Courageous business woman and director, Karen Petersen, is swapping the boardroom for a Jag during one of the continent’s most unique motor rallies.
Backed by her sponsor, SADC Plan, the ‘Padvarkies’ crew which is headed up by Petersen and includes her 75-year-old parents, will accelerate out of the starting blocks at the annual Put Foot Rally in Cape Town on June 17. They are expected to finish this gruelling but epic journey amid much dust and fanfare on July 5 in Mozambique.
Described by SADC Plan founder and owner, Trivi Arjunan, as “an adventurer with a passion for wanting to help those less fortunate than herself”, Petersen has already begun to raise funds for the Put Foot Foundation as well as her charity of their choice, Gift of the Givers. She’s counting the days.
The Put Foot Rally, which began in 2011, is an epic road trip that brings together people from across the world for a 9 000 km plus journey through the rough but beautiful terrain of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique.
Participants – affectionately known as Put Footers – each raise a minimum of $50 (R750) which goes towards buying school shoes. The Put Foot Foundation aims to provide young African children with school shoes whilst also contributing towards conservation of endangered animals such as rhino, elephant, lion and leopard.
This year, the Foundation aims to raise the equivalent of R1 million which will enable it to purchase and gift over 6000 pairs of shoes to school children. These will be personally delivered by Put Footers like Petersen in an array of vehicles that range from quirky vintage models to more rugged roadsters and campers.
Over the past three years, the Foundation and its Put Footers have provided over 15 000 pairs of new school shoes and donated over $60,000 to charities protecting rhino in South Africa.
What sets the Put Foot Rally apart from other motor sport events, is that this is not a race. There is no prize and no set route with crews needing to map out their own routes to arrive at the mandatory check points in the various countries along the way.
Although offered a vehicle by her sponsor, Petersen decided to use her own. “It’s a Jaguar F-Pace, the 4×4/SUV version, and, as far as I know, it’s the only Jaguar entry in this year’s rally. I bought it in late 2016 and, barely a month and almost 5 000km later, managed to complete a road trip to Cape Town that took four days!” she says.
Despite naming her crew ‘Padvarkies’ and getting a fluffy pink porker as a mascot, Petersen promises that she won’t be driving like a road hog! “My pink pig mascot will be fastened to the front of the car and I am sure the other crews will have a good laugh. I intend to make it through all the checkpoints and shoe-drops as well as cross the finish line in Vilanculos, Mozambique, and fly the Jaguar flag high!” she laughs.
According to the Put Foot rules, “captains” like Petersen are not permitted to travel alone. “I’ve chosen my 75-yr old parents as my companions. My father will be my co-driver and navigator and my mother the crew photographer. With their dry sense of humour, the trip will be a pleasure. Besides, I am bad at changing tyres. That’s where my father comes in!” she explains.
Her father is a perfect choice as, as a classic car enthusiast, he has contributed towards her love for cars and her choice of career together with her rally driver younger brother!
Petersen says that her love for travelling as well as cars and motor bikes started at a young age.
Now further down the track, she also admits that this won’t be her first rally. A couple of years ago, she completed a 3 week off-road bike trip covering 13 of South Africa’s mountain passes and ports in KZN and the Western Cape.
She is also looking forward to doing a bike trip through the Indian Himalayas on a Royal Enfield as well as Route 66 on a Harley in the next few years.
Born in Cape Town, she moved to Botswana with her parents and brother during the apartheid days and did the bulk of her schooling there – only returning to Cape Town to complete her matric in 1988.
As the daughter of a builder, she says her greatest ambition was to work on a construction site as either a contracts manager or foreman. But her father wasn’t convinced and instead encouraged her to study music. Instead, she opted for architecture and began her studies at the University of Cape Town during the late eighties.
On completing her degree, she branched off into city and regional planning, graduating with a Masters in City and Regional Planning.
She arrived in Durban and worked for several local and national companies. After obtaining her professional registration with the South African Council of Planners, she opened her own private practice in 2001.
The next 5 years proved to be a huge learning curve, with exposure and experience gained through several international multi-disciplinary projects. But being a “one-(wo)man band” was lonely and the gregarious Peterson accepted an offer to become a project manager at a large land developer active in the Durban region.
That proved another steep, but rewarding, learning curve. She added an MBA to her qualifications and became the first female director on the organisation’s board in 2016. She also won the KZN Women in Property (WPN) award in the professional/corporate sector in that year.
Like the many potholes and obstacles that she’s gearing up for during the Put Foot Rally, she has tackled a number of challenges along the way. These include being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of just 35.
“I had to undergo surgery, chemotherapy and radiation which took the large part of 2007.So, to get my mind off my illness and what I couldn’t do, I chose to focus on outdoor activities, managing to complete several canoe marathons, trail running and mountain bike events. When I was finally given the all-clear, I rewarded myself with a Harley Davidson sportster and, in 2015, I did an epic road trip to Cape Town from Durban,” she remembers.
Always ready to put others before herself, Petersen says that, if town planning consultancy, SADC-Plan, had not sponsored Padvarkies, this trip would not have been possible.
“Our company is supporting her with any assistance she may need, such as vehicle equipment (tyres), fuel and ancillary costs, food and accommodation as well as visa, border fees, 3rd party insurances etc. There is no back up or support vehicle and she will basically be on her own,” says Arjunan.
She’ll be their roving ambassador who will post her adventures during Put Foot on social media whilst also providing good market intel and contributing to SADC Plan’s motto of “Progressing Plans in Africa”. Her vehicle will be fully branded with SADC Plan logos during the rally. SADC Plan has always been committed to CSI through previous initiatives, and this one will be their 1stand biggest one outside the country.
SADC-Plan is a local town planning consulting company at the progressive end of the African urban planning market with a range of services that include integrated master planning, urban renewal, urban design and regeneration, rural development and local economic development, development facilitation services and management, programme management & statutory planning.
In September 2017, SADC-plan formed a strategic partnership with Urban Futures Consulting to establish Beta (Built Environment Training Academy) – a Section 21 company that provides employment to unemployed graduates in the built environment for 18 months.
“SADC-Plan’s vision is to become a significant contributor to the planning and development of Southern African cities within the next 20 years and this initiative is an ideal platform to launch this vision. Through this initiative SADC-plan and Beta are developing our marketing reach into Africa and we hope to get the exposure that helps us work in these regions,” he says.
Those that are interested in donating to the Put Foot Foundation is requested to donate directly via https://ww.givengain.com/activist/209267/projects/16291/ in order to help meet the goal of raising R1 million to gift 6 000 pairs of shoes.
Security measures implemented earlier this month on the Sena Railway in Mozambique have allowed Brazilian mining giant Vale to resume coal transport. The country’s state-owned transport utility Empresa Portos e Caminhos de Ferro de Moçambique (CFM) took responsibility for ensuring security on the line, after a string of attacks by Renamo forces.
Renamo assaults in northern and central Mozambique over the past two years have forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, and caused the shutdown of some transport links. Trucks travelling along the north-south highway have had to travel in convoys with military escorts this year, and even then there have been some attacks.
Yet the scale of the impact on Mozambique’s nascent coal industry was only recently when the government confirmed that coal trains did not run on the Sena line between the end of July and mid-November because of fears of Renamo violence. Attacks on trains in May and June had resulted in temporary stoppages but after another assault in Sofala Province in July left several railway employees injured, operations on the line were suspended for several months.
The nature of the new security measures has not been revealed, partly in order to avoid giving information to potential assailants, but it is likely that armed guards have been put on the trains and patrols stepped up along the route of the line, particularly in Tsangano district.
Rising coal production
The Sena line is one of three railways that are being developed to transport coal from the Moatize Basin in Tete Province to the Indian Ocean coastal ports of Beira and Nacala. It runs to Beira and handled 22 trains a day in each direction prior to the July attack.
The government hopes that the three lines will jointly carry 100m tonnes of coal a year, which would enable Mozambique to overtake South Africa as Africa’s biggest coal exporter. Recent improvements on the Sena Railway have increased its annual coal carrying capacity from 6.5m tonnes a year 20m tonnes a year.
Much longer trains can now operate on the line, with six locomotives pulling 100 coal waggons. At the same time, Vale is pressing ahead with doubling its mining capacity in Tete to 22m tonnes a year. It had looked like such investment could be misplaced because coal prices crashed in 2015 but they have recovered strongly this year.
Similar measures may have to be put in place on the new line that runs from Moatize to Nacala, which passes through Malawi en route. The construction of this line has been largely financed by Vale. Coal trains bound for Nacala were assaulted at least twice in October.
Transport connections in this part of Mozambique are very limited and so it is relatively easy for Renamo fighters to attack trains and then melt away into the forest. It is hoped that access to the new railways for general cargo will boost wider economic development in the region. Nacala, which is reputed to have the deepest natural harbour on the east coast of Africa, now hosts a modern container terminal.
Renamo fought a long and devastating civil war against the government from independence in 1975 until 1992, backed by white supremacist governments in Zimbabwe and South Africa. The movement has contested every national election since then but has become disenchanted with its lack of success. The likelihood of substantial coal and gas income for the government may have encouraged its leaders to make a grab for power.
Cape Town – A serious outbreak of a fungal disease which has been responsible for decimating millions of hectares of banana plantations across the world, could now pose a threat to South Africa’s R1.5bn banana industry.
According to University of Stellenbosch plant pathologist Altus Viljoen, the outbreak of Panama Disease was spreading rapidly across the Metocheria Farm, a 3 000-hectare farm in northern Mozambique owned by Norwegian company Norfund.
Panama Disease has been present in plantations in north-eastern Mozambique’s Nampula province for the past two years.
“The outbreak at Metocheria is very serious. With the flooding at the beginning of 2015, the fungus has been spread almost everywhere on the farm, and most likely also down the Monapo River,” said Viljoen.
Viljoen said the disease could spread to more banana plantations in the Nampula province and then further into Africa, where it may threaten food security.
“The outbreak in northern Mozambique most certainly poses a risk to all its neighbouring countries. A major means of spread is water, as well as planting material and soil attached to shoes and vehicles from the farm.
“South Africans had been visiting the affected farms in Mozambique in the past, and are still visiting the farm to do business. If proper biosecurity is not introduced, South African growers might be affected,” Viljoen warned.
According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Department, bananas contribute more than 50% of the total gross value of subtropical fruits in South Africa, amounting to about R1.5bn.
Panama Disease, which is caused by the Fusarium fungus, is a soil pathogen which infects the root system and goes on to colonise the entire plant.
In the 1950s, the disease wiped out almost all of the banana plantations in Central and South America. Despite growers switching to a new banana variety called the Cavendish, a new strain of the disease appeared in the 1990s, affecting large areas of South East Asia and spreading to northern Australia.
In Mozambique, a collaborative group of scientists was assisting the affected farms with research and information on how to deal with the outbreaks.
However, Viljoen said that he was surprised at how little was being done by the Banana Growers’ Association of South Africa (BGASA) to protect South Africa’s industry from the disease.
“I have been invited everywhere in the world to help people protect the industry, but BGASA has not met with me to develop a biosecurity strategy for the country,” he said.
‘Chances of infection slim’
BGASA chairperson Kobus Lourens responded by saying that the chances of South Africa getting the disease were slim.
“Yes, there is a chance of it spreading to South Africa, because if it got to Mozambique it can get anywhere. But to put it in perspective, the site is 2 500km from us. It could be brought to South Africa by someone [who] takes plant material or soil, but it would have to be intentional,” said Lourens.
Lourens added that Viljoen may be undervaluing the efforts BGASA had put into strategies to control the disease.
“I have met with more than one plant protection officer in South Africa and they are well aware of the outbreak. The Department of Agriculture does have security measures in place, but only when we have an outbreak here or closer to us, [will] the measures kick in. Nothing will be done while the disease is still in northern Mozambique,” Lourens said.
Joyce Mkhonto, 53, a fruit seller in Mbombela, said that bananas were her best-selling product.
“If there is a disease, it means I won’t be able to sell bananas anymore. It will have a heavy effect on my business,” Mkhonto said