As the world creeps closer to climate crisis D-day, will a moo-ve to a plant-based diet really make a difference?
Old MacDonald had a farm, Ee i ee i oh… And on his farm he had some cows, Ee i ee i oh. With drastic effects on land here, and drastic effects on air there… Here some CO2, there some methane too, everywhere a moo-moo. Old MacDonald had a farm, Ee i ee i oooh.
Nursery rhymes, they say, have hidden meanings. They are a form of satire; folk songs used to tell, subversively, tales of historical events and the (often) bad people who brought them on. Are these going to be the songs we share with the children of our questionable future? The truth is, no run-on line or rhyming couplet will ever be able to depict the devastation we see today in the throes of climate change
There can be no denying that planet earth is on fire. Eye-witness accounts of the devastation caused by the crisis are becoming more numerous by the day. Floods, cyclones, tornadoes, extreme weather patterns, famine, drought and increasing species extinction are all in evidence. In 2022 we are living in what climate scientists decades ago painted as a worst-case scenario.
To the average person, assuming responsibility in tackling the issue can be overwhelming. Something every individual on the planet shares is the need for food. What people are consuming, however, has and will continue to have a disastrous effect. It is here the solution may lie. If every individual can take responsibility for their eating habits and switch to a more climate-friendly diet, a real difference might be viable.
“I do not think the answer is in getting the big guys to change. People need to stop being passive consumers,” says food systems researcher and business strategist Michele Sohn. Therefore one must ask: ”To eat the cow, or not to eat the cow?”
Why the cow? For Old MacDonald, back in pre-industrial days, cattle and other livestock used for food may not have been the biggest issue, but in the 21st century they seem to be a leading cause of climate change. A 2009 study by Scientific American concluded: “Worldwide meat production (beef, chicken and pork) emits more atmospheric greenhouse gases than do all forms of global transportation or industrial processes.” A study published in 2013 in the South African Journal of Animal Science said, “Cattle are a major source of methane emissions from the livestock sector in South Africa, contributing approximately 72.6% of the total livestock greenhouse gas emissions.”
The livestock greenhouse effect occurs in two ways. The first is in their feed, which requires year-round cultivation of land. This means trees and grasses that absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) are not given a chance to be grown. The second is the methane released by the animals in their waste and as they digest their food.
The more humans consume these animals and their products, the greater the demand to raise and farm them, which leads to higher need for land. In a 2018 study by Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek, an estimation of emission per serving of different foods was made, and the results were staggering. Beef has the biggest carbon footprint, while non-animal products such as beans and nuts seem to have little to no emission.
conducted a two-week experiment that tracked emissions from vegans, vegetarians and omnivores. The results revealed that: vegan CO2e emissions per week were 9.9kg (equivalent to 39.6km driven in a petrol-powered car, or 1 204 smartphones charged); vegetarian CO2e emissions per week were 16.9kg (67.4km driven in a petrol-powered car, or 2 056 smartphones charged); and omnivore CO2e emissions per week were 48.9kg (194.7km driven in a petrol-powered car, or 5 948 smartphones charged).
Software developer and vegan Hanno Brink told Wits Vuvuzela, “I always used to think vegans were people who ‘cannot face the real world’, but I now realise I was the one not facing the brutal reality of the consequences of my actions.”
It seems this food choice is attached to a lot more than some animal-loving form of protest. The diet holds real benefits environmentally, financially and nutritionally, but how viable is it in South Africa?
There has been a rise in vegan culture in South Africa over the past few years and plant-based brands are pulling in significant numbers in the South African market. South Africa is one of the top 30 countries where veganism is most popular, according to Google trends. According to Uber Eats, the country is fifth largest in the world in vegan takeaway orders.
A 2021 study conducted in the journal of Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systemsfound the likelihood of consumers in South Africa adopting plant-based and cultivated meat as a pathway to a healthy, sustainable and equitable food supply was quite high. Sixty percent of born-frees, 62% of millennials and 53% of Gen X were highly likely to purchase plant-based meat. Fifty-five percent of born-frees, 55% of millennials and 46% of Gen X were highly likely to purchase cultivated meat. The study concluded, “Both plant-based and cultivated meat could be viable market-based options for improving the food system in South Africa.”
From an economic perspective, being vegan is not so straight-forward. In South Africa food security is a daunting issue. According to a 2020 report by Stats SA, nearly 23,6% of South Africans had moderate to severe food insecurity, while almost 14,9% experienced severe food insecurity. Jessica Lazar, a registered dietitian at The Green Dietitian, told Wits Vuvuzela, “If someone is food insecure and they are vulnerable to malnutrition, they do not have a choice over what they eat; they can only eat what is available and affordable to them. We need to work to combat food security and malnutrition before we can have the privilege to decide what type of diet we want to live by, because it really is a privilege.”
Veganism has been through a bit of a greenwash over the past few decades. What was initially a clean and relatively cheap lifestyle turned into “a trend that companies and brands jumped on and used as a marketing tool”. Lazar says a lot of products are expensive, but a basic vegan diet made up of grains, fruits, vegetables and oils is not expensive; it is actually cheaper than animal products.
“I always used to think vegans were people who ‘cannot face the real world’, but I now realise I was the one not facing the brutal reality of the consequences of my actions.”
Nutrition-wise, Lazar says veganism can be a helpful diet meeting all nutritional needs. “I do not think it’s valid to say veganism is the healthiest or is healthier than any other diet patterns, but it is among the healthiest,” she says. “Cutting down animal products and replacing them with more plant food is a healthy way to live.”
Dalya Gerson, also a registered dietitian, disagrees. “You are not really living a healthy lifestyle being a vegan because you are losing out on the key nutrients (specifically B12, which can be found only in animal products, fortified foods and supplements) that you should be getting,” Gerson says. ”I would not necessarily say a vegan diet is healthier than a Mediterranean diet.”
Arabella Parkinson, who has a master’s in sustainable development and is a food consultant and vegan chef, told Wits Vuvuzela, “I am not an advocate of a fully vegan diet, because a lot of the time people tend to sacrifice the healthier side of things because veganism is so strict, people tend to eat junk food based on the fact that its vegan rather than it being healthy. It is a very strict way of eating, and to do it properly you need a lot of time, energy resources and access to a variety of healthy, good food.”
Most of the people Wits Vuvuzela spoke to mentioned culture as a point of contention. Food is an emotional aspect of people’s lives and it is often difficult for people to change the way they eat, especially when it is embedded in indigenous cultures, says Parkinson. Lazar adds, “We need to respect culture specifically around food. Usually meats are used for celebrations, not daily consumption. A solution could be if we say, ‘change your daily diets and leave the meat for the bigger events’.” She notes, however, that a plant-based diet is nothing new to many Africans, who for centuries have been living off fruit- and vegetable-bearing lands.
From an agricultural perspective, Heinz Meissner, an adviser to the dairy and meat industries, told Mail & Guardian in a 2019 article that South Africa is complex when it comes to production of fruit and vegetables. “Just 12% of the country has the right mixture of soil and water to grow crops, whereas livestock can live on marginal land,” he says. A lot of water is mostly used for high-value crops such as grapes, citrus, avocados, nuts and blueberries, and these are usually exported overseas. Meissner says the resources needed for optimal crop growth that would suit veganism throughout the country ”will not be used for grains, vegetables and fruit production to feed the population”.
The department of agriculture also seems to side with the meat. In June 2022 it threatened the vegan industry with a ban and seizure of all foodstuffs not in line with Agricultural Product Standards Act regulations. This includes that if it is not processed meat in a packet, it cannot be labelled as such. This caused a stir, as renaming products would have been economically crippling to producers, Daily Maverick reported.
South Africa’s relationship with the meat industry is very complicated, says Parkinson. “The meat and dairy industries are huge and subsidised and have a lot of bargaining power,” she says. In a 2022 op-ed for Daily Maverick, Jason Bell, a researcher at the Centre for Competition Regulation and Economic Development, says, “The market power that [the meat and dairy] industries possess was facilitated and has continued to be supported by government subsidies, protection and support to ensure that these industries survive competition and shocks.” He adds that the vegan industry’s growth threatens the meat and dairy industries’ market power; thus, regulations such as that mentioned above were implemented.
Parkinson tells Wits Vuvuzela it is about planting and producing fruit, vegetables and grains that are seasonal and indigenous to the country. She says plants such as sorghum and beans, which are superfoods, are highly nutritious, resilient to terrain and climate, affordable to grow and buy and do well with little water.
Sohn says if government and farming corporations do not come to the party, the South African public can and must take it into their own hands: “It’s about consumers becoming producers. Everyone should grow something, either in their own backyard or in a community garden.” According to Stats SA, fewer than 20% of households were involved in agricultural production of food between 2017 and 2020. Sohn further says, “We need more urban farmers to grow organic food close to where people live, and to buy from small local farmers.”
Parkinson and Sohn bring up regenerative growing practices. “If the farming sectors could shift the way they produce the meat to [these] farming techniques, they can also have a positive impact on reducing the effects of climate change,” says Parkinson, adding that the meat and dairy farming industries will not just disappear. With regenerative farming, animals graze in rotation and help pull carbon back into soil. This strengthens resilience against climate change, droughts and floods. By doing so, meat will be produced in a better way.
So to the question of ”to eat the cow or to not eat the cow”, it can be derived from the people Wits Vuvuzela consulted that there is no clear answer. What is clear, however, is that climate change is exacerbated by the meat and dairy industries. Lazar says, “At the end of the day we cannot get everyone to be vegan, but if one million people cut down on meat it will make more impact than if a couple of hundred thousand go fully vegan.”
Parkinson echoes this, saying that two to three percent of South Africans are vegan and the global trends of meat consumption are growing only in lower-income countries. ”I believe we do not need everyone to be vegan, but we do need people to eat less meat,’’ she says. She encourages campaigns such as Meat Free Monday and Sustainable Sunday.
Sohn says, ”The trick is not to be too purist about it; to eat beyond labels. Eat more veg, more fruit, less chemicals, less preservatives and, if possible, less meat.’’
Old MacDonald had a farm, Ee i ee i oh. And on his farm he had some cows, Ee i ee i oh. With some moderation here and a meat-free Monday there, here some fruit, there some veg, now a controlled moo-moo… Old MacDonald may still have a farm in 2030, Ee i ee i oh.
FEATURED IMAGE: The growth of the vegan industry in South Africa may be a solution to the climate crisis, but is cutting out the cow the remedy? Photo: Elishevah Bome
The power goes out and most complain about eating cold food again or missing their favourite TV shows, but they can’t breathe.
Houses consumed in darkness and the only thing that can be heard are the sighs of frustration and the now constant hum of generators. Twitter is flooded with angry messages in which people complain and lament collectively. Family members shout across pitch-dark passages looking for the lone emergency lamp that tends to play hide and seek at the most inconvenient of times, the food has gone cold and homework is yet to be completed. All the while, Renee Simoes, like so many others, goes through a rigorous procedure to stay alive.
Every South African knows the feeling of receiving that EskomSePush notification telling them that their block is about to be loadshed. Hatred, disapproval, sadness and stress are just some of the feelings that come to mind. As we scramble, there is a community of people who have to walk the line of life and death during their hours of electrical blackouts.
Fourteen years ago on January 25, 2008, the government announced a national power emergency due to increasing demand for power and limited new generation capacity, today more than a decade later, things have gone from bad to worse.
Eskom literally holds my life in their hands.
The major brunt of the constant loadshedding is taken by those with ill health that heavily rely on power for their oxygen machines, dialysis machines and hospital treatments. Simoes has been living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in the form of Emphysema since 1993. The 72-year-old grandmother of seven has been on full time oxygen for the last six years. ‘’I can’t live without the help of the oxygen machine, without it I don’t have lungs,” she said.
During an interview with Wits Vuvuzela, Simoes was in the midst of her two hours off the grid. The procedure to get the oxygen connected to her inverter, a nifty device that is battery run and can keep appliances on for a few hours, was a strenuous and expensive one (about R11 000). She said that her electrically powered oxygen machine has too high of a wattage for the inverter, so she only gets 30 minutes out of the machine. She considers herself ‘’fortunate’’ to have a backup oxygen cylinder, which set her back R4 000. Each time she refills this cylinder it costs R450 and during peak loadshedding times she has till refill the cylinder at least once a week.
Simoes explained that when people go without adequate oxygen for an extend period there is a risk of secondary infections such as Bronchitis or Pneumonia as their lungs are working overtime. ‘’I am lucky I have the support of my children and grandchildren during this time, others are not so lucky. Eskom literally holds my life in their hands.”
Stella de Kock is in end stage Renal Failure and relies on a hemodialysis machine, which removes the unwanted waste products from her blood. Unlike an oxygen machine which has non-electrical alternatives, the only way to receive lifesaving dialysis is through the machine. De Kock needs about three sessions of dialysis a week. “I dialyse at a dialysis centre, and when loadshedding starts, the machines shut down and then we have to wait for the generator to kick in. Luckily for us, it only takes a minute or two,” said de Kock. In December 2020, she got covid and had to dialyse at home for a period of a week. “It was touch and go as we only have a small generator at home and the dialysis machine needs a lot of power.’’
De Kock wishes that the public and Eskom knew that: ‘’Having a chronic condition already puts a strain on your mental wellbeing without the extra stress of having to think of if you’ll be able to get your treatment if there is no power.”
Dominique Truyens, who passed away before she could receive her lung transplant suffered from a lung disease called Cystic Fibrosis. Her twin sister Caleigh Truyens suffers from the same disease. She told Wits Vuvuzela that when there was loadshedding, Dominique was not able to use her oxygen machine because at the time there was no portable oxygen and no generator. She was in hospital most of the time and a big factor was due to the hospitals not being affected by loadshedding.
Truyens explains that the kindness of friends and neighbours is often needed during blackouts, she often rushes to homes with no interruptions or access to generators to plug in her machine. Once, a fraught drive from Rustenburg to Johannesburg was needed because “they had no other option”.
Private hospitals throughout the country have equipped themselves with working generators and equipment, according to interviewees who frequent them. However, for those that rely on government hospitals it is more complex. “Loadshedding is affecting all our public health facilities in the country,” said President of the Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union, Lerato Madumo-Gova, in an article published by health-e newsin July 2022.
Wits University’s academic hospitals are included and vulnerable during blackouts. According to TimesLIVE Wits head of internal medicine at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital, Prof Adam Mahomed said, “Load shedding is putting a heavy strain on hospital equipment and patient services.”
But help is seemingly on the way. On September 30, 2022, health minister Dr Joe Phaahla announced that 37 of the countries public hospitals would be exempt from loadshedding. “Generators have been proven not to adequately meet the increasing demands during load shedding in health facilities,” he said in a statement. Phaahla said hospitals will either be directly exempt or in cases of municipality connection, they will install a dedicated feeder line that kicks in to keep power in the facility during municipal loadshedding windows.
The criteria for hospital exclusion include patients’ volume, the nature of specialised services they provide and technological and medical equipment they have, of which most are academic, regional and district hospitals. Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, Helen Joseph Hospital and Steve Biko Academic Hospital are some of those included in the exemption list. However, in a country with over 300 public hospitals those who are exempt are just a drop in a very murky ocean.
Things recently have gone from bad to worse. According to Eskom Research, Testing and Development’s Dr Ulrich Minnaar, the month of September 2022, saw the most hours of loadshedding ever, with a total of 1 503 GWh estimated to have been shed and with 572 hours of the month’s 720 hours directly affected.
“Loadshedding for those who rely on electricity such as I do, and many people like me, is extremely stressful, it is not just switching a kettle on to make some tea or cooking something to eat and it’s not just having lights it’s having actual breath, actual life,” concluded Simoes. One can see the strain etched on her face and hear her heavy breathing between each sentence. The electricity returned during our sit down. She checked her phone anxiously. It pinged with a reminder from EskomSePush that the next round of loadshedding would take place later that evening. “All I can do is breathe,” she said, chuckling sadly.
FEATURED IMAGE: While loadshedding is a pain for many for those who rely on electrical machinery to live, it is a daily dose of fear. Photo: Elishevah Bome
Wit’s University’s Homecoming Weekend saw non-stop celebrations from Friday, September 2 until Sunday, September 4, 2022. The Wits Vuvuzela team was out and about throughout and these are some of the moments they captured.
Four aspiring black male drama therapists transform South Africa’s psychotherapy landscape
Wits University’s Drama For Life has welcomed its new cohort of 10 drama therapy interns for the year, 2022/2023 — four of which are the first black male registered drama therapists in South Africa.
Drama therapy, is a form of psychotherapy. Therapists in this field are trained in theatre techniques like role-play, story-making and movement in order to help participants deal with processing trauma, promote personal growth, and achieve other therapeutic goals. The therapy’s focus is on personal narrative from a distanced perspective. It explores the source of why someone may be feeling a particular way, rather than on their symptoms.
The four interns: Siya Skosana, Sibusiso Vonder Fihlani, Jermain Johnson, Lebogang Mokgatle say they regard being the first registered, black, male drama therapists as a huge responsibility. However, they also recognise factors that have excluded men to participate in this field.
“It is a rarity to see a drama therapist even more so a male and black drama therapist,” says Skosana when he was asked by Wits Vuvuzela how he feels being among the first males in this field. Fihlani explained that while he was studying towards his masters of arts research, he observed that this field is filled with “female (s)”, particularly white females because it’s seen as offering caregiving, which is equated with the female gender.
He added that having black males within this practice is much needed, “[as] seeing males in the positive light of caregivers, who are contributing meaningfully to society can influence [other men] to ‘give care’ rather than ‘taking care of a situation’,and can indeed shift the paradigm.”
Mokgatle, added that their contribution could serve other males because, “due to cultural factors, some men find it easier to confide in male therapists in terms of relatability. It thus makes it important to train more black males in this profession in order to foster spaces that are more inclusive for all to access.”
Meanwhile, Johnson says the lack of black males within this profession is “a matter of access and not enough advocacy.”
The internship program is a 600-hours program which also includes clinical, community-based and psycho-educational site placements, and individual and group supervisions. After completing, the cohort will be fully qualified and registered drama therapists with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).
Drama For Life, a department at Wits school of arts whose focus is on applied theatre and drama therapies is the only university programme in Africa that offers a recognised professional qualification in drama therapy with HPCSA accreditation.
Warren Nebe, founder of Drama for Life, says that although the four have their own reasons for pursuing this field of work, however, they “will make a massive difference and will help change the constructs of therapy in South Africa”. He adds that they come at a moment of “great significance and of deep transformation”.
FEATURED IMAGE: Drama therapist’s are a rarity in general so to have the first HPCSA registered four black males is a great achievement for Drama For Life Photo: Drama For Life Facebook
From manufacturing PPE to setting up vaccine trials, teams of Witsies were up to the task of fighting the global pandemic.
While nearly the whole country was in lockdown in 2020, with people too scared to even step outside for a morning jog, Wits professors, doctors, researchers and students came together to fight the virus that had the whole world at a standstill. Backed by the university, these Witsies contributed in manufacturing much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE), setting up the first site in South Africa for vaccine trials, launching a dashboard to track the virus, and developing treatment plans for those infected with covid.
With cases spreading across the country, Professor Bruce Mellado of the Wits school of physics, and a number of volunteers from different disciplines, launched the Covid-19 South African Dashboard in March 2020. This dashboard not only helped track and visualise the ever-changing virus throughout Africa but could predict its spread and severity. “The website at its peak was used by many health care professionals, government officials, companies […] The site used to get about 10 000 hits daily,” said Mellado.
A shortage of PPE was one of the biggest issues during the first covid wave. This forced those working in hospitals, clinics and emergency services to wash and reuse equipment, when typically they would have discarded it. Cue Dr Randall Paton, senior lecturer at the Wits school of mechanical, industrial and aeronautical engineering.
In April 2020 Paton and his team, which included staff and students from the faculties of engineering and health sciences, occupational health and safety unit and the campus health and wellness centre, started producing laser-made face shields for hospital and emergency service staff by the tens of thousands, for distribution across the country.
Calling this project one of the “most human moments” he had ever experienced, Paton said, “It was meaningful to be a part of a project that included so many people. Everyone did what they could to make the inflexible flexible.” A Wits Vuvuzela articleabout this project, reported that over R100 000 was raised to make this initiative possible.
One of the biggest contributions made by Wits in fighting the pandemic was when Professor Jeremy Nel, a lecturer in internal medicine, and Professor Helen Rees, executive director of the Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, teamed up with the World Health Organisation to form the South African branch of the Solidarity trials, the only one in Africa. The trial assessed a range of drugs being used to treat patients with covid. Nel said that “The Solidarity trial was very well received and has added some very important information on therapeutics worldwide.”
This collaboration resulted in findings about the most effective use of Remdesivir, which continues to be a very popular antiviral drug to treat covid. “The trial also helped provide definitive evidence against early candidates like Chloroquine, which allowed us to move on to more promising candidates,” said Nel.
The university’s ground-breaking contributions continued with the first vaccine trials in South Africa which were led by vaccinologist, Professor Shabir Madhi. By August 2020 Wits had two vaccine trials underway, the Oxford trial for AstraZeneca and the Novavax trial.
An honourable mention must be given to the Wits community of doctors and medical students, who were going through their clinical training at the height of the pandemic. As reported in Wits Vuvuzela, healthcare workers stationed at Charlette Maxeke and Chris Hani Baragwanath hospitals battled wave after wave of covid, putting their own lives at risk, to save lives.
Superman and Spiderman have nothing on the edge that inspired these brilliant Witsies. They gave their time, resources, and specialties to help tackle one of the deadliest pandemics. They have indeed helped set the tone for what Wits is cable of in the next 100 years.
FEATURED IMAGE:Witsies came out on top in the fight against covid-19. Photo: File
A study that lasted so long it saw the transition from pencils and paper to intelligent data and code programming, celebrates a massive feat with the launch of a book.
Africa’s largest and longest running birth cohort, the Birth Till 30 (Bt30) study, has tracked the lives of over 3 000 people born in South Africa for 30 years. Professor Linda Richter, one of its co-founders detailed the fascinating study and its findings in a book released on August 19, 2022.
Birth to Thirty: A Study as Ambitious as the Country We Wanted to Create, is a book that details the intended 10-year study of the health and development of children born in Soweto, Johannesburg during the politically turbulent 1990’s. It has now published over 270 papers, employed several staff members for more than 25 years and collected more than 20 million raw data points on close to 2 000 individuals over 22 data collection waves between birth and adulthood.
Speaking at the launch at the Wits Origins Centre, Richter, a Wits Professor and the director of the Organisational Unit, DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Human Development, said: “The study is known throughout the world as a highly valued source of longitudinal social and biological data.”
Some of the study’s major findings in Richter’s book include only 1% of children in the sample having not witnessed or experienced any form of violence, while close to half experienced or witnessed violence at home, school and in their community. Sexual violence was experienced across all ages in the cohort’s lives. They also found by age 28 that about a third of men and women reported that they either physically abuse or are abused in their intimate relationships.
According to Richter the most striking scientific findings proved that: “Physical growth, cognitive capacity, and mental health can all be tracked from parents, through to early childhood and into the adult years, as well as inter-generationally.”
The study saw that the wellbeing of the Bt30 generation has been boosted during the past 30 years. For example, Bt30 women are taller than their mothers, on average by one centimetre. More than half passed matric, whereas only a quarter of their mothers did, and more Bt30 women live in households with consumer goods such as a car, refrigerator and washing machine. However, Bt30 women unlike their mothers, had their first pregnancy before the age of 18. They also smoke and drink alcohol, feel overwhelmed by debt, and report intimate partner violence and depression.
Barbra Monyepote, who was with the project since its conception, detailed how many of the research assistants were new to the field and not very familiar with medical research. She told Wits Vuvuzela about the difficulties she faced in missing family events when working long hours and weekends. Complications when it came to language and navigating Soweto, were also common “but at last we got it right” she said.
Boitumelo Molete, a participant in the study, said “The study was part of my childhood and upbringing.” She has been through countless x-rays, blood tests and questioners. “I discovered the importance of research at a very young age, I ended up taking this as a profession and thoroughly enjoy it.”
Richter’s main motivation in writing this book is ”to affirm the experiences of the participants, contributing to their memories, and ensure that they, their families and their children know what a significant study Bt30 is”.
FEATURED IMAGE: Birth to Thirty: A Study as Ambitious as the Country We Wanted to Create, was released on August 19, 2022. The book details the Bt30 study. Photo: Supplied
A trip to the Amazon has proved that the trajectory of climate change may lie in the hands of chartered accountants’ reporting of businesses.
David Attenborough and Bear Grylls had nothing on a pair of Wits accountancy professors as they took to the Rio Madeira, the Amazon’s largest and most important tributary on a month-long trek.
Wits University’s accountancy professors Kurt Sartorius (73) and Wayne van Zijl (33), along with Sartorius’s son, Benn Sartorius (44), headed for Brazil on July 1, 2022 and finished with great effort by July 26, touching back down on South African soil on July 29. The aim of their 1 100km canoe journey was to raise awareness about the business relevance of climate change among corporates and raise funding for high impact research and reforestation initiatives.
“As accountants, we are the storytellers of a business performance and position,” said Van Zijl. Usually, businesses that are not environmentally friendly have large profit margins, compared to those who are more environmentally conscious, he added. This is because of the additional costs.
If these costs are not reported, society judges only by the profit. This disincentivises environmentally sustainable behavior if companies cannot report holistically. Accountants can prevent climate change by developing holistic reporting technology which would single out environmentally friendly companies. Raising funding for this development was one of the aims of the trip.
The senior Sartorius’s journey was a 50-year reunion with Rio Madeira, and a way to highlight the changes that occurred over half a century, as he re-paddled his 1972 route. Benn Sartorius said this is not their first adventure, “he and I have done many other trips together to Peru and elsewhere [but this one] was special.” Van Zijl saw it as an opportunity to finally join his revered lecturer from his university days on one of his “infamous professor Kurt Indiana Jones Sartorius” excursions.
The experience was indeed rewarding but also extremely “unpleasant” said Van Zijl. The younger Sartorius called the trip “brutal”. The team paddled through a tough terrain of low currents and extremely hot days, clocking between 50km to 60km daily through the two-kilometer-wide river.
When they were not on the water, they were on the muddy and insect infested land, where camp was set up by 6pm to avoid being attacked by mosquitos. Massive rainstorms, language barriers and scary characters along the river were all in a day’s work for this crew.
The trip was a collaborative initiative funded by Wits and the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants and formed part of Wits’s centenary campaign.
Professor Nirupa Padia, head of the school of accountancy told Wits Vuvuzela that, ”[The school] is extremely proud of this accomplishment by [its professors]. It is unheard of for accountants to be so adventurous and to go to this extent to make a difference on climate change and sustainability. It is inspiring for the staff and students to know that accountants too, can help save the planet.”
FEATURED IMAGE: Father and son have taken many trips together but this one was special. Van Zijl was ”amazed at the relationship”. Photos: Wayne van Zijl
The scrapping of the majority of covid-19 regulations on campus have seen Wits University looking like its pre-pandemic self. Libraries are full, the Matrix is a hive of activity and the library lawn is the enclave of activations, naps and conversation.
FEATURED IMAGE: Wits Campus is buzzing again Photo: ElishevahBome
‘Pricey food costs lives’ is a podcast that focuses on wholesale and the sale of fresh produce by various actors in the market ranging from the street vendors to the Joburg Market. The narrator, Malaika Ditabo, explores the effects of climate change, inflation, and unemployment on the general South African population. In this episode salesman […]