My version of Speaker's Corner in Hyde-Park - Everybody down!
Super Heroes at large: Is there a story editor in the house?
Watching freedom die again?
A quarter century of sloth has been too costly
18 December 2015-How to handle upset customers due refunds
2 Nov 2015 - Comair landing incident
15 July 2015 - A story that shames us all
22 June 2015 - A curious case of false flags?
01 June 2015 - The more things change...Story on Roger Ballen
08 May 2015 - DA Leadership Election...A torch for a new generation?
28 April 2015 - Wilmot James: One man and a tweet
12 February 2015 - Hooh-Hah about the State of the Nation Address: Suggestions for the speech
07 January 2015-What Happened in Paris - a wake-up for all on planet Earth.
07 November 2014- Dan Roodt vs Chester Missing: The Kids are OK.
25 September 2014 - Websites and the "Oh Stuff-it!" factor
05 September 2014 - Something to beat "white guilt"
22 August 2014 - The Mirror they dare not look into
24 April 2014 - South African Males (Copy of blog post published on Jani Allan site)
03 December 2013 - Contemplations on the Death of Nelson Mandela
21 May 2013 - Was there ever a more all encompassing indication of malaise?
17 April 2013 - Baroness Thatcher's funeral
16 April 2013 - Boston Bombings and South Africa's Parliament
09 April 2013 - The Lesson from the Passing of Baroness Thatcher
12 March 2013 - SAA tries to enforce a monopoly on common words
06 January 2013 - SAA's groundloop comes full-circle
04 January 2013 - Jaques Kallis and selective blindness
01 November 2016
Super Heroes at large: Is there a story editor in the house?
America could answer for many things.
A case in point is that no other nation on earth has quite managed to produce, and popularise, as many super hero figures in comics, TV shows or movies as the USA.
Many people around the planet can, I am sure, remember the weekly thrill of reading the latest installment of their favourite Batman, Wonder Woman, Hulk, Superman or other saga.
For those who were not around in the days when information was conveyed on dead trees, Bit-Torrent, YouTube and other modern means of distributing movies will have inducted you to the amazing feats of these larger than life, god-like characters.
A super hero fight to the death is, therefore, guaranteed box-office (or clicks, views, likes, shares or whatever the ruling modern equivalent may be...).
Little wonder then that the 2016 US elections appear to have been packaged in a similar vein.
It has been cynically scripted by its Capitol Hill based publishers to keep prime-time TV audiences in the US glued to their TVs so that what the US does best - selling stuff - can carry on at full-throttle and millions can be gathered for advertising spots during these televised chapters.
Letting you know who is going to win in the end – and having performed the most perfunctory research I can assure you they already do - will not be good for business. There just have to be plot twists all along the way to the very last broadcast to keep people tuning-in and Nielsen ratings up.
So, let's look at the protagonists in the current super hero election storyboard.
In the one corner, wearing red trunks and a clown mask, is The Casino Kid.
He is the archetypal villain.
Everyone knows him – chiefly due to his liberal use of Apprentice Paste, which might explain the oft ridiculed complexion he sports. Millions may (or may not) actually fear him. Many, puzzling as it seems to some, appear to like him.
However, exactly how he rose to his position of prominence and power is filled with mystery and foggy detail. There are conflicting reports all over as to whether he is good or evil.
Many supporting The Casino Kid's opponent claim he is hiding a big secret in regard to being under the influence of a powerful, mystery substance called Kremlinite. This, they claim, is supplied to him by another Super Hero villain, whom they call Vlad The Bad.
Vlad The Bad allegedly commands a remote, secret nerve-center from which his minions probe computers all over the planet. Plots within plots you see?
Like all classic rogues, The Casino Kid has a coven of beauties that are devoted to him and – of course - a large army of misled, yet incredibly devoted soldiers called the Alt-Right to do his bidding. This army is in battle every day, using a battery of weapons called Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tinder, YouTube and others to fire salvo after salvo of Mail-gate bombs, Foundation Flares and Benghazi Beams at the enemy.
The effect of all this activity is to amplify the size and volume of the signals generated by The Casino Kid's deluded rantings well beyond their true merit. Particularly terrifying to the citizens of Senateville – which The Casino Kid has vowed to take over from Masai Man in January – is, however, the fact that these very active acolytes appear willing to hit the societal destruct button on The Casino Kid's command.
This sort of unstable element plays well in super hero tales as one never quite knows what will happen next and, in fact, the more outrageous the plot lines become, the more vocal and fanatical the fans The Casino Kid seems to gather. As we shall see later on, other similar super heroes appear to have a similar attraction for the easily led.
In the other corner we have the sworn enemy of The Casino Kid. She is none other than the seemingly demure and fulsome Honest Senate Woman – a title I use merely because she does.
She is dressed in a fetching blue outfit. With stars. It helps that she has now been engineered to resemble the classic all-American girl with striking blue eyes and blonde hair - even if it is of the suicide type being, as it so obviously is, dyed by her own hand.
Honest Senate Woman is the heroine (can I still use that?) of the media and housewives everywhere. There is an army loyal to her as well and, unsurprisingly, it is the Alt-Left. This army is hoping to assimilate another column called the Moderate Middle but how that ends we will leave to election day....cannot spoil all the surprises.
Honest Senate Woman can point to a long record of serving the public. Even at times when many wonder where she was in their darkest hours, Honest Senate Woman can seemingly dig up an endless supply of facts to show that she has always helped the little guys and gals.
Much of that help, however, has been selective and calculated to garner as much airtime as possible on the day although, I am certain, Honest Senate Woman will deny any and all such allegations. She may even, if pressed, use Vlad The Bad's alleged tactics (unofficially) and delete them from servers everywhere.
What makes Honest Senate Woman particularly dangerous to The Casino Kid though is that she has many friends all over. She hugs bunnies. She has given birth. Her husband, Bill The Virile, once held the fate of the world in his hands and – of course – she was by his side when the Alt-Right armies were hurling sordid little Lewinski Lobs at him.
Honest Senate Woman's lines repeatedly claim that those lobs were all just a smoke and mirrors trick and a plot to lure her beloved from the righteous life he always led.
Folk cuddling bunnies believe her. So do a lot of modern Americans who self-identify as members of the Moderate Middle column. And they love little furry creatures. Fuzziness is in – certain clarity not. This makes them such easy prey.
Honest Senate Woman has also, unknown to the army of the Alt-Right supporting The Casino Kid, an intimate knowledge of the proclivities of the Senate Publishers scripting the entire story.
She knows that the system has been so set in stone by the forefathers that there is little damage that the deluge of flimsy ballot papers The Casino Kid claims he will gather to hurl at her in a week's time, can possibly do to harm her.
And she is correct. Honest Senate Woman is, in case you missed it, ensconced behind an impregnable wall of pledged and bound delegates.
These invincible protectors of Honest Senate Woman were introduced to us by the writers in drips and drabs during the chapters called the Primary Elections so you lost count of them. Very clever move.
You see, the rules of the battle were set many decades ago. Once you have gathered a shield of pledged and bound delegates in the number she has – by last count around 250 of the 270 she needs to be installed as the next overlord of a territory called the White House – there is virtually nothing one can do to change the inevitability of it all. Well nothing short, that is, of the proverbial "nuclear option" apparently favoured by so many of The Casino Kid's faithful.
No matter how many beams and bombs are loudly lobbed by The Casino Kid's army, they will just bounce harmlessly off the FBI-Glaze in which Senate Woman has been bathed – not to mention the Teflon-like Coat Of Glory she seems to have been gifted by the US media.
So, in short, The Casino Kid doesn't stand a chance. Unless, of course, a huge delivery of Brexit fed-upness has been secreted away throughout the USA and the majority of ordinary, battling middle-class people shout "Enough!" very forcibly to forced integration, a multitude of pre-cast political labels and having to obey the dictates of social justice warriors in regard to how they think and what they may or may not say. Anyway, November 8 will reveal all.
Knowing that, we can all save our outrage reserves, relax and chill.
But can we do so?
It's interesting- and alarming - to apply some of the same plot lines a little closer to home.
When we do, we may find that while we we have been so enthralled by the fight between The Casino Kid and Honest Senate Woman in a country so far away, some of the same characters and similar secret weapons have been mixed in with local plot lines in a land called Mzansi.
We have not noticed this as the story seems comfortingly familiar and necessary - as do all things we import from the USA.
Without spoiling the end – as it seems that it will be quite a spoiler of many things – we have, unwittingly, allowed Vlad The Bad (for simplicity I'll use Honest Senate Woman's description of him) and his acolytes to wave his magic Kremlinite – this batch co-brewed with everyone's most popular villian, Msholozi The Unstoppable, in the USSR in the 1980s - to help Msholozi The Unstoppable install family, friends and operatives behind an impregnable structure called a Guptagate.
This amazing structure appears to be made of many seemingly indestructible elements, two of which appear to be Speaker Shield and the thickest hide known to earthlings. The others cannot be identified due to the swirling mass of Msholozi The Unstoppable's acolytes supporting the gate.
While the citizens of Mzansi had previously placed their hope of protection from assaults on their collective treasure and liberty by this group in a super hero called Thuli The Great, she found, as her days of influence drew to a close and her power waned, that most of her defensive volleys simply bounced off the mighty Guptagate.
This is, apparently, because the Guptagate has also been well coated with special, highly secret Impunity Gel by another character everyone thought was Shaun the Sheep. However, in the event, he had some help from other super heroes from the dark side - one whom the citizens derisively call Weekend Special - and his mates in a group known only by its initials, the all powerful NEC.
What the citizens did not know until recently, however, is that Shaun the Sheep is actually a very clever and well-trained attack dog in disguise. Furthermore, the chaps behind the Guptagate have bags of the citizen's money they have secreted away and are busy depleting these as fast as possible. Well, some in movements called the Blue and Red Brigades tried to warn everyone but they were regularly thwarted by the immovable Mighty Madam Chair blocking most of their attempts. So many have remained ignorant until just a few days ago.
All this while Shaun carries on barking loudly at anyone who wants to peek through the bars of the gate and diverts attention by madly chasing other characters. Most recently he set off after a super hero called Prav The Prudent.
While Prav The Prudent is one of the last remaining heroes in which some citizens have faith, others feel there are questions swirling about him in the form of his contribution – by a highly visible vote in Parliament – to the manufacturing of the very same Impunity Gel that landed in the hands of Shaun and the mighty NEC.
Nevertheless, it has come to pass that the once mighty Thuli The Great has now been written out of the script, much to the relief of fans of Msholozi The Unstoppable.
Outside the Guptagate, the citizens have reached for a new can of what they hope is the magic Accountability residue used by Thuli The Great to shield them. They have handed it to the new hero they were promised, Protector Woman. They fervently hope she will apply it to the Guptagate and what it guards in order to try and dissolve it all.
While they are hoping it may have an effect, there are many thinking Protector Woman has cleverly performed some sleight of hand and is now merely holding a mislabeled can of white-wash - allegedly on the secret orders of Msholozi The Unstoppable.
Whatever the truth of the story lines, in my imagination I see, in a far-off lair, Vlad The Bad and Msholozi The Unstoppable having a glass of something uplifting and giggling gleefully.
It is because, while the rest of us are listening to an amplified feed of diversion - much of it of our own making - to which they and their associates have the volume control, they already know how the story they scripted ends. It would appear to be with a different sort of nuclear option to that envisaged by fans of The Casino Kid.
Reading the entire story to date it appears that only a vigourous bout of determined editing can have any hope of altering, what appears to be, a gloomy final chapter for those outside the gate who will one day suddenly find that they can no longer afford to follow the story.
So, the question is, will a new super hero swoop in and pick up a pen or has Mzansi run out of them?
And, even if there is one, will there be enough resources left on hand with which to finish off the comic?
27 May 2016
Watching freedom die - again?
While some may disagree, I feel I cut my photojournalism teeth in the best possible place on the planet.
No it was not in any of the 1970s wars in South East Asia, the Middle East or South America. It was in the period between 1978 and the mid 1980s in South Africa.
This period, where the drive to unseat the government via a campaign of armed insurrection by the externally ensconced ANC and its army, and the internal civil disobedience organisations like the UDF and others clashed with the supression of these tactics by the government of the day, not only had as much gore and danger as any formally declared civil war on the planet, but it had more than the usual dose of the absurd.
Largely the most absurd things I learned involved coping with (and circumventing) increasingly stringent restrictions on what you could report on, photograph or even witness.
It started quietly enough with the slow dissapearance from TV news - from about 1978 when PW Botha came to power - of any footage involving protests or security force action in the townships.
Later, it involved media regulations in which any mention of activists or their activities was forbidden. The more obstinate editors would run stories where the "undesirable" elements were left blank through the simple expedient of leaving the appropriate number of spaces in the copy.
Thus a report could appear like this: "Several people gathered outside the court to support Mrs ...... ......., wife of the imprisoned leader of the ..., Mr. ...... ......., during her appearance."
Nee wat! * That was quickly ruled impermissable and so new regulations appeared making the use of blank spaces illegal. The response then by some editors was simply to fill the blank spaces with black strips.
Well, there were no longer blank spaces you see?
"Julle dink julle is slim bliksems?"*The securocrats (the collective name given to the ministers of Police, Defence and State Security back then) re-drafted the regulations to make them pretty definitive. You could not do anything to indicate that the story or report had been restricted or censored in any manner. No mention or hint of any mention of banned persons, organisations (on a constantly updated list), no blanks, no black strips, no words that implied the same thing. It was up to any of the ministers to decide if you had been naughty or not. No appeal.
Next, physical movement of reporters and photographers was restricted.
It started with daily bullying by security police officers who loved to grab a camera and pull the film out. We circumvented this tactic by hanging an old camera with blank film in it around the neck and dropping the one in use behind a dustbin or pile of bricks before walking out to answer their summons.
They then moved to blocking off access to areas of protest on the pretext of it being for our own safety. Later we learned to make use of our friends in townships to get into areas early or via shortcuts through the houses which only the locals would know.
In time, after a few of the camera drop incidents had gone awry, the area you had come from would be checked for any discarded kit. We thus became adept at carrying even more cameras and whipping out the film and hiding that somewhere. They were far more difficult to find and, if you had some help, the roll of film could be moved along to the office by your friends in the township while the officials were busy ripping blank film from 4 or 5 cameras around your neck.
Of course, the final and most debilitating step was the imposition of a state of emergency.
This made it an offence to photograph or report on any security force activities or to even be in any area where such activity was taking place. Anyone in any branch of the armed services with a rank of corporal or higher could decide you had flouted the regulations and detain you - without a warrant and for months at a time.
The brutal, swift and total effectiveness of this little bit of legislation is something to which I and several colleagues at the time can attest.
You simply dissapeared for a period of time and then re-appeared. Well the lucky ones did. Never mind the fact that they did not find any film in the camera with images from the scene (yes they even went so far as to process it) but the fact that I was nearby was enough. I simply just had to have been up to no good - i.e. If they said I was documenting their very physical house-to-house sweep, detentions, suppression of protests and the like, then I must have been doing it. End of story.
You had no recourse. Many of us 'walked into doors" or "fell on the stairs" while guests of the forces however, no attorney could usually take on the case. There were never witnesses. Normal law was - in effect - suspended.
Speaking for myself, the actions on either side at the time were like scenes of a movie. It was news. It was my task to document it. You had to distance yourself from the particular as it was taking place. Fear, anger and moral deliberation came in the fitful hours of non-sleep a day - or weeks - afterwards.
Everybody lost in those times. We lost so much more than lives, property, effort and time.
We lost the soul of our national humanity.
I had hoped we might let it re-build itself.
Alas, witnessing recent events in our country is resurrecting some of those fitful non-sleep nights.
This week I see the SABC has announced it will no longer show any reports of civil unrest. That was step one way back in the day.
The emergency legislation - step two - has never, as far as I know, been abolished and it is still on the statute books.
The in-between steps are taking place every day. Witness the ham-fisted attempt at electronic censorship of this year's SONA with a mobile telephone jamming device. Troops disguised as waiters in parliament provides another, more ominous and deeply worrying signal.
More are sure to follow.
Each time the howls of protest will be less strident. That's the stategy. Wear dissention down by repeated little attacks on freedom. Eventually we will be like sheep and accept the pen into which we have been bullied. Just like it was in the days of the Groot Krokodil*.
Colleagues in the media are increasingly being ordered to delete images from their cameras by police and other security cluster officials who think they are doing good. The latest was a day ago where a VIP blue light convoy was in an accident in KZN. I am being asked by the new generation of lensmen and women how they can mitigate against this threat to their work.
Who would have thought that my experience in getting coverage out in the face of ever-tighter restrictions would - once again - come in handy?
I really would rather it was not needed.
However, I am afraid I am watching the movie stored on my mind's hard-drive about the death of freedom repeating itself.
*Nee wat! - No way!
*Julle dink julle is slim bliksems? - You think you are clever buggers?
*Groot Krokodil - Big Crocodile, the name given to South Africa's de-facto Apartheid era dictator, PW Botha who brooked no dissent to his increasingly authoritarian rule.
24 May 2016
A quarter century's sloth in aviation has cost us too much
Recent days have seen the world's media publishing articles about how illogical it seems that we have, in this modern age, to be bound by a tight 30 day window in which to find data recorders of airliners lost at sea.
This has been occasioned by the crash of EgyptAir flight MS804 into the Mediterranean.
Yet others have asked why it takes so many days (or in the case of MH370 - years) of uncertainty for the realtives of the passengers lost on these flights before the aircraft are found - it at all.
South Africans know about this anguish. In 1987 the country's national carrier lost a Boeing 747 into the depths of the Indian Ocean following a fire on board the aircraft. When it's regulators asked for assistance to find the aircraft from the US and the UK, they were told it was an impossibility.
Undeterred they went ahead. Ships were sent to tow detection equipment in the vain hope of finding the CVR and DFDR recorders using the infamously named "pinger" signals. The ships only arrived at the remote location after many days had elapsed and the time window of the 30 day battery life of the locators was nearly exhausted.
The investigators persisted and, after nearly two years, the wreckage was located. Then remained the challenge of recovery. Special equipment was manufactured and new techniques developed.
In the event, it was found that the recorder locators never operated as the batteries had burst due to the heat of the fire.
Further, the power to the recorders, fed from the avionics system, had been lost at an early stage due to effects of the fire.
Nevertheless, suggestions were made for improvements and it remains the deepest wreckage recovery in the history of aviation.
Some six years ago Air France lost an aircraft into the Atlantic. Yet again, by the time suitably equipped vessels had arrived in the accident area, the narrow window of 30 days of pinger signals had eroded considerably.
Two years ago Malaysian airlines lost an airliner (which is still being sought) in the southern Indian Ocean. Same story-same result.
In 1990, when submitting its report into the loss of SA295, the board of inquiry made several recommendations in regard to the data recorders and other matters. The past few days, in particular, have made these specific lines of their report appear to be somewhat prophetic. (For more on this accident and my aviation safety work see here)
"...It is recommended that:
• That CVR and DFDR units be fitted in fire resistant containers and be provided with their own, internal or independent power supplies. The wiring to the units to be fire protected.
• The 'pinger' systems should be provided of two or more locators, one being operative for the first 30 days after impact, the other only taking over thereafter, to provide a total of 60 days of signals..."
The extended time period for the locator operation is now being trumpeted by the world's media as having originated in the AF447 report. Not so, it has been there for more than a quarter of a century - and been ignored for just as long.
Another suggestion, particularly pertinent to the loss of EgyptAir flight MS804, is the fire-proofing of the recorders and the wiring to same.
Taken on the experience of the SA295 tragedy, as well as other in flight fires I have researched to date, I would submit that keeping things as they were in terms of recorder designs for the past 25 years - while it may have saved a few dollars per airline - is going to bite the industry in the rear in the MS804 investigation.
While the initial sequence may be on the CVR and DFDR, the final minutes of the flight may not be - simply because the power supply and inputs to the recorders may have been severed in the fire.
Finally, as to the fact that we need to spend years searching for small aluminium tubes in vast swathes of ocean in the first place, airlines and regulators have dithered and dodged doing something to simplify this process by claiming the fitment of ejectable recorders is too costly.
Really? I cannot agree.
Airliners and data recorders do not need to be radically re-designed at huge cost to make the location of a loss at sea known.
One possibility is to re-engineer the ejectable recorder system already in use on some military aircraft.
With a suitably up-rated g-force parameter in tandem with a water-activated safety circuit (both needing to confirm deployment) the flotation device for the recorder can be inflated - and the very action of inflating it can be used to break it free of its mount.
A drogue attached to the device will keep it from being blown too far from the crash location by winds while a satellite beacon transmits a signal for detection and triangulation of the crash location. This can all be accomplished within minutes of a loss at sea.
In total, the cost - when deployed on the world's airline fleet - might not exceed $10 000 per unit.
The cost, amortised per flight per passenger over several years, will be negligible.
The value to relatives, however, in knowing where their loved ones are, is priceless.
It's just the greed and sloth of an industry that has ignored sane suggestions such as those of the SA295 board of inquiry for more than a quarter of a century that still puts people in the mess of uncertainty.
It also costs millions in endless searches of vast swathes of ocean.
They can no longer justify just keeping on as they have been keeping on.
Time for change.
18 December 2015
How to manage consumers who never obtained the service you sold them
As a journalist involved with consumer matters, I frequently get requests from members of the public to look into or assist them with diverese matters. From nuisance calls to faulty products, I have usually managed to get the two parties to resolve their differences amicably. Usually this merely involves a call or e-mail to the appropriate marketing person or board member at the particular company which is the target of the consumer's ire.
Some of the aspects resolved, among many others, include the complete replacement of an un-repairable vehicle, replacement of faulty appliances, refunds of over-deducted charges and the removal of names from mailing lists to which consumers have never subscribed.
One airline even over-refunded a customer by way of an extra apology and that client is now having a rather nice holiday after making use of the airline again. In another case, an insurer still has the business of a consumer that had felt aggrieved but who warmed to them again after they resolved the problem she had.
So, rather than being anti-your business, I try and assist the two parties to get together instead of ventilating the matter in public. Dealt wth in an appropriate manner, more often than not the company retains the custom of the client.
Soemtimes, however, the response of the company involved - or its operational status - makes this approach impossible and one must just step away and let the chips fall as they may. Ergo the point of this post:
Many who travel by air in South Africa will, by now, be aware of the existence of Skywise Airline. It formally announced the suspension of its operations "until further notice" on 15 December 2015.
I had written - in the event it appears a somewhat valid - opinion piece about the airline and some of the difficulties it's apparent business model faced which was published by Politicsweb on 14 December 2015.
In the comments section, the Co-CEO of the Airline utlised the right of reply to state, what one must assume, is the airline's viewpoint.
Amongst the majority of my points with which agreement was indicated, the respondent lodged a complaint to the effect that I never spoke to them first before publishing my article.
Well, as it was an opinion piece, there was no obligation to do so but - nevertheless - given the sensitivity of the subject, I did try and contact the airline using the published contact numbers on its website (and as posted on hastily printed notices at Johannesburg and Cape Town Airports) but all to no avail.
Trying to contact the airline via officially published numbers last week was an exercise in futility. Telephones rang unanswered for hours on three different days in the week prior to submission of the opinion piece. My experience appears to have been mirrored by several erstwhile clients trying to contact the airline - in their case for much promised refunds which seem not to be appearing - as you will see if you read the reports of these clients on Hello Peter dot com. http://hellopeter.com/search-reports?keyword=skywise
Needless to say, I did not have any of the board member's direct numbers. However, utilising my industry contacts I did eventually get through to someone by way of getting a number from an erstwhile third party service provider for a Skywise staff member that was taking calls. I was curtly told "We are not allowed to give it out" when I asked for a contact number of any executive. Had I a valid number, I would have sent a message to a member of the executive.
However, returning to the issue raised by members of the public - their funds. One of the printed notices at the airline's desks at the two airports suggested that clients could contact the company's insurer who would sort out refunds. Confusingly, the insurer subsequently said that the insurance would only kick in if the company was to enter liquidation.
What the insurer did not say - of course - is that the insurance would normally only be valid if the policy was current and premiums were up to date. Most informed consumers would know that is an expected proviso of any insurance policy and thus, consumers have a right to know if that policy is in effect and up to date.
So, given that I was berated for not contacting the airline (despite it being virtually impossible) I decided to use a channel that had opened up to me through the receipt of an e-mail from the Co-CEO of the airline. After all, in that e-mail I was invited to discuss any further aspects of their operations with them and I was even invited to have a cup of coffee with them in Johannesburg if the opportunity arose.
I thus sent an e-mail to the Co-CEO on the Skywise server address. The response I obtained came via the PAK Africa Aviation (Pty) Ltd server and is shown, in full (as is my set of questions). I responded by stating that I would make the questions and the reply, available in full to consumers, which, by way of this posting, I hereby do.
I leave readers to make of it what they will.
Suffice to say that, as far as Skywise Airline is concerned, any concerned consumers should, perhaps, now take their own advice on what their next steps are if they are owed money for services not provided as I am unable, in the circumstances, to assist any further.
I am leaving this aspect of the story right here and will close by expressing the hope that they can, indeed, somehow, raise themselves and operate again in a sustainable manner in keeping with the - as yet nebulous and unexplained - alleged long term vision espoused by the Co-CEO in the comments section of Politicsweb.
And my wish is that this will happen if only for the fact that many of the South Africans who could most ill- afford to lose the money paid for tickets which could not be used, might then at least be able to obtain refunds.
My e-mail to Skywise Co-CEO on 18 December 2015
To: Co-Chairperson Skywise (Address redacted) From: Mark D Young (Address redacted) Subject: Clarification of refund process and status Date: Fri, 18 Dec 2015 10:36:00 +0200 Content-Type: text/plain; charset=utf-8; format=flowed Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit Good Day Following our corresondence of yesterday, I wish to advise that I have contact with numerous consumers who hold tickets paid for but who have not been refunded. One claims the "insurance" company posted at Cape Town Airport has said they cannot refund her as the insurance is only for the event of a company liquidation. Could you please fully inform me of the status of the refund process and, specifically, the folowing: 1) Does Skywise have the monies for advance ticket sales ring-fenced and available for refund or has been used in general operational expenditure? 2) Are you, in fact, making ANY refund payments at all (Many clients claim they have had lengthy run-arounds and now cannot even get through to your call center) 3) Is the requisite insurance policy and premiums for liquidation refunds up to date and in place still? 4) Given that your Twitter and Facebook accounts seem not to have accurate information, what is the management approved, valid process, for clients to obtain refunds on tickets booked but where the flight has not, or cannot, take place? I will communicate your reply to the affected consumers. Your assistance in this regard will be appreciated. Thank you Regards Mark Young
Response from CO-CEO, Skywise:
From: (Address redacted)@pakafrica.com> Mime-Version: 1.0 (1.0) Date: Fri, 18 Dec 2015 11:02:35 +0200 Subject: Re: Clarification of refund process and status To: Mark D Young (address redacted) X-Mailer: iPhone Mail (12H321) Mark Thanks for your email . The mandate of communicating to consumers comes to you from ? Unless if you are ready to take the challenge we as Skywise can give you an official
mandate to become the spokes person of Skywise not only for refunds but all matters of Skywise airline . Regards . Sent from my iPhone
In reply, I communcated as follows:
To: (address redacted)@pakafrica.com> From: Mark D Young (address redacted) Date: Fri, 18 Dec 2015 11:23:04 +0200 Good Day Thank you for your reply. I will communicate to those consumers, who approach me often given my involvement with consumer journalism - and reporting their inability to obtain any feedback from yourselves - the full text of my questions, as well as your full reply - not removing anything. Regards and best wishes Mark Young
Now we know how one deals with a public relations and customer confidence crisis.
02 November 2015
Why let facts spoil a good headline - The Comair Boeing 737-400 landing incident explained
Something which I had, for many years, accepted as a natural element of our existence - the generally poor level of knowledge in regard to aviation matters of my media peers when reporting on civil aviation - has, in recent days, stood up loudly and whacked me about the ears. "Sort it!" has rung through loud and clear.
Well, as noble as the idea might seem, there is no method whereby the various aspects and disciplines of civil aviation might be imparted to reporters who need to get an aviation story out so as to make their particular news outlet appear current and up-to-date before they go on to report about the local bowling club raffle.
Furthermore, in this age where nothing beyond the bottom of the phone screen will be read (in all likelihood), fast, "grabby" headlines and sensational "facts" are needed to get a click on your story.
Nevertheless, despite these facts, in this day and age there cannot be any excuse for not checking facts and terminology before publication.
Two events have irked in particular these weeks past: The loudly (but inaccurately) trumpeted "crash landing" of a Comair B737-400 at OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg as well as the sad - real crash - of the Metrojet Airbus A321 in Sinai.
I shall deal with them individually.
Comair B737-400 landing incident
All according to the design (but not the exact plan for that flight). No wing or fuselage damage and no injuries. (Image credit: Avherald.com)
Upon landing in Johannesburg, a Comair Boeing 737-400 (Operating as a British Airways flight) suffered a very uncommon failure to its left (port) landing gear assembly.
Media outlet after media outlet (and countless Twitterati) reported about a "crash landing". This terminology is hugely misleading and alarmist. The airliner touched-down normally and then, a second or two later, things went from "ops normal" to an incident. The undercarriage folded and broke away from the aircraft leaving it to slide to a stop on the right landing gear and the left engine pod.
This sequence of events took place exactly as the designers of the aircraft intended when building the airliner.
Boeing has a design philosophy of permitting various structures to fail to different degrees in a progressive manner as required to prevent further, major damage to vital areas of the aircraft such as wings (the bits that keep us all in the air) and the fuselage (the bit where we sit).
The idea is that, rather than make something - like an undercarriage leg - so strong that it can withstand virtually any impact, even if that impact force will eventually transfer to the wing or fuselage and tear that apart, they design particular components to instead fail at pre-determined loads.
On the Boeing 737-400 the undercarriage wheels are allowed to rotate left or right slightly to permit the aircraft to deal with cross-wind landings while still being able to track correctly down the runway. In essence, the principle is similar to you steering slightly into the wind with your car on the highway to keep going straight rather than being blown off into the verge.
To prevent too much rotation of the wheel assembly, there is a strut to limit the sideways movement of the wheels. If this strut breaks for whatever reason (as it appears to have done on the Comair aircraft), the undercarriage leg can then pivot beyond it's designed limits and this will place huge stresses on the tyres and wheels - they are not intended to be dragged sideways down the runway with a few tons of aircraft on top of them.
Worse, if the tyres burst when subjected to sideways loads (as they did on this airliner) then the rims can dig-into the runway and the results could be fatal - the aircraft can then flip or cartwheel. Nobody wants that.
So the undercarriage leg is attached with things called "fuse" bolts or links which fail if loads sufficient to cause damage to the wing/fuselage or that can cause the aircraft to dig-in are building up. This permits the undercarriage leg to then break away cleanly and let the aircraft drop on to the very strong skid plates fitted beneath each engine pod - incorporated under each engine specifically for such eventualities.
In an incident such as this, the skid plates at the bottom of the engines on the 737-400 are able to permit the aircraft to slide along (without the wing tip digging in) so that the airliner can be brought to a safe stop using the remaining undercarriage and braking systems.
If both landing gears are faulty then the skid plates permit a landing to be carried out using the skid plates and the little rear skid plate beneath the tail. You can see a real example of how this design saved hundreds of lives here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UC8ySY_GlUk .
Another aspect of airliner design - which permits such landings to be carried-out - is a very strong central box between the wings. This is also part of the skid-plate system and will support the aircraft and prevent it digging-in even if ground away to more than 50% of its height (As took place on an SAA airliner in Nairobi in the 1960s and described in my book "A Firm Resolve: A History of SAA Accidents and Incidents 1934-1987).
So, the Comair landing developed into an incident - technically termed an accident (as damage was done which rendered the aircraft incapable of being used without repair) but it was, by no means - as so widely and inaccurately reported - a "crash landing".
Everyone aboard the airliner was safe, unhurt and able to get off after all the vehicles swarming about the airliner were stopped and would not accidentally run-over anyone getting off the aircraft.
However, facts are not nearly as dramatic as the truth to my media colleagues in regard to airliners - sadly.
I shall deal with the Sinai crash of the Metrojet A321 in a separate post.
15 July 2015
A story that shames and reflects the falseness of a society claiming to uphold Madiba's values
It is often said that we live in a strange world.
In South Africa, it is a pretty sick world.
For most of my time on this planet, it has been.
An article in the Cape Argus yesterday confirms this fact.
I will explain my points after you read the following article. Instead of just posting a link (which, in time, could disappear), I am quoting it in full as it appeared (with full credit to The Argus and the reporter) as I strongly feel that it needs to be seen.
Please read the article and then I ask your patience as I set out my points thereafter.
<Article quote starts>
Cape Town - A Grabouw teen has defied the odds, surviving a brutal rape and assault – in which she was stabbed, strangled and buried alive under a pile of rocks – to identify her attacker, leading to his arrest.
Police have confirmed that a 22-year-old man was arrested in connection with the incident and appeared in the Grabouw Magistrate’s Court on Monday on charges of rape, attempted murder and robbery. The matter was postponed to September 21.
The 14-year-old girl had been sent by her aunt to fetch her cousins from their grandmother’s house on Saturday night.
She almost didn’t make it home.
Discovering her grandmother and cousins were not there, she began making her way back to her home in Rooidak informal settlement in the Overberg town.
The teenager was then allegedly grabbed by an assailant, dragged off to a vacant lot on Granny Smith Street, before being raped, beaten, stabbed, strangled and left for dead. Thinking she had died, her attacker allegedly covered her in a pile of rocks and fled the scene.
The girl froze, waiting for her attacker to leave before she dug her way out from under the rocks.
The brave teenager then got up and made her way back home.
“She crawled and walked here (to the Rooidak informal settlement) where she told us she was raped,” her 19-year-old sister said.
She was the first person to see her as she stumbled into their home. “When my sister walked in the front door, she was bleeding from her genitals, ears and mouth – I just remember screaming after that.”
Sitting in their grandmother’s home in Xolanaledi in Grabouw on Monday, the girl’s family recounted her ordeal.
The victim’s aunt had sent her to fetch her cousins, aged three and eight.
“We got worried when it got late and she had not returned from her grandmother’s house,” her aunt said.
Her sister was sitting in the lounge when the 14-year-old stumbled in at around 1am on Sunday morning, smeared in blood, naked from the waist down and with a screwdriver protruding from her neck.
Her hands were bound with wire and her mouth was gagged with one of her pink and white ankle socks.
The family recalls bruising on the teenager’s neck, where her attacker tried to strangle her with her underwear. He had then allegedly tried crushing her skull with one of the rocks that lay scattered around the empty plot.
“She also named him (her attacker) before she lost consciousness. She said he screamed at her, ‘why are you not dying?’ as he pounded her with the rocks.
“She said he wanted to kill her to get rid of evidence but it is by the grace of God that she survived,” the girl’s aunt said.
The family said the girl’s arm had been broken in three places and her skull had been fractured.
Her sister, filled with fury and shock, ran to the alleged attacker’s home to tell his mother what he had done.
“His mother did not even come. She came an hour after and then she just looked and left,” the girl’s sister said.
The family said that police investigators and a trauma counsellor had informed them that the attacker later admitted the crime to his mother.
The family told the Cape Argus that the ambulance arrived before the police.
They claim the police took no statements and didn’t ask for the girl’s blood-stained clothes.
The family said that if it was not for the young girl’s bravery, police would still have been searching for a suspect.
When the Cape Argus visited the crime scene – strewn with towering rocks and trees – there was no indication that an investigation was under way.
Bloodied rocks signified that a struggle had taken place. A pink and white ankle sock was covered with dirt while the rain threatened to wash away any evidence that may have remained.
Police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel André Traut advised the family to lodge a complaint at the Grabouw police station so that “allegations of poor service delivery can be investigated”.
Around 30 members of the Grabouw community marched to the station on Monday demanding justice.
The girl is in a stable condition in hospital. Her mother remains at her side, afraid to speak to the media out of fear of retaliation.
The girl’s sister said: “I want him to rot in jail for what he did. He must face the full might of the law.”
<Quoted article ends>
So? This sort of violence is just a daily symptom of our sick society you may argue.
It's all just a symptom of the lack of discipline in the police force, it shows how the current government has lost the plot and (insert your current favourite rant about the state of the nation here)...etc, etc.
Granted. The fact that such a case was reported to the police and, more than two days after the event, the detectives have not yet (apparently) collected any evidence either at the scene or at the victim's home, is - if true - beyond disgusting.
It is a dereliction of duty which beggars belief and, in an ideal world, it would have the responsible commissioner of police, the responsible provincial minister of safety and security and his or her direct political head tendering their resignations.
Well, we know that does not happen in our country. Political ducking and diving of responsibility is the norm - no matter the politics in charge in any given province.
So, at the very least the officers at the station should be suspended and a crack team drafted in to follow-up.
Many would say why bother about this as the attacker has been identified and apparently confessed to his mother?
Well, simply because he will get a smarmy self-important member of the legal profession on his side soon that will claim the confession is simply hearsay and demand physical evidence linking him to the crime. Even if he has a written confession to the police, the physical evidence is needed to cement the case.
In a well run system that evidence will be there, Rock solid. Air tight. This is the very least our society should be able to do for this (and thousands of other victims) - ensure that there are no loopholes in the system for the attacker to use.
We as a society should demand that every genuine attack on a woman or girl in our country is met with the best efforts of the police to nail the perpetrators.
There is bugger-all chance of that happening.
I say this for several reasons.
When I posted this article link on Twitter and highlighted the atrocity it revealed, there was a deafening silence.
OK, so with a few hundred followers I can hardly expect to stir-up a storm but given that I sent it to the provincial premier and shared it on Taxi Radio, the SAPS and many other high profile accounts, I would have expected some small ripples.
Or at least a few dozen re-tweets.
Jani Allan, that icon of the 80s now residing in New Jersey saw my point - but then she would, given her experience of the male species in South Africa.
Renee Joublin re-tweeted the link as did Soli Philander.
Other than that, silence.
So what was Twitter bothered about instead?
The trade union movements of the country holding a meeting.
An inordinately high number of self-important "opinion leaders" and "industry shapers" said absolutely nothing. They merely got on with the business of pointing out how great they are while doctors treated the young ladies' wounds made by the screwdriver her rapist stuck in her neck.
She crawled from the scene of the crime past several dozen houses for some hours with this protruding from the wound - for most this appears to be a piflfing little detail.
I suppose it is considering that her skull had also been fractured and she was bleeding from other wounds as well.
So why does this one among thousands need to be highlighted?
It is one where ordinary people can make a difference after the fact.
We can never take away the physical fact nor hurt of the rape and attack. We can never re-wind the clock on countless other fatal rapes.
What we can do is realise that this is attack on a young South African's right to a dignified life is an attack on all of us.
She and her sister (and extended family) will need extensive counseling. And while she may get it for a few sessions (if she's lucky) from the authorities, things will move on to the next case and she will be expected to cope.
Will her sister ever forget the sight of her stumbling through the door? Will the victim herself even feel like going out in the community - to school. To the shops?
Living in an informal settlement life has already tossed her a tilted playing field. This attack would be enough to kill off any aspirations or drive in the most privileged of our society. How much more so the danger to her future emotional and physical well-being?
Each South African and - indeed - each local corporate citizen has a chance to ensure that we send a message of love to this and other victims of such mindless violence.
We need to send it to the authorities - the old patriarchal method of dealing with such matters is not good enough - it never was.
Victims of crime - especially sexual violence - need the correct response, care and back-up. No excuses.
This young lady has resilience, presence of mind, determination and sheer dogged will. She is, by reports, a good scholar. She deserves to retain her focus and chance of success in life. If the determination and resilience she showed in surviving her attack can be allowed to blossom she is a future leader who can make a difference to other victims to come.
And will they come?
Our nation has had too many.
22 June 2015
A very curious case of false flags
On Thursday last week the world was shocked – quite rightly – to hear that a 21 year old American man had spent an hour in a bible study class at a church before shooting 9 of the attendees.
Whatever one's political position, violence cannot, in my view, be condoned under any circumstances and I extend my sympathies to the relatives of all the victims.
This blog post is not, in any manner, an attempt to try and justify, condone or explain the horror of the attack. Neither will it touch on the accusations from the USA and elsewhere that it is a rigged, false flag event. You need to look elsewhere to find fodder if your thoughts lean in such directions.
This article seeks to address the very real problem of how information can rapidly be fed into the public discourse on any topic – even when there is visible proof that such information is suspect in some way.
I do not have an answer as to who made the evidence suspect. I can merely state with certainty that it is suspect and therefore, not to be relied upon.
In many discussions with a former editor of The Pretoria News, he repeatedly said to me that one should never rely on any source or evidence if it is apparent that the source or evidence is compromised in some manner. "How would I know it is suspect?" I asked. "You find out dammit!" he bellowed.
The onus, he said, was on the journalist to do diligent research and cross-checking on all sources of information. "Never," he said while clacking away at his typewriter, "Never, never take anything presented to you on face value. Check, test, tease and check again. If you have any doubts about authenticity, do not use it. Do not comment on it, do not allude to it. Only make use of it once you have satisfied yourself that you can vouch for its authenticity in front of a judge. Then check again."
The world, I am afraid Wilf, has moved on to reject this wisdom. This has been conclusively proven to me in the mysterious case of the alleged Face Book profile photograph of the church killer published around the world.
Within a few minutes of the killer having been named, I was doing an internet search to see what information might be in the public domain about him. I did not find any Face Book profile – let alone a profile photograph. This might be due-in part- to the keywords used. However, I doubt it.
Subsequent research has revealed that the authorities asked for his Face Book profile to be deleted from public view as soon as they were aware of his identity and before they informed the media that they had his name. This, I have been told, was for "security reasons".
The deletion was extremely rapid and very thorough. There are none of the usual mirror sites and archives that are normally useful in these cases that hold any of his blog posts (and he allegedly made several on a former Rhodesian supporter website), his alleged manifesto nor, indeed, the photograph of a scowling man in the woods wearing a black jacket with – allegedly – the old South African and Rhodesian flags sewn on to the right-hand side.
This photograph first emerged in an article on the web site The Charleston Post and Courier - a local newspaper in the town where the attack took place. The article appeared roughly – as near as I can calculate - 4 hours after the authorities became aware of the gunman's identity.
The newspaper claimed it had obtained the image after doing a search on Face Book before the account was deleted. Given the timing of the release of his name and the subsequent explanation proffered to me by the law authorities in the US, this is problematic for me.
The article was accompanied by a seemingly well crafted statement from the Anti Defamation League, in the person of a Mr Pitcavage, fully explaining the history of the two flags and how they have become symbols of racism and white supremacy which his league were trying to have banned from sale on the internet in the US.
He also used the platform to down-play the activities of the groups trying to publicise the ongoing farm attack problem in South Africa. The link between the shooting of 9 church goers in the USA and the farm attack polemic in South Africa struck me as extremely contrived. However, I digress...
The photograph of the gunmen that they used – showing the flags - was rapidly spread on Twitter and other social media sites.
As soon as I saw it, I subjected the article and the data it contained to the routine checks I perform on all images and copy supplied to me.
Firstly, I looked for other copies of the image and researched the backgrounds of the reporter, the Anti Defamation League and its officials. I also searched for similar images to the one shown in the article which could quickly show up if it has had other incarnations.
This is a common problem with images on the internet. Like quotes, they are often incorrectly credited and so searching for the original ensures that there are no sticky copyright issues – in the first instance.
Secondly, finding an earlier version often avoids the egg on face issues that inevitably arise if you just swallow the information given with the latest incarnation. Images are routinely manipulated for various purposes, aesthetic and nefarious. Aesthetic I can live with, wholesale changes not so much.
Three strange things happened in this instance. Firstly, less than an hour after its release via the US newspaper's article, there were no other iterations available. Only the image in the article and an alleged Face Book profile screenshot were available.
Secondly, the embedded data one normally finds in an image (even if it has been "scrubbed") had all been erased from the image copies I found. Most unusual.
Finally, my image analysis software clearly showed that the area on the jacket where the contentious flags were placed had been manipulated.
So, according to my journalistic training, I could not afford the image any validity for purposes of comment or news as it stood. All I could do, and this is what I would have hoped colleagues around the world would do, is crop the image to include only those areas not tampered with if I ever wished to make use of it.
I also passed the Face Book screen shot through the software and it indicated that the image had issues. The image in the profile frame showed indications of manipulation – as if someone had taken a Face Book Screen shot of a profile page and added the image. In addition, the images of the flag in that shot showed a different manipulation pattern – distinct from the main image doing the rounds on social media. They are two different iterations of the same manipulator's craft. So, the alleged screenshot of the gunman's Face Book page could also not be accorded a verified status for purposes of comment or news.
After posting some of my concerns on Twitter – principally in a forlorn hope that media colleagues would use caution when using or referring to the images – some odd things happened.
Unsurprisingly, many people re-tweeted my analysis images which were sent as a collection of linked tweets – piecemeal
Next, without me knowing, someone else who had reservations about the image did a hatchet job in image software of placing the Democratic Party's logo into the image – after a bad job of erasing the supposedly original flags.
This image sort of proved my reservations about the whole image as the re-doctored image – which the poster admitted he had manipulated "to prove a point", - went viral as it was seized on by various aggrieved people and re-tweeted as the authentic "original image".
So now the world had three manipulated images of the gunman in circulation. Only one was admitted as manipulated while the other two were accorded gospel status by the world's media despite the fact that the most cursory check of the images would indicate that they were problematic.
Next, a day after all this effort, an article appeared on a web site for South Africans around the world, using my analysis images (without credit or their original context...surprise, surprise) and de-bunking them as not from the "original" image as seen on Face Book. Interestingly enough, however, the writer of the article did not post the "original" they claimed to have analysed themselves "as-is".
Secondly, after having been branded a government sympathiser and echo chamber for its propaganda the week before for an op-ed on the AU stance on the ICC, I was called a white supremacist and racist sympathiser. That is a neat trick of flip-flopping non-existent political views on my part and made me happy that I am at least managing to steer a middle path. All I am, in fact, doing, is treating all sources with equal skepticism and following my first editor's tutelage.
I sent requests for the original image as allegedly uploaded to Face Book to the company itself, The Charleston Post and Courier and the local law enforcement agencies. Two of the three cited "security reasons" for not making any information available and the third has not yet replied – I suppose newspapers do not have week-end desks anymore or mine is just one of millions of e-mails waiting to be ignored on their server.
Nevertheless, colleagues in the UK have forwarded the original mail they obtained from the authorities (interestingly enough these are dated after my Tweets of the image analysis results) and I subjected these "original" images to the same scrutiny.
This image is the "original" as supplied to news groups and allegedly a direct download from Face Book
The images have been manipulated – no doubt. Interestingly enough, however, the area of the image which I had highlighted in my tweets and which had been used in the article rebutting my manipulation claims on the website mentioned, has now been smoothed out on this copy. This makes it a new alleged "original" different to the very first one that appeared.
However, the evidence of manipulation is still clearly visible below this zone and to the right of the flags. Of particular interest to me is that the obvious relative difference in brightness of the flags in the originally posted images, has been normalised on the new "original".
The "original original" supplied via UK after my initial Tweets now less messy in the area I had highlighted but still blatantly obvious below that and very obviously manipulated on the right hand side of the alleged flag area.
So, the question remains, who did the manipulation and why? Who has tidied-up the original, poorly manipulated images in the area first highlighted?
More importantly, the prime motive for doing the analysis remains – media should check the veracity of all data supplied to them and reject any that can easily be shown to have been manipulated so, why do they insist on using the suspect images and inviting all and sundry to make opportunistic comments about dodgy images?
The manipulation could have been done by the shooter or someone on his behalf if, indeed, he uploaded the image to Face Book as claimed. However, as Face Book will not release the log data on the account, we will never know unless they have a change of heart.
It could have been the newspaper that posted the original article in order to highlight the flags and make them more visible. That of itself is manipulation of a source and a poor practice given that – if they did so – they should have said they have adjusted the flags for legibility or something similar.
It could have been the Anti Defamation league – especially given that they have an important iron in the fire with their campaign to have the Confederate flag (which, interestingly enough, was on the shooter's car and in other photos now surfacing) removed from public display in the USA as well as their stated campaign to discredit the anti-farm attack issue in South Africa.
Whatever the source or origin of the image, the fact remains that it has been manipulated.
As such, any news organisation worth its salt or which seeks to retain credibility, should not re-publish that area that is known to have been manipulated unless they mention the fact. If they do not want to admit to using manipulated source material then the least they should do - in my view - is crop the image to show only the un-manipulated region.
The same goes for any comment on the relevance or meaning of the flags – as they were not on the original photo, any political comment or posturing in regard to them is just so much hot air and opportunism – probably the very result intended by the manipulators if it was done after the event.
In a world where it is so easy to feed false information into the public domain, and where instant reaction trumps considered thought time after time, reasonable journalists and members of the public need to adopt a healthy skepticism before firing off indignant comments or calling for ill-considered legal reforms.
Accepting things as they appear to be is not, in my view, smart. Neither is condemning someone as a racist for checking accuracy of information.
However, logic left the building of public discourse in our country long ago.
01 June 2015
The more things change...
Recently there have been some musings in the art sections of local newspapers about the latest book of photographs by Roger Ballen.
Columns have been used to try and explain his work and the subject matter of his images. This is not a new development for, as I know from personal experience stretching back decades, Roger Ballen's name is met with one of two responses in South Africa: Dismissal and, in the case of a small minority, acceptance for what it - in my view - no doubt is: Classical documentary photography that hits raw nerves with precision and nuance.
I had the honour of interacting with Roger several times in the 1990s.
I also had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Roger during my tenure as editor of SA Photo Magazine in the mid 1990s. Almost without delay my office was deluged with dismissive (and in some cases sarcastically nasty) letters from the self-appointed guardians of what photography really was bemoaning how he had no technique, no skills and was merely exploiting the subjects in his photographs.
It is clear that the more things change, the more they stay the same and I stand by my closing comments of the time.
I am convinced that we will look back on the body of work bequeathed to us by Roger in time to come and appreciate the gift that he is to our collective history.
As a testimony to a similar body of work from another era, familiarise yourself with the work of the FSA (Farm Securities Administration) photographers mentioned in the article who were active in the USA in the 1930s. Then you will see where Roger gets his mojo and how his style is completely in tune with the work of that era that is now rightfully regarded as priceless.
Herewith images of my 1996 article on Roger and a transcription thereof.
First the magazine cover of the April/May 1996 edition of SA Photo Magazine:
And the DPS image of the interview with transcription:
Not just another documentary photographer
Art or science? The debate about photography's true place has raged for decades. A look at the work of Roger Ballen should convince anyone that photography is indeed more than just a technical endeavour.
A legacy of South Africa's isolation and insular world view is the fact that photography is still not widely recognised as a serious art form. Even the "elite" of the profession tend to confuse petty technical expertise with true art. Nowhere is this dichotomy more apparent than in the opinions expressed about the work of Roger Ballen, a man born in New York City in 1950 but nowadays, after 14 years in South Africa, as much an African as if he had been born on the continent.
Roger appears elusive at first, a trait shared by many gifted people who have followed that inner voice of creativity in spite of the views of detractors. Perusing Roger's latest documentation of rural characters around South Africa's platteland, you may be forgiven for thinking that you are looking at a body of work from the likes of Margaret Bourke-White or her colleagues who documented America's rural heartland in the 1930s. The classical, straightforward, yet studied technique is similar. This is not surprising given that Roger's mother was a founding member of Magnum Photos New York in the late Fifties. His early influences therefore numbered such photographic greats as Edward Steichen, Man Ray and Henri Cortez.
What Roger learnt, almost in tandem with learning to walk, was how to "look past the particular to the universal" in any subject. Roger shoots almost exclusively in black and white. His preferred medium is the 6x6cm square format and he abhors cropping unless absolutely necessary. "If you have to crop to any significant degree then your picture just does not work," he explains.
Further to his much-maligned photographs. "Well, they are accepted for what they are overseas," he says. "Locally of course, our parochial view of the world and our national fear of being exploited tends to elicit condemnation."
The fundamental aspect of all art is that it should get down to the nitty-gritty of what life is all about and challenge us to think about ourselves in new ways. Any documentation of humanity must succeed, or fail, by assessing the aspects of existence which it portrays or suggests. The fact that Roger's books have stimulated vigorous debate is a sign of success. Roger does lament the fact, however, that the debate, in the local press and photographic community at least, has centred on petty technicalities and "...what lens I used or should have used. That has nothing to do with the characters I'm attempting to portray or with what I am trying to reveal about myself."
So is his work an expression of some hidden inner view? "All art is commentary of some sort. The way in which you select your subject, how you use light, space and form these factors are all a reflection of your character in some manner. It's a very personal process. To me, classical photography is about who you are, not which subject you choose. Your instincts, which dictate when to actually make the exposure, are also intensely personal. There are times when the instincts tell me to not even make the exposure, especially in township areas.
Does Roger not use 35mm at all? "Yes, of course, but only when I feel the subject can best be expressed in a rectangular frame and when things are moving and evolving rapidly." We asked about the wonderful textures displayed in his photographs. "I love texture. It is a vital part of a good photograph, that's why I use Kodak T-Max films. Grain is not texture, it detracts from the true texture and, personally, excessive grain is a failing in a picture. T-Max delivers suberb tone and texture, which is ably complemented by Kodak's Fibremax printing papers. I would never use resin coated paper."
Asked whether there was any one aspect of working in South Africa which he felt strongly about, Roger lamented the fact that there is very little emphasis on real photography. "As one who has grown up with photography, however, I can appreciate that it is an art which is essentially Western in nature. Most of the work done daily is not artistic photography, but process work to a predetermined end. I prefer to let my subject determine the end and I would encourage others to study Western photographers and their work. Educate yourself about the limits of photography. Dare to be different, express yourself, not a technique learnt by rote. When talking about pictures, discuss the meaning, not the technicalities. In that way, we can learn to share the gift of seeing universally. "
The body of work which this artist will contribute to the greater documentary of South African life can never be, and indeed must never be allowed to be, ignored. Roger Ballen's vision, and his development as an artist and that of his chosen medium, deserves to continue. The type of character who typifies his work is indeed a universal entity.
Whether his pictures appeal to you or not, we are nevertheless privileged to have a classical documentary photographer of Roger's caliber at work in our country. The debate triggered by his images is healthy and vital.
We, as a nation, are sorely in need of visionaries such as this.
© Mark D Young/SA Photo Magazine 1996
08 May 2015
A torch for a new generation?
The UK election results from Thursday this week demonstrate, if ever it was needed, that the political ideas of old are no longer sustainable in the 21st Century.
And, as a testimony to that, I believe that once the bunting has been taken down and the delegates have departed to their regions on Monday next week after this week-end's Democratic Alliance congress, South African opposition politics will, for better or worse, never be the same again.
The choice facing members of the Democratic Alliance in regard to a new national leader is such that it will lead, whatever the outcome, to an era where the old way of doing things is no more.
The main contenders for leadership of the party are numerous but there are, in reality, only two contenders that have been visible in the national media of late.
One one hand they have an academic, on his own claims “steeped in the liberal tradition...” full of knowledge about definitions, political strategy and – from his experience as an ANC supporter in the latter part of the 20th century – applying political pressure via campaigns of both an official (and sometimes unofficial) nature as was the practice all those years ago.
To his credit, however, Dr Wilmot James has not – on the face of it – attempted such unofficial campaign tactics publicly. What sort of discussions and bargaining has been taking place behind closed-doors, of course, will never be known. Such is the way of real-politik.
In the other corner we see a younger South African. A man raised as part of a generation that were still in primary school while the apartheid monster was faced, addressed and eventually put out to pasture as the 1980s passed into the 1990s.
Social media, the internet and instant communication have come of age during his adult years. He is a product of a society where interaction, accessibility and action are favoured.
On both sides, delegates have been pledging support and – taken on the unofficial figures – it appears to be something of a whitewash. Then again, they count the winner at the finishing post so let's not get ahead of ourselves here.
In my view, however, Mmusi Maimane is a signal to those of us who grew up with the monster blamed by our current government for all the ills faced by our country that a new period has arrived. As with the USA some years ago, a skilled communicator, social media user and crowd wrangler is in touch with the people that matter – the voters.
I have no doubt that his party understands this nor that the ruling party is wary of the fact.
The time of back-room pledges of funding from far-off backers (perhaps with the requisite quid-pro-quo?) as punted as a reason for favouring his leadership by the academic's camp, are gone.
The old school tie way of conducting politics has led us to the mess the world is currently in. More of the same under the leadership of a – no doubt worthy and capable – member of an older generation, will, perhaps, not do the party, or the country, much good.
And for this reason I do not see that the candidature of Athol Trollip - as tried and tested as he may be in parliament and in the party structures, has much merit.
It is time for a different generation to take on the challenges of the new century. Thus, given the option of a decision between someone who has a stated history of support for the ruling party, versus a leader that has only known one allegiance and political home, I think the writing is very obviously on the wall.
And, in the end, if I read it correctly, such a decision by the Democratic Alliance's congress will signal as much of a sea-change in our political landscape and our future as did the inauguration of South Africa's first democratically elected president in 1994.
With a visible indication of change and a face that the majority of our population are able to relate to, coupled with a back-room brains trust led by the current, redoubtable and learned federal chairman, the official opposition has a chance to launch itself to great things.
Opting for the old way of doing things by venerating age and institutional stasis to the detriment of public allure and sass, might well see the party fizzle out at its present level of support.
Whatever the result, it will no longer be business as usual in our political landscape from Monday morning.
28 April 2015
One man - and a tweet - can make a difference
Twitter is, for many, a media platform that is both absorbing and revealing.
Its fascination stems from the ability to obtain, within a few dozen 140 character posts, a succint and accurate pulse of the nation and its moods.
The revelation stems from the - sometimes - ill-advised tweets posted in the heat of the moment that reveal the deeper inner thoughts and motives of the user.
Several international stars have found, to their cost, that a single tweet can cost millions. In some cases tweets have had legal consequences.
Many may not be aware that the various laws regarding defamation can be applied as against you in your country of residence if you post untruths about a fellow citizen on Twitter. Opinion can be argued as freedom of speech but blatant untruths cannot be so defended.
Today, I would wager, another person has discovered the power of a tweet to torpedo one's best intentions.
He and his circle of advisers and champions may not know it yet but I think the dawn of understanding is warming their embarrassed faces as I write.
If not, it should be.
Consider the following tweet posted by the man running a campaign to be elected as the leader of South Africa's official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA).
This, as the last characters state, was the sixth in a flurry of tweets intended, one must assume, to set up his manifesto and qualifications for the top-job, to the people who follow him on twitter and the nation at large (millions of whom, of course, cannot afford a device that can pick up Twitter but that is another detachment from reality that can be investigated at a later stage.)
In this one tweet, I believe, his campaign - and the party he claims he can lead to greater things - has been damaged.
I wager that it will prove to be the iceberg that doomed his bid for leadership.
The first, and most obvious problem is one of the funds mentioned.
If they exist (and proof of that is going to be asked), there is the old South African political hot-potato of patronage in exchange for funding and the devastating effects thereof - as so eloquently displayed in the past decade or so.
Nobody should want a leader to whom funds flowed from anonymous overseas funders only if - as one must assume from the tweet - a particular politician was the leader of any given party.
The problem with "overseas" strikes at the very heart of Africa's many, long-term problems.
The west - principally - never came to Africa to listen. It came to tell. To control and thereby enrich itself.
The wounds of "overseas" activities on our continent run deep.
They still bleed every day. Especially in South Africa.
If Mr. James' party is to be funded, on his watch, by "overseas" funders, the obvious question is why and what would they want in return?
And want something they most certainly would - there is never a free lunch in politics.
If one had to think of a campaign gift to give to the ruling party for the forthcoming local government - and ultimately the 2019 national - elections, their own PR department could not have scripted a better club with which to scare the populace.
If, as he most probably will argue, the funds were not attached directly to his leadership, then the tweet raises severe questions about the poster's credibility. He still cannot wriggle out of the consequences.
If he had these funders on hand before, why had he not brought their influence to bear - as tainted as it may be - to assist the party to "properly" run its affairs?
Surely if, as he implies, the party was not "properly financed" and he was in politics to serve everyone - as he has stated - then he should have used all resources at his disposal to further the party's fortunes?
It has been reported that certain members of the opposition have aligned themselves with the bid of Mr James to lead the party. If any of them have hope of being remembered for service to the country and not shady "overseas" funders that may - or may not - be exerting influence over our political landscape, they would be well advised to clearly state their position in regard to this matter. Or resign.
And, as I would now expect, Mr Maimane does win the post as leader of the DA, he would be well advised to openly address the matter of the alleged "overseas" funders if he has any hope of leading his party to greater electoral success in the future.
Already, I am willing to bet, the ruling party are having a good chuckle to themselves as they get ready to beat the "being controlled by overseas funders" drum to death in the coming months.
If, for no other reason, the lack of insight and political savvy displayed in the tweet should make any supporter of the official opposition think deeply about the candidature of the originator of the tweet and of the motives of those that support his campaign.
Using Twitter can be fun, but it can also be politically hazardous.
Firing in haste is not advised.
As proof of this, check back with Wilmot James in a few weeks time to see how his 7 out of 7 tweet flurry worked for him.
12 February 2015
The Hoo-Hah about the State of the Nation - A suggested address
Amid an anemic currency, a chaotic parliament, lack of meaningful and widespread service delivery to the poor, joblessness and nationwide blackouts, the ruling party in South Africa is still confident that its incumbent President has a good story to tell during the annual back-patting exercise known as the state of the nation address.
This much hyped speech is due for delivery this evening and, as I write, it is on the minds of my fellow citizens as never before.
The interest is, I divine, not so much due to the expectation of any ground breaking new direction being announced by government, but more for the voyeuristic hope that the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters will be seen to disrupt the sitting in Parliament.
I think that ship has sailed as, based on direct Twitter reports from a press conference this afternoon, the EFF is too busy fighting dissent within its ranks to be able to do anything meaningful to the President of the Republic.
That, of course, leaves a huge opportunity for the President to do something truly statesmanlike and provide decisive leadership, shore up the currency and take the wind out of the sails of his detractors.
His office did ask for suggestions for his speech.
While I shall not flatter myself that any of the following might be considered by the powers-that-be, I will, for the benefit of my fellow citizens, offer a draft speech which I think could do so much for that good old South African determination and grit and set us on a new path for the future.
Every other path that appears to be on the map so far is leading, sadly, to a dusty dead-end.
My Fellow Citizens (Starting there and not with the speaker and a long list of "more equal than the rest" VIPS and cadres will send a good message right from the off - surely Mrs Mabona in Winterveld is as important as any MP?)
I know there are MPs here who think this is an occasion during which they can ask me direct questions. I would just first ask that those MPs wishing to lower the dignity of the house by disrupting this speech allow me a few minutes.
Hear me out and then, if you feel there is no alternative offered to you, we can proceed the sitting along different lines.
I thank the honourable members for their consideration.
I now ask the entire cabinet, including deputy ministers, to stand up and face the nation.
My fellow citizens, the people you see here are all members of the executive of our country. The majority of the citizens that voted in the 2014 election gave us a mandate to govern this country. In elections prior to this, our party was also given a mandate.
I must now be blunt and admit that, for many of our citizens, government has failed to deliver on the promises made in 1994 and subsequently.
We, in the spirit of collective responsibility, all wish to offer our apologies for the administrative wrongs that have taken place on our watch. We apologise for the infrastructure difficulties - and most especially - the power outages which are afflicting the more affluent areas of our country and affecting industry.
Together, we accept that the buck stops with us. We are sorry and intend to resolve the issues.
Please be seated again honourable members.
Now, an apology without remedial action is worthless and so, if the house will afford me the indulgence, I would now like to outline a plan of action to chart a new course for our Republic.
Firstly, the dream of our founders in 1994 for a truly free, non-racial society has not been realised. Too many incidents of racial abuse, insults and xenophobia have marred our recent history. Far from an easing of tensions, it appears that our different communities are becoming more and more polarised. In large part this is due to the huge inequalities that exist in our economic life.
Our transition to democracy was due to us all sitting down to a huge Indaba. That is the African way.
It is time for another huge Indaba for our nation.
Government suggests, therefore, that we embark on a second CODESA-like experience in which we seek to jointly plot a more prosperous path for the future in our country.
To this congress, details of which will be finalised with all parties represented in Parliament and with the CEOs of the top 100 listed companies on the JSE, we will invite all parties, leading businessmen and citizens who have made an impact on our national life.
The mandate of the congress will be:
1. To identify and address the most pressing social, economic and infrastructural problems faced by the country.
2. To investigate, formulate and put into action a plan to decrease the gap between the poorest of the poor and the rest of our citizens in which all of society contributes and no further pressure is put on the fiscus. In effect, this is calling for a type of universal national service among citizens and businesses. In short, you cannot continue to survive in a small puddle of privilege while millions of your countrymen starve and if you have drawn a benefit from our country and the labour of its citizens, we ask that you make a contribution to redress the imbalances which still exist. We will not dictate these methods but they will be arrived at after consensus is reached between the members of the Indaba and announced to the public who, I trust, will be guided by its conscience and carry out the suggestions.
3. To consider methods whereby the rising intolerance and hatred in some sectors of our society can be dealt with in ways that do not increase the intolerance and lead to further incidents.
4. To urgently locate and co-opt any willing former heads of parastatal organs such as Eskom, SAA, the Water Boards, National Transport and other departments in order to seek their input on the immediate and intermediate issues that face these vital aspects of the country's economy. A task team should then be set up to carry out the remedial plans suggested by these august leaders in conjunction with the present management.
5. To strategise and plan for the next 25 years in regard to a roadmap that will enable our country to create the jobs, infrastructure and opportunities it needs to provide for its citizens. Wherever the existing NDP is in alignment with the broader consensus, it should be incorporated so as to provide certainty and continuity to business and investors.
Turning to other matters closer - and pardon the pun - to home, I have taken note of the various reports and accusations surrounding the alleged enrichment to myself occasioned by upgrades to my home in KwaZulu-Natal.
I will submit the report of the public protector and other organs of our democracy as well as my personal bank account records to Justice Richard Goldstone (Or any other internationally recognised South African jurist...) and ask that he investigate the evidence and make a recommendation on my culpability for any re-imbursement due to the state. I will abide by his recommendation.
In the interim, until such time as his report is tabled to this house and by way of a first indicator of my intentions, I hereby announce that I will not be accepting the recent pay-hike given to leaders of government. I ask the Public Service Commission to donate that increased portion I would have been allocated to the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.
Ladies and Gentlemen of this house, your job is to be seen to be serving the citizens of our country, not each other or yourselves.
I ask that, in the year ahead, you do all you can to foster good relations between all our communities, that you conduct yourselves with dignity and humility and that you seek ways in which Parliament, as an institution - and every member thereof - can more fully serve, in a very real sense, our citizens.
Rather than increasing our privilege, we should seek methods to diminish it in the service of our fellow citizens.
I ask that you, and all our countrymen, assist me in this task.
To our international friends and investors, I thank you, on behalf of my fellow citizens, for your continued confidence and trust in South Africa.
I ask that you too, join us on this journey to the future so that, together, we can all do more.
I thank you.
If the power stays on tonight, I will be listening.
Good luck Sir.
I shall, however, also be watching the skies for the flapping of wings attached to porculent animals with flat snouts and twisty tails.
07 January 2015
What happened in Paris must not stay in Paris
The murderous actions of four (obviously) highly trained gunmen in Paris today sound a warning to all of us in South Africa to up our game.
In effect, what took place was that 12 people were killed in cold blood by four men armed with AK47 assault rifles. They began by holding a woman and her child hostage in order to force her to open up the security door to the building that housed the offices of a satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
The staff of the magazine were holding an editorial meeting as the gunmen arrived. The names of particular journalists were called out one by one and then these people were executed.
Charlie Hebdo took a dig at all sections of society and those who held themselves to be better than others. Any puffery or incompetence was lambasted equally.
It made no difference if you were a president, political party secretary, trade union leader, imam, priest or farm worker - if you had set yourself up as better than the rest, sought high office or spoken out as if anointed by an invisible hand and you had shot yourself in the foot, you could expect a comment.
Most often these comments were in the form of cartoons that cut through the careful constructs and exposed the lack of logic, compassion, understanding or whatever else was in play.
We have a fine example of this ingenuity in South Africa in the form of Zapiro. So to the point have his drawings been that he has been variously threatened and litigated by those who have felt affronted by his keen wit and graphic comments.
There are many others who daily force us to look at ourselves and our society in a new, less egotistical light. This freedom to comment and voice opinions is vital to the survival of an open, free and unpolarised society.
It is that idyll of society that has been attacked by the Paris gunmen and which they seek to oppress.
Many governments are jumping to claim these are Islamic terrorists. The assumption is, of course, based on the several death threats made to the staff of the magazine for cartoons depicting Islam or Mohamed.
So does this make all Islamics terrorists?
No, no more so than all Afrikaners are apartheid supporters, all whites racist, all ANC members or ministers dishonest and corrupt and every single DA supporter a paragon of virtue.
However, recent months in the South African political landscape - and posts on social media by high-profile citizens - have become increasingly flavoured by a similar kind of radicalism and intolerance that would have us believe that it is acceptable to make such claims and that such assumptions are fact.
These have been made, in many cases, without thought of the consequences or the feelings of the targets of these attacks.
I can relate to the many various victims of this growing intolerance.
I grew up in the heart of an Afrikaans suburb in Pretoria in the 1960s. As I often say, this was a place where Afrikaners were "baas"* and Englishmen were bait.
Just because of my home language, I was called a Rooinek*. It was my fault - because I was English speaking - said the Afrikaans speaking groups of teenage boys that roamed our streets, that their Grandmothers had died in Kitchener's concentration camps during the South African war.
When I pointed out that lots of people, including the servants of the farmers imprisoned by Kitchener's policies, had died in the camps, I was then also labeled a Kaffir-Boetie* This simply confirmed for the neighbourhood that this is what all Rooinekke were. And Kaffir-Boeties would help bring about the end of civilization as they knew it so we needed to be bliksemmed. And I was - often. Simply for being born into a family that spoke English at home.
Why was this done? Oom* Jaap Marais - an infamous conservative South African politician of the day - had said so my attackers said. I doubt he had said it but it was what I was told as I tasted dust. I was also told to go back to where I and my family had came from.
This last aspect puzzled me as my grandmother was a Miss Steyn descended from a famous family in the Free State Republic. Should I have to leave, where to go? Greytown from whence my paternal grandfather had come, Bloemfontein or the Nursing home in Arcadia where I had always thought I hailed?
While the actions of the group was unacceptable, did this make each one of them in the group unacceptable as a human?
Did it make their families so?
Should I have gone through life scarred by these events and baying for revenge?
It was my choice to be hemmed-in by their words and actions or not. I could not let my future path be dictated by their small world view. Eventually bigotry and fundamentalism creates its own kind of punishment for those adopting that as a manifesto for life. That is their journey.
Ours should be better.
However, this kind of language and ethnic based stereo-typing has made me very aware of the dangers of loosely thrown labels that generalise the mind-set and practice of an entire section of society based simply on one aspect of their ancestry, behaviour or political views.
As a photo-journalist in the 1980s I was often detained at roadblocks by folk with a rank higher than that of a corporal (as the emergency legislation empowered such members of all militarised forces) and questioned or generally hassled because of two things. My language and I often drove around with my friend, another photographer who happened to be black.
I was English, he was black. The assumption was that we were obviously terrorists.
This sort of labeling and profiling is, sadly, still rife in our country today.
For luminaries such as the former head of an elite investigative unit to label all staff of an establishment and the city in which it is based as racist based on social media reports of a particular incident which might have an innocent explanation, is as disingenuous as the tactic of the Presidential spokesman to label Max Du Preez as racist simply because he voiced his views on the management style and record of a particular politician.
These attacks and epithets are all designed to achieve the same thing the gunmen in Paris hoped to achieve. To silence comment, to shut down discourse and the free exchange of ideas. To make us all think before we speak and to tone our views so as to make as little impact or perceived offence as possible.
While the first three cannot be limited and all right thinking people - of whatever faith, ethnicity or language group - need to fight vigourously for these rights which are increasingly under attack in recent times, the last needs thought. The creeping totalitarianism exhibited by some public officials in our country is disturbing and eerily reminiscent of the type of society we lived in during the early 1980s in South Africa and daily we hear voices calling for limitations or labels which will permit thought control or incite thoughtless, blind mass obedience as dictated by the country's rulers.
We dare not go back there.
That is a war we need to fight with all the resources at our disposal - our voices, our pens, our cartoons, our newspapers and our dinner conversations.
The fourth, however, is needed. Especially if you intend to label someone as either an Infidel, an atheist, a terrorist, corrupt, femininist, mysogynist, racist or – (insert label of choice here) - simply because of what they may have said, done or because of how they look, where they stay or the political party which they support happens to differ from the one you favour.
It is these daily bits of mud-slinging that have made the modern world an increasingly fraught place for free speech and opinions.
While holding power and opinion to scrutiny, at the same time, however, we need to be careful not to err, as some of my peers may do at times, on the side of character assassination executed under the guise of freedom of speech. There are boundaries to be respected and if we over-step these we need to 'fess-up and accept due criticism. However, open and intelligent debate is vital - it is just that it need not be tarnished by a belief that only our view is correct and that any view to the contrary is to be killed-off. As a famous quote holds: If you disagree with someone, do not shout louder, improve the logic of your argument.
It is up to all of us to up our game and to ensure that the final shot that sounded in Paris today is not followed by un-called for verbal shots at others by ourselves simply because they have views different to ours.
Also, of course, we must remain adult enough to take up the baton from Charlie Hebdo's staff and take on puffery, egotistical politicians who serve themselves rather than the citizens of the planet, prejudice, racism, radicalism and all the other isms that are pulling at the fabric of freedom of speech and our joint humanity..
*Baas - Boss.
*Rooinek/ke - A colloquial phrase used to describe an English speaker - based on the red-necks the British soldiers in the South African war exhibited after a day or two in the South African sun.
*Kaffir-boetie - A label used to negatively describe any person who showed any kinship towards black South Africans. In its day as venomous as being labeled a racist or Nazi today.
*Bliksemmed - beaten up.
*Oom - a respectful term for an older male person used by many Afrikaans people. Literally meaning Uncle.
07 November 2014
The kids are OK - Of puppets and papers and things...
Sometimes a change of perspective is refreshing.
On the very day that our country awoke to the news that a famous entertainer had seen fit to seek a protection order against a satirist, I was on assignment at a pre-school.
I thus had the privilege of spending the day in the company of the children enrolled there.
While the social media platforms and national news buzzed back and forth with increasingly strident views about the merits of the matter and its origins, these young humans - from all walks of life, faith and shade in our country - simply got on with what they do each day.
Growing, playing and learning from each other and the adults around them.
This set me thinking about the example which adults outside their school were, perhaps unwittingly, setting for them to follow as they and their supporters traded remarks, insults, court papers and exhortations to others to support one side or the other or interfered with the right of companies and individuals to sponsor cultural events or earn a living.
In one classroom of Grade 0 youngsters a situation arose that – to my mind – echoed the matter in the news.
A young boy had been overheard by a girl saying horrible things about some children in an adjoining class. She said that it was not fair to say things that could make other children feel sad or cry. Some of the classmates began jeering at the alleged offender. Some were less than impressed by her indignation and actions and jeered at her for being a tattle-tale.
In no time at all there were threats of never sitting with one or the other at lunch again and some even suggested not letting the opposition play with them at break.
The teacher restored a semblance of order and got everyone to sit down for what she termed a round-robin discussion.
The rules were simple – each, in turn, could say something about the problem and how they felt. You could not interrupt if something was said about you until it was your turn. When it was your turn you had to try and explain your view without attacking the person who had said something about you or your behaviour.
The interval between accusation, claim and counter-claim appeared to enable a lot of powerful reflection in their young minds. It was fascinating to watch, listen and learn.
"It was horrible to say wrong things about those children. You know they will be sad if they hear you." began one. A sullen look of defiance burned at her from the other side of the circle. While bristling to have his say, the young chap played by the rules. He sat and listened.
"How do you know everything that has happened to them? You don't live in their house. That is why you must not say things that make them sad. Even if you say you were joking they are still sad."
A rolling of the eyes from the originator of the matter.
As the comments moved around towards his position, the young boy calmed down and became more thoughtful. Perhaps the unrelenting message had hit the mark as each speaker, in turn, pointed out the shaky ground he had chosen to occupy. Just as I thought this was a slam-dunk, a young chap took his side.
"It is bad to make people sad. But it is also bad to stop him from speaking at all. We must not be horrible to him now. If we don't play with him or let him see a nicer way of playing he will just get more cross and shout at all of us. Let him say sorry and promise not to do it again then we can all have a happy day."
Eyes focused on the speaker. You could feel the mental energy rising a notch. What simple, constructive and useful advice.
"Yes." said the girl next to him. "We were all saying nobody must play with him but that is also wrong. We cant tell who you can play with and who you can't play with. That's also not fair. We must all share the toys and sandpit at break – that's the rule remember?"
It was too good an opportunity to ignore.
I put up my hand (that was the rule) and asked if I could pose a question.
They looked at one another and nodded. I had my chance.
"What if this young man had gone to the principal and asked her to stop this young lady from speaking about him and what he had done?" The question seemed to immediately trip their logic circuits.
"That would be silly and wrong!" they said, almost in unison.
The feeling of the group was that nobody could stop you from saying what you felt was wrong. Your duty was to make sure that you did not do it in a way that duplicated the original wrongful act.
Nobody could make anyone else sad or say things that were not truthful. What is more, if you were being mean then it was someone's duty to try and let you know you were being mean.
I had to proceed a little further along the road.
"What if some of us went to his Daddy or his Mommy or his friends and told them to stop giving him food because he said these things?"
Total disbelief greeted that proposition. "Why do you want to stop him eating food? You are not the king of his life!"
I was beginning to feel like the most idiotic person in the room. The issues that I thought were almost intractable in the wider world beyond those walls were, in seconds, shredded into crystal clear strips by these young minds.
"If you want to be horrible like that then you will make a lot of people cross and soon nobody will like you." said one young chap.
I thanked them.
It was now the turn of the flintstone that ignited the entire matter.
He had been using his time well.
"Sorry I said nasty things without thinking." he began. "I like being here with you all but I sometimes get scared and frustrated and then I get angry and say horrible things. I will try and be nicer and play nicely with everyone."
The young lady opposite had the right of reply in terms of the rules of the round-robin.
"What do you have to say?" asked the teacher.
"I forgive him." she said and got up and went to give him a hug.
Perhaps it is really that simple?
Perhaps we all need to reflect on the appropriateness of our actions and use of influence – be it via social or traditional media, the dinner table or the stage?
Perhaps calls for boycotts of any individual, business or group on a national basis for use of their right to free speech are as wrong as calling for the exile of an individual from a playgroup?
As was said in that classroom – denying an individual his food cannot be correct, no matter what has been said.
On the other side, saying things that are hurtful and which make people upset is equally incorrect.
Perhaps the example of an apology I saw would have been the most appropriate action from the start?
However, having a rational and reflective discussion seems to be a great method of working things out.
Above all the message from that classroom was that, no matter our background or belief, ethnicity or culture, we all need to grasp one vital idea to get along in our multicultural and wonderfully diverse country.
Listen to one another, think before you speak and – above all else - play nicely.
25 September 2014
Website designers - Consider the "Oh-Stuff it!" factor
As a mentor to many small business owners and self-employed folk (call me crazy but it's not a paid activity - just my way of paying-back to the country), I regularly get calls to accompany people to meetings with some self-styled messianic web development team.
Now, lest one get the wrong idea, I do not deny that those operating in the annoying world of harvested e-mails and unsolicited pitches stating how great they are at Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and graphic design are all unworthy of praise.
Many of these web design types simply want to get income for their web-design operation.
I just think they need to pause and reflect.
Firstly, please take a good few minutes to completely read the Internet Service Provider's Association's suggested code of good practice regarding e-mail marketing campaigns. If you have not done so, or do not know where to find this, then you may have larger fish to fry than simply keeping your web developers in rent money.
Secondly, do yourselves a huge favour and spend some time in an internet cafe or watching folk using tablet devices or smartphones. Luckily this can be undertaken anywhere these days - the local lunch hang-out, mall coffee shops or airports.
While you might think your grandiose designs and flashy java-enabled home pages are the bees-knees, they are, in fact, probably the first barrier to doing business with your prospective clients any web surfer will encounter.
I do not care what your lecturer at college says. I feel less for the slick, zooty and graphics-intensive pages your friend - who assures you he or she is making tons of money from their designs - might say.
The landing page any prospect first sees must survive what I term OSIF test.
As the heading says, this is the "Oh Stuff-It!" Factor.
When people do a search (Google, Bing, Yahoo or whatever) they will get results. They click on the one deemed the most likely. Interestingly enough, for some reason most folk I observe hit the second one down - 'Stru-Bru. Watch them.
Let's assume that by some fluke not involving paying Google money to get the result to the first page your fancy-shmancy site is the one in the link.
The search page goes away and then...well, if they are on a fast DSL line at home...and if they have Java-enabled in their browser (30% of visitors who are web-savvy have this off) they may see the page loading its graphics and your fancy design might blow them away - if they can find the navigation links.
However, like most South Africans - nearly 80% - they are connecting on a congested mobile network and any graphics heavy and outside-link laden page will load slowly - and then only if your developers have made it auto-switch to a mobile friendly version.
If your team has done its work well you may even have anticipated that outside links or the pretty pictures will take a few moments and added a pretty little bar saying "Page Loading" - not that that will help at all.
In virtually every case I observe, be it in the malls or even the PA's office of the company owner, whenever a form over function page crawls its way across the ether, the user then says "Oh Stuff it!" (Or words to that effect) and hits the Back button before clicking on the next result on the search page.
Now lest you think this is pie-in-the-sky, think about your own behaviour when doing searches - better, yet - go out and paddle in the big world outside where real people do real web surfing.
The key thing to do is to get the first page loaded fast, simply and for goodness sake test it on something like a Nokia Asha 210 and not on your 10 mb/s desktop at the office.
If it takes more than about 5-10 seconds to completely load up on something similar to a 210, your design will fail the OSIF test and your client will wonder why their costly web site does not deliver the goods.
Smart design is firstly function - not form. Show off your client's company, not your design skills.
Keep graphics heavy designs for your printed brochures.
The web needs speed and information - quickly.
Now go forth and conquer.
05 September 2014
As a former resident of Gauteng, now migrated elsewhere in South Africa, I had the fortune to re-visit Johannesburg recently.
The journey was by road.
This presented me with a dilemma.
To pay or not to pay?
I am, of course, referring to E-Tolls.
This conundrum is, so the dispatches relate, bravely faced on a daily basis by a few million Gauteng citizens and overcome with ease as their vehicles whizz beneath the collection gantries with a devilish catch-me-and-make-me-pay-if-you-can attitude.
Official communications have related that the drivers of these vehicles are guilty of a criminal offence if they do not pay their E-Toll accounts. The nett result will - in time - be a mounting bill for outstanding tolls owed to SANRAL.
Extrapolating the issue - as per the official view - the loss to the fiscus which has invested state pension funds in the entire project will entail the drying up of free water in the rural areas and the condemnation of elderly citizens to penury.
The counter claim by the activists states that the entire process - from the decision to use open road tolling in the first place, to the awarding of the construction and tolling contracts to connected enterprises and entities, has been severely flawed and rigged.
In what is perhaps the first and most significant act of mass defiance in our country since 1994, Gauteng citizens have called-out the authorities for their consistent mis-representation of the facts and the irrationality of the entire scheme.
They have also simply refused to pay and continue to use the freeways as if SANRAL and the collection gantries did not exist.
SANRAL and the NPA have made no bones about the fact that they will employ debt-collection measures - including blacklisting - of defaulters. That. of course is interesting as I fail to see how they can try and enforce a contract that says you agreed to pay the fees if there is no such actual contract. A discussion for an alternative forum entirely.
There are, however, more pertinent issues.
The NPA on the other hand prosecutes criminals. Well at least those that are deemed worthy of prosecution.
They have the ability to place you on the criminal records system. That could serve to limit your career choices.
Finally, SANRAL and the Department of Transport have stated flatly that you will not be allowed to renew your vehicle licence for the year if you have outstanding fees on the E-Toll system.
Whatever one's opinion of the system, its correctness or otherwise, one thing is certain. If you wish to try and be productive in South Africa you will, at some stage or another, need a licensed motor vehicle.
Given the proven fact that the E-NATIS system does get consulted by the Post Ofiice when you renew your vehicle licence, I considered that it was not worth the trouble of undertaking several trips to and from the vehicle registering authorities to try and persuade them of the moral correctness of an outstanding E-Toll account while they grimly refused to re-licence my vehicle.
Additionally, I have tried to teach my offspring that one obeys the laws of the land as far as practicable. Not to obey laws on a selective basis would undermine my position in more ways than one.
So I paid R50 for a day pass and made sure I got out of Gauteng as fast as possible.
In the process I did not visit the several companies I could have in the province of Gauteng as I did not wish to have to fork our another R50 to SANRAL before my day pass expired.
And that, overall, is perhaps the greatest problem the entire system has created. Gauteng is an expensive place in which to do business and E-Tolls do not help. They certainly do not present a vibrant reason to visit the province.
However, now that I have caved-in to the extortion for what can only be described as self-serving reasons, I feel as though I have severely let down the citizens who so blithely ignore the collection gantries on a daily basis.
White guilt has nothing on E-Toll guilt.
22 August 2014
The mirror they dare not glance into
For those of us working in the media in the 1980s, the past few days - and in particular the proceedings in parliament on Thursday 21st August 2014 - will evoke many memories.
In case you missed it, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led by the former head of the ANC Youth League Mr Julius Malema, were accused of disrupting parliament and acting in a manner contrary to the dignity of the institution.
The accusations come from none other than the Secretary General of the ruling party of South Africa, the ANC's Gwede Mantashe.
I could not but emit a loud burst of incredulous laughter when I saw what the chap from the ANC told the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Independent Online reported thus:
The Economic Freedom Fighters trampled on Parliament's dignity by disrupting proceedings in the National Assembly on Thursday, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said.
“That is trampling on the dignity of Parliament as an institution... and if you want to destroy that institution for a short term satisfaction, you will regret it,” Mantashe told journalists after a dinner hosted by the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Johannesburg.
“When there is no Parliament, there will be dictatorship.”
Viewing the footage of the session in the previously hallowed house, there was no rude disrespectful language heard in the footage prior to the closure of the sitting by the speaker. The leader of the EFF merely (forcefully) asked pointed questions and refused to be shut-up by the speaker (recently re-appointed by the President to keep a tight check on the institution no doubt) who has a long track record of evicting members whom she deems not suitably meek towards to her boss. Where the disrespect did come in was in the rest of the EFF members not calming down and chanting - although singing and dancing in the chamber is not entirely without precedent. I recall the ruling party doing some of that at times...
I digress, however. A pointed question was asked about when the President was going to re-pay the state money spent on his personal home. His response - which fuelled the situation - was to say that the matter was with the "...people legally authorised to determine that...".
Authorised by who sir? Sorry - trick question - it appears that every legal ruse and avenue in the book is being used to keep difficult questions from landing too close for comfort. In fact the process has so undermined the state institutions and the very constitution itself that even your own inner cabinet circle is apparently vexed at the situation and the apparent influence of your confidants. (Read the Mail and Guardian's report here.)
Of more concern is that the pressure being applied by the EFF is showing up the ruling party's history as a pro-violence political organisation. The sham of civility is wearing away. Witness the words of Mr Jackson Mthembu (former ANC spokesman and latter-day MP) at a press conference following the sitting where he said that "...the discipline of our party (a reference to the restraint shown by angry ANC MPs) cannot be limitless and then if this continues we may see scenes we do not want to see..."
I had already seen scenes I did not wish to see in the house - Someone called the riot police but then they were, thankfully, stood down at the last moment. In the event it was precipitous as they were on hand at the doors where they could then prevent ANC Staff members from storming into the parliamentary chamber and physically confronting the EFF members inside.
Nevertheless, if ever there was a veiled reference to physical measures to follow against those exercising their right to know where the nation's tax money has gone, the ANC's former spokesman delivered it well.
The sad thing is that a similar lack of accountability and serial obfuscation is not new to the buildings at the foot of Table Mountain. In the late 1970s the then Prime Minister John Vorster, managed to use the contemporary ruling party's absolute majority to get himself moved from the Prime Minister's office to the President's Office. At that stage the State President was immune from prosecution. This was fortuitous as questions regarding Mr Vorster's role in a scandal of world-wide proportions were getting too close for comfort. That episode involved bribes for favourable reporting about his government which saw millions of Rands sink away into secret accounts without regard to the Public Finance Act.
It is as if the script has been dusted-off and only names, places and front-companies have been changed.
So it is understandable that, for the very first time since the current ruling party eviscerated the role of parliament as an effective oversight institution during the furor about the arms deal bribes in the late 1990s, the fact that they are being forced to account for their actions in a public and visible manner is uncomfortable.
The sad fact, however, is that they are simply abusing their absolute majority in the same manner as did the Nationalist Party before them. That the EFF alone seems to have the gumption to directly ask the hard questions - albeit in a manner that may need some moderation and less theatrics - is perhaps the sole thing to its credit. It is perhaps a wake-up call to the rest of the assembly members who seem to tip-toe around the issues in a somewhat outdated, colonial manner.
Having witnessed the state machinery deployed against similar opposition a few decades ago, however, I fear their campaign will be short-lived. They have already been accused of trying to spread anarchy which is rich coming from the same party that advocated it in the townships of the 70s and 80s.
Perhaps the EFF will find that the remnants of the veil of democracy the ANC and President Zuma hide behind - which the EFF are so effectively shredding into thin strips - will be rapidly used to hog-tie them by the bullies in charge of the school. It is in the same script that led to the states of emergency imposed by PW Botha and a tool at hand when it is apparent that there is no more credibility to guard.
Then, as the parliamentary leader of the Democratic Alliance said, everyone will lose as the chance to have the President - or any other organ of state - explain to South Africans what is really going on, will not come to pass.
Mr Mantashe's reference to a dictatorship, appears to be apposite as the ANCs effective, total control of the country appears to the rank and file citizenry to be geared only to the benefit of the connected few. These connected people will, it seems from the citizen's view I have, not tolerate or permit, any questioning of their actions.
Thank you for telling us the obvious Mr Mantashe.
Yes it was a sad day - not so much only for what the EFF did - but for the way in which your party fumbled the ball.
How about you get your main chap to just tell us all - in simple unambiguous language - the answers to the many questions whirling about his head? You may all find the fresh wind of transparency blows away the need for all the many facades that need constant propping up.
Oh, sorry, I forgot - the new constitution does not make the current sitting President immune from prosecution. Mmmm...that presents a huge problem...
Ouch - perhaps he does have the splitting headaches reported here.
Ag shame hey?*
*(A South African saying that is intended to convey concern through the words but is more often than not a toss-away phrase that merely conveys total disinterest in the recipient's plight - a similar phrase to "Bless you" and uttered automatically by most who say the words.)
During the merry month of April this year Jani Allan - the erudite, incisive (yet -sadly - exiled South African journalist now serving tables in New Jersey) invoked the ire of South African supporters of a very famous murder accused. She accomplished this through the simple act of posting an open letter to the accused on her personal website blog.
The reaction to her posting and the incident that prompted the letter - the murder of a woman by her partner - got me thinking. I posted the following item on Jani's blog and it has been referenced many times by readers. Here it is in full for ready reference:
SAMS (South African Males) and the domineering approach
Dear Jani and fellow bloggers,
I shall state at the outset that I am not popular at barbecues (Or as we call them out here “braais”) due to the very views which follow.
Age brings the wisdom of what is important and fickle opinions grounded on insecurities matter little if you have self-worth inside. After decades of being around some of it is creeping back so – here goes…
I have pondered long and hard on the malaise of domination and abusive tendencies afflicting a large number of my fellow SAMS and I have, I feel, an insight which I shall toss into the ring (My Journalist’s hat, being one of only a few fond pieces of Bric-A-Brac I have from years ago, shall remain on the bookshelf…)
Lest I be flamed, let me state that my observation is not meant as a blanket condemnation of all SAMS. There are those of us who were blessed to be raised by thinking women. Both my mothers (My birth one and our housekeeper) attempted to get some basic ideas into my skull from an early age. I am blessed in this fact. I have tried at all times to be worthy of their time and effort and apply their teachings. Where I have fallen short, the fault is mine alone.
Other SAMS have, perhaps, not been so lucky.
Part of my journey to date has involved reading education and the study of the development of thought patterns. During this I learnt that views on relationships and our inter-personal skills are largely shaped in the first 7 years we spend on this planet.
When one considers the aspect, the role model most SAMS have had in regard to women in their early lives have all been submissive and subservient. This could, perhaps, be at the core of the problem?
If we think back to the 50′s, 60′s, 70′s, 80′s and even later (but the named periods are, I feel, the key) most middle class households with a nuclear family also had a housekeeper to help ‘madam’.
Now, where typical childhood misdeeds needed forceful consequences, mothers would often yell at our little SAM “Just you wait until your father gets home!”. Lesson: The dominant adult male is to be feared and a wife needs him to take charge and “handle” things because she obviously cannot.
If the housekeeper accidentally burnt something with the iron or did not quite meet whatever standard of mythical excellence she was supposed to attain, she was told the matter would be discussed with “The baas” (Boss). Lesson: The dominant adult male is to be feared and holds sway over ALL females in the household at all times. His word and judgment is law.
Given this effective daily display of subjugation, is it any wonder then that most SAMS grew up with a deeply ingrained concept of entitlement when dealing with women?
After all, if the housekeeper (herself usually a mother and the head of her own home) and mother never said “Boo” to the ‘Boss man’, it would be strange and shocking if our little SAM – upon attaining “maturity” encountered his girfriend/fiance/wife suddenly voicing an opinion contrary to his own. Worse still, imagine if she decided to do what SHE wanted?
Circuits trip, blue screens of death appear on the internal brain display – “How dare she question me?” lines of code insert into the application without warning and toilet doors become swiss-cheese or he makes bedroom flambe.
The ticking time-bomb was not, in my view, assisted by the fact that most SAMS in the 70′s and 80′s had to undergo primal male bonding training with weapons – it was actually called national service or joining the “liberation forces’ but I am sure you understand my label for it?
From my own experience, conversation after hours or when on patrol during rest stops typically revolved around your stukkie’ (A rather degrading colloquialism for girlfriend meaning little piece) back home and if she was going to hold out on you during your next pass or not.
None of the conversations I recall ever involved the feelings of the ladies at home – their role was quite firmly to be of service and to be ready to go and do whatever one wanted when you got back. When I dared interject and ask what the ladies views may have been I was immediately judged to be of an alternate persuasion. Either you “hannled jaw wimmen” or you were a moffie. QED.
During this period female leaders – be it as heads of schools, politicians or corporate governors were few and far between. I remember our primary school appointing a head-mistress way back and she was the only one among 120 schools in the city so perhaps a nod to her is needed by me too? I therefore raise a glass to Mrs Rita Thompson who used assemblies to effect to emphasise respect of different viewpoints, opinions and the importance of considering the feelings of others. She always led with a calm, caring authority. Now that I think of it, I cannot remember her having raised her voice like many other Headmasters and male teachers I encountered. I digress, however…
Add to this early childhood SAM training I have discussed the patriarchal traditions of the continent and the fact that one generation normally passes its habits on to the next wherever there is little or no thought for the consequences and you have, I believe, a hint of the problem and its origins.
The only solution I can offer is that each man raising a male child ingrain in the child the dictum given me by my mother “Any woman shall be treated as a lady at all times. If not, watch out because I will be on your case!”
Perhaps it should be up-dated to state that a “Human shall be treated as such at all times. If not, watch out because I will be on your case!”
We need to send the message that inherent or manipulative domination of one gender or person by any other is incorrect. Lest you think this is one sided, there are many women I have encountered who lever the privileges afforded them by society to abuse influence and many that emotionally abuse their husbands with impunity as the family violence act law in South Africa is skewed against SAMS. It is practically impossible for a man to obtain an interdict against a woman in most magistrate’s courts (a fact I am aware of as I am currently researching the FV law and how it is being abused by the legal profession in divorce matters to illegally evict men from their homes and businesses). This is, of course, the problem going the other way but – perhaps – the expected swing of the pendulum until stasis is reached?
Nevertheless, abuse of any human by another is the issue – whatever the supposed foundation or justification.
Given that this is a generational issue – if my observation holds any water – we need to ensure that the current crop of under 7′s is fed the right patterns otherwise this problem is not going away soon.
I would have ended by saying this is just my 2c worth but they have withdrawn those coins from circulation.
At least some things change?
07 December 2013
Contemplations on the death of Nelson Mandela
Journalism is, I was taught, a pursuit where facts are reported from a neutral standpoint, in a balanced manner, presenting as many facets of the subject at hand as may be evident from the record.
The past two days have, however, seen the words of Ché, a character in the musical Evita, ringing in my mind as I watched the inevitable scramble by the world's media to flood their viewers, readers and listeners with non-stop coverage of the passing of South Africa's former president, Nelson Mandela, who served in office from 1994 to 1998.
Nelson Mandela, we are told, mercifully passed from this earth on Thursday 5 December 2013 after a long period of illness.
The unseemly scramble by many two-bit political leaders or hopefuls in any country you care to mention to try and claim some reflected glory through alleged meetings with him, or through having spent ten damp minutes joining some or other protest aimed at liberating him from jail in the 1970s or 1980s in numerous obscure town squares, has been as nauseating to witness as the rituals highlighted in the song Oh What a Circus..
As many will discover in due course, being swept-up in orchestrated emotion can often shut down one's faculties of reason and objectivity. Following more than 3 decades in journalism and 5 on the planet, I have been able to keep my irony detectors in fine fettle. They have been ringing like mad in the past few days.
I have no doubt my musings will be deemed - in the hysteria of the moment - as being somehow flawed. Hopefully time and perspective will permit them to stand as they are intended.
"Oh what a circus, oh what a show," begins the song in Evita, with Ché standing aloof from the crowd of mourners. With suitable substitutions, the rest of the lyric is most apposite to the current situation.
Now before you choke on your morning beverage and accuse me of all sorts of nasty leanings, take a look at the rest of the song and contrast it to events both past and present.
"Argentina has gone to town, over the death of an actress called Eva Peron." If we substitute World for Argentina and lawyer for actress, ending with South Africa's former president in the place of Evita, the simile is starkly accurate.
"We've all gone crazy, mourning all day and mourning all night, falling over ourselves to get all of the misery rite.
It's quite a sunset and good for the country in a round-about way, we've made the front pages of all the world's papers today."
And that, of course, is how the reality of life in the country Mandela led with such promise has been pushed off the agenda. It was a reality he wished, taken on his own utterances, to radically alter.
The excess of the ritual and reverence that has been ordered by his successors will, if his much publicised humanity is to be believed, no doubt be galling for him if there is any cognisance of events on earth in whatever afterlife there might be for him and other humans.
He would, I am certain, far rather the funds be used to the betterment of the country. Sadly, that is not the way of the party he led.
The current incumbent of the Presidential office must be rubbing his hands in glee as the scrutiny of the country's citizens and the world of his profligate ways has also been (conveniently?) erased from the media. He has recently been taking immense heat for (only allegedly-so far) using millions of the citizen's Rands to enrich himself through the construction of an extravagant domestic homestead.
The Public Protector's report into this particular example of excess is due any moment but that has all been forgotten in a carefully orchestrated feeding of emotion around the long expected and inevitable passing of a sickly old man.
It is hard not to view the extended period of pantomime ordered by the authorities without skepticism. They are going to parade his remains through the streets of the capital no less than three times. He will lie in state for 3 days. There will be memorial services in all provinces with free buses to transport people to-and-fro.
Then there will be the actual burial in a week's time. All the while, the government can be assured of wall-to-wall coverage of each day's proceedings in the media and on news channels. How convenient. How wonderful it must be for those men and women, as well as all those who want to "share in the great experience" to be able to do this.
How cynical of the country's leaders to milk this for all it is worth.
The reality is that few of the rank and file of the country will be able to attend, nor will they actually be able to give more than a passing thought to someone they have never met. For the average citizen in Molweni, Winterveld, Crossroads or Orange Farm, life will carry on - Without water, without electricity, without the education they should have been given, without essential medicines at their nearest clinic, most likely without proper food for the family on any of the days ahead and certainly without hope of ever getting the better life for all promised by Mandela and his henchmen.
And henchmen there were and still are. It was they who organised protests, organised sanctions that ensured the poorest of the poor went without and it was they who planted bombs that killed and maimed civilians in the name of freedom.
As leader of the organisation, however, it is clear that Nelson Mandela had full knowledge and approved of the acts of violence perpetrated by his organisation.
It was, after all, this very fact - that he and the National Executive Committee of his party had ordered and begun an armed struggle to achieve power - that led to his trial and imprisonment.
Many of the leaders of government from around the world rightly condemned these tactics at the time. It is ironic that now the leaders of those countries are virtually canonising Mandela and scrambling to be seen at his memorial service.
In contrast, of course, the carefully massaged and widely publicised demeanour of apparent humility and dove-like peacefulness exhibited in public by Mandela after his release from prison, if true, is remarkable.
He also, let there be no mistake, possessed an amazing ability to put people at ease with what is known as the common touch. I know first hand how he charmed crowds and how he would engage with people. He knew as well as the former Princess of Wales how to work the media for a magic moment of airtime to enhance the image.
Let us not, however, be blind to the fact that he was first and foremost a politician that used his legal training to manouvere and cajole to his particular advantage - as do all political figures the world over. That is, after all, a common trait of all political leaders. And we must remember that they are all human and so was he.
"But who is this Saint Evita? Why all this howling, hysterical sorrow? What kind of goddess, has lived among us? How will we ever get by without her?"
If any human leader is to be lauded as a true humanitarian that has no blood on his hands, the closest I can think of is Mahatma Ghandi. Witnessing the world's current frenzy to celebrate Mandela, are we to conclude that he was somehow better, more saintly and worthy of praise than that remarkable man who led India to independence?
Can we really equate the respect being given at the moment to Nelson Mandela to the level of respect due to a man that starved himself almost to the point of death because he did not want his followers to use violence to achieve political ends? If all the current outpouring of praise, grief and sorrow is to be believed, Ghandi is less of a world icon than the recently deceased man that became famous through being imprisoned for propagating the violent overthrow of the state on the flimsy pretext that the violence was justified.
Now, if this is, indeed the case, then one would expect this great saint, this alleged humanitarian who - taken on the emotion of the moment around the world - is one to eclipse all humanitarians, to have unequivocally distanced himself from these acts of violence at some stage.
He was offered release from prison in 1985 provided that he revoked violence as a means to achieve political ends but he refused to do this - and thus to free himself. He knew, as did his movement, that there was more immediate value to be gained by the party in the threat of ongoing violence and outside political pressure for his freedom than there was in ending the armed insurrection and going about normal political activity in a peaceful manner.
In the period from 1986 to his release from prison by President F W De Klerk (his fellow Nobel laureate), it is alleged that more than 15 000 South Africans died in politically motivated violence in the country. One is left to wonder how many of these deaths would have been avoided had this person who is being lauded as "the greatest statesman in the world" not focused narrowly on the political mileage he and his party could obtain from his continued incarceration.
Perhaps, in the pressure of the times he felt he made the right call? If so, then surely a true humanitarian would have shown remorse for the - we must believe - un-intended consequences of his espousal of a violent campaign and his refusal to end it in good time?
To justify this super-humanitarian tag one would at least expect that he had a change of heart or an epiphany at some later stage that made him realise that violence was not a legitimate means to achieve any end. After all, he was a co-winner of the Nobel Peace prize and, if the many words spoken in the past days are to be believed, an icon of peace and non-violence.
An internet search to check on this most simple of saintly gestures returned the following results on two major search engines.
Nor has the ruling party of which Mandela was the leader, on the available record, had much respect for the large numbers of those who have met death due to its actions both before and during its rule either. They would prefer that we exercise selective amnesia and forget the denial of AIDS treatment to hundreds of thousands before they did a volte-farce. The comical attempts to deflect the spotlight from the events and orders that led to the Marikana slayings show little respect for the dignity of human life either.
No surprise, therefore, that it is apparently determined to get as much mileage as it can out of the cult his death.
It has good experience in this type of manipulation of emotion and obfuscation through the re-writing of history. In its prisoner and training camps, as well as the townships of the country it ordered, or was - at the very least - tacitly complicit in the execution of those it felt were informers or "legitimate targets" - often through the act of necklacing (Filing a car tyre with petrol, placing around the victim's neck and lighting it) and by blowing civilians to smithereens.
Ah! How remiss of me, there was that half-hearted attempt at remorse to the TRC where the party collectively stated that the timing of the explosions of the bombs it set off in public was a little bit incorrect because those operatives who carried the attacks out did not fully understand their orders.
Ironically they now wish to appoint one of these operatives who can apparently not follow orders correctly as the head of the internal affairs directorate of the South African Police!
And so, is this recently deceased human, the leader of that same political grouping, due all the religious fervour and effective canonisation he is being given in blind obedience to the urging of the state?
You need to decide this after educating yourself on all the facts pertaining to his life and existence - and not just by meekly swallowing the romanticised versions dished up by sweetened and sanitised offerings such as Anant Singh's biographical film that is currently (and no doubt very profitably so after all this) showing around the world.
I am not denying that there was greatness in Nelson Mandela. However, we must remember that he was simply a human being. He had flaws and imperfections as we all do. If we laud any single human as perfect, then we fail to recognise our true nature as nobody can claim that mantle. Conversely, if we will accept any single human as perfect, then all must be accorded the same reverence. You cannot have the luxury of selectivity.
He, especially, realised this truth. Nelson Mandela himself is on record as stating that he was not a saint and that he simply tried to carry on trying to improve his conduct on a daily basis. No doubt he managed this to a large degree. This is, sadly, more than can be said for those apparently carrying his legacy in the ruling party and around the world.
To them he was, and will be for as long as they can manage it, a convenient fig-leaf behind which their true self-indulgent machinations could and will continue to fester.
"As soon as the smoke from the funeral clears we're all going to see and how, they've done nothing for years!"
"You've let down your people Evita, you were supposed to have been immortal. That's all they wanted, not much to ask for but in the end you could not deliver."
Given the attempts by the security cluster in the current South African government to limit the public's right to use cell phones and cameras during the events surrounding Mandela's passing, there is an ominous portent of the increasing creep of a security state - or perhaps they merely want to monopolise the sale of memorabilia for a connected comrade? Whatever the reason the precedent being set is ominous.
Any document of humanity succeeds or falls by the number of facets it portrays or reflects. If we adjust the final verses of Oh What a Circus then perhaps there is at least cause for celebration in the hurrah surrounding the passing of Nelson Mandela. The hullabaloo provides a great window to contemplate the realities that it has temporarily moved from the limelight.
If we consider the wasted millions on arms deals, the rampant patronage and nepotism that has permeated the state since the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as South African president, then the mass hysteria is, in a round about way, serving a purpose.
To paraphrase Ché:"Graft has kept us all alive, since the year 1995. But the star has gone, the glamour's worn thin, that's a pretty bad state for a state to be in."
It is to be hoped that the country's former president will be permitted to rest in peace but, given the unseemly rush to ensure maximum mileage from his passing, and the undignified fight over who would control the tourist revenues to be had from the venue of his grave site, I do not hold out much hope.
However, such is the way of politics, greed and mass manipulation.
Behind it all, however, is a family that is grieving.
Not for them the dignity of dealing with this loss privately.
And now, the future needs to be tackled. Homes must be provided, empowering education delivered and a true, healthy democracy needs to be built.
Not the sham devoid of meaningful representation that has thus far been hidden behind the carefully crafted mask of the late president's inflated stature.
To succeed in that task will be the ultimate legacy by which to remember him and all those citizens - of all persuasions and races - who worked in unison to end the oppression of legislated racial segregation.
It is the very least that should be done in memory of those killed by all sides to achieve political ends - in any part of the world.
One can but hope.
Let us trust that any such hope is not in vain.
21 May 2013
Was there ever a more all-encompassing summary of malaise?
An article written by Anna Cox and published today by the Johannesburg daily newspaper The Star stands-out, in my view, as a telling commentary on more than its focal topic.
In a deluge of daily reports about various irritations in our country, some minor and others of more import, the sub-texts and threads that intertwine throughout the piece make for very sobering reading.
If ever there was a succinct, one-part eulogy for the lost dream of a functional and empowering post-Uhuru nation, this article is a damning Obituary.
I shall post the text thereof in full. While reading it, consider the multiple levels of administration and governance that are found to be wanting. In effect all strata needed in a functional democracy have been shown to be incapable of the most basic co-ordination, let alone effective governance.
Consider too the the ineptness revealed via the obviously poor project scoping of the software at the root of the systems discussed. Mourn the fact that payment has already been made (in the many millions of Rands) for the software and systems to the entity that was awarded the contract.
Ask yourself how, in any shape manner or form, the non-reconciliation and transfer of funds due - in the millions of Rands - cannot have been picked-up by the authorities involved for more than 5 years? The contemplation of the current whereabouts of the funds involved is not suggested. It will more than likely turn you into a gibbering wreck.
What of the fact that many thousands of citizens are wasting otherwise productive time trying to extricate themselves from the web that has been spun by this nightmare dereliction of duty by so many people, from cabinet level down to the Metro Police-person on the beat?
Imagine the effect of this same Kafkaesque model of mal-administration spreading its tentacles throughout the healthcare, defence, housing, education and other sectors of the country.
When the various images are placed together, you no longer need to imagine. You get the world view of South Africa.
And no amount of spin-doctoring, opinion purchasing or apartheid blaming can change this view. Hence the nose-dive of the local currency in the past few days.
Fine news for Joburg drivers
May 21 2013 at 07:48am
By ANNA COX
Johannesburg - Joburg motorists won’t be prosecuted for any offence since December 22, and every fine issued since then can be torn up and thrown into the waste-paper bin.
The Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) told The Star that it had suspended the posting of all courtesy letters asking for payment.
In terms of legislation, the RTIA has to send these letters, by registered mail, as reminders that the fine has not been paid and informing motorists that they have lost their 50 percent discount, and have another 32 days to pay.
If the fine is still not paid, the RTIA should send out a notice of enforcement order – also by registered mail – informing the motorist that this failure to pay will be registered on the eNatis system against the driver’s identity number, and he or she will not be able to do any transactions with any vehicle until the infringement notice is paid.
This should also be the start of the process of issuing a warrant of execution against the motorist’s movable property to recover the money once the National Contravention Register has been fully developed.
But the RTIA has not sent one courtesy letter since January, meaning that no further action can be taken against the motorist.
And now that the agency has admitted it is not sending these courtesy letters, it means that not only are some 4 500 traffic officers wasting their time every day speed-checking and stopping motorists for other offences, but the City of Joburg is wasting R7.5 million a month in sending fines by registered mail which are seldom collected.
The JMPD, for 18 months before December 22, was sending fines by ordinary mail. Then, after complaints from the Road Traffic Management Corporation and motorists saying this was illegal, it was forced to start sending fines by registered mail at a cost of R20 each, as a direct result of the intervention of the transport minister.
Some 450 000 fines are sent by registered mail monthly, at a cost of R7.5m. But since January only 10 percent of motorists have paid fines. So since December 22, when the JMPD resumed registered mail, about 1.48 million fines have been sent fruitlessly, costing about R30m.
The RTIA would have to spend the same amount to send the courtesy letters, and again to send the enforcement order letters.
The RTIA said it had experienced challenges at great expense, as courtesy letters must be sent to infringers by registered post.
Some of the challenges include the recent strikes at the South African Post Office.
"In the event that courtesy letters are sent and not collected due to strike action at the Post Office, an enforcement order is authorised, resulting in all eNatis transactions being blocked – such as the renewal of driving licence cards, motor vehicle licence discs and professional driving permits – causing the infringer unnecessary economic harm – especially fleet owner vehicles – and inconvenience.
"These challenges have resulted in the Road Traffic Infringement Agency taking a decision to suspend the issuing of courtesy letters to an infringer until such time that the SA Post Office has given confirmation of an improved delivery of courtesy letters and service levels," said RTIA spokesman Mthunzi Mbungwana.
A further shock is that eNatis is unable to issue warrants of arrest if motorists fail to appear in court, as the software is not yet functional.
It does not have the software development to upload the outcome of the case onto the National Contravention Register.
Another problem that shows how the Aarto (Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences) system is imploding: in cases where motorists have to appear in court for major offences, such as speed in excess of 40km/h of the speed limit, eNatis can issue only the initials, not the full names, of offenders.
The courts will not accept this as they demand full names, and are thus striking hundreds of cases off the eNatis court roll daily.
This applies to the Tshwane metro police department as well as the Gauteng Provincial Police Department, where the Aarto system is being implemented.
JMPD acting chief of police Gerrie Gerneke said they were negotiating a solution with the RTIA.
* There are no service-level agreements between the various municipalities, the RTIA and the SA Post Office, and since 2008 there has been no distribution, reconciliation or transfer of fine income.
* All money paid by motorists in fines to the Post Office, and to other cities’ metro police or licensing departments, where there is an eNatis payment terminal, is lying in that local municipality’s coffers. It is believed that there is R10m of traffic fine income belonging to the cities of Joburg and Tshwane in these sundry accounts.
* Money paid at the Post Office goes to the RTIA, with Joburg and Tshwane not having seen reconciliation of any of this money in more than five years.
* Similarly, the money collected by Joburg and Tshwane is not paid over to those it is due because there is no accounting or reconciliation system in place between the traffic and issuing authorities.
17 April 2013
The Pilgrim's progress
Among the hymns chosen by Baroness Thatcher for her funeral in London today was "To Be A Pilgrim."
The most outstanding aspect of the entire funeral, aside from the silencing of Big Ben, was the relative lack of any large protest or disruption by the alleged millions of people who celebrate her death.
Rumours of organised disruptions, frenzied postings on Facebook attempting to arrange noisy protests and tons of self-important posturing by various politicians had led news agencies to report on possible trouble during the ceremony.
Instead of idiotic grandstanding and footage of Yobbos spoiling the reverence of the occasion, we saw the crowds lining the streets respectfully applauding as Baroness Thatcher's coffin passed.
The noble yet humbling prose of the funeral service from the Book of Common Prayer, the same service accorded to all buried from an Anglican Church, both elevated the occasion and sounded a reminder to all of us of our own mortality - a point driven home in the address of the Bishop of London.
Perhaps then the day stands as a monument - if one was needed - to the fact that Margaret Thatcher helped to craft a country where the individual was responsible for more than just their own destiny and circumstance. Where people with self-worth realise that collectively, the way forward is not the anarchy of the masses, but the steady growth of the individual's contribution to an improved society.
Perhaps those with short memories, who are easily misled or who have revisionist tendencies - the type of people who dress their babies in T-Shirts celebrating her death and who themselves were not even alive during her years in office - who wished to disrupt her funeral realised that the combined self-worth of all those who wished to pay their respects in a dignified manner might have combined to rebound on any protester or group that sought to sully the proceedings.
In my view anyone who did try their luck at idiotic behaviour would probably have been - to use a good South African phrase - Bliksemmed* by the majority of people who wanted a dignified day before the protesters could get anywhere near to causing a scene.
At least such a realisation is, in a small evolutionary manner, further progress of a kind.
Now that this is behind us can the planet get on with stuff that really matters - like work?
Without enough solid contributions from the folk empowered between 1979 and 1991, the dole for those who want to return to the era of the unionist power moguls would soon run out.
Then nobody would progress.
*Bliksem - Afrikaans slang word describing the act of beating someone soundly.
16 April 2013
Hollow echoes of Boston ring through Parliament
Almost as if on cue, the Boston bombing of 15 April 2013 provided an opportunity for the ruling party of South Africa to illustrate how the revising of history - mentioned in my post about the effect it is having on the legacy of Baroness Thatcher - takes place through a calculated process of disinformation and half-truth and, in this instance, selective memory.
A statement made by the party read - partly - as follows: "The ANC condemns...the dastardly act of terrorism that happened in Boston. There can be no justification for such a despicable attack...and it deserves to be condemned by the world community."
The selectivity comes from the deliberate amnesia displayed by the party about its own acts of terror and its documented reaction to world condemnation of same when perpetrated.
A particular instance I remember involved a rush hour bomb in Church Street in Pretoria that killed and maimed more than the Boston attack did. The dead and injured in South Africa's capital due to the ANC's military wing bomb horror included people from all demographics of the country. What justification was there for such a despicable act?
Certainly there was less justification for that dastardly act than there was for Baroness Thatcher's labeling of the act as cowardly and an act of terror.
Perhaps the revisionists would like us to forget the body parts littering the street I saw through my camera viewfinder that afternoon (and all of them bled red irrespective of who they had been blown off) on the basis that the bomb was placed outside the Air Force Headquarters and thus it was - to use the terrorists favourite euphemism - a legitimate target?
Well then, what legitimacy was there in the Sanlam Center bombing in Amanzimtoti? Yet again people from all demographics were affected by the placing of a device inside a shopping center. Perhaps the re-naming of the road running past the center to commemorate the terrorist that placed the bomb has - together with the elevation of him to the status of a national hero - erased the nature of that attack and, therefore, it no longer counts as "dastardly" and "despicable"?
What of the placing of a bomb in a busy nightspot in Durban? Was the later reverence given to the terrorist involved through the elevation of him to a high position within the Party itself and its lackey populated Ekurhuleni Metro - rather than a condemnation of his acts - justified?
The flaccid excuse given for the attack to the TRC was that off-duty policemen used Magoo's Bar. Noted. So did shop assistants, char-ladies, doctors, nurses, aid workers and a host of other people one would expect to find in any popular city nightspot.
In fact, the Boston attacks also affected policemen - why then - using the ANC's logic, is it not a justified attack?
Now, before any reader feels this is equally revisionist let us not forget the parcel bomb that killed Ruth First in Maputo. The terrorists that planned and executed that operation are equally despicable. So too the men and women who planned and executed the bomb attacks that maimed or killed many other people including an Anglican priest in exile.
The Nationalist security forces involved tried to justify their actions by stating that the attacks were targeted and did not affect people who were not involved in terror operations. Tell that to the women and children killed on the Masekeni plots or in Maseru and Mbabane.
The short point is that the condemnation of the ANC, and other world voices, of indiscriminate and cowardly terror attacks is correct and fully justified. Nobody - not even the yet to be canonised saint Mandela - can possibly try and justify the use, the planning or the condoning of violence to achieve any aim.
It is such a pity therefore that the entirely correct sentiment expressed today is drowned out by the hollow laughter of hypocrisy that must be ringing around the heads of those who remember the armed struggle and the victims - on all sides - of that stupid and senseless era of "Liberation (almost at any cost or through any means) before education" and "Death before integration".
Furthermore, it would be interesting to know why the ANC chose to comment so loudly on the Boston bombing. Surely there would be fewer landmines (of a verbal sense) in expressing solidarity with the citizens of Iran who lost more than 30 people in a huge earthquake? Mmmm...probably not as much mileage to be leveraged from the world media.
In a way though, with the wheel of terrorist activists becoming terrorist accusers having come full circle, Baroness Thatcher - the evil witch that labeled the yet to be canonised saint Nelson Mandela a terrorist for his instigation and support of bombings and other acts of violence to achieve political change - may well be able to rest in peace given that the very people who bleated the loudest at her epithet, have now themselves, labeled others as such.
Hark! The echoes of double standards are bouncing loudly off the liberated halls of the Union Buildings...
09 April 2013
The lesson from the passing of Baroness Thatcher
"She not only led our country, she saved it!"
With those succinct and apt words, spoken in tribute to the late Baroness Thatcher, the current British Prime Minister, David Cameron, probably lost his party a few hundred thousand votes.
I were in his inner circle, I would not lose sleep about those votes. For as we saw in the visuals of people not yet old enough to have been alive during the Premiership of Mrs Thatcher between 1979 and 1991 holding street parties to "celebrate" her death - such easily mis-informed people are not the grist one can use to take a country forwards.
Indeed, the voices of hatred and disrespect that are struggling to make themselves heard among an almost universal chorus of tribute to her determination, leadership and willingness to tackle problems - rather than the usual politician's tendency to wimp-out and appease when direct action was needed - sound a timely warning.
The warning is not due to the possible rise of the lazy-thuggish-Socialist-Unionist masses to power again. Thankfully the world has moved beyond that due to the changes made to it as a result of Margaret Thatcher's period in office.
No, the warning is that where the power of radical, often violent political forces has been dissipated due to the march of moderation and reason, the movements concerned seek to distort history to try and regain column inches or to shape the historical awareness of the next generation.
They find some historical enemy to vilify and blame for their current status no matter if the true facts show us that the figure involved made huge and courageous changes for the greater good.
Our country is seeing such a move, In this case a section of leadership it is lapping up the opportunity of vilifying Thatcher for "propping up" the "evil apartheid regime" due to her opposition to sanctions.
How strange that such a sentiment is expressed in the same week when the minister for planning in the Presidency has been quoted as saying that Apartheid can no longer be used as an excuse for corruption, sloth, inefficiency and lack of meaningful progress and delivery of improvements to the lives of the average citizen of South Africa.
The rabble will, however, not hear that. Nor will they let us forget that Thatcher called out those who planted bombs in cities and wielded AK47 rifles in townships for what she believed they were - often not flinching from using the word "terrorist" where apt - or the fact that she was firmly convinced that succeeding generations should not simply think it good to sit on their bums at home and expect the state to provide for them just because they happened to be alive.
This is the real issue behind the labour movement's dislike and populist vilification of Baroness Thatcher. When she came to power they were at their strongest influence over England and in many other countries around the world. In England they had stymied attempts at modernisation of her industries, they refused to permit individuals to have a voice without fearing a boot to the head as a consequence (remember Scargill's rant against "secret strike ballots" that Mrs. Thatcher instituted as one of her labour reforms?) and now they are still kicking and twitching about how awful she was as a Prime Minister.
Sour grapes and an attempt at regaining long lost ideological ground. Nothing less but yet something more sinister.
Through ongoing disinformation campaigns the radicals manage to pervert history in the eyes of those they snare in their web. In some cases they even manage to re-write history in schools to write out the valid contributions of major role players whom they still view as the "enemy" despite logic and rational historical views to the contrary.
The remnants of the radical socialist unionist movement of the times in which Mrs. Thatcher led England live on in outposts such as South Africa and their attempt at distorting history is doing almost as well as that of their comrades in the radical Union movements in the UK.
In all the tributes to the "new South Africa" and the patriots that made it possible, little is heard of those who played major roles in the transition - it was certainly not a military victory (thank goodness - the destruction of a fight to the end would have been devastating) but it was a gradual process brought about in large part by the constructive engagement and pragmatism of Baroness Thatcher.
She sent the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group to South Africa and it was this that broke the proverbial "National Party Ice" to a large degree. That and the resolve of an equally courageous politician who she hosted at Downing Street even before he became President of South Africa. The politician was F W De Klerk.
Interestingly enough Mrs. Thatcher also hosted Michael Gorbachev at Downing Street prior to his elevation as leader of his country. Look at the changes he brought about.
So if we look at the real history, and not the distorted political rantings of those who (in many cases) were not even around at the time, we see a unique confluence of paths in four strategic parts of the planet where leaders of courage, vision and sufficient charisma were in place at a similar time and which largely shaped our current Geo-Political landscape.
These were Mrs. Thatcher in England, President Reagan of the USA, Michael Gorbachev in the USSR and Frederick De Klerk in South Africa.
The lesson we can learn from the passing of Mrs. Thatcher is that she now marks the loss of 50% of the vision, guts and work ethic that so changed the world through the resolution of seemingly intractable problems.
Gorbachev and De Klerk remain around - should we not be tapping their experience and insight in resolving other problems?
Sorry...the indignant yelling of the radical reformist historians is drowning you out...
Oh well, perhaps its best we leave them to enjoy a peaceful retirement.
Perhaps that will save them from the nutters in the same way that Mrs. Thatcher saved England from becoming the laughing stock of the western world.
It will not, however, save the dancing and toy-toying dupes from themselves.
12 March 2013
SAA misses the obvious then tries to monopolpolize common words
At the outset, I must state that I feel Comair's proposed new livery for its Kulula subsidiary would be an exciting breath of fresh air for lensmen and plane spotters.
Using the now famous national flag on the tail is an obvious - and valid - option for an airline owned and operated by a company in the largest Republic south of the Limpopo river. And seeing as the national carrier missed the obvious with its livery (as it does not actually use the national flag but a stylized graphic of it) all strength to Kulula for planning to do so.
There is also (at the moment) no legislation that precludes such use of national symbols by businesses although I suspect that option will shortly be removed by a frenzy of regulation making in Cape Town. I expect something along the lines of "The Bill to stop successful independent businesses from tarnishing the national image through being more efficient than state enterprises while clearly marking themselves as a country south of the Limpopo's corporate citizen by means of the use of any national colours..."
However, the use of the the three words commonly used to brand the national carrier in combination with "The most..." was, at best, cheeky and at worst, deliberately provocative. It is, though, a clever bit of boundary pushing and great marketing. The viral nature of the internet comments are possibly exactly what was envisaged.
The national carrier's ill-considered reaction, however, was a classic example of overkill and ill-advised puffery.
They have, in effect, placed everyone on notice that, to use the most logical descriptors to describe any citizen or air carrier based in the large Republic south of the Limpopo, will have legal repercussions - hence the restraint and careful wording in this blog post.
Quite frankly, the response of the national carrier is farcical.
As a citizen of the Republic south of the Limpopo, I used to call myself (as my countrymen and women do) what anyone in the English speaking world would term a citizen of the largest Republic south of the Limpopo.
Many Airlines have styled themselves as an airways system - Trek Airways is but one. In addition, routes in the sky used by aircraft are called airways. I would think any company offering travel using these routes could be termed an airways operator.
No. Not anymore according to the corporate spokesman of the entity yapping away since the Kulula billboards went up.
It appears that if you wish to avoid the wrath of the national carrier's corporate legal attack dogs, you may not use the words South African (Possibly according to them, the legal property - allegedly - of SAA) or airways (Possibly, - allegedly - the legal property of SAA) unless you are the national carrier.
So, perhaps the best thing for Kulula to do then is to term themselves the "The most patriotic and representative airline company in the largest Republic south of the Limpopo utilising the air routes set aside for such operations."
The problem is that even an Airbus A380 whalejet will not have enough space for that.
However, that will assist in what seems to me to be an (as yet) un-legislated national drive towards making everything as complicated as possible while claiming to be working on greater efficiencies.
It would be so good to see the folk at the national carrier spending half as much energy on actually running the carrier on a business basis and cutting the massive losses the taxpayers in the largest Republic South of the Limpopo have had to subsidize for the past 17 years.
The reality, however, is that it seems that the national carrier is too busy chasing its own tail in trying to talk-away the fact that its interim CEO has almost but not really, perhaps possibly, probably but not quite exactly as yet just about failed to formally obtain the qualifications their annual report stated (for two successive years) he had definitely obtained.
While the fact that he does not actually, definitely, completely and finally have these qualifications does not, possibly, affect his ability to run the national carrier, it is yet another indication that things are in a merry mess at the Building that headquarters the national carrier-Park.
Add this to the huge holes in the balance sheet and the loss of technical abilities as previously discussed and the fiddling with words is an exercise that will, I feel, be about as useful as the proverbial re-arrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic.
And then there is the small hint in the official Kulula release photo and adverts featuring the new livery that it may be "...going soon."
Perhaps they are just pulling as many "tail" feathers as they can?
But it's fun to watch the feathers fly in the largest Republic south of the Limpopo.
06 January 2013
SAA's ground loop comes full circle
South African Airways is an airline with which I became intimately acquainted during the late 80's and early 1990s.
I visited the head office virtually every day for a period of more than a year while researching my book A Firm Resolve.
Aside from my daily dealings with the behind-the-scenes flight operations staff, the subject matter of my book brought me into close contact with - and revealed the daily operations of - the technical and safety divisions of the national carrier.
The spotless nature of the workshops, the painstaking attention to detail and the documentation of every nut, bolt and wire as well as the obvious pride visible in each individual staff member's contribution to the smooth and efficient operation of the whole was infectious.
I came away impressed and proud of our national carrier - not so much due to the interaction with each staff member during my time spent in my research, but by the comments and anecdotes from members of international operators that flew into Johannesburg who made use of the extensive facilities available at SAA Technical.
To a man the overseas visitors were lavish and forthright in their praise and admiration for the levels of skill, the resourcefulness and the dedication of the SAA staff with whom they dealt.
One telling comment was from a German support technician who said that his airline had as much machinery, tools and test equipment as did the SAA teams but that what his world famous employer needed was to transplant the technicians as their ability to trace problems and their pre-emptive instincts were, in his view, un-matched anywhere else and "...zat includes Seattle itself!"
I was to become aware of one such individual's resourcefulness when I learnt how a "techie" from the instrument shop had achieved the allegedly impossible (and pioneered an investigative procedure still used today in accident investigations) in order to determine the EPR (Engine Pressure Ratio) settings aboard the Pretoria, a Boeing 707 that crashed in Windhoek in the late 1960s.
Mr Warder (the man involved) was not fazed by "Pratt and Whitney says it can't be done..." and "Nobody's done this before." He simply made a plan and had a go. That he was willing to do so is one aspect of the story - that his superiors and employer as a whole created an enabling environment for him to even think of doing the impossible, is as telling of itself.
How sad then, to read today of the emergency bail-out given to the national carrier to avoid the embarrassment of it being grounded by the fuel suppliers, Airports and Navigation Authorities for unpaid bills over the holiday season.
As disturbing as those reports are, it is the tail-piece regarding the fact that the technical department is only - apparently - adept at packing engines and components for repair overseas that is the real shocker.
This speaks to the fact that the pool of technical talent, built at huge cost in money and experience that was renowned around the world, has been allowed to dissipate. While bills can be paid by throwing yet more tax-payer's money at the bottom-line, the recovery of the talent and experience that has been frittered-away and lost in pursuit of whatever agenda is currently the political flavour of the day is nothing short of criminal.
No matter how the politicians wish to spin this, the fact is that a functional, efficient and well-resourced airline has been gutted of the vital skills needed to operate efficiently and safely cannot be denied.
How the airline is supposed to repay the R550 million emergency loan (which is, interestingly enough, more than the combined debt of both Velvet Sky and 1Time!) in three months in the current whirlpool of management re-shuffling is a mystery, My guess is that in 90 days we will hear a deafening silence as the repayment deadline is quietly ignored and more treasury transfers take place.
It is obvious that the carrier is going to be kept going no matter what and that the huge cost will continue ad-infinitum.
A culture of customer service, efficiency and safety in any company is achieved through a process of osmosis. When the combined experience of well-salted technicians, pilots and customer facing staff has been allowed to dissipate, resign and move overseas or retire early as is the case with SAA, the effect of such losses on the company is hard to quantify and the effects will be felt for decades to come.
Well...perhaps the treasury will be able to give something back to the international aviation community because the cost to the fiscus of losing the soul of an airline can be well documented.
The last I added it up it is well over R20 billion in the past 18 years or so and it is rising by the day.
Let us hope and pray that the end result of the skills loss is not an SAA airliner coming down to earth with a bump and ending the lives of a few hundred of our countrymen and women.
04 January 2013
Jacques Kallis - Greatness blossoms before our eyes
It was written vividly for those who cared to see.
On a summer's day at Newlands in the mid 1990s a batsmen faced the best bowlers of the day with an amazing composure and single-minded purpose.
Ball released - path tracked - left alone. As the wicket-keeper gathered the ball and it made its way back to the bowler the batsman turned from the wicket and walked a few paces. It was obvious he was "re-setting" his concentration for the next ball.
The run-in, ball released - path tracked - 4 runs back past the bowler. No smugness from the batsman - just the same "re-setting" process.
The batsmen was a very young Jacques Kallis. Watching him many in the crowd around me fell silent and simply enjoyed his workmanlike approach. It was obvious a craftsman was at work. His maturity glowed from him.
From that day to today there was no obvious flamboyance. No hysterics. just a workmanlike dedication and quiet confidence.
I had seen the same focus and aura about a young racing driver at the 1984 South African Grand Prix. While other more famous names were swearing and shouting at their pit crews as their cars failed in the Highveld heat, this young driver got out of his steaming car, helped the team to park it and then he sat down on an engine box at the rear of the pit. Totally calm and focused, he asked the team manager how they were going to approach the next race.
Quiet reassurance and dedication. The stamp of greatness was there.
It came to fruition within 5 years as Ayrton Senna re-wrote the record books of Formula 1.
In his own way Jacques Kallis has re-written virtually every record there is. The difference is that he has not been accorded the full recognition he deserves for his greatness - yet.
While the Antipodeans will forever hail Donald Bradman as the greatest batsman ever due to his high average, his numbers simply pale when compared to Jacques Kallis.
While Jaques has been hailed as possibly the greatest all-rounder of the game - ever - there can be no doubt that an objective look at the statistics shows that he is not "possibly" the greatest all-rounder but simply, in my view, the best cricketer the planet has seen.
As a test batsman, however, there is no doubt that he will be the greatest of all time in the format. He has said he is still hoping for at least 3 more seasons at the top and so the run records in the 5 day game of Ricky Ponting and Rahul Dravid are only 4 to 6 innings away at J.H's test average.
He has played fewer games to reach his tally than have they but he has - significantly - a higher average than Ponting and Dravid and a larger total of "Not Out" innings played. Surely this is greatness hidden behind the Antipodean and Sub-Continental bluster and religious fervour for the game?
That leaves the little wizard from India, the great Sachin Tendulkar, as the only one ahead of him as the all-time highest test run scoring batsman. There is no reason to think that J.H. Kallis will not be able to surpass his total.
As if joining the 13 000 runs plus club was not already an achievement of greatness worthy of world recognition, as far as test wickets are concerned, the truly great bowlers are generally hailed as greats of the game if they get 300 wickets or more. J.H. is just a little shy of that mark as well and I think it is only a matter of time before he reaches the 300 wicket club.
The most amazing thing of all, however, is that while Tendulkar, Ponting and Dravid are hailed as national heroes, it is as though South Africa is indifferent to the greatness of the world's finest test batsman that travels on her passport.
Given that Jacques Kallis has achieved all he has in such a quiet and unassuming manner, against the wishes it would seem of the sporting ministry (remember the crass-stupidity of Nconde Balfour's "Who is this Jacques Kallis? We don't need Jacques Kallis!" comment?) his monumental impact on the game is all the more worthy of recognition by his fellow citizens.
In time J.H. Kallis will be the top-scoring test batsman of all time - it is a certainty similar to the fact that Senna was going to win the world Championship at some stage.
For those of us able to watch him in action, savour the sight of the world's best ever cricketer while you can.
And to the rest of the country, and particularly the ministry of sport - THIS is Jacques Kallis! The greatest ever!
It is fitting that he is already hailed around the world - from Mumbai to Trinidad - as King Kallis.
And they have seen a lot of batsmen...
Why are we blind?
05 November 2012
And then there were two - 1Time Airlines ceases operations in a "de-regulated and free" market.
On a summer's day in 2004 I recall being seated at an office desk in a building on the eastern side of Johannesburg International Airport.
The gentleman seated opposite me was holding up two pieces of upholstery = black leather and cloth - and inviting my viewpoint. "What would prefer on your aircraft seat if your were flying?" he asked.
Standing behind him was another person who had made this same decision many times.
In the end, black leather was the obvious choice for the seat covering on the new low cost airline which Glenn Orsmond and Rodney James were putting together. Not only had it been proven often that leather was longer lasting than cloth, but the luxury appeal of the aroma and feel was bound to impart a good feeling for the passengers and lend an up-market air of quality to the interior of the aircraft.
This was no "Oi, d'ya fink it would be a good wheeze to set up an airline then?" flash in the pan Boy's Own style of operation.
Rodney had many years of experience in airliner operations and as the CEO of Aero Nexus - a company that owned a few MD80 airliners and which performed leasing and service operations for a number of airlines outside South Africa - he knew what he was getting into.
Glenn had learnt about running a tight ship from what is arguably the most efficient airline the world has seen, Comair South Africa. As the arch number cruncher there for a number of years he had the benefit of absorbing the business acumen and the operational brilliance of the Comair leadership - particularly that of Mr Van Hoven - at first-hand.
The launch of Kulula a few years earlier by Comair had also, of course, provided a front-row seat from which to observe the intricacies of getting a start-up low cost carrier off the ground.
MD82 (ZS-TRD) Shoot for 1Time circa 2006 - Robben Island, Cape Town.
One definite bit of schooling Rodney had picked up as lessor of aircraft to the failed Sunair-2 airline that operated from Lanseria for a few months, was that there was no market in South Africa for a traditional legacy or up-market business class only competitor to the state-funded SAA or the independent BA/Comair and Nationwide airlines.
The launch and growth of 1Time is a part of history. The fact that the airline operated nearly a dozen airliners at one stage in addition to a holiday travel arm and employed more than 500 of the most customer-friendly staff in the local industry speaks volumes of the competence of the people at the sharp end of the operational part of the business.
At launch the use of the MD80 series of aircraft made sense. Leasing costs were far lower than any relatively modern Boeing 737 aircraft and the cost of fuel was sufficiently favourable a half decade ago to tilt the balance towards sustained profitability even when the higher maintenance costs of the older aircraft were factored-in.
As the fuel prices began rising in the period 2007-2010, however, the use of the MD aircraft was an operational aspect that was increasingly hard to justify. Worldwide these very airliners had been phased-out at the turn of the century in favour of newer airliners using CFM or similarly efficient lean-burn bypass engines and more efficient packaging such as the Boeing 737-800 and Airbus A320.
1Time, however, held on to their older machinery and the profitability gap was literally getting burnt up with every air mile traveled by the company. What is more, 1Time added routes that were - to be polite - commercially interesting but certainly not solid contributors to the bottom-line.
The company also listed on the Alt-X board of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. In 2011 control of the company was, effectively, sold to an empowerment consortium and the original management team went to walk on the beach or play golf or whatever it is that one does with a good few million in proceeds of stock sales nestled in the bank.
Blacky Khomani and his team, the new owners, set about trying to take the increasingly uneven fight to Kulula, Mango and SAA as fuel prices escalated and the US Dollar exchange rate weakened - effectively increasing the cost of spares and maintenance. Increased competition on the golden triangle routes (Johannesburg/Cape Town/Durban) from the short-lived Velvet Sky (see blog post of 2 March 2012) placed additional pressure on margins and the company moved to place itself in business rescue (a version of Chapter 11 protection used in the USA) in the first quarter of 2012.
With the less than savoury experience of the demise of Velvet Sky in the minds of the flying public fresh to hand, bookings were less than robust and the company's debts remained high. Information regarding a large loss for the 6 months to the end of June 2012 abounded in the market and the company missed its reporting deadline to the JSX in August. This led to further rumours and the share price tanked. The directors courted possible investors but those are few and far between when it comes to airlines these days.
The end, when it came, was swift and merciless. On Friday afternoon, 2 November 2012, already boarded passengers were asked to depart 1Time aircraft, some en-route flights were turned back to home base and even crew who were at out stations had to find their own way home as all operations were ceased to prevent any further additions to the debt burden of more than R300 million.
Meanwhile, at corporate HQ, SAA directors were most likely clapping their hands in glee and working out how to use the R5 billion bailout (one of many similar handouts of taxpayer's money in the years since the alleged deregulation of the South African passenger airline sector) they were pretty confident of shortly receiving from the national treasury.
It is time the competition commission stopped launching politically correct investigations to reap more millions for the state and actually did some real work - they can start by ruling that SAA needs to set up a separate legal entity to compete in the domestic market and that the local routes may not be cross-subsidised by capital from the taxpayer funding pot used to keep the international arm going as a state vanity project.
This will truly let market forces prevail and the fittest will survive - which may ultimately leave a lot of Mango and SAA domestic staff out of work for without the massive subsidy from the SAA parent their numbers look commercially suspect to say the least.
Oh well, while I and others dream of a true democracy and free market in South Africa, 1Time aircraft sat at various airports today as silent as only unwanted airliners can be.
Inside, the black leather of the seats had proven more durable than the airline itself - but perhaps not as durable as the skewed reality of the commercial aviation sector in South Africa.
14 September 2012
The right to bear lenses - How close should we get?
I have no doubt that a great fuss will ensue about the decision of a French magazine editor to publish photos today.
While millions of photographs are published each day the printing of photos of the Duchess of Cambridge on holiday in France is going to raise the proverbial methane enriched aroma around the planet.
Many folk will be puzzled at the fuss, others will add their spittle to the tweets and comments that will flood websites from Lower-Whingeing-in-the-Wolds to wherever there is internet access.
So? Why the fuss?
More importantly, perhaps, is there a message in this for reasonable, thinking photographers?
Well, firstly the fuss in this case will be more for the memories invoked by the actions of a Paparazzi snooping on a road about 1000m away from the villa where the Duchess was sunbathing than the actual photos themselves - after all, the quality of a cropped shot from that distance will be more like a mobile telephone shot than something one would find on glossy pin-up spreads gracing barrack room walls.
No, it is the memories of the death of the mother of the Duke of Cambridge - still partly blamed on the pursuit of her by Paparazzi on motorcycles - that will be the core resonance - and the uniting factor in the storm of reaction that is surely to come.
The fury of the injustice of Princess Diana's pointless death while fleeing the incessant presence of uninvited photographers that dogged her every move will well-up again. I would wager that the particular lensman that took these photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge will need to up his insurance cover and go to ground somewhere as the brown stuff (and the odd nut-case) will be seeking him out like a Sidewinder missile tracking a jet exhaust plume.
Many had hoped that the impact created by the black Mercedes carrying Prince William's mother in the Paris underpass on the consciousness of thinking and half-human editors and photographers had been permanent. Many had, perhaps naively, hoped that the collective pause for thought and the effective placing of Princes William, Harry and their family on an unofficial do not harass list of the worldwide Paparazzi would have ensured them a relatively normal life. Cosseted, privileged (after all how many can afford to go to the South of France for a Holiday?) and luxurious as their existences may be, there cannot be many reasonable people who would deny them the right to a relatively normal daily existence without the constant clicking of shutters as an ever-present soundtrack.
Well it is pretty obvious that the holiday out of the limelight is over - certainly as regards the European media appears to be concerned. It seems that the UK media are keeping a polite distance from the photos - even the Sun has refused to publish the photos. Well done chaps!
It will, however, be interesting to see how the planet takes the editor of Closer Magazine, France (which is, if I remember, actually a licensee of a UK firm so that little license transgression debate will be interesting to watch...) apart - and it is a sucker bet that she will be dropped from A-List party invitation schedules for a while. Any parties she still does get invited to will almost certainly not be worth attending anyway because who would want to mingle with people who condone her behaviour anyway.
I think she is going to be surprised to find out how many thinking people remember that somber Saturday morning in the mid 1990's when the wreckage was being cleared from the underpass near the Ritz Hotel.
Now, the message for us as photographers. There is no way to duck this one and we need to ask if the right to bear lenses permits us to get as close as we technically can? Should we just shoot and get the best price for the shots or is there a moral line somewhere which applies to photographing people - any people - which one does not cross?
The answer to this will be different to each photographer but perhaps the limit lies in ones humanity?
Your cultural background, your respect for other people and the total in your bank balance will influence your position and the lengths to which one will go - regardless of whether you are technically intruding on the subject's privacy or not.
My view, however, is that there should be a limit when it comes to shooting photographs of people. My personal approach - especially when shooting news coverage of famous folk, traffic, aircraft and other accidents has been to consider the question from the point of view of how I would feel if the image in the viewfinder was of one of my family members. How would I feel if the charred corpse trapped in the wreckage was a relative and the image appeared in print?
Extrapolating this to the South of France on Monday this week one would ask how you would feel if the Duchess of Cambridge au-natural was not the Duchess and wife of the potential heir to the British Throne, but your sister. Would you still take the shots of her in a compromising situation and offer them for publication?
Next - where does privacy start and end? Is it only a nebulous concept defined by the reaches of the longest telephoto lens you happen to have at hand or should we as photographers have a set of standards we follow?
Yet again, the answer to this question will vary as before but perhaps it should be the line denoted by the boundary of the property or the outer walls of the building occupied by the subject?
Perhaps it is time for this to be legally defined because, as things stand at the moment, it seems the line is defined by the limits of the memory of the user of the camera as to the possible consequences of incessant intrusion and the pressure his bank manager is placing on him in regard to his overdraft.
Oh, and of course there is also - as in this case - the added blurring of the boundary imposed by an available, willing (and ethically suspect) editor that is willing to divest herself of a healthy wodge of Wonga to try and gain some celebrity.
Perhaps, however, the end result of this dodgy decision and the inevitable fallout therefrom may well be a definition of the rules of the game for everyone.
And that will, in my view, be a good thing because the world does not need a variation of the scenes we witnessed against the concrete pillars on that shocking day when Princess Diana died.
A lack of boundaries for privacy will, in some manner or form, certainly lead to a similar situation in the future.
And rather than bringing us closer, it will do the opposite and make the job harder for everyone that depends on photography for a living.
23 August 2012
Kodak-From a name that has no meaning to a company that has no film
There can be few moments to match this.
The import of the announcement made by the Eastman Kodak Company Management at Rochester, NY, today to the effect that Kodak was selling its consumer film and processing businesses, is massive.
It marks, in a very symbolic way, the final triumph of pixels over silver halide crystals and that of the East over the West in the imaging industry.
The proverbial passing of the baton between the originators of photography for the common person to the future of memory-making has taken place.
It also marks the final step in a process that started in the late 1980s when Sony's Mavica camera was first used for news photography at an international sporting event.
Many of the large photographic corporates - Agfa Gaveart, Kodak and Konishiroku - felt this was nothing more than an offshoot of the TV camera. Destined to remain a specific tool for TV stations.
The "Big Boys" (Kodak and Agfa) probably sniggered into their drinks and did lunch as they looked at market statistics that indicated a healthy monopoly on the world's photographic business. After all, in those days Konica and Fuji were really only big in the East. Leverkeusen and Rochester had the rest of the planet sorted between them.
Kodak shareholders probably asked each other "What's digital?" over lunch at the Hyannisport Club.
Fuji, however, like their countrymen that first commercialised this "amusing but limited" technology, started immediate R&D departments to harness the obvious potential.
It was a long-shot upon which to bet. It was a very costly one too with little return in the early years but, if you were wrong the costs of not being there were incalculable.
Just ask the Kodak shareholders how costly.
And while those shareholders may be grumpy and bemoaning their lot as their stock reflects little of its heady highs of the 1980s, they only have themselves to blame for the fact that their company missed the digital boat and has had to sell its outboard motors in the form of patents and plants.
Why are they to blame? Three words: Shareholder Activism and greed.
In the mid 1990s the board took the enlightened decision to appoint as CEO of Kodak a chap called George Fischer.
Within a few months he called out the light at the end of the tunnel as the approach of the digital juggernaut. At this stage Fuji, Sony and Olympus had already sold more than a few million digital cameras around the world. Kodak had not, despite having developed a lot of the technology used in those cameras, even put a consumer digital camera on the market.
George Fischer bit the bullet and started serious R&D into commercialising digital photography for the masses. The cost to the balance sheet of trimming the corporate flab and re-directing money into the same seemingly endless digital photography pit that Olympus, Fuji and Sony had already been filling for half a decade soon became apparent.
The shareholders did not like the decline in their dividends - especially for the sake of a technology that would hurt their core business - film sales.
So instead of biting the digital bullet they gave George Fischer the bullet.
This was a costly mistake. Not only in the direct hit in terminating his contract early, but because the re-arrangement and dimming of his erstwhile focus on re-aligning Kodak into the digital imaging company it needed to become was, ultimately, to cost them the entire company.
This was not a situation unique to Kodak, however.
Anyone remember Polaroid? Mmm, Gary DiCamillo also tried a George Fischer with them in the late 1990s and got the same amount of thanks from the shareholders for investing in technology that would hurt their core business of instant film sales.
On reflection though, the situation does seem to be uniquely western - Agfa Gavaert bit the dust for the same reasons some years ago.
Konica is still around, albeit not in the photographic industry per-se but they ran with digital technology in another area -office machines- and are doing rather nicely there. Remember they bought Minolta which they then sold to Sony so they could re-badge the cameras as Alphas.
So now, one major company, Fuji, has the film market - in effect - to itself.
2 March 2012
Velvet is not Green
In an interesting side-show to the rest of the planet's pre-occupation with the Euro crisis, Syria and the looming election in the USA, the past 5 weeks have seen my previous post's focus on the power of perception proven in a very public manner.
The events that have played-out at South African airports since 20 January surrounding the low-cost airline Velvet Sky and its passengers also provide a salutary lesson to executives of service companies in the power of the new media channels everybody insists you have to have to "be with it".
Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms can certainly enhance your company's marketability but, on the flip-side, if you foul-up in service somewhere, and you decide to ignore posts on your corporate Facebook wall or other media accounts, soon the Twitter-sphere and the wall posts will gobble-up, finely shred and then spit-out any credibility you think you had established.
The board sitting in Gateway deciding the airline's future will do well to learn this lesson fast. Communication is the name of the game today. The public - especially the vast majority that shop on price (and this was Velvet Sky's big drawcard) are willing to forgive a few foul-ups but they will never forget being ignored - either in-person or on public media.
In addition, if there is an issue - be honest because once one person knows the truth, it will be out there like a Cape mountain wild-fire within an hour or so anyway. The reputation shredding social-web will do the rest when you have decided to clam-up (or worse-still send out statements that the disgruntled and delayed passengers sitting on the airport floor can contradict with a few presses of buttons on their smart-phones) and then any hope you may have had of a come-back will be severely reduced.
That the market needed competition is beyond debate and Velvet certainly brought aviation within reach of may people who had never flown before. More is the pity therefore that the future of the carrier looks so bleak as of today's date. Some of the staff will, for the second time in less than 5 years, be facing a future without pensions as many were ex-Nationwide veterans.
The people in the operations side - Paul Green (Director of Flight ops) and his team - are a class act - they know the business and did their work well. So well, in fact, that the company took a big bite out of the domestic leisure travel market in December 2011. Generally, it seems, the flying public enjoyed the Velvet ride. Certainly the pilots and cabin staff were generally given favourable tweets and wall posts.
Exactly how the bills began piling-up, however, is something beyond the operational crew's control and - aside, perhaps, from an ill-advised trust that bookings would always supply enough revenue for growth and operations - it is difficult to know exactly how the carrier landed in the state where it owed (according to media reports) more than R40 million to all its creditors and then had to cancel all its operations on Monday 27 February 2012. A perusal of BP's founding documents in their liquidation application in the Pietermaritzburg High Court does, however, sketch a picture of frantic times and stressful hours as the executives attempted to resolve the billings issue by increasingly desperate measures.
However, if their holding company does, indeed, have the sort of money that it tries to portray, then this scenario should never have arisen.
That said, however, the South African airline market is a tough business. The state operates the following airlines: SAA, Mango, SA Express and it has a hand in SA Airlink. So, you effectively have a monolithic corporate edifice and infrastructure set-up for 4 major players. Second in size and passenger numbers is Comair. This listed entity - and also the only airline company (I have it on good authority) to have shown a profit each year since its founding - operates the British Airways and Kulula brands. Kulula is the first and original South African low-cost carrier and is still - as far as various social media platforms suggest - the one most trusted by the traveling public.
Sadly for the Velvet staff, unless a great white, cute and fluffy rabbit of the very wealthy and distracting type can be pulled from the hat before 5 March 2012, it looks to be game over.
Should the issues be resolved, however, then the rabbit had better distract a lot of people as the fight to stay in business will pale into insignificance next to the uphill battle the staff will then face to remain cheerful as half-empty aircraft fly around burning money all day for little return until their schedule and service regains the trust of the public.
As this scenario plays out, the corporate calculators will be ticking away to see if profitability ever returns (if it was there in the first place) and someone better have huge pockets if they are to resolve the bills past due and keep things running smoothly until the load factors pick-up again to a level that makes the business sustainable.
Given that all the people that spent hours on Facebook and Twitter shredding the reputation of the airline will all be using those same sources to see what the service experience of the first few brave souls who step aboard (if the company comes out the other side of what looks to be a pretty solid case from BP) will be - it is my guess that passenger yields will not get back to normal until at least half a year has passed. On-time performance, customer courtesy, faultless communication and very visible executive management - both in the media and at the airports - will be vital ingredients in the recovery recipe.
In the interim, the people at the sharp end of the aircraft and their crews who face - as I write - a very bleak future, will all be looking at empty bank accounts and wondering exactly what happened and what colour the Velvet corporate animal is.
Given the lack of cash issue listed in so many creditor's documents - it definitely does not appear to be green!
3 February 2012
Who cares about reality? It's the perception that counts.
Perceptions are, in marketing terms, the most expensive things to change. Misinformation, bad facts, false data and creaky opinions are far easier to tackle.
Perceptions, however, once entrenched as social currency, are virtually impossible to correct - even if they are false.
Someone who knows about the power of perception is Christo Davel. His name may not mean much to you unless you are a member of the upper echelons of the massive, incestuous management structures of our largest banking groups. The mere mention of his name in those circles, however, is usually enough to occasion choking on cocktails at the more exclusive golf courses which play host to the financial management elite of South Africa.
In the dark ages of internet banking in South Africa – around 2001 where the largest entities saw fit to force their clients to pay up to R100 per month to transact online (in addition to a host of undisclosed charges that could easily exceed R600 per month on an average cheque account) – and then still made customers go into a branch to fill in mountains of paper simply to add or delete a beneficiary (all to make things more convenient and secure for you the customer they all said!), Christo and a team of like-minded individuals tried to interest the institutional inertia of South African Banking in a dedicated online banking solution.
The online bank (called 20Twenty) was to allow clients the freedom to apply for the account online, set up beneficiaries and obtain a line of credit without leaving their desks. What is more, he had the temerity to suggest that a single flat fee be billed per month to make it affordable – after all he argued, the actual running cost of multiple branches would not be needed and this saving in overhead could be passed directly to the consumer.
One of the cheekiest things of all was the fact that clients would actually be able to talk to someone on the phone who would not only greet you by name when you called (a simple but effective trick using the power of caller identity systems), but that single person would be authorised to deal with any query you had or to take steps to immediately resolve any problem - there and then without putting you on hold or having to call back. It was a strange concept to the big four that - it was called customer service. When it eventually took off, much to the dismay of the establishment, this customer-focus was so welcomed that the bank went viral.
The original business plan had expected 50 000 clients in year one. Within four months they had hit 40 000 sign-ups. It was the biggest smack across the corporate face that it was possible to give. The secure cozy world wherein banking clients apparently never complained about service was shattered by the minute as the 20Twenty staff called in time after time to assist new clients to transfer their accounts from existing institutions.
Perhaps the key poke to the corporate eye was that 20Twenty set up a live, online feedback page where clients could interact with the bank in real time and obtain service out in the open. The forum would be a no-holds barred space to chew out the bank if it failed to perform. Many clients used it to chew out their previous institutions as well although such posts were quickly moderated. The word, however, was that 20Twenty was hot and immediate. Service at 20Twenty was what people had been waiting for.
This idea of the forum – from various reports at the time - was one which cast the largest of frowns on the faces of the executives who had originally turned Christo Davel from the door again and again when he first mooted the idea. Their rejection of his ideas, however, did not – as it turned out – come without them having first taken numerous notes on the sly for later use in their own online products which they launched with much fanfare as "unique innovations."
Despite being the strangest of his ideas, however, the online forum was to prove a stroke of genius and its deployment at a critical stage in the latter part of the 20Twenty story would save the jobs – and the money – of thousands of people when the corporate edifices attempted to crush the upstart online bank. When that point came, however, the collateral damage to the wider community had damaged a far wider grouping of innocent people and laid the foundations for the exploitation of others for many years hence.
Perhaps, when the time is right, the full story of exactly what happened when a AAA+ rated bank suddenly had a huge amount of capital withdrawn from it by the larger banks of the country – forcing it into insolvency within less than a day – might be told. As it is, the service and customer response to this set of events is now the stuff of business school case studies.
The fact that the bank which was the victim of the homicide mentioned above was the only one to have entertained Christo and his ideas – to the point of allowing him to operate under its licence – did not, the public was assured by the various larger institutions, have anything to do with this sudden reversal of fortune by Saambou Bank.
And they will also still try and tell us that the Easter Bunny is real.
However, I digress. Mr Davel is back again. This time he is, according to the major banks – to quote our American cousins - Doing the darnedest thing!
He is – only on your specific request and after getting your explicit permission – pulling all your financial information off the various systems upon which it may be stored, and showing you – by means of the same tools the big banks use all day to watch world markets and identify trends in their own businesses – exactly where your financial strengths and weaknesses are.
Trends in spending or losses are clearly flagged well ahead of time so you can make informed decisions. There is no manner in which the system can issue any instruction to your bank's system. It can only read data – it cannot transact so there is absolutely no risk to your funds at all. The service is called 22Seven. (www.22seven.com). At the moment, it is free until the Beta testing stage is over. A sort of try before you buy approach.
Now, here, I feel, lies the rub. One of the key services it offers is also as follows: If you are wasting money through high charges or excessively high interest (or even if your money is locked into low performing investments) – or if you are on a "low price banking package" for one account with an institution but they are nailing you on charges on another product like your bond or credit card account – 22Seven will show this to you in one easily understood picture so that the true cost per day or month of managing your finances can be seen.
As most sane people would know, this process of aggregation (which is the fancy banker-type word for it), is in daily use by anyone involved in online trading, business management or the plotting of their next corporate take-over.
Guess what though? The big banks have accused him of phishing (i.e. trying to steal access to your accounts – after you give him explicit permission to read the data?) and one of the big 4 has mounted – in effect - a cyber attack on the service requested by its clients by actively blocking any feed of data to the servers requesting the information.
So, in effect, what this particular bank is saying to its clients is: While we have your money in our systems, we will not let you see exactly what we are doing with it and how we are charging you – we will not let you see data about YOUR money using the same system of aggregation we have been using to track all our client's funds for decades. So there!
Other banks have gone as far as to say that if you make use of the service, they will suspend or withdraw their duty of protection on your account. They are, in effect, using this as a cop-out by saying they will not entertain any claim of fraud on your account if you have made use of the service of 22Seven. The fact that 22Seven is using a tried and tested highly secure method of aggregation that has been in operation for a number of years without security breaches seems to be irrelevant to the scare-mongers.
In short, however, this means someone can go into a branch, con the clerks that they are, in fact, you by using a false ID and other data and withdraw all your cash but – because you were very naughty and asked 22seven to merely look at your account data – they are not going to be responsible for the fraud on your account even though it took place in their portals due to their ineptness!
How lovely to have a convenient dog to kick!
Not only is this disingenuous, it is is nothing short of petulance and – in my view - a violation of a whole bunch of your rights in terms of the constitution and consumer law. It is also a violation of most internet protocols pertaining to online abuse and cyber-crime I have ever seen. I wonder what the ISP hosting that bank's systems would have to say about this attitude?
However, because there is a perception of civility and trustworthiness that has been cultivated by the major institutions most people blindly believe what they are told by the inventors of these myths. Most will rather just remain ignorant of their true financial status rather than risk being labeled as irresponsible when the really irresponsible entities are those seeking to limit you gaining access to information which is, in the final analysis, yours in the first place.
This all begs the question as to what term one could use to describe the actions and vilification campaigns mounted against innovative solutions that really serve a public need which are so often launched by major corporations whenever someone shows them up as being the opposite of the consumer champions they have claimed to be.
It needs to reflect their petulant approach to client empowerment, their unwillingness to truly innovate in ways that save their clients real money (and not just in fancy brochures detailing "cost effective banking" services that are unilaterally raised in price each year.)...
Ahh wait! There are already a few words that will suffice...
Thugs may be another depending on your experience of their collection policies.
Fiscal Cyber Pirates, (or FCPs) however, seems to be a good triplet to describe the actions of the quadruplets involved in regard to the advent of consumer aggregation services in South Africa.
What is the bet that very soon these self-same FCPs will be trumpeting new and innovative services to their clients that will be suspiciously just like the apparent phishing scheme they are so cheesed-off about at the moment?
And exactly how will they close the gap between what they are saying now and the fact that their knock-offs will be drawing the same information from various places as that being done now by 22Seven?
The sad fact is, that it probably will not matter because when you have power over people's lives, their minds and wallets, their viewpoint is but a click of the mouse on the foreclosure or raise debit interest tabs away...
25 January 2012
As the pendulum swings...
Some years ago when researching people's experiences for a play I was writing that shook the ex-patriot establishment of the small country in which it had its premier – the play in question being "Phew! But it's Hot Today." which will, in due course, be placed in the public domain on this site together with all my other works - a curious anomaly was found in our language.
It became necessary to confirm that I was unable to script a line in which one of the characters used the feminine form of the word misogynist. The simple reason is that the language does not officially, I was surprised to discover, contain such a word.
It was almost as if by some mystical and collective effort, an unknown force had managed to curve the language around the concept that it was only possible for men to hate the opposite gender and that no woman could possibly be as evil as to actually hate men or advocate that they were a lesser life-form.
The last week of January 2012, however, delivered a solution to the conundrum while it also saw the publication of numerous newspaper and magazine articles that illustrated how words and opinions are moulded not by actual fact, but by actions that create a distorted reality – action in numerous small steps that can, and does, mould the mindset of a populace and lead to skewed views of a gender, a people, company or country.
It is, as we shall see, an insidious business this – the moulding of viewpoints to the point where the desired perception becomes fact – irrespective of the underlying truth. It is one that takes place daily – right in front of everyone.
This myth-making happens daily in coffee shops, hairdressers, book clubs and school car parks where the evils of the male of the gender are espoused by a small number of ladies in comments that are generalising, stereotypical and downright sexist.
These on-going one-sided affronts are repeated in countless television shows and in women's magazines where the "typical male wanderlust gene" (and that statement of fact is always backed-up with scientific evidence of its existence of course...) and the supposed failings of the male gender on a biological basis as per the viewpoint of this small yet vociferous group - have scarred (and will continue to scar) a generation of boys who will grow up walking on the same egg-shells all feel they need to tread to avoid causing affront, or sleight, to this activist grouping who hold themselves forth as more evolved beings due to their particular chromosomal make-up.
Anyone daring to stand their ground and state that all men are not as evil as portrayed, or not as inept and unable to multi-task as these ladies (who, of course, always say they are only joking my dear) will say, will surely be labeled anti-feminist or misogynists. This is, of course to be expected as, in most propaganda wars one tackles the messenger and not the message.
Next, Twitter feeds and Facebook posts will be used to create the myth that these self same guys who are merely trying to point out the facts are abusive and making life a misery for the all ladies. The reality matters not. It is the perception created and then espoused that becomes fact. Comments that all men only have one track minds, they are all after the same thing and other similar chestnuts are repeatedly thrown about with impunity. Should men say anything remotely similar about women then you can bet that a number of charges would be laid at police stations (and rightly so).
The flip side is that no male will now ever dare to say this skewing of the relationship between the genders by a small minority of ladies is untrue or point out the obvious error of these statements for fear of falling victim to the vociferous attention of the activist pack.
So vehement is the action and re-action to the campaign that it deserved a word to describe it. The word, it turns out, would also suffice to be the feminine form of the word which I needed for the play mentioned at the start of this discourse.
After much tossing around of ideas via the internet, a consensus was reached between the many journalists and writers I engaged on this subject and gradually an ideal epithet was formed to describe the vilification of the male gender and the espousal of male hatred or character assassination by the less rational of the anti-male activists: Testororrism (Test-toh-row-rism).
It succinctly describes the vehemence and the look with which many Testororrists espouse their version of events and the character of the men they are degrading.
No matter the descriptors used, as in all cases of human interaction, a simple look at the other side might well assist to get everyone to a state of calm and mutual respect and tolerance again - which is where the majority of ladies and gentlemen find themselves these days. That the majority enjoy this relationship is due to the many millions of ladies that rightly fought Patriarchy and gender bias throughout the centuries.
Looking at the track records of the testororrist movement however, it would seem that they wish to undermine and damage this harmony - and by extension, the good work done by those who have gone before. Judging by the movement's increasing momentum and the less than intelligent counter-blows made by some men, it is apparent that Darwinian theory obviously does not apply to some aspects of life on this round speck of inter-stellar rock.
Does anyone perhaps have a sub-etha device that is blinking?
1 January 2012
Given that the entire population of carbon-based bi-pedal life-forms inhabiting this round rocky planet of ours has, since time immemorial, seen fit to mark the passage of blocks of days and nights at regular intervals - with one of a number of calendar systems - perhaps it is fitting that the first entry on this blog is made on an auspicious day such as this?
The noteworthiness of the day is not due to the fact that there are, no doubt, a good number of other humans fearing the worst for this particular collection of 365 days due to the fact that some Mayans ran out of tablet when carving a calendar. The state of certain European economies and the similar sad economic plight of the defence contractors in the US (now that peace seems to be robbing them of a steady need to re-supply broken weaponry and vehicles to the military establishment of that nation) is similarly not at issue in this context.
The date is remarkable purely on a limited personal level as I have finally managed to put together the majority of the bits needed to heed the call of many associates, would-be wedding photography and journalism customers and readers of my various books and articles for a site where they can see what I am up to or planning.
The folly inherent in their urging may, however, only become apparent in the fullness of time.
A resource such as this internet site provides a platform which - in the middle to latter part of the previous century - was available only, as but one example, to a collection of interesting characters who frequented a particular part of Hyde Park in London and who did not mind contact with ripe vegetables and fruit should their opinions not be universally well received.
Other such places where one could freely voice your view existed in the USA - largely courtesy of Universities - but those who used them and made an impact on their societies, on social justice issues that challenged the status-quo for instance, often met with official censure rather than smelly vegetables when out of the public eye.
In my native country too one had to choose words carefully during that period lest young gentlemen with notably neat, short haircuts and off the peg suits came calling to chat to you. Well at least that was the route I experienced when engaged in documentary photographic work in and around the various suburbs and townships of Pretoria with my good friend Morris Legoabe.
I was one of the luckier photojournalists at the time - many of my colleagues in the press during the 1970s and 1980s had less courtesy extended to them by the owners of military or police outfits filling their doorways instead.
As we enter 2012 reflection provides pause for thought. In the electronic speaker's corner of the internet the tomatoes and eggs have been replaced by e-mail messages and Tweets. The suits and military uniforms, however, may just as easily be sent out as various nations begin to make increasing use of the electronic capabilities provided by modern technology to filter opinions and views.
In my home country the tailor's wares of the 1970s and 1980s have been replaced by RICA and a raft of legislation proposals that - while ostensibly sensible and well meaning - sound a horrible echo of the past for those of us who experienced the endless hours of hospitality from chain-smoking, safari-suited guys with moustaches. They were usually called Jan or Gert and they never had a surname or other identifying data they were willing to divulge.
Most of the ones I met claimed a faceless superior who had a temper and bad attitude and wanted them to obtain co-operation as soon as possible. Remarkably, if they were to be believed, most of the Stuyvesant puffing guys professed to actually hate their jobs and really wanted to help me out if only I would tell them the real political motive I had for taking photos in all those townships and suburbs of my fellow citizens and their daily living and working conditions.
While I now teach my students that the ability to carry a camera into any situation is a privilege and not a right, this is based on the humanity of the situation and not the Roman-Dutch legalistic or political issues involved. For anyone to be photographed by another person involves a certain amount of co-operation and trust on both sides. In many cases - especially in documentary or news work - the photographer is not always present by invitation and the timing often coincides with a momentous event in the life of the subject. To be allowed to memorialise the subject at times such as those (no matter what brand of camera you happen to be using!) is a privilege.
No such interpretation can be accorded to freedom of speech however. This is undeniably a right and not the privilege many governments seem to be seeking to revoke. While all rights bring responsibilities (in the case of freedom of speech these include sensitivity to the likely audience and their practices, beliefs and norms), the right to document and publish the actions of the elected servants of nations and to discuss their use of power is one which may well provide more of a fight in its defence and use up more column inches in newspapers around the world in 2012 than in any other year of this fledgling century.
Those of us lucky enough to be able to use cameras and computers to capture and publish our views should, therefore, keep our hailing frequencies open and note any hint of the whiff of official trimming of the speaker's corner spaces we and the media at large, inhabit.
In addition - and perhaps more immediately - we need to call out the large corporate entities who are also abusing technology, but in order to financially oppress people. They are doing so by the use of ethically suspect practices in matters as diverse as product selection and ordering to the collection of accounts. Most of their victims are unsophisticated and live in homes little changed from those I photographed in the 80s.
There is little, perhaps, to differentiate a politician who smothers rights in the name of a revolution from a corporate executive who smothers lives in a financial sense in the name of shareholder value.
All the above should give you an idea of the directions in which my particular soapbox will be pointed on this site from time to time.
I hope you will find value in some or most of it.
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