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African Renaissance

The way out of apartheid South Africa

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Miss Gilbey taught Speech and Drama. Every Friday afternoon as the car speeded down the highway en route to her studio cum house I would learn a poem about ducks or gypsies parrot fashion. As my mother or father said the words out loud to me, I would recite them back verbatim. I was six years old fashioning a posh, whitey English accent with clipped tones that did not win me any friends back at the school I went to and especially on the playing field during break. I was six years old. I had not begun to straighten my hair yet to look like the blonde, horsy looking with long teeth, fair or dark, golden-haired, freckled, hockey and tennis playing children who had names like Miranda who joined me when I started going for lessons. She drilled, ‘Speak with expression, expression, expression into me.’

The first thing I noticed is that they weren’t self-conscious like me.

They were brimming with confidence, made friends easily while I had to battle with bullies who mocked me by imitating my voice that was beginning to change at the predominantly coloured school that I went to. The first time I went to Miss Gilbey’s studio I went with my mother who was taking elocution lessons but she stopped soon after taking me. I sat there, in a corner on a bench, my back against a cool wall, felt in my pocket for the candy my mother had given me and started licking away at a red lolly that tasted like cherry making what my mother told me afterwards in the car were ghastly sucking noises that perturbed the dear old Miss Gilbey.

Every now and then I would catch her looking at me and I would smile at her. She never smiled back. Her eyes felt like laser beams when they connected with mine. I felt them keenly. Only later on the way home with my mother scolding me for bringing that sweet inside with me would I realise that I had been very irritating like only a child could be; completely oblivious to what the grownups around her were thinking without being told that she had done something wrong. Later on when I had moved onto Sharon Rother’s, a past pupil of Miss Gilbey who had done her licentiate, Speech and Drama studio in Walmer, which was held in a room adjacent to a church, Miss Gilbey also moved on.

She moved all the way to Montagu with her sister who suffered from bad bouts of asthma. The air there would be good for her, I reckoned. Two women living on their own for most of their adult life; when did they ever come into contact with men, I wondered? In the aisles of a supermarket when they shopped for groceries going down a long list of perishable items? Did a man ever call Miss Gilbey ‘a good girl’ or ‘you’re a beauty, sweetheart’, wink at her, put his arm around her waist and walk with her for awhile while asking her what her name was (her name was Marjorie and I couldn’t ever imagine even if I tried very hard now that any man, even a brazen man or a boy could call her by her first name) and where she lived and would she like to get a bite to eat.

Perhaps some hot tea and a steak and kidney pie with gravy in a restaurant at a hotel. The English men I had been taught by were gentlemen. They were quiet intellectuals, academics, teachers, soft spoken lecturers at universities and introverted and bookish.

What did the life of a spinster feel like? What did the life of an unmarried woman who did not have to cook for a husband, a small child or children, who never hovered and cooed over a crib of a pretty new-born baby? What did a woman over fifty who was past the age of flirting, the cunning moves of seduction do for fun? Did she attend church, bible study with other young women; serve tea at the end of the Sunday morning service with crumpets and sandwiches made with fish; pilchards and sardines or cheese and tomato or egg with dollops of mayonnaise or chicken, wilting lettuce and mayonnaise, cakes, petit fours, biscuits made with coconut and almonds all laid out on tables with white table cloths?

Was that the appropriate behaviour for a woman her age, a lady? Had there ever been a man in her life? In the time I imagined when she was young had she ever corresponded with a young man writing letters filled with lover’s nonsense that only made sense to them, not to the outside world. Did they write about their unfolding passion, their wonder at their innocent love, the madness of the war, the burning houses, flames licking attics, bedrooms, roofs, charred flesh, bodies burnt beyond recognition?

Did they write in code, draw entwined hearts made out of paper? Did she ever seal the letter with a wet, crimson kiss that peeled off her lips or did she ever put her feet up in the afternoon and watch the soaps as a middle-aged woman or quiz shows as a girl?

Did they even have a television now in South Africa? I knew Miss Gilbey didn’t do that because she gave Speech and Drama lessons every afternoon during the week. I was the only coloured child amongst whites. But I didn’t, not for a long time, see myself as being the only coloured child amongst whites. I played with them because I was a child and when you are child words like racism and prejudice do not ring incessantly inside your head like say in the head of a representative of the local government, the president, his cabinet or a community leader who was voted into power by stalwarts, comrades, communists and people who believed in Biko’s Black Consciousness.

Had she ever gone swimming with friends when she was as old as I was when I first started coming to see her? Had she ever clutched her mother’s hand frightened of the road outside her house filled with screaming cars? What were her parents like? How did she come to live in South Africa? Did she grow up during the war; when bombs rained down from the black skies in England, was she ever stuck with other people, families robbed of their men in bomb shelters? Was she a liberal? She obviously didn’t believe in the politics of the day because she had taken my mother and then me on. So, in her own quiet and independent way she was rebelling against the government.

She was making a political statement. At thirty-one I imagine the woman, the child, the girl and then her middle-aged. Didn’t she ever want to be a wife? Growing up I thought as a very young girl, a child, that everyone wanted to be a wife but at thirty-one and the divorce rate globally so high, the only people getting hitched are those blinded by the alluring volcano that is love. They are not conscious of the other person’s imminent flaws yet, how arguments can erupt from seemingly nowhere, the cancer of talk of divorce in the interim wild in the air while you and the other person in the relationship is waiting to make up. They are not conscious yet of the fall out of an illness that will later on strike the family or an intense, lingering depression that manifests and steeps itself into the bones of either the wife or the husband or the small child whose homework is overlooked over the breakfast at the kitchen table while the parents of that small child or children, who wants the attention of both of the adults his or her features resemble while they are at war with each other over some petty, childish thing.

A thing like who had to take the garbage out, who didn’t come forward and help to make the unmade beds, the smears of toothpaste in the bathroom’s basin or whose turn was to wash the dirty dishes in the sink and put it in the dishwasher. Miss Gilbey must have died already in Montagu; perhaps in her sleep, in her bedroom. Perhaps she is buried there now. Who visits her grave, puts fresh cut flowers on it, clears away the old ones, throws the brown water out and puts clean water in the pots or jars or bottles? Even in death she is a mystery to me; these two lonely sisters in a world of light of their own making; their contemporaries with double chins, sagging bosoms, grandchildren, wearing too much make-up, wearing hats to church that bloomed roses, smelling of perfume.

Miss Gilbey had a solid air about her when I first met her. As if she knew she belonged in the world. She always had a pot of tea on her desk that she poured with poise, a jug of milk, a pretty cup and saucer with patterns of flowers on; very English, very proper, very old-fashioned. She sipped her tea as we recited our poems out loud correcting our enunciation, willing us to speak fluently, with emphasis, willing us to reach for that gold star she would stick in our books that we children pasted our poetry and monologues from the books of Winnie-the-pooh in. If she was satisfied with how our vowels sounded, how we articulated the poet’s language, how invested we were in executing the lull of the text, showing the full range of emotions that was expected of us as a spirited ghost or a highwayman we would see a gold star shining off the page, blinking up at us.

In the room filled with a breeze that felt as cool as a humming fridge (we didn’t have air conditioners in those days) as my voice bounced off the walls of the studio, as I watched the backs of the white children’s heads, tufts of dark or golden hair escaping from ponytails, still in their school uniforms or sport kit sniggering.

There was nothing, nothing said of the forced removals that took place in 1964 in South End in what was once a diverse and cosmopolitan suburb filled with Indians, Malays, Muslims, blacks, whites and coloureds living together harmoniously; religion, awash with their culture at times of thanksgiving and holiness and their loyalty, their faith in their different Gods and to each other were their pillars of strength.

There was nothing, nothing said of the unrest that was brewing in South Africa, the daily disdain and underlying aggression in chars as they faced their employer’s, men and women; comrades being picked up by the Special Branch or plainclothes policemen or police spies, being detained after being questioned, brought before a court of law, imprisoned on Robben Island. There was no talk of a coloured man called Georgie Botha’s apparent suicide in this room where my voice rose and rose and rose higher and higher making an imprint, burning it, a hole in the head of Marjorie Gilbey. In the heads of those privileged whites who also came to the studio. I wanted to achieve what they had.

All those gold stars stuck in their books. I didn’t mind the silver ones but gold spelled something marvellous; something magical.

Something accomplished wonderfully; magnificently. I never got red stars. Seeing a red star gave me a start, a headache started throbbing, butterflies in the pit of my stomach started to flit as if I had failed a test at school, got all the sums wrong, spelled the words incorrectly. You only got a red star when you hadn’t learnt all the words to the poem, stammered and needed prompting from Miss Gilbey. There was no talk of the Rivonia Treason Trial, George Bezos, what was in the newspapers about it, the stories that were running internationally and a man called Mandela.

There was no talk of coloured men like Dennis Brutus and the poet Arthur Nortje who was born in Port Elizabeth, in South End which was now a suburb where white people lived comfortably, well off behind their high walls, their dogs and electric fences. Nortje later won a scholarship to study literature at Jesus College at Oxford. It was on Dennis Brutus’s recommendation that he got that scholarship. But I was only six and didn’t know anything besides school and my family. I was just a colored girl, innocent and wide-eyed, six years old with skinned knees from playing amongst the teachers’ cars, wearing North Stars when I came to Marjorie Gilbey’s Studio for Speech and Drama.

A child bullied by the older kids from other standards, tormented by them as they stalked me speaking in high pitched, squeaky voices making me cry. Mandela was just a ghost of a man. The essence of the man never showed the outward shame of humiliation from his persecutors; the Afrikaner wardens who spoke English poorly at the prison on the island. He never showed pain or suffering. His spirit was the spirit of a child, unfettered. The work of his soul continued to live in the outside world, outside of Robben Island where he was imprisoned, living in his supporters, garnering more and more praise internationally.

There was nothing, nothing of men being found hanged in their cell, tortured with burning cigarettes, told to strip naked so that they could be searched or a detainee slipping on a bar of soap.

Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominated shortlisted and longlisted poet Abigail George is a recipient of four writing grants from the National Arts Council, the Centre for Book and ECPACC. She briefly studied film, writes for The Poet, is an editor at MMAP and Contributing Writer at African Writer. She is a blogger, essayist, writer of several short stories, novellas and has ventured out to write for film with two projects in development . She was recently interviewed for Sentinel, and the BBC.

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African Renaissance

The YCCC and How It Changed the Future of South Africa

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This was the pre-apartheid education that we received when we were still at school. I was 13, 14 years of age at the time of the promulgation of the Group Areas Act in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, which then led to the forced removals and people literally being ‘dumped’ in the Northern Areas of Port Elizabeth. Dr Neville Alexander came to Port Elizabeth on two occasions. The YCCC-organisation (Yu Chi Chan Club) was primarily based on guerrilla warfare as is expounded by the leader of the Chinese Communist Party Mao Se Tung. It elucidates in his long walk to freedom, as well as his account in the new democracy as is expounded by his books and writings. These ideologies played a key role in formulating policy in the fight of guerrilla warfare against the Nationalist Party government. It is imperative to mention that the textbook for the organisation was Guerrilla Warfare by Che Guevara which was slavishly followed by discussions in the organisation. Other books included Partisan Warfare by Lenin, as well as Das Kapital by Karl Marx.

This took a lot of preparation and in-depth discussion groups took place based on these classic writers. It was imperative that these books were simplified and applied to the unique situation in South Africa. Dr Alexander and Ali Fataar, the then banned member of the executive of the NUM (New Unity Movement) came to Port Elizabeth to do exploratory work in creating fertile political groundwork for establishing the NEUM (Non-European Unity Movement) groupings. They visited areas like Korsten, Schauderville at night where they held underground discussion groups on the non-collaboration and the ‘Ten-Point Programme’ which at that early stage were very important and relevant documents. These were lengthy discussion groups which took place throughout the night. However, it crystallised into a solid branch of the NEUM (Non-European Unity Movement), Korsten branch. Further exploratory work was conducted in the area before these two stalwarts could return to Cape Town.

As a young student (16 years of age) we had the opportunity of meeting with people of the calibre of Dr Alexander at a very early stage in our political careers. This took place while we attended the CPSU (Cape Peninsula Students Union) group at our residence in Lloyd Street, Cape Town. This group grew rapidly as more and more progressive students became interested in the finer progressive political ideologies of the CPSU. We met regularly every fortnight and the discussions took place until the early hours of the morning. The topics included Bantu Education, Coloured Education, Bush University, Students Representative Council issues and the like. We also organised regular meetings on camping trips on Table Mountain where extensive politicisation took place on advanced political ideologies such as capitalism, imperialism and world ideologies of the day. We became acutely aware that our home got the attention of the security police. However, this did not deter us from becoming acutely aware of the intrusion of capitalism and imperialism and the like. It was at a very young age that I became involved in student politics which has its origin in political activity.

The forced removals, the Group Areas Act, the political upheaval caused havoc amongst particularly the young who were influenced by teachers who belonged to the Anti-CAD (Anti-Coloured Affairs Department) and the TLSA (Teachers League of South Africa). The city was ablaze with political activity which in a short space of time demonstrated deep into the youth. This needless to say was influenced by political youth in the Western Cape. What was affecting the students in the Western Cape was, alas, also affecting the students in the Cape, particularly Gqeberha. At times, the situation became extremely volatile and out of control. Organisations like the NUM (National Unity Movement), Anti-CAD (Anti-Coloured Affairs Department), TLSA (Teachers League of South Africa) reigned supreme. It was also apparent that the ratepayer’s organisations which were formed to fight against the rapid erosion of management committees.

Many public meetings were held with F.A. Landman and Dennis Brutus (vice-chairman), who were at pains to point out the disadvantages of the Group Areas Act. Many groups were formed which included the ANC, the PAC, the Unity Movement and allied groups were mobilised. It became apparent that the Group Areas Act was not going to go through a very easy passage. The organisations were not unified in their actions and this gave the opposition deep inroads into progressive thinkers. As a student group at the University College of the Western Cape we were invited to SOYA (Society of Young Africa) meetings in the Mowbray Minor Hall on a Sunday afternoon. For the first time we witnessed serious altercations among the members of the NEUM (Non-European Unity Movement), and this included Dr Neville Alexander and Dr Kenny Abrahams.

The topic of discussion was on Angola and the chairlady of the meeting Miss Wilcox clearly did not understand her mandate. Dr Neville Alexander and Dr Kenny Abrahams tackled her on the political aspects of FRELIMO Liberation Front of Mozambique). It appeared that two factions had now developed in the meeting. It was really a fisticuffs kind of thing. It appeared as if Dr Alexander and Dr Abrahams were at loggerheads with the present discussion leaders of the main group. The matter came to a head when the chairperson asked Dr Alexander and Dr Abrahams to leave the meeting. However, before that could take place Dr Abrahams announced to the meeting that all those who believed in democracy would leave the meeting. I was one of the Western Cape students who felt urged to leave the meeting with Alexander and Abrahams, which we did and met again at No. 2 Swiss Road in Lansdowne for a follow-up meeting. Officially, at this meeting there was information about the YCCC (Yu Chi Chan Club). Dr Alexander and Dr Abrahams felt no animosity which the meeting gave them as they left.

Dr Alexander was described as a dark horse by my father. As with all leaders, the maverick visionaries and profound thinkers, brilliant intellectuals, and having the primitive wonders of both wisdom and intelligence, for these men ahead of their time their faith was shared only by their comrades in the struggle. These stalwarts have taught me that it is the tendency of every man, woman and child of every race, of every faith to embrace every other man, woman and child of every race, and of every other faith. Indeed, it is rare. Indeed, it is exceptional when it happens. Language is a bridge. The language is not of love, but of respect. It is the flesh and blood of mother tongue language that divides us. It is respect that conquers self-pity, arrogance and narcissism. There is no one identity. Yet there is one moral code. Multiculturalism has changed the order of history, moral ambiguity, cast a spell on the doctrines and phenomena of religion. In humanity, in this human world, these leaders have taught us purpose on earth, the awareness of self, lack of ego and the finding of our identity in existential relativism, pedagogical and counterfeit phenomenology. Multiply achievement and you get the candy shop of the poetic horrors of over-abundance, the romantic weariness of decay and the complex strength of popularity.

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African Renaissance

Truth and the third wave of the pandemic: To be vaccinated or not to be vaccinated

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Photo: Atharva Tulsi/Unsplash

I have endured the worst possible case scenario. Being locked up in a mental institution for six months while in my late teens, early twenties. Even though I was of sound body, mind and soul. I am 42 years old now and I haven’t come all the way back from that experience. Everyone wrote me off when I returned home to Port Elizabeth as Gqeberha was known in those days but worse was to follow. Inhumane treatment from those closest to me, rejection from society. I was taught that I had a mental disability and would never be able to work again, hold down a steady job or earn a monthly income. I was told in no uncertain terms that I had to now live on the fringes of society since I would be unable to make a positive contribution to society. For twenty years this continued. I had to all intents and purposes not only given up on myself, my personal success, development of my potential and fulfillment and engagement in a relationship that would lead ultimately to my future happiness. The goal of marriage and having a child, bringing children into the world and raising a family was not only put into the distant past, I thought that it would always be non-existent for me.

I would spend my time listening to sad music, love songs on the radio and wonder why it was not me caught up in the scenario of having a relationship with the opposite sex. I sank even further into the pit of the hell in f despair and hardship. I virtually had lost control over my life, received a disability grant which I did not spend on anything which I personally needed. Family considered me to be the proverbial black sheep of the family. When I got angry at the way I was treated I was certified. My rights were taken away from me. I was verbally, mentally and emotionally abused. I did everything in my power to be loved and accepted by both my maternal and paternal family which is why I believe so strongly today in dismantling the stigma that surrounds issues concerning mental illness and depression mania, euphoria and elation (however mild or all-consuming it might be). At this late stage of my life I have become an advocate for mental wellness. To stop the fight and curb the alienation and isolation of sufferers of mental illness. I want people from all walks of life to realise that people with mental illnesses can enrich our lives and can make a positive contribution to society.

I myself have always sought solace in writing. I have found it to be an instrument for change and therapeutic as well.

I have firsthand knowledge and experience of being called anything from schizophrenic to being diagnosed with bipolar mood disorder and because of the heavy psychotropic medication I have taken over the years I have had a host of illnesses presenting themselves. Chronic fatigue syndrome, insomnia, an underactive thyroid, chronic kidney disease, gout and heart disease. These diseases manifested themselves early on in my life before the onset of middle age when they would be more prevalent in someone who would be prone to these sorts of illnesses because of not living a healthy lifestyle.

I take each day as it comes now and live in the moment. I have my good days. I have my bad days. I have a mean temper and constantly have to watch what I eat, watch what I say and how I react to people who treat me as him I am a second class citizen because of everything I have been through in my life. Truth be told I always knew I was different. The depression started in childhood for me. I was always an overachiever. I would come home in the afternoons after school but no one ever helped me with my homework, told me either that they were proud of me or believed in me or loved me for that matter.

Everyday I am a work in progress. It is tough dealing with moodswing but that is the currency I deal in and the territory that borders my sense of self-control.

I have been called many names. None of them pretty or lovely. I have had zero support from my immediate family and my estranged family has complete written me off and washed their hands off of me thinking there is nothing they can do for me. This has been very hurtful and even has made made me feel quite suicidal over the years and in my hour if need, my hours of silence, pain and collective trauma I turned to God, prayer and meditation in my hour of need. At the time of the outbreak of the pandemic I got corona and was admitted to the psych ward at Provincial Hospital here in Gqeberha. I had no medical aid and was once again at the mercy of the system but I survived hell and that harrowing experience again to live to tell the tale of how to overcome the impossible, to live and to learn, to remain humble and kind even in the face of adversity and cruelty.

Loneliness, abject poverty, homelessness can either kill you or make you realise that you are powerful beyond measure and I have realised that I am powerful beyond measure.

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African Renaissance

Thoughts From the Frontline

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Photo: Keenan Constance/Unsplash

“Hip/Hop, Trap. I would describe my music as different, unique, compared to what I hear in the music industry in South Africa. It is a different sound of genre based on hip hop. In my downtime I listen to artists like Mexikodro, Playboi Carti, Diego Money, Pyrex Whippa, Lil Gotit and Sahbabii. In my life my family has been and still is a major influence, I just want to see them happy and stress free. I want to be successful so that they can spend the rest of lives living comfortably. I chose music because I believe that it is something I’m good at. I wouldn’t call myself a musical genius, or say that I’m talented musically because I’m not but, I have taken the time to learn everything that I know today, I started as a rapper, but now I am a producer as well, a very good one if I should say, I mix and master vocals, well I try to. It is still something I am learning on a daily basis and I believe that one day if not soon, I will understand that aspect of music. The guys who I record with are so gifted at what they do, we really inspire each other to take it to the next level. I would be lying if I said that I inspire myself, well maybe I do, I don’t know, however what I do know is that we can go to the next level together because nowadays you rarely see a duo or a group of rappers in the South African music industry, there are 4 of us in our group including others who aren’t full time as yet, I think that makes the odds better for us to take it to the next level as opposed to being a solo” SUPREME ZEE, CEO OF Holidae Don’t Stop!

“What inspires me to take it to the next level is basically my daughter, Family and my everyday experiences growing up and living in Westbury losing friends and family to gang violence had a huge effect on me since a young age I’ve been through hell and back if I may describe in short and I’ve realized, to make it out you really need to dig deep. This is also one of the main reasons why I started writing music. I love Music, it is my passion that is mainly why I chose to make music, ever since a young age I’ve just been through the worst writing music and articulating every word I write is therapeutic. Manifesting and having faith in God has carried me through. Major influences in my life remains God, my baby girl, my family and obviously my Team Holidae Dont Stop! We always encourage one another to do our best we definitely do bring out the best in each other and I’d say the beats that supreme Zee creates brings out the best in me personally and it’s also one of the major influences in my music career it’s only elevated since the moment we started. In my down time I listen to All types of music mostly Gospel & HDS. I would describe my music as being one in a million very versatile, real and unusually different from the usual and it has an unorthodox flow and style to it so you can literally expect only the best” TheGR8ACE, CEO and co-founder of Holidae Dont Stop!

My inspiration comes from knowing that I have a God given talent and my friends (HDS) and family that motivates me day to day to do better. I chose music because as a hobby it is something I love doing which started out in high school where I had friends that used to rap over beats and I’d just stand within the circle and listen to their rhymes and it became to amuse me when I found out that there are people in my community creating their own music, whereas in 2019, I linked with the crew Holidae Dont Stop! and it has been a wonderful journey ever since! Learning and growing at the same time. My mother has played a role as one of my biggest inspirations including friends (HDS) have been a major Influence in my life, for they always pushed me to be a better me. Not giving up on me and providing not bad advice but love and positivity. I’ve been in difficult situation in the past and I am just trying to make a better standard of living for my family, my friends as well as my community (Westbury). In my down time I listen to various genres like Rock, Rnb, Hip/Hop, Rap, Emo Rap. I would describe our music as Western Plug for it derives from Hip-hop with an offbeat including 808s and guitar and piano samples that Supreme Zee (Producer) recreates and when hearing the beat, I can automatically put my heart on it.” Bando -recording Artist at Holidae Dont Stop!

 To conclude this, we are all from Johannesburg South Africa as one of our members spread across as far as Cape Town, temporarily. Our member who are not full time are – Leiph Camp (Splaash66) Stock broker, Razaak Benjamin (Glock) Salesman and Marion Reyners (Marion The Great) Facilitator. “Our music is Bold, Iconic and timeless” TheGr8ce. Our crew is based in Jozi (Johannesburg) although we do not have a manager as yet. Our follow up record will sound similar to the “Western Plug tape” that we have recently released, followed by 3 singles. Plug is a genre that derives itself from Hip-Hop and our next single will drop in 2 weeks. The link to our music is on all platforms and the Love and support would be much appreciated. We literally wont stop! –

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