It was useful for ZA Confidential to attend today’s media briefing by acting SAA CEO Nico Bezuidenhout, even though the message was a stark one. An emergency plan is underway to try to prevent a financial crash of the airline, and Finance Minister Nene also attended the event at SAA HQ. The airline is technically insolvent, and is reliant on government guarantees of R14.3bn to borrow the money needed to keep going and avoid business rescue. As the acting CEO put it: “We keep on chasing our tail, so to speak.” Minister Nene said government would continue to support the turnaround of the airline, but only if moved toward financial soundness, and he said there would be no increase in government debt. As previously announced, the state is to sell non-strategic assets to support ailing parastatals. There was no fresh detail in this. A 90 day fix-it programme by SAA is being regularly monitored. Nene confirmed that government has approved the cancellation of the SAA China route, to Beijing, on which the airline lost close to R1bn over 3 years. Air China will run services to replace SAA ones. Routes to India and North America also face pruning.


Maybe it was a sign.   Today’s SAA results news conference took off 15 minutes late and landed 45 minutes late. It was presided over by some functionary who clearly considered himself to be very amusing, and this pompous patronising prat seemed blind to how badly things were organised. TV cameras on tripods were allowed to pollute the seating areas, which meant that people like me who had been seated at the back could not see the presentation properly, as our view was blocked.   We were told that if we wrote too slowly, it didn’t matter, as the presentation would be available on departure on a memory stick. It wasn’t. To be fair I was e-mailed a media release. Unless I missed the small print, bizarrely there was no mention in it at all of my mate Nico. And the CFO, a nervous chap who kept crashing the power point and apologising, changed slides with frightening speed – when he got it right.  Maybe a good way of preventing the full scale of the airline’s financial mess from being properly grasped?    Not that this is an accurate analogy, but dealing with the media in this way is a bit like telling passengers there are life belts under the seats when there are none. The final nail in the credibility coffin came when SAA’s chairman decided to call for a round of applause after she had delivered a few assurances.   Never, ever, ever, ever in almost 40 years as a journalist have I attended a news conference where a speaker called for applause. The smart-suited execs and lackeys at the back were happy to oblige the dear lady. I was not. I will not dwell on the acting CEO expressing anger that he had been previously attacked for being under-qualified and that there had been reports that he might have misrepresented his academic achievements. He was clearly unhappy to be quizzed on this again, and insisted he was blameless.  Suffice to say that when I was discussing this as I left with a colleague, an SAA employee suggested I had been unfair to point this out, along with the fact that the airline has an acting CEO with the real one still suspended. I asked if I had my facts wrong, and was told I hadn’t – but the boss is doing a good job. Shame about the PR team, then.


The food was more disgusting than anything I have ever been served on a plane. Ever. Or a train. Maybe at school, but they were careful to avoid child abuse charges. Yep, it was that bad. Unidentifiable fried muck and under-ripe fruit.   At least the soft drinks and bottled water had not been ruined by the cook. So an airline which prides itself on glamour and efficiency couldn’t rustle up an edible snack for a lunchtime media briefing.   SAA has just announced it isn’t serving Champagne any more, and will stick to local bubbly. An astute branding or marketing team, or folk with a generosity of spirit, would have ensured a few bottles of this excellent Cape booze would be served to we VIP media guests. It seems SAA is in such financial doo-doo that it can’t afford either the bubbly or the trained professionals. Not so much Economy Class as No Class.


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Gwede the Unsteady

ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe has succeeded in shooting himself in both feet with just one utterance.

First came his attack on foreigners, saying they should not be allowed to own land in ZA. Not great timing when foreign shop-owners in SA’s townships have been the victims of looting – some of it conducted by uniformed police officers – as well as beatings and murder. Kick a man while he is down. As long as he is foreign, why don’t you?

The sheer stupidity of Mantashe’s suggestion boggles both sides of my brain. Look at the US, the UK, Singapore, Australia and – yes – South Africa too.   All of these countries achieved economic success and growth thanks to immigrants.   And no. I do not condone racism, apartheid or slavery.   There are modern examples around the world of immigrants who have enjoyed equal rights and who have excelled. As there should continue to be in ZA. And the right to own property is a basic human right, regardless of your passport or the land of your birth. It should apply to foreigners in South Africa, even to wine farm and game lodge owning parasites like Richard Branson, who we all know was shunned by Nelson Mandela for his lack of support for the birth of democracy in this country. How quickly we forget….

Then, having displayed his populist poltroon credentials towards foreigners, Gwede the unsteady turned his attention to his own people, or rather those who have managed to really prosper. He has decided there should be a ceiling on land ownership for South Africans.   Property rights are the bedrock of building business confidence, are a basic human right, but not for Mantashe. Oh, no.   You can’t be seen to be too successful in this country, even though the party’s leaders were seen pimping themselves to successful business leaders at a recent gala dinner in Cape Town. And what about Zuma’s sprawling Nkandla estate? Maybe he will be exempt from Gwede’s axe because he has so many wives? No stench of hypocrisy there.

Of course we all know why Gedede has taken leave of his senses and come up with this populist poop. He is scared of the rising popularity among the masses of Julius Malema’s EFF (Economically Fucked-up Fools). Malema cannot be seen to be the only one making false and foolhardy proposals to the electorate, because the masses may be unemployed, hungry, squalidly housed and disgruntled – but they do have one important attribute. They can vote.

For this reason, while we may not like the offensive tripe being touted by the ANC Secretary General, we do understand where he comes from. He is not as stupid as he sounds.

Tweet of the Day

Rand Daily Mail (@rdm_za): ANC moves to ban foreign buyers and limit ownership to “two farms”

ZA Confidential is a subscription newsletter.   For subscription details, invitations to grown-up events, or any other communication, please contact:     Follow us on twitter: @zaconfidential

Hundreds of SA Cops Are Violent Criminals

A new report, entitled Broken Blue Line 2, will make every citizen of South Africa shudder with concern, for it highlights the alarming extent to which our police officers are involved in violent and serious crime.

It was launched today by the SA institute of Race Relations and AfriForum at a bizarre news conference during which representatives of the police were more active than many of the invited journalists.

Think tanker supreme Frans Cronje, the CEO of SAIRR, presented the results of the report, which confirmed 100 cases of police involvement in serious crimes – such as rapes, murder, armed robberies, and violent assaults – although there may well be hundreds, if not thousands more.

Cronje suggested that police recruits arrive in an environment infested with corrupt behaviour.

A few stats from the survey…..

  • 20 of 32 murders involved the use of service pistols. 6 of 32 involved the spouse of police officer.
  • 9 of 26 of the rapes occurred in police stations or police vehicles.
  • Often cloned police are associated with genuine police officers, who take part in their activities.

This was the second such investigation, and Cronje said there is no evidence of any decline in police criminality. He suggested you don’t find anything on this scale, say, in the UK.  We in South Africa have a systemic problem.

He insisted that police efforts to deal with the problem falls short – and suggested there must be a degree of infiltration of the police by criminal gangs.  It is with good reason that the public are afraid of the police, particularly in poor communities.

Among measures suggested is a new investigative agency to identify, hunt down, prosecute and jail corrupt officers. This will be a powerful deterrent.

The news conference involved an exchange of claims between Cronje and a police representative.    The SAIRR claims it tried to get the police involved from the start of the investigation, without success.  This was countered by the police, who questioned the methodology of the report.


The most chilling sentence in the report highlights the extent to which the public is being let down:Certainly women travelling alone and at night have particular reason to fear the blue lights in the rear-view mirror.”     Frightening and alarming.

Tweets of the Day

Funny Tweets (@Funny_TweetsQ): I used to think I was un-photogenic. Then I found out I was just ugly

ZA Confidential is a subscription newsletter.   For subscription details, invitations to grown-up events, or any other communication, please contact:     Follow us on twitter: @zaconfidential

Die Vine Intervention: League of Beers’ Savage Pale Ale and Leopold7

Brilliant booze hound Michael Olivier has crawled around the breweries to discover 2 great beers, which he presents on our latest podcast. They are Savage Pale Ale and Leopold7.

John Fraser is on bar duty in the Johannesburg studio, where is is joined by Pretoria restaurateur Dino Fagas of Prosopa, Branding supremo Jeremy Sampson and top economist Mike Schussler.

Malcolm MacDonald provided studio facilities and technical support.

Badsberg Noble Late Harvest on Die Vine Intervention

Michael Olivier showcases a delicious sweet wine – the Badsberg Noble Late Harvest of 2009.

John Fraser is joined for the tasting in the Jo’burg studio by three sweet guests: Debi van Flymen of Wine Cellar, KWV’s Jolize van Wyk Fourie and Absa’s Chris Gilmour.

Die Vine Intervention: KWV Cape Tawny Port

Award-wining food and wine guru Michael Olivier presents a multi award winning South Africa Port – the KWV Cape Tawny – for our latest boozy podcast.

John Fraser is once again joined for the tasting in the Jo’burg studio by Debi van Flymen of Wine Cellar, KWV’s Jolize van Wyk Fourie and Absa’s Chris Gilmour.

Why I Failed to see the Light at Woolworths

Woolies talks of a basket to trolley move, where you can get everything in a one-stop shop. As well as bread and apples and stuff, I needed to pop out buy a replacement light bulb for my bathroom, as shaving in the dark can be as bit risky. None at Woolies. I asked why not?   “They are discontinued.”   Surely this flies in the face of all the management bullshit of caring about the customer? The outcome was that I had to do a two-stop shop. Now I know a Spar outlet in Monument Park where they have a suggestion book, and if there is something they don‘t stock, the customer can point this out, and they will see what can be done. Having bought back their franchise stores, I think that Woolworths has become irritatingly arrogant.   It is almost enough to force me back to those unsmiling till ladies at Pick n Pay.   Oh, and a final footnote. I bought an energy-saving lightbulb. But it is too long and I can’t get the cover back on the light fitting.   Clearly my new bulb is brighter than I am.

Chris Gilmour from Absa had this to say:

Former CEO Simon Susman initiated Woolies’ move into branded products (products outside of the traditional Woolies brand items) about a decade ago. It has proven to be remarkably successful in persuading Woolies’ customers to do the great bulk of their shopping- not just for food but for all sorts of general merchandise as well – at Woolies stores, and thus not go to competitor outlets for their more mundane requirements. I guess light bulbs happen to be one of those relatively slow-moving items that tend not to be stocked in Woolies, due to the nature of the product. In other words, Woolies probably reckons that if they stock 80% of what customers want/need, they will be OK. This is in terms of the old Pareto or 80:20 rule.


If I am in a hurry and want a one-stop shop, Woolworths will no longer be my first choice.

Tweets of the Day

Will Rodgers (@WilliamRodgers): The best part about your friend’s girlfriend being pregnant… Not having to wear a condom anymore…

Paul Rabenowitz (@paulrabenowitz): Is a scientist at coke called a fizzycist?

Rude Goldberg (@redherringbear): If you believe you can pass a drug test by drinking large amounts of water, you’re just diluting yourself.

ZA Confidential is a subscription newsletter.   For subscription details, invitations to media events for grown ups, or any other communication, please contact:     Follow us on twitter: @zaconfidential

Gloomy Outlook from Eskom, Warning of Daily Power Cuts

ZA Confidential attended the latest Eskom media briefing by CEO Tshediso Matona, to see how the utility is planning to deal with the continuing power crisis in ZA.  The message is a depressing one. Power cuts are going to be a way of life in the coming days,  Matona himself lacks confidence, and the message is crystal clear that the politicians – ANC ones and not apartheid ones – are to blame for the current stuff up.  A few of the high (low) lights……

Eskom is likely to need to load-Tshed on most days in the near future.

Maintenance, or lack of it, is the key to the problem. The CEO said maintenance is like a religion for the company, but Eskom has not stayed faithful to that maintenance religion for a long time, and the unreliability of equipment is the price it is paying.  It is embarrassed by this.  Shame.  No wonder a certain Eskom boss is called The Prince of Darkness.

Eskom has kept the lights on in recent years by deferring maintenance and using diesel.  This was clearly against the advice of its senior management which appears to have been too cowardly or too in love with their fat salaries to say no when the politicians ordered reckless practices.  The World Cup period was a classic instance, when our country’s leaders seem to have been more interested in fun football than in reliable power supply in the future.   We are all now being bitten in the balls as a result.

It is only by burning expensive diesel that the problem is being prevented from becoming much worse, and the message from Eskom bosses today was that there isn’t the cash to pay for that diesel, with a R3bn bailout already being needed.

Eskom is in an appalling financial mess and this will only be eased with more bail outs from the taxpayer or price hikes for the consumer – or both.

Matona was challenged over President Zuma’s insistence that Eskom’s problems can be blamed on apartheid.  He failed to give any meaningful worthwhile answer to this, and took several minutes of waffle to not respond meaningfully.

There will be more delays in bringing new capacity on line.


Eskom is mumbling, stumbling and bumbling along. Journalists arrived for the briefing, and there were lots of cups, but no tea or coffee. However, there was a man putting a teaspoon on every unused cup and saucer as self-important Eskom types paced around.   Then the event kicked off 15 minutes late. Apparently the Deputy President had been in the building and his hosts were too deferentuial to kick him out so they could start briefing the media when they had said they would.

Tweets of the Day

Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow): Why did the raisin go out with the prune? It couldn’t get a date. #ClassicJokeFriday

The Dowager Countess (@theLadyGrantham):   There’s nothing simpler than avoiding people you don’t like. Avoiding one’s friends, that’s the real test. #DowntonPBS

PUNS (@omgthatspunny): Velcro, what a rip-off

Male Thoughts (@SteveStfler): I wrote a song about a tortilla; actually it’s more of a wrap


In response to the growing support for the Die Vine Intervention wine tasting podcasts I conduct with the legendary Michael Olivier, ZA Confidential is expanding its coverage to include more writing about food, wine and lifestyle issues.    We will continue to comment on business, but will do less day-to-day writing on routine matters, concentrating on the big stuff.

ZA Confidential is a subscription newsletter.   For subscription details, invitations to us for grown-up events, or any other communication, please contact:     Follow us on twitter: @zaconfidential

Die Vine Intervention. Two beers from two continents.

Passionate food and wine guru Michael Olivier also shows his skill in selecting and introducing fine beer, when he presents two gems from the League of Beers.

They are the Garagista from Cape Town and Belgium’s Vedett.

John Fraser is joined for the tasting in the Jo’burg studio by Debi van Flymen of Wine Cellar, KWV’s Jolize van Wyk Fourie and Absa’s Chris Gilmour.

Viña Sol from Torres on Die Vine Intervention

Wine expert Michael Olivier presents a Spanish white, the Viña Sol from Torres, to a panel of independent tasters.

John Fraser is joined for the tasting in the Jo’burg studio by Debi van Flymen of Wine Cellar, KWV’s Jolize van Wyk Fourie and Absa’s Chris Gilmour.

The panel also discusses the pros and cons of closing wine bottles with screw caps rather than corks.