Friday, 22 June 2018


Short term US interest rates are back up at the levels they were a decade ago when the US Federal Reserve decided it knew better than anyone else how to fix the financial morass caused by people not repaying their loans. They dropped the price of money to almost zero and kept it there for more than half a dozen years. Chroniclers of this period will need of course to point out that banks were foolishly making those loans to obvious deadbeats and to explain the political background of governments spending money they too did not have. How successful all these official interventions were at increasing the welfare of individuals has already spawned trillions of words which fortunately today are stored “in the cloud” instead of sending forests of trees to the paper mill. Inevitably the outcomes were very mixed with contrasts as wide as our ex-minister of sport enjoying private jet travel to Russia to watch a tournament in which SA doesn’t have a presence to the rest of us wondering when and where the next power outage or violent crime incident will take place.
It’s hard to keep these commentaries from becoming a list of failures and corruption. Even the respected minister Pravin Gordhan appears to have managed little more in the Eskom wage debacle than to express the belief that the prolonged load shedding will have a huge negative effect on the already struggling economy. If he needs to spell this out for his colleagues, well…
Health minister Motsoaledi has revisited his Laudable that everyone in SA should be able to get the same level of health care. Is it boring to note that getting to that nirvana must begin from the current system of which he is already in charge and which doesn’t do very good job? Aside from the tired old mantra that “the rich will pay for the poor” he needs to show us his workings on the numbers of qualified specialists, doctors, nurses and other industry workers that the dream entails, where they will be trained and what they will be paid. These figures will undoubtedly show that despite appearances, the rich are woefully incapable of funding such a grandiose dream. Far richer nations than ours are grappling with this sort of problem. It doesn’t help that here our population growth far outstrips our economic one.
There’s an odd story about the T-shirt that we are expected to buy to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday. This apparently simple fund-raising project looks like a rat’s nest of broken pledges and hypocritical deal making. The T-shirt which carries an unfamiliar portrait of a smiling Madiba also carries the words “Embedded in the African DNA”.  This meaningless scientific jargon helps to divert attention from the news that the cloth on which it is printed is cotton that was grown, spun, woven and dyed all in Mauritius, which is deemed to be African on those occasions when it is useful.  Apparently, this offshore production is OK, because the factory on that island is owned by the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union. Workers there are reportedly paid by output and not by hours worked, a system not encouraged by that union in South Africa.  It is uncertain if they are members of their employer’s union. Further on this theme, has the bickering about who will control and benefit from public access to Mandela’s burial place in Qunu been resolved yet? The good news for those in the running there is that Highgate cemetery in London is now charging visitors to Karl Marx’s grave. A nice capitalist postscript for one of the founders of modern socialism.
This ‘bok strategy of coming from behind after a terrible start is not good for those of us with a heart condition or indeed any Springbok supporter. A convincing win tomorrow for a whitewash series will be very satisfactory. It’s slightly embarrassing to admit that it is quite fun watching the soccer world cup. The back to back immediacy of the tournament which is now at the stage where favourites are being ejected is almost exciting. Also, it’s fascinating to witness how players are able to inflict life-threatening injury on each other with the lightest of touches. Fortunately, most of the victims do also have miraculous powers of recovery soon after they find out that no one, especially the referee, cares very much.
James Greener
Friday 22nd June 2018