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Cycling for 10 days from Joburg to Durban, via the snowy Lesotho Highlands

In April 2022, Wandile Msomi and Jonathan Pinkhard decided to get on their bikes and cycle from Joburg to Durban, a trip with moments as scary as they were rewarding.
“So, you guys are here to die? People come to die up here; do you know how many bodies I’ve found around here?” the soldier who runs a shebeen atop Lesotho’s snowy Maloti Mountain range, some 3,000m above sea level, asks Wandile Msomi and Jonathan Pinkhard. “And you guys are wearing shorts,” he adds. A short while earlier, Pinkhard had also been contemplating their mortality: “I remember thinking to myself, this is insane, we could die up here.”
They’d been cycling for days, they were exhausted; it was dark, windy, rainy and snowy. They felt as though hypothermia was beginning to set in as they cycled up the mountain pass. Pinkhard couldn’t see Msomi; he called out to him in the dark, “Wands, I think we’re out of our depth, I think we need to call for help.”
Silence. “Wands,” he shouted.
Eventually, Msomi shouted back: “This is what we asked for. This is what we asked for!”
Just a few days earlier, the two friends, “brothers”, 39-year-old Msomi and 33-year-old Pinkhard, left the latter’s home in Northcliff, Johannesburg, on their bicycles, with a plan to cycle some 930km to Msomi’s house in Durban, via Lesotho, over 10 days. They’d been a bit anxious as they left, especially as this was back in April 2022, when heavy rainfall had led to massive floods in KwaZulu-Natal, where they were headed, and Lesotho had had quite a bit of snow.
They’d prepared as best they thought necessary: a tent to share, sleeping bags, food, phones, a GPS system and clothes. “I put in quite a bit of training. Wands cycles and commutes a lot; he’s just kind of fit in general. Whatever you put in front of him, he’s going to conquer it,” says Pinkhard.
Five days before death on the Lesotho Highlands would seem like a real possibility, their trip kicked off to a physically intense, but gentler and flatter start. They rode 186km from Joburg to Vereeniging, across the Vaal River and through to Heilbron in the Free State.
“The next day we got into some gravel roads. We rode through beautiful farm roads, endless corn fields and soy plantations. For anyone that is looking for a peaceful non-traffic place to cycle, I would highly recommend the Free ...

Love and death in the time of Covid

I have become much acquainted with death lately. I know I am not alone in these times to be reflecting on life’s fragility and the probability of improbability. I have had to endure four deaths, two humans and two animals, since July 2020.
My mother was 89 and died on the eve of her 90th birthday, on 5 July 2020. She had come to live with me in Fish Hoek in March 2018. Before that she was living alone in Montagu in the apartment she and my Dad had shared for about 20 years before his death in 2009.
I was previously in the habit of visiting her once a month, but it was obvious that she was becoming increasingly frail. She had had a series of back operations which had left her with a sinus wound, a wound that would not heal and constantly oozed pus. It had to be dressed daily. She had a caregiver, but the caregiver only came during the day and not at all on weekends. On the weekends I visited, my mother, who had always been a stickler for cleanliness and neatness, stayed in her pyjamas.
After living in a rented garden cottage for some time after my divorce, I started considering the possibility of buying a house. As the universe sometimes works, a house found me and I bought it, and so was able to move my mom from Montagu to live with me in Fish Hoek.
I won’t say it was all sunshine and roses, but it worked out well. Mom had a caregiver during the day and I was there in the evenings and on weekends. Despite her frailty, we even managed to go to the theatre a couple of times. We often sat after supper with a glass of wine, laughing and reminiscing. She told me many things about her early life and marriage, but she was declining steadily physically, her hearing grew worse and her sight was failing. I discovered that she had not been putting in the eye drops necessary to stave off glaucoma, and I was livid with her previous caregiver who had clearly not made sure that she did.
Then came Covid, and hard lockdown. I would fetch her caregiver every day and take her home again. We had to accommodate each other, I was working from home and the noise factor was a problem. She became quite childlike and would ...

Ultra-processed foods: it’s not just their low nutritional value that’s a concern

In countries such as the UK, US and Canada, ultra-processed foods now account for 50% or more of calories consumed. This is concerning, given that these foods have been linked to a number of different health conditions, including a greater risk of obesity and various chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and dementia.
Ultra-processed foods are concoctions of various industrial ingredients (such as emulsifiers, thickeners and artificial flavours), amalgamated into food products by a series of manufacturing processes.
Sugary drinks and many breakfast cereals are ultra-processed foods, as are more recent innovations, such as so-called “plant-based” burgers, which are typically made of protein isolates and other chemicals to make the products palatable.
The intense industrial processes used to produced ultra-processed foods destroy the natural structure of the food ingredients and strip away many beneficial nutrients such as fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
Many of us are well aware that ultra-processed foods are harmful for our health. But it’s been unclear if this is simply because these foods are of poor nutritional value. Now, two new studies have shown that poor nutrition may not be enough to explain their health risks. This suggests that other factors may be needed to fully explain their health risks.
The role of inflammation
The first study, which looked at over 20,000 health Italian adults, found that participants who consumed the highest number of ultra-processed foods had an increased risk of dying prematurely from any cause. The second study, which looked at over 50,000 US male health professionals, found high consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a greater risk of colon cancer.
What’s most interesting about these studies is that the health risks from eating a diet high in ultra-processed foods remained even after they had accounted for the poor nutritional quality of their diets. This suggests that other factors contribute to the harms caused by ultra-processed foods.
It also implies that getting the right nutrients elsewhere in the diet may not be enough to cancel out the risk of disease from consuming ultra-processed foods. Similarly, attempts by the food industry to improve the nutritional value of ultra-processed foods by adding a few more vitamins may be side-stepping a more fundamental problem with these foods.
So what factors may explain why ultra-processed foods are so harmful to our health?
The Italian study found that inflammatory markers – such as a higher white blood cell count – were higher in groups that ate the most ultra-processed ...

Days of Zondo: Mission accomplished

Early in 2021, Ferial Haffajee began to work on a book about the commission – ‘Days of Zondo’. It was due for release at the end of last year and then the first of many delays in the delivery of the reports from the commission began. This is a short account of how it all happened.
The Daily Maverick newsroom is an exciting place to work. That’s an understatement. There are times when it shifts from “never boring” to hurricane-level news storms with a side of “Parliament’s on fire”.
We on the “business” side of the newsroom respect our journalists enormously. We see first-hand what they endure to get the story, the truth, written and out into the public domain.
For almost four years these journalists covered the Zondo Commission, reporting back on the most important testimonies and revelations. They have pored over thousands of pages of reports and distilled them into articles so that the public could make sense of what happened during those State Capture years.
Early in 2021, Ferial Haffajee began to work on a book about the commission – Days of Zondo. It was due for release at the end of last year and then the first of many delays in the delivery of the reports from the commission began.
We pushed out the publication date again and again as we waited for the final report to arrive. I have read Ferial’s work for 13 years, so when the opportunity arose to publish this book I knew that this was far more than a commercial endeavour. Ferial has infinite talents as a journalist and editor but as a writer her ability to explain the inexplicable succinctly and devoid of legal jargon has made this book a page-turner.
I anticipated that she would deliver great writing. I anticipated understanding State Capture and the Zondo Commission better. What I didn’t anticipate were those moments when I would have to walk away from my desk with a renewed anger towards the perpetrators of this grand-scale corruption. Nor did I anticipate the lump in my throat as I read about those in Treasury, SAA and elsewhere who did everything in their power to hold the line.
I didn’t anticipate respecting my colleagues even more for their part in exposing State Capture, and also for their dogged reporting on the commission and its findings.
Days of Zondo’s intention is not to be a tome recounting every detail of what ...

Charles III: the difficult legacy and political significance of the new king’s name

There have been three before him, none of whom are exactly the model for a successful reign.
On the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, the former Prince of Wales was proclaimed King Charles III. Although it’s been known for decades that Charles would succeed his mother, there were rumours that he might, once king, choose the name George due to the contentious legacies of Kings Charles I and Charles II.
At a time of political and constitutional uncertainty, Elizabeth II’s choice to name her son Charles is significant in understanding the monarchy’s vision for the future of the United Kingdom.
Charles I: a tyrant?
Naming another monarch “Charles” would make most historians cringe. The current king’s full name is Charles Philip Arthur George and he could have chosen any of those names for his official royal designation.
Yet he’s kept the name with two namesake predecessors from the House of Stuart, who arguably lived through some of the most tumultuous days of the now British monarchy (so far).
Charles I was born at Dunfermline Palace, Scotland, in 1600 and ascended the thrones of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1625. From the start of his reign, the parliaments of England and Scotland demanded more power.
But Charles was a believer in the divine right of kings and felt he had been given absolute monarchical power by God alone and could not be held accountable to parliament.
He’s been described as a man of small stature with a stammer and a strong Scots accent, which did not work in his favour. Charles married the Bourbon princess Henrietta Maria, who was French and a Catholic.
It was a major issue for the protestant king, who was supposed to be the head of the Church of England, as were his attempts at religious reform that led to the the wars of the three kingdoms, which included the English civil war.
In the end, Charles I refused to create a constitutional monarchy (putting parliament rather than the monarch in control) and was convicted of high treason in 1649. He was executed in front of the Banqueting House in London, which became a symbol of the fall of the monarchy.
Charles II: a flighty king?
His son, Charles II, became a refugee in 1648 and spent considerable time in the Spanish Netherlands, the Dutch Republic and France. While Charles II was in exile, he received financial support and free accommodation at the court ...

Five things South Africa must do to combat cybercrime

Poor cybersecurity awareness and training of users is one reason for the high incidence of successful cyber-attacks in South Africa.
Cyber-attacks are on the rise globally, with seriously negative implications for countries’ strategic, national, economic and social well-being.
A cyber-attack can be defined as an unauthorised attempt – successful or not – to infiltrate a computer or computer system for malicious purposes. Reasons for such attacks vary from financial gain to espionage, gathering strategic and national information and intelligence about an adversary. Such an adversary can be a nation state, a corporate entity or a private individual.
The authoritative international Cybercrime Magazine expects global cybercrime costs to grow by 15% a year over the next five years, reaching $10.5 trillion a year by 2025, reporting:
“This represents the greatest transfer of economic wealth in history, risks the incentives for innovation and investment, is exponentially larger than the damage inflicted from natural disasters in a year, and will be more profitable than the global trade of all major illegal drugs combined.”
A 2022 report by Surfshark, the Netherlands-based virtual private network (VPN) service company, lists the top 10 countries in the world in terms of cybercrime density. Cybercrime density is defined as the percentage of cyber victims per one million internet users. South Africa is number six on the list, with the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and Greece taking places one to five. The UK, therefore, has the highest cybercrime density. That means it has the most cybercrime. One reason for South Africa’s poor showing may lie in the fact that a 2020 Accenture report found the country’s internet users were inexperienced and less technically alert.
In May, a data leak at Transunion, a credit management company, reportedly compromised the personal information of 54 million South Africans. President Cyril Ramaphosa was among the victims.
In 2021 a successful cyber-attack on Transnet, the transport parastatal, brought container terminals to a standstill, disrupting imports and exports. This had massive strategic and economic implications.
Cybercriminals are increasingly moving from targeting enterprise systems to the end users – the employees who operate computers and have access to the enterprises’ corporate data and network systems.
Poor cybersecurity awareness and training of end users is one reason cyber-attacks succeed in South Africa. In both the Transunion and Transnet attacks, unauthorised access was gained via end users.
Cyber-attacks are expected to grow in sophistication as criminals exploit such technologies as artificial intelligence. I am a cybersecurity expert ...

How parents’ internet addiction can fuel their children’s – and what to do about it

Parents and teenager have the best chance of cracking internet addiction when adults acknowledge they have a problem too.
Teenagers are often accused of being addicted to their mobile devices, but new research shows they’re often just modelling their parents’ behaviour.
Of course, we all use digital devices for work, for fun, and for socialising – but too much screen time can be harmful. There is such a thing as “digital addiction” and it’s characterised by excessive and obsessive attachment to technology, associated with harm to users and people around them.
Parents are often considered part of the solution when it comes to their children’s technology addiction. However, in my team’s recent study, we found parents may be part of the problem. The study involved 168 parents of adolescents living in Qatar.
We explored whether there was any connection between the intensity of internet addiction in parents and their children. Parents answered a questionnaire about themselves and a second one about their teenage children.
The results showed a direct relation: the more addicted the parents, the stronger their children’s compulsions were. Setting an example is a powerful form of parenting. The way parents use technology is no exception.
There are ways to tackle the problem. We analysed the first survey with parents, and conducted further research involving a questionnaire with over 500 adolescents and interviews with 44 parents, 42 adolescents and 13 health and education practitioners in Qatar to understand the issue more and get best practice guidelines.
1. Focus on bonding
An effective approach to parenting digital addiction is to strengthen your connection with your child. Although it may sound simple, our findings showed that low levels of emotional engagement in both authoritarian (such as turning wifi off) and lenient parenting styles worsened digital addiction in their children.
Almost all (94%) of our study’s parents followed either an aggressive, assertive or lenient digital parenting style. Yet most of their adolescents were either at-risk or already addicted to technology.
Internet addiction increased in adolescents who did not have a warm relationship with their parents. Instead, family cohesion and low levels of conflict were linked with low scores for internet addiction in children. Planning enjoyable activities as a family gives teenagers something rewarding to fill their time with and increase their feeling of social support.
2. Let’s talk about it
Setting limits on when teenagers can use the internet, punishments for breaking rules and rewards for cutting technology use is not, by itself, ...

How to spend time wisely – what young people can learn from retirees

Balancing wellbeing and money is a matter of how you spend your time.
For many young people, retirement is a blip on the radar, if not a total unknown. This is particularly true during our cost of living crisis, when investing and contributing more to your pension might fall down the priority list behind paying rent.
Despite this, more and more young people are starting to think about retirement in earlier ages, with many focusing on their future quality of life and financial independence after they leave work.
This can sometimes come at the expense of their wellbeing while they are still working, spending extremely frugally and focusing on the “hustle”, instead of enjoying the freedom and good times that could also characterise young adulthood.
For my new research, I interviewed over 200 people and surveyed hundreds more to understand how they balance time and money. I focused on people going through major life transitions: recent retirees and new parents, and people preparing for those moments. While we expect retirees to have all the time in the world, I found that in reality, retirees are often pressed for time.
Over a quarter of them feel time poor, with not enough hours left in the day for all they need to do. This is regardless of the amount of money they have. Although wealthy retirees generally have more control over their schedules, both rich and poor retirees are impacted by time poverty in older ages.
It’s never too late (or too early) to start making the most of your time and living a better life. Here are some important lessons learned from my retirees’ journeys.
Don’t chase money, let money chase you
One of the biggest regrets among my less privileged research participants was their inability to get as much education as they wanted when younger. Some left university or college early to support their families, or because they could not afford to continue. But all regretted not getting as much education as they needed to be competitive in the labour force later on.
To make enough money, pick something and follow through: whether university or skilled technical trades, get good at something. Then, the money will follow.
Worry about how you feel – not how you look
When youth wanes, you are left with how you feel. In retirement, will you be in pain thanks to spending your life in hard labour or nonstop work? My interviewees made clear that when ...

Try Estelle Sacharowitz’s Portobello Mushroom Lasagne and All-Time Flawless Cheesecake

In ‘It’s All About the Food’, Sacharowitz distils her thoughts into an array of dishes that feed both body and soul, from humble but comforting soups, to nourishing bowls and elegant meals to impress.
Estelle Sacharowitz thinks about food all the time. “It’s all about us. It’s about you, it’s about me, it’s about people. It’s about our complexities, memories and sweetness. It’s about trying to capture time in a form that is familiar, comforting and definite . It’s about creativity and curiosity. It’s about needs, primal and necessary, and also emotional.
“Make and eat something that causes you to stop and think, this is wonderful. Life is full of wonder,” she says.
Now, try Sacharowitz’s Portobello Mushroom Lasagne, followed by the All-Time Flawless Cheesecake. Recipes below.
Portobello Mushroom Lasagne
For me, the portobello is the ideal mushroom. I marvel at its meaty, earthy tones and how it infuses those irresistible umami notes. It really is unsurpassed in this lasagne, a dish typically associated with mince, and yet these baby bella mushrooms magically create a comparable depth of flavour; meatiness without the meat. Of course, a good crisp, dry white wine helps, layering the stock with complexity and cutting through any acidity (and drinkable with the meal, obviously!).
The shallots, more delicate and less sharp than onions, add a subtle sense of garlic, which partners well with the mushrooms. The texture is creamy, but not overtly so, which – fortunately or unfortunately – enables me to enjoy seconds. I don’t think the dish needs a side, but if you want one, I suggest a simple, leafy green salad with a lemony vinaigrette.
Note: You may substitute portobello mushrooms with brown, cremini, shiitake, or porcini. Clean them beforehand with damp paper towel or a damp pastry brush, gently removing any dirt. But please don’t soak them; they easily absorb water and will generate too much liquid during cooking.
serves 4–6
½ x 250g box lasagne sheets
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for sprinkling
Chopped fresh chives for sprinkling
Mushroom layers
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups chopped shallots
1kg portobello mushrooms (or a mix of mushrooms of your choice), sliced
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup chopped fresh thyme
3 cloves garlic, chopped
¾ cup dry white wine
250g smooth cream cheese
½ cup chopped fresh chives
3 Tbsp butter
3 cups milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ tsp paprika
1⁄3 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
3 Tbsp cake wheat flour (or more if necessary)
To prepare the mushroom layers, heat the olive oil ...

Pay less for electricity by getting your head around Eskom’s sometimes confusing block tariffs

The amount of electricity you use each month has a significant impact on how much you will pay per unit. Unmonitored, your bill could cost thousands more than necessary.
When the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) introduced Incline Block Tariffs (IBT) back in 2010, the aim was to protect lower-usage residential customers against the high price increases, as well as to encourage heavy users to reduce their electricity usage.
However, the system has proven to be confusing for consumers, with many still unsure as to why the cost of electricity seems to change in price at different times of the month. This is especially the case among prepaid customers, who notice that as they top up towards the end of the month, they receive fewer units for their money.
Incline Block Tariffs
The exact price a consumer in a residential area pays for a unit of electricity differs according to a number of factors, including the area, municipality, the price of the house, the electricity supplier and the current. However, according to the Incline Block Tariffs guideline, charges for residential electricity supply are generally split across similar usage-defined blocks.
For example, the lowest Eskom-approved rate from 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022, was R1.61 per kilowatt-hour (kWh). A kWh is the same as one unit when buying prepaid electricity. That R1.61 rate would cover usage up to 350 units per month, and would apply specifically to prepaid consumers on a 20-amp current, which Eskom typically provides for in informal settlements and rural areas that do not need a lot of power.
However, once they buy more than 35o units of electricity a month, the price will jump to R1.82 per unit for the rest of the month, resetting to the lower rate at the beginning of the following month.
For customers on 60-amp current, which is the equivalent of a suburban home, the lowest-rated payment block for that period would be from zero to 600 units at R1.82 per unit. Once 600 units is up, the rate increases to R3.10 per unit for the rest of the month, resetting to the lower rate at the beginning of the following month.
On prepaid, never buy more than you’ll need in a single month
It’s a bit trickier for post-paid customers to gauge the amount of electricity consumed during the month, unless they pay careful attention to the meter. That said, practising good energy efficiency habits such as ...

Comic Con Africa, festivals and more — things to do, places to see this week around South Africa

Your weekly round-up of go-to events around the country.
KIES / Tierlantynkies Design & Food Fair
With more than 90 exhibitors, you’ll have a world of options to choose from at KIES/Tierlantynkies Design & Food Fair, including local food, wine, jewellery, décor, clothing and homeware. The programme begins at 9am daily.
When: 28 September to 4 October 2022 Where: 3CI Church, 56 Saal Street, Zwavelpoort, Pretoria Tickets: R40 per person (week-long access). Tickets via Plankton.
Comic Con Africa
Comic Con Africa is a four-day gathering dedicated to pop culture. From cosplaying to Q&A sessions with artists, LARPing, meet-ups and product launches, there is plenty for comic book fans to enjoy. Expect to see American actors Khylin Rhambo and Dylan Sprayberry, best known for starring in the MTV hit series Teen Wolf, and English actor Jamie Campbell Bower, known for his role as Vecna in Stranger Things.
When: 22 to 24 September 2022 Where: Johannesburg Expo Centre, corner Nasrec and Rand Show roads, Johannesburg Tickets: R190 per person (general access) via Howler.
Montagu Museum Herb Fest
Botanists and plant-enthusiasts should check out the Montagu Museum Herb Fest. From talks about the medicinal properties of mushrooms, to the use of fynbos in skincare, traditional healing and indigenous Khoisan herb knowledge, there is much to learn. You can also expect art, music and herb-infused food.
When: 23 to 25 September 2022 Where: Old Mission Church, 41 Long Street, Bergsig, Montagu, Western Cape Tickets: From R50 to R100 via Quicket.
Hermanus Whale Festival
The 31st edition of the annual eco-marine festival celebrates the return of southern right whales to South Africa’s coastline. The festival features live music, market stalls, a 10km fun run, a street parade, guided walks, educational talks by conservationists and more. Check the programme on the official event website for further details.
When: 30 September to 2 October 2022 Where: 79 Marine Drive, Hermanus, Western Cape
Plett Arts Festival
The programme for this year’s Plett Arts Festival includes a masterfully curated selection of art exhibitions, workshops, a bronze pouring demonstration, twilight meanders, and more. Check the programme for details, including art, film and music presentations, with work from creatives such as sculptor Suzanne du Toit.
When: 30 September to 9 October 2022 Where: Mellville’s Corner, Main Street Central, Plettenberg Bay Tickets: Prices vary per event. Available via Quicket.
Bongeziwe Mabandla and Blick Bassy
South African musician Bongeziwe Mabandla joins forces with Cameroonian singer-songwriter Blick Bassy in what has been described as “one of the most exceptional live music ...

The Black Phone horror movie: Please, take the call

One of the horror movie standouts of 2022, ‘The Black Phone’ is a child abduction thriller with a supernatural twist.
Despite living in a world of big-budget blockbusters and strings of high-profile sequels, every year a couple of modest horror movies manage to stand out, earning critical and commercial success. They may lead to franchises, but typically they’re original creations, to begin with, making them even more special.
One of this year’s breakout genre hits is The Black Phone. The film is based on an award-winning short story by Joe Hill (Locke & Key), aka the accomplished son of Stephen King; and is directed, co-written and produced by Scott Derrickson, the filmmaker behind the memorably chilling Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, as well as the visually striking first Doctor Strange movie.
The Black Phone taps into the retro-set horror trend — think The Conjuring cinematic universe, X, It and Stranger Things — by setting its events in 1978. The film also has novelty value in that it sees Ethan Hawke, for the first time in his career, play a villain who is pure, inexcusable evil. As the greatest hook of all, The Black Phone includes a paranormal angle, but uses as its basis the all-too-real horror that is child abduction. You can almost think of the film as a gritty (and gory) true-crime tale with a touch of the supernatural.
In a Denver suburb, 13-year-old Finney (Mason Thames), an often-bullied science nerd, becomes the latest target of a masked child abductor and killer, nicknamed The Grabber (Hawke). Finney is locked in a soundproof basement, but he finds help in a most unexpected form. A disconnected phone on the wall provides a link to The Grabber’s previous victims. From beyond the grave, these other kids offer advice to help Finney carry out what they couldn’t, and escape his hellish situation.
And that’s about all there is to The Black Phone, barring a secondary arc to do with Finney’s younger sister, Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), who is prone to psychic visions. The tight focus and simplicity of The Black Phone are its greatest strengths, though. At 103 minutes, this is a lean and distilled thrill-fest that, refreshingly, doesn’t try to over-explain things. It simply shows, and leaves viewers to make their own assumptions. For example, the film never dissects the psychological motivations of The Grabber, which makes him even more of a terrifying enigma.
Speaking of The ...

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