Some Freedom

Today is a public holiday in South Africa. The first of three this week. On May 1st, we have the ubiquitous Worker’s Day and on the 2nd, an “extra” public holiday which was only granted in late March, for reasons that no-one really knows or wants to ask about in case it gets taken away again. This means only 2 working days, which means that we have the obligatory dose of Short Week Service Syndrome ahead.

But celebrate, for today is Freedom Day – the National Holiday to commemorate the 1994 General Election and the “official end” of apartheid. While many were delighted to welcome the non-racial elections, there were some disappointments, not least the poor showing of the DikWankWetla Party, who only managed to capture 0.1% of the vote. I know very, very little about the DikWankWetla Party, but they have an absolutely awesome name and for that alone are probably worth a vote even if their policies are a little ropey.

So. How has SA done over the last 14 years?
I guess that would be one of those questions with a host of “no win” answers, basically drawn out along racial lines. Let’s just say that the majority of people in this country are better off than they were pre-1994.
Of course, it hasn’t worked for everyone. Somehow today, it was even more saddening to see the beggars with small kids and babies in tow at the traffic lights. Some freedom for them. One wonders if they recognise that today holds any special significance for the country.
I gave away an entire 2kg bag of apples on the 3km run back home from the supermarket. Not much, I know, but trying to help, at least. One day, I hope 0.6 will understand why he didn’t get his Granny Smiths today.

Happy Freedom Day, South Africa.

The JonnyHarvard post

There is nothing training cannot do. Nothing is above its reach. It can turn bad morals to good; it can destroy bad principles and recreate good ones; it can lift men to angelship.

So said Mark Twain. And yes, we all look to further ourselves, we strive for knowledge, for education. Some more than others. One of those “some” is Jonny Faull, 6000 miles… own political analyst.
Jonny was the one swimming against the tide of “experts”, when last March he predicted a Zuma win in Polokwane, 9 months before it happened. He was the one on the front line in Zim last month acting as an independent observer during the elections which Bob/Thabo/Morgan/Simba* won. He talks politics honestly and frankly, basing his opinions on solid logic facts, with no subjectivity and no emotion save for his obvious passion for the discipline.  
He has written articles which have been published in newspapers across the world, from Cape Town to New York. He plays football, is well respected in the Cape Town knitting fraternity and has recently taken up basketweaving as a weekend pastime. He uses the word “fabulous” like there is no tomorrow – a fact that, given his apparent clairvoyant skills, is somewhat disturbing.

And now, he has been accepted to study a Masters in Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Yes – that Harvard University. An honour indeed and one that he has worked so hard to achieve. 
Just one issue. Cash. Moolah. Spondulicks. Or as we call it here in South Africa: “Money”.
Five hundred thousand of our South African Rands, to be precise.

And that’s where you can help out. In order to raise funds, Jonny has already sold all his worldly possessions. I know this for two reasons. Firstly, because I myself picked up some awesome (some might say “fabulous”) bargains including his beautiful collection of handcrafted woollen tea-cosies; and secondly because he has been seen wandering around Cape Town CBD wearing just his underpants. Evidently, there were no takers for those at the garage sale.

What he needs now is more money. And you can help by pledging on his website. I would urge my UK and US readers to be particularly generous. You’ll hardly even notice the hard currency equivalent of R500 disappearing from your bank account.
You could either have that 12th bottle of disappointingly watery beer or you could send Jonny to Havard.
Think about it. Well, actually – don’t: it’s a no brainer.
Jonny says:

I believe that the Kennedy School MPP will complement and deepen my political, economic policy and analytical skills base and consequently enhance my capacity for contributing to the consolidation, and vibrancy of democracy in my country and region.

And while that may be true, I can’t help but think that it would like a paler version of Eddie Murphy in Coming to America. Surely, that’s got to be worth your cash alone.

* delete as applicable when we actually get some results.

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.