Category Archives: South African life

Best News for Cape Town in a long time

The freeways to nowhere on Cape Town’s Foreshore have been a feature of the city for over four decades.  Redevelopment of 6 hectares of the Foreshore should start by the end of next year and will see a big reduction in the traffic congestion where the N1 Freeway enters the city and meets the intersections to the CBD, V&A Waterfront and the Atlantic suburbs.

The introduction of a significant amount of affordable housing in the CBD will also see Cape Town redress its apartheid legacy.

10 statistics that will leave the rest of South Africa green with envy

Buried in Premier Helen Zille’s state of the province speech‚ delivered on Friday in the Western Cape legislature‚ were 10 statistics that will leave the rest of South Africa green with envy.

  1. Unemployment is 13.8 percentage points lower than the national average‚ and rural unemployment (14%) is the lowest since records began.
  2. 56% of mortgage bonds registered by Gauteng residents in the last year were for properties in the Western Cape.
  3. 75% of South Africa’s venture capital deals are done in the Western Cape‚ primarily involving tech start-ups.
  4. International tourist arrivals are up 16% in the past year.
  5. The backlog in issuing title deeds to housing subsidy beneficiaries is 28% — less than half the national figure of 59%.
  6. 234 Wi-Fi hotspots will be added to the existing 150 by the end of the year. They offer 250MB of free data per month‚ then charge R45 for an additional 5GB.
  7. Internet pages opened at Western Cape schools grew from 375 million in June 2015 to 3.8 billion in January 2017.
  8. The value of building plans approved increased by 27% in 2015‚ compared with a 6% decline nationally.
  9. Employment in farming and agricultural processing has increased by 40% in the last two years.
  10. 97% of fires are brought under control within an hour of being reported.

From: http://www.sowetanlive.co.za/news/2017/02/18/10-amazing-stats-thatll-make-you-wish-you-lived-in-the-fairest-cape

Transformation: “education levels provide the transformation ceiling”

Finally some common sense!  The following comes from the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) and emphasizes that education and skills training needs to be addressed before even more meaningful transformation can take place.  And government’s track record for education is abysmal.  So, until government gets it act together on education, everything else is wishful thinking.
Gwen Ngwenya, the IRR’s Chief Operating Officer

Gwen Ngwenya, the IRR’s Chief Operating Officer

The IRR’s transformation audit, in its January issue of Fast Facts, reveals that racial transformation of the South African workplace, asset ownership and state institutions has been significant and continues to improve.

The Commission for Employment Equity’s data shows that the proportion of top managers who are black has increased from 12.7% in 2000 to 27.6% in 2015, or by 117.3%. The proportion of senior managers who are black has increased to 38.8% in 2015.

Stock market ownership data reveals that levels of black African ownership increased from 14.9% in 2000 to 23% in 2013. White ownership levels have fallen by more than half to a level below that of black Africans, from 71.4% in 2000 to 22% in 2013.

Of those who have a home and have it fully paid off 84.1% are African and 7.4% are white. The extent of transformation in home ownership data is largely due to black Africans who have received free or subsidised housing from the State.

In terms of judges of the superior courts, 98.2% of judges were white in 1994. As of 2016, 64.5% are black (African, Coloured, Indian/Asian).

Despite the successes, those who advocate for an acceleration of racial transformation point out that 80.7% of all people in the country are black African. This figure is used as the benchmark to which proponents of racial ‘representivity’ suggest South Africa should aspire. Transformation indicators, e.g. levels of asset ownership and employment in management, if benchmarked against that percentage fall dramatically short.

However, the IRR argues that racial transformation should be benchmarked against the economically active and qualified population rather than the total population of black Africans. It is the economically active and highly qualified cohort who are able to be absorbed into skilled employment and higher echelons of management and leadership.

If we look at these numbers, according to the IRR, black African people account for 77.7% of the economically active population and for 70.7% of the population with a matric qualification. The numbers come down even further when it comes to the population with a post-school qualification.

Here, black Africans account for 51.4% of all people with a post-school qualification. This latter figure is seldom cited in the racial transformation debate even though it is a more realistic benchmark against which employment equity indicators should be judged.

Just 26% of black African children (who sat for the mathematics exam in 2015) obtained 40% or above. The figure for white children is 84.9%. It is not clear how continuing to enforce ever more stringent racial equity and other targets in the economy will overcome the problem of poorly performing schools.

If transformation can be said to be ‘held back’, that would be primarily because of failures in education. According to Gwen Ngwenya, the IRR’s Chief Operating Officer, “education levels provide the transformation ceiling.”

Stricter demographic targets in the absence of sufficient advances in education will become a policy that will strangle South Africa’s economic growth rate. Transformation policy for employers must continue to be informed by the available skilled population and not the total demographic distribution of racial groups.

This report on transformation forms the first of a three-part release ahead of the 2017 State of the Nation Address. The three reports from the IRR will cover transformation, race relations and a report on the economic silver lining. 

The Road to Hell is paved with Good Intentions

I was asked to join the board of directors of the Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve (CWBR)  in July 2014.

An honour indeed; or so I thought.  This area encompasses one of the most beautiful regions anywhere in the world.  It embraces more opportunities than challenges.  It has — by virtue of its inhabitants, landowners and institutions — access to more brains, entrepreneurial spirit, drive and personal wealth than you’ll find almost anywhere in the world.

CWBR logo

I resigned from the board in August 2015, believing that I could not continue being part of a board of directors that was not providing any competent direction and oversight, and was not, in my opinion, meeting its legal responsibilities.

In my 13 months as a director, we never saw a single financial statement, even of the most rudimentary kind.  In January 2015, when management shortcomings became critical (because an AGM was scheduled for May 2015) a bookkeeper was appointed to prepare the books.  By August 2015, when I left, there was still nothing to show and AGMs planned for December 2015 and January 2016 never materialised, with difficulties in receiving an audit cited for the delays.  As far as I know, the CWBR Company received between R650,000 and R1 million in local government funding during 2015 and an unspecified amount from private & foreign donors.

Just before I joined the board, the CWBR had won six Green Flag awards from provincial premier Helen Zille.  When I was helping finalise the previous year’s Annual Report for publication, I needed to understand the projects the Biosphere was engaged in.  (The 2013/14 Annual Report was never published — Wessel Rabbets, the director responsible for the Company’s finances and administration, said it related to a period before he became a director and was therefore not interested in it.)

It became apparent to me that several of the Biosphere’s projects were not in fact projects at all, but were little more than a discussion or two over drinks.  They were certainly good ideas, but certainly not projects, and as such devalued the whole Green Flag project — a potential embarrassment.

This started a long debate on what is and what is not a project.  Eventually it was agreed that every Biosphere project needed to have its own business plan, with key performance indicators, and an income/expenditure budget that was approved by the board.

In my 13 months, the board never approved a single business plan, and it was not for want of asking.

When I joined the board, I also asked what the Company’s core business was.

Since it has no assets, no legislated authority and very few resources, surely the focus should be to inform, inspire and educate?  So surely its primary focus must be as a  marketing company?  I put this to the chairman who said he didn’t have time to respond and forwarded it to a CapeNature official.

This sort of proposition doesn’t go down well with people who see themselves as conservationists!

Eventually the board agreed to hold a Strategic Planning session — in December 2014.  It was facilitated by Wessel Rabbets, the director responsible for the Company’s finances and administration.  The following was agreed to by the board:

Vision
To innovatively achieve a balance between human development and nature in the Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve.

Mission
To achieve our vision by:

  • Starting Conversations;
  • Influencing Decision Makers;
  • Inspire, Inform & Educate Open Society; and
  • Promoting Best Practice.

The Strategic Plan was never completed (during my tenure) but there was enough in it to motivate for the appointment of a Marketing/Communications/Fundraising/Membership manager to support Mark Heistein, the CEO and only person on the payroll (after Heidi Muller resigned from the board and as a marketing consultant).

Since the chairman felt that a secretary could fulfill these functions, I was asked to prepare a job description, which I did.  The only director to respond felt that this would be usurping the CEO’s role.

It was apparent that the other directors didn’t have a clue about the resources the company needed, which was completely unfair on the CEO.  Just too much was being expected of him.  From before I even joined the board and repeatedly since, Mark  made it clear that he knows nothing about marketing and his formal communication skills are lacking.

My patience with Wessel Rabbets snapped in the middle of 2015.  Apart from rarely attending board meetings, he had at the outset promised clean and effective administration and financial management — which I don’t believe he delivered on.  I believe he should have been replaced, a view the chairman and CEO were well aware of.

There were requests from one creditor for payment which dragged on for almost a year.  Another, after asking for goods purchased to be returned, resorted to appealing to a related organisation asking them to pay CWBR’s bill.  It was only after appealing to the chairman that they did get paid, and only after responses from the CEO saying that the matter “had been sorted”, when it clearly had not been.

In January 2016 when I started putting down notes for this story, I went to see if there was any new “News” on CWBR’s website.  It was offline for non-payment of the annual domain registration fee.  The domain (capewinelandsbiosphere.co.za) was terminated at the end of February and, as of the morning of March 2, is available to anybody on a first-come first-served basis!

I hope they get their website sorted out soon so they can publish their 2014/15 Annual Report and financial statements.

In the Chairman’s Report of the incomplete 2014/15 Annual Report that I saw in May 2015, there was an implied criticism of my marketing portfolio: “Very little of our achievements has reached the news media.”  The fact is that CWBR achieved very little during the 2014/15 financial year.

And when around 6,000 trees were planted in the following financial year outside Stellenbosch, it was impossible to plan any PR around the event.  Even the chairman expressed dismay that he hadn’t been asked to speak at a function to announce the event.

Do the Winelands Biosphere’s achievements pass the “So what” test when so many achievements elsewhere are taking place?

The Cape Wine Auction, held for the second time in 2016, raises funds for education in the winelands.  In 2015 it raised R10 million; in 2016 it was R15 million.

At Platbos Forest Reserve, Africa’s Southernmost Forest near Gansbaai, you’ll find an indigenous forest with trees that are over 1000 years old.  Platbos is not reliant on any local government funding but lots of individual donors and volunteers: they’ve planted 30,204 new trees as of February 2016!

At Boschendal Estate, which is under new ownership, 120,000 fruit trees were planted last year and by July 2017 they will have planted 450,000 new trees!

I was asked to tackle three tasks as a paid consultant after I resigned.  One was cancelled half way through and CWBR was billed for costs to that point.  One, a business plan, was completed and submitted, and paid for.  When I asked some time later whether they were proceeding with it, I was flabbergasted to be told by the chairman that it was not what they wanted.  Surely one engages with someone to make sure you get what you paid for?  I had followed the CEO’s brief.  Will CWBR’s 2015/16 audit show these items as fruitless and wasteful expenditure?

*****

So what’s the point of this story?  One goes through all sorts of experiences in life and if one doesn’t learn from them, they will have been little more than a waste of time.

It’s clear in my mind that the CWBR company simply doesn’t work.  So I hope this story will stir debate.

When I asked “Who owns the CWBR company?” I was told that the directors do.  Does this mean that they are answerable only to themselves?  Surely this needs to be reviewed?

NGOs like the CWBR cannot be an old boys’ club or mutual admiration society.  They need to have a far wider constituency.  Local government funding should only kick in after the company has (say) 500 or 1000 members, preferably paid-up and contributing to the organisation’s costs.  They should be member-based organisations where members have a sense of ownership and benefit.

Paid-up members will hold the company more accountable and will introduce a far better dynamic when it comes to appointing directors.  At present, the CEO’s suggestions for new board members are usually endorsed by the board.  Strengthening the board must be a priority.

Since the CWBR started receiving provincial government funding in the middle of 2015, more onerous reporting has been required by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP) (which oversees biosphere reserves in the Western Cape).  Better reporting is a good thing, but mindless bureaucratic formats — where meetings attended count more than achievements — will chase any competent director away.  Bureaucracy trumps Vision at the DEADP as far as biosphere reserves are concerned.

A Tribute to the Firefighters…

This is a tribute to all South African firefighters, disaster management and emergency rescue personnel… to all the volunteers and the grateful public who help where they can.  Cape Town’s fire which is still burning saw volunteers with Working with Fire come from as far as the Free State and Eastern Cape provinces.

The following photos of the big fire that started on Sunday around Ou Kaapse Weg (Old Cape Road) in Cape Town’s southern peninsula, and still rages at the time of writing, come from social media, so a thank you to the photographers for sharing them.

{loadposition capetownfire2015}

Social media has also been full of posts and photos showing and shaming vehicles where one of the occupants has thrown a lighted cigarette butt out the window, notwithstanding the very-visible inferno on the mountains.  That’s a good thing — it shows concerned citizens — because mindless stupidity cannot be tolerated.

But we must also realise that what we are seeing is nature’s normal cycle of events.  We live in an area of astounding biodiversity — the Cape Floral Kingdom — the smallest yet richest of the world’s six Floral Kingdoms.  And Cape Town is uniquely situated with a National Park at its core.

Our unique fynbos needs fire to regenerate, and it needs that fire every 14 years or so.  So fire will always be part and parcel of the Western Cape.  Cape Town’s last really big fire was in 2000 – when it swept up from Simon’s Town to Hout Bay.  So this year’s fire could have been anticipated — it was almost overdue.

Doesn’t this make a case for more planned and controlled fires in future?  Or better fire breaks if nature must be allowed to take it’s course because one of the major threats to fynbos is too-frequent fires — it does not allow for seed beds to mature.

 

The Law is an Ass – open letter to Derek Hanekom, Minister of Tourism

Dear Derek

I hope you’re going to be speaking to your colleagues now that a list of the National Key Points has been published.  I’m sure you also didn’t know when you were breaking the law before government was forced by the courts to let us know which laws we are breaking before we break them!  Twenty years into democracy and we were even more in the dark than the unenlightened days of apartheid.

This legislation needs to be scrapped immediately. It’s making most tourists to SA criminals. Don’t we want them to take home photos of our Parliament Buildings, or Tuynhuys, or the Union Buildings? And what about all the photos taken inside and outside our airports?

Let’s rather replace it with a new Act that says that any law which has not been enforced in a period of a year must be scrapped from the statute books.

The problem with banks…

I received a cheque today… remember those funny things that people used to pay with?  I haven’t handled one for over 10 years.

So off I went to the bank.  I couldn’t remember the best way to deposit it so I asked one of the relationship managers, who was standing idly by, if I should use the ATM. “The tellers,” he said.

So off I went and stood in the “Express queue. It didn’t move. So I played chess on my BlackBerry and posted a story on Facebook.  It still didn’t move so I tweeted Michael Jordaan, FNB’s CEO.  I put the tardiness down to the fact that this is Limpopo, where very little works the way it should.  (Halfway through the year, pupils still haven’t received school books.  Hospitals can’t carry out their duties because they don’t have medicines, or latex gloves!)

I was impressed by the subject matter on TV — not the usual rubbish but a behind-scenes-story about a FNB lighting installation for the Joburg Art Fair recently.

Queueing brought on a brainwave for how municipalities can make extra cash — by charging banks rental for pavement space when their queues snake many metres into the public domain.  That’s a regular occurrence at the local Nedbank.

Blacks and whites don’t talk to each other in queues in Limpopo.  But I’m not a local so I do.  I started asking my neighbours how they put up with such service. The sign said “Express queue” after all.

I was getting choruses of agreement and people in the queue were starting to smile for the first time… I was ready to start a consumer revolution… but then Michael tweeted back: “Sorry, use the ATM.”

On the way to the ATM I bumped into Hannetjie Craven, the branch manager, who asked if everything was okay. I told her of my experience and wanted to show her Michael’s advice, but she didn’t want to look at it… she wanted to kill the relationship manager — Using tellers is not only slower, but costs the customer an extra R14.00!

She ushered me into the ATM mall where there was a queue of one and asked the supervisor to help me. Now the “Chief of ATMs” (my phrase) is a real Mama.  She helps people with no tech-savvy at all handle their banking chores all day… and she does it with aplomb and speed.  What a star!  If anyone lives the motto “How can we help you?” she does.  Thank you Ouma Ngosana!

Ouma Kgosana, chief of the ATMs and the real helpful face of the bank.  Take a bow, Ouma!

Ouma Kgosana, chief of the ATMs and the real helpful face of the bank. Take a bow, Ouma!

So what’s the lesson from all of this?

So-called “relationship managers” are my bête noire — a total oxymoron and disservice to banking.  Most are poorly informed and over-reliant on process and technology… but that’s the way banks have gone, without using common-sense along the way.  Bring back the old Bank Manager who had wide-ranging discretionary powers, and who did have a relationship — one way or the other — with his or her customers.

I’ll never forget joining the partners of an architectural practice, Munnik, Visser, Black & Fish, for tea many years ago.  It was the first time I’d met Arthur Black, who managed the practice’s administration.   He spoke about his meeting with their new bank manager and explained his approach — which briefly involved the manager coming to him, to explain how the bank would service their needs.  After all, the customer rules…

There are stars… like Hannetjie Craven and the ‘Mama of ATMs’.  Some months ago, relationship managers spent two months trying to rectify a bank problem with my account.  When I reached the end of my tether, I spoke to Hannetjie and she sorted it out within a couple of hours.

So why bother with relationship managers?  If you’re in banking management, go figure… you’re wasting resources and pissing customers off.

Yes, this experience was at FNB, but they are streets ahead of other SA banks.  I like them and they do try to do better.  By contrast, Absa is a master of cover-up and denying responsibility.  You can read about that here.