29th March 2009
Last week was a bad one, in some respects, for South Africa. Why? Because the government again scored an own goal – this time with its handling of the Dalai Lama visa issue.
The ANC-led government decided that the Tibetan spiritual and (it must be said) political leader would not be granted a visa to visit South Africa for a peace conference linked to the upcoming 2010 Soccer World Cup.
A number of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates were scheduled to attend the conference, including The Arch and former president FW De Klerk. They pulled out of the conference, scheduled for Friday 27th March 2009, citing the government’s refusal of a visa to the Tibetan leader. Why the denial, I hear you ask.
Well reports said the government was concerned about the timing of the visit, ahead of the World Cup. There were apparently concerns that the visit would offend China, a major trading partner of South Africa.
Be that as it may, Pretoria could have handled the issue so much better than it did. Firstly by stating its clear and unequivocal commitment to human rights. Second by ensuring government speak with one voice on the matter. Health Minister Barbara Hogan ruffled feathers with her public criticism of the decision to deny the Dalai Lama a visa. Finance Minister Trevor Manuel waded in with his opinion. Then the Foreign Minister had a go. It was a mess.
We all understand the importance China has as a trading partner for South Africa. But government needs to take a more finessed approach to these matters. The sensitivity of the Dalai Lama’s visit should have been foreseen well in advance. A clear government position needed to have been prepared and articulated to the media and public.
But in the final analysis, government’s commitment to human rights and democracy should have, in my opinion, trumped the economic benefits of placating China.
I love Jeremy Clarkson. In a platonic, slap across the head, testosterone way. Just in case you were wondering.
Clarkson is the pleb’s presenter. The man who brings bar-room banter to that austere monolith, the bib. He can humiliate a gallic monstrosity with just one sentence and lift a Korean creation to (almost) greatness – all in one beer-swillingly brilliant phrase. He’s gifted. We all know that.
But those two hangers-on of his. I forget their names. Hamster and someone. Clarkson’s woozy sidekicks. They should be behind the cameras, sweeping the studio. Eish. Maybe their dull humour works in the UK – but here in South Africa, we need more than awkward moments, forced humour and scripted audience responses. We dislike bad hair and lame lines.
Eish Clarkson, bring back Tiff and his crew, please broer!!
15th March 2009
Johannesburg was a dirty old girl. She’d let herself go. Badly.
The gold slut had seen my type come and go and didn’t care if we caught her compromised. Her shuttered gaze indifferent to the lense; her pose awkward to my foreign eye.
“F-ck-off”, she seemed to mumble. “Voetsak back to Sandton, Laarnie”. Her morning breath slipped between the riotous weeds, rank and uncaring.
I had visited Jozi often. Just to marvel. As a foreigner. I’d grab my mountainbike or the dr. Entering her from the dark eastern side where victorian buildings huddled together, their ruddy features flushing as I sped past.
Today Jozi seemed different.
When I winked, she didn’t look away, returning instead without rancour to her business. She now seemed to carry her blemishes with a noisy dignity; the stitched red earth more vital; the life returning to her grey arteries
10 March 2009
I was listening to a local radio station this morning when the topic of the Zimbabwean refugee situation came under discussion. The radio talk show host interviewed Bishop Paul Verryn of the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. This comes as hundreds more Zimbabweans arrive at the church seeking refuge from the difficulties still afflicting our northern neighbour.
There are various reports about the number of Zimbabweans currently living at the church. These vary from around two thousand to as many as three thousand. The church is in fact a high rise building located adjacent to the newly renamed Southern Gauteng High Court and the Smal Street Mall shopping arcade.
Needless to say the area is looking more than a little grubby because of the pressure of masses of people camped outside the church.
Bishop Verryn was asked by the radio show host about the concern expressed by provincial government regarding the sudden arrival of hundreds of new refugees at the church. This follows complaints from business and others in the vicinity of the church. What struck me was not the meat of his answer but his tone.
Bishop Verryn’s answer was that the church and Johannesburg authorities were moving rapidly to address the problem. His gentle words were filled with sympathy for the plight of the masses of people who’ve endured unspeakable suffering in their bid to escape the troubles in Zimbabwe.
Verryn revealed that he tries to speak to every new arrival at the church. One instance he cited was that of a woman who was crossing the crocodile-infested Limpopo River. She was apparently attacked by a man who tossed her child into the river and accosted her. I do not know if she was raped.
But it was the earnest, forceful humanity of this man of the cloth that struck me. His commitment to easing the plight of the suffering is beyond doubt. I am not a religious person. In fact I am anti-religious. But Bishop Verryn’s religion-based humanism touched me so fundamentally that I paused to reflect on my hardened attitude to both foreigners living in my country and to religion itself.
It’s time for people like myself, who are not religious, but who care about people, to take a stand and DO SOMETHING. So I’ll visit the church again tomorrow and find out what a cynical atheist can do to assist them in helping these poor, desperate people.
I visited the Johannesburg International Motor Show on Tuesday. Grabbed the old Scott mountainbike and headed south toward NASREC – following an old cycle route of mine.
Locking the bike up on a lamp post yards from the main entrance, I dragged my sweaty and smelly self in for a quick gander at the toys laid out for our perusal.
Boy was I in for a shock. Bike prices have gone through the roof. My Suzuki dr650se cost me 48-thousand Rand less than a year ago. That lovely machine now costs almost 60-thousand rand!! A price hike of around 20-percent. Jeezuz!
The delectable GSXR750 now costs 118-thousand rand. Ouch – big ouch (to plagiarise a current radio spot).
I did notice some of the importers from that great eastern sweat shop, China, have managed to keep their pricing under control. Puzey’s sweet little motard is selling for around 28-thousand Rand. I want one!
Big Boy’s similar offering is around ten grand cheaper:
So what’s driving prices through the roof? The weak Rand, nothing more. The local currency has been slammed and slammed hard by the global financial crisis.
Rich nation investors are pulling their cash out of allegedly high risk investments in developing nations and returning their funds home. That gets me.
The first world is the source of the globe’s current woes. South Africa’s economy is in pretty good shape – but short sighted fat cats in the west are driving our currency down by selling JSE stocks. Eish!
But I digress. The motor show had some truly spectacular machines on display. The highlight was obviously the gorgeous Swedish dish – the Koenigsegg CCXR supercar. It can run on biofuel and costs a palty 20-million Rand. Sweat Dreams boys and girls!
5th November 2008
Tears came to my eyes this morning as I watched Americans celebrate the Presidential elections victory of Barack Obama. I was startled by this sudden rush of emotion.
Its cause was not Obama’s typically brilliant oratory, or John McCain’s heroic concession. The source was instead the story of hope written on the faces of the numerous Americans beamed into my bedroom by CNN and the BBC.
They had voted in unprecedented numbers to hand Obama an historic win. Black, white – skin colour was meaningless in that brief moment of euphoria.
I haven’t felt that way since South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994. That moment in time is burned into the memory of every South African who voted. I stood in the queue at the De La Rey voting station, west of Johannesburg. Shoulder to shoulder with people of all backgrounds. Our national identity was conceived in that brief moment of glory. Our skin colour superfluous. United in hope.
America and the world shared in a similar experience this historic Wednesday the 5th of November 2008. The day Americans reminded South Africa and the world of the true value of democracy. Change, radical change can take place. The power structure, the edifice of patronage, can be challenged – but only through democratic means.
When I was a child I wrote in my diary the slogan: “Hope is Life”. I still have that school diary and sometimes marvel at that pimply teenage wisdom. Today that hope was written not only on the faces of most Americans – but on those of millions of Africans living under oppressive regimes. They live in hope that democracy may come to them. That freedom of choice, independent media, a working judiciary and political accountability will visit their shores. And stay.
That is the lesson for South Africa and the African mother continent. Democracy is imperfect – but it works. A constitutional democracy is a state where the grundnorm is a democratic constitution. It means regular elections contested by many parties, independent media and an independent judiciary. There is no other way. That is the lesson for Africa and indeed the world!
1st November 2008
I was lying in bed this Saturday morning getting my daily dose of financial terror-news. Osama’s a pussy compared to derivatives.
First the New York Times which had a lead piece about the risk of deflation, a-la 90s Japan. I cowered behind the duvet.
Then to the Washington Post – where I eyeballed a chilling piece about the carnage among American homeowners.
Back to the NYT and their useful graphic of house price fluctuations by city. I got vertigo just looking at some of those inverted skyscrapers. Surprise, surprise Vegas has the most severe tilt of any city depicted. If my Johannesburg house were in Vegas, it’d be worth 80-thousand rand (around 9-thousand dollars) below the amount I owe. Scary!!
Pity those ordinary Americans who own property in Vegas. Maybe one last throw of the dice? Double or quits …
Life in the dark age of post-casino capitalism.
27th October 2008
Crime is a problem around the world. South Africa arguably has one of the worst crime problems of any country.
I woke up early Sunday morning to the sound of a metal “click!”. So I listened for a few moments and then got up to check the lock on the front gate. It was fine. I then checked the bedroom windows and found one opened wide. I had closed both that night because of a storm.
I then went and called the armed response company, ADT. Three attempts later, I was waiting on the front patio, which faces the street. That’s when three youngsters ran down the street. It appeared they’d been ‘shopping’ in the neighbouring houses. I have palisade fencing so I could see what was happening in the street. I jumped on the gate and started screaming obscenities at the trio.
That’s when I felt a thud under my chin. The next thing I remember is standing a metre back from the fence and staring at a fourth youth who was pointing a nine millimetre pistol at my face. In a sublime moment, he gave me some advice: “go into your house”. It was almost as if he was a policemen advising me to go indoors for my own safety! Wierd. Needless to say, I took his advice.
I then went and called the police as well. The ADT guard eventually arrived with the police coming up the street a few seconds later. Kudos to the cops for the quick response. I’m a lot less impressed with the ADT guys.
A few minutes later a neighbour three houses up the street came out and told us he’d just been robbed. The four thugs had obviously just helped themselves to his possessions and were running down the street when I spotted them.
It dawned on me later that the gun that was used to strike me under my chin could easily have gone off. That would have left parts of my head on the gravel in my front yard. I can still see that huge barrel pointing at me and wondering when the flash would come.
Funny thing is I’m sleeping fine and I’m not an emotional wreck. We South Africans kind of expect this type of thing to happen sometime.
It’s in my nature to fix things, find solutions and sometimes piss people off in the process. I can’t accept some #@#*y telling me to get off my own street. So I’m joining the police reservists today. I’ll make the time.
23rd October 2008
Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, has admitted maybe there should have been more oversight in the dealing of derivatives, aka casino capitalism. Doh! Well spotted Mr 250 IQ!
Any layman blue collar worker worth his spanners and sweat could have told you derivatives were looney tunes.
Your acknowledgement is not enough sir. I’d advise Bernanke and co to attach Greenspan’s assets as part compensation for maybe five pensioners left in the lurch by his blase’ free marketism.