It’s always darkest before the dawn. The hidden gift of Covid-19

Covid-19-coronavirus-spc pacific community cps communauté du pacifique santé health jipé le bars

By the Council of Conscious Leaders

The undertones of fear and insecurity that permeated our everyday conversations of late had finally come to a head with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s declaration of the country’s National State of Disaster status. The potential magnitude and severity of the Covid-19 pandemic and the President’s timeous intervention have instilled the nation’s faith in his leadership.

Never before in our modern history have we been plunged into such uncertainty and pressure.  However, there is a profound opportunity to change the course and psyche of a nation that would hopefully usher in a new age of consciousness rather than an era of malevolence.

It is in the essential understanding of consciousness that changes the breadth and depth of a nation’s idea of itself with a morally untainted view to muster the courage to ‘do the right thing.’ In that rare spark of awakening, and in the actions and behaviour of human-beings lies the secret of our salvation to navigate this critical time.

The Conscious Companies Council of Conscious Leaders, that include: Brenda Kali (CEO: Conscious Companies); Merrick Abel (CEO: Primeserv); Luc-Olivier Marquet (CEO: Unilever); Adam Craker : (CEO: IQbusiness); Richard Firth (CEO: MIP Holdings); H.E. Jong-Dae Park (Ambassador to South Africa: South Korea); and Michael Judin (Chairman: Conscious Leadership Academy), collectively urge: In view of this global malaise, we need to heed the Dalai Lama’s appeal at the recent Conscious Leadership and Ethics Summit when he said:

‘Indeed, it is all too evident that while there has been much material development in the world, our moral and inner development has not kept pace. In organisations, despite working together, many people feel lonely and stressed. I believe that our strong focus on material development and accumulating wealth has led us to neglect our basic human need for kindness and care. As participants in the same global economy, we depend on each other. What’s more, as human beings, we are physically, mentally, and emotionally the same. I consider our tendency to see each other in terms of “us” and “them” as stemming from ignorance of our interdependence.”

The Council continued: “We live in extraordinary times…..and the disastrous economic repercussions of the Corona Virus (COVID-19) lockdown on business, big and small is yet to reverberate around the country. Amid the global panic, fear, confusion and lockdown, there needs to be a dramatic shift from the dominant ethos of power and profiteering to a balanced and conscious one. Ethical, conscious action by leaders to re-calibrate the social impact of business, who rally around and inspire their workforce to do things differently – will be the ones to emerge from all of this partially unscathed.”

Brenda Kali CEO of Conscious Companies says: “The emotional and psychological well-being of those affected and all of us in lockdown mode is of paramount importance. This is an opportunity to turn within and explore that missing element that is unquenchable in either the accumulation of wealth, status or the pursuit of positional power and the dissatisfaction in one’s existence. That is only possible in the sound of silence and reflection. Playing the witness to one’s own thoughts and life, to understand the meaning of inner peace, and to truly experience one’s authenticity and a flawless serenity of the mind is the hidden gift of COVID-19.”


Corona: The Virus That Might Save Eskom.

Eskom: a national disgrace

By John Fraser

They say every cloud has a silver lining.    Well, Eskom could sure do with several hundred of those.

Corruption, incompetence, political ineptitude have all contributed to the power crisis which has recently meant rolling blackouts, often day and night, for we South Africans.

If you analyse this problem with basic economics, we have a crisis of supply and demand – far too often there is not enough supply to meet demand, so they turn the lights out.

We have a Department of Energy which could help to boost supply by unleashing a flood of renewables projects, but Minister Gwede Mantashe is a disgrace, occasionally spouting the right rhetoric, but doing bugger all in practice.

So, if supply can’t be boosted, how about demand?

Well, the stock markets have been plummeting, bans on travel are multiplying, and it looks as if the SA economy is sinking into an even deeper pothole of shit than had previously been thought.

Bad?  Not entirely.

If, as my primitive economics tells me, the economy falters, so will the demand for electricity.

The white knight of deeper recession rides to the rescue of Eskom.

Of course, this is not inevitable.   The virus could severely impact Eskom staff, further reducing the reliability (not often this word is associated with this cash-guzzling monster) of supply.

If, and let us hope this is so, curbed demand relieves some of the pressure, long, long, long overdue maintenance could be fast-tracked.  And that would be excellent in the longer-term.

Agreed, none of this compensates for the misery, loss of life, loss in prosperity, loss of liberty, which this virus will bring.

But it is nice to have a bright side.

Now go and wash your hands.

PS.  It may be in terrible taste but was never meant to cause undue offence:  our podcast tasting of Corona beer is lurking on the ZA Confidential website.   It was recorded just a few days ago, and how things have changed.   Put on a face mask, and give it a listen.

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Corona Beer. Is it nicer than the virus?

How is your beer?

By John Fraser

The Corona beer brand has taken a hammering because of the virus which bears a similar name.

Does it deserve such harsh treatment?   We found out in a tasting, introduced by Michael Olivier.  Guest tasters are analyst Chris Gilmour, brander Jeremy Sampson and IT superstar Malcolm MacDonald.

Click below to learn the worst…

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A tasting of two very different beers.



By John Fraser

For our regular tasting podcast, we have defected from wine to beer.

  • The ‘Liefmans Fruitesse on the Rocks’, a Belgian concoction which is as delightful as it is unusual.
  • And the ill-named ‘Frasers folly’, an oxymoron if ever we heard one.

Guest tasters are star economists Mike Schussler & Chris Hart,  star brander Jeremy Sampson, and star waffler Chris Gilmour.

Michael Olivier, who has a galactic knowledge of food and wine in SA, introduced the beers, while Malcolm MacDonald helped with the technical stuff.

We also chatted about the merits of wine in cans and boxes.

Click below to give it a listen:

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Coronavirus and handwashing: research shows proper hand drying is also vital


Julian Hunt, Swansea University and John Gammon, Swansea University

With the number of people infected with coronavirus increasing around the world on a daily basis, the World Health Organization (WHO) has advised everyone to regularly and thoroughly clean their hands. This can be either with an alcohol-based hand rub or with soap and water. The hope is that good hand hygiene will limit the spread of the virus.

To wash your hands effectively, it needs to be done with clean water and soap. Hands should be rubbed together for at least 20 seconds, followed by rinsing. The use of soap is particularly important for handwashing to be effective as research has shown that washing with soap significantly reduces the presence of microbes (viruses and bacteria) on hands. But one often overlooked part of handwashing is hand drying – which is also integral to effective hand hygiene.

Hand drying not only removes moisture from the hands but it also involves friction, which further reduces the microbial load and the environmental transfer of microorganisms. And the transmission of microbes is more likely to occur from wet skin than dry skin.

How you dry matters

But it’s not just as simple as drying your hands off in any old way, because how you dry your hands also matters. And this is particularly the case in hospitals and doctors surgeries.

Our research review has examined the importance of hand drying and the implications of wet hands for patients and healthcare workers. The findings highlight that hot air hand dryers and cloth roller towels can be a problematic way of drying your hands – especially in a hospital.

Our review mainly looked at the impact of hand drying on bacteria, not viruses. But what we found is still relevant when looking at the possible transmission and spread of coronavirus in hospitals and GP surgeries – particularly given the advice from the WHO regarding frequent handwashing.

Drying your hands properly removes a significant number of microorganisms after hand washing.
ALPA PROD/Shutterstock

Disposable paper towels offer the most hygienic method of hand drying. Indeed, warm air and jet air dryers are not recommended for use in hospitals and clinics for hygiene reasons. These types of hand dryers can increase the dispersion of particles and microorganisms into the air, contaminating the environment.

Cloth roller towels are also not recommended as they become a general use towel when the roll comes to an end – and can be a source of pathogen transfer to clean hands.

Importance of hand drying

Our review also found that the most appropriate methods for hand drying within a clinical environment – such as a hospital – differed to that recommended for public washrooms. This is because of the higher risk of contamination and cross-infection in hospitals. So while it is important to dry your hands properly wherever you are, paper towels are always the preferred option if you are in hospital as a patient or a visitor – or a member of staff.

As part of our review, we also looked at government policy on hand drying and found that disposable paper towels are recognised as being the quickest and most effective way of removing residual moisture that may allow for the transmission of microorganisms. This is good to know given the current concerns around the spread of the coronavirus.

In this sense, our research serves as a timely reminder that proper and effective hand drying is integral to hand hygiene whether you’re in a hospital, doctor’s surgery or just in the office.

Julian Hunt, Research Officer Human and Health Sciences Central, Swansea University and John Gammon, Deputy Head of the College of Human and Health Sciences, Swansea University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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Why hand-washing really is as important as doctors say

U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams, center, demonstrates hand-washing to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, left, and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, right, in Rocky Hill, Conn., March 2, 2020. 
AP Photo/Jessica Hill 

As the threat from the coronavirus grows, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health officials are stressing the importance of hand-washing.

Prevention becomes essential to stopping the spread of the virus because there is no vaccine to prevent it and no anti-virals to treat it.

How can such a simple, low-tech solution make a difference?

Remember – coronavirus spreads easily by droplets from breathing, coughing and sneezing. As our hands touch many surfaces, they can pick up microbes, including viruses. Then by touching contaminated hands to your eyes, nose or mouth, the pathogens can infect the body.

As a microbiologist, I think a lot about the differences between microbes, such as bacteria and viruses, and how they interact with animal hosts to drive health or disease. I was shocked to read a study that indicated that 93.2% of 2,800 survey respondents did not wash their hands after coughing or sneezing.

Let me explain how washing your hands decreases the number of microbes on your hands and helps prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Two-fisted approach

Bacteria and viruses are different in a number of ways. Bacteria are single-celled organisms that can reproduce on their own, while viruses constitute a core of genetic material encapsulated by a protein coat and can only reproduce by attaching themselves to host cells. Because viruses don’t have the organelles to reproduce, they “hijack” the cellular machinery of host cells to make multitudes of new viruses.

These differences are why antibiotics cannot kill viruses, which typically target specific structures in the cellular components of bacteria that are absent in viruses.

Despite their differences, however, the best way to prevent the disease of bacterial and viral pathogens alike is to effectively wash your hands.

There are two strategies to decreasing the number of microbes on your hands.

The first is to decrease the overall biomass of microbes – that is, decrease the number of bacteria, viruses and other types of microorganisms. We do this by lathering with soap and rinsing with water. Soap’s chemistry helps remove microorganisms from our hands by accentuating the slippery properties of our own skin.

The second strategy is to kill the microbes. We do this by using products with an antibacterial agent such as alcohols, chlorine, peroxides, chlorhexidine or triclosan. However, the efficacy on these agents can be variable depending on a given microbe.

How the World Health Organization suggests you wash your hands.

Are soap and water enough?

Some academic work has shown that antibacterial soaps are more effective at reducing certain bacteria on soiled hands than soaps without them.

However, there’s a problem. Some bacterial cells on our hands may have genes that enable them to be resistant to a given antibacterial agent. This means that after the antibacterial agent kills some bacteria, the resistant strains remaining on the hands can flourish.

Further, the genes that allowed the bacteria to be resistant could pass along to other bacteria, causing more resistant strains. Even more important with respect to coronavirus, antibacterial agents, such as oral antibiotics, don’t kill viruses.

With this in mind, you may want to stick with plain old soap and water.

Students washing hands at Sakura Montessori International School in Hanoi, Vietnam, July 3, 2015. Chau Doan/LightRocket via Getty Images

Going back to grade school

To clean our hands, the CDC recommends that we:

  • Wet hands with clean water
  • Apply soap and lather/scrub every nook and cranny of your hands for 20-30 seconds (about the time to sing “Happy Birthday” twice)
  • Rinse well with clean running water
  • Dry hands with a clean paper towel or air-dry.

During the 20-30 seconds of lathering the World Health Organization recommends incorporating six manoeuvres to cover all parts of your hands.

If soap and water are not unavailable, the CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% ethanol. Alcohols have a broad-spectrum of antimicrobial activity and are less selective for resistance compared to other antibacterial chemicals. Although alcohol-based hand sanitizers may not work on all classes of germs, the WHO recommends the use of an alcohol-based hand rub to kill viruses that may be on your hands.

Not all microbes are germs

The presence of some microbes isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, many of the microbes that live on or within us are essential for our health.

We live in a microbial world: Trillions of different microbes colonize our skin, gut and orifices. Collectively, this consortium of bacteria, archaea, fungi and viruses are called our microbiota. A plethora of exciting research suggests that the associations of animal hosts with their microbiota are fundamentally important for the host’s biology.

Our microbiota can protect us from germs by training our immune system and by colonization resistance – the characteristic of the intestinal microbiota to block colonization of pathogens. There is ample evidence suggesting that commensal bacteria regulate invading viruses, and in some cases have a suppressive role in their infections. For example, bacteria can prevent influenza virus infection by binding or trapping them directly or by producing metabolites that decrease the stability of influenza virions.

Although more research needs to be done to understand the intricate interactions between microbial communities with host cells, consistent work illustrates that a diverse population of microbes and a balance of this community is important for our health.

Beyond hand-washing

So what is the take-home message?

There is no doubt that washing our hands with liquid soap and water is effective in reducing the spread of infectious microorganisms, including those that are resistant to antimicrobial agents.

When you don’t have the opportunity to wash your hands after touching questionable surfaces, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Limit the touching of your hands to your mouth, nose and eyes.

Furthermore, maintain a healthy microbiota by limiting stress, getting enough sleep and “fertilizing” your gut microbes with a diversity of plant-based foods.

It’s not only a small world but a dirty one as well.

Editor’s note: This article contains updated information from an article that was published originally Dec. 17, 2017.

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Wine Tasting Podcast: De Grendel Viognier 2019

de grendel pic
Lovely Cape white

By John Fraser

Our grape-stomping tasting panel turned up for another session of sniffing and snorting, with the noble De Grendel Viognier 2019.

Michael Olivier introduced the wine to tasters: brander Jeremy Sampson, Economists Chris Hart and Mike Schussler and analyst Chris Gilmour.

There was also a discussion about the frustration of not being able to find all the niche cooking ingredients you need in SA.

Click below to check out the fun:

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Wine tasting: Overgaauw Merlot 2017

Overgaauw Merlot non vintage
A robust red

By John Fraser

Food and wine guru Michael Olivier pours a robust Cape red to the ZA Confidential team of tasters. It’s the Overgaauw Merlot 2017.

Guest tasters are Economist Chris Hart, analyst and journalist Chris Gilmour, Economist Mike Schussler, and branding bloke Jeremy Sampson.

Some of the panel members found the wine a bit young, but it also found some fans.

There was also a robust chat about the food Nazis who deny us bacon at breakfast.

Click below to take a listen:

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Budget:  No VAT Increase

Tito the tyrant?


By John Fraser

Tiito one; pundits nil.

Those who were sure we would see a VAT hike in the 2020 budget have been proven wrong. 

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni says that extra taxes were looked at, but instead it was decided that now is the wrong time to put any further downward pressure on SA’s fragile economy, where GDP is growing at less than 1% a year.  The word he used was “foolhardy”.

He added:  “In difficult situations like this, it would have been far preferable to have had deeper tax cuts.”

Instead of plugging the gap with more revenue receipts, borrowing will increase, and efforts will be made to cut spending, mainly by tackling the oft-inflated wage bill of our public servants.

The taxman is being told to become more efficient, so do await that 5am knock on the door.

Undoubtedly, some budget groupies will find some fault with this, but the Finance Minister did say in his budget speech that there will be some easing of personal income tax and that he is looking at a future reduction in corporate tax.

Excise duties are up across the board, and there will be new taxes on vaping and hubbly bubbly, with higher fuel levies and more to pay on supermarket plastic bags.

Meanwhile, some of the scammiest of scam churches can now expect to have to pay tax.  Fewer luxury limos for the mammon-loving bogus men of god. 

Manufacturers get a raw deal – a major investment incentive known as 12I is being killed off, while the government is speeding ahead with a review of the whole industrial incentive framework. 

Less drama, then, in the speech itself than we had expected.

That will come if rating agency Moody’s clobbers SA with a further downgrade.

Tito had little room for manoeuvre.  So we shall have to wait and see if he has been prudent enough to stave off a kick in the teeth by those moody buggers at Moody’s


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So few get it right with their website

adult business commerce computer
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave”.   (Sir Walter Scott)

By John Fraser

Like most journalists, writers, barflies and other layabouts, I spend a lot of time on the Internet.

Quite often I am reaching out to link up with companies or government departments, those who pump out info which may be of use, of interest. Or not.

However, while most organisations have an online profile, far too many have shit websites, where you can waste a lot of time and get nowhere.

In my long and extinguished career, I have myself helped with the content of websites, so I understand the motivation and the fears of those who host them.

Given the increasing importance of this communications tool, I have a few ideas which may guide those who have the task of managing websites – a far more demanding and difficult job than it may at first seem.

Why bother?

A website is important because it serves as a shop window, the first point of contact between you and interested clients, suppliers, analysts and all sorts of other irritants – who want to know who you are, what you do, whether and how they should approach you.

Keep it simple, please

In terms of content and design, the landing page of the website should be as easy to navigate and to scan as possible.   By all means, provide a lot of detail which can be accessed through drop-down menus and other portals, but for this initial handshake with a visitor, it should be simplicity itself.    Who are you, what do you do, and how do people get in contact? Pretty photos are fine but don’t sacrifice info to aesthetics.

Contacts are vital 

A well-designed and managed website should be an invitation to engage, and should not annoy and frustrate.   I often seek the media contact of an organisation when I surf around a website, and this is often a fruitless search.   They normally post their media releases and communications to investors – but frequently the contact details are missing from these.   Instead, you are invited to fill in a contact form, and more often than not this is a waste of time.  If you employ people to engage with outsiders, put their cell numbers and e-mail addresses in a prominent place, for all to reach.   If you don’t give a toss about the world, close down the website and piss off down the pub.

Keep it accurate and updated

Government departments are the worst, but all too often we see websites which need a daily spring-clean, which are of more interest to historians than to those of us living and working in the present.    One news site in South Africa has had a story saying President Cyril Ramaphosa is in Brazil – which has been there for the many months since his return.  It looks bad – and, after all, a website is a showcase. If you look sloppy here, where is the confidence that you are not sloppy everywhere?

So get working on an efficient, friendly, helpful website.

And then we can chat about the minefield which is twitter………

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