Ford Enters Esports Arena

Written for and first published by Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa on 30 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 for two simcade games

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, the automaker’s very own esports team.

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 built five Fordzilla national teams – in 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 from which players can choose, it’s the brand new and exclusively virtual race car, codenamed #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 #TeamFordzillaP1 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 design of ultimate virtual track machine 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 Team Fordzilla sourced via a series of Twitter polls around key design attributes – from engine 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 that they have left half blank and ready for you to complete, as well as some activities, like dot to dot and paint by numbers, to coax out your inner child, there’s bound to be something that catches your fancy and will keep you busy for a couple of hours.

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

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Rally To Bridge Literacy Gap

Written for and first published by Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa on 13 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 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 Brand 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. Then each of the schools is 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 bakkies, 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.

Roadkill Saves Lives

Written for and first published by Ford Wildlife Foundation on 19 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).

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.”

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 or the EWT’s Road Watch app, this helps expand the geographic scope of our study.”

Implications Of South Africa’s Brain Drain

Written for and first published by PPS on 22 May 2019


The number of skilled professionals committed to a career in South Africa is diminishing, while the demand for their expertise is not.

Emigration is a complex and expensive process, which means that it’s generally top talent – skilled doctors, accountants, lawyers, engineers, corporate employees, and successful entrepreneurs – who both qualify and have the financial means to leave. Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the UAE, UK, and USA continue to be the destinations of choice.

So what are the implications of a professional migration trend on a developing nation?

Scatterlings of Africa bodes ill for healthy economy

Skilled professionals play a critical role in the working environment and shaping of SA’s future. They are usually the highest earners, and therefore the most significant contributors to the country’s tax revenue. As the pool of top talent contracts, so too does the revenue obtained by the South African Revenue Service (SARS). The long-term effects of this ongoing erosion of the country’s human resources and endowments should be of considerable concern to every citizen who wants to build a sustainable future.

Revealing insights from PPS Graduate Professional Index

The Professional Provident Society (PPS) is a local financial services provider focused exclusively on providing the right financial solutions to graduate professionals.

In January 2019, PPS conducted an independent survey of 5,837 members to gauge their perceptions of a number of issues affecting their professions, both now and in the near future.

Graduate professionals working across the Accounting, Dental, Engineering, Legal, Medical, Pharmaceutical, and other sectors were polled, and the findings of the survey shed light on many of the push and pull factors they take into consideration when thinking about emigrating.

Push and pull factors for professionals considering emigration

The majority of respondents (68%) felt confident in the future of their profession over the next five years. The most confident were accountants (86%), ‘other’ professionals (80%), and legal professionals (65%), followed by engineers (60%) and pharmacists (60%). The least confident were medical professionals (56%) and dentists (47%). Factors which positively influenced this confidence were financial viability (35%) and regulations (23%). Factors which negatively influenced this confidence were political issues (43%) and economic conditions (27%).

The majority of respondents (71%) would encourage matriculants to enter their respective professions. 89% of accountants would encourage matriculants, followed by 80% of engineers, 79% of ‘other’ professionals, 59% of pharmacists, and 56% of medical professionals. The main reasons for positively influencing this recommendation is that the skills are needed in SA (51%), and the profession is personally rewarding (35%). Only 9% stated financial rewards as a reason. The factors which negatively influenced recommendations were the belief that other professions may be more desirable (33%), there are no job opportunities in the profession (20%), and the profession is not financially rewarding (20%). In the case of dentists, the major negative was that it is not financially viable (38%). The major negative for engineers was the lack of job opportunities (36%).

When asked about the state of youth unemployment, 36% of respondents thought this was a problem which government must solve, and 30% believed that their professional associations were also looking for solutions. 42% suggested that skilled professionals cannot find appropriate jobs and are moving overseas. The largest percentage who felt this way were engineers (51%).

22% of respondents felt that professionals were overworked due to staff shortages. The largest percentage who felt this way were pharmacists (34%) and medical professionals (33%).

42% of respondents believed that millennials in the workplace needed a different leadership style, and companies should adopt new ways of working. 17% suggested that millennials are not as hard working as previous generations. Only 12% thought that maths and science standards had been improved to enable people to enter their professions.

Main findings for each of the professions

Lawyers

84% of respondents were concerned about how state governance could impact the future of the legal profession over the next 12 months.

Doctors

73% of respondents felt that a large number of medical professionals are depressed and suffering burnout, due to long hours (38%) and poor working conditions (23%).

72% did not think that the National Health Insurance (NHI) will improve the sustainability of the profession. When asked what can be done to improve the healthcare system in SA, 26% mentioned anti-corruption and better management of funds, and 12% suggested adequate staffing based on merit, not race.

When asked what can be done to encourage doctors to stay in SA rather than move abroad, 33% thought that the socio-economic situation needs to be improved, 30% suggested better working conditions, and 19% suggested better salaries and incentives.

47% were of the opinion that the deployment of newly qualified doctors to rural areas had improved access to healthcare in general. But 23% believed that this policy had discouraged individuals from entering the profession.

Engineers

78% of respondents thought there had been a decline in engineering project opportunities. And 76% were of the opinion that the government’s strategic integrated projects programme not being realised has affected them a great deal.

Dentists

54% of respondents were of the opinion that the NHI will increase access to dental services, and 58% thought they could be under threat from big corporates offering dentistry. 87% thought that technological advancements have positively influenced their ability to treat patients, but 66% thought it was difficult to get funding for specialised equipment. 55% thought there was a skills shortage facing the industry.

Pharmacists

66% of respondents thought that access to pharmaceutical services had improved over the past 20 years, but 62% thought there was a skills shortage facing the industry. 93% viewed their client interaction as an opportunity to educate the community about medicine, but 88% thought big chains were drowning the community pharmacist. 86% did not think the NHI adequately addresses pharmacists.

Accountants

35% of respondents were of the opinion that the current reputational issues are negatively impacting their profession. 59% did not believe that graduates are adequately equipped for the job and require further training, and 69% believed that there are adequate training opportunities for accountant graduates. The major issues to be addressed by the profession over the next 12 months include improved governance, integrity and transparency (55%), and innovation/technology (25%). 33% claimed to be assisting with improvements to the profession.

What government can do to stem the brain drain

The origins of the professional emigration phenomenon are many and varied, but most fall somewhere on the socio-economic-political spectrum. The majority seem to be directly tied to the political upheaval of the last decade, the effect it has had on the economy, and uncertainty around the future for SA. Those who decide to emigrate haven’t made a snap decision. Most have been toying with the idea for years, but current affairs often push them to make that final call.

The future of SA cannot be compromised by populist policies, which are not sustainable. The current NHI legislation, for example, which caps fees that doctors can charge for private healthcare, will almost certainly result in a mass exodus of medical professionals for greener pastures. This will have a knock-on effect for other skilled professions, because once the doctors leave, then other professionals who can afford to leave will follow suit, as they want quality healthcare for their children.

Government needs to get its house in order, and focus on bringing stability to the economy. With stability comes investor confidence, and with more foreign direct investments, SA can grow its economy.

What business can do to retain top talent

Because of the brain drain, there is less of a concentration of talent. And herein lies an incredible opportunity for skilled professionals to carve out a niche for themselves. But companies need to make their jobs, and in turn the country, worth staying for. When a company acknowledges its people with financial rewards and opportunities for growth, and genuinely understands the need for a healthy work/life balance, there is less of an inclination to look for work elsewhere.

“Right now there is a window of opportunity which SA needs to take advantage of if we want to turn things around before it’s too late,” says Motshabi Nomvete, Head of  Technical Marketing at PPS. “If government and business can work together to create a mutually beneficial and viable platform for opportunity and success, then we will increasingly see more skilled professionals wanting, and choosing to stay. And once we reach a tipping point, not only will we stop the brain drain, it could actually start reversing.”

The Birds And The Bees

Series of three consecutive articles written for and first published by Caxton Community Newspapers in July 2015


12- to 15-year-olds can now have sex

According to a Government Gazette Notice released on 7 July 2015, Parliament has amended the law so that the full range of sexual activities, including penetrative intercourse between two children aged 12 to 15, or between a child under 16 and another child over 16 where the age difference is less than two years, is no longer a crime.

These changes to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill were adopted by the National Assembly in June.

Previously, provisions in the Sexual Offences Act criminalised children who engaged in any consensual sexual activities, including French kissing. As it stood, any individual such as a parent, health worker, or teacher, who had knowledge of any consensual sexual activity between children aged 12 to 16, was required by law to report the children or face prosecution. If found guilty, the children would have their names included on the National Sex Offenders Register.

“Amendments to the bill are not about promoting or encouraging sexual activity between children,” explained Zane Dangor, special advisor to the Minister of Social Development RSA. He was part of a panel discussion on ‘Consent, Rights, and the Regulation of Childhood and Adolescent Sexuality in South Africa’, which was held at Wits University in Braamfontein on 15 July.

“Amendments to the bill are about the Constitutional Court’s decision, that the so-called ‘kissing law’ infringed on the constitutional rights of children,” he said. “Criminalisation of sexual activities between consenting children is considered an unjustified intrusion of control into the private sphere of children’s personal relationships. Children have the right to seek pleasure. Children also have the right to dignity, privacy, freedom, and access to health services.”

“It must be stressed, however, that amendments to the bill do not lower the age of consent,” he continued. “The age of consent in South Africa remains 16. If a child under the age of 16 consents to penetrative intercourse with another child over the age of 16 where the age difference is more than two years, both parties are guilty of a section 16 offence.”

The State does have discretion on whether or not to prosecute cases of statutory rape and, in most cases, will exercise restraint. It was found that rather than conviction and sentencing, diversion usually occurred, which resulted in the child carrying the burden of a criminal record. The frequent exposure of the child to the criminal justice system through police and courts during this whole process was also deemed traumatic and harmful to the child’s development.


Demystifying the reasoning behind the decriminalisation of sex between 12- to 15-year-olds

On 15 July, the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) hosted a seminar on ‘Consent, Rights, and the Regulation of Childhood and Adolescent Sexuality in South Africa’, in the Richard Ward Building on the East Campus.

Chaired by WISER’s Lisa Vetten, the panel examined recent amendments to the law decriminalising consensual sex between two children aged 12 to 15, or between a child under 16 and another child over 16 where the age difference is less than two years.

Above: Lisa Vetten (WISER) chairs a panel discussion on ‘Consent, Rights, and the Regulation of Childhood and Adolescent Sexuality in South Africa’. Image: Paula Gruben.

Sarah Duff from WISER spoke on the history of children’s sexual socialisation. “In the past, there were sanctions against pregnancy out of wedlock,” she said. “Young, unmarried mothers were stigmatised, ostracised, and used as scapegoats. Now the anxiety and blame among moralists has shifted, from unmarried mothers to pregnant teens.”

Above: Sarah Duff (WISER) explains that the term ‘teenager’ was only coined in the 1920s, and that definitions of childhood, adolescence, and sexuality have changed over time. Image: Paula Gruben.

“The thought of children being sexual agents makes adults uncomfortable, so we try to wish it away,” said Deevia Bhana from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, speaking on the dynamics of children’s gendered and sexual culture. “But when it comes to sex, we need to acknowledge that children know more than we (like to) think they know. There is this assumption of ‘childhood innocence’, and the belief that children need punitive parenting in order to raise morally continent adults. But we need to contextualise our sexual moral panic.”

“The same way we cannot demonise members of the LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, and allies) community simply because they present with ‘non-normative’ sexualities, we cannot criminalise children for being sexual agents,” she added. “This results in children not admitting to their own sexual agency, because they fear being perceived as ‘contaminated’.”

Above: Deevia Bhana (University of KZN) says that the same way we cannot demonise members of the LGBTQIA community because they present with ‘non-normative’ sexualities, we cannot criminalise children for being sexual agents. Image: Paula Gruben.

Nolwazi Mkwanazi from the Wits Anthropology Department spoke on the politics of reproduction and early child bearing. “Although the rate of teen pregnancies in SA is high, it has not increased,” she said. “It is just more visible in schools now, because the girls cannot be expelled, as was common practice in the past. That said, the school environment for pregnant girls is often a hostile one. One third of these girls do not complete their education.”

“The environment at many family planning and abortion clinics can also be a hostile one,” she added. “Nurses often chastise young girls for seeking contraception and termination services, with many nurses refusing to perform abortions on the grounds of conscientious objection, and fear of being stigmatised in the community. This leads to the girls’ late announcements of their pregnancies – beyond the time-frame in which they can request a legal termination, which has resulted in an increasing number of girls seeking out the services of backstreet practitioners. Fifty per cent of abortions among 13- to 19-year-olds are performed illegally, because the girls know they will not be turned away, and that it will remain confidential.”

Above: Nolwazi Mkwanazi (Wits Anthropology Department) explains common problems faced by young girls when trying to access contraceptive or termination services at clinics. Image: Paula Gruben.

Speaking on legislating children’s sexual practices, Zane Dangor, special advisor to the Minister of Social Development RSA, explained that the widely held belief of teenage girls having babies to access child support grants is a fallacy. “There is no supporting evidence; most women who access these grants are actually in their thirties,” he said.

“The Department is busy working on a compulsory Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) programme, to be incorporated into the Life Orientation (LO) curriculum at schools,” he added. “The cornerstone of our strategy is to address the issue of responsible childhood sexual activity. The onus is on adults to educate children. We need to inculcate their rights and responsibilities as sexually active citizens. Denial of childhood sexuality and failure of sexual socialisation is at the root of children fearing opening up to adults, and not seeking help or advice from the appropriate sources. But we cannot do this alone. Youth educators, health practitioners, parents and caregivers all need to be more accessible and accountable.”

Above: Zane Dangor (Department of Social Development) explains the difference between puberty and adolescence – the former being a process of physical maturation, the latter being a stage of psychological maturation. Although both typically occur in the teenage years (13–19), they can begin earlier or end later. Image: Paula Gruben.


Crisis pregnancy options – know your rights

The National Adoption Coalition of South Africa (NACSA) launched the ‘Choose to Care’ crisis pregnancy awareness campaign in June 2015, to offer support and guidance to teenage girls and women facing an unplanned pregnancy.

“Our aim is to help women and girls explore all their options and receive the best professional advice in order to make wise choices for themselves and their unborn babies,” said Dee Blackie, a strategic business and brand consultant, and child protection activist who has worked extensively in social development.

“Prior to a recent amendment to the Sexual Offenders Act decriminalising consensual sex between 12- to 15-year-olds, the Act was used as a punitive tool by some authorities to demonise and punish teenage girls for falling pregnant, placing the blame solely on their shoulders,” she explained. “But a recent survey on teen pregnancies found that one in three of these girls reported their first act of intercourse as being ‘non-consensual’. So, given the high levels of sexual abuse, rape, and coercion of girls in South Africa, the amendment has been well considered.”

The problem, Blackie believes, now lies with the fact that a 12-year-old girl can legally have consensual sex, fall pregnant, and request a termination if she so wishes. But, should this 12-year-old choose to carry the baby to term, she can only sign consent to the adoption of that child when she, the mother, turns 18. Until then, she needs her own parents’ consent, and many teenage girls don’t want their parents to even know about their pregnancies, let alone having to ask their permission to relinquish the baby.

“There needs to be a change to legislation allowing 12-year-olds the same option to adoption as they have to abortion,” said Blackie.

In South Africa, termination of pregnancy (TOP) up to 20 weeks gestation is every woman’s legal right, regardless of her age.

Marie Stopes South Africa is the country’s largest non-profit provider of reproductive healthcare services, and currently provides safe, legal abortions at 14 centres across seven provinces. Their work is strictly governed by the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act.

“Challenges of access and stigma are the two main drivers of young girls seeking out unsafe, backstreet abortions,” said Andrea Thompson, advocacy and engagement manager for Marie Stopes SA. “Here we are passionately pro-choice. If the girl seeking TOP services is young, we do advise her to talk to a trusted adult, and ask someone to accompany her to the centre for her appointment. But this is not required. A girl should never be denied an abortion because of her age.”

“Although designated providers in the public sector can refuse to provide TOP services on the grounds of conscientious objection, they do have a legal and an ethical right to refer a girl to a facility where she can have the procedure done,” she concluded.