Foreign Perspectives on ZA
Jacob Zuma and his colleagues have been trying hard recently to convince the world that ZA is open for business, is an attractive place in which to invest, and has a robust economy despite global shivers. Tell that to Barclays and Anglo.
These two global giants have a significant presence in two of our most significant economic sectors – financial services and mining. And yet both appear to be scaling back.
In the case of Barclays, a bank which has a local presence through its large stake in Absa, the scale of withdrawal should soon become clear. Will it scale down its investment, or just pack up and leave?
If so, there will be all sorts of opportunities for black economic empowerment, offset by all the potential dangers of enrichment and corruption which we have seen too often in the BEE arena.
And while Barclays’ culling of its African operations may well be part of a perfectly sensible global realignment, the signal it will send within ZA can only be a negative one.
Our ministers cheer when there is an investment in the country, such as those by the auto giants who are richly rewarded through state incentives. They may not be as public about fleeing bankers, but some damage will be done.
And what about Anglo? Despite this company’s rich heritage in South Africa, it has its main listing in London these days, and its current Australian CEO replaced a North American. While it is not talking about closing down its SA businesses, its plans to exit Iron Ore would mean a goodbye to Kumba, this country’s biggest miner of the mineral. Similarly, a likely move out of coal would also impact its local profile. And if is also exits platinum, there would not be a lot left in SA of one of this country’s former giants.
Of course, change happens all the time. Anglo acquired its stake in Kumba when the old monolithic Iscor was broken up and flogged off. And in diamonds there was also a flurry of restructuring around Anglo and De Beers.
But at a time when the government is laying out the red carpet for new investors, it must be a worry to see some big players in the local economy wiping their muddy boots on the same carpet as they head for the First Class lounge at ORT.
Fine food and wine are, of course, essential for an enjoyable dining experience. And South Africa has both in abundance.
But a meal out is more than just about filling your face and straining your liver. The ambiance and the service can transform a good meal out into a great one.
Which is why I was so under-impressed when I recently had lunch at the Indian restaurant in the Gold Reef City Casino, South of Jo’burg.
The welcome was warm, it was a quiet lunchtime, and I hadn’t eaten Indian food for a while.
Food and wine were ordered, with me selecting a bottle of Allesverloren Tinta Barocca – a wine I know and enjoy and thought might make a good match for the spicy food.
The waiter arrived at the table with a bottle, and I was able to stop him opening it when I realized it was the wrong wine. Once again, I told him what I wanted and he went off to fetch it.
This time he not only arrived with the wrong wine – but it was the wrong colour, too. I enjoy white wine but that was not what I had ordered.
Soon there was a huddle of people around the table, with the manager finally admitting that although the wine I wanted was listed, they were out of stock.
I hastily ordered an alternative, opting for something which was not nice at all, and was way overpriced.
The food was excellent, but because I was crying over unavailable wine, the meal was a disappointment. Fortunately, I was using up some vouchers I was given at the relaunch of the Casino, so it wasn’t too expensive. But had I been paying full price, I would have been really annoyed.
Service is a challenge, even in very good restaurants. I recall the first time I went to Bistro Michel in Jo’burg, the waiter was clearly out of his depth, and the main courses were brought to the table before we had received our starters.
South African restaurants regularly feature in lists of the world’s best, and with the weak rand you can arguably eat better here for less than almost anywhere else.
But if you do not train your people properly, you are not offering the full dining experience.
Besides, take-away curry can taste just as good, without the need to pay for overpriced wine, beer or whatever you choose to glug down with it.
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