Friday, 25 May 2018


I suppose one needs to be a proper accountant to feel comfortable with numbers quoted to 12 significant figures. That’s what is being used in discussions about the likely misuse (misappropriation even) of funds by the dubious characters who were responsible for the social grants program. Apparently, R 1 325 538 482.50 has gone missing. A whip round in the tea-room should raise at least the 50c and save two digits. But it’s unlikely that very much more than that will be located let alone repaid.
At this time of robust discussion about who owns what land – a topic which is throwing up its own contributions to foolishness and idiocy --  a new and useful faux-currency unit has been introduced to highlight the amount of public value that has been “lost” by those who were entrusted to use it wisely. This is the unit of “hectares handed over”. And is based on quite reasonable assumptions about the market prices of land on offer or even already acquired by government, plus set up costs where necessary. It turns out that the public money that went missing stolen during the Zuma era would have been able to hand over more hectares than there is currently demand for.  Most of the supporters of the “Expropriation without Compensation” slogan are probably hoping for a three bedroom two bathroom bungalow on  2000 m2 with pool and triple garage in a leafy suburb close to schools and shops. Few are that keen at living in the sticks, starting work on a tractor at 4am, waiting for rain, and dealing with unpredictable markets for produce.  
The story this week is that JZ is now penniless.  Despite a nice salary and now a retirement package plus whatever else his chums were salting away for him in sandy climes, his friends and even his lawyer have left him. Now most retired politicians supplement their income with personal appearances and an autobiography. Mr Zuma is amazingly proficient at Zulu stickwork but his speaking skills may not be a money spinner. Presumably though he is being pestered by throngs of ghost writers looking to get his story into print. However, it would be embarrassing if that sold fewer copies than the record-setting President’s Keepers by Jacques Paauw.
Company reporting season is in full swing and even the carefully selected numbers which companies hope will entertain shareholders and satisfy regulators are not exciting. Very few industries are enjoying satisfying growth mainly because the customers who buy their offerings are increasingly stretched. Much of our discomfort is being caused by large increases in taxes and levies which are needed by National Treasury to pay state employees and distribute to social grant beneficiaries. The severe problem of course is that in terms of value for money there is very little difference between these two groups. With at least 35 ministries in central government, each replicated at provincial level and staffed by politicians and bureaucrats, the cost to a taxpayer of getting a single piece of paper issued or stamped or registered, is impossibly high. This vicious cost spiral is tightening with every passing day and every revelation of misused and misspent funds. It is easy to understand the anger and desperation of those who now regularly protest by blocking roads and burning busses. Almost all of us in South Africa have come to realise that there is not yet a single person or party capable of fixing the mess. It will take a fierce and fearless despot in the mould of Maggie Thatcher.
Yet again I have not been invited to attend the Monaco Grand Prix to watch proceedings from the pool deck of a large yacht, complete with attractive waitrons being generous with champagne and appropriate nibbles. Next year I’ll have to do my own thing and see about getting into that fabled harbour on a stand-up paddle board fitted out with a garden chair and a cool box filled with Castle Lite and biltong. But anyway, I do have ample stocks of these refreshments for this weekend and the armchair in front of the TV. Which raises the topic of whether Supersport will survive in its present form for much longer, now that the minister of sport is taking an interest in how it chooses its staff.
James Greener
Friday 25th May 2018 Africa Day