Over the past 20+ years, besides self-publishing Umbilicus, I have worn many hats professionally. My career spans print media marketing and advertising; feature writing (magazines); hard news journalism (newspapers); plus corporate copywriting, B2B content writing, and executive ghostwriting.

Below is a cross-section of my work, to give you an idea of my non-fiction writing style. You’ll find a detailed breakdown of my employment history and educational background, plus some Recommendations from clients, colleagues, and co-workers, over on my LinkedIn page.

iBrand website redesign + new email campaign

July 2020

My client, iBrand, had undergone a brand identity change, and several major operational changes over the past several months, and needed a complete redesign of their website to reflect these changes, plus a new email campaign to coincide with the launch of the new site. I was solely responsible for the brainstorming, ideation, research, fact-checking, image sourcing, writing, editing, proofreading, and formatting of every page. The site went live in August 2020, and my client has seen a marked increase in quality leads since, with many of these leads converting into sales.

Ford Enters Esports Arena

April 2020

From playing a quick game of Pac-Man on an arcade machine at the corner café, to becoming part of a hugely sophisticated digital ecosystem, gamers and gaming culture have come a long way over the past 40 years. Ford Motor Company, in collaboration with gamers, has now designed the ultimate in-game race car, which will soon be debuted on the virtual grid by Team Fordzilla, the automaker’s very own Esports team.

The popularity of competitive gaming, better known as Esports (electronic sports), has skyrocketed over recent years. What was once a niche gaming scene has been transformed into not only a mainstream form of home entertainment, but also a legitimate sport, recognised by the International Esports Federation’s (IESF) 60 member nations, including South Africa. In fact, South Africa’s national Esports team, competing over a number of games and platforms, has participated in every IESF World Championship since 2009.

According to the Business Insider Intelligence Esports Ecosystem Report 2020, “most projections put the Esports ecosystem on track to surpass US$1-billion in revenue for the first time this year.” But with a surge in online gaming globally during the unprecedented COVID-19 lockdowns, this projection may prove to be on the conservative side. And Esports could quite possibly become one of those industries which not only survives the pandemic, but thrives in its wake, as a new generation of avid online gamers is currently being born.

Ford enters Esports arena and designs brand new virtual race car

Racing games have always been hugely popular. But not all racing games are created equal. There are three main categories, with varying levels of realism. From arcade racing games with little regard for realism, to hyper-realistic sim racing (simulated racing) games with a strong focus on physics and AI, and simcade (simulated-arcade) racing games somewhere in between, which are more accessible to the average petrolhead than full sim racing games.

‘Forza Motorsport’, which is available for Xbox One and Windows 10, and ‘Gran Turismo Sport’ which is exclusive to PlayStation 4, both fit into the simcade category, and are two of the world’s most popular racing games. And it is for these two simcade games that Ford Motor Company, in collaboration with gamers, has designed the ultimate in-game race car, which will soon be debuted on the virtual grid by Team Fordzilla.

At Gamescom 2019 – Europe’s leading trade fair for the digital games culture which takes place annually in Cologne, Germany – Ford became the first automaker to debut a vehicle at the fair, revealing that its Ranger Raptor performance pickup would be coming to Europe.

Ford also took the opportunity to announce at the fair that it was recruiting gamers for Team Fordzilla. It has since established five Fordzilla national teams –France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK – and from these teams, it has assembled a European all-star team, comprising the five team captains. 

The two racing games in which Team Fordzilla will initially compete are ‘Forza Motorsport 7’ and ‘GT Sport’. And while there are already several new and classic Ford vehicles in each game’s expansive roster, it’s the brand new and exclusively virtual race car, code-named #TeamFordzillaP1, which Team Fordzilla drivers are understandably most excited about.

“We all love racing our dream cars but ultimately these are usually painstaking recreations of vehicles that actually exist in the real world,” said Angelo Bülow, captain of the German Fordzilla team. “It will be an absolute thrill to get behind the wheel of the Team Fordzilla P1 for the first time knowing that not only have we helped to create it but that no-one else has ever driven it before.”

Ford shares virtual race car with launch of Team Fordzilla P1 Hub

Among those closely involved in designing #TeamFordzillaP1 from the ground up were Ford of Europe’s Design Team – which imagines and designs human-centric cars for the real world – and expert gamers who lead the way in racing their virtual counterparts. This included the five captains of Ford’s national Esports teams, as well as motorsport fans in the wider gaming community whose input to Team Fordzilla was sourced via a series of Twitter polls around key design attributes – from engine layout to cockpit shape. Because this is an exclusively virtual race car, and not based on an existing real world Ford model, it is not constrained by any real world limitations like technology, practicality, or cost.

And now Ford has launched the publicly accessible Team Fordzilla P1 Project Hub, a fun and interactive space for budding car designers and gamers to find a few new ways of beating boredom or the blues whilst self-isolating during lockdown. Along with personal recommendations from Team Fordzilla captains on the latest video games you could try playing whilst housebound, the hub is packed with DIY creative content designed to unleash your inner Rory Byrne.

From never-seen-before #TeamFordzillaP1 exploration sketches by Ford’s designers, to a suite of print-friendly sketches ready for you to complete, as well as activities like dot-to-dot and paint-by-numbers, there’s bound to be something that catches your fancy.

Be sure to snap some photos of your bespoke liveries, sketches, and designs, and upload them to Twitter and Instagram with the tags @FordSouthAfrica @TeamFordzilla #TeamFordzillaP1

Follow Team Fordzilla updates on Twitter: www.twitter.com/teamfordzilla or Instagram: www.instagram.com/teamfordzilla

Ford Rallies to Bridge Literacy Gap with R1-million Sponsorship

March 2020

On Saturday 7 March, several convoys of Ford Ranger double cabs, loaded with boxes of books, teaching aids, and other educational materials, set out from Nkambeni Safari Camp in the Kruger National Park to visit some of the most remote and disadvantaged primary schools in the Hazyview, Mpumalanga area.

It was Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa’s leg of the annual Rally to READ, a flagship programme of the READ Educational Trust, founded in 1998, and spearheaded by now retired McCarthy Motor Holdings CEO and philanthropist, Brand Pretorius.

A living legend in industry circles, widely acknowledged for his invaluable contribution to the growth and sustainability of the local automotive sector since the 1970s, Pretorius is also a proud father to three sons, and grandfather to seven grandchildren. Passionate about helping to change the narrative for those less fortunate, he continues to work tirelessly to ensure that the already most vulnerable members of society are not simply left to fall through the cracks.

“Education is a fundamental human right, and education in itself is an empowering right,” says Pretorius. “Equal opportunity and universal access to good quality education is one of the most effective tools by which economically and socially marginalised communities can lift themselves out of poverty and participate fully in society. Unfortunately, as we all know, the right to education doesn’t necessarily align with the reality of implementing that right.”

Millions of children around the world are still deprived of educational opportunities as a result of socio-economic and cultural factors . Here in South Africa, the most recent Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) found that 78 per cent of Grade 4 learners cannot read with comprehension , which inevitably means that many learners drop out of early high school. This is particularly prevalent in rural areas.

To mitigate this, Rally to READ – implemented by the READ Educational Trust with the assistance of the Rally to READ steering committee under the chairmanship of Pretorius, and made possible by donations from a multitude of South African individuals and corporates – provides support to the most needy of schools in rural areas.

Rallies take place in six school districts, across five provinces. Schools selected for support are provided with books, and specially constructed ‘box libraries’ to protect the books, during the initial Rally weekend. Each school is then supported for a period of three years, with teacher training and classroom support visits by READ field staff. The ‘box library’ stock is supplemented each new Rally year with more advanced reading material.

Teachers are also tutored on literacy and language methodologies by dedicated READ trainers. READ trainers monitor and mentor teachers and are, in turn, monitored and mentored by senior READ trainers, who quality assure the project. All READ trainers’ work is done in conjunction with the Department of Education’s subject advisers and school district offices.

Simply by equipping teachers with the tools and training they need to create print-rich classrooms and stimulating learning environments for the children, morale amongst teachers dramatically improves. And as the children’s reading and writing skills improve, so their confidence grows. Literacy gaps are bridged, and an increasing number of learners are now making their way confidently into high school, and even university.

Not only are strong literacy skills linked to higher Matric pass rates and university enrolment rates, but also higher emotional intelligence. Reading helps us to better understand other people and cultures, and make wiser choices regarding our role models and friendships and relationships – all essential skills for a young person to acquire and assimilate, especially during the crucial formative years.

From Grade 1 to Grade 3 we learn to read; from Grade 4, we read to learn. The more we read, the better we read. And the better we read, the more we learn.

All it takes for children to significantly improve their reading is daily practice. By reading books that interest them, for just 20 minutes every day, a child will see 1.8 million words in one year, while another child who reads for only one minute a day will see just 8,000 words in that same year.

This is why it’s so important for us to not only teach our children literacy skills in the classroom, but to ensure they have access to a wide variety of material to read for pleasure, outside of school hours. And this is what the Rally provides. By the end of the three-year Rally cycle, schools will not only have ‘box libraries’ filled with classroom resources, but also classrooms filled with independent readers.

“We couldn’t do what we do without the ongoing support of our loyal sponsors,” says Pretorius. “This year alone, Ford assisted us with an incredibly generous R1-million donation to help us continue our work. But over and above that, we are also so very grateful for the logistical support they provide in their fleet of Ranger pickups, helping us to physically get the books and supplies to the schools, which are often in very difficult to reach locations. We’re talking wading through rivers sometimes, and climbing rocky roads that only the very toughest of 4x4s could handle.”

“It is our honour and privilege to support such a worthy cause,” says Ockert Berry, VP Operations, Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa. “Our partnership with Rally to READ goes way back to 1999, and it’s an association of which we are extremely proud. Being a good corporate citizen has always been a core value of Ford, and our commitment to sustainability is a key part of who we are. We believe that by supporting communities and members of society who can’t support themselves, and providing opportunities so that they can better themselves, we will have a profound impact on the future of our country. And education is the foundation we all need for a lifetime of learning and work opportunities.”

“For us, coming on this Rally, and actually meeting the beneficiaries of the programme, is a very special opportunity,” he continues. “To share in the excitement of the book hand-over, to meet and engage with the teachers, children, parents and caregivers, and to see first-hand the tangible results of this programme – the very real progress that is made in the schools we support – is both humbling and inspiring.”

Interestingly, while reading practice can help a child compensate for, and even overcome, the challenges of being socially or economically disadvantaged, the equivalent lack of reading practice can actually reverse or erase the advantages of a child who comes from a privileged background , making the relevance of reading practice equally important for all children, from all walks of life.

Ultimately it is our responsibility as adults, and our collective duty as civil society, to provide all of our children – from all socio-economic backgrounds, in big cities or small villages, in every province across the country – with the opportunities they need to expand their minds and unlock their full potential.

“This Rally is not just about delivering books,” concludes Berry. “It’s about delivering hope. Giving these children, their families, their communities, and our country much-needed hope for the future.”

The schools sponsored by Ford SA in the Mpumalanga leg of Rally to READ 2020 include: Mpunzana Primary School, Majika Primary School, Khombindlela Primary School, Ifalethu Primary School, Mhwayi Primary School, Mgwenyana Primary School, Umpololi Primary School, Siyamukela Primary School, and Entokozweni Primary School.

To see how you can get involved in supporting this initiative, please visit www.rallytoread.org.za

Ford Celebrates the History of Car Audio on #WorldRadioDay

February 2020

With a staggering array of public, private, and community stations providing listeners with audio content via analogue, digital, and internet platforms, radio is the most widely consumed broadcast medium on a global level today.

Commercial radio was first introduced in 1920, and made its way into cars in 1930. Historian Donald Matteson, who was curator of radio at the Henry Ford Museum, wrote a book called ‘The Auto Radio: A Romantic Genealogy’, chronicling the birth of car radio and its development over the ensuing decades, right up until 1987, that was, when the book was published.

“Considering just how much in-car audio has evolved since 1987 – when factory-fitted CD players were all the rage – it’s probably time someone wrote a follow-up book,” says Kuda Takura, Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa spokesperson. “Better yet, it should be narrated and recorded in audio book or podcast format, so we can listen to it in our cars!”

Statistics show that we are living in an audio-first world. A recent study by iHeartMedia, the largest radio station group owner in the US, revealed that the average listener aged between 13 and 64 years consumes 17.2 hours of audio content per week – including radio, streaming, podcasts, and more – with Millennials and Gen Z consuming more than 2.6 hours of audio content every day.

Notably, 65 per cent of audio content consumption happens outside the home, most often in the car. And radio accounts for 65 per cent of that in-vehicle audio content consumption.

“In the connected car of today, however, audio is about so much more than just a way to listen to radio, streaming, or podcasts,” continues Takura. “Audio is now an integral part of car telematics, telecommunication, in-vehicle security, hands-free calling, navigation, and remote diagnostics systems.”

So when and where did it all begin? “In the 1920s, with radio-dispatched police cars,” says Takura. “In Don Matteson’s book, there’s an amazing photo taken in 1921 of the Detroit Police Department’s Walter Stick standing next to a Ford Model T patrol car with a massive antennae on its roof, and a one-way radio set installed on the back seat.”

In 1930, the American Galvin Manufacturing Corporation launched the world’s first commercially available in-car radio called the Motorola – a combination of the words ‘motor’ and ‘Victrola’ – the brand name of a very early record player. At $130, it was expensive – the contemporary Ford Model A cost $540 – as well as complicated and time-consuming to install.

“It was only when Ford began offering factory-fitted Motorola AM radios in its new cars coming off the assembly line in 1933 that in-vehicle audio really took off, and soon became an auto manufacturing industry standard,” says Takura.

In 1952, German company Blaupunkt launched the world’s first car-ready FM radio. And a year later, Becker’s Mexico launched an AM/FM radio which would become the vehicle standard for many years to come.

“Back then, in-car audio was what you listened to on the frequency you tuned into on the airwaves,” continues Takura. “Your listening experience was left to the mercy of radio hosts and DJs. But thanks to continued advances in technology, it was only a matter of time before we could start enjoying a more personalised, customisable way of listening to music on the road. From 8-tracks to cassette tapes, CDs, MP3 players, and smartphones containing our entire music collection which connects seamlessly to our cars, we can now literally curate the soundtrack to our life. It really is incredible how far we’ve come.”

Audio continues to drive innovation in the auto industry and is the main vehicle for the seamless integration of new technologies. The latest generation of Ford’s award-winning SYNC® 3 infotainment system is at the cutting edge of this exciting space, delivering next-level connectivity.

Supported by a stylish floating colour touchscreen that can be operated with pinch and swipe gestures, and fitted as standard on the mid-range Trend and range-topping Titanium models of the EcoSport – Ford’s hugely popular baby SUV; currently the third top-selling passenger vehicle in the country (NAAMSA, January 2020) – SYNC® 3 is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto enabled, allowing you to tune into your favourite radio station, or play your favourite music or podcast.

Bluetooth and voice control allow you to use voice commands to make hands-free calls, listen to text messages through the speakers (the system even understands emoticons and popular abbreviations!), send quick replies by selecting from a list of pre-set text responses, listen to voicemail, and adjust your climate control settings.

Two USB ports are also conveniently placed so you can charge your smartphone or insert a memory stick or iPod to voice command music playback by artist name, song title, or genre.

Please visit www.ford.co.za/technology/sync/ for more info about the SYNC® platform.

Disclaimer: Not all SYNC® features are available on all Ford vehicles or compatible with all mobile phones.

Roadkill Saves Lives

November 2019

We’ve all driven past the lifeless body of an animal in the middle of or on the shoulder of the road, in our suburbs and cities, on our highways and byways, and in protected areas like game reserves. Family pets, valuable livestock, and myriad species of wildlife – each sentient being, meeting its fate through a tragic impact with a moving vehicle.

But it’s not just animals that are killed in these awful accidents. “Of the 45 human lives lost on our roads every day, we estimate that around a third of those are due to collisions with wildlife,” says international award-winning researcher Wendy Collinson-Jonker, manager of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Wildlife and Transport Programme (EWT-WTP).

Huge costs of road accidents

Road deaths account for untold suffering for families, friends, and loved ones left behind. They also come at a huge cost to the economy, which government conservatively estimates at around R166-billion annually. “The insurance industry pays out claims in the region of R82.5-million each year for wildlife-vehicle-collisions (WVCs) alone, ” says Collinson. “But the costs to our wildlife, and tourism industry, are never calculated.”

Currently, one in every 22 working South Africans are employed in the tourism sector which accounts for 2.8 per cent of gross domestic product. “Wildlife is one of the major drawcards for tourists to South Africa,” she continues. “And wildlife tourism is expected to grow significantly by 2030.”

“Unfortunately WVCs are already a common occurrence in our parks,” she adds. “With even more vehicles expected on the roads in the years to come, an anticipated increase in WVCs is obviously cause for serious concern. And if you consider that many of the species being killed in WVCs are already on the Endangered list – like the African Wild Dog – the costs could be very high.”

Roadkill research used in science of road ecology

The fact is, transportation infrastructure affects the structure of ecosystems, all around the world. As more roads are built, and more vehicles take to the roads, the increasing attention of scientists to the ecological effects of road infrastructure has resulted in the emergence of the science of road ecology.

Roadkill researchers working in this field are like police detectives. They gather forensic evidence (roadkill data) at the scene of the crime (accident scene) to build a case (identification of roadkill hotspots). The strength of their evidence will help determine the outcome of the case (implementation of traffic calming measures at specific roadkill hotspots), which ultimately helps inform national policies and legislation for public safety (development and planning decisions around future road design, with the ultimate aim of making the roads safer for all).

So how exactly is roadkill used?

“Using the roadkill data we collect over time, we are able to identify patterns and trends of where WVCs are most common, and when the greatest number of impacts occur – the months of the year, and the times of day or night,” says Collinson. “We can identify migration corridors for different species, and roadkill hotspots where mitigation measures can be implemented for those species most at risk.”

Much of the carnage on our roads happens at night, and if you’ve ever wondered why you’re not allowed to drive around inside game reserves after sunset, this is the main reason.

You’ve probably at some point also wondered why certain animals turn into statues in the middle of the road – that classic ‘deer in the headlights’ moment – when you’re driving straight towards them. It’s not because they’re stupid; it’s because they are often crepuscular or nocturnal animals, and their vision is different to ours. Because they are mainly active within an hour or so on either side of dawn and dusk, or at night, their pupils fully dilate to capture as much light as possible and optimise their vision in low light conditions. So when you shine a very bright light in their eyes, they become temporarily blinded and will freeze until their eyes can adjust. Unfortunately this may take longer than the time you need to stop your vehicle and avoid a collision.

While many animals do have eyes which are reflective in artificial light – thanks to a mirror-like membrane called the tapetum lucidum behind the retina – which makes them easier to spot in the dark, for taller hoofed mammals like kudu, cattle, and horses, their eyes are above most headlight beams. This means that their eyeshine is less likely to be seen by motorists until it’s too late.

Because of their size, and hooves and horns, these animals also pose the most danger to vehicle occupants. If these animals are hit, they can roll onto the bonnet and into the windshield or roof, resulting in extensive vehicle damage, and serious or fatal injury to the vehicle occupants.

Two (or more) heads are better than one

“Collaboration with stakeholders in the transport sector is integral to the success of our work in terms of building a combined body of knowledge,” says Collinson. “Currently we are in partnership with three of South Africa’s major toll concessionaires, namely Bakwena N1N14 Toll, TRAC N4, and N3 Toll Concession.”

“Input from the public is also hugely appreciated,” she adds. “Anyone with a smartphone can be a citizen scientist. By sending in photographs of roadkill, along with the location, date, and time of the sighting, via email at roads@ewt.org.za or the EWT’s Road Watch app, this helps expand the geographic scope of our study.”

Ford Wildlife Foundation sponsors EWT-WTP project vehicle

“As an NGO, we rely on assistance from our core supporters to be able to do the work we do,” says Collinson. “One of these core supporters is the Ford Wildlife Foundation (FWF), with their sponsorship of a Ford Ranger double cab. Our programme benefits enormously from the use of this project vehicle, since we do a vast amount of travelling, and are active on all roads in the country – from protected areas to regional and national highways.”

“The conservation and preservation of the environment has become a major worldwide issue, dramatically changing the attitudes of consumers and the way large corporations do business,” says Lynda du Plessis, manager of FWF. “For 30 years, Ford has supported environmental education, research, and conservation projects around sub-Saharan Africa. We announced the FWF in 2014, and are extremely proud to be associated with the likes of the EWT and their Wildlife and Transport Programme. The value that roadkill research adds to the greater discourse on conservation is clearly evident. And it is an honour and a privilege to know that our Rangers are being used to enable these projects to go further, to build a more sustainable future for all.”

Journey of a Ranger: Plant to Port in 11 Hours

November 2019

It’s 05:30 at Ford’s vehicle assembly plant in Silverton, east of Pretoria, and veteran Motorvia driver Samukelo Mthethwa is preparing to hit the open road. He’s just spent around three hours loading and securing seven brand new Ranger pickups onto the double-deck open trailer attached to his truck.

As a driver, Mthethwa is responsible not only for driving the truck, but also for the loading and unloading of its cargo. The rig uses hydraulically operated ramps, which can be tilted to maximize the available space by tucking the end of one vehicle under another. Some vehicles are backed onto the trailer while others are driven in nose first. With more than 10 years of experience under his belt, Mthethwa has this routine down to a fine art.

These seven Rangers are destined for export to the UK. The 640 km journey to Durban Harbour will take him around 11 hours, with compulsory stops on the way. Once he has unloaded all seven pickups into a secure parking lot in the harbour precinct, he’ll be able to call it a day.

Delivery to one of Ford’s 140 dealerships in South Africa, Swaziland, Namibia, and Botswana is a bit more complicated. Dealers order specific vehicles from the plant, and these are loaded in reverse order based on the planned delivery schedule, which includes each dealership en route to the truck’s final destination.

Much of Mthethwa’s trip will be along the N3 highway, which is one of the country’s most important economic arteries. He will have to make a stop at the Heidelberg Traffic Control Centre, where all south-bound trucks are checked for overloading and roadworthiness before getting further down the route. Van Reenen’s Pass is the most notorious and dangerous section of the N3. The long, steep descent is harsh on braking systems, and according to N3 Toll Concession, the company responsible for managing this section of the highway, wind can reach speeds of 141 km/h up the pass and start blowing trucks over at 126 km/h, and snow can render it impassable.

During his trip, dispatchers in Motorvia’s central monitoring office and control centres around the country will be tracking the movement of his truck via GPS technology to ensure it doesn’t deviate from its route. In the event of a hijacking, which is a serious concern in this industry, a control centre will immediately activate response teams for recovery.

“Around 720 vehicles leave our plant every day, about 80 per cent of which are destined for export,” says Ockert Berry, VP Operations, Ford Middle East and Africa. “While domestic vehicle sales are still an essential component of our business, we have strategically mapped our revenue pipeline to target exports and drive export-oriented growth.”

Ford exports vehicles to more than 100 left-hand drive and right-hand drive markets in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Mexico. The locally-built Ranger is the top-selling pickup in Europe, and South Africa’s top-ranking light commercial vehicle export.

Due to unprecedented demand for the Ranger globally, and an increase in production capacity on the back of a recent R3-billion investment, Ford, together with Transnet, evaluated how a multi-port strategy could benefit both parties by improving the use of current assets and reducing costs, as well as addressing the ongoing congestion in Durban Harbour, by utilising other ports.

“Up until the first quarter of 2019, all incoming and outbound Ford vehicles were shipped through Durban Harbour,” says Berry. “It has South Africa’s largest Roll-on Roll-off (Ro-Ro) terminal and is the best equipped in the Southern Hemisphere. However, it has become increasingly congested, and so, in April, we broadened our outbound logistics portfolio by adopting a multi-port strategy to support increased export volumes. We are now also shipping Rangers to markets in Europe twice a month from Port Elizabeth Harbour.”

In total, Ford charters 15 to 20 incoming and outbound vessels a month. These dedicated car carriers, also known as Ro-Ro ships, have built-in ramps which allow vehicles to be easily driven on and off. Vehicles are driven directly into the ship via an internal ramp system to multi-level decks, where they are securely lashed to the floor so they can’t budge an inch during their long ocean voyage.

Traditionally, Port Elizabeth-based automakers transported their vehicles to Gauteng by rail, and these rail assets returned to Port Elizabeth empty. Ford has engineered backhauls – using the return leg of the rail journey to transport export Rangers from Gauteng to Port Elizabeth – which both improves efficiencies and shortens delivery times. Rail is a practical and cost-effective solution for moving large numbers of vehicles using specially designed rail cars called auto racks.

“The cost of vehicle transport logistics, including pressure from rising fuel prices, is substantial enough to warrant constant attention and innovation,” says Berry. “We are continuously looking at ways to increase efficiency and drive costs down, to mitigate whatever happens in the economy and the supply base.”

It’s now 05:45 and Mthethwa climbs into the driver’s seat, honks the horn – a sound he’s loved since he was a little boy – and hits the gas, pointing the nose of his 18-wheeler to the main gate, towards the asphalt ribbon beyond. He takes a last swig of coffee, selects a favourite playlist, and looks forward to filling his lungs with balmy sea air when he reaches his destination.

Bakkies and Braais: Celebrating South African Heritage

September 2019

Heritage Day is a South African public holiday, celebrated on 24 September every year. But what exactly is South African heritage?

According to South African History Online: “When people talk about South African heritage, they might be referring to anything from famous stretches of coastline in KwaZulu-Natal, to shweshwe fabric, to Bunny Chow. Heritage is therefore something quite personal. Yet heritage also includes that which is part of the national consciousness.”

With that in mind, braais and bakkies, or barbeques and pickups as they are known elsewhere in the world, definitely form part of the latter – the braai is a much-loved national past-time, bringing families, friends and communities together for shared meals the country over; while the locally-built Ford Ranger is one of South Africa’s best-selling vehicles, proving just how much we, as a nation, love our bakkies.

This year, to commemorate the ubiquitous bakkie as a part of South Africa’s proud national heritage, Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa commissioned a team from its own Paint Shop at the Silverton Assembly Plant in Pretoria to #BringIt – by transforming a range-topping 2019 Ranger Wildtrak into a one-of-a-kind piece of mobile art.

From design concept to completion, using paint brushes, spray guns and 35 litres of automotive paint, it took a team of five artists, three sprayers, and one assembler a total of 650 hours – mainly outside of their regular shift work at the plant – to produce the finished artwork.

Adorned with a giant national flag stretching all the way from below the imposing grille, up and across the bonnet, then over the roof of the double cab, the vehicle’s tailgate is decorated with Ndebele tribal art and a map of South Africa showing the location of Ford’s plants in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape. The collages flanking both the driver and passenger sides of the vehicle depict an eclectic array of cultural artefacts and aspects of environmental significance to South Africa and its people, including proteas – our national flower – and ancient San rock art.

“It is a great privilege to be part of the team that worked on this incredible project, and delivering a product that every Ford employee from every cultural background can be proud of,” said Queeneth Buthelezi, who led the project.

“What stands out for me about this project is how it merges South Africa’s various cultural and heritage symbols and artefacts into one cohesive unit, just like how Ford brings together people from different backgrounds who work towards one common goal,” added Wiseman Mngadi.

Tebogo Mohlala’s skill with a paintbrush was acknowledged by his co-workers who commented on how life-like his zebras on the side of the Ranger were, while Thabiso Magane’s depiction of a Tsonga village gained the admiration of onlookers.

“The project was a great learning experience for me, and an opportunity to demonstrate my skills,” said Alana Jansen. “It validates my ability and competence as a woman in the automotive industry.”

“David Serithi and Given Manzini did the spray work on the flag,” said Johan Fourie, Paint Shop Area Manager. “The final process, which requires three layers of clear coat with some preparation in between, followed by two hours of baking for each layer, was done by Daniel Malinga, while Ben Manala was responsible for reassembling the vehicle. The result is absolutely fantastic, and there is no question that we have exceptional talent in our team.”

“I was awestruck when I saw what the employees at Ford’s Paint Shop had achieved with this project,” said Carl Buchling, Technical Site Manager, Axalta Coating Systems South Africa, who donated the paint. “I am glad that we were able to play a part in turning into a splendid reality the vision that the team had for this project.”

“I don’t think Henry Ford – who once famously said: ‘Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black’ – could ever, in his wildest dreams, have pictured how incredible all these colours on just one vehicle would be!” said Ockert Berry, VP Operations, Ford Middle East and Africa. “But we have no doubt that he would be immensely pleased with what we have achieved.”

Bakkies have come a long way since 1926 when Ford launched the Model T Runabout, which was the world’s first factory-built, mass-produced pickup. The Ranger, which is also one of South Africa’s biggest success stories in terms of vehicle exports, is a remarkably versatile vehicle. It is both stylish and rugged, providing the comfort and technology of a passenger car, with the benefits of a capable workhorse.

Unlike many art cars around the world, the Heritage Ranger is a fully functional vehicle, right off the same assembly line as all the other South African-built Ranger models, Ranger Raptor off-road performance pickups, and Everest sport utility vehicles. It has been fitted with a big 3.2-litre diesel heart, built on the same assembly line as all the other engines at Ford’s Struandale plant in Port Elizabeth.

“This very special Heritage Ranger is built for South Africans, by South Africans,” concluded Berry. “It is both a tribute to Ford’s proud 96-year manufacturing history locally, as well as a fitting representation of our nation’s rich heritage and diversity.”

The Raptor Warrior: Meet BirdLife SA’s Linda van den Heever

August 2019

Conservationist Linda van den Heever is the manager of BirdLife South Africa’s Vulture Project, which forms part of their Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme (TBCP). Her somewhat unusual line of work is not for the faint-hearted, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Working in conservation, you are confronted with the stark reality of humanity’s impact on nature on a daily basis, and sometimes it can be difficult not to get discouraged,” she says. “For example, we recently suffered the senseless loss of 28 vultures in Zululand, followed shortly thereafter by the gut-wrenching news that another 537 vultures – covering five different endangered and critically endangered species, had been poisoned in Botswana. And as this occurred during breeding season, the true magnitude of the losses will never be known, as many chicks will also be lost as a result of starvation or exposure.”

Passion and perseverance are key to surviving a career in conservation. “You just have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and soldier on,” she says. “And if you have what it takes to push through those dark days, it really is incredibly rewarding. For me, the idea of going back to the corporate world – where I started, is now unthinkable!”

From corporate world to conservation

A born-and-bred Joburger, after school Van den Heever went on to study at the then Rand Afrikaans University, now University of Johannesburg, obtaining BCom (Accounting) and BSc (Applied Mathematics) degrees. From there she embarked on a 15-year career in the corporate world, but deep in her heart she always knew she wanted to work in conservation. And so, in 2013, she left her job as sales manager at a direct marketing company specialising in the financial services industry, applied for a position as programme administrator at BirdLife SA’s TBCP, and resumed her studies. She subsequently went on to obtain BSc (Zoology) and BScHons (Zoology) degrees, from Unisa and University of Pretoria (UP) respectively, and will soon be adding an MSc (Zoology) degree from UP to her raft of academic qualifications. In 2016, she was promoted to manager of the Vulture Project, and it is here – at the thrilling intersection of scientific research and adrenaline-pumping field work – that she seems to have found her true métier.

“There is no average day, which is part of the reason I love my job so much,” she says. “When I’m at the office, I spend most of my time in meetings, writing reports and funding applications, reading scientific articles, analysing data, and planning research projects. When I’m in the field, you’ll find me sourcing samples from wild vultures for my research project, negotiating with farmers, giving presentations, riding around game farms to investigate infrastructure, travelling to remote areas to monitor vulture breeding colonies, or attending various task force meetings.”

Vulture culture

Vultures are truly fascinating birds. There are two types: New World vultures, found in the Western Hemisphere – North America and South America; and Old World vultures, found in the Eastern Hemisphere – Africa, Europe, and Asia. They are distinct from other raptors in that they are classified as obligate scavengers – relying predominantly on carrion, rather than birds of prey. A group of vultures in flight is called a kettle, a group of vultures resting in the trees or on the ground is called a committee, and a group of vultures feeding is called a wake.

These iconic birds, which feature prominently in ancient mythology, play a crucial role in ecosystems. By swiftly removing decomposing carcasses from the environment, they help prevent the spread of disease. Their digestive system is highly acidic, so it is able to neutralise the bacteria and other harmful organisms found in decaying flesh, and dense material like bone can be digested in under 24 hours.

Vultures poisoned to brink of extinction

Recent decades have seen an alarming decline in Africa’s vulture populations, with four of South Africa’s nine vulture species now regarded as critically endangered. Reasons for the increase in mortalities are numerous and complex. But being obligate scavengers, and therefore particularly susceptible to dietary toxins, poisoning is cited as the biggest contributing factor.

Intentional poisoning, often for the harvesting of vulture brains for use in ‘muti’, or traditional medicine, involves the lacing of poached animal carcasses. According to believers, smoking dried vulture brains can help with winning at the lottery or horse races, boosting exam performance, or luring more clients to a business. Secondary poisoning can occur from veterinary drugs, like diclofenac. And unintentional poisoning can happen through the accidental ingestion of spent lead ammunition.

Impact of lead toxicity in vultures

“Lead is a toxic heavy metal which serves no known biological function in any living organism,” says Van den Heever. “Its harmful effects on both human and animal health have been well-documented. In birds, lead exposure, even low-level chronic exposure, affects all the important biological pathways, including the cardiovascular, renal, hematopoietic, gastrointestinal, reproductive, and nervous systems.”

“Following a nationwide assessment of lead levels in our Critically Endangered White-backed Vulture population, we found that a significant proportion of the birds, including chicks, had elevated concentrations of lead in their blood and bones,” she adds. “In nest-bound chicks, this is from lead fragments which are regurgitated by their parents during feeding.”

Lead Task Team and Vulture Safe Zones

In partnership with multiple stakeholders, BirdLife SA is committed to finding and pursuing constructive solutions to mitigate the impacts of lead poisoning across all of Africa’s beleaguered vulture populations, and reverse their dramatic population declines.

Van den Heever serves on the national Lead Task Team, working closely with farmers and hunters to remove the threat of lead poisoning to vultures and other scavengers, by urging them to switch to non-lead alternatives. She also works on the Vulture Safe Zone project, helping land-owners to manage their properties in ways that are safe to vultures. Their work is currently taking place in Pongola, Mkuze, and Hluhluwe.

Ford Wildlife Foundation

“The sponsorship of a Ford Ranger double cab from the Ford Wildlife Foundation (FWF) has made a huge difference to our Vulture Project,” says Van den Heever. “My job frequently takes me to remote areas where the use of a sedan is impossible. The Ranger has taken me over impassable roads in Lesotho, northern Limpopo, and Zululand, and also carried me through deep sand and across dunes in the Kalahari. I wouldn’t be able to conduct my lead research, or implement the Vulture Safe Zone initiative without it.”

“Although our names are spelt slightly differently, Linda van den Heever and I are definitely cut from the same cloth when it comes to our passion for conservation,” says Lynda du Plessis, manager of FWF. FWF was established in 2014, but Ford has been actively involved in conservation efforts in Southern Africa for 30 years. “Linda is one of those inspiring ladies who epitomises the ethos of what we have fondly dubbed Ford’s #WomenWithDrive,” adds du Plessis. “And it really is such an honour for us to be able to support organisations like BirdLife SA, and their Vulture Project, through the use of our vehicles. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Linda and the rest of the team for all that they do to help stem the flow of vulture losses, and we wish them well in their ongoing efforts to give conservation wings.”

Ford and World Vision Introduce Innovative Water Generating Project for Drought-stricken Communities

June 2019

Drought-stricken communities in the Eastern Cape are set to benefit from an innovative mobile water generation project launched by World Vision South Africa, and funded by the Bill Ford Better World Challenge, the Ford Motor Company Fund and Ford Research and Advanced Engineering.

The Bill Ford Better World Challenge is jointly funded by company chairman Bill Ford and the Ford Fund – the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company. The Better World Challenge gives employees and non-profit organisations (NPOs) worldwide the opportunity to address critical concerns in their communities such as food, water, shelter and mobility, and to develop sustainable solutions to improve the quality of life for people in need.

World Vision South Africa is a winner of the 2018 Bill Ford Better World Challenge and was awarded a grant of $200 000 (approximately R2.8-million) for its pioneering concept to address the devastating drought affecting the Eastern Cape. Additional funding to the value of $130 000 (around R1.9-million) was awarded by Ford Research and Advanced Engineering.

World Vision South Africa was founded in 1967, and is part of the World Vision International Partnership that was created in the 1950s and currently operates in 100 countries, impacting over 200-million vulnerable children and tackling the root causes of poverty in the communities.

For this Ford-backed programme, the grants have been used to acquire an innovative Watergen water-from-air solution, imported from the US, which extracts clean and fresh drinking water from the air in an energy-efficient manner. They will also cover the operational costs of the project.

“We are delighted to officially launch this innovative project, thanks to the generous grants received from the Bill Ford Better World Challenge, Ford Motor Company Fund and Ford Research and Advanced Engineering,” says Chikondi Phiri, Officer in Charge, World Vision South Africa.

“The Eastern Cape has been severely impacted by drought in recent years, and the poorest communities are the hardest hit. Accordingly, the project will primarily focus on assisting schools, clinics and Early Childhood Development Centres (ECDs), as well as households where the need is greatest,” Phiri states.

According to World Vision SA, over the next two years the project will assist many of the 79 schools located in Uitenhage and KwaNobuhle, and will benefit at least four clinics in the area. A total of 50 ECDs will be assisted, along with an estimated 3 400 households.

Mounted on a custom-built heavy-duty double-axle trailer, the unit comprises a Watergen GEN-350 atmospheric water generator that is capable of producing up to 900 litres of water per day, powered by a diesel generator that ensures the system is completely mobile and can be operated in any location.

The rig is towed to sites around Nelson Mandela Bay by the team from World Vision South Africa with a Ford Ranger 2.2 TDCi XL Double Cab that was acquired from Eastern Cape Motors Ford North End in Port Elizabeth.

“Ford is committed to supporting the communities in which we operate through a wide range of volunteer programmes, and through grants awarded by the Ford Motor Company Fund,” says Neale Hill, MD of Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa.

“Water is a basic and essential human need, and the World Vision project comes at the perfect time to address the drought that has heavily impacted the Eastern Cape and Nelson Mandela Bay recently. We commend the World Vision team for submitting this fantastic concept to the Bill Ford Better World Challenge last year, and are proud to have it selected as one of the two global winning projects for 2018.

“We look forward to seeing the positive impact this water-generating initiative will have on the communities and organisations that need it most, and Ford is honoured to be associated with World Vision as it makes a real difference in peoples’ lives,” Hill adds.

Water from air

Watergen was founded in 2009 and is led by a team of experts with decades of experience in the water, environmental, engineering and healthcare fields.

The company’s patented GENius atmospheric water-generating technology uses the humidity in the air to create clean and fresh drinking water. The system was developed to provide safe drinking water in remote areas, as well as to support relief efforts following natural disasters.

The GEN-350 is Watergen’s medium-scale mobile unit that can be used indoors or outdoors, and is able to produce up to 900 litres of water per day. The system includes multi-media air filtration to ensure the water it generates is of the highest standard, regardless of air quality.

It uses integrated water purification technology, comprising sediment filtration, mineralisation, activated carbon and microbiological treatment to guarantee the water is always clean and safe for drinking. The system includes a built-in internal reservoir with continuous treatment that circulates the water to keep it fresh and great tasting.

Watergen systems have been successfully deployed in Asia, Latin America, Africa and North America, in particular in the United States. The company has earned numerous international awards, including the CES 2019 Best of Innovation award for Tech for a Better World, and as an honouree for Best Home Appliance. Watergen was selected as a 2018 World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer.

Ford’s Plans for Drone-to-vehicle Technology

May 2018

Ford wants to unlock the full potential of drone-to-vehicle technology, to see the use of commercial drones as companion tools to vehicles.

The car manufacturer’s drone-to-vehicle technology would allow drone operators the convenience of being able to launch, fly, and dock drones from the safety and comfort of their vehicles on a job site.

Ford is the only automaker on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Rulemaking Committee, and a proactive participant in the regulatory conversation around the integration of drones into civil aviation airspace.

How it would work

By accessing an app projected through Ford’s integrated SYNC 3 communications and entertainment system, the vehicle would serve as a mobile base station, facilitating a real-time link between the vehicle, the drone, and the cloud, so data could be shared. For quick and affordable inspection and monitoring, surveying and mapping, data collection and imaging, the scope for commercial applications of drone-to-vehicle technology is endless.The South African Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) requires drone operators to be fully licensed before flying commercially. A Remote Pilot’s Licence (RPL) from a fully accredited CAA training academy, an Air Service Licence (ASL) from the Department of Transport, and a Remote Operator’s Certificate (ROC) from the CAA itself are all non-negotiable.

Says Sean Reitz, CEO of United Drone Holdings, and the CAA-accredited RPAS Training Academy which educates and trains newcomers to the drone industry, whilst assisting to create employment opportunities: “While we do have comprehensive regulations regarding the use of commercial drones, they are considered highly restrictive, with only 22 ROCs issued by the CAA to date.”

“There are several converging factors that will allow for growth and development of the commercial drone industry, with the most important one being the wider adoption of BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) operations. This is where the real value of drones in South Africa will be demonstrated,” says Reitz.

Up until now, there wasn’t a way to identify and track drones in flight, BVLOS. Ford colleagues John Luo, manager of emerging technology integration and wireless connectivity, and Adi Singh, principal scientist of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems, made a recent proposal to the FAA which could become a game changer.

Patent-pending idea

Every drone registered with the FAA is given a 10-digit number, which acts like a vehicle’s licence plate. This patent-pending idea is to use the anti-collision lights on the drone to broadcast the drone’s unique number, to be captured and interpreted by a camera-based app that’s been developed.

The decoding algorithms can be run on a standard smartphone, which would enable anyone to identify and report a drone operating where it shouldn’t be, making it easier for aviation authorities to track rogue drones.

It remains to be seen whether the FAA will adopt Luo and Singh’s recommendation.

I wrote the copy for the below B2B advertorial for my client, Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa. It was published (in print and online) as part of a special Sunday Times ‘Made in SA’ supplement, on 29 April 2018. I was solely responsible for the brainstorming and ideation, research and fact-checking, as well as editing and proofreading of this piece.

Wired up! SA Man Builds 1967 Classic Ford Mustang from the Ground

December 2017

Thirty-three years after the first 1967 Ford Mustang GT500 rolled off the production line, a vamped-up Hollywood version of the ’67 classic hit the big screen, in the remake of ‘Gone in Sixty Seconds’, starring Nicholas Cage and Angelina Jolie.

Not only did this now-legendary movie inspire a whole new generation of petrolheads, it advanced the status of the ‘Eleanor’ Mustang to one of the most recognisable and coveted muscle cars on the planet. 

Fast forward to 2017, and Lesotho-born, South African resident Conty Fonane unveiled his own ode to the same ’67 classic – a life-sized sculpture fashioned almost entirely out of wire. 

Fonane is no Andy Warhol. He doesn’t have a ‘factory’ of assistants helping him to produce his artworks. Fonane is a humble one-man show, a solopreneur, who does everything himself. The technical skill required to build a life-size Mustang out of wire is not to be under-estimated; it’s not something you learn overnight. Fonane had been sculpting smaller wire cars for more than a decade before he levelled-up to this grand scale.

His love affair with Ford goes back to his childhood. “I have always been into Ford. I love Ford. For the speed and the sounds,” he says. Reflecting on the start of his career: “I remember my father talking about cars almost every day. He would show me pictures, and tell me about the engineering, and explain how cars were hand-built. This inspired me.” 

Realising the commercial value of his talent for wire art, combined with his passion for all things automotive, he started building small wire models which he sold to car dealerships.

“When I started making these wire cars, I thought that I’m just trying to sell them to make money so that I can find myself working in a car company, or being a car designer. But it continued until it started being a business.” People sat up and took notice, and the commissions started arriving.

Fonane built his Mustang at the Creative Rides showroom floor in Bryanston, Johannesburg. He worked every day, Monday to Friday, for seven months on the car. More than 1120 hours of labour and R180 000 of raw materials later, his creation was complete. The final sculpture, consisting of stainless steel wire, aluminium tubing, and a set of real rubber tyres, weighs a whopping 400kg, and requires a trailer to be transported anywhere.

The build was a challenge, demanding a great deal of stamina to see the project through. 

Calculations, measurements, cutting, bending, binding, welding … it was like walking the Great Wall of China, back and forth, barefoot!” says Fonane. “The car wanted to fight back, telling me: ‘Conty, you can’t make me!’ But I saw my hands shaping it, and I started falling in love with it. And I told the car: ‘I will make you, because I am in love with you.’ That’s how it worked.”

The distinctive proportions of the Mustang, after which the ‘pony car’ class of American muscle cars was named, are replicated in Fonane’s sporty coupé. The long hood and compact rear, combined with intricate interior details, are faithful to the original 1967 model. It has a wire V8 engine, pistons, gearbox, brakes, clutch, working hinges on the doors, seats you can sit in, and even a steering wheel that can turn. Pure art in motion. “Once you are inside the car, you can have fun in it,” says Fonane. “It’s quite comfortable.”

It is through the vision and dedication of wire artists like Fonane that a simple craft, originating in the townships and rural areas, has been elevated to a respected contemporary art form in its own right. What was once only sold on street corners, at flea markets, and in souvenir shops, is now bona fide art, worthy of display in showrooms, boutiques, galleries, museums, and corporate collections.

Artist Bio