Whine Celliers. But will it lead to SAA Reform?


Jacques Celliers, CEO First National Bank

I am not quite sure what to make of this tweet from a top bank boss:

Jacques Celliers (‪@CelliersJ1)

2017/08/14, 06:36

As from today I’m not flying on SAA anymore .. instead I’ll be supporting the honourable alternatives .. this abuse has to come to an end!

The head of FNB has a good point, but is Celliers being a bit celly?  Certainly, if SAA were in the rail business, they would be a train wreck.  Corruption at Board level, unpleasant flying experiences, and an ability to burn cash at the speed of sound.  Airline fractures all over the place.

Few South African can be happy about the current state of affairs – and I, for one, would celebrate the privatisation or closure of SAA.  This is a jumbo airline disaster and  a national disgrace.

However, Celliers works for a banking group which has come off badly in previous skirmishes with government.

In 2017, Paul Harris, who then headed FNB’s parent group RMB, got into hot water with government over an anti-crime advertising campaign which appeared to attack government.

In January 2013, Celliers’ predecessor Michael Jordaan was in trouble over a YouTube campaign featuring children, some of whom were critical of government.

So there are worrying precedents for the current FNB boss to fret about.   Government has massive economic clout, and if it wants to punish FNB it certainly has the ability to do so.

However, there has been a recent tendency for business to be more critical of government, and of state-owned parasitals like SAA.

So maybe Celliers will get away with it?”

He certainly has my support.


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Data delight or data deception?

There has been little reason to love our service providers in recent years.  Surveys have shown that we are using less airtime and a lot more data, and our charges are very high by international standards. If data were ludicrously cheap, as opposed to ludicrously overpriced, it is a fair bet that business communications and home entertainment in South Africa would be a lot more impressive.
I have complained in the past about the expiry of airtime and data.   You buy the stuff and have a month to use it.  You don’t use; you lose.   Completely.   It vanishes, never to be seen again.   A rip off?  You bet.
On Friday, I was made aware of another – more subtle – rip off.   Telkom hosted the media in one of Johannesburg’s least glamourous venues to tell us about their new uncapped data packages.
The Telkom geek who hosted us described this promotion as a game changer, and I am sure it will be for many people.
Depending on how much you pay, you can choose a speed and stream away uncapped.  Or not.
However, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  And it is.
The catch is that you get the data to stream at the speed for which you have paid UNTIL Telkom decides you have breached your “fair use” limit.   Then the brakes come on, and it slows down.
I am happy to be believe assurances that for most users, this unfair fair usage policy will not be triggered.
But the fact it is exists suggests yet another underhand way of selling something and then neglecting to fully deliver.
Shame on you, Telkom.  Shame.
The wine at the function was good, but the venue was a sad and drab place.  I had one bite of the cold, solid chicken and left.   The lunch catering put a big cap on my normally uncapped appetite.   The Woolies sandwich on the way home was much nicer.
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Government Passes Halfway Mark in Black Industrialist Programme



PIC:   Minister Rob Davies arm wrestles FNB’s Kgosi Ledimo

 The Government is now more than halfway towards creating its initial target of 100 Black Industrialists (BIs) with Trade and Industry (dti) Minister Rob Davies announcing that 52 BIs have now been supported by his programme.

The dti is aiming for 100 by March next year, and is offering grant support in a one-stop offering alongside other government agencies which offer loan support.

Davies was in Rosebank to sign an agreement with FNB, under which the bank will use its website to supply information on state incentives – initially just the BI programme.

Said FNB’s Bobby Madhav, who is head of the trade finance department: “The manufacturing sector plays a critical role in the economy.  The long-term goal is to enable a greater number of South Africans access to dti schemes, by making the information more accessible.”

This new FNB initiative follows on from an existing one, which assists companies which sign up for a business account to also register their business.

Said FNB executive Sanjeev Orie: “When businesses open an account, they will be able to integrate with all dti incentives.  How do we make these programmes and incentives available to businesses?  If you integrate FNB and the dti, the customer experience is through a single portal.”

He said the offering would not be limited to FNB customers, and Davies said he hoped other banks will soon offer similar assistance.

“At the moment we have approved 52 projects, with R4.5bn projected investment value, creating 9 000 jobs.   We are open to other banks with similar kinds of partnerships.  We must find ways to support the upgrading of (BI) players who can invest, create jobs and industrial capacity.”

Davies noted that banks have in the past funded too few businesses, with most of their focus on consumer credit.

“We need to see a significant turnaround in the way in which credit is extended in South Africa.  The biggest credit in SA is for consumption.  It is easier to borrow money to buy a car than to start a business,” he complained.

The Hosting

As always, I like to judge an event not just on its content, but also on the way it is hosted. They weren’t on the ball.  I had to ask for the media pack, and then for the programme, and then for an electronic version of the material.  When I asked the MC for his business card, he said wasn’t carrying them because this might have produced a bulge in his suit.  Vanity over efficiency. On arrival, I tried to connect to wi-fi, and was told there were too many users already. Ironic then, that Rob Davies went on about the 4th Industrial Revolution.   I think the Hyatt is still struggling with the 2nd one.  Oh, and we were offered pens and paper-notepads.   How 21st Century can you get?

The event was scheduled for 10, and when I arrived there was a plate of fruit and yogurt.  I would say fresh fruit, but neither the green nor the yellow melon, nor the strawberry was ripe.    The coffee was halfway between unpleasant and acceptable.  I took tea.   Hotels like the Hyatt should be a showcase for our finest fruit and veg.  Not so.  There was a basket of pastries, not one of which would have won its maker an entry into one of the many TV baking competitions.  Five star, it wasn’t.

I heard from a colleague that the event started late because a pampered and inefficient SABC crew was running late.  This is not the first time those of us with manners have fallen victim to the incestuous and fawning relationship between the SABC and government.

The hot breakfast was served after the signing, at 11.30.   Yup, 11.30.  There was cold bacon and stale toast, with quite pleasant egg.  Sausages, mushrooms, steak and other stuff had been put on the plate.

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Can We Toque? Review of Wombles, Bryanston.



Many centuries ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a child, there was a TV show about the Wombles of Wimbledon, a bunch of rodents who lived in a burrow and spent their days processing trash.  Not quite the image I would wish to attach to a pricey steak house.  But what do I know?

Arriving for a Womblistic lunch at Wombles of Bryanston, there was a warm welcome to this vast area, opulently furnished in almost-tasteful African style (The restaurant, not me).

A sommelier came along and recommended a bottle of Vergelegen, and a very expensive bottle of Vergelegen.  I did ask him directly if he was a sommelier, and he modestly replied he was “in charge of the drinks”.  Possibly nobody gave him the proper title as they would then have had to pay him better.  I chose the slightly cheaper Vergelegen Cab/Merlot 2012, and with my arm painfully twisted, I upgraded from a glass to a bottle.   It was really nice.

I ordered some sparkling water which did not come in a commercial-looking bottle.  When I queried the waiter, he said they take tap water and insert the gas.  Is it free, then?  Nope.  Bloody expensive gas, if you ask me.

I was first to arrive and asked for some bread to match the three butters on the table.  Nothing arrived.  But then I saw them bring some to the next table.  And then they served their starters.  Still no bread for me.   It did arrive more than 20 minutes after I requested it, with surprise from the waiter that I had been so spurned.   I tried a mini-loaf with the garlic butter.  It had a good garlic flavour but was otherwise badly under-seasoned.   After I had eaten it, a chap in a white shirt came to apologise for the miscommunication.  I said I quite understood, as they were so busy.  (There were three of us in the section where I was seated.).  Sarcastic me.

As my dining diva Mrs P (who was late) was paying, I was able to splash out, and not just on the water.

I went for an old-fashioned favourite, the duck liver pate, at R90.  It was very good, if slightly under-seasoned, and the portion was so generous I was able to feed some to Mrs P, who had skipped her starter.

I then ordered a 260g fillet (as did my hostess), with mine coming with Béarnaise sauce. Chips were cheeky added at an extra R25. The waiter said there would be complementary veg, including fresh garden peas.  When I asked whose garden they came from, he checked with the chef, who said McCain’s.

The steaks were very fine, but Mrs P ordered a medium and got medium-well while my medium-rare was medium.  You would think that a steakhouse would have a better ability to cook steak to order, but maybe the chefs were distracted by their Wombling, sorting out the trash.  My chips were well prepared and tasty, but Mrs P’s sweet potato chips were overdone.

HOWEVER.  The Béarnaise sauce was a total disaster. There was a heavy taste of vinegar, none of tarragon, and the texture was so cloying that when I turned it upside down it stayed in the jug.  I wanted to hold it upturned over my head, but Mrs P told me to behave.  Had I wanted wallpaper paste with a nasty taste, I would have ordered it.  They took it off the bill, but too late.  My meal was ruined.  I ate a few bites of steak, a few chips, and sulked.

Pud (just for me) was Crêpes Suzette –  tasty enough, but sugar, rather than orange, was the dominant flavour in the sauce.  The theatre came with the waiter pouring a puddle of flaming brandy over the dish.  Not sure why he bothered, because all the brandy flavour appeared to have been cremated out of the final product. The ball of ice cream served with it thought it was an Arctic iceberg, and insisted on melting too fast.

The coffee was OK, and the bill case to just under R1 000, before the tip.  It included R28 for that tap water with gas.

My rating?  3.5*

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? A Tavola, Claremont

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

One of the highlights of any trip outside town is that special meal with special friends.  Mind you, the friends are optional.  I have had some superb but solitary meals while travelling on my own, and need to search far and wide for company as excellent as my own.

However, when I was recently in Cape Town, I took the opportunity to dine out with two favourite foody friends, Mr and Mrs M.

They suggested a restaurant near my hotel, and so we ended up at A Tavola in Clarement.

It is a bustling, welcoming place, and was very busy on the Thursday evening we went.   Having brushed aside the offer of some Italian mineral water, we went for the local stuff, as you don’t know how much longer you will find local water in CT.

In breach of every rule of restaurant reviewing, we all opted for the same starter – gnocchi with gorgonzola.   They were all excellent.  Super texture on the gnocchi, which appeared to have been home made, and a beautifully cheesy, but not too cheesy, sauce.

For mains, I had veal saltimbocca.  The veal with ham and sage seemed to have been breaded and was covered with a dense tomato sauce, which overwhelmed the other flavours.   The veal was way overcooked and the coating was crunchy.  I am sure I could have done a far better job myself.

Mrs M had pasta ribbons with calamari and seemed to enjoy it, while Mr M had what I think was lasagne.  He liked it, too.

He had an ice cream for pud, and pronounced it good.  Mrs M and I shared a cheese platter.  What a disgrace.  Tiny chunks of waxy cheese, served in a part of South Africa where such superb cheeses are made.  An awful end to a meal.

Service was OK but a little offhand.

We ordered two bottles of a 5* 2013 Cab Franc from Chamonix, and loved every drop.  Mr M was the only one driving after the meal and behaved himself.

The bill, with tip, came to around R1 600, with tip, but would have been a thousand-ish without the wine.

Was it OK?  Yes.  Was it great/memorable/a must-visit?    Nope.

Rating:  I give it 3.5*

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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One Road Death is One Too Many



For quite a while, I had planned to write a piece defending the motorist – the King of the Road.    You hear all those statistics of road deaths, and wonder whether it was really the chap behind the wheel who was responsible.   Daily, I have to slow down, or hoot at jaywalkers, at people wandering along with more attention to their cellphones than to their lives.

And those cyclists.  Damm, they are annoying.  Expecting me to slow down, weave around them, and to show them consideration, when they leap on and off pavements, show no regard for traffic lights, ride the wrong way down the road.  Fail to travel in single-file.

All this changed, though, with the death of Leon Baker.  He was run over and killed earlier this month by a hit and run driver– most likely by a commuter taxi – while out on an early morning jog.

I had done some work on websites alongside Leon – he would provide the technical genius, me the bullshit.  I liked him a lot.  He tolerated my awful jokes about his obsession with running, always had time to explain complicated IT things time and time again.   I never saw him stressed or angry.

He was a great person, a family man, much loved and respected in the jogging community, had built up his own business and did what he did very well.

And then on the morning of July 4th he went out for his morning run, and was never seen alive again.

I went to his memorial service, to learn that not only was he such a good bloke; he was a great bloke.   And not only that, he loved his coffee and red wine.  A man of superb taste, as well.

I still use my hooter a lot when driving, but I am little more thoughtful now.  If I need to slow down or stop, I do so.  I am more aware than ever of the vehicle as a killer machine, as it has killed someone for whom I cared.   I speed less, drink less, stay more alert.

Can’t we all be a little more careful, less impatient with the runners and cyclists, more aware that we drivers do not own the roads?

There are some wonderful people who take risks just by going out on the road – for a jog, to walk the dog, to get to and from school, work or the shops.

Let us think, people.    And drive better.

Miss you, Leon.

NB:    Leon’s running buddy Duane Newman passed on a few safety tips for runners:

  1. Wear reflective clothing
  2. Don’t wear anything in ears, such as earphones
  3. Run towards traffic
  4. Wear identification with medical aid number, emergency contact, name
  5. Run in well-lit areas
  6. Don’t run alone
  7. Tell your family where you are running
  8. Run on roads with as little traffic as possible

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Government should be less dismissive of Business – given its own record for business disaster

The Manufacturing Indaba is becoming established as a leading forum for discussion of issues affecting the besieged SA manufacturing sector, which has been in decline for some time.

Industry body Manufacturing Circle says 1m jobs could be created if the sector were restored to its rightful place, contributing a far higher share of GDP.

So, it was rather surprising that after a meeting with the manufacturing bosses at the Indaba last week, that Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies described their plans as “smoke and mirrors”.

Given that the dramatic decline in South African manufacturing has occurred under Rob Davies and his predecessors, it is both unfortunate and disturbing that he was so dismissive of the Manufacturing Circle. He did say he was open to more dialogue. But his message was mixed.

The Manufacturing Circle’s strategy involves the reversal of the decline in the Vaal Triangle, once a heartland of industrial activity.   It also includes a skills initiative, targeting middle management.

And the body holds regular meetings with ministers and officials, for instance to give input on the planning stages of new industrial incentives, or to criticise loony new tax plans – like the new sugar tax.

Maybe business and government aren’t so far apart.  Is it just a matter of mutual respect and good manners?

The timekeeping of ministers and officials is pretty dire, although Davies is better than most.  He appeared to chop and change the time of his own address in the run up to the Indaba, and the event and its fringe SME forum started late on three days out of three. This was due to the late arrival of municipal officials, who then proceeded to give speeches on how wonderful Ekurhuleni is for business.   One MMC even gave an almost identical speech two days in a row, which included a ten-point plan for industrial regeneration.

By the time I had digested this ten-point plan for a second time, I was driven to launch my own ten-pint plan.

These municipal officials say they want their own University.  A good idea, if it provides courses in good manners and timekeeping.

In contrast, the Chairman of the Manufacturing Circle was spotted well over an hour before the start of the Indaba, ensuring his own slide presentation was going to work well, eager to get things moving.

The sour note hit by Rob Davies was a shame, as this Manufacturing Indaba was better organised and better structured than in the past, and even the catering was improved.

We see time and again that Government’s record in business is a disgrace – just look at corrupt state train tenders, the record losses at PetroSA, the continued scandal of mismanagement at SABC and SAA, and so on…….

So, a little more humility, a greater willingness to listen and to learn, might be welcome.

Rob Davies may think he knows it all.  But he doesn’t.


Tweet of the Day

Terry F (@daemonic3):  [superfriends lunch]: BATMAN: There’s an underwater nuclear threat

SUPERMAN: Aquaman, go!

AQUAMAN: [stares at watch] Gotta wait 30 minutes


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Please let the SAA Chairman Fly Other Airlines.

What a laugh.   Those reports that the less-than-impressive SAA Chairman Dudu Myeni had been spotted on a British Airways flight were a wonderful reminder of about how clueless and arrogant these parastatal parasites are when it comes to reputational damage.   To be fair, though, there’s not much more she can do to damage the reputation of leech-like SAA, an even bigger drain on the national purse than our beloved President.

Were I her spin doctor (our should that be tailspin doctor?) I would have said it was all part of a benchmarking exercise.  She wanted to see how BA do things so she can learn lessons of what is good and less good about SAA. One is tempted, though, to believe the reports that she flew SAA because it offered business class comfort on a route where cattle class was the most the state’s rival service could come up with.

What would I suggest?  I would give Myeni and all the other SAA Board members and execs the right to fly any airline any time, when on official business.  There would be just one catch.   No first class; no business class.   Just the cramped misery of economy.

Let them stop eating cake, and instead get them to taste the pig swill the rest of us are served after being shoe-horned into our economy class seats.   Let them join the long queues for the toilets, read the vomit-spattered in-flight mags which have been there for days or even weeks.

In short.  Let them suffer.

Then just maybe they might concentrate less on plundering the public purse, and more on boosting staff morale, refining the food to humane standards, and finding ways to provide comfortable conditions for the many of us who are larger than four foot tall.

And who knows, if the Board Room chairs are more comfortable than those instruments of torture which they expect the rest of us to occupy, then maybe, just maybe, they will attend a few more Board Meetings?

If they can’t rescue SAA, then let it crash into oblivion.   Then we will have no problem with Ms Myeni flying BA, or whatever other airline she chooses.  She will have saved us billions.

Tweet of the Day

Jewish Comedians (@JewishComedians): Allan Sherman: Somewhere, over the rainbow, Way up tall, There’s a land where they’ve never heard of cholesterol. | #Quotes


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Book Review: The Unconventional CEO by Mario Pretorius

Mario Book

Some of my best experiences have been with books, and some of my worst.  As a student, I endured textbooks which were unbelievably badly written.  The authors were clever, knew a lot about their subject, but knew nothing about plain, clear writing.

It’s the same with business books.  You start to read them and before long you realise that your hands still turn the page, your eyes still follow the text, but your brain is on leave.

That is why ‘The Unconventional CEO’ is such a good business book.  It’s a good read.  Now, that’s a rarity.

The author, Mario Pretorius, runs a telecommunications company, and has put his thoughts on management into a slim volume.  If you only read one book on how to run a company, this should be it.  The same applies even more to your boss.

I do have to declare an interest.   Mario is a good mate (which my spell check cheekily changed to ‘good date’!) and asked me to help with the editing of the book.  What a pleasure.

This book is devoid of charts and spreadsheets, devoid of refined theory and lofty prescriptions.

It is a book on how to be the CEO of a business by someone who is the CEO of a business.   It deals with issues in a style which may seem a bit homely, but which contains the wisdom of how things are done, not some theorist’s vision of how thing should be done.

One of my favourite sections deals with what to do when you visit a client.   Mario’s advice is to take along a melktert (Milk Tart), a sweet and delicious traditional South African treat.    This advice may not appear in many business books, but it should be in all of them.

The layout is practical, too.    No long chapters; most fit on a page, a few spill over.  You can dip into it, or read it in one go.   It won’t boggle your brain.

Why take my word for it?   Click on to Amazon and buy the damm thing.  Mario doesn’t need the cash, but chances are that you need the help.



Tweet of the Day

William R King (@phil_osborne):  According to the directors commentary, Pirates of the Caribbean is historically accurate in the sense that they all wore a ton of mascara

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Do We Need Jobs More than Robots?


I don’t envy our Trade and Industry Rob Davies. He has a tough job serving a President he wants to remove, and the challenges he faces are really daunting.
He was in action the other week, opening a factory owned by Black Industrialists, which makes industrial cables. The Alberton United Industrial Cables (UIC) factory is testament to genuine BEE, as Davies himself stressed.
This factory will be the only one in Africa to make at least one sort of specialist cable and it was good to see how state grants and incentives have worked well in getting this venture going.
Of course, there is no perfect solution to SA’s industrial ills. This factory is full of machinery imported from China, and does not look as if it will be a major employer.
Same problem at a Germiston factory formally opened last week. Lucchini RS, an Italian manufacturer of forged railway products, has invested R200m in a new factory.
Almost R38m has been given by government in tax and training allowances, and the factory is modern and impressive. So far, so good. But where are the jobs?
We were told 38 or so jobs have been created, which makes it around R1m a job if you look at the state support.
The R1m-a-time job creation initiative will reduce imports, has brought new skills, and will form the foundation for future inward investment. And there are BEE partners who are benefiting, all of whom seemed to have smarter suits than the dti Minister.
But with the economy in recession, with unemployment at crisis levels and rising, are we getting enough job creation?
A review is underway of the whole arsenal of government investment incentives. Let us make sure that job creation remains at the front of our minds.
Of course we want sustainable and skilled jobs. But we need tens of millions of them.
And we just can’t afford to create jobs at R1m a time.

Tweet of the Day.

Sean Leahy (@thepunningman): Interviewer: Under skills you put horse whisperer and able to see ghosts

Me: Ask that horse if you don’t believe me

Interviewer: What horse?

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