Can you write me off too, please?

Great news! (if you’re Cuban, that is.)

According to this morning’s Cape Times, the South African government has written off a 12-year-old debt owed to it by Cuba for export insurance relating to diesel engines, pesticides, Joost van der Westhuizen promotional mechandise and biltong.  
Very generous. Very, very generous in fact, when you hear that the debt totalled R926,8million. Now although the current exchange rates mean that that princely sum would only buy you a prawn mayo sandwich in London, it’s still a whole lotta Rands.

Government communications head Themba Maseko told a media briefing following Wednesday’s regular Cabinet meeting:

Given the assessment of Cuba’s debt position, government is of the view that Cuba was not in a position to meet its obligations in the foreseeable future.

I’ll bet that little gem of an announcement was slipped in right at the end of the briefing, following 4 hours waffling about exciting social grant allocation, fishing subsidies, landfill waste statistics and annual concrete price fluctuations. “Oh – and for those of you still here and still awake, we also voted to write off a billion Rands worth of debt to the Castro brothers. Thank you all very much, see you next week.”

At this point, I’d like to introduce you all to my bond. My mortgage. The money I borrowed from the bank to pay for my house. Now, to coin an official government phrase, “Given the assessment of my debt position, I am of the view that I am not in a position to meet my obligations in the forseeable future.”
This, by inference and extrapolation, together with a good dollop of subjectivity and bias, therefore means that my bank can write off all that I owe it and I can celebrate with a few mojitos and a fat cigar. Right?

Wrong. Despite the fact that I could be doing better things with my cash than throwing it into the ever-deepening pit of excessive interest payments, a pit which now dwarfs Kimberley’s Big Hole (and here I refer to the city in the Northern Cape, not the lass on Sea Point Main Road) – I still have to pay it back. Life is just so unfair.

Seriously though, what could South Africa have done with that billion Rand? Well, maybe the answers are right in front of us on the same Cape Times website:
Prevent deaths through water-borne disease in Soweto?
Fight the scourge of alcohol abuse and tik which is ruining students futures?
Reducing child mortality rates, which are still on the rise?

Look, I know Cuba has problems too. But I pay tax in SA. For SA.

Tourists not eaten by sharks

Three tourists who drowned when the shark-cage diving boat they were on capsized off Gansbaai were not eaten by sharks, much to the disappointment of the South African media. This unfortunate lack of an incident turned this potentially sensational and tourism-damaging crowd-puller into no more than a run-of-the-mill tragic accident story

Chairperson of the Great White Shark Protection Foundation, Mariette Hopley, said the shark-cage diving boat had anchored just before a freak wave capsized the boat around 10:00 on Sunday.

One of the people swept off the boat was caught underneath the boat and had to be retrieved by divers. The divers took the man to the mainland where paramedics managed to get a faint pulse, but were unable to revive him. He was certified dead.
The other two men were found drowned at sea and their bodies were retrieved.

A spokesperson for the South African Independent Press Association* stated:

This is a terrible and upsetting incident for all concerned – especially our photographers, who have really missed out on this one. Here is a story which could have boosted website hits, viewer and reader numbers across our country’s media and due to a complete lack of shark activity, we’ve just got a few drownings.
And this in the self-proclaimed “Great White Capital of The World”
How are we supposed to sell that? It’s a disaster.

It’s sad that firstly I feel so ambivalent about these 3 tourists dying; secondly, I’m more concerned about the potential damage it may do to the country’s tourism than what it means to their friends and families; and thirdly that I have so little trust in the South African press.

Maybe I’m more South African than I thought.

Too many times I have seen speculation reported as fact and actually quite dull news stories blown out of all proportion in order to sell newspapers or gain a few extra website visitors. Because of course, thanks to that wonderful thing called human nature, the gorier the story (especially when you can get pictures too), the more people want to read it. We humans are nice like that. And the press know it and they use it.

So forgive my cynicism when it comes to those reporters rushing to sleepy Gansbaai yesterday lunchtime, but I really don’t believe that they got what they were hoping for.

Ag, shame.

* An organisation which I just made up

You’re Encouraging Alcoholism!

Each Thursday, genial local radio host John Maytham presents his wine review on Cape Talk, Cape Town’s medium wave news and talk station. (Yes, medium wave is still alive and well in Cape Town, readers!)

Here’s this week’s offering, fresh from the web:

Agama Sauvignon Blanc 2006
Price: R65.95
Fine example of a cool climate sauvignon blanc – grapes grown on six different Elgin farms. Brisk acidity, strong capsicum qualities, and enough complexity and length to suggest ageing potential.

Klein Steenberg Cabernet 2006
Price: R49.95
Entry label from this excellent Constantia producer. Medium-bodied, soft tannins, ripe berry fruit on nose carrying through to palate. Very good value.  

Cellarhand Backchat Blend 2006
Price: R19.95
Cheerful concoction of seven different varietals, blended together in a very drinkable christmas cake confection. Excellent value.

Sir Lambert Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Price: R78.95
A very impressive debut wine from the Lamberts Bay region. Good asparagus and gooseberry flavour associations, but most impressive is the minerality and the poise that this young wine already shows.

Now I’m no expert on wine, but Maytham is – he knows about “tannin structures” and talks about “restrained oaking” and “black pepper and spice and savoury charcuterie on the nose”.
I, on the other hand know about “colour” and talk about “red” and “white”. And I’m nearly always correct once it’s out of that confusing green bottle.

But all is not well with the Maytham wine review. As he revealed this evening, each time he does his review, he is hit with a whole plethora* of correspondence accusing him of promoting and encouraging alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

Are they serious?!? Well yes, apparently, they are. And Maytham addresses their concerns by describing his review as promoting the responsible enjoyment of an alcoholic drink, in a responsible manner; as a legal and informative review of local produce.

And, of course, he’s completely right.

What these correspondents don’t seem to realise is that if John Maytham was doing a wine review in order to encourage alcoholics and promote alcohol abuse, it would be much more like this:

Agama Sauvignon Blanc 2006
Price: R65.95
White wine. Good on cereal at breakfast time. Tastes like grapes. Bloody expensive and only 12%.

Klein Steenberg Cabernet 2006
Price: R49.95
This one is red. Tasted bloody awful with my morning biscuits. Second bottle was better. 15% alcohol. That’s almost like a sherry. Yeah baby!

Cellarhand Backchat Blend 2006
Price: R19.95
Less than R20! Love it! Don’t think it tastes great, so best to down it in one. Thish ish an everyday wine and I like to drink it every day. Ish lovely.

Label Completely Blurred 2007
Price: R78.95
Eighty Randsh?!? Eighty?!? Thatsh jusht tooooo expeshive. I could get loadsh of voddy for that. Loadsh! Hey Boet! Hey there – are you looking at my girl? Nah – thatsh ok, you’re my besshtesht mate. I love you. I do.

At this point, there would be a clunk as his head hit the desk in front of him, followed the sound of loud, drunken snoring and the show would promptly end; the ensuing silence probably hastily filled in with some Josh Groban album or something. And I think we can all agree that promoting Josh Groban is clearly far more serious than promoting alcohol abuse.
So I think it’s to everyone’s advantage that Mr Maytham continues to do his weekly review in a responsible and adult manner. Keep up the good work, John.

* yes, a whole plethora. No half plethorae here.

To sleep, perchance to dream

I couldn’t sleep last night. It was a combination of things which prevented my slumbers.

The heat was the obvious one. Considering we’re supposed to be well into autumn now, with the leaves taking on a rusty hue and the evenings closing in, it was a bloody hot, still night last night. I blame Al Gore.
Those sort of evenings bring out the mozzies, whose delicate whine and constant movement keeps the mind fully occupied like a blindfolded Luke Skywalker with a light sabre, trying to eliminate them in the dark.
And then when you finally do get to sleep, it’s a fitful sleep, punctuated with dreams about Svetlana Boguinskaya’s floor exercise routine at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and getting the number 3 pencil coil replaced on your car the next morning. Until… all is finally peaceful both in and outside your mind.

And then the mosquitoes come back for dessert.

Anyway, while I was suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous insomnia, the results of the SA Blog Awards 2008 were being announced at the UCT Tennis Club, which – I presume, anyway – has air conditioning. And I didn’t win. Some have already suggested that the results were rigged like a Spanish galleon, but I couldn’t possibly agree with that sentiment*.

6000 miles… came:
5th in South African Weblog of the Year
4th in Best South African Personal Blog
2nd in Best Original Writing on a South African Blog and
2nd in Best Post on a South African Blog for The Big South African Crime Post.
(If you haven’t read this yet, why not?)

It’s a more than reasonable result when you consider that with 3 days of nominations still to go, there had been 4000+ nominations for 900+ blogs. And then in the voting, thanks to your support, 6000 miles… punched well above its weight against some really big guns in each of the categories it was nominated in.
I really appreciate your efforts.

Next year is my year. Possibly, anyway.

* …in public.

South Africa’s Electricity Crisis – Update

My South Africa’s Electricity Crisis post has turned out to be one of the more popular ones on this site, so with there being significant developments in the ongoing saga, I thought I’d update you, the 6000 miles… reading public, with the latest news.

As from Monday, we now have pre-emptive load shedding. Which means that now we are told in advance via schedules when our electricity will be cut and we can plan around it. We can pre-empt the pre-emptive load shedding, if you will. This makes things a whole lot easier. In fact, when you know that you’ll have no power for two hours at 10am on a Tuesday, you can work through almost seamlessly.
But it’s still not enough for some people.

The recent change in tactics comes simply because people in South Africa have not saved enough electricity to avoid mandatory power cuts. We were asked as electricity consumers to save 10%, we didn’t – it’s that straightforward.
It has polarised public opinion, according to the media. As a country, we are now split into two groups (something we’re rather used to here in SA) – the Savers and the Moaners.
This is actually not strictly accurate: there is the third group – quite a large group – which never had the luxury of electricity to begin with. I hesitate to call them the Dark People for obvious reasons. Anyway, they don’t count here, apparently.

The Savers (and I count myself among this group) cut down their electricity use. We installed energy saving CFL lightbulbs, we switched our geysers (water heaters) off for several hours each day, we stopped using standby on the TV etc etc.

The Moaners (quite rightly) blamed Eskom and the Government for the crisis and refused to do anything to help. Consequently, despite the best efforts of the Savers, we are back onto not having any power at certain times of the week.  And this time, it isn’t the fault of Eskom or Government, it’s the fault of the Moaners. Because you see, they had the opportunity to avoid this situation but they chose not to.
Instead, they keep working on their time machines in an effort to go back to 1998 and pre-empt the whole thing. Which obviously won’t work, because if they had managed it, we wouldn’t be having the problems now. Although there’s always the chance that they might stop their parents from ever meeting, which would be a welcome development (if you enjoyed Back to the Future trilogy, you’ll understand where I’m coming from).

Look, it’s not an ideal situation, but at least it’s an improvement on what we had before. What irritates me is that with a little more public buy-in, it could have been even better. We could have avoided having power cuts at all, but you people thought it was better to whinge than to actually do something about it. And guess what, judging by what I’ve heard on the TV and radio, you still think it’s better to whinge than to actually do something about it. Idiots.

Finally – “just” 800 days until the start of the 2010 World Cup and every one of our stadiums is on or ahead of schedule. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Wembley.