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… 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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