South Africa is processing a new report produced by an independent panel that reviewed the current list of items exempted from Value Added Tax (VAT). The review came after VAT was increased in the 2018/19 budget, from 14% to 15%, to help the country plug a huge budget hole. On the back of concerns that the VAT increase will hurt poor people, the country’s minister of finance ordered the review to shield poor households. The Conversation Africa’s Sibonelo Radebe asked Lee-Ann Steenkamp to unpack key issues from the draft report.
What are the key findings of this report?
South Africa’s current VAT system allows for 19 basic food items to be taxed at a rate of zero percent (as opposed to the official rate of 15%). The zero rating of food items was originally introduced as a means of providing some relief to low-income households which spend a relatively high proportion of their income on zero rated items. Examples include brown bread, fresh fruit and vegetables, dried mealies and dried beans.
The Panel made a number of recommendations which are now subject to public comment.
Six items were identified for possible inclusion in the list of zero rated items. These are:
- White bread
- White flour
- Cake flour
- Sanitary products
- School uniforms, and
- Nappies, including cloth and adult nappies.
In total, the zero rating effect would provide tax relief of R2.8 billion for the poorest households.
What are the high points of the report?
The VAT review process has been generally impressive as a transparent, consultative process that allowed concerned citizens to share their opinions.
Considering that the panel had to work through over 2 000 submissions and was under a tight deadline, I believe the list of six additional zero rated items provides a useful starting point for the follow-up public hearings.
The report itself is thorough and quite detailed (at 91 pages) and sets out the rationale for each recommendation.
The panel applied the basic principles of good tax policy design, namely equity, efficiency and ease of administration.
Were there any low points?
It’s important to note that it would be impossible to please everyone.
The recommendation of the panel that baby formulae shouldn’t be zero rated, will likely be considered a low point by many. But it should be pointed out that the panel based this decision on public health recommendations, particularly government’s policy of promoting breastfeeding.
As with any group of experts, it’s not surprising that the panel was unable to reach consensus on some issues. This included whether or not to recommend the zero rating of deep-frozen chicken parts sold loose in plastic bags. They have the lowest retail price compared with other chicken products.
The panel did note that chicken is the largest staple protein for low-income households. And that it’s preferable to red meat and dairy from a nutritional and environmental point of view. Nevertheless, the majority of the panelists argued against including it on the list. The main reason for this is that a couple of producers dominate the local market and there were concerns that tax savings would not be passed on to consumers.
What needs to be done to ensure good results from this process
I’d like to draw attention to the panel’s critical statement that the National Treasury must ensure that the benefits of zero rating accrue to consumers. In other words, authorities must ensure that producers actually pass on the tax benefits to consumers.
Participation and support by all stakeholders is a critical factor of success. So any person (whether an individual or a big corporate) unhappy with the panel’s recommendations should take up their issue by responding to the minister’s invitation to submit written comments.
Big VAT vendors might also consider subsidising certain basic items without waiting for government to get on board. One low cost retailer is already doing this by selling “tax-free” sanitary pads.
Any other thoughts?
Zero rating is not a silver bullet and civil society should pressure government to expand initiatives that would assist poor and low income households. These could include reducing transport costs, strengthening the school nutrition programme and increasing the child support grant and old age pension.
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It should also be remembered that if tax relief is offered in one area, the resulting deficit has to be made up elsewhere. Any potential weakening of the tax base must be carefully considered. Tinkering with VAT rates and zero rating more items won’t help the country much if it doesn’t significantly reduce unemployment rates and boost economic growth. We should also bear in mind that national elections are looming. Ultimately, political factors could very well decide how VAT reform is to be implemented.
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If you live with a dog you just know when it’s happy or miserable, don’t you? Of course you do. Even the scientific community, now admits that dogs have emotions – even if scientists can’t directly measure what they are experiencing.
People have had a close bond with domesticated dogs for centuries. In his 1764 Dictionnaire philosophique, Voltaire observed: “It seems that nature has given the dog to man for his defence and for his pleasure. Of all the animals it is the most faithful: it is the best friend man can have.”
Research has shown time and time again the positive impact pet ownership can have on our lives. Indeed, a study of 975 dog-owning adults, found that in times of emotional distress most people were more likely to turn to their dogs than their mothers, fathers, siblings, best friends, or children.
It’s not surprising then that dogs are now the most commonly used animal in therapy. Our canine pals are being increasingly used as participants in a variety of mental health programmes – offering companionship, happy associations and unconditional love.
In the UK, Pets As Therapy (PAT) has more than 5,000 active PAT dogs, which meet some 130,000 people a week. In the US, the American Kennel Club has a Therapy Dog Program which recognises six national therapy dog organisations and awards official titles to dogs who have worked to improve the lives of the people they have visited.
Dogs who heal
Sigmund Freud is generally acknowledged as the accidental pioneer of canine-assisted therapy. During his psychotherapy sessions in the 1930s, a chow chow called Jofi stayed alongside him in the office. Freud noticed that patients became more relaxed and open when Jofi was present, and it helped him to build a rapport.
But the official beginning of animal-assisted therapy is generally linked to World War II, when a Yorkshire terrier called Smoky accompanied corporal William Lynne when visiting service hospitals in New Guinea. Her presence lifted the spirits of wounded soldiers.
Despite all this, it was not until the 1960s that the first documented case study of a dog working as a “co-therapist” was made. The US psychotherapist Boris M. Levinsonmaintained that the presence of his dog Jingles added a “new dimension to child psychotherapy”. Despite opposition from peers, Levinson strongly defended the use of dogs as therapeutic aids.
How dogs feel
But while there is no question that dogs are very good at understanding us, sadly the reverse is not always so true. A classic example of this is when someone has had a little “accident” in the house and dog owners think that their pet looks guilty. But for the dog in question, that look is purely submission and is a way for the dog to say “don’t hurt me” rather than an admission of guilt.
It is very difficult for humans to convince themselves that the canine brain is not able to understand the concepts of right and wrong – but without that ability it is not possible to experience guilt. The dog who is looking guilty is simply afraid of your reaction to the situation – usually based on past experience.
Some of the main difficulties that happen between dogs and their owners are caused by a humans inability to read their pet’s body language correctly. Combine this with the human notion that dogs understand abstract concepts and can use reason on complex issues, and the scene is set for problems.
Another way to tell how animals feel is to look at their hormonal environment. Studies have shown that when dogs are stroked by their owners they have increased levels of oxytocin. Among other functions, this hormone is thought to help relaxation. It helps to form bonds between mother and child – and between pet and owner.
So although we can’t know for sure how a dog feels during pleasurable activities, it seems reasonable that oxytocin produces similar sensations in dogs to those that humans experience – suggesting that they are feeling affection towards and attachment to their owners.
Similarly, dogs that are in unpleasant circumstances show raised levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. One of the situations that produces this stress response is being left alone for any length of time. Dogs are pack animals and really need to have company. A solitary dog is rarely a happy dog – and this is something that all dog owners should take into account when planning their lives.
What this all shows is that for dogs and people to live together and work together – and for both parties to be happy about it – an understanding of each other’s emotional state is vital. Even if dogs and people don’t completely understand each other, it seems clear that each species is essential to the other’s well-being and we can help each other to be happier and healthier.
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When to pay?
By John Fraser
Am I being difficult? Probably. Am I right? I think so.
Living in a country where police protection is a privatised service, performed by private security firms, one places a ridiculously high level of trust in one’s armed response company.
Mine was getting a bit slack, failed to replace the sign on the front gate, seemed to charge more and more each year. So I quit.
Not cheap, when you consider that they demanded a full calendar month’s notice, and are still billing me for a service I have cancelled.
The new bunch – initially – seemed a lot better, and were willing to perform a small repair. And then it got messy.
They insist on an up-front deposit for the work, and won’t start it until I have paid this over.
I insist that I will willingly pay, once the work is completed to my satisfaction. I have had experience of shoddy contractors before, and, after all, if it comes to a confrontation, they are the ones with guns.
Who is right, and who is wrong? This is getting silly.
Potatoes are apparently far from being flavour of the month. Rejected by young people and “clean eaters”, sales are plummeting. But what has the potato done to deserve being treated so distastefully?
Reports claim that millennials prefer rice and noodles, and think that potatoes will make them fat. According to The Grocer magazine potato sales have decreased by 5.4% in the last four years, while sales of rice and noodles have risen by 30%.
But the potato has a proud history. One of the most common and versatile root vegetables, it was first cultivated by the Inca Indians in Peru over 7,000 years ago. Brought to Europe in the 16th century, potatoes have been associated with population surges and increased global urbanisation. There are now as many as 2,000 different varieties being grown in over 160 countries.
Yet today, it seems we crave the quick and easy, avoiding anything that requires time or preparation. Potatoes are apparently seen as neither exotic, convenient nor healthy.
So why did a once-favoured food find itself pushed aside? Well let’s examine the evidence before it is judged guilty. In its defence the potato has all the requirements to form part of a healthy balanced diet.
In 100g of steamed potatoes, you’ll find just 100 calories, no fat, no sodium, no cholesterol, and no gluten. Instead, you’ll get nearly half your daily dose of vitamin C, more potassium than in a banana and plenty of vitamin B6, fibre, magnesium and antioxidants.
Yes, there is starch, which can increase insulin sensitivity – but it can also improve blood sugar control, digestive health, nutrient absorption and satiety (fullness), help curb inflammation in the body, boost immunity and improve blood circulation.
The case against potatoes often seems to rest on accusations of high calorific value. But it is not the actual potatoes which bring the calories, it is the method of cooking.
And yes, potatoes are high in carbohydrates, but these are necessary for long term energy. Many do not know the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates. Potatoes are complex carbohydrates, which are a necessary part of our everyday diet.
People often listen to the latest diet information and react by thinking that certain food groups are not good for you. In fact, a person requires foods from each nutrient group in order to maintain optimal health. Eating potatoes cooked appropriately in moderation is simply not harmful.
Potatoes are also classified as a high glycemic food, but if eaten as part of a diet which includes high fibre foods such as lentils, beans, nuts and other vegetables, the sugar spike can be counteracted.
A lot of the potato’s PR problem may simply be about portion control. It seems that once we start to eat a bowl of chips or crisps, we find it impossible to stop until they are gone, and all of their salty calories have been consumed. Boiled or baked potatoes on the other hand are very rarely eaten to excess.
When the chips are down
But with rises in obesity, we become obsessed with following the latest diet craze – where usually at least one of the main nutrient groups are significantly decreased or eliminated. As part of this, potatoes have become taboo.
In the 1970’s potatoes formed a staple part of the everyday diet. In the decades since, according to the National Obesity Forum, which compared the habits of 4,000 UK households from 1980 to 2012, eating habits and diets have been getting steadily worse.
This has been mainly due to the introduction of processed foods and ready meals and falls in line with the commencement of the obesity crisis in children. Another reason may be due to more exotic lifestyles. With foods from around the world more readily available, alongside the increasing number of takeaways, the potato has lost some favour. But in our desire to save time and money we may actually be forgetting a key aspect – our overall health and longevity?
Potatoes deserve to be given another chance. People need to consider the way that they have been cooking and consuming this wonderful vegetable. There is no reason to cast them aside. For a nutritious vegetable which will power up your performance – look no further than the humble spud.
Cyril Ramaphosa: driving land expropriation without compensation.
By Mario Pretorius
Let’s assume the State expropriates ALL land, farm, urban…the lot. To reside as custodianship, in the same way that mineral rights are held at present.
The State now owns the land and it cannot be sold or purchased
All loans against the land are held by the borrower, not the land itself, and they need to be repaid to the lender.
In the worst case scenario, the lender may require new security for the loan, as the security of the land has evaporated.
In the worst case scenario, the State may allocate the land to another person and the previous owner may have to evacuate.
The expropriation of the land might not include the top structures.
In the worst case, the structures and improvement may be deemed fixed to the land and included in land expropriation.
In the UK, land is held by freehold (owned by the tenant) or it is leasehold – for a set and often renewable period, where the tenant builds on the land or leases the top structures. There is a small difference in the price in favour of the leasehold.
This leasehold can be sold as if the tenant owns the property, subject to the constraints and time-limit of the original leasehold.
This is what is happening in the Waterfall development – where the Muslim Trust insists on leasehold, and not freehold.
The Boschendal wine estate was sold on this basis by its Muslim owners, IFA.
Lenders readily finance the leasehold model. Periods of leasehold vary from 19 to 999 years.
In the best case scenario, the State grants a leasehold to the existing tenant/previous owner.
In the worst case scenario, the period is very short, not renewable and expensive.
In the sale of a building or house, the land is priced in the sale; it is nor sold or priced separately. The use or income of the improvements determines the price. Where the land generates income, it is the yield that is of value.
The best case scenario is that leasehold is determined on surface area, or by locality, irrespective of value or use, in a smallest common denominator method.
The worst case in determining a leasehold value is either in a bidding war or by an arbitrary highest common denominator value, irrespective of the use or income value – or some non-market related revenge value, calibrated differently for different bidders. By race, nationality or an arbitrary method of political or some other affiliation.
The best case scenario is to farm at the normal yield on land without any purchase cost and with a long-term, low leasehold.
The worst case is the denial of existing farmers of leasehold on their own farms in favour of others
The best case scenario on a top structure is a long-term, low leasehold without owners’ rates and taxes
The worst case scenario has rates and taxes levied on the tenant, or denial of leasehold to previous owners.
The best case scenario will allow sub-lets – such as a forced BEE tenant that sub-lets at a reasonable price, and with a long, renewable lease.
The worst case scenario limits or prohibits sub-letting to the original owner or to designated hated groups – such as whites, or foreigners, or whatever takes the whim of the State.
The best case is a fair and orderly process of allocating leaseholds to productive use, free of favouritism, and on an economically sensible basis.
The worst case scenario is an unfair, unplanned and chaotic land grab – and subsequent warfare and strife that destroys the assets so squabbled over.
The best case is the exclusion of some of the provisions or at least a diligent, fair, consistent, timely and unchanging implementation that rolls out slowly over an extended period.
The worst case is a hasty, unfair, inconsistent, mass implementation – subject to local and personal frivolous decisions, fraught with corruption, favouritism, incorrect and malicious actions, including hostile, criminal and violent actions sanctioned by law-enforcement inaction.
There is thus a spectrum of outcomes, from hurtful to deadly.
The best case scenario is an aggregate of the best outcomes, implemented with compassion. At the other end, the worst outcome is a free-for-all, ending in civil war and the destruction of the property.
The best lending scenario is an orderly continuation of the existing use of assets by the borrower to pay off loans, and international acceptance and condonation of reasonable investor certainty.
The worst scenario is the imposition of country sanctions, the final downgrading of the Rand to local & international junk status, the bankruptcy of the State by loss of foreign forex investments, the widespread dumping of stock by investors cashing out of the economic system, the collapse of the lending system and its banks, the emergency bail-out by the IMF, and its imposition of wide structural reforms while permanently indebting the former sovereign Republic, and killing off its economy.
Perhaps that is what the ANC desires as a prequel to reforming ZA into the Marxist paradise it envisioned in its Freedom Charter and its National Democratic Revolution.
It is clear that both these fake Utopias will be at the cost of – and to the detriment of – the existing owners of property in its widest sense, in line with the Leninist maxim that any rich person would have exploited another for his riches.
Add to that an age-old lust for revenge in the name of inequality and it becomes questionable if any new beneficiaries will be the economic masters of the largesse in the worst case scenarios.
Mario Pretorius is CEO of Valkyrie Capital
After more than two decades in power, South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) is in severe trouble. The euphoria around the appointment of the new president Cyril Ramaphosa is rapidly fading as he increasingly encounters resistancefrom within the party to a thorough cleansing of the state.
On top of this the financial crises in key public utilities seem to be getting worse while key economic indicators like unemployment, production and inflation are rapidly deteriorating.
You would think that amid all of this the prospect of the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), displacing the ANC at the next election would be getting better. But the latest polls indicate that the DA’s support has shrunk since the last election. The party’s prospects of equalling its performance at the last national poll – when it obtained 23% of the national vote – look dim.
What, then, is going on?
There are a whole host of reasons to point to. The first is that Ramaphosa, despite his initial post-Zuma popularity having been punctured, remains a far more impressive and weighty figure than the DA’s leader, Mmusi Maimane.
Part of Maimane’s problem is that DA’s attraction to many has been its claim to represent cleaner and more efficient government. But these claims are being severely tested as it faces the dilemmas and temptations of running the three major metros it took control over after the 2016 local government elections.
It gained control by forging awkward coalitions with the Economic Freedom Fighters (to whose principles it’s bitterly opposed) and other smaller parties. This has meant that its hold on power has often looked fragile, and it’s had to engage in all sorts of wheeler-dealing. Necessary, but not good for the image. Meanwhile, the party allowed its fight with its Cape Town mayor, Patricia De Lille, to drag on for far too long.
And then of course there is the issue of race, which divides the party all the way to the very top.
The DA was founded on principles of liberalism. Its ideological position comes with the assertion that the individual, not the group, is the primary unit of society, and that freedom and equality are realised through the freedom of the individual. That’s not sitting very well within many of its newly found black supporters.
On top of this, the DA’s classic liberalism has run up against the problem of how to address racial disadvantage on an individual basis in a society where fundamental rights and material goods have been allocated by race historically. Either the DA breaches its liberal principles by accepting the need to address racial disadvantage frontally. Or, if it doesn’t, it sends out the message to black voters that it’s not really committed to addressing racial inequality.
This tension played out recently when the party became embroiled in an internal spat over whether or not to support Black Economic Empowerment, an affirmative action policy.
Growth or principles?
Until recently the DA’s share of the vote in the country has increased with every election. That growth came at the cost of having to dilute its core liberal principles, as it sought to expand its appeal beyond its white base to black, coloured and Indian voters.
Subsequently Maimane has also suggested the party needs to adopt affirmative action by pushing hard for the DA to accept the need for “greater diversity” in its composition. This was a way of saying that more black people are needed in leadership positions without actually using those words.
The more recent internal spat about Black Economic Empowerment also points to these tensions.
Head of policy Gwen Ngwenya announced that the DA has ditched Black Economic Empowerment in favour of real empowerment from the bottom. But many among the party’s newer influx of members realise that they would never be where they are today if it was not for a policy engineered by the ANC – for all its failings.
True, the DA pumps out the message that the children of a black millionaire do not deserve a special hand up from the state. However, without a clearly stated policy about how it is going to pave the way for “equality of opportunity”, it’s going to have to work hard to rid itself of its unwanted reputation of being primarily a party protective of white interests.
Liberalism, conclude many black people, works for white people only.
No easy way out
The problem for the DA is that there is no easy way out of the dilemmas it faces. It comes with the territory of being the major party of opposition and drawing the major body of its support from a white racial minority. Its problem is that on the route to power, principle is always likely to become fudge.
This points to the still greater problem that the DA has to confront (and this is the great unsayable). No opposition party in any country in southern Africa has yet managed to displace a liberation movement. This is despite the fact that the record in government of the region’s liberation movements has been dismal, and the vehicle for the rise of corrupt “party-state” elites. Look no further than Zimbabwe, where in 2008, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change won a parliamentary majority before crashing into the rocks of ZANU-PF intransigence.
The great question which hangs over South African politics is what the ANC would do if it really did lose its majority.
How the DA resolves its dilemmas around race will dictate how it will react in such a situation, for without mass black support it would lack any chance of confronting the ANC, were the latter to trash the constitution and maintain its hold on state power.
In response to Donald Trump’s tweet on farm reform and farm murders, the SA Institute for Race Relations released this statement:
President Donald Trump’s announcement that he has directed his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to ‘study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers’ is another indication of the damage that the reckless handling of South Africa’s ‘land question’ is doing.
Expropriation without compensation (EWC) has become one of the dominant themes in the country’s politics. This has been deliberately driven by the government and ruling party, even though survey evidence has shown that land – particularly in the agrarian sense – is not a priority for South Africa’s people.
Senior politicians, including President Ramaphosa, have repeatedly endorsed the idea of compensation-free seizures of property. Over the past few weeks, this has extended to a commitment to amend Section 25 of the constitution.
This is despite the president’s own declaration that nothing in the constitution prevented EWC. This decision was taken before the parliamentary review process into the matter had been completed.
That the Bill of Rights should be tampered with in this fashion – for purely political reasons – sets a disturbing precedent.
That neither government nor the ruling party has seen fit to favour the country with a clear sense of what the proposed EWC system will entail has itself become a major concern for business.
Based on a string of attempted policy and regulatory changes over the past decade, it is likely to entail significantly enhancing the discretion of the government to intervene in and abridge the property rights of individuals and businesses.
There is no guarantee that expropriations will ultimately be limited to land; once momentum begins to build, it is probably inevitable that they will extend to other spheres of the economy.
We at the Institute of Race Relations can attest to the degree of apprehension felt by business – both in South Africa and abroad.
President Trump’s announcement is the latest indication that the EWC drive is having consequences offshore.
Seen alongside South Africa’s decision to terminate its bilateral investment treaties, EWC has prompted a great deal of concern about the security of their assets – particularly among the European investors most directly impacted.
Even president Ramaphosa’s investment envoys have referred to the difficulties that EWC has created for them in attempting to attract desperately needed funds to South Africa.
For South Africa, consternation about EWC has implications for the country’s eligibility for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa).
Countries participating in Agoa must be, or be working towards, ‘a market-based economy that protects private property rights’. Intellectual property and private security ownership requirements (both property rights issues) have already been sources of tension with the United States within the Agoa context.
EWC could well lead to South Africa’s exclusion.
This would be a significant disadvantage for South Africa, putting large volumes of exports and potentially tens of thousands of jobs at risk.
It is remarkable that South Africa’s government is apparently willing to risk its own economic interests for a policy choice that will do nothing to resolve the issues for which it is nominally being adopted.
The IRR will continue to lobby and apply pressure until the policy of EWC is abandoned and the property rights of all South Africans, black and white, are secure.
Jamie Oliver is no stranger to controversy, as the failure of his 2004-5 “Feed Me Better” campaign to improve UK school dinners demonstrated. But he really has trouble in the kitchen now, after MPs and other celebrity cooks waded into a heated public debate about culinary authenticity and cultural appropriation over his latest line in convenience foods: “Punchy Jerk Rice.”
It is not just the alleged act of cultural appropriation that has caused disquiet, although many – including the shadow minister for equality, Dawn Butler, and Conservative MP Neil O’Brien – have certainly interpreted it in this way. Oliver also appears to have misunderstood that the term “jerk” is a cultural tradition which is very specific, as Butler recognised when she questioned whether Oliver even knew what “jerk” was.
Crucially, jerk is not the same as barbecue, although the terms are often used interchangeably. Historically, jerk refers to the Afro-Caribbean practice of dry rubbing or wet marinating meat with citrus juice, allspice and scotch bonnet, then wrapping it in banana or plantain leaves and cooking it in a pit fire or hole fire over allspice branches, in a method designed to retain the distinct flavours.
Barbecue, by contrast, usually involves marinating meats and then cooking them above ground on a raised platform made from wicker, plant matter or newer stone or metal constructions. Jerk derives from charqui, a Spanish word of indigenous South American origin which means salted dried meat (linked to jerky). It denotes a specific method of marinating and cooking meat which is linked, historically, to the “Maroons” – or runaway slaves – of colonial Jamaica who are known to have traded their signature jerked wild meats to passing ships from the 1700s onwards.
Jerk is now most commonly associated with roadside cooks in Jamaica who have retained this popular technique. It’s also one of Jamaica’s most successful and iconicculinary exports.
Barbecue from the Spanish barbacoa has even older origins. It derives from a method of cooking known to have been used by the Amerindians, the Caribbean’s first inhabitants. African slaves arriving in the Caribbean may well have known of similar methods of preserving and cooking meat, but they also clearly adopted and adapted the methods which they encountered in the Caribbean, a process called “”creolisation“.
In the light of this history, Oliver’s latest offering makes little sense. As Jamaican-born British celebrity cook, Rustie Lee points out “jerk rice” is a non-starter, not just because it is culturally inaccurate – it does not contain the key jerk spices of allspice or scotch bonnet – but because you cannot actually jerk rice. The classic starch and protein combination of rice and peas (beans) on the other hand, is a dish which has been eaten for centuries across the Caribbean and the Americas. It’s also widely enjoyed everywhere that there is a diasporan Caribbean population – but it is never called “jerk”.
Authenticity and identity
At the heart of the debate about cultural appropriation is the question of cultural – and especially culinary – authenticity. It is particularly important when it comes to food, which is one of the central ways in which particular ethnic, religion, caste, class, gendered or generational groups define themselves in relation to others.
Indeed, the use of the label of “authentic” in relation to food is so ubiquitous that we rarely stop to think about how problematic it is. So talk of “authentic” Indian curries in the UK are anything but. Not only do most Indian restaurants serve Bangladeshi food, but there is no such thing as “Indian” food – only local or regional cuisines, as any Indian cook will tell you.
The best-known example of an “Indian dish” in Britain, chicken tikka masala, is a good example of what historian Eric Hobsbawm famously called “the invention of tradition” – the dish was invented in Britain. In 2001 this celebrated “Indian” dish featured as the focal point in a particularly lively exchange about British cultural identity and multiculturalism between Labour MPs Robin Cook and Keith Vaz, following the then foreign secretary’s speech to the Social Market Foundation in London. Cook argued that:
Chicken tikka masala is now a true British national dish, not only because it is the most popular, but because it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences. Chicken tikka is an Indian dish. The masala sauce was added to satisfy the desire of British people to have their meat served in gravy.
Although in the ensuing debate, Vaz attempted to correct Cook’s rather mangled account of the dish and its origins, Cook made an important point: that all traditions, culinary or otherwise, are constructed for particular means and that authenticity is neither stable not uncontested. Thus chicken tikka masala may not be authentically Indian but it does show how absorption and adaptation from external influences can be important processes in the emergent definition of a cultural practice or identity. Indeed, Cook’s speech has been studied by students as a case study in debates on Britishness, cultural nationalism and multiculturalism as recently as 2013.
The problem with Oliver’s “jerk rice” is not so much that it involves an act of cultural appropriation, or that it “absorbs and adapts external influences” (which all cooks do and are free to do) but rather that it uses the term “jerk” as a kind of shorthand to evoke a range of attractive associations for his product.
Jerk is a term which carries the infinitely marketable associations of what might be termed “Jamaican cool” – a heady mix of spicy “exotic” food, reggae music, muscular masculinity (jerk cooking is a very male-dominated practice), endless sunshine and the apparent health benefits of cooking and eating outdoors. It implies a chilled, laid-back vibe with traces perhaps of the potent but rather lazy construction of Jamaica as a narcotic idyll and tourist paradise.
Oliver is certainly not the first, nor will he be the last, to draw on such associations in his adaption of Caribbean food, as my research on the idea of tradition and culinary authenticity in the cookery books of Jamaican-born celebrity cook, Levi Roots has shown. Twitter user Regina Holland aptly summed up the problem of Oliver’s jerk rice as one of an ongoing “bastardisation” of Jamaican food.
Oliver’s jerk rice is merely the latest in a series of recent debates on cultural appropriation in relation to culinary authenticity. Public controversy erupted over Marks & Spencer’s line of “authentic” curry kits, including a Bengali turmeric curry which Mallika Basu, author of Indian Cooking for Modern Living, tweeted was “at best upsetting, and at worst, offensive and callous”. In the US, accusations of cultural appropriation have been levelled at the use of the term “aloha” by restaurants selling trendy “Hawaiian poke” sushi bowls.
These debates shouldn’t be reduced to a crudely binary divide between those who feel the need to police cultural traditions as pure, fixed entities and those who see the more complicated shifting story of absorption and adaptation as the real picture. We can show respect for the specific histories and cultural origins of the foods we cook and eat without losing sight of the notion that “authenticity” itself is a movable feast.
A black Bond? It’s an apparently unproblematic and straightforward question, right? Well, not quite. When suggested quite quizzically by a colleague, it sparked a series of reactionary positions in the staff room, especially from the 007 traditionalists.
In fact, whispers that the very suave – and yet indisputably black – actor Idris Elba could potentially play Bond have ignited social commentaries about race, filmic representation and literary integrity around the world.
The issue was shaken and stirred (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) by a recent report in the Daily Star, in which director Antoine Fuqua recalled a discussion with Bond producer Barbara Broccoli, who allegedly said “it is time” for a black actor to star as 007 and that she is confident “it will happen eventually”.
Interestingly, this little nugget sat at the top of a story about Fuqua launching his latest business venture – an app that allows people to listen to movies online with surround sound. But reporters know how to sell stories to their editors and so the headline, main picture and the first half dozen paragraphs were devoted to Elba’s Bond prospects.
Despite the fact that Fuqua’s management subsequently insisted that the conversation was “made-up stuff”, the question of Elba as the new Bond dominated the comments below the story, which included one reader asking: “What would be the outcry if Martin Luther King was played by a white bloke?” What indeed?
Elba’s no mug. He knows how to fan the flames of speculation. And I’m unashamedly going to fall into his trap. So is it time for a black James Bond? What the heck – why not?
Tall, dark and handsome
Is it beyond fictionalisation – or the limitations of our individual and cultural imagination – to comprehend a reality in which there’s a devilishly handsome and sophisticated black Englishman with an MI6-approved licence to kill. It gives new – or should I say restores (in my humble opinion) the original – meaning to “tall, dark and handsome”, right? Everything that Bond is supposed to be.
Wouldn’t it be more surprising, and perhaps unsettling, if such an imagining, even in fiction, couldn’t withstand the assumed fragility of our liberal mindedness? Especially when we are supposed to live in a post-racial society where – ironically – inequalities, discrimination and oppression are nonexistent. If they are nonexistent in the material world, it seems they are alive and well in the figments of our imagination.
Cast your mind back to the media’s preoccupation with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s “racially progressive” interracial union, or France’s international posturing as a bastion of ethno-racial equality, with its “colourblind” government prohibition on referencing the race and ethnicity of its citizens. Is that enough to convince you that we live in a multicoloured land of bliss where all is possible?
Rallying against this romanticism are traditionalists – or Bond literalists – who, in all their intransigent preoccupation with conserving the historically white purity and scriptural heritage of the Bond franchise, are irked at a blackened prospect.
They offer a plethora of counter arguments, not least that in 1953 Casino Royale, the first in Ian Fleming’s 12-book Bond series, the secret agent is described as a white Englishman of part Scottish and Swiss heritage who was educated at Fettes College.
To which I submit: we aren’t in the 1950s. The films are no longer time-warped in black-and-white – they have changed and adapted to reflect the cultural zeitgeist of cinematic and contemporary public consciousness.
It’s interesting to note that these purists are not all white – disproportionally so, yes – but not all. Some non-white Bond enthusiasts have also put in their own two cents’ worth, asking producers to “stick to the script” and insisting that being white is integral to Bond’s character. But can we racialise character?
Others, meanwhile, have called for their own black, Walther PPK-wielding agent, in the manner of 007, to not only tell their own new or complimentary stories but also avoid falling prey to potential accusations of tokenism in film.
Meanwhile, JK Rowling decried critics of the casting of black actress Noma Dumezwenias the fictional Harry Potter character Hermione Granger, as “a bunch of racists” and that “white skin was never specified”, challenging normative assumptions that fictional characters are white, by default.
Supporters of Bond’s racial metamorphosis urge for better ethnic minority filmic representation in the spy genre and stress that fiction is not exempt from transformation even in the context of race. It’s a sentiment I share.
I realise that my openmindedness unlatches a Pandora’s Box of “Whatabout-me-isms”. What about a polyamorous, gender-nonconforming, effeminate, anti-misogynist Gujarati Indian as Othello? Or, can I, as a Liverpudlian-accented, shaven-headed, transgendered lesbian, play Sherlock Holmes? Then again, what about a white Shaft? But wait wouldn’t that be “Whitesploitation”? Let’s not go there.
Would Elba make a fine Bond? Absolutely. Having seen 007 in all his white iterations, I’m all for a representational shift towards a salt-and-peppered Afro-textured, mahoganied urbanite. Too far fetched? Surely not.
Africa’s wild lion population is estimated to be between 20 000 and 30 000. Researchers have good reason to believe that the real number is closer to 20 000. This puts lions in the “vulnerable” category of threatened species.
The categorisation masks important realities. The only growing populations are those in fenced reserves with small wild managed populations. This is not only a species crisis. It’s also an ecological and economic crisis. Lions are apex predators, which means that entire food chains and ecological systems depend on healthy populations. Lions are also a significant tourism drawcard, and tourism is a significant employer.
South Africa, uniquely, also allows the breeding of lions in captivity, most of which have no conservation value. It has an estimated 7000 to 8000 lions in captivity across roughly 300 facilities. These lions are predominantly bred for canned hunting and the Asian predator bone market.
A report prepared by by EMS, an activist charity, and the lobby group Ban Animal Trading, shows that lion bones are sold on the black market as tiger bones. The bones are dropped into rice wine vats and sold as tiger bone wine which is promoted in Asian markets as a treatment for rheumatism and impotence. The bones are also used to produce tiger bone cakes, an exotic small bar of melted bones mixed with additives like turtle shell.
The report argues that most lion bones come from captive-bred lions in South Africa.
Captive breeding is perfectly legal, if distasteful. But there are limits on the trade of lion bones. In 2016 the 17th CITES Conference of the Parties decided that no bone exports should be allowed from wild lions. But the conference also agreed that South Africa should establish a quota for skeleton exports from captive-bred lions. Captive breeding only occurs at scale in South Africa, so no other country is permitted to export lion bones.
A year later the Department of Environmental Affairs set an annual lion skeleton export quota at 800. It raised this to 1500 in July 2018. It did so without public consultation or the support of research. Even an interim report prepared for the department by the South African National Biodiversity Institute did not specify grounds on which to establish, or expand, a quota.
On top of this, there’s poor regulation of lion breeding facilities. The department doesn’t have a working database, so doesn’t know how many facilities there are, or what the total number of captive-bred predators is.
How it works
In my new report, I discuss how breeding facilities are linked to the trade in lion bones.
The facilities arrange hunts that cost in the region of $22 000 for a male and female combination. Wildlife researcher, Karl Amman, describes how trophy taxidermists then sell the lion skeletons (without the skull) on to buyers. These are usually in Asian countries. A skeleton can fetch $1500.
The importer then sells the bones on for between $700 and $800 per kg. A 100kg lion yields about 18kgs of bone, worth roughly $15 000 at this point in the supply chain. The bones are then imported into Vietnam, boiled down in large pots to yield 100g bars of cake which are sold for roughly $1000.
Conservationists are concerned that South Africa’s quota provides an incentive to breed lions not only for the bullet, but also for the bone trade.
The 2017 quota was fully subscribed within weeks while a newly released report prepared for CITES suggests that 3469 skeletons were exported that year, nearly double the allocated number.
This rise in the trade of lion bones shouldn’t come as a surprise. In 2016 the US banned the import of captive-origin lion trophies from South Africa. Breeding facilities began looking for alternative markets. Selling lion carcasses was an obvious option given that a lioness skeleton fetches roughly R30 000, and a male skeleton about R50 000, when sold to a trader.
The predator breeding industry in South Africa argues that captive lion populations serve as a buffer against wild lion poaching because it can satisfy the demand for bones.
But those who oppose the trade in lion bones cite evidence that suggests the opposite is true. If anything, the quota could fuel the demand for lion products and provide a laundering channel for illegally-sourced wild lion parts. This may imperil already vulnerable wild lion populations elsewhere in Africa. It also makes law enforcement extremely challenging: officials cannot be expected to distinguish between legal and illegally sourced bone stock.
What is being done about it?
The public outcry over an apparently arbitrary quota has been notable. The backlash against canned hunting and the bone trade has been similarly vocal.
The arguments against the trade have been put on the table at a two-day colloquium in South Africa’s parliament. The question being asked is: does the captive lion breeding industry harm, or promote, South Africa’s conservation image?
Ultimately, it is parliament’s job to hold the government to account. The colloquium may go some way towards doing so. It may even end the brutality of captive predator breeding.