need To Know About Bitcoin

While Gumtree does not allow for the sale of bitcoin miners or services, Cobbledick says that customers can exchange goods for bitcoin on the site, but should be fully aware of the risks. “Bitcoin is a volatile currency, so while you could easily see a 50% increase in your investment, you could just as easily end up with nothing. It’s up to the seller to decide if they are willing and able to take a gamble.”

Some cars currently up for sale in exchange for bitcoin includes a Land Rover Defender, BMW X5 and a rare 1970 Mercury Cougar V8.

“There are also a few other sellers accepting bitcoin in exchange for Kruger Rands,” says Cobbledick. “Perhaps proving that gold as a store of value is falling out of vogue.”

But the most unusual swop would have to go to an entrepreneurial seller who is offering carnivorous plants in exchange for the cryptocurrency.

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Zando Sold 80 Items A Minute During Black Friday – By Doing This

Black Friday has brought immense success for numerous local online retailers – reflecting the potential of e-commerce in South Africa. Why not learn from Zando’s success in 2017 to ensure your success during the 2018 Black Friday sales season?

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For South African e-retailers, Black Friday is a big sales event. But you need to ensure you’re prepared for the web traffic and that your e-commerce store can handle the logistics of thousands of orders.

zando-sascha-breussAccording to Zando, they experience 100% up-time during Black Friday and less than a week after the season sales event, 95% of customer orders have already been shipped.

To help fellow e-tailers perform better next year, Zando’s CEO, Sascha Breuss answers some key questions about the company’s preparations and learnings around Black Friday:

1. How did you encourage greater sales on Black Friday?

Over the last few years Black Friday has developed a following in South Africa, so we benefitted from the existing hype around it. We didn’t focus too much on upfront marketing, but put our energy into flawless execution and of course great deals for the customers.

Related: The Evolution Of Retail: From Corner Store To Artificial Intelligence

2. How much planning went into ensuring your store platform ran at optimum?

The real ‘hot phase’ started with the first day of November when our IT department went into a ‘feature freeze’ and we focused 100% on site-stability and scalability.

We went through some intense testing of our site with loads up to 15 times the average daily amount of visitors. So, when the actual day came, we were confident in our systems.

3. How were you able to successfully co-ordinate logistics during Black Friday?

Early preparation and experience from past years have been the key to success. We increased our head count in both Warehouse and Customer Service well in advance so that we could rely on well-trained and experienced colleagues come Black Friday.

4. How did you ensure a seamless experience between your website and your app?

We know that our customers are browsing Zando on all platforms, desktop, mobile and app so we implemented some handy features to make the transition between each platform easier. For example, shared baskets and wish lists are now a feature. Some of the deals however have been app-only and sometimes we reward our app users with early access to shop the best deals. So it is definitely worth it to download our app.

Related: How SA’s Online Retailers Can Cash In On Black Friday Fever

5. How did you scale your entire operation for a single event?

This is easy to summarise in one word – TEAMWORK. The Zando staff did an amazing job and were the backbone of our success. Not only did they put the required extra hours in and worked hard until the job was done, but they also showed real team-spirit. When you called our Customer Service during Black Friday it’s very possible that you spoke to someone in our HR, Social Media or Legal team who helped out answering calls.

6. How did your marketing campaign affect traffic on your platforms?

The most surprising element was probably the high volume of traffic that we saw during the night. Visits started to increase every minute before midnight and during the first two hours of the day we saw peaks that were higher than on our strongest week day. This traffic never dropped with a lot of orders being placed between 2am and 3am on Black Friday.

7. How did your technology systems handle the influx of shopper traffic?

In the build up to Black Friday we added additional server capacity and changed the way we handled the flow of traffic. This made us very flexible to switch on additional capacity wherever required. So it was a combination of intensive preparation, close monitoring and ultimately very little sleep for a couple of days to ensure we monitored our system health 24 hours a day.

8. What was your sales strategy?

For us everything that had a discount of 40%-80%, and was still a relevant and recent look, qualified for Black Friday 2017. Once these criteria were fulfilled we made sure that we had sufficient stock available – in some cases the demand was so high that we brought on additional stock from our suppliers during the Black Friday weekend.

Related: 5 Last-Minute Tips For Small Retailers To Boost Black Friday Sales

9. What were your biggest learnings?

We have been very successful in our approach to remain true to the idea of Black Friday – offering great deals on relevant product and not outdated clearance ranges. The customer is very educated and will identify a good deal, and we have seen consumers’ negative comments on stores who used Black Friday solely as a warehouse clearance opportunity.

10. What surprised you about Zando’s success during Black Friday?

Thanks to extensive preparation we have been able to achieve an uptime of 100% for the full month of November. We also kept the deliveries and returns 100% free regardless of discount or basket size. It seems like our customers appreciated this approach and we have actually seen very positive sales numbers after Black Friday while we expected a drop. I believe the full focus and investment on the Customer Experience has worked for us.

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Team Resolutions: 11 Tips To Uncover Passion And Potential In New Hires

If there’s one resolution HR departments should make this new year, it should be to transform the onboarding experience for new hires.

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If there’s one resolution HR departments should make this new year, it should be to transform the onboarding experience for new hires says Michelle Seko, Talent Acquisition Manger at Sage Africa & Middle East.

The importance of a good candidate experience cannot be underestimated. Research has shown that 88% of job applicants are more likely to buy from a company if they’ve had a positive experience when applying for work there. Research has also shown that candidates talk about their experiences with a company, regardless of whether they got the job. Some candidates would even refer a friend to the company and others will re-apply for a future role, if the experience was a good one.

Research also found that:

Related: Why You Should (Seriously) Stop Hiring People

Win-win

Businesses enter into a relationship with a new hire the moment they sign on the dotted line. And, as with any relationship, it will only flourish if built on trust, respect and a commitment to self-improvement.

When you set new hires up for personal success, the outcomes naturally feed into your business’ success, which means you both win.

Here are a few ideas to get the most out of your new hires:

Make them feel welcome

Introduce them to the people they’ll be working with as soon as possible so that they immediately feel part of a team. At Sage, we partner new hires with a buddy, or Sage Ambassador, who helps them settle in and meet new people, contributing to the positive on-boarding experience.

Focus on the benefits

Compelling benefits not only attract the best candidates but also boost loyalty and job satisfaction. People are motivated by different things: one person might value flexi-time while another could place more importance on growth opportunities or bonuses. Focus on the benefits that align with the individual’s values when onboarding.

Set goals early and outline a plan to achieve them

This keeps your team focused, especially if they will be rewarded for achieving their goals.

Assess performance

Monthly, at least. Adjust goals and plans where necessary, reward good performance, introduce new challenges and deal with issues promptly.

Show genuine interest

Regular catch-ups and remembering children’s names, for instance, makes people feel appreciated.

Empower them

Let your new hires apply their knowledge to business challenges and offer training opportunities outside of their comfort zones. Reward ideas that help you do things better and faster.

Related: Hiring The Right Person Is Critical When Growing A Business

Encourage collaboration

People thrive when they can learn from others and when they can share their knowledge. Involve experienced team members in the new hire’s training. This is a great way to recognise and appreciate their loyalty and skills.

Be transparent

Do you have difficult clients? Will the new hire have to work overtime? What are the business’s goals? New hires should know what they’re getting into.

Provide solid training on everything from company culture and benefits, to opportunities for growth

The biggest cost associated with training people is the time it takes for them to become productive. But rushing through on-the-job training could lead to a host of other problems, including repeated mistakes and a lack of confidence.

Openly communicate any changes in the business

Manage your team’s expectations and be clear about yours. Allow new hires to question and understand how you do things and to point out errors – their past experience probably gave them new ideas and ways of working that could boost your team’s efficiency and productivity.

Be upbeat

Your mood sets the tone for everyone else. You can have the best product in the world but unless your team is passionate and enthusiastic about that product, you won’t get the results you’re hoping for.

Keeping people motivated and productive is hard work

But if you provide them with the tools, knowledge and support to do their best work and to contribute their best ideas, motivation and productivity will come naturally.

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