By Isabel Nuesse

Over the last week, massive protests have  broken out in South Africa. It began with calls against the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma. He was sentenced to 15 months of imprisonment for contempt of court after an inquiry looking to a wide-range of allegations of corruption during his 9-year tenure from 2009 to 2018. 

Zuma faces 16 charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering related to the 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military gear from five European arms firms when he was president. Supporters of Zuma vehemently oppose his imprisonment and have taken to the streets to protest his arrest. However, events have quickly escalated to encapsulate greater issues of poverty and inequality,.  People are frustrated, and demanding government action. 

What is unfolding in South Africa is not unique, however. The ongoing insurgence in Nigeria, the ethnic-based calls for self-determination in Myanmar, the assassination of the state president in Haiti, and recent anti-government strikes in Cuba– social unrest is sparking all over the world.

What’s the root of this?

A call for democracy? Social equity?

I spoke with two WEAll members Xola Keswa and Lebohang Liepollo Pheko about their thoughts and experiences as South Africans during this time. I wanted to understand how this current disruption speaks to the larger picture of social unrest globally.

Xola explained that the uprisings initially began when supporters of former president Zuma began protesting his indictment. But as the citizen action grew, so did the scope of the frustrations. South Africans began to speak to issues stemming from COVID-19 restrictions, vaccination roll out, foreign investment deals, healthcare access, food shortages and general economic insecurity. 

As it stands, more than half of the South African population lives in poverty. Unemployment is more than 32%– and South Africa holds the classification of being the most unequal country in the world, with a Gini coefficient of 63. As Liepollo said: “The dye and stitching branding South Africa as a rainbow nation is coming apart.” She adds: “This is about the crisis within the crisis.”

On the ground, people are desperate. Xola shared the urgency of what he’s seeing: 

“What’s happening in South Africa is becoming a free for all. People are looting because they don’t know when they’re going to get their next meal. They were already hungry.” 

“Once the food they looted is out, it won’t be replaced again.” 

The chaos is resurfacing the undertones of apartheid. Since Nelson Mandela was elected in 1994, the African National Congress (ANC) has remained in power. However, while in power, their policies have not really dismantled the oppressive economic structures of apartheid. “The ANC has a lot to answer for. There is always room to renegotiate. Always room to say no,” Liepollo said. The theory stands that if you have enough foreign direct investment, control currencies and interest rates, and do the things meant to constrict state involvement in the economy, the market will function and redistribute the wealth itself. However, these  things are not true. Yet transnational corporations and subscription to the ‘trickle down theory’ is still pervasive in South African politics. Liepollo urges the government to stop accepting this as the status  quo. When these deals continue to perpetuate inequality in South Africa it leaves a total lack of accountability and erodes the faith in South African democracy.

As a result, people are taking to the streets. They feel that the ANC has not adequately delivered on the promises that they’ve made over the last 24 years. South Africans are tired. 

And as Liepollo mentioned: “There is a much deeper narrative with how states behave when they are deemed to have power over people. While South Africa is run by African people, there is an inherent radicalized disdain for black bodies.”

Which further perpetuates the historical context of racism and white power in South Africa.

 “Race is the red herring,” Liepollo said,  “We need to stop treating this as a civil rights issue. It diminishes the toxicity of white supremacy. It’s been 350 years of white supremacy. It’s ongoing.” People are looking for accountability and support from the government in South Africa, but little action has been shown.

How and why is this relevant for wherever you are in the world?

Social unrest is bubbling up in many places around the world. Power dynamics are shifting. Brexit illustrates this change. Trump’s presidency also illustrates this change. Western centralized power is weakening. The unrest in South Africa isn’t unrelated to what played out  in the United States last year following the death of George Floyd.

From the convoluted language defining ‘protests’ vs. ‘riots’ to the excessive force of military intervention, parallels can be made. Liepollo pointed out: “It’s regrettable and reprehensible that more people in the US aren’t making these connections. There are many more links to be made.”

Xola stressed: “We need to become real. The situation is real. Right now the eyes are on South Africa, but just a couple of months ago we were looking at Israel.” He continues: “We need to act as if the world is collapsing, even if it’s peaceful where you are. Act as if we’re in a state of emergency because the problem isn’t what we think it is.”

Until there are major shifts in power, resources, and land, social upheaval will continue to take place. Until the world begins to make links between economic success and social and emotional wellbeing, this will continue to happen. These things can no longer be divorced from one another. As Liepollo warns: “We have to be very careful – particularly the global north. These sorts of insurrections and fault lines will continue to manifest.”

By Xola Keswa

Today, Africa has the youngest population in the world. Why is this important to note? Because the Earth is inherited by the young people of the world. Today, young Africans are not faced with the same threats that threatened their ancestors such as lions or other wild animals. Instead, we face our biggest existential threat ever: climate change.

Africa’s main environmental challenge is to mitigate the effects of climate change, as due to Africa’s size and position, it will be the most impacted.

This problem should and will initiate creative and dynamic solutions that young Africans will create. 

Africans have an innate knack for creating tools, techniques, and methods that help mankind survive. The technologies they discovered thousands of years ago to help survive amongst dangerous creatures in the Savanna of Africa, are still in use now within African traditions and customs. These technologies are how Africa is able to support a large population of about 1.6 billion people.

The innovation that helps sustain Africa today, is the same thing which will ensure her continued survival – and that of the world – through climate change.

Green Technology Innovation in Africa

Groundbreaking science research has been happening in Africa in the field of medicine, much of which is based on indigenous knowledge systems on natural flora and fauna. Much of that research by universities from western countries has been transferred to startup companies in Europe and the US, which have gone on to become successful in competitive pharmaceutical markets. 

Due to emerging policies such as the European Green Deal, companies in the Global North will ultimately need to seek alternative sources for investments in innovations in green technology. I propose that foreign investors start to actively invest in research and development for sustainable green technologies in African countries in the same way that they are investing in pharmaceuticals.

Especially within the area of innovation relating to waste and a circular economy, we have become very good at turning waste into upcycled and redesigned products.

These countries can learn a lot from Africa, “the world’s dumping grounds”. 

A good example of green technology innovation in Africa is the tippy tap. Many rural areas in Africa don’t have running water from a tap. So, naturally, innovative young Africans found a way around that. They ensured that there is a tap close to homes by making a tap using upcycled materials i.e. old plastic bottles.

 The hands-free design means bacteria is not transferred between users. 
The tippy tap is low cost – it can be made with local, salvaged materials.

A Fair Process of Technology Transfer

I’d now like to introduce myself. My name is Xola Keswa and I am from South Africa. I am a 27 year old environmental and social entrepreneur. I founded my own startup, Organic Matters in 2014, during an internship at Schools Environmental Education Development (SEED).

In 2019, I was selected to participate in international policy and practice research research programme at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Global Risk Governance Programme, in cooperation with the South African urban food and farming trust. Through their outreach programme, The Environmental Entrepreneurs Support Initiative, I received philanthropy funding and access to resources and support centres. 

Following this research, my startup Organic Matters created a horticultural technology within the UCT Global Risk Governance Programme in partnership with a German University, called the ‘self-watering raised bed’. 

The self-watering raised bed relies on wicking so that the plants draw up only the water that they need and none is wasted. You only need to fill up the water reservoir once a week. This technology can be adapted for use within both urban areas and peri-urban areas to mitigate climate change.

I want to help the less fortunate to at least grow their own vegetables, made out of recycled material – to help people become resilient and self-sustainable during these difficult times.

In September, EnsAfrica Africa’s largest law firm facilitated the ‘transfer of technology’, which is an academic term meaning that research and development created in universities is released from the institution for commercialisation.

Now, I own the intellectual property for the self-watering raised bed, meaning that I can retain the value of African innovation in Africa. But my experience is not the norm for young innovators in Africa.

Protecting African Intellectual Property

In the case of the tippy tap, and many others, young Africans are barely aware that they are inventing a method and a product. This is a big problem because these young people are unaware of the legal system and the opportunity to learn from experts to improve and market their products.

I see this as a contributing factor for Africans always finding themselves behind.

Instead, international organisations and universities usually come and extract information from Africa innovators through research, and take it back to Western countries to undergo R&D, create startups, and make licensing agreements. These organisations make a huge profit from such innovations. The Khoisan Hoodia, is an example of what I’m talking about. Research based on the use of the hoodia cactus in African traditional medicine was developed as a potential cure for obesity and taken to the USA and the UK, where patent applications were filed and accredited to western Pharmaceutical companies.

In a just transition, intellectual property would be protected from the very beginning of the creation of knowledge in Africa. 

Let’s say a few students conduct research in Africa and create a product. In a just transition, the research should be left in Africa and developed in partnership with its original creators. When the product is developed to the point that it can reach the market, intellectual property rights should be allocated to the relevant person or people who contributed to it from Africa. When royalties are negotiated or letters of intent are drawn up by third parties, young Africans should be listed and acknowledged. This in turn will ensure sharing of useful technology in the world that can improve the wellbeing of people and planet.

Young Africans should be given access to mentorship and support from European and North American countries, to make sure that they understand the protocol of intellectual property law. They should be supported to push their innovations into the mainstream market. This can happen in various different ways in the agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and telecommunications sectors. 

Looking Ahead

For two years, while I conducted my research at UTC in and around Cape Town, South Africa, using community based approaches, I would often encounter broken communities, plagued by gang violence and high crime rates. 

I came to realise that, much the same way as schools and business centres have helped me learn and become creative, with the right support in terms of mentorship and information, Africans from any background are capable of creating much-needed innovations. 

If given a fair opportunity, young Africans can play a major role in creating greener, circular, and more wellbeing-focused economies worldwide. 

Wellbeing Economy Correspondents is a series highlighting the firsthand experiences of individuals who have witnessed Wellbeing Economy principles, practices, and policies being implemented in all different contexts around the world. Our correspondents support WEAll’s mission to establish that a Wellbeing Economy is not only a desirable goal, but also an entirely viable one.

By Lisa Hough-Stewart

The city of Amsterdam recently unveiled its new Amsterdam City Doughnut, which Doughnut Economics author and WEAll Ambassador Kate Raworth describes as “taking the global concept of the Doughnut and turns it into a tool for transformative action in the city of Amsterdam.”

Doughnut Economics is a book full of ideas for 21st century economies and since it was first launched in 2017 many people – from teachers, artists and community organisers to city officials, business leaders and politicians – have said they want to put the ideas into practice, indeed they are already doing it.

The iconic Doughnut framework sets a goal of operating within safe social and planetary boundaries. It is a playfully serious approach to framing that challenge, and it acts as a compass for human progress this century.

Kate and her team we are launching Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL) to help make this happen. The start-up team is currently working on building a collaborative platform so that this emerging community of changemakers can connect, share, inspire and get inspired, with all the different ways that people are putting the ideas of Doughnut Economics into action.

As well as Amsterdam’s Doughnut, there are already other Doughnuts out there – and this period of great change, transformation and recovery is the perfect time to revisit them.

Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics work began during her time at Oxfam, and the NGO has developed Doughnut frameworks and tools for Wales, Scotland, the UK and South Africa.

Indeed, Oxfam Cymru has recently published a new Welsh Doughnut 2020  – great timing, as the Welsh Government has just joined the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership. 

The Welsh Doughnut 2020 offers many insights into the current situation in Wales and where the government and others could prioritise in order to work towards building a wellbeing economy.

Oxfam Cymru


If you’re interested in exploring a Doughnut framework where you are, you can let the Doughnut Economics Action Lab know by filling in this short form.

In the meantime, check out the rich resources that are the existing Doughnuts – and if you’re working on building a wellbeing economy of those locations, make sure that decision makers are aware of the Doughnut analysis that’s already been carried out.

Header image: Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels

Innovative economist, broadcaster and WEAll Ambassador Ayabonga Cawe, has been appointed as one of the 18 members of South Africa’s new Economic Advisory Council.

According to The Citizen, the new Presidential Economic Advisory Council will: “ensure greater coherence and consistency in the implementation of economic policy and ensure that government and society, in general, are better equipped to respond to changing economic circumstances”.

The new economic advisory council is also intended to build a capable state.

According to the formal announcement, the council will be chaired by the president, will meet every quarter, and will receive support from National Treasury and existing economic research structures. The announcement states that the new council will engage with the existing National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).

As an aside, Nedlac was established as “the vehicle by which government, labour, business and community organisations seek to cooperate, through problem-solving and negotiation, on economic, labour and development issues and related challenges facing the country”.

More about Aya

Ayabonga Cawe is a Johannesburg based development economist, columnist, radio presenter, photographer and activist.

He is Managing Director of a platform involved in advisory, facilitation and content development across a wide range of fields.

He hosts #PowerBusiness on PowerFM and writes a regular column for Daily Maverick and Business Day.

Prior to this he was Economic Justice Manager at Oxfam South Africa (OZA) working on policy advocacy and research. He has also worked as an Associate Consultant at Dalberg Global Development Advisors, a global development strategy consulting and policy advisory firm.

He has experience in economic research, policy and supply chain analysis, advocacy, development program design and M&E. He is also a co-founder of Rethink Africa NPC, a youth-led policy research, advocacy and advisory organisation. He has taken part in a wide range of research, advisory and policy engagements on development issues in agriculture, rail, urban design and labour market policy.

His international experience on issues of sustainability and business includes conducting primary research with farmer organizations in Indonesia, for a multilateral client. He has also conducted primary research in Nigeria, for a market entry strategy on behalf of a global pharmaceuticals manufacturer. Ayabonga was a finalist in the category, ‘Best Business and Finance Show’ at the 2018 Liberty Radio Awards.

Ayabonga sat on the National Minimum Wage Advisory Panel appointed by the Deputy President and Nedlac, which advised on the R20/hour proposal.  He currently sits on the VAT zero-rating review panel, tasked by the Minister of Finance to consider the expansion of the list of food and non-food items exempted from value added tax.

He holds an M. Com (Cum Laude) in Development Theory and Policy from Wits.

The Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle has been learning about the wellbeing economy during her visit to South Africa, according to coverage by CNN.

The official Sussex Royal instagram shows the Duchess being given a tour of the Victoria Yards in Johannesburg by Simon Siswe – who is a WEAll Research Fellow.

Read more on the CNN website. 

Image: Sussex Royal