The madness of crowds

Old Mutual Wealth Investment Strategists Izak Odendaal and Dave Mohr 

Once again, South Africa is the country that see-saws from one extreme emotion to another. Two weeks ago, the robustness of our rule of law was being celebrated. Now we are grieving the loss of many lives and widespread destruction and looting. This just as the devastating third wave of Covid-19 infections seems to have peaked. 

What just happened? 

What may have started out as a political protest – to the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma – quickly descended into widespread violence and pillaging on an unimaginable scale in KwaZulu-Natal and townships around Johannesburg. Perhaps because phone cameras are ubiquitous now, many harrowing images were circulated this week.  

The military has now been deployed and a semblance of order is returning. The next major challenge is to restore supply chains so that food, fuel and medicines remain accessible in affected areas.  

While we have never experienced anything on this scale before, South Africa does have a history of violence stretching back centuries, but particularly in the 1980s and early 1990s. Crime is rife in our society and there are frequent outbreaks of public violence. These range from violent strikes and service delivery protests to battles between rival taxi operators and xenophobic attacks against foreign nationals.  

Order needs to be restored and maintained, but the underlying issues and social ills also need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.  

Chart 1: SA unemployment rate 

Source: Refinitiv Datastream 

However, there is footage showing that it was not only desperately poor people who looted. Many of the stolen goods were loaded into upmarket vehicles. This unjustifiable lawlessness is deeply worrying and calls for serious soul-searching as a nation. 

Trust in the security services will have to be rebuilt, as well as trust in one another. There is no other alternative for people who want to stay in South Africa. As is always the case in our country, there was also good news amid the chaos. There were, for example, many encouraging scenes of communities standing together to protect shopping centres and neighbourhoods, and there was also no shortage of volunteers keen to help clean up and rebuild.   

Can the centre hold? 

South Africa has been on the brink many times, but somehow always managed to veer away from a descent into complete anarchy. It’s as if we are always peering over the edge, stepping back only at the last minute.  

This recalls Yeats’ Second Coming which former President Mbeki was fond of quoting: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” The events of the past few days will convince many that the country has finally spun out of control, its centrifugal forces no longer strong enough.  

But their pessimism is likely to be misplaced. What is crucial is that South Africa has a framework within which to rebuild social trust and repair the economy.  

The big philosophical questions of representative democracy have long been settled. What seemed like intractable conflict in the 1980s gave way to our constitutional order: all adults can vote, everyone is equal before the law, and our basic rights and freedoms are enshrined in the Constitution. The problems we are faced with today are largely practical, not conceptual or ideological. They are big, and we have failed to address many of them, but progress is possible.  

Failed states cannot even begin to address their problems because there is no consensus on the basic rules of the game. In contrast, most of South Africa’s 60 million citizens want peace. Most are fed up with crime and corruption. Most want shared prosperity and hope for all.  

So the centre can hold. It is held together by ordinary people and key institutions such as our free and fair elections, a parliament with opposition parties, our Reserve Bank, businesses and business organisations, civil society, trade unions, and of course the courts.  

What will the economic impact be? 

The combination of Level 4 lockdowns and the violence and looting means July is likely to see steep declines in economic activity across a number of sectors, and the third quarter as a whole could see negative GDP growth. The losses will run into billions, some of it insured, much of it not. Some smaller businesses therefore might have to close for good.  

The biggest impact will be on the retail sector, followed by transport and logistics, and manufacturing. Retail is an important sector at around 7% of GDP, but clearly an economy is much bigger than its shops and malls. South Africa is a R5 trillion economy, some of it informal and fragile, but much of it sophisticated, flexible and robust. 

Depending on how soon calm can be restored and shelves restocked, activity can rebound fairly quickly as we saw a year ago when the economy emerged from hard lockdown. People still need to buy food, clothing and other household items. The rebuilding and restocking efforts will add to economic activity, giving a boost to fourth quarter growth numbers. The exact timing is of course is up in the air at this stage.  

While it is easy to overstate the short-term damage, it is also possible to underestimate the long-term consequences. These are likely to extend well beyond the retail sector, dealing a blow to already fragile business and consumer confidence. The blow can be softened if government deals more decisively with the violence and also adapts its policies to boost the economy. 

As the looting intensified, the World Bank released a report highlighting some of the steps South Africa should take to grow the economy and create jobs. While important economic reforms have been announced – most notably the deregulation of electricity production – there is more that can be done to make it easier to do business. Listening to the expert economic advice of global institutions like the World Bank is an important start, just like the government has relied on expert advice in dealing with the pandemic. 

Crime and unrest have long impacted the economy negatively in a number of ways. Last week’s riots were in many respects an acute flare-up of a chronic condition. Injury and loss of life cost the economy billions (and unquantifiable anguish). Diverting scarce resources to security measures is extremely costly. Small businesses, particularly in townships, are very vulnerable to theft and often don’t survive as result. Stolen goods can be replaced, but it drives up insurance premiums, sometimes to unaffordable levels for informal entrepreneurs.  

What we can’t measure is the investment that does not take place because of crime and violence, when global businesses and investors overlook the country, or when locals decide to emigrate and take their skills and capital with them. Or simply when a business that wants to expand finds it impractical to do so (as was recently the case with Rio Tinto’s Richards Bay mineral sands operation).  

How did markets respond? 

The rand is the country’s financial pressure valve, and it lost about 2% against the US dollar in the past week. Neither local nor foreign investors like to see scenes of anarchy, but if short-lived they are unlikely to count as a dramatic event in the context of the currency’s history. Foreign investors are more likely to dump South African equities, bonds and the currency when they are concerned about global economic growth than in response to events on the ground here. In fact, some of the weakness in the rand was due to a stronger dollar in response to firmer US inflation.   

Chart 2: Rand dollar exchange rate 

Source: Refinitiv Datastream 

South Africa has long been better at attracting portfolio flows than foreign direct investment (FDI). In other words, foreigners are more likely to buy bonds and equities that they can quickly trade in and out of thanks to our sophisticated financial markets than buying businesses that they have to operate. There are substantial FDI flows, but portfolio flows are bigger. Portfolio investors also tend to have short memories and most often trade on global financial considerations    

Foreign investors in emerging markets accept that there is less social stability and weaker government control than in developed markets. It ends up being built into the valuations and the higher return expectations. Violent protests are not unique to South Africa. Just in the last year, Chile, Colombia, Brazil and Mexico have experienced widespread riots. In fact, according to the latest Global Peace Index, the number of riots, strikes and anti-government protests worldwide jumped 244% percent in the last decade. The frustrations and depravations of Covid-19 lockdowns have been fuel to the fire in many cases.  

Even the US was engulfed by protests against police brutality and discrimination last year. And of course it doesn’t take much for football supporters in Europe (the UK especially) to become unruly.  

The JSE as a whole was largely unchanged, but that is because it is mostly a global index and rand hedges rose. Retail and bank shares were quite a bit weaker, as could be expected. 

Bonds were weaker, but South Africa’s dollar credit default spread (its market-based credit rating) has moved in line with its emerging market peer group. The rising bond yields therefore do not reflect a fundamental change in the assessment of the government’s creditworthiness, but rather the weaker rand.  

Chart 3: South African dollar credit default swaps vs peers 

Source: Refinitiv Datastream 

It is ultimately global financial developments that matter most to our markets. And as things stand, the global environment remains very supportive. Commodity prices are still elevated, and capital still abundant.  

How should investors respond? 

If you have a diversified portfolio, there is no reason to take any immediate action. As citizens we are saddened and angered by the events of the past few days, but as investors we can spread our eggs over many baskets. Global markets are unaffected by what happens in South Africa. 

A knee-jerk reaction would be to sell out of South African investments completely and take all the money offshore. However, remember that the local assets are already pricing in a lot of bad news hence the surprisingly small market reaction to these events. It is sensible for local investors to have substantial global exposure to manage risks and to access different return opportunities, but be careful of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It is generally better to be a buyer when others are selling in a panic. If you are aiming to increase offshore exposure, do not attempt to be too clever in timing the rand. Focus on what you want to buy on the other side.  

We can’t ignore what is happening around us. We are all shaken. Ultimately, however, what happens in Beijing and Washington and the trading floors in New York and London matters more for your portfolio than chaos on the streets of Durban or Soweto. 


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New legislation requires SA buildings to display energy performance certificate

Recently gazetted regulations published by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy now make it compulsory for non-residential buildings in South Africa to declare their energy consumption by displaying an energy performance certificate at the entrance of their buildings. Building owners have until December 2022 to comply with these new building energy regulations, which require a formal assessment of your building energy consumption.

According to David Petrie, Technical Manager (Utilities) at FM Solutions Technical, these directives form part of the National Energy Efficiency Strategy under the National Energy Act, 2008 (Act No.34 of 2008), aimed at improving the country’s energy consumption. This process will determine the amount of energy that a specific building is allowed to consume per square metre. Similar energy performance certificate systems are currently in operation in the EU and the UK, where it was launched in 2007.

“It is important to note that the new legislation does not apply to factories and manufacturing plants. It applies  to offices and public spaces, i.e. buildings that are used for entertainment and public assembly, theatrical and indoor sports activities as well as  places of instruction,” Petrie explains.

An example of an Energy Performance Certificate that needs to be displayed at the entrance of all public buildings.

These include schools, malls, theatres and places of work that are bigger than 2,000 square metres. Government buildings larger than 1,000 square metres must also comply with the new legislation. Buildings that have been in operation for less than 2 years, or have been subject to a major renovation within the past 2 years are exempted. Moreover, the new regulation stipulates that there are certain areas that can be excluded from the calculations, such as garages, car parks and storage areas.

“An Energy Performance Certificate, similar to those displayed on household appliances, must be issued by an accredited body in accordance with SANS 1544:2014 – Energy Performance Certificates for Buildings. This certificate must rank the energy rating (ER) of a building on a performance scale (A-G). This is to the maximum energy consumption (kWh/m²/a) per building type as per the SANS 10400 XA,” he says.

The certificate must be issued by a SANAS accredited body and be submitted to the South African National Energy Development Institute. The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy will appoint inspectors to audit buildings for certificate compliance and validity. The certificates will be valid for a period of five years

As specialists in energy efficiency and energy management, FM Solutions Technical are regularly called upon by their clients to conduct the energy assessments. Petrie explains that this is not a one-size-fits all approach, as there are various important factors that need to be taken into consideration, including the physical location and the climatic zone of the premises, history of energy usage, size of the building and nature of the business.

“It is important to regularly conduct a detailed energy audit to identify the biggest electricity users. This allows landlords and tenants to consider replacing them with alternatives that would be more efficient and unlock significant savings in the long run. For this reason, we encourage organisations to adopt the new legislation as an opportunity to implement good practices that would benefit their bottom line and improve overall efficiencies,” he concludes.

For more information on how FM Solutions Technical can assist with Regulations for the Mandatory Display and Submission of Energy Performance Certificates for Buildings, visit

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Wärtsilä pioneering significant test programme for pure hydrogen engines to enable fully decarbonised energy systems

The technology group Wärtsilä has begun testing its thermal balancing engines using pure hydrogen and expects to have an engine and power plant concept capable of running on 100% hydrogen by 2025, enabling the transition to decarbonised energy systems around the world.

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SA gas startup Bluedrop Energy plans dual IPO on NYSE and JSE

Bluedrop Energy, a South African Gas startup company, this week announced its plans to list its shares on the NYSE in New York, USA and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, South Africa. Bluedrop will first float its shares on the NYSE in 2022, while its JSE listing will follow at a date still to be announced.

In April this year, Bluedrop announced that it has secured a $20 million (R300 million) funding from J. Sassoon Group, a US, Washington DC-based private equity and investment firm for the construction of Bluedrop’s modern state of the art Smart Composite LPG Cylinder manufacturing plant. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) of the US has also issued a letter of interest providing $36m (R497m) finance guarantee in support of J Sassoon Group for this project.

Last month, J. Sassoon Group signed a Technical Services Agreement (TSA) with the South African office of a US-based multinational engineering firm, Fluor Corporation, for the development of Bluedrop’s smart composite LPG cylinder manufacturing plant.

Commenting on the listing, J. Sassoon Group Chairman, Mr. David Sassoon said: “We are pleased to continue to advise Bluedrop on its next step in its journey. The South African market is in desperate need of foreign capital infusion and this potential floating of Bluedrop’s shares in New York is going to help Bluedrop grow exponentially through asset acquisitions making it one of the leading LPG wholesalers and composite LPG cylinder manufacturers in Africa.

Unfortunately, there has been a drought of investments in South Africa’s capital market, forcing startups like Bluedrop to seek funding from foreign markets. These are opportunities that should be available for local entrepreneurs and investors, but these opportunities end up being transferred to markets like New York and London.

Government has to re-energise local markets, it needs to offer incentives to local investors to unleash local capital, which will encourage foreign investors to invest in South Africa and reduce risk exposure to foreign investors. Otherwise, local capital will continue to flow to foreign markets, which makes firms such as ours have incentives to co-invest with local partners. Co-investment goes beyond just capital, co-investing with local partners allows for the creation of an intellectual highway of ideas, and unlocks more opportunities, all of which fosters cooperation and helps local economies grow exponentially.”

Sassoon added, “We are in the process of negotiations to secure bulk offtakes for Bluedrop from LPG Suppliers in the US to complement and fulfill critical aspects of Bluedrop’s value chain and strategy. The US is a major producer of LPG therefore in J. Sassoon, Bluedrop has the right partners to help them source product from a market spoilt with abundance of this critical energy source.”

J. Sassoon expects to help raise up to $100 million (R1,4 billion) in private placement funding for Bluedrop’s second round of funding for its pre-IPO campaign before its shares float on the NYSE. J. Sassoon Group is advising Bluedrop on its planned initial public offering in collaboration and consultation with its U.S. based industry partners and a local broker-dealer firm in South Africa.

Kenneth Maduna, CEO, Bluedrop Energy

Bluedrop’s CEO, Mr. Kenneth Maduna remarked, “The listing on the stock market will elevate our profile within the energy sector and investment community. It will surely expand our investor base. It is a value accretive step in the growth of Bluedrop as a relatively new entrant in the energy markets and it fits in perfectly with our acquisitive growth strategy. We have a very good launch project and it gives us leverage to build an impressive asset base within this high growth market of LPG in South Africa and the SADC region. We are also humbled by the outpouring of support from the South African government and various sector entities. It gives us great confidence in our business to know that our government and our partners share our vision of LPG being at the critical nerve-center of the country’s energy future.”

Mr. Bruce Fein, J. Sassoon Group CEO, commented, “Bluedrop is a Cinderella story that is still in the making for South Africa’s markets. We remain committed to our agreement with Bluedrop and its success. This is the time for South Africa to shine and grow.”

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THE NEW EQUATION = PwC+progressive strategy

PwC recently unveiled The New Equation, its new landmark global strategy, which responds to fundamental changes in the world, including technological disruption, climate change, fractured geopolitics, and the continuing effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The New Equation is based on analyses of global trends and thousands of conversations with clients and stakeholders. It builds on more than a decade of sustained revenue growth and continued investment.

  • US$12-billion investment over the next five years, creating over 100 000 new jobs
  • Initial commitments include new ESG Centres of Excellence, leadership institutes, accelerated deployment of emerging technologies and increased investment to support audit quality
  • Strategy focuses on helping clients build trust and deliver sustained outcomes

The New Equation focuses on two interconnected needs that clients face in the coming years. The first is to build trust, which has never been more important, nor more difficult. Organisations increasingly need to earn trust across a wide range of topics that are important to their stakeholders. Success depends on fundamental shifts in the way executives think, organisational culture, systems and ambition.

The second is to deliver sustained outcomes in an environment where competition and the risk of disruption are more intense than ever and societal expectations have never been greater. Businesses need to change faster and more thoroughly to attract capital, talent and customers. Too often, however, narrowly conceived transformation initiatives do not deliver the outcomes they promise. A new approach is needed.

Bob Moritz, global chairman of PwC said: “The profound changes in the world mean that to succeed, organisations need to create a virtuous circle between earning trust and delivering sustained outcomes. By bringing our unique combination of capabilities together and matching it with serious investment and our commitment to quality, we can help them do that. In doing so, we will help clients unlock value for shareholders, stakeholders and wider society.”

PwC will expand Centres of Excellence for specialists on key ESG topics, including climate risk and supply chain, as well as create a global ESG Academy which will enable all PwC partners and staff to integrate the fundamentals of ESG into their work.

How PwC will help build trust and deliver sustained outcomes

PwC’s multidisciplinary model is the foundation for the strategy, bringing together a passionate, diverse community to help organisations build trust and deliver sustained outcomes. The model enables investment at scale in the combination of capabilities that is essential to delivering quality and impact for clients, stakeholders and society. PwC firms will invest US$12-billion over the next five years, creating over 100 000 net new jobs across PwC, as well as continuing to develop the skills of PwC’s partners and employees.

PwC’s approach to building trust is designed to meet rising expectations of transparency and stakeholder engagement. It combines expertise in audit, tax and compliance activity with an expansion of specialist capabilities including cybersecurity, data privacy, ESG, and AI. It recognises the importance of quality and that reporting and compliance are just one link in a chain that includes organisational culture, executive mindset, aligned standards, certified professionals, stringent controls, tailored technologies, and appropriate governance.

Similarly, delivering sustained outcomes requires an integrated approach. Instead of a traditional technology-driven approach to transformation, PwC’s approach is focused on the outcome that effort seeks to achieve. PwC then mobilises expertise in strategy, digital and cloud services, value creation, people and organisation, tax, ESG, deals, business recovery services, legal and compliance, amongst other areas to deliver the agreed outcomes.

Planned investments include:

  • ESG. PwC will expand Centres of Excellence for specialists on key ESG topics, including climate risk and supply chain, as well as create a global ESG Academy which will enable all PwC partners and staff to integrate the fundamentals of ESG into their work. 1 000 partners from 60 territories across the network have already completed an in-depth six-week programme focused on business issues resulting from critical global trends.
  • Quality. PwC will continue to invest to further enhance quality across its businesses. This will include US$1bn dedicated to accelerate deployment of technology that further automates the implementation of quality frameworks in audit, as well as build the delivery model for the audits of the future, which are expected to require more types of data, assess a broader range of risks and more fully integrate non-financial information. This additional technology investment builds on the ongoing focus on quality, supported by rigorous methodology and training across all lines of service.
  • Leadership Institutes. Today’s leaders need new skills to help lead through and manage uncertainty, build inclusive cultures, and support transformation. New Leadership Institutes will be created to support clients and stakeholders. The first Institute will be based in the United States and will empower more than 10 000 of today and tomorrow’s C-suite leaders, executives, and board members to build trust. Another Leadership Institute will be created in Asia-Pacific and further announcements will be made in the coming months.
  • Technology. PwC will continue its strategy of being human-led and tech-powered. It will continue to rapidly expand its use of cloud, artificial intelligence, technology alliances, virtual reality and other emerging technologies to deliver insight and drive competitive advantage for clients. In addition, PwC is accelerating the deployment of technology products, supporting seamless collaboration and enabling its people to automate processes. These products and automations will transform the client experience and allow new insights and values to emerge.

The New Equation also accelerates PwC’s growth in the Asia Pacific, with US$3-billion of the investment planned for the region, aimed at doubling its business and significantly scaling up capabilities to serve clients.

Bob Moritz continued: “We are mobilising multi-disciplinary teams, powered by technology and drawing on deep specialist expertise. We will continue to evolve our ways of working, and expand our capabilities in the areas that matter most for the future, while remaining steadfast in our commitment to quality: bringing together the unique combinations needed to help clients answer the expectations of their shareholders, stakeholders and society at large.”

Dion Shango, CEO for PwC Africa said: “PwC Africa is excited by the opportunity that The New Equation represents for our clients, employees and other stakeholders. The launch of our new global strategy comes at a time of unprecedented change – it will enable PwC teams to support clients and other stakeholders across the African continent to move toward greater sustainability and more inclusive growth, as well as to drive their digital evolution. The strategy will shape how PwC Africa develops in the coming years as we seek to deliver against our purpose in society – which is to build trust and solve important problems. As part of the strategy, we are making substantial investments to further enhance audit quality and expand our capabilities.”

Commitments in our Africa region

As part of The New Equation, PwC’s Africa region is also announcing plans to meet the specific needs of clients in our market. Here in Africa, PwC will continue focusing on the following, with plans of further commitments to be announced within the next few months:

  • PwC Africa is committed to delivering quality in everything we do, and we are making substantial investments to further enhance quality. We’re committed to driving a strong culture of quality. It’s core to our purpose – to build trust in society and solve important problems. Importantly, it’s also what our clients and stakeholders expect of us, and rightly so.
  • The New Equation will lead PwC to make the most of the multi-disciplinary model – building capabilities at the depth and scale needed to serve our clients as they seek to build trust and deliver sustained outcomes.  At a time when businesses are evolving, we are focused on providing innovative, high-quality services and solutions. The trust that our clients and our people place in PwC, and our high standards of ethical behaviour are fundamental to everything we do.
  • The new world of work will demand the development of new skills. PwC Africa is fully committed to continuing to invest in helping our clients and our people to prepare for change brought about by advances in technology and digitalisation. Digitising our business is a strategic focus for the Africa firm, including upskilling all of our people and making them more digitally astute, as well as growing their competency with the firm’s digital assets and tools to deliver services to clients.
  • To achieve this goal, we will invest some 150 000 hours in training across the continent. Through our New World. New Skills initiative we’re excited to share what we’ve learned, and we plan to help businesses, governments, local communities, and individuals accelerate their own upskilling journeys. We believe everyone should be able to live, learn, work and participate in the digital world, but that will require business leaders, governments and educators to work together to make the world a more resilient, more capable and more inclusive place.

“We are bringing the best of our people, capabilities and technology together to support our clients in building trust and delivering sustained outcomes for their businesses and society,” said Dion Shango.

Building PwC’s passionate community of solvers

The most important challenges faced by clients and stakeholders can only be met through multi-disciplinary, diverse teams. PwC is doubling down on its existing commitment to attract and equip its people to meet this need – combining human ingenuity with technology to deliver sustained outcomes whilst building trust across the value chain.

PwC cntinues to attract diverse talent, supported by expanded flexible and remote working as well as progressing the previously announced commitment to upskill its own people. The 100 000 net new jobs will be focused in emerging capability areas, from ESG to AI. In addition, PwC will continue to hire over 30 000 people into early career posts each year, providing training and qualifications that set people up for a strong career either within PwC or elsewhere.

Bob Moritz said: “We want our people to be the most sought after in the market, because they have the technical, digital and human skills needed to build trust and deliver sustained outcomes. We are proud that so many people begin their careers at PwC before moving on and are committed to continuing to support training and development for a new generation of business leaders.”

Here in our Africa region, PwC is taking further action to improve the diversity of our talent. Dion Shango elaborated:

“The diversity of our firm contributes to its growth in various ways. PwC Africa’s goal is to achieve a staff profile reflective of the demographics across the continent and to achieve equality in the workplace. Our people strategy is focused on being the leading developer of talent on the African continent. We are focused on diversity and fostering an inclusive environment.”

Delivering Net Zero, increasing transparency

In addition, the network is mobilising around the commitment made last year to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, which involves transforming its business model to decarbonise its value chain. It is submitting specific science-based targets to the SBTi, and each member firm has appointed a Net Zero leader to enable progress based on local plans.

PwC is also increasing transparency around its own operations, through expanded reporting based on the World Economic Forum/International Business Council metrics, as well as the recommendations of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development.

Bob Moritz went on to say:

“There is a strong need for stakeholders from across society to work together. Whether it’s the pandemic, climate change, social injustice or the digital divide, there is a growing expectation that businesses have a role to play in addressing broader societal issues. Our new strategy is about helping clients address their toughest challenges and delivering for society and the planet.”

Dion Shango concluded: “Our Africa firm actively supports our global commitment to become net zero by 2030. This is an ambitious target that will require the reshaping of our operations, working across our value chain and engaging in public policy discussions. We are also committed to supporting our clients in their sustainability journey. We are equipped to support organisations with insights including energy transitions, TCFD alignment, net-zero strategy and implementation, circular economic opportunities, carbon tax, carbon emissions assurance and much more.

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The Ridge: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Cape Town’s newest 6-star Green Star Design awarded commercial building, the Ridge in the V&A Waterfront, has opened and its tenant, Deloitte South Africa, is trading from inside its unique spaces.

The Ridge deploys some of the most advanced sustainable building technology available globally, as well as original blue-sky thinking. It was born from the V&A Waterfront’s vision to set new standards for the future of commercial office buildings. The final design was the result of the creative inputs of the project’s multi-disciplinary design team, which worked closely together.

Over the past decade, the Waterfront has blazed a trail of sustainable development, rewarded with Green Star accreditations by the Green Building Council of South Africa. Individual buildings include the Allan Gray building at No.1 Silo, the Watershed and No.5 Silo, all 6-Star Green Star buildings plus a number of other firsts that include the former Grain Silo which became Zeitz MOCAA (Museum of Contemporary Art Africa) and the boutique Silo Hotel, as well as No.6  Silo incorporating the Radisson Red (the first 5-star Green Star hotel).

David Green, the CEO of the V&A Waterfront, explains that this project showcases the capabilities of the Waterfront as a developer in providing custom-designed office or mixed-use accommodation to the highest standard in line with the needs of the customer.

”The Ridge and our other developments provide a working example as to how it can be done for companies that are looking to the future of their businesses in a sustainable way with a focus on both environmental performance and the greatest asset a company has: its people.”

“This development represents the confidence that our company and its shareholders have in the future of Cape Town as a destination and our confidence in South Africa itself,” he says.

Vusi Nondo, the executive manager for development at the V&A Waterfront explains that the Ridge has been an important milestone for the Waterfront in its rollout of bespoke office space, mixed-use and retail offerings.

“It has been said that working from an office post-Covid-19 will never be the same again – worldwide. Of course, that’s true, but long prior to the pandemic, the Waterfront development team identified a healthy office space that looks after the wellness of employees as being of paramount importance to any business.

“Armed with a development approach we consider as ‘Our Normal’, we’ve implemented people-centred innovations in all our bespoke developments. These promote a healthy work environment, help in combating sick building syndrome and low-carbon modes of transport. These include pedestrian footpaths, bicycle routes/parks, outdoor greened relaxation areas, and even food gardens,” he adds.

The Waterfront’s development director and project leader for the Ridge, Mark Noble, explains why the office work experience is exceptional and how the Ridge’s bespoke features set it apart from other commercial buildings.

“We designed the Ridge to be a world-class living, breathing building by incorporating a number of standout features, some of which are firsts for South Africa:

Air quality. The building operates on a mixed-mode interior climate control system, which includes the following features:

“Natural ventilation, which significantly raises the indoor air quality and is controlled by the occupants. This means that office workers may open the windows to let in fresh air for up to 80% of the year-round.

“An impressive atrium runs from ground to the third level of the building. Referred to as the ‘central street’, it helps to pull air through the building, in through the windows and out through the roof lights, while also bringing many other benefits to workers and visitors inside the building.”

Actuated windows in the special roof lights, through which warm air flows upwards out of the ‘central street’ (atrium).

Minimal HVAC (air conditioning) usage. The building incorporates passive (non-energy consuming) temperature control mechanisms several of which are unique. “A virtual sum of parts that leads to a greater whole,” attests Noble.

The zigzag-shaped engineered timber façade ingeniously orientates the glass windows towards the north or south, which prevents lower angle sun from the east or west from entering the office spaces. This provides natural daylight while reducing glare and patches of hot sunlight. “This has a major impact in promoting both fresh air quality and the saving of energy,” Noble explains.

Thermally Activated Building System Technology (TABS). “TABS is installed into the soffits (ceilings) above the working areas of the building and this cools the concrete structure by means of water circulating from the chiller and heat pumps on the roof. The cooler soffit hence cools the air below, which circulates around the workspace. TABS is another important contributor to the mixed-mode climate control system at work inside the building,” he adds.

Thermally Activated Building System Technology (TABS)
Level 3 under construction. The installation of the TABS matrix of pipes into the floor slab.

All these measures mean that people inside the building will experience steady indoor ambient temperatures that respond slowly to outdoor temperature variations. The mixed-mode system design aims for the building’s conventional air conditioning system to be active for only 20% of the year. This is in line with international standards such as WELL™, in promoting occupant productivity and thermal comfort.

Development Manager for V&A Waterfront, Kirsten Goosen, comments on the other features that add to the total experience of the building as an occupant:

“People connectivity is enhanced by the central street (atrium).  Apart from the areas where rational fire or acoustic design required the atrium to be enclosed in a few places, it mainly allows the free movement of building occupants on each level. Hence, informal connections can occur among building occupants and their visitors.

“Lighting includes the impressive roof lights above the atrium which allow optimal levels of natural light. This adds to conventional lighting on each floor. Low-energy LED lighting is suspended between acoustic panels to provide a stimulating work environment while the panels provide appropriate levels of sound absorption for work.”  

Roof lights (skylights) at top of the atrium introduce considerable natural light into the building and acts as the “chimney” for air moving out of the building.

World-class interior fit-out and a focus on the occupant

Since practical completion of the building late in 2020, the Deloitte-appointed interior design firm, Paragon Interface was on site, transforming the building’s extraordinary spaces by means of a world-class interior fit-out. Workplace strategist and Paragon Interface Director, Claire D’Adorante, comments that the client’s requirement was for a work environment that emulates the very high standard set by its global client.

“This means that the brief was distilled down to facilitating the way of working within the company to be in line with that of the global Deloitte brand, its corporate identity and also utilising brand intrinsic such as the use of colour. The work areas, desk sharing and layout are customisable to agile working,” D’Adorante outlines.

The first level is colour-coded Teal. Numerous informal breakaway areas exist through the Ridge, where teams working on agile projects can gather.

“Collaborative work opportunities and spaces exist throughout the building, which also has an ‘activated’ atrium edge. In addition, the interior features an active working corridor and workspace. Pause or meditation spaces are balanced with social and entertainment areas, with modern facilities available for use by the office staff”.


Mark Noble, Development Director, V&A Waterfront

“The façade on the top two floors of the building is constructed from locally sourced cross-laminated mass timber together with the more standard glass and aluminium panels in a unitised system. This is a very significant feature.

“Using timber as both the structural façade element as well as the internal and external finish, we believe is a genuine first for South Africa and one that has contributed significantly both to the overall architecture as well as reducing the overall carbon footprint of the building by 60 tonnes CO2 (equivalent) from the atmosphere.”

The Ridge also forms the hub of a broader mixed-use district of the Waterfront, called the Portswood District. “We have a number of heritage houses that were restored at the same time as the Ridge was under construction. These form part of the new district which will focus heavily on non-motorised mobility. While the district is envisaged as a commercial node, we are constructing public footpaths and a bicycle route will navigate the area.”

“The area will offer shady retreats, a Petersham Nurseries style cafe made solely from waste material from the V&A including a feature glass bottle wall (designed by PE based architect Kevin Kimwelle), a vegetable garden and the security of being within the Waterfront. We see this new district as a kind of secret garden with a high density of green open spaces and trees creating an environment that is truly unique in an inner-city location.

“With the opening of the Ridge at the Portswood District, it is now possible to navigate from this new commercial district, via the Watershed and beyond to our established retail and mixed-use property assets, including Victoria Wharf, the Clock Tower district, the Silo district or even Granger Bay,” Nobel says.

Wayne Megaw, Operations Leader, Deloitte Africa

“Our impact on the environment was a key consideration throughout the building project and therefore the 6 Star rating is an incredible achievement. Achieving certification means that we have succeeded, through collaboration with the development team, in building a high-performing, productive workplace that is healthier for our people and the environment.

“The interior design further ensures that the office becomes a place to work more dynamically through offering the right kind of working space available at the right time. The Ridge offers a range of different working activities and styles with spaces that can fuel creativity and will ultimately generate more collaborations across our multiple business units. There are no private offices for any staff with hot-desking being embraced to support openness, chance interactions, teamwork and increased collaboration. The office promises improved efficiency, integration and sustainability which is good for our business, our people, our clients and the environment, as well as our long-term capacity needs,” he comments.

Tessa Brunette, Lead Engineering and Façade Consultant, Arup

“Together with the buildings’ intrinsic thermal mass, the façade is the most important ‘machine’ (controlling indoor environment) in the building. We reached our design response using first principles, in close collaboration with studioMAS, the architects.

“These design responses were then tested and refined by using advanced computer modelling method, which included the testing of different glazing types, orientations and shading types. Thus we identified the optimum combination of orientation vs. shading vs. glazing type.

“Through an iterative process with many stages of analysis, modelling and interpretation initial modelling, the various options were refined to assess which combinations worked best in conjunction with the architecture and budget.

The Ridge’s timber façade (right).

“Modelling confirmed that the zigzag (pleated) façade that we adopted for building levels 2 and 3 performs as well as a straight deeply shaded façade, and allows for more glazing without external shading devices that could obstruct views to the outside and reduce the amount of internal natural light.

“So the design significantly reduces the amount of direct sunlight entering the building, which in turn means that the internal spaces can largely rely on our mixed-mode system and not need air conditioning to remain comfortable,” Brunette says.

The building is designed to be as comfortable as possible without needing air conditioning to heat or cool. Occupants can control their personal comfort by adding or removing outer layers of clothing. If that is not enough, the controls can be adjusted to suit what the user prefers.

TABS (thermally activated building system technology) operates continuously throughout warmer months, cooling the internal environment using chilled water circulating through the floor slabs. This complements the operation of the natural ventilation system and HVAC, meaning that the building’s possible use of fresh air ventilation rises from 60% to 80% of the year.

It is all done on a controlled basis: “Traffic” Lights installed around the building perimeter indicate to the occupants when they should open and close the windows, based on outside conditions.

‘Traffic’ lights indicate whether the window may be opened. Note also the exposed concrete soffit utilised by the TABS.

When the windows are open, the active ventilation system is switched off. When the weather outside is not suitable for natural ventilation, the building management system (BMS) activates HVAC (air conditioning), provided that the windows have been manually closed.

Air from the HVAC system, when switched on by the BMS, enters the office spaces via a low energy usage displacement ventilation system via air grilles that are located in the floor.

Displacement ventilation system – note the grilles in the floor.

Special custom-designed acoustic panels are suspended underneath the exposed slabs to provide appropriate levels of sound absorption for a comfortable work environment, whilst leaving sufficient exposed thermal mass for the TABS to provide benefit to the occupants.

Sean Mahoney, Project Lead Architect, Studio MAS

“Our role as architect is to combine the logic and practicalities of engineering with the creative arts. I think of the climate control systems in use at the Ridge as the (Toyota) Prius of the built environment – a veritable hybrid,” Mahoney says in a moment of levity.

“This was a collaborative process with Arup best illustrated on the Ridge by the zigzag timber façade and the ‘central street’ with its roof light drums. Both these design elements have a strong engineering and design rationale backing them up, but at the same time, we have managed to create beauty and joy out of them. They are key to the building’s identity and aesthetic and create memorable experiences. These include natural light, natural timber in the case of façade, wonderful views out of the windows, connection with the outdoors and identity,” he says.

This is the northern corner of the building. Note how the function of the sawtooth CLT façade corrects the north-south line, meaning that the sun in the east strikes the CLT panel and can’t directly enter the building.

“Timelessness in architecture is something that many designers strive for. The timber façade itself will evolve and keep functioning over the years, changing colour as it weathers, developing a patina, and making the building stand out as unique.”

Double-volume entrance lobby. Note the origami-style ceiling. Heritage houses in the background.

The origami concept also plays out in an extraordinary-looking ceiling feature outside the entrance lobby for the building which incorporates a continuum of inverted pyramid shapes.

Origami-style ceiling feature seen from staff recreation space on the first floor.

Mahoney comments: “It’s all about the forgotten elevation and view. This is a double-volume scaled space, and the soffit is very visible.

“It’s also inspired by the Baxter theatre, which I absolutely love, even though the design is very different. It’s about having a powerful aesthetic for the ceiling view. The geometry of the upside-down pyramids is derived by folding the two pleated façades on the corner by 90 degrees, so that you in effect have a pleated soffit, and then ramming the pleated façades into each other. The troughs and valleys of the pleats combine to create pyramid forms. LED strip lights are then run along the diagonal valleys that occur,” he adds.

Interior fit-out by the tenant, Deloitte – as per Claire D’Adorante, Director of Paragon Interface

The ground floor accommodates the more public functions such as a Deloitte reception, client-facing meeting rooms, a staff restaurant and a Vida e Caffé that can service both Deloitte employees and the public realm through a hatch inserted into the covered entrance façade.

“To facilitate and encourage active movement for both employees and visitors, the Ridge has a light-filled internal atrium conceptualised as a street that runs through its centre. The workspace planning focuses on activating this street edge through the deliberate positioning of agile workspaces around the atrium to create a bustling working corridor.

“This includes a balance of collaborative workspace such as touch-down points, casual lounge spaces, focus rooms and pods. Social relaxation areas are positioned in the vertical circulation core. Lifts and a sculptural steel staircase allow employees to easily connect with each other between floors,” explains D’Adorante.

The ground floor experience is completed by Deloitte’s ‘Xcelerator’, an immersive environment where clients can experience the potential of digital transformations in an innovative environment that enables the creative development of customised digital solutions.

New ways of working such as desk-sharing practices are also being successfully implemented here, aligned with Deloitte’s global workspace practices. “From the beginning the Ridge was always going to be unique, and the interior really needed to respond to that brief. At the same time, it aligns the threads of Deloitte’s branding philosophy and the workplace strategies,” she concludes.

The usage of the tenant corporate colours permeate the building creatively and are also used in a practical way for example, in navigation around the 8 500m2 building – each floor is uniquely colour-coded.

Each floor is colour-coded with Deloitte corporate colours.

The Green Building Council of South Africa

Lisa Reynolds, CEO of the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA), commends the V&A Waterfront and the entire professional team on another iconic 6-Star Green Star certified building within the Waterfront precinct. “The Ridge represents the V&A’s commitments to world-class sustainability leadership as well as showcasing local built environment professional talent capable of delivering innovative sustainable design,” says Reynolds. “Green buildings like the Ridge help to inspire a built environment in which both people and planet thrive,” she adds.

Georgina Smit, Head of Technical at the GBCSA explains that a 6-Star Green Star Design rating at the project design stage represents an intent to achieve a sustainability performance level that equates to world leadership, exceeding South African excellence (5-Star) and industry best practice (4-Star).

“Six-star ratings are unusual in South Africa and is not an easy achievement for a design rating. Only nine other offices have achieved this accolade to date, either through our Design or As-Built rating, or both, since 2010. It involves a committed client, a dedicated professional team and an integrated design approach by all,” she says.

More on green buildings in our latest issue of +Impact

Technical facts

  • The building has a specific energy strategy which includes:
  • Passive energy-efficient features are incorporated, as mentioned above, to reduce base energy load.
  • Active energy-efficient designs include low-energy lighting systems.
  • A solar array on the roof harvests additional power when the sun is shining.
  • Ultimately, in the case of a grid failure, vital systems in the building are kept going by means of a standby generator.
Water resources
  • The building employs the normal low water flow devices in sympathy with Cape Town’s growing status as an arid city.
  • Grey water and rainwater harvested from the roof is collected and reused for toilet flushing and irrigation.
Dematerialisation and recycling

The focus given by designers to dematerialisation, re-use and recycling is well documented, including the South African first-ever usage of ecobricks encapsulated within certain non-load bearing structural elements of the building.

Greening the interior

Within the Ridge, the natural environment is king. Green plants and a planted balcony for occupants are features of the design philosophy that incorporates greenery.

Photography by ©Gareth Griffiths Imaging and Sarah da Pina

Professional Team: The Ridge

LandlordV&A Waterfront
Engineering team (comprehensive service)Arup
Project managersMace
Quantity surveyorsSmith & Co
Interior architectsParagon Interface
Main contractorGVK Siya Zama
Geo-tech engineersCore Geotech
Landscape architectsPlanning Partners
EcobricksV&A Waterfront

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Preparing for epidemics in South Africa


The public information on Covid-19 does not even begin to touch on the extensive amount of operational work, research and development that is happening in South Africa around the epidemic. The National Science and Technology Forum held a Discussion Forum on ‘Preparing for epidemics in South Africa – human and animal’ that provided much insight.

Previous public health emergencies

There have been numerous public health emergencies in South Africa and globally, each providing an opportunity to learn and build on previous experience. Dr Kerrigan McCarthy was one of the presenters who spoke on this. She is a Consultant Pathologist at Centre for Vaccines and Immunology, NICD. In ‘The Covid-19 Pandemic – what lessons have we learnt for the future?’, she uses three examples: Life Esidimeni, the listeriosis outbreak and the Covid-19 pandemic. The focus is on aligning operational breakthroughs with SET innovation, so important in South Africa where there is a lack when converting planning to action. Take the World Health Organisation’s Incident Management System Framework. This emerged from learnings around the Ebola Crisis of 2013-2014. The NICD adapted this to coordinate patient relocation back to Life Esidimeni. (In a failed attempt to de-institutionalise mental healthcare in Gauteng, patients were unsuccessfully moved to NGOs in 2016.)

McCarthy says without a good coordinating mechanism, resources are misused or poorly allocated. Other lessons included the importance of stakeholder communication (especially with the community and family) and rapidly creating data management systems that are accessible and user-friendly. In fact, flexibility and adaptability become core principles as new information often means decisions must be revisited.

The listeriosis outbreak (2017-2018) first led to the contamination of casings and meat and then other products on the shelves. The NICD coordinated a multisectoral response to the outbreak, similar to the Life Esidimeni plan. This emergency highlighted the importance of including the public. McCarthy says public cooperation is critical for health interventions. The surveillance of outbreak-prone diseases also came to the fore. It included further development of local and international networks for epidemiology and surveillance.

Covid-19 response

Reflecting on the Covid-19 response, McCarthy believes South Africa has done well, learning lessons from previous public health events. Once the virus reached South Africa, it was quickly followed by legislation to support lockdown (which started on 27 March 2020). From a dramatic increase, numbers of infections then levelled out post-lockdown.

Coordinating structures at national level

Further coordinating structures were created in response to requirements around the pandemic. These included a National Command Council to make key decisions, a Ministerial Advisory Committee involving academic specialists, the NICD’s incident management team and the National Department of Health (NDoH). McCarthy says that government created an environment conducive to multi-sectorial coordination at a high level. Covid-19 brought home the importance of working across sectors, from those dealing with animals, humans and health to the environment and legislation. This is of particular note since departments classically work in silos.

For a detailed explanation of the legislative framework and coordinating structures, see ‘Policies and Regulations for Dealing with Disease Outbreaks & Epidemics in South Africa’. This was presented by Dr Wayne Ramkrishna, Deputy Director: Communicable Disease Control, NDoH. More than a year into the pandemic, more lessons have been learned. McCarthy says it’s clear that coordinating structures need to be replicated at provincial and district level as these are service delivery points.

Risk communication and community engagement

Previous experience had already shown that risk communication and community engagement are key. They support public trust in authority structures and engender cooperation with public health interventions. McCarthy says that Covid-19 created communication difficulties due to uncertainties among scientists about the effectiveness of public health interventions. It created gaps for misinformation. There is now renewed emphasis and greater appreciation on the importance of clear communications.

McCarthy notes that good communication should state the facts, explain what is unknown and what is being done to address the uncertainties, and then what the public can do to protect itself. Prof Stephanie Burton added to this – see her presentation. She is in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences and Professor at Future Africa, University of Pretoria (UP). Burton says we need to communicate that the Covid-19 virus is likely to become endemic, how to live safely, and how the virus works. It’s also important to understand the public’s specific questions to provide relevant factual answers.

Burton says that information needs to be understandable, accurate and evidence-based. There should be reasons to trust the information and the people providing it. Consequently, we need to increase educational and awareness programmes. This moves us towards a greater science culture, one where the public grasps scientific developments and takes part in debates.

It also means being able to separate fact from fiction by knowing how to access and assess information. People also need to understand why information changes ie that science changes as evidence changes.

McCarthy explains that an early challenge was the lack of data sharing between private labs and the NICD. A data interface has been progressively established between all the parties, allowing access to data. This is critical for surveillance. There was a need to track the epidemic ie cases, admissions, patient progress, reported deaths, excess deaths etc. Initially, there was no system in the public sector. DATCOV, a portal for logging hospital admissions of Covid-19 patients, was then set up by the NICD.

To further understand the causes of deaths, the NDoH mandated that post-mortems be conducted on all community deaths ie not just hospital deaths. Then the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) assisted with the interpretation of data on deaths. There were issues such as a lack of clarity on case definitions and delays in capturing the cause of death. This is partly due to each province having its own health systems and approach. McCarthy says one of the most important lessons is the importance of real-time quality data and good management systems. We need investment in data management infrastructure and the associated people skills.

Other sources of data – wastewater and earth observation

Complementary sources of data can add to the picture, says Mr Jay Bhagwan, Executive Manager: Water use and waste management, Water Research Commission (WRC). He spoke on ‘Monitoring of outbreaks – what can wastewater reveal?’ Wastewater-based epidemiology can reveal pharmaceuticals and other substance use, diet choices, and genetic markers, for example. A qualitative analysis of environmental samples can be used for determining general pathogen circulation within populations. Regarding Covid-19, the analysis detects RNA fragments (ie traces of the virus). Note that the live virus is not in the water.

Researchers can use wastewater-based epidemiology to track the number of infections and then map hot spots in communities. This is useful for determining risk levels and for supporting decisions around lifting or imposing mitigation interventions. Bhagwan says we’re just starting to see the range of possibilities. The WRC is working on a
Covid-19 National Surveillance Programme as part of early warning systems. It has already reached pilot phase.

More complementary information came from earth observation data via the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), says Ms Naledzani Mudau, Remote Sensing Scientist, SANSA. Various technologies and outputs, such as satellite imagery, can help monitor health services and available resources. It includes mapping and monitoring water quality, air quality, pollution, and heat extremes. Depending on the application, you can gain data from global to street view, as well as a historical view. SANSA can also create co-data sets, for example, vegetation monitoring over time can be integrated with data from the weather service. The most important lesson has been around increasing stakeholder engagement, says Mudau. Decision-makers need to be more aware of the type of data available and how to use it.

Data modelling

Another important area is data modelling, explains Prof Sheetal Silal, Director: Modelling and Simulation Hub Africa, University of Cape Town. She is part of the South African Covid-19 Modelling Consortium, which provides mathematical modelling support to national government during the Covid-19 epidemic. Mathematical models can be understood as tools that create synthetic populations in silico (on computer) that have features similar to the targeted real-world populations. Silal says mathematical modelling is so much more than path diagrams and mathematical equations.

In a real-world application, a lot of data is not available in a numerical format. In fact, some of the data isn’t even collected. The modellers need to meet with experts to understand the disease, the affected population and the public health system, among other factors. This information becomes part of the mathematical model. Silal explains it as using maths, combining it with computer programming and knowledge about the disease, to create a tool for better decision making by gaining insight on the behaviour and trajectory of the epidemic.

Mathematical modelling has been used in numerous ways in South Africa for Covid-19. One is to project future trends and the severity of infectious disease. It has also been used to predict the impact of interventions in the population, such as the impact of mask-wearing. It has also been used to estimate the cost and number of resources required. Silal emphasises that modelling predictions cannot be seen ‘as a crystal ball’. Mathematical modelling is about ‘what-if’ scenarios: “If we make certain assumptions based on available data, this is the likely outcome.”

Covid-19 had and still has a lot of unknowns. Mathematical modelling is used as a tool to understand complex relationships between features of infection. This can be seen when the second wave of Covid-19 came. The drivers
of the resurgence were unknown until the new virus variant emerged. The consortium developed a resurgence monitoring framework with outputs such as a dashboard, the SAMC Epidemic Explorer.

The focus is now on the third wave – variants and vaccines, looking at new lineage, reinfection, and vaccination – and developing a modelling framework around that.

Silal says that numerous lessons have been learned. These include further highlighting uncertainty in disease models and making public communication a full time effort. Furthermore, there is an urgent need for improved surveillance data infrastructure.

Research around Covid-19

A great deal of research has been generated around Covid-19. Topics range from surveillance (such as investigations of Covid-19 in people with HIV) to biobanks (where researchers can investigate possible genetic markers for predisposal to severe Covid-19). There is also research on which diagnostics to use, as well as developing our own. Besides being part of the Oxford AstroZeneca trials, there is research being done in South Africa around prevention and treatment. And this is to name but a few, explains Ms Glaudina Loots, Director: Health Innovation, Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) in her presentation. Of particular note, says Loots, is the establishment of the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa.

Role of indigenous knowledge

Prof Nceba Gqaleni from the African Health Research Institute (AHRI) asks ‘if there is a role for indigenous knowledge in fighting epidemics or pandemics?’ He notes that Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) play an essential role in empowering people, catalysing grassroots innovation, and enabling commercialisation and stable livelihoods. This is of particular importance when faced with a legacy of colonialism, economic dominance, and western systems hegemony. At the same time, one of the objectives of IKS is to build links between community-based knowledge systems and formal scientific institutions.

Investigating preparedness

Prof Jeffrey Mphahlele, Vice-President: SAMRC, notes that countries need to be prepared and to continue to strengthen their response to pandemics. Most countries were caught off guard. (He spoke on ‘Influenza pandemics – lessons for Covid-19 – human and animal’.) This comment was widely endorsed by the speakers, with Ramkrishna pointing to preparing for emergencies with an all-hazards approach. Think beyond communicable disease to the health
consequences of droughts and cyclones.

Research is critical during and after epidemic outbreaks, says Mphahlele. It includes identifying research gaps and priorities, as well as strengthening biosecurity, the research infrastructure, and the legislative framework. McCarthy notes that outbreaks are a signal that something underlying is wrong.

Covid-19 is more than a virus; it’s a conflation of social weaknesses with the virus that has exploited gaps in our society. This results in the weak and vulnerable and those with less access to resources suffering an unfair distribution of the disease.

READ: THE ESSENTIAL NON-ESSENTIALS, the thought leadership piece by Llewellyn van Wyk in the latest issue of Green Economy Journal. He writes:

“Covid-19 has starkly highlighted the central role of those whose daily jobs ensure our health and safety. Just the identification of this group as essential workers says it all although the opposite term raises difficult philosophical notions about the value of non-essentials. But the divisions go well beyond essential and non-essential. The pandemic has created a catastrophic health and economic crisis that has illuminated the fragile existence of low-wage and gig workers in general, and that of marginalised workers, in particular.”

Beyond policies and regulations, Ramkrishna spoke of the burden of zoonotic diseases in general. Already in 2018, a World Bank Report showed that zoonotic diseases accounted for just under one-billion cases and a million deaths annually. He notes that the occurrence and impact of known and novel disease outbreaks are likely to increase with changes in land use, agricultural practices, climate and weather, travel and trade, and urbanisation. Ramkrishna says we need to strengthen health systems to be resilient.

Alternative perspective

Dr Yogan Pillay, Country Director: Clinton Health Access Initiative, spoke on nonpharmaceutical interventions. Pillay stressed that work needs to be done across sectors and across all levels of government. This includes interventions at
all levels, especially community level. Involving the community and local government made a big difference, for example, putting experts at decentralised levels to analyse data at a local level. Action can then be taken in real time. At the same time, there is a need for more agile decision-making by management, as well as greater autonomy for front line workers. He says that all of government and all of society should be responding to Covid-19. We need to be co-creating health and wellness.

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24 hours on Earth: in one image


“Nature reveals itself to us in unique ways, if we stop and look at the world through a window of time,” says photographer Stephen Wilkes.

Using a special photographic technique that reveals how a scene changes from day to night in a single image, Wilkes exposes the Earth’s beautiful complexity and the impacts of climate change — from the disruption of flamingo migrations in Africa to the threat of melting ice — with unprecedented force.

This talk was presented at an official TED conference, and was featured by our editors on the home page.


Stephen Wilkes · Photographer

By blending up to 100 still photographs into a seamless composite that captures the transition from day to night, Stephen Wilkes reveals the stories hidden in familiar locations.

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AECOM fast-tracks Green School South Africa in Paarl for the 2021 school year

Infrastructure consulting firm AECOM enabled Green School South Africa in the Drakenstein Valley near Paarl in the Western Cape to be fast-tracked so it could open on time for the 2021 school year.

AECOM’s long-lead procurement scheduling provided the necessary planning tool to enable the team to monitor and track procurement of the specialised construction packages. Appointed in June 2019, there was considerable pressure to have the school open and operational, reports Herman Berry (PrQS), Executive, Programme, Cost, Consultancy – Africa, AECOM. A Head of School and teaching staff were appointed and children accepted, which meant that the opening date was non-negotiable. However, careful planning, teamwork and sheer hard work meant that Green School South Africa was ready to welcome learners by 15 February 2021.

The school is a passion project for its founders, Herman and Alba Brandt, whose children attended Green School Bali in 2017. Their extraordinary educational experience inspired the establishment of Green School South Africa. The personal significance of the project, a school for their own children and children from their community, was a driving force throughout the project.

The family had a personal touch in every aspect, which meant that managing expectations throughout was critical. The Covid-19 pandemic impacted progress significantly, with construction halted on 27 March 2020 and only resuming on-site on 1 June 2020. “This added a full two-month delay to an already congested programme,” reveals Berry.

When the hard lockdown commenced, no one could foresee how long it would be before construction could resume. As time passed, the team became increasingly concerned about the construction timeline, as well as the probable impact of global supply chain constraints on availability and price escalations of all critical materials.

To address these risks, the professional team redesigned many of the buildings to enable reduced construction times (for instance, all classrooms were planned as rammed earth buildings, but in lockdown this was changed to locally manufactured bricks) and tendered and finalised the procurement of all critical materials such as glass, steel, aluminium and the security system, etc.

“We even managed to manufacture the custom-made roof trusses for all of the classrooms during lockdown Level 4, adopting a modular concept to increase on-site efficiency,” adds Berry. Critical decisions also had to be taken on how the school could be operational while still finishing some buildings after it had opened.

What is Green School South Africa, and how is it ‘green’?

Green School South Africa’s mission is to educate for sustainability, so it has an extremely strong focus on sustainability in every component of the school. This includes design, construction and operation, but also extends to the curriculum and the way in which this is taught.

The school opened with an initial intake of 120 learners from kindergarten to Grade 8, and will add a grade so it caters for kindergarten to Grade 12 by 2025. The gross construction area of 2 973 m2 consists of 16 classrooms split between kindergarten and primary school, the Sangkep Hall (Balinese for ‘gathering place’) and the Heart of School area, complete with dining hall, kitchen, servery, library, art and music studios as well as ablution facilities.

Apart from the buildings, extensive landscaping had to be completed, together with a sports field, road network and security fence. From a design and construction perspective, the Living Building Challenge (LBC) was proposed by Terramanzi, the sustainability consultant. The LBC is an incredibly rigorous standard that requires a project to be regenerative and not just have a zero-carbon footprint. The fact that the site is situated outside the urban edge and far from public infrastructure services meant it had to generate its own electricity, purity its own water and treat its own waste water.

Some sustainability highlights of the school are:

  • It is regenerative in terms of energy, producing 105% of its own electricity consumption, thus giving back to the grid and not taking from it.
  • It is regenerative in terms water, using less water than what the site naturally gets per year from rainfall – hence it gives back more to the river and groundwater aquifers than it takes from it.
  • It is a zero waste-to-landfill site, also taking in waste from neighbours and the community so as to have a net positive impact on waste to landfill.
  • The construction process had to ensure that no materials on-site included any Red List ingredients, and also that the manufacturing process of all materials did not use any of these items;
  • Endemic flora was re-established in the gardens, thereby contributing positively to the biodiversity of not just the site, but the entire area, with so many different types of bees, butterflies and seed-spreading; and
  • It incorporated vegetable gardens, fruit forests, medicinal gardens and herbal corridors in the campus landscape. The school day includes growing, caring for and harvesting – all with the aim of re-establishing people’s connection to the land and food.

In addition to the above, all materials were carefully selected to reduce carbon emissions. Feng shui principles were incorporated to harness positive energies within the buildings to harmonise individuals with their surrounding environment. The thermal comfort of learners and educators was very important, with the classroom orientation, heights, roof overhangs and Thermally Activated Building System (TABS) all contributing to create a comfortable indoor environment.

With the different types of material requirements, in addition to personal touches by the client, budgets remained under pressure, so AECOM drove a value engineering process with the architect and interior designer. Basic quantity surveying principles were applied, such as reviewing the efficiency ratios of wall/floor areas, reducing wall heights and oversailing roofs, advising changing materials to meet target savings and reviewing construction areas of the various buildings, etc. “We managed to guide the designers to make practical changes without altering the essence of the design in order to achieve the client’s vision,” highlights Berry.

When Green School South Africa opened its doors on 15 February 2021, the classrooms and Heart of School buildings were complete, the gardens were planted and all infrastructure components were operational. It was almost an impossible project, but showed how collective determination and hard work can change an impossible dream into a beautiful reality, points out Berry. “This project brings diversity to AECOM’s standard public education services. We hope it will be a trailblazer for similar types of private campuses in future.”

Other key projects that AECOM has been involved with was planning, designing and managing the implementation of ablution blocks and new boreholes for 367 schools within the Southern and Midlands regions of KwaZulu-Natal on behalf of the Department of Education. AECOM also has a long-term contract with Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley to provide project and programme management and commercial and procurement support services.

Professional Team

Main contractor: Energy Master Builders

Quantity surveyor and fire engineer: AECOM – Lead QS Herman Berry, QS Mathapelo Nchabeleng, Senior Mechanical Engineer and Fire Engineer Johan Jooste

Architect: GASS Architecture Studios

Lead interior designer: D12

Civil and electrical engineer: FRAME (Paarl)

Solar PV design and supply: FRAME (Paarl)

Sustainability consultant: Terramanzi

Thermal comfort design: Climetric

Landscape Architect: DDS Projects

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Five satellite images that show how fast our planet is changing

Satellite observations can provide far more insights than that. In fact, they are essential for understanding how our planet is changing and responding to global heating and can do so much more than just “taking pictures”.

By Jonathan Bamber Professor of Physical Geography, University of Bristol

It really is rocket science and the kind of information we can now obtain from what are called Earth observation satellites is revolutionising our ability to carry out a comprehensive and timely health check on the planetary systems we rely on for our survival. We can measure changes in sea level down to a single millimetre, changes in how much water is stored in underground rocks, the temperature of the land and ocean and the spread of atmospheric pollutants and greenhouse gases, all from space.

Here I have selected five striking images that illustrate how Earth observation data is informing climate scientists about the changing characteristics of the planet we call home.

1. The sea level is rising – but where?

Map showing global sea level rise
The sea is rising quickly – but not evenly. ESA/CLS/LEGOS, CC BY-SA

Sea level rise is predicted to be one of the most serious consequences of global heating: under the more extreme “business-as-usual” scenario, a two-metre rise would flood 600-million people by the end of this century. The pattern of sea surface height change, however, is not uniform across the oceans.

This image shows mean sea level trends over 13 years in which the global average rise was about 3.2mm a year. But the rate was three or four times faster in some places, like the southwestern Pacific to the east of Indonesia and New Zealand, where there are numerous small islands and atolls that are already very vulnerable to sea-level rise. Meanwhile, in other parts of the ocean, the sea-level has barely changed, such as in the Pacific to the west of North America.

2. Permafrost is thawing

Source: ESA

Permafrost is permanently frozen ground and the vast majority of it lies in the Arctic. It stores huge quantities of carbon but when it thaws, that carbon is released as CO₂ and an even more potent greenhouse gas: methane. Permafrost stores about 1 500 billion tonnes of carbon – twice as much as in the whole of the atmosphere – and it is incredibly important that carbon stays in the ground.

This animation combines satellite, ground-based measurements of soil temperature and computer modelling to map the permafrost temperature at depth across the Arctic and how it is changing with time, giving an indication of where it is thawing.

3. Lockdown cleans Europe’s skies

Source: ESA

Nitrogen dioxide is an atmospheric pollutant that can have serious health impacts, especially for those who are asthmatic or have weakened lung function, and it can increase the acidity of rainfall with damaging effects on sensitive ecosystems and plant health. A major source is from internal combustion engines found in cars and other vehicles.

This animation shows the difference in NO₂ concentrations over Europe before national pandemic-related lockdowns began in March 2020 and just after. The latter shows a dramatic reduction in concentration over major conurbations such as Madrid, Milan and Paris.

4. Deforestation in the Amazon

Credits: ESA/USGS/Deimos Imaging

Tropical forests have been described as the lungs of the planet, breathing in CO₂ and storing it in woody biomass while exhaling oxygen. Deforestation in Amazonia has been in the news recently because of deregulation and increased forest clearing in Brazil but it had been taking place, perhaps not so rapidly, for decades. This animation shows dramatic loss of rainforest in the western Brazilian state of Rondonia between 1986 and 2010, as observed by satellites.

5. A megacity-sized iceberg

Source: ESA

The Antarctic Ice Sheet contains enough frozen water to raise global sea level by 58 metres if it all ended up in the ocean. The floating ice shelves that fringe the continent act as a buffer and barrier between the warm ocean and inland ice but they are vulnerable to both oceanic and atmospheric warming.

This animation shows the break-off of a huge iceberg dubbed A-74, captured by satellite radar images that have the advantage they can “see” through clouds and operate day or night and are thus unaffected by the 24 hours of darkness that occurs during the Antarctic winter. The iceberg that forms is 1,270 km² in area which is about the same size as Greater London.

These examples illustrate just a few ways in which satellite data are providing unique, global observations of key components of the climate system and biosphere that are essential for our understanding of how the planet is changing. We can use this data to monitor those changes and improve models used to predict future change. In the run-up to the vitally important UN climate conference, COP26 in Glasgow this November, colleagues and I have produced a briefing paper to highlight the role Earth observation satellites will play in safeguarding the climate and other systems that we rely on to make this beautiful, fragile planet habitable.

Disclosure statement

Jonathan Bamber receives funding from the UK Natural Environment Research Council, the European Commission Horizon2020 Framework Programme and the European Space Agency.

Courtesy: The Conversation

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