Psychometrics: How Facebook data helped Trump find his voters

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Washington – It was one of hundreds of cute questionnaires that were shared widely on Facebook and other social media, like “Which Pokemon Are You?” and “What Are Your Most Used Words?”

This one, an app called “thisismydigitallife”, was a personality quiz, asking questions about how outgoing a person is, how vengeful one can be, whether one finishes projects, worries a lot, likes art, or is talkative.

About 320 000 people took the quiz, designed by a man named Alexsandr Kogan.

READ: App developer says he is scapegoat in Facebook data row

Kogan was contracted to do it by a company called Cambridge Analytica, founded by US Republican supporters including Steve Bannon, who would become the strategist for Donald Trump.

Because Kogan’s app was circulated via Facebook, it reaped far more than just the information on those who took the test. At the time, in 2015, such apps could scrape up all the personal details of not only the quiz-taker, but all their Facebook friends.

That ultimately became a horde of data on some 50 million Facebook users – their personal information, their likes, their places, their pictures, and their networks.

Marketers use such information to pitch cars, clothes, and vacations with targeted ads. It was used in earlier elections by candidates to identify potential supporters.

But for Kogan and Cambridge it was a much bigger goldmine. They used it for psychological profiling of US voters, creating a powerful database that helped carry Trump to victory in the 2016 presidential election.

The data let the Trump campaign know more than perhaps anyone has ever known about Facebook users, creating targeted ads and messaging that could play on their individual biases, fears and loves – effectively creating a bond between them and the candidate.

READ: Worried about being on Facebook? Some options explained

Psychometric profiling 

The project was based on the work of a former Cambridge scientist, Michal Kosinski, who studies people based on what information they generate on line.

Kosinski and fellow researcher David Stillwell had for several years tapped into Facebook for psychometric profiling using their own personality test app, “myPersonality”.

The app accumulated six million test results, along with users’ Facebook profiles, and their friends’ profiles, in a powerful research database.

In 2015 they published a study carrying the bold title: “Computer-based personality Judgments are more accurate than those made by humans.”

They showed, for example, that they could divine a fairly accurate psychometric portrait of a person using only their Facebook “likes”.

READ: Making sense of the Facebook data ‘breach

“Computers outpacing humans in personality Judgment presents significant opportunities and challenges in the areas of psychological assessment, marketing, and privacy,” they wrote.

Kosinski would not share the database with Kogan and Cambridge Analytica, reportedly knowing it would be used for a political campaign.

But Kogan created his own app quiz and, through that, amassed the database on 50 million people that would be the backbone of Trump’s social media campaign.

Facebook now says Kogan did that illegally. And it has since also restricted apps from such broad data collection on friend networks.

Powerful results 

But Cambridge Analytica proved that Kosinski’s methods were powerful.

They started with the standard psychological profiling test known as Big Five or OCEAN, which measures five traits: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

The test-taker answers a list of statements like “I am someone who tends to be organised” or “who rarely feels excited” or “has few artistic interests”, using a scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”.

Those basic results were combined with the data raked from Facebook profiles and friend networks, associating longer lists of traits.

For example, to categorise voters, an algorithm could find links between “agreeableness” or “neuroticism” and gender, age, religion, hobbies, travel, specific political views, and a host of other variables.

The data generated an incredible 4 000 or more data points on each US voter, according to Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive before he was suspended on Tuesday.

The power of psychographic data, experts say, is not in the granularity itself, but in combining data to make significant correlations about people – something with requires powerful computer algorithms.

READ: Zuckerberg summoned by Congress as lawmakers fume over data leak

Ultimately, it allowed the campaign to know far more about voters than anyone ever has before.

The output was put to work in what Nix called “behavioural microtargeting” and “psychographic messaging”.

More simply said, the campaign could put out messages, news and images via Facebook and other social media that was finely targeted to press the right buttons on an individual that would push them into Trump’s voter base.

For Trump, it worked.

“If you know the personality of the people you’re targeting, you can nuance your messaging to resonate more effectively with those key audience groups,” Nix said in a 2016 presentation.

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JSE slides ahead of ratings decision

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Mar 23 2018 18:03

Musa Makoni, EasyEquities

Cape Town – The JSE
traded softer on Friday ahead of the ratings decision from Moody’s which was
expected well after the market close.

Local equities
slid further on Friday as the blue chip counters continued to weigh on the
broader index. This was in line with global equity markets particularly in the
US where the Dow Jones and S&P500 fell sharply in Thursday’s session.
Asian equities also traded lower, and the Nikkei in particular took a 4.51%
knock.

Listed
property stocks Growthpoint [JSE:GRT] and Greenbay Properties [JSE:GRP] were
among the day’s biggest losers after they shed 5.28% and 5.51% respectively.
Miners Kumba Iron Ore [JSE:KIO], Impala Platinum [JSE:IMP] and South32
[JSE:S32] also traded under significant pressure to end the day 3.11%, 2.38%
and 4.49% lower respectively.

Index
heavyweights Naspers [JSE:NPN] and Richemont lost 4.55% and 1.23% respectively,
whilst banking stocks were relatively muted. First Rand [JSE:FSR] and Nedbank
[JSE:NED] eventually closed the day down 0.32% and 0.47% respectively. Shoprite
[JSE:SHP] continued to trade under pressure as it lost 0.11%, whilst Famous
Brands [JSE:FBR] and Barloword [JSE:BAW] closed 2.51% and 2.52% weaker.

EOH
Holdings [JSE:EOH] found some relief on Friday as it jumped 10.16% to close at
R45.94 per share. Gold mining stocks were among the biggest gainers of the day
mainly on the back of firmer gold prices. AngloGold Ashanti [JSE:AGL],
Harmony Gold [JSE:HAR] and Gold Fields [JSE:GFI] all firmed by 5.67%, 2.05% and
4.06% respectively. Brait [JSE:BAT] firmed by 2.17% to close at R36.22 per
share, whilst Dis-Chem [JSE:DCP] and Mr Price [JSE:MRP] inched up 1% and 1.53%
respectively.

The JSE
Top-40 Index closed 1.51% weaker, whilst the JSE All-Share Index lost 1.43%.
Another rough day ensued for the JSE’smajor indices as
the Industrials Index lost 1.94%, whilst the Financials Index lost 1.12%. The
Resources Index closed 0.29% weaker despite firmer gold mining stocks.

The rand
strengthened from its overnight close to peak at a session high of R11.73/$. The
US dollar was still trading softer which resulted in the rand firming as well
as higher gold prices. At 17:00 CAT the rand was trading at R11.76/$.

Gold
benefitted from the weaker US dollar as it rallied to a session high of
$1 350.33/Oz. It was still trading firmer at 17:00 CAT as it was recorded at $1 347.70/Oz,
up 1.37% for the day. Platinum and palladium were both trading firmer on the
day and at 17:00 CAT they were trading at $953.55/Oz and $982.43/Oz
respectively.

Brent Crude
jumped on concerns that Donald Trump’s new security adviser would increase
tensions amongst oil producing countries. The commodity reached a session high of
$70.38/barrel before it retraced marginally to trade at $70.02/barrel just
after the close.

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Top 5 on Fin24: All eyes on Moody’s, Facebook and MTN

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Cape Town – A roundup of Friday’s must-read financial and economic news.

D-Day for SA sovereign credit rating

By midnight on Friday South Africans should know whether Moody’s has downgraded SA’s sovereign credit rating to junk, or kept the country at above investment grade. 

Moody’s was the only major ratings agency to not downgrade South Africa to sub-investment grade in 2017. It currently has the country at one notch above junk.

While its rival ratings agencies Fitch and S&P both downgraded SA to junk last year, Moody’s maintained its sovereign rating for SA at Baa3, one rung above junk status.

Markets taking Moody’s rating review in their stride

It’s a rating decision that could trigger as much as $6bn (R70.9bn) of capital outflows from the economy. Investors aren’t batting an eyelid.

South Africa will probably escape a junk assessment from Moody’s Investors Service on Friday, according to 15 economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

A downgrade of the country’s local-currency debt would see the nation’s securities exit CitiGroup’s World Government Bond Index, leading to forced selling of government notes by funds that track the gauge.

Traders don’t see much prospect of that, options pricing shows. While the rand’s one-week implied volatility versus the dollar has edged up in recent days, it’s still well below the long-term average.

Rand holds firm as Moody’s rating decision looms

The rand continued to firm in the early hours of Friday afternoon, as analysts remained cautiously optimistic that Moody’s would not downgrade SA’s sovereign debt to junk. 

At 15:20 on Friday the local currency was trading at 11.76/$, up 0.75% on the day. It had opened at 11.85 to the greenback. 

“Market consensus is that Moody’s will refrain from downgrading South Africa and might even move to lift the negative watch, an expectation the rand is thoroughly enjoying,” said Bianca Botes, corporate treasury manager at Peregrine Treasury Solutions in a statement earlier in the day. 

Worried about being on Facebook? Some options explained

A snowballing Facebook scandal over the hijacking of personal data from millions of its users has many wondering whether it’s time to restrict access to their Facebook information or even leave the social network altogether, with the #deletefacebook movement gaining traction.

Here are some options open to the worried Facebook user:

• Put it to sleep
• Kill the account
• Be more alert
• Go after Facebook

MTN prepaid voice tariffs jump as new price structure kicks in

MTN prepaid customers can expect to fork out up to an extra 41 cents per minute as the mobile network’s new prepaid price structure kicks in on Friday. 

MTN’s Pay Per Second customers can now expect to pay R0.99 per minute, both on the MTN network and to other networks, up from R0.79 per minute. MTN Talk Free customers who currently pay R0.79 per minute will now pay R1.20 per minute.

MTN corporate affairs executive Jacqui O’Sullivan told Fin24 that the changes announced in the prepaid voice category are part of its overall prepaid portfolio review and are not linked to the value-added tax (VAT) change.

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SARB fines foreign exchange outlets for poor controls

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Johannesburg – The South Africa Reserve Bank said on Friday it had fined five foreign exchange dealers for poor anti-money laundering controls aimed at combating criminal activities.

The outlets, known as authorised dealers in foreign exchange with limited authority (ADLAs) are licenced by the Reserve Bank to conduct limited foreign exchange services, including travel related transactions.

“The inspections found weaknesses in the control measures the ADLAs have in place to control anti-money laundering and combat the financing of terrorism,” the bank said in a statement.

Ayoba Foreign Exchange (Pty) Limited, Tourvest Financial Services (Pty) Limited trading as American Express Foreign Exchange Services, Imali Express (Pty) Limited, Forex World (Pty) Limited and Sikhona Forex were slapped with penalties ranging from R50 000 to R750 000.

The heaviest fine of R750 000 was imposed on American Express Foreign Exchange Services for failing to report cash transactions above R24 999.99 to the Financial Intelligence Centre, in terms of section 28 of the FIC

An amount of R250 000 of the penalty was suspended for 12 months on condition that the dealer was not found guilty of the same offence during the suspension period.

Some of the dealers were found to have failed to identify and verify clients’ details.

However, the Reserve Bank stated that the sanctions were “not imposed because the outlets were found to have facilitated transactions involving money laundering or the financing of terrorism but because of weaknesses in their control measures”.

In 2001, South Africa introduced the Financial Intelligence Centre Act which is aimed at detecting criminal and money laundering activities linked to financing of terror acts.

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Rand holds firm as Moody’s rating decision looms

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Cape Town – The rand continued to firm in the early hours of Friday afternoon, as analysts remained cautiously optimistic that Moody’s would not downgrade SA’s sovereign debt to junk. 

At 15:20 on Friday the local currency was trading at 11.76/$, up 0.75% on the day. It had opened at 11.85 to the greenback. 

Ratings agency Moody’s is likely to announce on Friday whether it will downgrade SA’s sovereign credit rating to sub-investment grade. 

“Market consensus is that Moody’s will refrain from downgrading South Africa and might even move to lift the negative watch, an expectation the rand is thoroughly enjoying,” said Bianca Botes, corporate treasury manager at Peregrine Treasury Solutions in a statement earlier in the day. 

“While the Moody’s rate announcement is only due to take place on Friday evening, we expect to see the market price in the potential positive news, with the rand leaning towards a strengthened position during the day.”

NKC African Economics, in a research note, said it expected Moody’s to not downgrade SA’s debt to sub-investment grade. This would mean that South Africa would remain included in the important Citibank World Global Bond Index. 

On Thursday Deputy Finance Minister Mondli Gungubele said that Treasury had recently conducted “very frank and honest discussions” with ratings agencies. “As a result of that, I anxiously, and with all humility expect something better, but that is their decision to make.”

If past rating announcements are anything to go by, Moody’s will reveal its decision during the evening on Friday.

There is an outside chance it will not make the decision on Friday. 

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MTN prepaid voice tariffs jump as new price structure kicks in

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Johannesburg – MTN prepaid customers can expect to fork out up to an extra 41 cents per minute, as the mobile network’s new prepaid price structure kicks in on Friday. 

MTN’s Pay Per Second customers can now expect to pay R0.99 per minute, both on the MTN network and to other networks, up from R0.79 per minute.

MTN Talk Free customers who currently pay R0.79 per minute will now pay R1.20 per minute.

MTN corporate affairs executive Jacqui O’Sullivan told Fin24 that the changes announced in the prepaid voice category are part of this overall prepaid portfolio review and are not linked to the value-added tax (VAT) change. 

“Customers making use of a prepaid format will therefore not see a simple VAT increase on prepaid products. Instead, MTN is sticking with the portfolio overhaul roadmap that was planned ahead of the VAT changes.

“Our post-paid base, which went through this portfolio transformation in 2018, will see a simple 1% VAT increase,” she said. 

MTN’s portfolio and pricing overhaul was initiated last year with its post-paid products. The company then put a similar roadmap in place to deal with the overhaul of the prepaid products in 2018.

“Earlier this month we introduced new data bundles. We have introduced the MyMTN Offers and we will be rolling out a series of new products over the next three months, all in line with the transformation of our prepaid portfolio,” O’Sullivan said.

She added that customers will now be able to migrate from tariff to tariff more easily, and choose packages better suited to their needs. 

“As we progress along this journey, different products will be impacted in different ways and we will see new products also being launched. In some areas there will be price decreases, in others there’ll be increases and others will remain the same.

“Our focus is to create a product portfolio that better supports what our customers require from us and allows us to move away from outdated legacy products that no longer meet our customers’ needs,” O’Sullivan said. 

Customers may change their plans if they decide to migrate to a different option by dialling *141*0# and selecting option 5.

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Gold rallies as trade-war risks, Bolton’s ascent fire up demand

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Singapore – Gold’s sizzling. Investors pushed prices of the haven to highest in a month as the US and China exchanged blows on trade, and President Donald Trump installed the hawkish John Bolton as his new national security adviser.

“Having a ‘neo-con’ back in the White House took the geopolitical risk monitor to another level,” said Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia Pacific at Oanda Corporation, referring to Bolton and the neo-conservative tag. “This appointment, in my view, was the most significant factor in this morning’s gold ramp.”

Bullion gained midweek as the Federal Reserve stuck with plans to raise rates only three times this year.

It moved higher Friday as the long-expected trade fight stoked concern that global growth will slow, and Bolton’s ascent added to risks of a more muscular US approach to some of the world’s hotspots, especially Iran and North Korea.

“It’s been a good week for precious metal bulls, with multiple factors supporting the yellow metal,” said Jordan Eliseo, chief economist at Australian Bullion Company.

“Gold rallied after the Fed pushed through with their anticipated rate hike, whilst the troubling rhetoric around tariffs, and the sharp sell off in risk assets, is also providing some safe-haven demand.”

Winning favour

Bullion for immediate delivery jumped as much as 1.1% to $1 343.27 an ounce, the highest since February 20, and was at $1 342.43 at 10:50 in London.

Gold’s up 2.1% this week, heading for the biggest gain since February 16. It jumped 1.6% on Wednesday after the Fed signaled the pace of tightening won’t accelerate this year.

There are other strong signs that bullion is winning favor with investors again. Global holdings in exchange-traded funds have risen to the highest level since 2013, while traders and analysts in a Bloomberg survey are the most bullish on the metal’s outlook in almost two months.

Bolton – a former US Ambassador to the United Nations who’s famed for his hawkish views, blunt comments, and role as a strong supporter of the US invasion of Iraq – will replace H.R. McMaster in the national security advisor’s position.

His appointment makes new sanctions on Iran more likely, which would further unsettle the market and lend even more support to gold, analysts at Commerzbank AG said in a note.

The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index fell 0.6% this week, while equity markets in the US and Asia tumbled after tariffs were announced. While there’d been concern among some investors that the Fed may favor four hikes in 2018, the bank’s guidance signaled policy makers are still sticking at three.

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Markets taking Moody’s rating review in their stride

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Johannesburg – It’s a rating decision that could trigger as much as $6bn (R70.9bn) of capital outflows from the economy. Investors aren’t batting an eyelid.

South Africa will probably escape a junk assessment from Moody’s Investors Service on Friday, according to 15 economists surveyed by Bloomberg. A downgrade of the country’s local-currency debt would see the nation’s securities exit CitiGroup’s World Government Bond Index, leading to forced selling of government notes by funds that track the gauge.

Traders don’t see much prospect of that, options pricing shows. While the rand’s one-week implied volatility versus the dollar has edged up in recent days, it’s still well below the long-term average. The currency weakened 0.25% to R11.81 per dollar by 12:41 in Johannesburg, bringing its advance since Moody’s placed South Africa on credit-watch negative in November to 20%.

Here’s what investors and analysts are saying about market reaction to the rating review.

Toronto-Dominion Bank

The rand may weaken as much as 3% in the event of a downgrade, says Cristian Maggio, head of emerging-market strategy; it may strengthen as much as 1% from current levels on a decision to hold, while 10-year rand swaps could move up 15-20 basis points on a downgrade, and fall five basis points on no change.

Maggio sees the rand at R11.60 per dollar by year-end and R11.50 in 2019 and sees the South African yield curve dropping 30 to 40 basis points over next two years.

“If they do hold, then I would also expect Moody’s to change the credit watch negative into a negative outlook, which represents a marginally ameliorated situation.”

Commerzbank

The government under the new leadership of Cyril Ramaphosa has improved the political and economic outlook, lessening the chances of a downgrade, economist Elisabeth Andreae wrote in a note to clients.

But risks remain, including a still-large budget shortfall, talk of nationalising the South African Reserve Bank and uncertainty around land reform.

“In the medium term, as with other emerging market currencies, the rand’s performance is likely to be determined largely by global factors. In addition to potential global risk-off movements, the Fed’s upcoming rate hikes and continuing dollar weakness should pose the greatest risks to the rand,” said Andreae.

“We therefore remain cautious about rand exchange rates and have penciled in a moderate depreciation of the South African currency.” Andreae said she sees the rand at R12.80 by end-2018 and R13.50 by end-2019.

Standard Bank

“No change in any rating-agency stance. An upgrade by the others is not an easy path and will take at least 18-36 months of solid economic data for a turn-around,” said Warrick Butler, a Johannesburg-based currency trader at Standard Bank [JSE:SBK].

“The rand is still following the global dollar story. It may be worth a few cents of strength but the market expectations are for a hold anyway.”

Nedbank

“Moody’s will give South Africa the benefit of the doubt even though it is difficult to quantify politics in their model,” said Mehul Daya, a technical strategy analyst at Nedbank [JSE:NED].

Global issues will dictate where the rand goes next even as local developments remain supportive to the currency.

Afrifocus Securities

Market consensus is for no rating change; an unexpected downgrade would dim positive sentiment for Johannesburg-listed stocks, said Ferdi Heyneke, a portfolio manager at Afrifocus.

“If there is no downgrade, South Africa-focused stocks will just keep their steadiness going and then it will be dependent on what happens in the world market.

“That may have been priced in to an extent already.”

Independent securities

A downgrade would be “negative for SA stocks, particularly the banks and possibly the retailers as well, anything that is South African focused,” said Michele Santangelo, a portfolio manager at Independent Securities.

“It will probably be positive for the rand hedges particularly because we might see some weakness in the rand on that announcement.

“A lot of the stocks and the rand are pretty priced in that Moody’s will not downgrade us.

“We could see further rand strength to recent highs of R11.50 per dollar. Financial stocks may rally,” said Santangelo.

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Worried about being on Facebook? Some options explained

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Paris – A snowballing Facebook scandal over the hijacking of personal data from millions of its users has many wondering whether it’s time to restrict access to their Facebook information or even leave the social network altogether, with the #deletefacebook movement gaining traction.

Here are some options open to the worried Facebook user.

Put it to sleep 

Putting a Facebook account on hold used to be difficult, but has become a lot easier.

To deactivate their account, users need to go on their “settings” page, then on to “manage account”, where they can “deactivate” their account. Facebook defines this action as putting activity “on hold”.

The move disables a user’s profile and removes their name and pictures from most things they have shared.

Some information may still remain visible, like a user’s name in a friend’s list, or messages exchanged with friends.

If they have second thoughts, users can easily restore a de-activated profile.

Kill the account 

Deleting an account is a more radical step, as users will not be able to access it again once they’ve gone for that option.

Facebook warns users that it can take up to 90 days to purge the network of a user’s posts.

Even so, some information is likely to stay online, for example messages sent to friends.

According to French data expert Nathalie Devillier there is also a chance that Facebook holds on to information about some users if asked to by US authorities in the name of national security.

Be more alert 

Facebook users can check with the network how much of their personal information is accessible on the network.

In “settings”, the option “download a copy of your Facebook data” allows a user to do just that.

Once Facebook has double-checked a user’s password, the site compiles and then e-mails a compressed file.

The file gives an overview of the pictures and videos a user has posted, their downloaded apps, message traffic with friends, their “likes”, unfriended friends and ads clicked.

The information can be difficult to decrypt, as are some passages in Facebook’s privacy rules.

It is possible to exercise some control over some ad preferences. This includes, for example, users deciding whether their relationship status can be used as a criterion for targeted ads.

Go after Facebook

Some experts and consumer rights organisations argue that rather than withdraw from Facebook, users should help shift the balance of power between the social network giant and individuals by legal means.

“We must be able to use the service without being under Facebook’s surveillance,” said Arthur Messaud at Quadrature du Net, a French organisation that defends the rights of internet users.

The group is planning a class action suit against Facebook in France, based on a new set of EU data protection rules that come into force in May, Messaud said.

He said one aim of the lawsuit is to force Facebook to seek explicit user consent for the use of data by, for example, ticking a box.

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Big business moves to meet Cape water crisis demands

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Cape Town – Big companies are finding new ways to save water and make products that need less water to use, according to Myriam Sidibe who is on the board of Water Aid and a hygiene director with Unilever.

Speaking at a World Water Day launch in Cape Town on Thursday, Sidibe said it can no longer be business as usual, citing laundry and personal hygiene as the biggest water guzzlers in households respectively.

Unilever is responding to the challenge by working on products that require less water to use, or need no water at all – such as waterless shampoo, and washing powder that needs less water.

“We are changing, but it is not something we can do overnight,” said Sidibe.

Coca-Cola has slashed water use by 30% and is donating 500 000 litres of water to reduce the impact on communities in the Western Cape, according to public affairs and communications director Tshidi Ramogase.

The drought in the province has been declared a national disaster, with residents in Cape Town required to reduce usage to 50 litres of water per day.

Although Day Zero – when the taps will run dry and water will be rationed to a daily 25 litres per person – has been moved to 2019, city officials are imploring residents to continue water saving to keep Day Zero at bay.

In the meantime, the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs has set aside R433m to combat the drought, with R163m destined for the Western Cape.

In another initiative, Enactus CEO Letitia De Wet said groups of smart young minds at universities are working on innovations that could lead to an even bigger drop in the amount of water being wasted. Among these are treating grey water to be used in showers and water catchment innovations.

Department of Water and Sanitation spokesperson Sputnik Ratau pointed out that the upside of the prolonged drought is that it has brought water management to the fore.

People are more aware of illegal water abstraction and staying within the water usage limits.

Company representatives at the event also announced that rainwater harvesting tanks with a 5 000 litre capacity would be donated to 35 schools to help them conserve water.

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