Friday, 3 November 2017


While we sit around waiting for the flow of bad news to abate just a little,  the share markets are soaring. In the US the bull market in equity prices compared to bond prices is entering its eighth year and the relative outperformance is almost 3 times. Although it has strengthened a tad towards the end of the week, our poor currency is not looking forward to a bumper Christmas season. A rand will buy you just 5 British new pence or 7 US cents. And for those of us contemplating offshore excursions or purchases these are awful conversion factors to keep in mind.
It’s usually worrying when our president says he has applied his mind and this time his pronouncements about the country’s need for more nuclear power stations is no exception. When a man who finds large numbers a challenge, starts to talk about Megawatts and other tricky units it quickly slides into incomprehension. Having an innumerate and non-technical leader is not a problem if there are savvy aides close by. However, there are very few cabinet colleagues with either the knowledge or the courage to venture a discrete cough and offer some guidance on the difference between a Gigabyte and a Gigaba for example.
Mind you the deputy pres. offered the opinion this week that the national airline SAA could return to profitability. This would require some very fancy number footwork and would it be after repaying the taxpayers the tens of billions we have poured into keeping this very sick puppy alive? Any guessing game about just how much the government would get from selling SAA must include zero as a price.
Zero percent is the opening offer for a number of civil service category pay rises. So far this is almost the only shot fired in the direction of controlling government expenditure but it’s going to fall well short of its target. Armed with Eskom’s utterly unreasonable and cynically mendacious claim to be allowed to increase electricity prices by 19% the unions are onto the 0% idea like a pack of hounds. A similar number being demanded by students as the amount of the next fee increase also has no chance of success.
Bets are being laid on the possibility that the ANC will postpone or even cancel their much-anticipated December conference at which Zuma’s successor as party leader and therefor state president will be elected. In common with many processes designed by liberals eager to demonstrate that total democracy is possible (it’s not), the selection process is very messy and open to endless challenges from unsuccessful hopefuls. Political commentators can feel all grown up and cosmopolitan by rattling on about districts being “sown up” and “delivered to” this or that candidate. But right up to and beyond the coronation, the violent and deadly infighting will continue. Here in KZN large numbers of party office bearers have been assassinated, with the death toll there being equally as unacceptable as the utterly shocking number of white farmers who are being murdered.
Also in Natal, the Pietermaritzburg municipality courageously ordered a count of their movable assets and reported the results. It’s puzzling that no official spotted that the valuation of R494 000 placed on 5 missing firearms seemed incompatible with a similar number of lost fire engines worth just R700 000. And that’s before enquiring how one can lose even one fire engine. A delightful aside in the report is the remark that many staff members had “disrespected the verification process by locking their offices”. The enumerators had therefore been prevented from counting air conditioners, computers, cabinets, cupboards and chairs. Wowee
I was treated very kindly by the locals in The Station Pub in Franschhoek last Saturday. Especially once the Sharks fell into their usual second half torpor and when the noisy Province supporters had satisfied themselves that referee Jaco Pyper’s alleged bias against them was not evident.
James Greener
Friday 3rd November 2017