Posts in "Money and power"

The normalisation of madness

A number of insights during a debate at the University of Cape Town – Betrayal of the Promise: Understanding South Africa’s Political Crisis – came from the youngest panel member Sikhulekile Duma, a researcher at the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition at Stellenbosch University. One, in particular, resonated with me when he talked about how we have normalised madness in South Africa … and not only because “we accept that Khayelitsha exists”.

Picture the scene: We are sitting in a lecture hall at a great South African university. We are listening to respected leaders from the academic, legal and business worlds calmly discuss the silent coup that we all believe has taken place in our country.

GuptasThe stories of multi-million rand bribes, hundreds of leaked emails and free holidays in Dubai all lead to a foreign (possibly naturalised) family, which is widely accepted to have bought the state.

They are not puppeteers, we are told, they are brokers of corruption and favours for the elite. They are the fixers and the can-do guys at the top of the pile in a neat system where the patron need not shop around, or take too many risks.

Normalising madness indeed!



Sun City: not so naughty, twice as nice

Government ministers, business people and representatives from the media joined a host of entertainers including fire throwers, stilt walkers, dancers and a scattering of Miss South Africas, past and probably future, at Sun City this week to celebrate the resort’s relaunch after a R1 billion makeover.

The jewel in Sun International’s crown, which opened (as a much smaller version of itself) in the then nominally independent bantustan, Bophuthatswana, in December 1979, has shocked, awed and delighted a steady stream of international and local guests as it has hosted, fed, pampered and amused them.


Things had started to look a bit outdated over the years. Not so any more!

The oasis in the desert in the North West Province had grown a little shabby since the early years, when it was a place where the young and old stole off to indulge in all sorts of naughtiness, including watching topless showgirls and pornographic movies, and trying their luck at gambling.

All of this “scandalous” behaviour was not allowed in the apartheid-era Republic of South Africa, which was morally corrupt in much more meaningful ways.

The overhaul goes beyond giving the “pleasure palace” a facelift, however.

Wednesday night’s launch introduced guests to the “new Sun City”, which hopes to widen its appeal further with a lot of effort directed at expanding its share of the growing conventions business in South Africa as well as attracting families and the millennial generation.

The five-year, R1-billion refurbishment looks to position Sun City more firmly as a business destination with dramatically upgraded and improved conference facilities.


Constantly reinventing itself: The Sun Park events space can be remade to different needs in hours

High tech, state of the art facilities at the resort include the Sun Parks centre, perhaps best described as Meccano or Lego-style build your own event venue space.

Sun City is really upping its conference game with this facility that can be built into into any style of venue in just a few hours.

Similar parks are being built at Sun International properties around South Africa.

With the Sun Parks centre as well as many state-of-the art auditoriums and meeting spaces in the Sun Centre, Sun City hopes to entice big and small conferences and events.

Rob Collins, Sun International’s chief operating officer, explained that the variety and flexibility of the spaces meant there were few limits, whether it be a folk music festival that is planned, a million dollar golf tournament, extreme sports events or wild game auctions, to mention but a few.

It’s not child’s play, but Collins also chose a playful metaphor, using a teddy bear, when explaining the concept.

To give an example of the modern idea of simple but detailed customization, which underpins the Sun Parks concept, Collins said: “When you wanted a teddy bear you used to buy one; now you build one.”


Lots of fun for the whole family

Many of the other facilities included in the new upgrade are designed to appeal to whole family, including new rides in the Valley of Waves, action-packed watersports at Waterworld, mini golf, racing go-karts and a Lego room, a climbing room and an X-Box room.

Teenagers and other adrenalin junkies will likely enjoy Adrenalin Extreme, the new adventure hub.

The entertainment centre, which was built at a cost of R30 million and inaugurated by ‘Ole Blue Eyes’ himself – Frank Sinatra, in July 1981, has been given an overhaul too, and now includes a variety of family experiences, including a South African Hall of Fame honouring South Africa’s outstanding sportspeople and performing artists.

The museum-like exhibition here is complemented by interactive exhibits with virtual reality spaces allowing visitors, for example, to race against South Africa’s great runners or improve their golf swing.

The original hotel has been rebranded Soho hotel and repositioned as the resort’s ‘Always On’ party zone. It includes an exclusive new dance venue, Encore, where the globally popular South African DJ Black Coffee helped to light up the dance floor on Wednesday night, getting the attention of at least some of those elusive millennials.

Also at Soho, the Sun City Casino, which was the first in South Africa to introduce million rand jackpots, and the Prive Salon have been revamped.


An oasis in the desert in the North-West Province

Rooms in the various hotels have been redecorated, and restaurants and bars have been spruced up, many of them rebranded to keep with modern tastes, times and technology.

Michael Farr, Sun International’s general manager for brand and communications, said: “We have put this investment into making the resort even more attractive to families, gamblers, convention visitors and a host of new niche tourists, such as adrenalin-seekers, eco-tourists and millennials.

“We are confident that with this massive refurb and upgrade, Sun City will not only retain its status as South Africa’s favourite leisure destination, but will also recapture its place as the premier convention venue in the country.”
– African News Agency (ANA)

#Trumpexit: let’s start a revolution

boristrumpBrexit, Trump and the beginning of the end …

Imagine if we really have reached that tipping point, the archduke has been assassinated … what will you do on this momentous day?

Maybe slow down a little, spread a little kindness, give a stranger a leg-up (no #GrinderFriends I did not say a leg-over), forgive a mistake – someone else’s or your own, empty out your cupboards and take all that unused stuff to a charity (in my neighbourhood #NazarethHouse always so happy to receive anything).

Imagine if the election of Donald Trump resulted in an outpouring of love and a #RevolutionOfKindness

Oh and maybe it is time to dust off the Africa Rising narrative again …

And from Michael Moore, keeping it real as ever:

Morning After To-Do List:
1. Take over the Democratic Party and return it to the people. They have failed us miserably.

2. Fire all pundits, predictors, pollsters and anyone else in the media who had a narrative they wouldn’t let go of and refused to listen to or acknowledge what was really going on. Those same bloviators will now tell us we must “heal the divide” and “come together.” They will pull more hooey like that out of their ass in the days to come. Turn them off.

3. Any Democratic member of Congress who didn’t wake up this morning ready to fight, resist and obstruct in the way Republicans did against President Obama every day for eight full years must step out of the way and let those of us who know the score lead the way in stopping the meanness and the madness that’s about to begin.

4. Everyone must stop saying they are “stunned” and “shocked”. What you mean to say is that you were in a bubble and weren’t paying attention to your fellow Americans and their despair. YEARS of being neglected by both parties, the anger and the need for revenge against the system only grew. Along came a TV star they liked whose plan was to destroy both parties and tell them all “You’re fired!” Trump’s victory is no surprise. He was never a joke. Treating him as one only strengthened him. He is both a creature and a creation of the media and the media will never own that.

5. You must say this sentence to everyone you meet today: “HILLARY CLINTON WON THE POPULAR VOTE!” The MAJORITY of our fellow Americans preferred Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Period. Fact. If you woke up this morning thinking you live in an effed-up country, you don’t. The majority of your fellow Americans wanted Hillary, not Trump. The only reason he’s president is because of an arcane, insane 18th-century idea called the Electoral College. Until we change that, we’ll continue to have presidents we didn’t elect and didn’t want.

You live in a country where a majority of its citizens have said they believe there’s climate change, they believe women should be paid the same as men, they want a debt-free college education, they don’t want us invading countries, they want a raise in the minimum wage and they want a single-payer true universal health care system. None of that has changed. We live in a country where the majority agree with the “liberal” position. We just lack the liberal leadership to make that happen (see: #1 above).
Let’s try to get this all done by noon today.

– Michael Moore

Value of social grants outstrips cost

zambia-school-enrollment-facebookFlying in the face of criticism that social grants spark dependency, comprehensive studies in Zambia have shown that the benefits of cash transfers to poor families outweigh the cost.
The research, commissioned by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) and carried out by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), found that social grants for families with at least one young child had effects that amounted to a net benefit of 1.5 kwacha for each kwacha transferred, AIR said in a statement.
A second programme was aimed at households with fewer able-bodied people to farm due to the “missing generation” effect, which means there were fewer people in their 30s and 40s and disproportionately high numbers of adolescents and orphans cared for by widows and grandparents.
zambia-food-security-facebookThe effect of this programme amounted to a net benefit of 1.68 kwacha for each kwacha transferred, AIR said.
Besides eating more meals and building more reliable food reserves, families were found to have used the money to improve their housing, buy additional necessities for their children, acquire more livestock and reduce debt.
Notably, the two Zambian programmes were unconditional, providing small, consistent sums of money with no strings attached to how the cash was spent.
The results bucked general criticisms that cash transfers spark dependency. Rather, the discretionary approach was found to have empowered families, who used the grants to improve their living standards in ways that made sense given their individual circumstances.
zambia-food-needs-edu-simple-animationAt no point during the multi-year study of the grants did alcohol consumption increase. Nor was there any impact on fertility, according to the evaluations.
“The unconditional approach worked,” said Stanfield Michelo, director of social welfare at Zambia’s Ministry of Community Development and Social Welfare. “And because it did the region is making positive strides.”
The evaluation of the child grant cash transfer programme lasted four years; the evaluation of the second programme lasted three years.
The studies were notable not only for their duration, but also for their use of randomisation and control groups to tease out true effects of the programmes.
“Few evaluations of cash transfer programmes can make such strong causal claims with as much certainty as these two evaluations,” said David Seidenfeld, AIR’s senior director of international research and evaluation, who was lead author on the study.
zambia-basic-needs-facebook“The design of the study, which extended over several years, allowed us to see that the beneficiaries do not grow complacent over time, but instead find ways to grow the value of the transfer beyond benefits related to food security and consumption,” Seidenfeld said.
“Another lesson is that the unconditional nature of the grants gave participants the flexibility to use the money to combat principal life challenges,” said Unicef’s Zambia representative Hamid El-Bashir Ibrahim.
“For example, the [child grant programme] significantly affected many indicators commonly associated with resiliency, the ability to manage and withstand shocks.
“Households with transfers significantly improved housing quality and tools, livestock procurement and opportunities to diversify income-generating activities so they could better withstand emergencies.”
“The overall results demonstrate unequivocally that common perceptions about cash transfers – that they are handouts and cause dependency, or lead to alcohol and tobacco consumption, or increases in pregnancy – are not true in Zambia,” Seidenfeld added.
“Quite the contrary. Due to the unconditional nature of the grants, households had the flexibility needed to meet their most pressing challenges head on.”
The findings are likely to be studied closely as African nations increasingly embrace social grants to combat the cycle of poverty, AIR said.
It noted that South Africa’s programme was the largest, with roughly 16.1 million people or about a third of its population receiving some type of social grant.
– African News Agency (ANA)

From the snowy peaks of Davos to the green hills of Kigali


Motorbikes taxi drivers line up calmly for ages to let a Friday evening fun run stagger past

It seems impossible not to feel the weight of history in Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills.

Terrible things happen. The world keeps turning. People recover. I know but still I kept thinking, Really?! and WTF?!

Kigali is a beautiful place nestled between hills. It is safe to drink water from the tap and to walk around alone at night. There is no litter and seems to be no rage, even with more than 1,200 participants being in town for the World Economic Forum on Africa.

On a busy Friday night at the Hotel Milles Collines, Hotel Rwanda from the movie, as the significantly local crowd are so absorbed that they seem to be part of the music, I couldn’t help looking up to the roof and thinking of the story of a mother preparing for the possibility that she might have to take her children’s hands and jump because “a machete is no way to die”.

Yet this place feels much less broken than Johannesburg.

StreetFoodKigaliFeed me!

It seems vulgar to say this in a continent where many people go to bed hungry every day but the culinary experience in Kigali was a big let down.

Starting with a cocktail waiter a high-class hotel in town who had never heard of a Bloody Mary to prawn canapes that seemed to have made the long journey from the coast on foot, I was left longing for the feast of flavours, textures and stories that normally go with food in Africa.

Left, a vendor cooks goat kebabs on the street in downtown Kigali, a rare opportuntiy to eat as locals do.

Psssst: I didn’t make it here but heard from more than one person that a place called Carwash (braai, shishi nyama, nyama choma, barbecue) is a good place to feast on local food and good vibes

Early impressions …

Bikes Davos Arriving for the World Economic Forum’s 2016 African meetings, which are being held in the Rwandan capital from May 11-13, it is hard not to compare the experience with Davos in Switzerland, where WEF’s main annual meeting is held every January.

Rolling green hills as far as the eye can see replace a snowy wonderland. The managed calm of Switzerland is replaced by a lovely, though quite contained, chaos on the streets of Kigali, with motorbike taxis dominating the scene.

The green hills, which almost encroach on the city from all sides, create the opposite of a claustrophobic city vibe, but a multitude of cranes is evidence of a city that is on the way up.

I am not surprised, but happy nonetheless, to report that Rwanda’s much-talked-about investment in ICT infrastructure is immediately obvious. I was still waiting in a queue to get a visa at Kigali airport (another innovation of this incredibly forward-thinking government is that visas are easy to get, even for fellow Africans, which is not the norm) when my phone came to life drawing my attention to free wifi connections available. A few clicks and I was hooked into the worldwide web.

I had spent an hour and a half in transit in Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport earlier in the day, which had caused me to slightly lower my expectations about wifi. The signal in Nairobi’s airport, going as “very strong” most of the time, gave me no joy at all for the hour I tried the entry level test of sending whatsApp messages.
Welcome2KigaliBeing plugged into the world as soon as I landed at Kigali airport was reassuring. Good internet connectivity and wide access is an essential in today’s modern city, especially one hosting the WEF Africa meeting being held under the theme Connecting Africa’s Resources through Digital Transformation. Leaders from government, business, civil society, academia, media and the arts will take part in discussions exploring Africa’s prospects and priorities as the world enters the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Discussions in Kigali will take up where the WEF’s annual Davos meeting in January, themed Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, left off. According to WEF, the Africa meeting will seek to identify priorities and actions for Africa’s leaders as they look to build economies that are able to flourish in the increasingly digital, convergent marketplaces of tomorrow.

Some ramblings on the SA Budget 2016

PravinMore bang than you might think …

At first glance, February 24’s 2016 Budget speech by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan lacked the sort of radical or dramatic shifts that make for hot headlines and sexy soundbites, but a closer inspection of Gordhan’s deft balancing act revealed some almost bold steps among the fancy footwork.

When an apparent lack of bold action was pointed out to Gordhan in a press briefing, he quickly noted that the shift in deficit numbers could be described as radical.

With the responsibility to prevent the loss of South Africa’s investment grade credit rating weighing heavily on him, Gordhan vowed to speed up fiscal consolidation and bring the deficit down to 2.4 percent of GDP in 2018/19.

He noted that this meant reduced spending plans and higher revenue targets and a lot of effort to impose pain on “ourselves” — that is government — rather than on ordinary South Africans.

“We are not imposing austerity on our people!”

Making a point that would normally be given high points for sexiness in the business world, Gordhan said the budget outlined a lot of work that was being done to build relationships between government and business. He added that in the weeks to come, the fruits of these efforts would become obvious in the form “of concrete areas of co-operation”.

Holy Cow!

Another area where bold action was in evidence, according to Gordhan, was state-owned enterprises (SOEs), where he said it had now been established that parastatals were “not sacrosanct”. The budget showed that the government was “willing to take a tough look” at how these were performing and would proceed to ask which of them were no longer needed.


Members of the EFF arrive at the State of the Nation

Julius Who?

One of the surprises of the day was Gordhan receiving praise from the man in the red jumpsuit.

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema called on South Africans  to rally around the minister who had done what was needed to avert the country losing its investment grade credit rating.

“The minister came to present the budget at the most difficult time. It is time we put aside political and ideological differences and show a sign of unity,” he added.

He particularly noted the amnesty for the declaration of offshore assets, saying it appeared that it seemed that Gordhan had taken heed of advice in a letter the EFF sent him this week.

Lack of drama

When asked why his party was prepared to listen to Gordhan, who was appointed by President Jacob Zuma, after they had disrupted proceedings being booted out of Zuma’s state of the nation address earlier this month, he noted very clearly that: “Pravin Gordhan was not appointed by Jacob Zuma. Zuma wanted Van Rooyen.”

He was referring to Zuma’s (embarrassing) comment earlier this week that he believed David van Rooyen was the most competent person to head the National Treasury.

I am liking Mr Malema more and more.

Gordhan trims here, slashes there, as he hastens fiscal consolidation

Gordhan emphasised during Wednesday’s 2016 Budget speech that additional spending on higher education, small business development and amounts set aside for responding to the drought and other contingencies would be accommodated through stringent cost containment measures across all government departments.

Gordhan earlier said that South Africa had moved from trimming here and there in the haircuts so popular in the lingo of 2009, through a period where the focus was on expenditure ceilings to today’s “next stage” of taking “a tough and close look at our programmes”.

“We are moving on to a third level and planning to take a tougher and closer look at our programmes,” he told a media briefing shortly before he tabled the Budget in Parliament.

All stages seemed to be included in his description of government cost-cutting plans.

Gordhan gave further detail on belt-tightening initiatives referred to by President Jacob Zuma in his State of the Nation speech earlier in February, which might be described as haircuts all round. Zuma had taken particular aim at a variety of items, such as state-funded banquets and international travel junkets.

Gordhan said cost containment measures would include restrictions on filling vacancies, a national and accommodation policy and instruction on conference costs, as well as new guidelines to limit the value of vehicle purchases for political office-bearers to R750,000.

Taking aim at bigger ticket items, Gordhan said, all contracts above R10 million would be reassessed to ensure value for money.

He added that use of the new e-tender portal would be mandatory, thereby enforcing procurement transparency and accessible reference prices for a wide range of goods and services.

He also said that new centrally negotiated contracts would be put in place for banking services, ICT infrastructure and services, health technology, school building and learner support materials.

This war on wasteful spending by government at all levels was not merely a cost-cutting exercise, he said, adding that well-managed public administration reforms offered broader opportunities.


PopSinfully sweet

A tax on sugary drinks makes perfect sense! It should be a nice little earner for Treasury and who knows maybe the added cost will turn the junkies off additive and sugar-laced fizzy drinks and on to fruit juices, of which SA has a most delectable selection.



Time to sell the house in Monte Carlo?

In the 2016 Budget speech, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced a special voluntary disclosure programme aimed at encouraging South African taxpayers to disclose offshore assets and any past contraventions of exchange control laws.

Many taxpayers with undisclosed assets held abroad will likely be aware that the net is already closing on them, with the new global standard for automatic exchange of information between tax authorities due to come into effect in 2017.

The new standard, which was initiated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, would mean that the South African Revenue Service (Sars) would automatically receive information on defaulters.

The amnesty, announced on Wednesday, in effect for a limited window from October 1 2016 to March 31 2017, is designed to encourage individuals and companies to regularise their tax and exchange control affairs voluntarily.

Successful applicants will be required to cough up a proportion of the taxes that would have been due as well as to pay a levy on the value of offshore assets. In exchange they would be granted immunity from prosecution as well as relief from penalties for understatement, which can be up to 200 percent.

It was not clear in the Budget how much money was thought to be offshore or even how much Treasury hoped to repatriate, but it is not likely to be insignificant. As Gordhan told journalists in a pre-Budget briefing: “The very rich are very creative.”

Added to the threat of involuntary disclosure that is on the horizon, tax defaulters have also been rattled by leaks of files last year showing how at least one Swiss bank helped foreign clients dodge taxes. In the light of this pressure, the Tresasury is hoping that some defaulters might be ready to confess, pay their bill and move on.

While the automatic exchange of information programme is not likely to bring all defaulters into the tax net it will certainly make it a lot more difficult to keep one’s foreign assets below the radar.

The additional note that the exemptions exclude individuals and companies who were already aware of an audit or investigation or that one was pending might add a little extra pressure to come forward now or face much more aggressive corrective action later.

– African News Agency (ANA)