Friday, 9 September 2016


It’s rather hard to take seriously these gatherings of the great and good like the recent G20 knees-up in Hangzhou. They are suspiciously similar to old boy’s reunions. The order of events is: Find out who is missing since last time, attend the meeting, stand in place for the photo and then head for the bar.  Naturally Number One was there avoiding the ANC’s full tilt demolition derby. The Brics Brigade held a side-line breakout session and in their group photo JZ is pictured clutching Putin’s hand tightly and smiling as if he had just confirmed a nuclear power station deal. This must have been their first BRICS meeting since Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was impeached, so JZ was doubtless making nervous enquiries about her fate. The new fab five issued an anodyne and meaningless statement full of phrases like “… strive to facilitate market interlinkages and an inclusive, rules based and open economy.” The main rule in most economies seems to be “try not to get caught with one’s hand actually in the cookie jar”.
Here where the Indian Ocean laps gently against the rolling green hills of Zululand someone styled as “an indigenous traditional activist” is concerned. He suspects that the shortage of transport for ferrying the maidens of this province to the Reed Dance at the royal palace may be a deliberate ploy by the Department of Arts and Culture to keep numbers down. He alleges that there is always plenty of money to get people to rallies but now for the reed dance the budget is not sufficient. The consequence of this shortage is that many maidens will miss out on the wonderful program of events which includes a speech from the king.
This activist appears to have grasped the key fact about government money and he should be asked to chat with the students who are demanding the abolition of university tuition fees while also burning down their own facilities. The budget is indeed not sufficient and the rioting students are in contempt of their privilege of attending a tertiary institute if they don’t explain to us exactly how the nation could afford free education all the way up to their level. The National Budget is a clear and simple (if lengthy) comprehensive document available in any law library (oh yes wait, they burned down the one in Durban this week). Everyone (especially taxpayers) would be delighted to receive from our putative future leaders a logical and balanced academic treatise, befitting their learning, of how that Budget should be recast to meet their demands. Don’t forget the maiden’s busses though.
It’s all so frustratingly pie-in-the sky. In the bad old days when some of us were privileged to be at university, our demands were typically: “Get rid of the Nats”.  It took the form of a silent march in academic gowns around the cathedral remembering to glare at the security policeman filming us from the plinth of the war memorial. Occasionally those wild guys at Wits would get into a running battle with the cops on Jan Smuts but no one torched the library because it contained books written by dead strangers that we probably didn’t like.
Continuing the tradition of astonishing and welcome transparency Stats SA this week published the 20-page booklet stuffed with numbers and charts and the news that the nation’s Gross Domestic Product was once again growing and had carded a surprising +3.3%pa rate after the previous period’s negative number. This should earn us some brownie points from the judges along the touchline but the short term variability of this important measure of total economic activity still worries those of us with long memories and longer databases. It just doesn’t feel right and the suspicion that data collection standards are not what they used to be is beginning to niggle.
A few years ago the ‘boks missed touch with a penalty kick in the dying minutes and the Wallabies went on to score and beat us. This caused me such distress that I had to consult my cardiologist. I now try to do something else away from the TV when we play the antipodeans. Tomorrow I’m going to the beach despite the warning of severe storms. Being wet and cold beats the possible alternative of another doctor’s visit.
James Greener
Friday 9th September 2016