SA unrest: now’s the time to take the shackles off private initiative

By Jacques Moolman

Whether the orgy of looting and destruction of the last week in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Gauteng was planned that way or simply took on a life of its own due to massive youth unemployment and simple mob behaviour and common criminality, doesn’t matter.

The damage has been done. Now we must rebuild.

Let the socialist academics, point-making politicians and other moralists add their pennyworths to the background noises of social media. Nothing they can say will remove the thunderous shout of common sense: Only the private sector can get us out of the morass of incompetence and inefficiency that we have driven into during the last two decades.

We had a marvellous start in 1994, with a genuinely democratic Constitution, plus all the checks and balances the world experts applauded – our Bill of Rights, our independent judiciary, our legal system, our functioning modern economic sector, and so much more.

We were hailed as a Rainbow Nation—a lesson to the world of how multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-lingual societies could succeed – the hope of an African continent that had seen so much fail.

Less than 20 years later what do we have? An almost bankrupt state. A hopelessly corrupt and inept political elite bent on a socialist experiment along lines that have failed everywhere in the world it has been attempted.

We have an epic failure of local government and a country ranked among the lowest in the world on any number of surveys ranging from the performance of our ports, our railways, our airways, our economic growth rate, our levels of over-regulation of business, our sad excuse for public safety, clearly evident in our crime and murder rate, our unemployment – a list too long and too sad to continue here.

And now in KZN and Gauteng the inevitable result – an outbreak of anarchy on a scale not seen since the dawn of our hard-won democracy; an orgy of looting, some targeted at doing the maximum damage to the economy and key infrastructure, possibly carefully planned and stoked for political reasons, but descending into mindless criminality and edging towards racial and even tribal animosity.

But in this dark picture that horrifies all clear-thinking South Africans, there are glimmers of light. Among the brightest of these is the way communities in the affected provinces have banded together, often across racial lines, to protect each other’s premises and neighbourhoods to stop the looting from spreading further. In places among the hardest hit, there have even been spontaneous collection and return of looted items.

Perhaps best of all there is a greater understanding of the interrelationships that bind together the provision of essential food, goods and services, and appreciation that the blocking of roads and attacking and burning supply vehicles creates hunger, it does not solve it.

What we are seeing is true community spirit, not the manufactured solidarity of the political mob or the common objective of looters. This, plus the entrepreneurial spirit for which South Africans of all colours, shapes and sizes are known the world over, is what we need to harness for the task of recovery that we face.

There is no mystery as to how it can be done. The solution does not rest in the ivory towers of university sociology departments where utopian theories rule over common sense. It rests in unleashing the human mind, giving it the liberty to make and sell things, to trade and construct, to make a future for its owner and its offspring, secure in the knowledge that an honest day’s work will not be taxed to feed a gargantuan unproductive bureaucracy or be stolen by criminals.

Growing wealth does not need endless additional government rules to exist. It needs less. We can and must make the pie bigger. And we shall, whether it takes a State of Emergency to calm the waters or not, the solution to a better future is an unshackled private sector.

We need now more than ever the protection and strengthening of private property rights; a repeated demonstration of and emphasis that no one is above the law, especially corrupt politicians and civil servants.

We need to be seen to be stripping away regulatory burdens on small to medium businesses like the licensing overload. We must end labour laws that protect the few at the expense of the many willing to work even for less than the national minimum wage.

We must end threats of expropriation of private property without compensation, strip out taxes on business that only end in higher prices, and finally we must have a complete re-set of government thinking on a par with that which wrenched China out of poverty enforced by ideology into the first league of world economies.

We have the people. We know how to do it. We need to give full rein to the entrepreneurial spirit South Africans have in abundance. It will be the quickest way to haul ourselves out of the historical and economic dead-end we have been corralled into.

Now we need to review the role of socialist utopian theories as well. If we do that we can win the new battle that drew its lines in recent weeks – the fight between a free economy to create and spread the wealth on one side and the other – the forces of outdated social manipulation, and traditions that however noble they were centuries ago, now stand in the way of a growing population that must be fed and educated to compete in a highly competitive modern world of which our ancestors could never have predicted.

Jacques Moolman is President of the Cape Chamber of Commerce & Industry

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South African riots and food security: why there’s an urgent need to restore stability

Fuel storage tanks at South Africa’s Durban harbour. Blocking the transport of fuel will stop the transport of food. Photo by Hoberman Collection/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Wandile Sihlobo, University of the Witwatersrand

When South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, addressed the nation on July 12 amid violence and destruction of property in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces, he warned of several risks if the situation was not resolved swiftly. One of them was food security.

A lot has been written about the acts of criminality and the disregard for the rule of law that’s swept parts of the country. Attention has also been given to the underlying factors that make the South African society so fragile. These include rising unemployment, inequality, corruption and poor service delivery.

In light of the ongoing state of turbulence it’s important to take a closer look at food security issues.

South Africa is generally a secure food country at a national level. On top of this it is a net exporter of agricultural and processed food products. Last year agricultural exports reached the second-highest level on record of US$10.2 billion following a favourable production season.

But food security is about more than just having sufficient supplies. It also requires food accessibility, affordability, nutrition and stability over time.

This is where the challenge lies.

Continued disruption will affect supplies given the specifics of South Africa’s food supply chains. KwaZulu-Natal, the epicentre of rioting and looting, is a major producer of various agricultural products such as sugar, milk and poultry products. The province also serves as an entry for imported food products, including wheat, rice, poultry products, and palm oils. Gauteng, the other province also most affected, is one of the major food processing hubs.

However, South Africa’s food supply chains are not concentrated in one particular province. The biggest risk in the short term is the free movement of goods, including food and agricultural produce on the roads, specifically to and from the Durban port, the entry and exit point for agricultural imports and exports.

The other risk relates to increased income poverty because of the destruction of businesses.

Food production and consumption

In the same year as record production figures, the country experienced an increase in hunger, as identified in the National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM).. But this wasn’t necessarily an issue of food shortage or a rapid increase in food prices. It was mostly because people were out of work and had reduced means to buy food.

In 2021, South Africa again enjoyed another season of an abundant harvest following favourable summer rainfalls. This means that there are unlikely to be food shortages this year, but rather ample supplies for local consumption and export markets. This will be true for major grains, fruits, meat and various products.

Still, this doesn’t mean everyone in the country is food secure. Or that prices won’t rise rapidly.

There are long-standing challenges with income poverty in South Africa and the extent to which the poorest people are able to afford nutritious food. Still, food prices have only risen negligibly. South Africa’s consumer food price inflation was at 6.8% year on year in May 2021, from 6.7% year on year in April, according to data from Statistics South Africa. This is not an alarmist rate as we have seen double-digit inflation rates in years of drought such as 2016, where consumer food price inflation averaged 10.8% year on year.

The expectation is that consumer food price inflation could in fact soften in the second half of 2021.

Therefore, Ramaphosa’s emphasis on the risks to food security in his address on July 12 was primarily focused on KwaZulu-Natal.

The main challenge is a disruption due to the looting spree, forcing companies to avoid volatile areas so as not to expose their property and employees to danger. It is far from clear how long the unrest in KwaZulu-Natal will last.

Menacingly, no one can tell with certainty if waves of protest will not spill over to other provinces in ways that disrupt business and supply chains and affect livelihoods. If the wave of violent protests continues unabated, it could pose a risk to food security, with the poorest people most affected as their employment and livelihoods will suffer. Small businesses in particular might be forced to close given the scale of the continuing violence.

But South Africans in other parts of the country that have not seen outbreaks of looting and violence should not panic about possible food shortages.

Production patterns

KwaZulu-Natal has been the most affected by the violence. But the province isn’t the epicentre of agriculture in the country. It isn’t an anchor to the South African food system. Provinces in central South Africa – the Free State, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West and Limpopo – hold far more key positions. This is because of their abundant agricultural production and food processing capacity.

Maize meal and wheat flour – both staple to most South African diets – are primarily produced in the Free State, Mpumalanga, North West and the Western Cape. These provinces account for over 60% of production of each of these grains, and process over 50% of them.

KwaZulu-Natal processes roughly 8% of the 11.5 million tonnes of maize consumed in South Africa each year. In wheat, KwaZulu-Natal processes roughly 21% of the annual consumption. The numbers vary per product, but the point here is that food supply chains are not concentrated in one particular province.

There is no risk of food shortage currently from other anchor provinces. But the risk comes when there is no fuel for transport within the country, given the force majeure that the refinery in Durban has declared. It is South Africa’s largest refinery, accounting for 35% of the country’s refining capacity.

I highlight this because a large share of South Africa’s food is transported by road.

In the case of trade, the current disruptions weigh even more heavily on businesses and farmers in agriculture. On average, 75% of the country’s grains are transported by road annually. These are largely exported through the Durban harbour. The same is true for imported food products such as rice, wheat and palm oil, among other products. The volumes are also large for horticulture, specifically citrus, a leading exportable agricultural product in South Africa.

The burning of trucks on the roads and the blocked routes to the ports will prove costly to businesses and harm South Africa’s reputation as a global supplier in various value chains. This will also negatively affect the province’s food supply chains.

This needs urgent intervention, especially as agricultural products are perishable and the country is entering an export period for citrus in a year of a record harvest.

As South African authorities grapple with achieving stability, there needs to be a deeper introspection about ensuring that the country creates an environment conducive for businesses to thrive. And that it addresses the social ills that underlie instability and disregard for the rule of law.

In the near term, South Africans should not panic about the food system. But authorities will need to act swiftly and assertively to restore stability.

Wandile Sihlobo, Visiting Research Fellow, Wits School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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SA looting: It’s politics, stupid

Dawie Roodt

By Dawie Roodt

The phrase “(t)he economy, stupid” was allegedly coined by James Carville, a strategist in Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. And whilst the economy is the proximate cause of the current wave of destruction and looting in the country and its first line casualty, the real cause is politics – the politics of the ruling party.

Nothing justifies the looting, destruction, and plunder that we have seen in the past few days. Behaviour like this is exacerbated by deteriorating economic conditions, and we have had these conditions for many years: an economy that is in freefall, not because of the pandemic, nor the financial crisis, nor any other reason, but because of a destructive political force that goes by the name of the ANC-coalition government.

Politics is the reason for our woes, and it is our politics that we must remedy if we are ever able to transform these woes into wealth.

For many decades, the ANC-coalition government has used its position as the dominant political party in South Africa (SA) to establish its own patronage network, and to facilitate the wholesale industrial-scale looting of the state. Today:
– the state’s finances are unsustainable,
– most local authorities (especially ANC-ruled ones) have collapsed, and
– the SOEs have been operationally and financially run into the ground.

All of this happened because the ANC allowed it to happen.

Little consequence or sanctions were suffered by those who participated in the looting. It was not just Zuma. It was the ANC.

Additionally, those institutions that were created to protect us from a destructive government – the judiciary, the public protector, the prosecution authorities – have been undermined. And the list of the ANC’s destruction goes on.

It’s only luck that a few of these institutions have survived to do their jobs. It was the relentless pressure from a free press and the judiciary that eventually forced Zuma to appoint the Zondo commission. It was the same press that piled so much pressure on Ramaphosa that he had very little alternative but to send Mkize on “leave”. It was the Zondo commission that started the process to ensure Zuma went to jail, which was originally initiated by the public protector (when we still had a competent one) and her reports. It was a trade union that forced Gordhan to put SAA under business rescue. And the list goes on.

Point is, the few good things that happened in SA happened not because of the good quality of our political leaders, but it happened because a few remaining institutions did their jobs.

Inevitably the ANC’s mismanagement led us to where we are today. We are quickly running out of taxpayers, out of capital, out of savings, out of jobs, and out of an economy. On a per-capita basis, we have lost a decade of wealth creation, and our wealth continues to decline. Unemployment is the highest it has ever been, and the rate keeps on increasing. The consequence of this is that people are going to bed hungry.

Since last year, the economy has been hit by another catastrophe: the lockdown. The impact of the lockdown was exacerbated by an incompetent government and the flagrant violation of the human rights to trade and to earn a living. The result: even more misery.

Inevitably things will get worse before there is any chance of them getting better. Mboweni (the best finance minister the ANC has to offer and an enthusiastic cook) had no choice but to present a fiscal framework that will cut state spending. Either that or there would be a total collapse of the fiscal accounts.

Unavoidably, this means spending less on people, particularly the 21 million who receive an income from the state every month (grant recipients and civil “servants”).

When Mboweni presented his framework, I warned that it would have the unavoidable effect of cutting in real terms the income of 21 million people over several years, and I warned that they would get angry, and I warned we could expect heightened unrest. And I was right.

Fixing the fiscal accounts must lead to more pain and conflict, and it will inevitably continue to do so. Many other “fixes” need to happen:
– fixing Eskom and the other SOEs,
– fixing the local governments,
– fixing education,
– fixing health, and
– fixing everything the ANC has touched in the past.

Why could the police not see what is so obvious to see? Why weren’t they ready for this?

The scene was thus set for the conflagration of the past few days, Zuma was only the spark that lit the fire.

People are hungry, unemployed, and without hope. Obviously, this is also an opportunity to score some political points by a few. Unfortunately, what we see today is the economic consequences of a destructive government. People see, people do. What people see is a political elite that plunders with impunity. They are the leading looters and the destitute opportunists on the streets are the followers.

Our only hope now is politics. And I believe the only person that can do what is needed to be done is President Ramaphosa. So far, he has been a president of consensus, we now need a president with conviction.

First thing is to lead by example. He must reshuffle those around him and only keep those that are squeaky clean. No more “innocent until proven guilty”. No more special leave. Only by proving that he himself will not tolerate any form of lawlessness, or even a hint of lawlessness, will he be able to regain the moral high ground that the country needs to rebuild the economy.

I am not holding my breath.

In the meantime, the effect of the turmoil will affect the livelihoods of all of us, and most tragically the poor. Massive destruction in infrastructure and property, as well as the loss of lives, will continue to undermine the economy. It will add to unemployment, hunger, and poverty. But by far the most damage to the economy will be our tainted image as a country. This damage is incalculable.

For now, the rand is set for further weakness, and capital will continue to flee. We maintain that a prudent approach to investing is to have a significant portion of a portfolio abroad. Certain local stocks like mining may offer excellent value and speculative portfolio flows may find our very high yields attractive for a short while. However, if this anarchy remains, SA will mostly be a no-go zone.

My view is that the current wave of unrest will mostly calm down over the next couple of days and a degree of normality may return.

But we will all know that the volcano of poverty and dissatisfaction is bubbling just underneath the surface, and next time it will be worse.

Either Ramaphosa uses his political capital now, at the risk of alienating many others within the patronage, or this country could politically disintegrate.

Dawie Roodt is Chief Economist of the Efficient Group
dawieroodt@efgroup.co.za

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Fish hooked on meth – the consequences of freshwater pollution

Kletr/Shutterstock

Matt Parker, University of Portsmouth and Alex Ford, University of Portsmouth

Around 269 million people worldwide use drugs each year. Often forgotten in this story is a problem of basic biology. What goes in must come out. Sewers are inundated with drugs that are excreted from the body, along with the broken down chemical components that have similar effects to the drugs themselves.

Sewage treatment plants don’t filter these things out – they were never designed for it. A lot of sewage also finds its way into rivers and coastal waters untreated. Once in the environment, drugs and their byproducts can affect wildlife. In a recent study, researchers in the Czech Republic investigated how methamphetamine – a stimulant with a growing number of users worldwide – might be affecting wild brown trout.

They examined whether concentrations of methamphetamine and one of its byproducts, amphetamine, which were estimated from other studies that have measured illicit drug concentrations in waterways, could be detected in the brains of brown trout. They also looked at whether these concentrations were enough to cause the animals to become addicted.

White methamphetamine crystals on a black background with a glass meth pipe.
Recreational methamphetamine users often smoke crystal meth. AMF Photography/Shutterstock

The trout were exposed to the drug in large tanks over eight weeks and then put into withdrawal, going “cold turkey” in drug-free tanks for ten days. During that time, the researchers tested the fish’s preference for fresh water or water containing methamphetamine and compared this with the responses of fish that had never been exposed to the drug.

Their findings were intriguing. The methamphetamine-exposed fish preferred the water containing the drug, while no such preference was shown for the untreated fish. The researchers also found that during their withdrawal period, the methamphetamine-exposed trout moved less. The researchers interpreted this as a sign of anxiety or stress – typical signs of drug withdrawal in humans.

The brain chemistry of the exposed fish differed from the unexposed, too, with several detected changes in brain chemicals that correspond to what is seen in cases of human addiction. Even after the behavioural effects had waned after ten days of withdrawal, these markers in the brain were still present. This suggests that methamphetamine exposure could have long-lasting effects, similar to what is seen in people.

How drugs affect ecosystems and fish biology

Why should we care if trout are becoming addicted to drugs? There are several reasons.

If the trout are “enjoying” the drugs, as they appear to be in the recent study, they may be inclined to hang around pipes where effluent is discharged. We know that fish can behave similarly to what is seen in humans suffering from addiction, not only from this trial, but from several studies on different fish species. One of the hallmarks of drug addiction is a loss of interest in other activities – even those that are usually highly motivated, such as eating or reproducing. It’s possible that the fish might start to change their natural behaviour, causing problems with their feeding, breeding and, ultimately, their survival. They may, for instance, be less likely to evade predators.

Exposure to drugs not only affects the fish themselves, but their offspring. In fish, addiction can be inherited over several generations. This could have long-lasting implications for ecosystems, even if the problem was fixed now.

This is not the first study to find illicit drugs in wildlife. In 2019, scientists in the UK reported cocaine in freshwater shrimp in all 15 rivers they sampled. Interestingly, they detected illicit drugs more often than some common pharmaceuticals.

But the wider effects of those drugs remain largely unknown. There have, however, been comprehensive studies into the effects of pharmaceuticals in rivers.


Read more: Five ways fish are more like humans than you realise


Pharmaceutical pollution

Medicines do not fully break down in our bodies either and arrive at wastewater treatment plants in faeces and urine. Most are discharged with wastewater effluent, but some enter rivers by seeping from landfills or farm fields where human sewage is used as fertiliser. Wildlife living in rivers and coastal waters where effluent is discharged are exposed to cocktails of medicines, from painkillers to antidepressants.

Caged fish downstream of some water treatment plants changed sex from male to female within a few weeks due to exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals found in contraceptive pills. Recent studies have shown that antidepressants can cause a wide range of behavioural changes in aquatic organisms from aggression, attraction to light and increasing boldness.

Drug addiction is a global health concern that can devastate communities, and tackling its environmental consequences will be expensive. One study has estimated it would cost over US$50 billion (£36 billion) to upgrade wastewater treatment plants in England and Wales so that they can remove these chemicals.

Water flowing out of a concrete grate into a river.
Drugs can’t be filtered from sewage without significant upgrades to existing infrastructure. Marekuliasz/Shutterstock

It might seem obvious that prescribed and illegal drugs designed to change behaviour in humans also change the behaviour of wildlife. But this problem is potentially far more widespread and complex. We don’t even know if synthetic chemicals in everyday household products, such as cosmetics, clothes and cleaning agents, can affect the behaviour of people and other species. An international group of scientists has urged companies and regulating bodies to check their toxic effect on behaviour as part of risk assessments of new chemicals.

We must get to grips with the amount of pharmaceuticals in our waterways. The world is some way from fixing the problems of addiction and illicit drug use. But, at the very least, more should be done to improve filtration in sewage treatment plants, and to force water companies to take more responsibility for ensuring effluent doesn’t affect wildlife.

Matt Parker, Senior Lecturer in Neuroscience and Psychopharmacology, University of Portsmouth and Alex Ford, Professor of Biology, University of Portsmouth

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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A good news story for Youth Day: Proper housing for students can uplift an entire rural community.

Chris Hart

By John Fraser

“You have probably never heard of Lehurutshe, a small village near Zeerust in the North West Province, which lies close to Botswana Border,” says Chris Hart, Executive Chair of Impact Investment Management.

“And that helps to explain the neglect, despair and misery of this and so many other small communities in South Africa.”

However, venture capitalist Hart and his team at Impact Empowerment Ventures are bringing new hope to the villagers of Lehurutshe, with a project to build a student accommodation block, using capital that would otherwise have disappeared onto the grasping hands of Treasury officials.

There will no shortage of demand from the students who are studying at the town’s Taletso TVET College.

“Generally, these students are currently being accommodated in the back rooms of noisy, crowded homes where it is not conducive to study properly,” says Hart, who has just returned from a site visit to Lehurutshe.

“There is limited accredited accommodation available for these students, and we are determined to help to fill this gap.

“Here we have a situation where there is tertiary education available, but on the accommodation side it is really sub-optimal to learning.”

Hart explains that jobs will be provided in the construction stage of the project, staff will be needed to run the student hostel once it is opened, and it will make a real and tangible difference to a neglected backwater.

“While this investment will help to create jobs, it will also provide business ownership for young unemployed people in this community,” he states.

“This investment is proof that there are plenty of opportunities and need in SA’s neglected rural outposts, and we are providing a facility that will be high-impact, but also highly rewarding for investors.

“There are hundreds of these opportunities scattered across South Africa. From an investment point of view, the rural student accommodation margins look better than those for hostels established near our urban universities.”

The project is to be financed through the Section 12J tax incentive, which allows people with a high tax burden to put their tax liability into an eligible investment instead of handing it over to the fiscus.

The project is projected to have a return on investment of 12-15%, net of costs.

“This is a scalable investment, and the size of the accommodation block will depend on the funds raised. We plan to house at least 40 to 50 students, but it could go higher,” Hart explains.

“And, of course, this model can be planted elsewhere in the country where there is similar demand.

“We could just say: why should we take any notice at all of this community, and similar neglected rural outposts? Instead we are asking: what can an investment do, how can we made a real difference, have a real impact?

“The plight of rural villages must be neglected no more.”

Chris Hart will be hosting a webinar on this student housing project on Friday, the 18th of June at 9.30.

Registration Link: https://impact12j.co.za/webinars/zeerust-student-accommodation-s12j-webinar-18-june-930-1000/

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Can we put a stop to Patel’s meddling?

Minister Ebrahim Patel: Your boardroom is not safe from this man

By John Fraser

Of course there are excesses. Company executives can and do become obscenely rich with large salaries, generous pensions and other less-transparent perks like share options.

But that is the price we pay for a fairly free labour market, where merit is rewarded.

If someone can command a high salary because his or her talents are in high demand, then so be it. This applies to high-class hookers, film stars and footballers, so why should it not also work in the less-respectable corporate world?

Well, South Africa’s communist Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition Ebrahim Patel thinks that it shouldn’t. He said as much in his recent budget vote speech to Parliament, and in an earlier media briefing.

He wants South Africa’s company law to be amended to “tackle the injustice of excessive pay”.

Now, one can understand the minister’s frustration, because when shareholders vote through salaries which give the bosses a daily rate which is close to the annual amount we peasants earn – there seems to be too little debate on whether or not this is good for the company. Whether the CEO really needs so many zeros on his pay cheque.

If the shareholders won’t do enough to curb excess, Patel believes he must mount his charger in full white-knight garb and slay the dragons of boardroom greed.

He spoke of “a new Bill will that will be finalised within 60 days (which) will require disclosure of wage differentials in companies, stronger governance on excessive director pay, and enhanced transparency on ownership and financial records.”

He argued: “if we really are all in this together, then our patterns of ownership, power and control must be transformed.”

Lenin must be chuckling in his mausoleum, delighted that although he may be dead and unburied in Red Square, the idealistic claptrap of Karl Marx is flourishing in the depressing architectural blandness of Patel’s lair – the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition’s (DTIC) Sunnyside campus.

Patel strikes me as a hard-working, incorruptible, thoughtful and caring man, but I am not sure his economic stance is realistic.

A lot of people earn a lot of money. So what?

His boss, the President, is a billionaire. Would Cyril have welcomed more government interference while he was still in the private sector, building his fortune through the distribution of McDonald’s burgers and other gastronomic delights?

One would hope he will bring a dose of reality when this issue reaches the Cabinet.

While Patel’s vision of a fairer, more equal society looks good in theory, it takes little account of reality.

Greed may not be good, noble or admirable. But it makes the world go round.

It leads to excess, but also to success. The two go together.

Remove the motive for the very talented to exercise their talents and lead our big firms, and they will go elsewhere. They can. They are mobile and in demand.

You will be forced to replace the overpaid elite with under-performers. That is not good for an economy.

So maybe this minister and former activist for South Africa’s textile workers should stick to his knitting, by helping to create the most welcoming environment possible for investment and talent.

He will not do this by bashing the bosses.

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Can we Toque? Review: Japa Express Sushi Bar, Rivonia

A bit undercooked. Photo stolen from Michael Olivier

By John Fraser

I loved and hated Japan all those decades ago when I visited that remarkable country.

Riding the bullet train was exciting, but climbing up and down hills in Kyoto to visit all those temples in the summer heat and humidity made SAS training seem like a walk in the park.

But the food was remarkable. I remember visiting a Yakitori restaurant which had a wide choice of skewered stuff. Brilliant, lovely, memorable. Yum, yum, yum.

Then there was a hole-in-the-wall place where they transformed shards of meat on a griddle into something magical and lovely.

And who could forget knocking back wondrous Japanese whisky in those late-nite bars where Filipino musicians sang Beatles songs as well as the Beatles themselves. The drumming was better, too.

I hadn’t eaten much great Japanese food since my visit, but all of this changed when I stumbled across (into?) the Japa Express Suishi Bar, which hovers above Woolworths in Rivonia.

Don’t be put off by the name. You don’t have to eat sushi or sashimi or anything else which hasn’t been near an oven or a grill. The menu is biblical in length and variety.

I gravitated towards the dim sum/potstickers/dumplings – call them what you will.

They are so, so tasty. Moist, succulent, well-flavoured. Magnificent.

Then there are the Tempura prawns in feather-light batter, succulent and melt-in-the-mouth tender.

I have on different visits tried the hotpot which is great fun and the barbecue booth, where you cook your meat over a tabletop gas braai .

Friends with whom I have visited have opted for sushi and sashimi and have raved over it.

But there are so, so many other dishes to try. The roast pork, the oriental schnitzels, the miso soup.

The beer is ice-cold and served in chilled glasses, and they have a good wine list as well as a choice of high-octane spirits of the type which send ANC prohibition despots into fits of rage.

One Pretoria restaurant I used to like a lot is now on my black list because of what I regard as a sloppy and dangerous attitude to Covid-19. Staff and customers who sometimes wear masks and sometimes don’t. I am too old and fragile to risk infection, however delightful the food sometimes was.

No such fears about Japa. They squirt you and take your temperature on arrival; you must keep your mask on until the drinks arrive.

And – so, so impressively – the food is served on another table adjacent to where you are seated, to minimise contact between waitress and diner. It is hardly an inconvenience to fetch it to your own table once the waitress is well out of infection range.

It took a little thought to set up this system, but is not that hard to implement. We should have it everywhere.

If you are one of those weird eccentrics like me who remains terrified of the pandemic, I would really, really recommend this place. You eat well, and you can expect to live for quite a long while after you leave.

Brilliant food, great health and safety.

Oh, and the majority of customers when I go there are of an oriental appearance. An excellent sign. They know their food, and are voting with their feet, or chopsticks, or whatever…

I will be back. Again and again and again.

Rating:  I give it 5*

Key to the Ratings:

1*    Dog food is nicer

2*.  Cat food is nicer

3*.  Not bad if Woolworths is sold out of ready-meals.

4*.  I like it

5*.  I love it.  Not to be missed.

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Can we Toque? Why I shall no more go a-wanderin’ to the Wanderers.

No sign of the shocking bill to come

By John Fraser

I would need the tentacles of several Oscar-winning octopi (or octopuses, if you prefer) to count the number of enjoyable, cheap and cheerful beer and pub-grub lunches I have enjoyed in the bar at Jo’burg’s Wanderers Club.

However, I do not intend to go a-wanderin’ in there ever again after a recent, truly memorable meal. Memorable for many of the wrong reasons.

It was a Monday. Apparently they follow the teachings of Bob Geldof and don’t like Mondays. While we are told that Monday’s child is fair of face, but Wednesday’s child is full of woe, it seems that Wednesday had arrived two days early in this Jo’burg institution.

The website tells us that the newly-renovated Wanderers’ Chariots bar is one of Joburg’s top restaurants. It “is not just a place to watch sport, have a few drinks, or grab a bite to eat. It is a place for you and your friends to come together, have a laugh and shout and cheer for your favourite team.”

I won’t argue about the sport-watching, as there is no shortage of TV screens. The shortage is of decent, well-priced food.

They allow non-members like me into this club, and I was the first to arrive.

The renovations, I observed, seem to have involved removing the comfy sofas and stripping the place of any really comfortable chairs. I had preferred it comfortable and a bit shabby.

Seated near the entrance in what I hoped was an area with minimum risk of Covid, I was brought the menus. A reasonable choice, I thought, of reasonably-priced grub.

When I had been joined my my buddy Norman, who is as much a member as a fixture, I decided to order a club sandwich. I like club sandwiches, and I was, after all, in a club. And fancied a sandwich.

Then came the first blow. Having brought me a menu, the waiter proceeded to explain that I couldn’t order from it. It was Monday, where woe is the dominant theme, and the choice was minimal. Instead, he pointed us to a chalk board with a limited, but acceptable, choice of nosh.

“Why not have a curry,” I said to myself – and Norman, who was eavesdropping, copied my choice.

I asked whether the beef or the chicken curry was the better, and was advised to order beef, as most people ordered chicken. I am still not sure of the logic of this, but dead cow it was. What we were NOT told was that while the price was R120 for the chicken, it was a ridiculously inflated, exorbitant R165 for the beef curry. In a pub. Which clearly expected me to fully subsidise the cost of the recent renovations.

After an exceptionally long wait (in a nearly empty bar) the food eventually started to arrive – in relays.

The chariots were clearly in for repair, and someone must have nicked the trays, so one of us got a curry, then later some rice, then later the other curry was delivered…..it took a while.

What of the food? Well, the curries were served up in frying pans. Not plates. Not bowls. Fucking frying pans!

On a separate plate, each of us received a small mound of nice and half a roti bread.

I was initially disappointed by the side of the roti. And then I tasted it and disappointment was eclipsed by relief. It resembled a cardboard cutout more than it resembled an Indian-style bread. It had no date stamp, but I would have been surprised if it had been made that week. It was the worst thing since sliced bread.

I proceeded to drown the rice in the ample gravy which surrounded the chunks of beef. And it didn’t taste too bad.

My big problem was with the texture of the beef. I like a curry or a stew when the meat has begin to break down, to become soft and moist.

These cubes of beef were still so cubist that Picasso himself would have wanted to paint them.

I ate half of it, more to curb my hunger than to arouse my senses. Not impressed.

We each had draft Windhoek lagers, although my first beverage was a bottled lite beer. Either the draft lager had spent too long in the barrel, or the staff had failed to clean out the pipes properly. Either way, it tasted a bit flat, with not much more life than the parrot in that legendary Monty Python sketch.

Worse was to come. I asked for the bill. It arrived. I queried it.

Not having initially asked the cost of my meal – and the menu board was priceless in the wrong sense – I was told that we were, indeed, being charged R165 each for our curries. This place was cheap and cheerful no more.

Not being a member, I was unable to claim the members’ discount. I paid, and cried all the way to the car.

Don’t get me wrong. I have every sympathy for SA businesses which have suffered from the government’s illogical and vindictive shut-downs and booze bans.

However, if they are now able to trade, they should provide food which will delight their customers and make them come flocking back, having told all their friends and posted a pic of each and every course on social media. At least twice.

Sorry, Wanderers. You let yourselves down badly by serving over-priced, underwhelming food.

I won’t be returning.

Rating:  I give it 1*

Key to the Ratings:

1*    Dog food is nicer

2*.  Cat food is nicer

3*.  Not bad if Woolworths is sold out of ready-meals.

4*.  I like it

5*.  I love it.  Not to be missed.

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BOOK REVIEW: Chronicle of sober Rob Davies’s time among corrupt colleagues

Rob Davies has written about the rot that set in during the Zuma years.

 Business Day. 22 APRIL 2021 

By JOHN FRASER

It says a lot about SA and our economy that it is regarded as unremarkable that devout communists are appointed to important economic ministries.

However, former trade & industry minister Rob Davies takes it as read that he was up to the job when he joined the cabinet.

His memoir, Towards a New Deal, is a difficult read, densely written and sloppily edited, but it is an instructive, important and valuable record of an often-inadequate response to the industrial challenges SA has faced in the past few decades.

It is also useful in that I think he is the first former minister of his time to have broken cover, and to have written extensively about the damage done to this country by state capture. He was certainly at the centre of power as the cancer of corruption infested SA’s ANC government during the Zuma presidency.

Davies himself has impeccable struggle credentials, having spent years in exile in Mozambique, escaping with his life only due to the ineptitude of the apartheid hit squads.

He was active on his return in the transition to democracy in SA, and initially gives much detail about his early years of activism, his exile and return from exile — but the book gathers pace in the later chapters when he chronicles his move from parliament into government, first as a deputy minister, and then as trade & industry minister.

While Davies’s own integrity is unquestionable, one must ask whether he stayed on too long in government once he realised the grand scale of looting and corruption

Unlike another (earlier) white communist minister, Alec Erwin, Davies is a serious chap, and certainly he makes little effort to entertain readers. The one time I did detect a hint of humour was in his snide dismissal of the dress code of Julius Malema’s EFF brigade.

He writes: “It soon became apparent that the EFF was not going to play the conventional parliamentary game. Its MPs arrived at Parliament bedecked in red overalls and hard hats — representing something of a fancy dress outing for individuals better known for their penchant for luxury watches and designer clothing.”

There are very useful and worthwhile insights from Davies, who as a minister was rarely outgoing to the media about what was happening behind the scenes.

He reveals that he was furious at the way in which SA and its regional allies were treated in trade negotiations in Brussels by Eurocrat Peter Mandelson, whose bullying manner seems to have been a total disgrace. If you thought Mandelson was a nasty piece of work before reading this book, it will do nothing to change your mind.

Davies himself put this rather well, when he recalls how the eventual news of Mandelson’s replacement reached a gathering of African ministers and “many delegates broke out in an undiplomatic but heartfelt cheer”.

However, he does not direct his venom only at the Eurocrats; he is also scathing about the protectionist Americans, and even about the parasitic relationship (my words, not his) between SA and its partners in the SA  Customs Union (Sacu).ROB DAVIES: NAVIGATING A NEW DEAL FOR SA’S ECONOMIC RECOVERYIn his new book, former trade & industry minister Rob Davies debunks the mythical allure of neoliberal austerity and proposes a fresh way forwardLIFE1 week ago

He makes it clear that SA’s space for manoeuvre in trade negotiations was often constrained by the need to take Sacu concerns into account. And he chronicles futile attempts to reform the mechanism through which a hefty chunk of SA’s tariff receipts is distributed among the Sacu brethren, noting that it now seems that controversial reform efforts “are shelved”.

Davies has a strong desire to clamp down on booze, and is almost evangelical over this. Whether this is entirely based on logical analysis, or if there is some unmentioned reason in his personal life for such strong views, is not made clear.

He recalls his attempts to tighten those liquor regulations that fell under his influence as a minister. I find his arguments in favour of raising the legal age for drinking to 21 extreme and puzzling, but I do not call into doubt his sincerity or integrity on this issue.

His suggestion is that those younger than 21 should be deprived the joys of a booze-up because until this age, the prefrontal cortex of the brain is not fully developed and is especially vulnerable to the effects of alcohol.

By that age, though, I would just note that society does already allow our young adults to get married, to drive and to go off and be killed in wars. It seems Davies and I will continue to disagree on this issue. Just not over a pint.

On more weighty matters of state, Davies makes clear his distaste for the corruption that gripped SA under Jacob Zuma’s kleptocratic rule, and is unequivocal about Zuma’s culpability, but one does wonder whether he himself could and should have done more — and much earlier — to sound the alarm.

It may be that Davies’s years in exile during the struggle — alongside comrade Zuma — led to a degree of loyalty that made it less comfortable for him  (and others) to take a public stance against the harm being done to the SA economy, and the corruption of the president himself.Picture: SUPPLIED

While Davies’s own integrity is unquestionable, one must ask whether he stayed on too long in government once he realised the grand scale of looting and corruption.

Davies distances himself from the problem, to an extent, noting the many clean audits his own department received. He details some of the encounters he had with the vile Gupta brothers, always insisting that he resisted all requests to assist them. He did, however, share food with them as they tried in vain to win favour with him, and he attended the notorious Gupta wedding at Sun City.

He details his own strenuous efforts to stamp out dishonest practices, when these fell within his ambit, and he probably kept billions of rand from the clutches of the corrupt.

Though this book extensively analyses industrial policy, and there is no shortage of theory and analysis, one gets the feeling Davies is not particularly proud of his record in stemming the tide of deindustrialisation in SA.

He blames global factors such as recessions and the slowdown in commodity prices, but it is regretful that he was never given the clout to get enough done. He was the minister with primary responsibility for industry, but he does not seem to have enjoyed cabinet-wide, governmentwide, fervent commitment to supporting his work.

This trend has continued, I suspect, under his successor Ebrahim Patel, who took over an enlarged economic and industrial portfolio, but still sees the Treasury continuing to chip away at the department of trade, industry & competition’s (as it is now called) industrial support budget.

The book ends with some prescriptions for Davies’s “New Deal” — favouring infrastructure spend, and also with a strong emphasis on the importance of the development of the pan-African free trade area (AfCFTA), transforming Africa from a supplier of unprocessed communities, advancing along the path of beneficiation and industrialisation.

Davies’s memoir is a must-read for anyone interested in SA’s economy and postapartheid political evolution, but the density of the writing style makes it a daunting read.

Take this sentence near the very end: “It is imperative also that popular mobilisation embrace more of the heterodox perspectives on the structural characteristics of underdevelopment that ultimately constrain the ability to address real issues facing the people of the country.” Ouch!

Prof Rob Davies is perhaps too intellectual and too much of an academic to write an accessible book. This may not matter much, given the limited readership it will attract.

One is left wondering how much more effective he might actually have been as a minister if he had served more of his time under a president who put our country ahead of personal enrichment.

Sadly, we will never know.

• John Fraser is a former Business Day trade and industry editor.

Why the fire on Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain was particularly devastating

A wildfire spread across the slopes of Table Mountain to the University of Cape Town. Photo by Brenton Geach/Gallo Images via Getty Images

By Alanna Rebelo and Karen Joan Esler

The devastating fire that ran its course across the side of Table Mountain in Cape Town this week has put the spotlight back on the management of an iconic range that’s home to some of the most biodiverse vegetation in the world. And what should – and could – have been done to reduce the risk of a catastrophe that destroyed priceless cultural heritage.

Table Mountain National Park is clothed in fynbos – a distinctive type of vegetation found only in South Africa – and is surrounded by the city of Cape Town.

Fynbos is a highly flammable shrubland, which has evolved over millennia to become dependent on fire for survival. It burns. Science tells us that we can expect most fynbos to burn on average every 12 to 15 years in natural conditions.

Therefore managing fynbos means managing fires.

Fire hazard is influenced by three factors: the weather, an ignition source and fuel loads.

The weather can affect fires by increasing spread through high wind speeds or resulting in dry vegetation after a period of warm weather. Ignition sources may be a result of lightning or arson.

Both weather and ignition sources are hard to control and prevent, and yet often receive the most media attention. But the one factor that is possible to manage, is fuel loads. Fuel loads in fynbos can be kept down through ecological burns and keeping the mountain clear of invasive alien trees.

The recent out-of-control wildfire on Table Mountain may be linked to several key issues: fire suppression, alien trees, constrained budgets and unsupportive policies, together creating a wicked problem. Climate change may also have played a role in the high temperatures and fierce winds around the time of the fire, though attribution studies will need to confirm this.

Fire suppression

Recent research has shown that urban expansion of Cape Town has created anthropogenic fire shadows which are changing the fire regime, often causing a decline in fire activity. For example, the fires that used to sweep the slopes of Newlands and Kirstenbosch from the flats below have been blocked by the suburbs of Newlands and Rondebosch, meaning that the fynbos on these slopes has not burnt in decades.

Scientists are calling this process a “hidden collapse”, that desperately requires management intervention. They also predicted two years ago that this would lead to extreme fires in ecosystems globally where there was no ecological restoration and where fuels were allowed to accumulate.

Further evidence of a decline in fire activity in Table Mountain Natonal Park is presented in a study on indigenous forests which showed that they had been expanding on Table Mountain due to fire suppression policies.

Invasion of alien trees

Invasion of alien trees also contributes to increased fuel loads, and therefore more dangerous fires. Fynbos is made up mainly of shrubs and therefore when alien trees invade or are planted in fynbos, they tower several meters above fynbos, carrying considerably more fuel. A change from fynbos to pines and gum trees can increase fuel loads from 4 to 20 tonnes per hectare.

One study found that the 2017 Knysna wildfire had a significantly higher severity in plantations of invasive alien trees and fynbos invaded by these trees, compared to areas with just fynbos.

Unfortunately, invasive alien plant species are proliferating faster than authorities can remove or manage them. This is also despite the efforts of Working for Water Teams working in the park, as well as over 20 volunteer groups working hard to clear invasive alien plants on the Cape Peninsula and beyond.

In an article in 2019, scientists warned of the areas of highest risk at the urban-fynbos fringe, and gave clear steps that could be taken to mitigate this risk. But these issues have been identified as early as 1995.

Could Cape Town have been better prepared to deal with this disaster?

Why is this a wicked problem?

Although we have the ecological knowledge to undertake prescribed burns and alien clearing, unsupportive policies, constrained budgets and a complex social setting make implementation challenging.

In the 1970s and 1980s, regular prescribed burns were practised in some parts of the park  with the dual goals of rejuvenating the fynbos, and reducing fuel loads (and hence risk). However this was halted at the end of the 1980s, and fire management shifted to fire suppression to protect plantations and residential developments.

The current National Veld and Forest Fire Act 101 of 1998 does not adequately cater for prescribed burning, as it only allows burning for the purposes of preparing firebreaks. This makes it extremely difficult to obtain permission to conduct fires that would maintain the fynbos, assist with the control of alien plants, and reduce fuel loads.

Another issue is the social resistance to prescribed ecological burns in Cape Town. The public have raised concerns around lack of communication, while the authorities past communications around prescribed and alien clearing has resulted in public efforts to block the planned management actions. This has resulted in a lack of trust between authorities and residents.

These challenges result in a management stalemate.

Recommendations

What should the priorities be in the short-term? Will funds for basic needs, such as recovering buildings and capacity, compete with disaster risk reduction needs, such as ecological restoration and clearing invasive alien trees?

Alien plant management needs to compete with all other budgetary pressures, which perpetuates a complex, wicked problem.

What can be done better going forward?

Firstly, the policy framework needs to be addressed. Although prescribed burns are dangerous and inconvenient, out-of-control wildfires are disastrous and could threaten many people’s lives.

Secondly, citizens of Cape Town need to be more supportive of prescribed ecological burns and alien clearing. The relationship with managing authorities also needs to be restored and trust rebuilt.

Thirdly, Cape Town needs to improve the management of its natural and cultural heritage. This should include both prescribed ecological burns, and keeping the mountain clear of alien trees.

Given the huge interest from the public in alien tree clearing, apparent from the many active volunteer hacking groups, there is a need to integrate efforts by the South African National Parks, the City of Cape Town, and landowners (such as the University of Cape Town) with those of the public to develop a more strategic, standardised approach to clearing invasive alien trees.

Alanna Rebelo is Postdoctoral researcher, Stellenbosch University and Karen Joan Esler is Professor of Conservation Ecology and Head of the Department of Conservation Ecology & Entomology at Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch University

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