Mini Budget Interesting. For All The Wrong Reasons

Rarely has there been a budget event where the budget itself was such a side issue.   Admittedly, today’s mid-term budget review has none of meat of the February budget itself, where idiot accountants salivate over changes to what they call ‘sin taxes’ – those evil levies on booze and ciggies, soon to be joined by a sour assault on sinful sugar as well.

However, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan did have a lot to say about the economic climate, where the growth trend has slipped from around 4% a year to 2% – and will reach just 0.5% this year.   The result is that spending will need to be trimmed, revenue will fall from projected levels, and debt will rise even faster. Not to mention some more tax hikes.   Which he alluded to, but did not spell out.

Unusually, Pravin was joined at his budget news conference by the minister in the Presidency and the higher education minister, as the three agonised in harmony about the current plight of our students. All promised lots of action and sympathy (though not for the rioters) but clearly there is not the extra cash for everything the students are demanding. This is going to be a big political juggling act, as there is this big gap between the aspirations of the students and the ability of the State (we taxpayers) to fund them.    Nonetheless a few multi-billion figures were sloshing around, which should pay for plenty of petrol bombs, booze and drug orgies, and whatever else today’s students list as necessities.   There may even be more lectures, assuming that not all the lecture halls are burnt down, along with libraries and other symbols of capitalist oppression.

The non-education elephant in the room is, of course, the now open row within different factions of the ANC, with the Finance Minister himself facing criminal charges related to his time as SA’s top taxman. He made it to mini-budget day; whether he will make big budget day in February is anybody’s guess. He certainly did not hide his concerns about the general environment, although he insisted it is not preventing him and his loyal officials (I assume some of them must be loyal) from doing their jobs.

Oh, I nearly forgot the third elephant in the room – which is, of course, the ratings agencies. SA is in danger of a downgrading to junk status, which will not only hit investor confidence, but is also likely to push up the cost of existing debt.

Pravin tried hard to sound confident (hampered by a cold) and in charge (hampered by all the knives being plunged his back).   We should know soon enough whether he won much admiration on the ratings front.

As with the assassination of Lincon, details of the mini-budget may be forgotten by history amid all the wider whirlwinds on the larger political and economic stage.

The budget detail will matter, and most of that will come in February.   I wonder what odds the bookmakers are giving on Pravin delivering that speech?

Why Are So Many Conferences So Awful?

Sitting and waiting recently for a conference to begin, noticing that once again a keynote speaker from government wasn’t going to pitch – a depressingly frequent occurrence – I started working on a list of things the organisers of such events should consider. It doesn’t take a lot of extra money to get it right, but it is truly astonishing how few events are well planned and hosted.   For what it is worth, here are a few ideas from one who has suffered frequently at conferences and presentations which have been awful.

1). Half an hour before this latest conference was due to kick off, there was still no one from the organisers to hand out badges, copies of the agenda, and to meet and greet.   Given the unpredictability of rush-hour traffic, it is quite usual for people to start to trickle in early, and someone should be there to absorb the trickle.   A failure to be on duty in good time is both lazy and rude.  What then annoyed me even more was the late start.   It is a discourtesy to people who can and do turn up on time to delay the proceedings for the benefit of the latecomers.   Ministers and government officials tend to be the worst offenders, but journalists are pretty terrible as well.

2). When the agenda did get handed out, it did not contain the full names of the speakers, some of whom were substitutes, so I had to often guess their names. Topics seemed to be juggled around as well.   This was not acceptable.

3). Once it all got underway, most of the presentation slides were in such a small font they could not be easily read. Why are speakers so blinkered? Why do they clutter their slides instead of giving clear and simple bullet points?   Something which looks OK on a computer screen may be really challenging when it is projected on to a larger screen in a large venue.

4). The event was held in an auditorium with no visible power points. To add insult to injury, some goon handed out free notepads and pens. This is the 21st century, you people! Phones, tablets and laptops have replaced papyrus and ink. Now give me a phone or a computer, and I will come to all of your conferences, and may even decide not to complain about the crap coffee.

5). It was difficult to take notes on my tablet, as the tiny pullout table was too small for my IPad, let alone my laptop. I know it is called a laptop, but I really don’t want it resting on my crotch for hours on end.   The seating was in an auditorium, and not at rows of tables, the latter being my preferred arrangement for those of us who are planning to follow the proceedings, and not those who pretend we are MPs in the parliament chamber, and quietly doze off.

6). It was almost impossible to hear at least one of the speakers as their mike skills were poor.     And the content of some of the presentations overlapped. It was clear that not a lot of work had gone into preparing for this conference, which meant that it was less valuable than it should have been.

7). The MC was awful, as is often the case. He failed to properly introduce the speakers, and seemed keener on telling bad jokes than on keeping things running smoothly, or announcing changes to the schedule. I do hope that taxpayers’ money was not wasted on paying him a fee (it was a government event). Mind you, it is seems to be a growing trend for MCs to indulge themselves at the expense of the audience. And yet the organisers of such events appear indifferent to this poor performance. Maybe they are spending too much time raking in the cash?

8). The food was not to my taste, but others seemed to enjoy it. Catering at conferences can be good but is usually dire. Even when a lot of corporate money is involved, the organisers appear oblivious to the difference between good and evil. No wine was offered with lunch, which was a shame as I really could have done with a drink. Mind you, I recently attended an evening function and was told there would be no booze until it was over. Not my idea of hospitality.   There seems to be a belief that drink is a danger, whereas I tend to regard it as a social lubricant. Let’s face it, the Cape wine industry is one of the wonders of this country, and no opportunity should be missed to support it.

9).   People can’t always listen to every presentation during a conference, and certainly can’t copy down every point in a gabbled slide presentation.   Where speeches and presentations are available they should be speedily posted on a website, or if access is to be restricted, they should be e-mailed to delegates.

That’s all for now.   See you at the next conference. I will be the one sulking in a corner, gobbling my take-away pizza and taking large glugs from my hip flask.

Tweet of the Day:

Shit Jokes (@ShitJokes): I’m not saying I hate you, but I would unplug your life support to charge my phone.

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When a fine Diner fails to deliver

Reading some of the reports of the troubles Samsung is undergoing with its fire-prone phones, I am once again reminded of my biggest problem with South African restaurants: a lack of consistency.

It is great having a fine brand and a fine reputation, but it can be destroyed in…well….a whoosh of flame.

My recent Jo’burg dining experiences have included two visits to the Morningside centre, where there are several restaurants, some of which have delighted me in the past.

When my partner in wine Michael Olivier and his even-more charming wife were recently in Jo’burg, we went to a place called the Green Peppercorn, where I have in the past had splendid food.

Now, I doubt they knew that there were two food writers in our party. The service could not have been more annoying, and my own dish should have been hot, but wasn’t. That was after we waited far too long to give our orders, and then again for the food to arrive.

An expensive, but underwhelming, meal for five badly hit my budget, and I am afraid this is a place I will avoid in future.

Similarly, with its neighbour Pomodoro, a place where there is some pretention over its fine Italian food, which may be Italian but falls short of fine.

Steak Tartare (not necessarily an Italian favourite) was made with beef which was too fatty, the vitello tonnato had dry meat in a not-inspiring sauce, and the less said about my pasta dish, the better.

Once again, a restaurant which can deliver, because I have eaten well there before, but which let me down, and don’t get me started on the service – which had trouble itself in getting started.

It is not easy to run a restaurant, and I have every respect for someone who can do it well. But fine dining ain’t cheap, and if I don’t dine fine, that is it.   Farewell.

Now I know there are some food writers in South Africa who shower praise on the most unspectacular joints, and appear to have their heads stuffed into the less fragrant cavities of the restaurant traders.

I therefore caution you about any restaurant which sounds too good to be true.

And when you do find somewhere which really pleases and impresses, tell your friends about it.

After all, we all want gastronomic experiences…..on which we can dine out.



Having waited a while for the queues in the new Starbucks store in Menlyn Maine to die down, I finally gave it a try today.   Certainly, the quality of the coffee was on a par with those I have drunk on several Continents, even though it took a little while for the coffee to be brewed.     There is a Virgin gym just above the Starbucks with a coffee shop which is distinguishable only by its inconsistency. Guess where I will be getting my morning coffees from now on (queues permitting)?


Rob Davies

I may have been a little harsh on Trade and Industry Rob Davies when I wrote recently about his daft plan to raise the legal age for boozing from 18 to 21.   I still believe this is an unworkable law, and like all such legislation, it will bring the law into contempt.

However, I do accept the Minister’s sincere and rightful concern about the dark side of alcohol use.   I was also heartened when he recounted a tale of a spat he had with the Brits over booze bottles.

Apparently, London was insisting that more SA wine should be imported in bulk, to be bottled in the UK, adding to employment there and reducing jobs in SA.

Rob Davies said he countered that if the Brits did that with our wine, we would do the same with their whisky – and I can personally attest there is a healthy demand for the water of life in Sunny SA.

Britain backed down, although I believe we still export too much bulk cheap crap at the expense of the overall image of our wine industry.

I do hope that during the consultation period on the Booze Bill there will be much constructive engagement.

Alcohol does have the potential to destroy lives, but, by God, it can also make many lives so much richer and more enjoyable.   7 days a week.

Let us all keep a sober perspective on this issue.

Cheers for now.


Tweet of the Day:

Last night I lay in bed looking up at the stars in the sky and I thought to myself: where the heck is the ceiling?

Shit Jokes


ZA Confidential is a subscription newsletter.   To join the elite, to invite us to events with edible food and drinkable wine, for sponsorship discussions or any other communication, please contact:    

Follow us on twitter: @zaconfidential @dievinein @clasfras1    

Die Vine Intervention: Eenzaamheid

Michael Olivier presents two wines from Eenzaamheid to a top panel of tasters.  On offer are the 2015 Vin Blanc and the 2014 Cuvee.

John Fraser sips away with legendary brander Jeremy Sampson, legendary economist Mike Schussler and Clientele’s Malcolm MacDonald.

There is also a chat on the thorny issues of restaurant wine prices and corkage.

The tasting podcast awaits you:

Die Vine Intervention: Wilderer Fynbos Gin

For a change, our star tasters have moved to a different delight – the Wilderer Fynbos Gyn.

John Fraser welcomes Dino Fagas from Prosopa restaurant, Absa Analyst Chris Gilmour and Tersos’ Gantcho Mantchorov.

Once again, Malcolm MacDonald handled the technical side of the recording.

Why not uncork our podcast:



Bearded Nanny Cracks Down on Booze


I remember fondly my days as a student. It was a time of great freedom.   Unlike school days, there was no one to tell my when to go to bed, how long to study, which jacket to wear. Or how much to drink.

It was a liberating time, and there were casualties from drink and drugs. But very few.   For most of us, it was an integral part of moving from our teens to adulthood.   Beers in the bar and neighbourhood pubs were a delight, the very grown-up sherry and port at the debating society, the vile wine you took along to friends’ parties.

By 21, I was almost through university.   The fun continued, but needed to be balanced by a bit of real studying and then real work.

But then I was not living in the nanny state which is the Utopian dream of our (teetotal) Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies.

In his briefing today on public consultation on new liquor (and gambling) legislation, he made passing reference to the impact of the booze business to growth, employment and exports, without really seeming to understand the impact of wines and spirits, beer and cider on our general quality of life.

Not for nothing were record sums spent at the recent Cape Winemakers’ Guild Auction. Not for nothing will we all be flocking to the Sandton Winex expo later this month to sip and spit, enjoy and chat, live and laugh.

That’s the trouble with nannies; they are too bloody intent on spoiling our fun.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t approve of people driving when drunk, or (in most cases) murdering their spouses in drunken rage.   But if you want to get pissed, you should be able to do so without some bearded spoilsport – who himself admitted during his briefing that he is fond of going to bed at 9 pm – sucking all the fun out of your glass and replacing it with milk or water.

In suggesting that South Africa might raise the legal age for purchasing alcohol to 21, Davies seems to believe that the Peter Pan pleasures of sobriety well past puberty are good for all.

What bollocks.   If you apply his logic, a couple can get married well before they are 21, shag like rabbits, have several kids. And still be banned by Red Rob and his sober police from having a glass of bubbly at their wedding.

Don’t say people are old enough to go off and die for their country, but too young to have a beer.

This nonsense would never work in practice, and nor should it.   People between 18 and 21 are adults. They should be treated as such.

To say that a higher drinking age works well elsewhere ignores our tradition and our own adherence to civilization.

Beheading people is a good crime deterrent in Saudi Arabia.   That (arguably) does not mean it should be applied in Pretoria.   And while some other countries find dogs and horses to be nutritious, I don’t want my butcher to expand his range that far.

Despite the Minister’s best efforts, there are some pockets of common sense in the new draft regulations.   The introduction of civil liability for those who sell some more booze to someone who is already drunk and who then goes on to some horrid accident…seems to make sense.

But good luck in pursuing a case.

I am less impressed with his ideas for tighter zoning, and for restrictions on the hours when booze can be sold.

If it is that harmful, then ban it. If not, as with ciggies, you should be able to buy it around the clock.

I just worry about the forked tongues of our ministers who on the one hand praise the SA booze business for export achievements, while at the same time emphasizing its evil side.

Rob Davies wants comments from all strands of opinion, and I hope that the wine industry and other interested parties can be articulate and united enough to put forward a robust case.

And now, please excuse me. I need a drink. (And make it a double).