Ethiopia’s Orthodox church criticises PM amid tensions

Kalkidan Yibeltal

BBC News, Addis Ababa

The Ethiopian Orthodox church is headed by Patriarch Abuna Mathias

The top leadership, or synod, of Ethiopia’s Orthodox church, the largest religious denomination in the country, has threatened to call nationwide rallies to be led by its patriarch, Abuna Mathias.

The church has criticised Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s recent statements regarding rogue clergy involved in the appointment of bishops without its knowledge.

Mr Abiy’s lengthy remarks, broadcast on national television on Tuesday, came after the church’s synod excommunicated the breakaway clergy, who are from the country’s Oromia region.

He warned his cabinet members against getting involved in the church’s affairs. However, he said both sides “have truths.”

The synod said the PM’s remarks disregarded its decisions, challenged its authority and gave recognition to an “illegitimate power-hungry” group.

Some of Mr Abiy’s statements were “misleading”, it added.

The breakaway clergy accuse the church of maintaining a system of linguistic and cultural hegemony in which congregations in Oromia are not served in their native languages. The church denies the accusation.

The breakaway clergy said they had “overwhelming” public support after touring some areas in the conflict-prone western Oromia.

The synod’s statement comes amid accusations among the faithful that authorities are supporting the breakaway clergy.

It accuses the government of harassing and detaining its senior figures. It vows to continue to speak out even if they [senior religious leaders] have to “sacrifice their lives.”

Relationships between Mr Abiy’s administration and the church – which boasts nearly half of Ethiopia’s 110 million population as its adherents – were positive in the early days of his tenure.

However, in recent years members of the faith group have reported being targeted.

Relations became particularly strained during the heights of the Tigray war after Abuna Mathias spoke against what he called genocide in the region.

Errors found in Mozambique textbooks despite assurance

Jose Tembe

BBC News, Maputo

Two same Portuguese language textbooks were shown with different cover pages

Errors have been detected in Mozambique textbooks for the second year despite recent assurances by the education ministry that it would not happen again.

Some errors were reported in Grade Six books last year – and this year the irregularities have surfaced in textbooks for the fifth and eighth grades.

A book published by Plura Editora for the Portuguese subject for Grade Eight starts on page 16, with the preceding pages misplaced elsewhere in the book.

On the first page, the book is printed upside down and a student would have to turn it over to read after opening the cover. Some other pages are also upside down.

In addition, photos of two same Portuguese subject textbooks for fifth grade with completely different covers have been shared on social media.

The first has a cover photograph of a girl smiling and dressed in a brown and white pullover, while the second shows a girl in a blue blouse and holding a pencil.

The errors were noted as schools throughout the country re-opened this Wednesday, with pictures of the errors being shared on social media.

A spokesman for the education ministry, Feliciano Mahalambe, recently gave assurances that the books that were due for distribution this year had been prepared and reviewed by a fully qualified team to avoid past mistakes.

A Grade Six book was withdrawn from schools last year after the discovery of errors including the erroneously listing of Mozambique as being in the East African region rather than a country in the Southern African region and showed landlocked Zimbabwe as bordering the Red Sea.

Pope meets young people in landmark DR Congo visit

AFP , Thursday 2 Feb 2023

Young people packing a stadium in DR Congo’s capital Kinshasa erupted in joy on Thursday as Pope Francis entered in his popemobile, on the third day of his trip to the country.

Pope Francis on the popemobile, waves at worshipers at the Martyrs Stadium in Kinshasa, Congo, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. AP

The Argentine pontiff arrived at the Martyrs’ stadium around 9:00 am local time (0800 GMT), offering greetings and blessings to the crowd roaring in the stands.

Young people had already begun to flock to the 80,000-seat stadium overnight, with many hoping for a papal message of peace for the Democratic Republic of Congo, a deeply observant country that has long been plagued by violence in its east.

About 60 percent of the central African nation of roughly 100 million people is under the age of 20, according to UN figures.

As well as conflict, young people face persistent unemployment in the DRC.

Sheila Mangumbu, 21, said she was hoping for a “message of peace” from Francis, especially for residents of the eastern city of Goma.

M23 rebels, allegedly backed by Rwanda, have captured swaths of territory in eastern DRC since late 2021 and come within kilometers of the commercial hub of Goma.

“The M23 is killing many of us in the east, I would like this to stop because it has been going on for too long,” Mangumbu told AFP.

On the second day of his trip, the pope had hosted a mass at Kinshasa’s airport that organizers said drew about a million people, some of whom had camped out all night to get a spot.

He then met victims of conflict in the DRC’s mineral-rich east, some of whom had suffered appalling violence.

His face grave, Francis called for mercy from God.

“May he convert the hearts of those who carry out brutal atrocities, which bring shame upon all humanity,” he said.

He said the conflict was being driven by greed and called on combatants to lay down their arms.

“Listen to the cry of their blood,” the pope said, alluding to a verse from the Book of Genesis.

Scores of armed groups roam eastern DRC, many of them a legacy of two wars at the end of the 20th century that sucked in countries from around the region.

‘Economic colonialism’

The DRC is replete with minerals, timber and fresh water, yet remains one of the poorest countries in the world where corruption is entrenched.

Shortly after his arrival from Rome on Tuesday, the pope — speaking before an audience of Congolese politicians and other dignitaries — said the DRC had been hamstrung by a long history of exploitation.

“Political exploitation gave way to an economic colonialism that was equally enslaving,” he said.

“As a result, this country, massively plundered, has not benefited adequately from its immense resources.”

Many Congolese warmly welcomed the pope’s message, and some hoped it would bring change.

After addressing young people in Kinshasa’s Martyrs’ stadium, the pope will later meet Jesuit leaders and priests on the front line of the church’s work in the DRC.

About 40 percent of the country’s population is Catholic, according to official statistics, and the church retains huge influence despite secularism being enshrined in the constitution.

Francis will take his appeal for peace and reconciliation to South Sudan on Friday for a maiden three-day visit.

Born in 2011 after gaining independence from Sudan, the nation has been battered by a civil conflict that left around 380,000 dead.

The visit to the two countries was initially scheduled for 2022, but had to be postponed because of the pope’s problems with his knee — an affliction that has made him dependent on a wheelchair.

It is his 40th foreign trip since he ascended to the papacy in 2013.

Egypt assumes chairmanship of UN African Group in New York

Habiba Hamdy , Thursday 2 Feb 2023

Egypt’s permanent delegation to the United Nations received on Thursday the rotating chairmanship of the UN African Group in New York for February 2023, following the end of the Senegalese presidency of the group for January 2023, a statement by the Egyptian foreign ministry said.

“It is my pleasure to assume the chairmanship of the African Group in New York for the month of February. The African Group is a vital forum through which our continent advances its interests and priorities at the UN system,” Permanent Representative of Egypt to the UN in New York and the current chairperson of the group Osama Mahmoud Abdel-Khalek was quoted as saying by the African Union (AU) website.

The discussions of the African Group, which consists of the 54 AU member states at the UN, revolve around issues relevant to the continent such as health, migration, peace, and security among others, according to the group’s page on the AU website.

“I intend to build on the stellar job done by my predecessors and to further push for African positions across all work streams of the UN,” the chairperson said, according to the ministry’s statement.

Abdel-Khalek said that Egypt’s chairmanship of the group comes within the framework of its active role in promoting the African continent’s presence and interaction in the various fields of work of the UN, and advancing the interests of the continent and its peoples, especially in priority issues, foremost of which are peacekeeping, peace-building, development, confronting climate change, and others.

Abdel-Khalek indicated that the African Group has a number of major commitments within the negotiating tracks at the UN, including the Sustainable Development Goals Summit, the Summit of the Future, the high-level meeting on Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response, the ministry statement reported.

The member states in the UN General Assembly are divided into various geographical groupings through which elections are conducted into various UN bodies and agencies.

The African Group holds regular meetings to receive briefings from guests and UN officials and discuss UN resolutions and topics so a common African position can be reached, according to the AU website.

Pope’s Africa trip spotlights conflict, and church’s future: AP report

AP , Tuesday 31 Jan 2023

Pope Francis is opening a six-day visit to Congo and South Sudan on Tuesday, aiming to bring a message of peace to two countries riven by poverty, conflict and what Francis has called a lingering “colonialist mentality” that still considers Africa ripe for exploitation.

Pope Francis pauses during an interview with The Associated Press at The Vatican, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. AP

Aid groups are hoping Francis’ trip will shine a spotlight on two of the world’s forgotten conflicts and rekindle international attention on some of Africa’s worst humanitarian crises, amid donor fatigue and new aid priorities in Ukraine.

But Francis’ trip will also bring him face-to-face with the future of the Catholic Church: Africa is one of the only places in the world where the Catholic flock is growing, in terms of practicing faithful as well as fresh vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

That makes his trip, his fifth to the African continent in his 10-year pontificate, all the more important as Francis seeks to make his mark on reshaping the church as a “field hospital for wounded souls” where all are welcome and poor people have a special pride of place.

“Yes, Africa is in turmoil and is also suffering from the invasion of exploiters,” Francis told The Associated Press in an interview last week. But he said the church can also learn from the continent and its people.

“We need to listen to their culture: dialogue, learn, talk, promote,” Francis said, suggesting that his message would differ from the scolding tone St. John Paul II used in 1980 and 1985 when he reminded Congolese priests and bishops of the need to stick to their celibacy vows.

Congo, Francis’ first stop, stands out as the African country with most Catholics hands down: Half of its 105 million people are Catholic, the country counts more than 6,000 priests, 10,000 nuns and more than 4,000 seminarians _ 3.6% of the global total of young men studying for the priesthood.

Congolese faithful were flocking to Kinshasa for Francis’ main event, a Mass on Wednesday at Ndolo airport that is expected to draw as many as 2 million people in one of the biggest gatherings of its kind in Congo and one of Francis’ biggest Masses ever.

“There are people who chartered planes to come here because there were so many of them!” marveled Inniance Mukania, who travelled to Kinshasa from the Kolwezi diocese in southern Congo.

On the eve of the pope’s visit, President Felix Tshisekedi met with foreign diplomats in Kinshasa and told them the visit was a sign of solidarity “particularly with the battered populations of the eastern part of the country, prey to acts of violence and intolerance that you are witnessing.”

Jesus-Noel Sheke, technical coordinator of the organizing committee for the papal visit, said nearly everything was ready at Ndolo, where organizers have arranged for 22 giant screens to carry the service live.

“There are only a few decorations left,” he told journalists of the preparations over the weekend. “They will be done the day before.”

The trip was originally scheduled for July, but was postponed because of Francis’ knee problems. It was also supposed to have included a stop in Goma, in eastern Congo, but the surrounding North Kivu region has been plagued by intense fighting between government troops and the M23 rebel group, as well as attacks by militants linked to the Islamic State group.

The fighting has displaced some 5.7 million people, a fifth of them last year alone, according to the World Food Program.

Instead, Francis will meet with a delegation of people from the east who will travel to Kinshasa for a private encounter at the Vatican embassy. The plan calls for them to participate in a ceremony jointly committing to forgive their assailants.

While the people of Goma were saddened that Francis won’t be visiting the east, “we hope with the visit that the pope can bring a message of peace to the people of Congo who need it,” said Providence Bireke, a Goma-based manager with AVSI, an Italian aid group active in the area.

The second leg of Francis’ trip will bring him to South Sudan, the world’s youngest country where continued fighting has hampered implementation of a 2018 peace deal to end a civil war. Francis first voiced his hope of visiting the majority Christian country in 2017, but security concerns prevented a visit and only contributed to worsening a humanitarian crisis that has displaced more than 2 million people.

The South Sudan stop also marks a novelty in the history of papal travel, in that Francis will be joined on the ground by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rt. Rev. Iain Greenshields.

The aim of the three-way visit is to show a united Christian commitment to helping South Sudan make progress on the implementation of the 2018 accord. Francis presided over a similar joint initiative in 2019 in the Vatican when he famously got down on hands and knees and kissed the feet of South Sudan’s rival leaders, begging them to make peace.

Since then, progress on implementing the accord _ in particular creating a unified army comprised of government forces and opposition fighters _ has been “painfully slow,” said Paolo Impagliazzo of the Sant’Egidio Community, which has spearheaded an initiative to bring the groups that didn’t sign onto the 2018 accord into the process.

“The visit will bring hope to the people,” Impagliazzo said in an interview in Rome. “And I believe the visit will strengthen the churches _ the Anglican Church, the Catholic Church, the local church _ that are playing a critical role in bringing about peace and dialogue in South Sudan.”

One area of particular concern remains the widespread availability of firearms among the civilian population, which has led to continued fighting in areas as cattle herders seek more land or faction leaders seek to gain more territory, he said.

The Small Arms Survey estimated in 2017 that there were some 1.2 million firearms in the possession of South Sudanese civilians, or 1 for every 10 people. The estimate was believed low and pales in comparison to the number of per capita firearms in Europe or the U.S., but remains an outstanding issue that “will not go ahead until we have the possibility to have a unified army,” Impagliazzo said.

Francis has long denounced the weapons industry, calling traffickers “merchants of death.” In the AP interview, he repeated his condemnation.

“The world is obsessed with having weapons,” Francis said. “Instead of making the effort to help us live, we make the effort to help us kill.”

Egypt’s CIB takes full ownership of Kenyan lender Mayfair


A branch of Commercial International Bank (CIB) is pictured in Cairo, Egypt July 30, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

NAIROBI, Jan 30 (Reuters) – Egypt’s Commercial International Bank (CIB) (COMI.CA) has taken full ownership of Kenya’s Mayfair CIB with the purchase of the 49% of shares it did not already own, it said on Monday.

CIB bought a 51% stake in Mayfair Bank in 2020, offering funds, skills and infrastructure to speed the tiny Kenyan lender’s growth at a time when it accounted for only 0.2% of the East African nation’s banking market.

“Kenya offers great opportunities,” said Hossam Rageh, the head of Mayfair CIB.

Operating profit at the bank jumped 64% in 2021, Mayfair CIB said, adding that the acquisition has been approved by the central bank and will take effect on Jan. 31.

“The acquisition will anchor CIB’s expansion into the East African region. Additionally, it will strengthen the trade and investment ties between Kenya and Egypt,” the Kenyan central bank said.

Increased regulatory scrutiny in Kenya’s banking sector in the past eight years has resulted in a measure of consolidation.

Equity Group (EQTY.NR), the country’s biggest lender by assets, has completed a deal to acquire certain assets of Spire Bank, a distressed smaller institution owned by the teachers’ union, the central bank said in a separate statement on Monday.

“This transaction will enhance stability of the Kenyan banking sector,” the central bank said of the Spire deal.

Kenya has 39 commercial banks, which executives in the industry say is too many for a country of 50 million people.

Reporting by Duncan Miriri Editing by David Goodman

Africa should not be arena for international competition, says Chinese foreign minister

Qin visited facilities of the African Union in Addis Ababa, including the new headquarters of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention

China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang walks to address delegates at the inauguration of the new Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters, which China is building and equipping in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 11, 2023. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri-Reuters

Dawit Endeshaw, Reuters News

January 11, 2023

Qin visited facilities of the African Union in Addis Ababa, including the new headquarters of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. China financed the complex’s construction, as it previously did for the headquarters of the AU itself, also based in the Ethiopian capital.

China has been Africa’s largest trading partner for over a decade. It competes for influence with the United States – which hosted leaders from 49 African countries last month – as well as with former colonial powers such as Britain and France.

“Africa should be a big stage for the international cooperation, not an arena for major countries competition,” Qin said at a news conference with AU Commission chair Moussa Faki.

A trusted aide of President Xi Jinping and former ambassador to the United States, Qin was appointed foreign minister last month. His visit marks the 33rd consecutive year that Africa has been the destination of the Chinese foreign minister’s first overseas tour of the calendar year.

Qin met on Tuesday with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and other government officials, and announced a partial cancellation of Ethiopia’s debt to China during the visit, though neither side provided details. Ethiopia has borrowed $13.7 billion from China since 2000 and has been seeking to restructure its debt to foreign lenders since 2021.

Qin will also visit Egypt, Angola, Benin and Gabon over the next week. Paul Nantulya, a research associate at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, said the choice of countries reflected China’s diversity of interests in Africa.

China has strong security ties to Egypt and Angola. Visiting Benin and Gabon shows ambitions to expand Beijing’s Belt and Roads infrastructure-building drive – long focused mainly on the Indian Ocean region – into western Africa, he told Voice of America radio.

(Reporting by Dawit Endeshaw Writing by Aaron Ross Editing by Peter Graff)

Court orders release of Senegal government critic

AFP | Wed, Jan 11 2023 01:09 PM AEDT

A judge on Tuesday ordered the release of a Senegalese journalist and prominent anti-government critic after more than two months in detention, his lawyers said.

Pape Ale Niang, head of the Dakar Matin online news site, was arrested on November 6 and charged with “divulging information likely to harm national defence”.

Widely followed in Senegal for his regular columns on current affairs, Niang was released on December 14 but sent back to prison a week later, and had since been on a hunger strike in protest at his detention.

Lawyer Moussa Sarr told AFP the temporary release order came with a strict ban on Niang commenting on the case as well as a travel ban. 

He was “extremely strained” from a hunger strike launched in protest at his detention, the lawyer said, adding that he is still in hospital.

The journalist has been at Dakar’s main hospital since December 24, where doctors have voiced concern about his condition, according to a local press body.

Another of his lawyers, Cire Cledor Ly, said the case was “political” and Diang ought to end the hunger strike.

“He held out, it was very hard, but he was fighting for a principle and he has won,” the lawyer said.

The case against Niang arose after he wrote about rape charges faced by Senegal’s main opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko.

Niang was accused of describing confidential messages about security arrangements for Sonko’s questioning by investigators, according to trade unions. 

His detention sparked a wave of criticism from the press, civil society groups and Senegal’s opposition, with many calling for his release.

The Coordination of Press Associations put out a statement praising the “victory” of the release order, and called for the cancellation of the “fantasy and political charges which earned him more than 60 days in prison”.

Senegal has a strong reputation for openness and press freedom in west Africa, but this status is in decline, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Its 2022 Press Freedom Index ranked Senegal 73rd out of 180 countries — a fall of 24 places compared with 2021.

US and Russia clash over violent extremism in Africa

Undated photo distributed by the French army showing Russian mercenaries in northern Mali  –  Copyright © africanews

By Rédaction Africanews with AP

The United States accused Russian military contractors backed by the Kremlin on Tuesday of interfering in the internal affairs of African countries and “increasing the likelihood that violent extremism will grow” in the Sahel region which is facing increasing attacks and deteriorating security — an allegation Russia denied.

U.S. deputy ambassador Richard Mills lashed out at the Wagner Group at a U.N. Security Council meeting on West Africa and the Sahel, accusing its paramilitary forces of failing to address the extremist threat, robbing countries of their resources, committing human rights abuses, and endangering the safety and security of U.N. peacekeepers and staff.

France’s political counsellor Isis Jaraud-Darnault echoed Mills, saying “the model” used by Wagner mercenaries has proven “totally ineffective in combating terrorism.” He cited the “nefarious” and devastating impact of its work and human rights violations, including the alleged killing of over 30 civilians in Mali, and its pillaging of natural resources.

Britain’s deputy U.N. ambassador James Kariuki cited the deterioration of security, especially in Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin, and the fear of instability spreading to West African coastal countries. “You cannot ignore the destabilizing role the Wagner Group plays in the region. They are part of the problem, not the solution,” he told the council.

Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Anna Evstigneeva rejected attempts “to besmirch Russian assistance to Mali,” where Moscow has a bilateral agreement to assist the transitional government, “and in other countries in Africa.”

“Some countries once again today declared that Russia apparently is pillaging and looting the resources of Africa and is facilitating the growth of the terrorist threat,” she said, accusing those unnamed nations of doing the same thing “throughout the world and in Africa”, especially in neighbouring Libya which destabilized the entire area.

“Accusations against Russia are just astonishing, given common sense,” and undermine African leaders trying to resolve their own problems and decide who they want to cooperate with, she said.

Evstigneeva never mentioned the Wagner Group by name. The group is run by a confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and its mercenaries are accused by Western countries and U.N. experts of numerous human rights cases of abuse throughout Africa, including in the Central African Republic, Libya and Mali.

Giovanie Biha, the deputy head of the U.N. Office for West Africa and the Sahel, told the council that “insecurity has again deteriorated in large parts of the region,” due to activities of armed groups, violent extremists and criminal networks.

As a result, she said, more than 10,000 schools across the Sahel have closed, leaving millions of children without an education, and nearly 7,000 health centres have shut down.

Armed groups are fighting for supremacy and control of resources, she said, and the central Sahel is facing “unprecedented levels of security and humanitarian challenges, socio-political instability, further compounded by the impact of climate change, and food insecurity which was exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine.”

She added that increasing attacks in countries along the Gulf of Guinea are threatening transport arteries to landlocked countries further north.

According to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ latest report issued this week, over 18.6 million people in the region are experiencing “severe food insecurity,” an increase of 5.6 million since the end of June 2022, with Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria being the hardest hit. And about 6.3 million people are displaced across the Sahel, an increase of 300,000 since June.

West Africa’s latest wave of coups kicked off in Mali in 2020, followed by another in Guinea in 2021, and then in Burkina Faso in January 2022.

Omar Alieu Touray, president of the West African regional group ECOWAS’ commission, told the council he was pleased to report that transitions to critical elections in the three countries are “on course,” with voting to take place in the next two years.

SA’s longest beach is disappearing fast, and the erosion rate recently accelerated

Dave Chambers  , Business Insider SA

(Getty Images)
  • Sixteen Mile Beach in Yzerfontein on the West Coast is 52m narrower, on average, than it was in 1937.
  • 100m of the beach has vanished beneath the Atlantic Ocean at the worst-affected spot, according to an analysis of aerial photos and satellite images.
  • By 2040, say Wits scientists, the ocean could be lapping at the foot of the dunes that separate the beach from Langebaan lagoon.

A huge slice of South Africa’s longest beach has disappeared under the Atlantic Ocean over the last few decades.

Sixteen Mile Beach in the West Coast National Park is about 52m narrower, on average, than it was when aerial photographs were taken in 1937.

At the most eroded part of the beach, about 6km north of Yzerfontein, the shoreline is 100m closer to the dunes than it was 86 years ago, and scientists say by 2040 the ocean could be lapping at the foot of the dunes.

yzerfonteinThe stretch of coast analysed by scientists from Wits and the University of the Free State. (Remote Sensing)

About 80% of SA’s 3,000km coastline consists of sandy beaches, and the team from Wits and Free State universities which analysed Sixteen Mile Beach says: “Much of the country’s coastal developments and ecosystems could be at increased risk of destruction from coastal erosion.”

The “severe and rapid erosion” 80km north of Cape Town accelerated between 2015 and 2020, say the scientists, who published their findings on Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Remote Sensing.

They do not speculate why Sixteen Mile Beach is vanishing, saying only that coastlines change dynamically under the influence of factors such as storms, sediment movements, infrastructure development and sand mining.

“While coastal erosion is exacerbated by climate-driven sea level rise and anthropogenic forces, the extent and severity vary from region to region,” they say.yzerfonteinA transect of the beach showing shoreline positions at 11 points between 1937 and 2020. (Remote Sensing)

The shoreline change they analyse “could potentially be attributed to broader changes in the overall coastal and inland dune systems that have occurred over the decades, or changes in regional ocean and climate systems”.

Sixteen Mile Beach and the neighbouring Yzerfontein main and Pearl Bay beaches stretch 30km along a windswept coastline popular with kitesurfers – swells routinely reach 5m-6m – and whale-watchers.

In Yzerfontein, properties and a road border the beach, and a caravan park is separated from the sand by a boardwalk over a dune. At its northern end, the beach is just over the dunes from Langebaan lagoon, a marine protected area and a wetland of international importance.yzerfonteinShoreline forecasts for the next 10 years and 20 years at four locations in the study area. (Remote Sensing)

Tourists from Cape Town and further afield flock to the West Coast National Park in spring for its wild flowers and in summer for the lagoon’s warm, clear waters. In winter it is often lashed by violent frontal storms, but the long-term evolution of SA’s longest beach has never been studied, and the scientists set out to fill the knowledge gap.

They marked the shoreline on 20 aerial photographs from 1937, 1960 and 1977 and satellite images taken at five-year intervals between 1985 and 2020, then used specialised technology to create maps, tables and heatmaps depicting the erosion of the beach.

Overall, 95% of the beach had experienced erosion – about half of it “significant” – with an average loss of 38m. A 100m slice of the beach at its southern end lost 99.29m – 1.19m a year – making it an “erosion hotspot”, while a similar slice in the north gained 13,8m. “Sixteen Mile Beach experienced the greatest average change of 52,13m,” say the scientists.yzerfonteinThe ‘erosion hotspot’ identified by the scientists about 6km north of Yzerfontein. In this image, the beach is about 27m wide at its narrowest point. (Google Earth)

“The most drastic changes are those between 2015 and 2020, whereby most of the shoreline shows an increased landward movement. All of Pearl Bay, Yzerfontein main beach and the southern end of Sixteen Mile Beach show the largest amount of change within this period.

The beach is a “logarithmic spiral”, meaning it has developed its gentle curve in the “shadow zone” created by the rocky headland on which most of Yzerfontein is built. 

“A possible reason for these differences in erosion trends could be how the wave energy is dissipated along this extensive log-spiral beach system,” say the scientists. 

When it comes to predicting future shoreline changes, the team – Jennifer Murray, Elhadi Adam, Stephan Woodborne and Mary Evans from Wits, and Duncan Miller and Sifiso Xulu from UFS – say their model does not show “substantial movement” from the current high-water line.

“The forecasting model is only based on statistical trends in the data and must therefore be used with caution since it cannot take into account other parameters such as underlying geology, beach profile or wave conditions,” they say. “Such forecasts cannot be the main tool for coastal management and planning.”