Friday, 19 August 2016


It feels as if the world markets have entered a holding pattern with not much happening until both the Olympics and then the US presidential elections are over. In respect of this latter event it is utterly amazing that such a big country can offer its electorate such a poor choice of candidates. Is there no chance of an unexpected gale of change such as we have experienced down here on the southern tip? Once again the perils of foretelling the future are laid bare. Did any pundit come anywhere near to the outcome for our local governments? Democracy given its head can produce some amazing results. Once again, as in 1994, one is proud to be a South African.
Meanwhile a bunch of noisy “students” with so much time on their hands and silly ideas in their heads that they can’t possibly be enrolled for any sensible courses have begun the annual clamour about university fees. The situation is multifaceted with a major player being something called the National Student Financial Aid Scheme which at heart is a tax-funded bank with a very poor record of collecting repayments on its loans. It has a book running into tens of billions and gets excited when it reports that it has recovered R66m from debtors. Maybe they have the same understanding of large numbers as Number One?  It would appear that many beneficiaries of this fund don’t bother to use much of their grant to pay their tuition fees and so this indirect method of transferring state cash to universities is not working well.
Also disappointing is the growing grade inflation now appearing in academia. Increasingly one reads that nothing less than a doctorate will suffice to equip a person for the world of work, while by and large the opposite is true. A side effect of the post-local election shuffling is that it has exposed the existence of a professorial chair in the subject of Multilevel Government. This department is proving to be a great help at the moment for journalists in need of a pithy quote about coalitions, but one does wonder how many jobs await the PhD graduates of this discipline!
Another inflation accompanies the warning from the Beverage Association of SA about the proposed Sugar Tax. They reckon that 70 000 workers will lose their jobs as th, result of a fall in consumption of their product. This seems improbably large and since we all have to drink something, surely other jobs will be created elsewhere as drinkers change their quenching agent. The real problem here is that the tax is merely the latest revenue generator that politicians are delighted to stick onto the current “bad-boy” product because it looks as if they care. Just like the plastic bag levy and the carbon tax, the money collected by these imposts flow into the general fund and not, as widely believed, into specific projects addressing the supposed scourge.
The letter that accompanies the new “Smart” ID card lists a number of stern injunctions about how to treat this piece of plastic. It must not, for example “be exposed for extended periods to extreme climatic conditions”.  Helpfully the letter reveals that a normal climate is defined (really?) as 23 degrees C and 50% relative humidity. So that rules out taking the card to Cape Town in the winter and Durban in the summer and the Karroo just about any time! Also, the ID card should not be exposed to aggressive gases; so in a wallet in the hip pocket is also not a wise place to keep it ?
The resignation of Oregan Hoskins from the presidency of SA Rugby has elicited a surprisingly wide range of opinions about his decade at the top. Certainly the bokke lost to both Japan and Argentina in his reign but it is unfair to pin these defeats solely to his name. The Proteas are also battling (they are now ranked 7 in test cricket). Both the national soccer teams came home early from the Olympics and the Sevens didn’t do as expected. It’s tempting to make a connection between government’s growing interference in these high profile team sports and the list of disappointing results. But like sponsors, government pays scant attention to talented individuals until through intense personal sacrifice and efforts they raise to fame. Then suddenly both appear: one waving cheques, the other claiming policy success. The rest of us cheer wildly.
James Greener
Friday 19th August 2016