Daily Archives: March 15, 2015

'Rwandan Film Industry Is Still Virgin, Open' [interview]

Richard Mugwaneza is known in the national movie industry as a film producer. He has worked on movie projects like Lyiza, Nota Bene and Umutoma. The founder of the Kabeza-based Samples Studios, Mugwaneza is currently establishing a theatre for previewing and critiquing new movies. Stephen Kalimba talked to him.

What’s your background in movies?

I have been working on movies since 2008 – mostly films called Cinema d’Auteur or festival films that target international audience. I made my first feature in 2010 and the second one was in 2012. The next feature is coming out soon. In between I have been directing, editing and working on other projects by other film-makers. I have attended film festivals in Berlin, USA, Egypt and South Africa.

What is the idea behind a post-production studio?

It was five months ago, when I came up with the Idea. The main idea is to build a post-production studio, but there is also need for something like a theatre where we can screen films that we have produced before they are released.

We don’t have anywhere to sit and watch our stuff before sending it to consumers. We submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Sports and Culture for a national theatre, but have not got a response yet. So with a simple place like this, film-makers can watch their movies on good equipment, comment and critique them.

It’s a small place; who is allowed in here?

It has to be a selected crowd of about 25 people. Our installation will provide for camera lighting and camera positioning equipment. We can also conduct press conferences about movies that are about to be released. If journalists can watch such movies and talk about them, that can be ideal.

Who is funding you in this project?

I am using my own savings, but I will launch a campaign to raise funds to complete the work. If a fund-raising campaign doesn’t work, I will continue injecting my money. I welcome anybody who can support the project. I have injected more than $5,000, and I need $9,000 to complete the project. We have covered 40 percent of the project.

What have you covered so far?

We have sound proofed the room, built a platform for the seats, bought projection, sound and most of the production equipment. We now do most post-production work here. We need good theatre chairs, a carpet and air condition.

Is it approved by authorities?

We don’t need any permission to build a theatre because we have the authorization to do movie screening business. But we would get it if necessary, because what we are doing is lawful and for the interest of Rwandans.

Which film personalities have you worked with?

I have worked with film-makers at Almond Tree Films, where I am a shareholder; as well as independent ones like Joel Karekezi, Kivu Ruhorahoza. I have also taught film at Kwetu Film Institute and Victory Technologies. I have also worked with director Lee Isaac Chung.

What advice do you have for budding movie producers?

The movie industry in the country is still young and everybody can have a place. It is one that will grow very first, so people had better join. If you want to do a movie, just do it and network with other people in the industry. It’s not that hard at the moment. If we have more people into film professionally, cinema in Rwanda will take off fast.

Obi – On the Issue of Insecurity, Opposition Has Lost Ground

Former Governor of Anambra State and Deputy Director-General (South) of the Jonathan Campaign Organization, Mr. Peter Obi, in an interaction with some journalists spoke on the upcoming presidential election and why he thinks that President Jonathan deserves another term. Excerpts:
You have demonstrated strong commitment to President Goodluck Jonathan. What, really, are the bases of your support for him? Before I go into reasons why I support him, it is pertinent to clarify the attributes of a good leader. Among others, a good leader is humble, straightforward, tolerant, firm, fair to all, accountable, and of strong character and integrity. He or she must be prepared to learn and to acknowledge and respect other viewpoints. Of course, nobody possesses all these qualities, but you have to admit that President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan portrays quite a number of them. We all have our shortcomings, but any person who really loves Nigeria should appreciate that Dr. Jonathan has been applying these traits in his role as President. Over the years, we have seen the ways successive leaders have wielded the tremendous powers of their office.
But, President Jonathan has exercised commendable humility in the use of those powers. By way of illustration, he has promoted free, fair and credible elections even at the cost of his party losing some important positions – such as Governors of Anambra, Edo and Ondo. These elections were accorded high ratings by local and international observers alike. Nigerians are now seeing that their votes count and their real choices emerge. On appointments, President Jonathan has ensured the steady elevation of merit. A look at the membership of his cabinet and parastatal chief executives is revealing.
In the same vein, he has gone beyond the expectations of affirmative action for gender equality in his appointment of women as Ministers, Chief Justice of the Federation and a number of other strategic positions. President Jonathan has been committed to freedom of expression, rule of law and fundamental human rights. Soon after his election in 2011, he signed the Freedom of Information bill into law [Act]. There is no restriction on media ownership and media practitioners operate in freedom and liberty – even to throw brick-bats at the President himself. You are aware that the Freedom of Information Bill was passed by the National Assembly 11 years before.
In rejecting dictatorial politics, he strengthened the National Human Rights Commission with an independent board of directors led by an international human rights scholar and lawyer. To the best of my knowledge, there are no ‘political prisoners’ or ‘political detainees’ under this dispensation. President Jonathan is the first Nigerian leader to convoke a National Conference, comprising delegates of high integrity. Given their value-added resolutions, Nigerians are now looking forward to getting a People’s Constitution.
Indeed, what Nigeria needs today is not to change its President, but to support him to complete the good work he has started. What Nigeria needs is change of Constitution and the structure of the country for the mutual benefit of its constituents. I support President Jonathan very much because he represents the unity of our country. This is the first time, by God’s design, that somebody from the South-South that for over 40 years had produced the wealth of the nation, has emerged the President of the country. We should, with all sense of justice and equity, allow him a second term, four more years that will strengthen the unity of the country, four more years that will consolidate the tremendous progress of the first term. We should not forget the wisdom in permitting the Southwest to produce the President to placate them because of June 12. Let our leaders display that wisdom again for the continued peace and progress of our great country, Nigeria.
Your newspaper articles and commentaries reflect your emphasis on issues-based campaigns. Beside his personal traits, why should the electorate return President Jonathan for a second term? I am happy this is an issues-based interview. President Jonathan has performed creditably in all the sectors of the economy, polity and society. If we have the time, I will clarify each of them.
The opposition and critics always say that President Jonathan has not done well on security. What is your take on this area? It is ironical that once security is mentioned, people’s minds go to kidnapping in the South-East and the Boko Haram menace in the North-East. You recall what Abia State used to be and how Dr. Jonathan coordinated security agencies to take on the challenges head-on, and defeat them. Today, you could walk safely on Abia streets anytime. The situation is similar in other South-East states. We should realize that security challenges which border on terrorism – such as the Boko Haram and ISIS threats – are global phenomena. With the collapse of some governments in the Arab world such as Iraq, Syria and Libya, thousands of loose cannons literally spiraled into many other countries.
To appreciate the efforts of the Jonathan administration in tackling the Boko Haram menace, we could take note of how long and complicated it has been for a powerful international coalition to deal with ISIS in the Middle East. These are not combatants engaged in conventional warfare, which is perhaps why it took some time to develop strategies to take them on successfully. In concert with our neighbours Chad, Cameroun and Niger, quite a lot of successes have been achieved in erasing the Boko Haram hazard. They have been literally caged, and we are now assured that normalcy would be restored to the affected areas in a few weeks.
It is shocking that the comments of the opposition on Boko Haram give the impressions that they are in partnership with the criminals. They variously criticized the President’s “excessive use of force on the cultists” and his lack of will to take them on. On the missing girls and others, the opposition talks as if they know where the victims are being held, even as they have fallen short of accusing the President of supervising the abductions. Every sane person within and outside our shores empathizes with the victims and their families. Many across the world have been praying daily for their safe return.
There is a lot to learn from threats to national security. Nations go through tough times and with a united front, they emerge stronger and forge ahead. What could be more traumatic for the Americans than the 9/11 tragedy, when the Twin Towers and the Pentagon – Defence Headquarters – were attacked. Americans did not blame President Bush, but rather rallied round him. The MH 370 aircraft on an international flight has been missing for over a year, yet Malaysians are not blaming it on their Prime Minister.
Recently, 137 students were murdered in Pakistan by terrorists, but Pakistanis did not blame their President. The focus has been on containing the threats. From the inclination of some Nigerians, I know, God forbid, that if earthquake takes place in Nigeria, some Nigerians will say that Jonathan is Poseidon himself. Alas, in Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan would have been blamed roundly and vilified. It is worrisome to hear APC say that if General Muhammadu Buhari comes to power, he will solve the problem of insurgency. As a former Head of State and a retired officer of the Nigerian Army, General Buhari has direct access to the incumbent President, the National Council of State and the leadership of the Armed Forces – to whom he could have availed his ideas on how to defeat Boko Haram and related threats.
That is a patriotic duty; not a political party initiative. All over the world, people and institutions, in and out government, have been proffering solutions to their countries’ problems, which have been applied in the national interest and for the common good. In the US, for instance, how many people know what roles former Presidents Jimmy Carter, George Bush (Snr. and Jnr.) and Bill Clinton have been playing quietly for their beloved country? Or, what about former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in the UK?
The opposition has identified corruption as Nigeria’ greatest problem; and that General Muhammadu Buhari has the will and capacity to deal with it. How would you react to this?
I have always maintained that General Buhari is a respected elder statesman. We must acknowledge that the personal integrity of Buhari does not translate to party or corporate integrity. We must note that personal integrity cannot translate into party integrity. Having observed that General Buhari is a man of integrity, we should be bothered by the antecedents of most of the people around him. The primary characteristic of a corrupt person is greed, always manifested in primitive acquisition of everything for himself, his family and cronies.
This is exactly the history of the feudal lords. If we exclude Buhari and one or two others in the APC, you will notice that the party boasts the greediest set of Nigerians ready to acquire the country for their selfish ends – if they come into office. History is not too remote for us to examine these people and their acquisitions in public office and juxtapose our findings with what they had before going into politics. Good leadership requires humility, honesty, tolerance, simplicity and the ability to work with dedication towards making the society a better place. As somebody who has held public office, I can tell you that the more a person is addicted to conspicuous consumption and primitive acquisition, the more corrupt the person will be.
What is your take on the claim that the Nigerian Economy is now the biggest in Africa? Clearly, President Jonathan has achieved more in economic development than any of his predecessors. All sectors have been positively affected since 2011, when he came into office. The rebasing of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product ranked the nation’s economy 1st in Africa and 26th globally; from 3rd and 46th respectively. It also showed that the economy had been more widely diversified than before. It will bear repetition to be reminded that Nigeria successfully hosted a World economic Forum in 2014, Foreign Direct Investments were boosted from US$24.9 million as at 2007 to over US$35 billion by 2014; and virtually all quoted companies doubled in size, assets and profit.
The marvels in the road sector show that the Jonathan administration has rendered over 25,000 kilometres of federal road motorable, from barely 5,000 kilometres as at 2011; work is on-going for a second bridge over the River Niger and on the Loko-Oweto Bridge over River Benue; Onitsha now has a port and the dredging of the River Niger is opening up our inland waterways; Nigerian railways has been resuscitated from a 30-years-old coma, with over 3,500 kilometres of lines now operational. In the meantime, 22 airports have been remodelled to meet international standards. He is simultaneously constructing five international terminals, as has never witnessed anywhere in the world, in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Enugu. President Jonathan’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) has been making waves across the country and internationally.
We now export cassava and increasingly attaining self-sufficiency in rice production. Other agricultural products are also witnessing tremendous outputs. With the rehabilitation of 19 dams and construction of 14 irrigation projects, millions of Nigerian farmers are engaging in all-season farming across the country. Taking the courageous decision to privatize the power sector, President Jonathan has given it the necessary fillip. Power generation has gone up from some 2,000 megawatts in 2011 to some 5,000 megawatts as at 2014. Even as more independent power plants are being commissioned, the administration is tackling the menace of sabotage of gas supplies. Similarly, the oil and gas sector has witnessed tremendous growth developments since 2011.
Nigeria now has a strong Energy Policy, and the Nigeria Content Act is being faithfully implemented. When passed into law, the widely-acclaimed Petroleum Industry Bill [PIB] will help instill transparency and accountability in the sector; and give the country and its people greater control of its oil and gas resources. To check the twin menace of oil theft and pipeline vandalism, the President instituted a novel mechanism of collective responsibility, involving the three tiers of government, oil companies, oil producing communities and security agencies.
Education and Health have also received concrete support. Aside from investing in primary and secondary education, President Jonathan strengthened the Tertiary Education Trust (TET) Fund. He has since established 14 universities, including a Maritime University at Oron. In the same vein, primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare establishments across the country have been receiving regular support in funding, personnel and equipment.
In exercising the political will to remove a sizeable amount of oil subsidies, the President put a lot of fraudsters and leeches out of business. The monies so saved are being utilized to finance people-oriented projects under the Subsidy Re-Investment and Empowerment Programme [SURE-P]. SURE-P is actively involved in a wide spectrum of development projects and services across the country. These include dual carriageways, rail-lines, maternal and child health, and Graduate Internships.

Fidelity Hopeful On LBMA Readmission

Fidelity Printers and Refiners, the country’s sole gold buyer, is hopeful of being readmitted to the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) and is working on processes pending the outcome of its application to the LBMA executive committee.
LBMA is an international trade association representing the London market for gold and silver bullion which has a global client base.
Fidelity was chucked out of the LBMA in 2008 due to low gold volumes refined in a single year.
At that time 4 tonnes of gold had been acquired by Fidelity for refining falling short of the minimum LBMA annual threshold of 10 tonnes.
This saw the company being downgraded to a former refiner status which precluded it from using its hallmark on gold products until it pursued a set of reaccreditation programme.
Fidelity, which resumed refining bullion at the end of 2013, is optimistic of readmission on the back of increased gold output. Last year, Fidelity applied to LBMA to be placed on a specific accreditation programme buoyed by a steady growth in gold production.
In 2014, Fidelity refined 13,9 tonnes of gold to a purity level of 99,5%.
“This exceeded the minimum threshold for accredited refiners of 10 tonnes refined gold per annum. Going forward, Fidelity is very confident that as long as the country’s annual gold production stays above 10 tonnes, it will achieve its objective,” it said.
In the interim, Fidelity said it was working on equipping its assaying section with the necessary machines for analysis of gold with a purity of 999,9 parts per thousand (99,999%) before submitting documents to LBMA.
“This is a requirement on assaying capabilities of all refiners seeking accreditation,” it said.
Fidelity is also working on the appointment of a compliance officer in line with the provisions of the responsible gold guidance scheme. Another area being worked on entails developing a video showing the refinery premises, assaying, smelting and refining equipment with some background explanation.
In addition to the video, Fidelity has to provide a technical diagram of the gold bars showing the position of the hallmark, year of manufacture, serial number and assay although the company has to decide whether to retain the previous hallmark or not.
LBMA accreditation reduces costs arising from the use of intermediary refiners to get to the market as hallmarking by an accredited refinery enables tradability of the gold bars on the international market without need for verification of purity of the gold.
Currently, Fidelity is using the Rand Refinery of South Africa as its intermediary refiner, at a charge and is also creating additional relationships with two more leading accredited refineries to be used as potential reference refiners.
An LBMA accredited member has capacity to sell the gold before it reaches the refinery process thereby reducing the impact of price fall risks.
LBMA accredited members have direct interface with international buyers. Currently, gold off-takers are buying Fidelity gold through Rand Refinery.
It will also increase confidence of producers in the region or internationally in dealing with Fidelity thus boosting quantities of refined gold with the associated financial gains. Fidelity will also have the capacity to produce value added products with some premium above the international price of gold thus enhancing its revenue.

The Thinkers in APC

“Your leaders have no respect for their people. They believe that their personal interests are the people’s interests. They take people’s resources and turn them into personal wealth. There is a level of poverty in Nigeria that should be unacceptable. I cannot understand why Nigerians are not angered than they are.” This statement by Nelson Mandela, the late South Africa President, is likely to guide us as a nation from May 29, 2015, when the new President of Nigeria is expected to be sworn-in. It was a serious observation for Mandela, who had spent 27 years in prison, to declare that our leaders are corrupt and have no respect for the people. Has it always been so from the beginning? Where did we miss it? And if the story has been so from independence, what can we do to bring about a new nation with leaders that Nigerians need?
Every slavery era has a termination date. However, no liberty is cheap. It comes with a cost. To free Nigeria from political and economic servitude, we must free ourselves from mental slavery. The people must be determined to confront the powers-that-be. We must all resolve to seek and find men, who are capable of reviving our economy, create political institutions, raise moral values and national honour. Such a leader should possess the integrity of George Washington, the mental capacity of Bill Clinton, the courage of Abraham Lincoln, and the vision of John Kennedy. If we are fortunate, we can have a president that possesses the 12 qualities of leadership as spelt out by Sheila Murray Bethel. These qualities are: mission, thinker, high ethics, master change, sensitive, risk taker, decision maker, use power wisely, communicate effectively, team builder, courageous, and committed. Leaders live under a microscope. Whatever they say or do hardly escape the scrutiny and examination of the people.
‘Make a difference’
For ages , Nigerian leaders assume power without mission. That explained the trauma we are all going through from one regime to the other. It was President George Bush in the White House on June 22, 1989 that told 3, 000 students: ” Make it your mission to make a difference. ” As we approach March 28, Nigerians must make it their chief responsibility to elect any man, irrespective of his religion, ethnicity, or social persuasion that will make a difference. You cannot get to Lagos and fail to see that the governor there has made a difference. Despite the lean purse of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, governor of the State of Osun, politics apart, you will notice the difference the man has made within four years. Even his adversaries acknowledge the changes that have taken place. Even among the Peoples Democratic Party-controlled (PDP) states, you can see the difference that has taken place in Akwa Ibom and Kaduna.
On a critical note, it is imperative to ask what difference President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has made in the past six years? Perharps in the agricultural sector, where more crops were planted and harvested on the television, radio and newspapers. If the PDP administration has succeeded in agriculture, there would have been cheap food stuff all over Nigeria. The over N300 billion expended on rice importation would have boosted our economy. Today, many families hadly feed twice a day, due to retrenchment of workers, a fallout of the Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala’s voodoo economic policy that truncated the so-called best economy in Africa. In the history of Nigeria, our currency has never been so battered as it is today. Yet, Jonathan and his followers told the world that our economy is healthy.
The transformation they claimed they made in the aviation sector has failed to qualifiy one single airport in Nigeria to be named among the best airports in Africa. The noise on new refurbished railway is mere propaganda. Even the PDP administration has acknowledged it cannot afford new trains with the present economic downturn.
Power determines industrial growth. 60 per cent of the industries that were operating in Nigeria when this government came into office six years ago have either relocated to some neighbouring countries, or have folded up due to power problem. The textile sector has almost gone out of existence; our leaders’ wives are the importers and exporters of foreign fabrics. They lack the vision of Mahatma Ghandi, who led the boycott of foreign textiles that made Indians to enjoy the best traditional costumes till day. The money spent by PDP-led administration for 15 years on power generation is humongous. The late former Central Bank Governor, Ola Vincent, once alerted the nation about the wastefulness that followed the refurbishment of Nigeria hydro-transformer that were shipped to Norway in the early days of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. He disclosed how the Norwegian’s advice was rejected by NEPA senior officials, who refused to buy new transformers, which were cheaper, new and longer lasting than the old ones that were shipped to Norway for refurbishment. After six months that the refurbished transformers lasted, the power generation collapsed .
Thinker: Aristotle, the great philosopher, opined that only thinkers should be permitted to lead. Leaders are thinkers. It was Robert Frost who stated: “Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream of things that never were and say why not?” These are the people Nigeria needs in times like this. The All Progressives Congress ( APC ) has made known its manifesto, promising to create jobs for job seekers, welfare packages for the needy, build roads and feed pupils in primary schools nationwide, provide good health care services. The PDP could not think out its possibility, rather, the ruling party disparaged the challenger.
Are we then going to assume that APC leaders are thinkers? That can see what others cannot see? President John Kennedy, in his short time and age, visioned the possibility of putting men into the outer space. Creativity and imagination are abilities, distinct from power to acquire knowledge. Nigeria has more professors in almost all fields than any other countries in Africa. But these egg-heads have not positively impacted on the various administrations in Nigeria. Likewise in politics, our literate politicians are more in number than the educated ones. Each time they chant “PDP” they chorus it “power.” Power without responsibility amounts to failure.
Those that colonised us claimed they were on tutelage mission to Africa. Aregbesola recently stated: “Most of the colonialists were majorly school certificate holders” and ” today our professors are more into power struggle and in-fighting in the citadel of learning, and failed to concentrate on the main objective of establishment of tertiary institutions” . Likewise,some of our governors are either doctors of letters or medical doctors, but their performances are far below those of the colonial administrators. Why? Greed and impunity. The power struggle to retain political office has made some states to be governed by men who should not be councillors in a saner community.
Scale of moral ethics
Ethics is to maintain life of leaders at the highest point of development. High standards of honest and honourable dealings based on our morals. If we should put President Jonathan on the same scale of moral ethics with Muhammadu Buhari, there will be a lot of difference. Buhari told the nation he is ready to declare his assets publicly. Even now that he is yet to be elected, we know he is a man not given to acquisition. Jonathan has been in the saddle for six years and has refused to declare his assets publicly. Buhari’s wife is a woman of honour and well cultured, who has restrained herself in replying the insultive venon poured on her husband by the First Lady. Mama “there is God” has refused to learn decorum despite the years her husband has been occupying public offices. The people of Nigeria has put these women on the scale of public opinion and the March election will determine who is more qualified to occupy the unconstitutional First Lady’s position.
On corruption, Buhari has continued to tell the nation that corruption is the destroyer of good governance that he would not spare. President Jonathan, in his academic exercise, compared what stealing is with corruption. At the end, he felt it is unnecessary to confine the thieves and the corrupt ones but to use modern equipment to block the loopholes. He promised to do that when he comes in for his second term. No wonder, Femi Fani-Kayode is leading the campaign group of Mr. President. This is unethical and unacceptable. It gives wrong signal to the coming generations that stealing or corruption is no crime but to ensure you have a godfather. Buhari’s spartan discipline put him shoulder high above Jonathan. It takes a lot of personal discipline in our country to discontenance materialism. The man has no record of allocation of public land to himself or family, as it is commonly practice by the PDP leaders.
‘Pauper President’
Perhaps, the time must have come for Nigeria to have the likes of Jose Mujika, a President the press called ” Pauper President or Pepe” because of his uncommon identity with poverty despite the luxury of his office. We as a people could also decide to vote in another Julius Nyerere, the late President of Tanzania who ruled his country for over 20 years without building a bungalow, and died an ordinary man. I boldly assert that Buhari, the APC presidential candidate, has been target of character assassination over the fact that he was getting ready to unseat the incumbent president. Our unconstitutional First Lady Patience jabbed at Professor Soyinka and declared Buhari as brain dead. She led the high command that will stone anyone who dare chant “change”. Mama Peace forgot the Abuja Peace Accord that his husband signed before the whole world. When the chips are down, the world shall call Patience to appear before the International Criminal Court in Hague.
The man that can turn the tide that is about to destroy our ship of state is Buhari. The man that money cannot buy is Buhari. The man who will rather allow his emoluments to be used for the betterment of Nigerians is Buhari. The one that rejected monthly retirement allowance of over N23 million monthly, but opted for ten per cent of the retirement benefits; which amounted to N2.3 million per month is the one that can take us out of the economic and political mess that PDP has landed Nigeria in the last 15 years. Come out and vote them out.

Meet the Silent but Dangerous Pollutant On Our Block – E-Waste

The rise of the IT age means hazardous materials from electronic devices are being released into the environment at an increasing rate.
As the world continues to grow increasingly dependent on the world of IT and computers, the volume of electronic waste is rising, and with it comes a new threat – risk of exposure to lead, cadmium, chromium and other hazardous materials that can be toxic to human health and the environment.
In South Africa alone, electronic waste, or e-waste, makes up just five per cent to eight percent of municipal solid waste but is growing at a rate three times faster than any other form, according to the South African e- Waste Alliance (Saewa).
Most of the e-waste ends up in landfills or is exported to countries that have bigger capacities for recycling.
A relatively small fraction, 10% to 15%, is recycled locally, says Keith Anderson, chair of the e-Waste Association of South Africa (Ewasa).
The accumulation of toxins from electronic waste into land and air poses significant health risks to recycling workers and to people living in neighbouring areas.
Developing a national ewaste management plan is important for mediating the risks associated with the handling of ewaste, Anderson says.
South Africa, however, has no legislation that directly deals with electronic waste management, though some environmental and waste management laws have a bearing on what happens to e-waste.
Organisations like Ewasa and the Information Technology Association Producer Environmental Group, which represents various e-waste manufacturers like Dell and HP, are now working to put forward a national ewaste management strategy before government and have plans to present it within the year.
On its own, electronic waste is not hazardous – an old microwave or laptop, for instance, can be kept in storage without ¬posing any immediate threat to human health.
Risks arise when electronic waste is left exposed to the elements or when it is not recycled properly, such as through the incineration of trash.
Research has shown that in these instances toxins within the waste seep into soil or contaminate the air or water as fine particles and can eventually make their way into the human body.
Accumulating exposure to these toxicants puts people at risk for a range of health complications, including cancers, developmental defects and damage to the kidneys, lungs, brain and nervous system.
Lead poisoning, in particular, can cause damage to the nervous and reproductive system and, in some cases, can lead to death, the World Health Organisation reports.
“Lead is number one probably,” says Dr Aimin Chen, a professor at the University of Cincinnati, who studies the effects of environmental toxicants on women and children.
“If you look at a single 27-inch TV, a Cathode Ray Tube TV, it would have maybe 2kg of lead inside – that’s a lot of lead.” In addition to lead, cadmium, nickel, chromium, and mercury are other metals to pay attention to, he says.
Studies have shown that nonmetals like plastics and flame-retardants, which are core components of most e-waste, can also cause health problems when not handled properly.
When burned, they release toxins that can linger in the environment for long periods of time. Chen and fellow researchers found that, among pregnant women in China, those residing near e-waste recycling sites had nearly twice the amount of hazardous metals in their body, including lead, cadmium, and chromium, when compared to women in nonrecycling areas.
Their findings, published in 2012 in the journal Reproductive Toxicology, revealed that these women had more stillbirths and children born with low birth weight.
These adverse birth outcomes were “related to a greater risk of nervous, respiratory, and digestive system impairments” in children. Regardless of whether the women in the study participated in e-waste recycling activities, which were often haphazard and done without proper safety equipment or tools, they still had a high content of heavy metals compared to women in the control site. This finding reveals that proximity matters when it comes to levels of exposure.
“If you live even within one or two kilometres, those toxicants can still be going into the air or dust or soil or even water. These are all possible ways that contamination can happen,” Chen says.
He warns that children and fetuses are especially vulnerable to metal toxicants and recommends that, along with encouraging recycling workers to use protective gear and improving safety standards in recycling facilities, pregnant women and children be removed from the industrial recycling field altogether.
While there are risks with handling e-waste, its existence is not presumed to be all bad. In fact, many developing countries see e-waste as an “income generating opportunity”, according to the “The Global Impact of e-Waste: Addressing the Challenge”, a report by the International Labour Office.
In South Africa, e-waste has created a new opening in the recycling sector, consisting of small-scale independent operators, dismantlers, refurbishers, distributors, and large-scale recyclers such as Desco, among others, Anderson says.
Susanne Karcher, co-ordinator of the Saewa, says these people fall into one of two groups: informal collectors, mostly made up of poor, small-scale, recyclers who “cherry-pick” valuables like copper and printed circuit boards by smashing, burning or dismantling e-waste, and formal recyclers, a smaller group made up of larger scale recyclers who usually work through government or business contracts.
Most informal recyclers operate illegally, Karcher, says, in part because the process required to become legal is costly. “There is basically just a handful of recyclers in South Africa who are legally compliant,” she says.
The health impacts of ewaste are mainly associated with the informal recycling sector, says Mpinane Flory Senekane, a lecturer at the University of Johannesburg’s department of environmental health.
A 2008 Ewasa report, “e- Waste Assessment South Africa”, states that informal e-waste recycling provides critical income for many but also has a number of negative social and environmental effects.
Among them are ongoing exposures to hazardous substances and contributions to the levels of crime through the theft of recycling bins, copper cables and consumer electronics.
Many of the problems associated with e-waste are linked to limited awareness among citizens, policymakers, and informal collectors.
Knowledge about e-waste is low throughout the world, and scholars and industry officials agree that raising awareness through education is crucial for reducing exposure to hazardous waste and improving recycling standards.
“A lot of these waste pickers who work in the landfill sites, who scavenge for waste, they’re exposing themselves to a lot of toxic elements, like when they burn their copper cables to extract the copper from them,” Anderson says.
“All those toxic fumes which they inhale and get into the atmosphere are all problematic, but this can all be dealt with through education and by bringing education into the mainstream and by telling workers about protective equipment.”
Joan Koka is a master’s student from the University of Missouri, Columbia. She is currently an intern with the Mail & Guardian’s health desk.