Friday, 1 June 2018


A few months ago it seemed as if a big market story was developing. That is a sea-change in opinion and behaviour was starting to drive investors. Here in SA especially, with a new president who excitingly seemed to promise a new dawn, optimism ran high. While some are perhaps able to convince themselves that this is still taking place, it’s really rather uninteresting again.
Reportedly our politicians believe that children should learn a lot more about the history of our slice of Africa. This is a benign enough idea, provided some conditions are also set and met. Most importantly that children are also taught to read so that one day, if they choose, they can compare other narratives with the inevitably slanted and partisan view that almost every teacher unwittingly brings to the classroom. Secondly, the history lessons must not come at the expense of time spent learning some maths and a little science, both utterly vital tools for competing in the real world with other peoples who don’t care very much about the views of our parliamentarians.
In fact, we would all be far better for mostly ignoring their views as well. We are continually paying for costly four-colour advertorial paeans of self-praise and congratulation from state departments. Quite unnecessary.  Thanks to a reader who pointed out that SANRAL, despite being the agency that provides our rather fine national road system, are not that good at geography. Their map boasting about a dual highway project between Mtunzini and Empangeni places it north of Richards Bay[1]. Wrong!
When the time comes for the history of our present era to be written, many chapters will be needed to explain how a populace who largely profess disdain for western and colonial customs have so eagerly embraced the adversarial legal system. The amount of public money being spent on law suits is simply enormous, with most of it going to practitioners in the also much-despised private sector. This has hollowed-out the legal skills and competency from public institutions such as the National Prosecuting Authority. So feeble is this body now that this week a judge had to agree that the state seemed very unlikely to succeed with bringing a credible case against the Guptas and so had to hand them back their ill-gotten gains. This must rate as one of the most distressing news items of the last few days.
It’s also boom time for (some) accountants and business analysts. Almost every state-owned enterprise (and not a few private ones as well) are hosting squads of investigators charged with finding out basically where the money went. Their task is made so much harder because there is an epidemic of amnesia and ill health amongst those who need to be interviewed about the strange cash flows. This represents a sad and dreadful misuse of skills that ought rather to be working on deals that will get people working and producing real stuff. Investigating how the cabinet minister’s sister got to go shopping in Europe is so meaningless. The money is long gone and never coming back.
Some readers will remember when De Beers was the darling of JSE. Its generations’ long marketing strategy along the lines that diamonds were a girl’s best friend was merely the visible end of controlling a market in what is ultimately not a terribly rare element – carbon. But now the esteemed company appears to be dismantling the aura they so carefully nurtured and have announced a program of manufacturing gem-sized stones. Reportedly only experts will be able to distinguish between a diamond formed by millions of years of heat and pressure underground and one formed by a few hours of the same treatment in a factory. Don’t you believe it. Half the world’s population are genetically programmed from birth to spot the wrong ‘uns.
The weekend is replete with many forms of rugby (a ‘bok test in Washington (yup!), a 7s tournament in London and baby ‘boks in France. There are some more hard to say new names in the Roland Garos tennis and a soccer match between Algeria and Cape Verde Islands. Aren’t these the fellows who beat us a few years ago?  And a Moto GP. Whew.
James Greener
Friday 1st June 2018

[1] Comment made merely to celebrate the lovely place name really.