Black and white
Already on the way back to Amsterdam now, flying somewhere over northern Italy above Genoa, leaving Africa and the Mediterranean behind us. Not so much of the ten-and-a-half hour flight to go, most of which I have spent asleep, under my blanket. Woke up just in time for a KLM breakfast which was a lot more filling than our midnight snack of salad and soup, with which we started off. At least started off, after we had been delayed due to a technical fault which had to be repaired, this one causing us to be delayed only one-and-a-half hours rather than the three hour delay we had on the way out.
Still, the whole trip wet very well, once I finally made it out there and my colleagues seemed pretty happy with my visit, especially as I told them how impressed I was with their accounting and systems of internal controls and so on. It all took me back twenty-five years to when I started my career and things were done properly. Makes me realize how much we miss in the other countries, where we tend to have fewer and lesser highly qualified staff.
I didn’t really get to see too much of Johannesburg, as it was often a trip from hotel to office and back again with a stop off for dinner somewhere. Quite possibly because I was going against the traffic and starting and ending later than most, I did not have any of the problems of traffic jams which everyone seems to complain about, when they are not complaining about the electricity cut-offs, There has been a large growth in the population of Johannesburg and the economy has grown quicker than expected and the infrastructure appears not to be coping very well and, of course, it is the (mainly black) ANC government which gets the blame.
For instance, President Mbeki decided to close-down and mothball a nuclear power station which was being built, this in a time of lower oil prices and political (and environmnetal) opposition to nuclear power. Now, with the mainly coal-fired electricity generators operating for years at full capacity and as a result suffering from a lack of maintenance, starting suffer operating difficulties as a result, the country has no back-up, in the absence of a nuclear option. Hence the power cuts, which then goes on to hurt every part of the economy, particularly the mining and even our company, where secretaries and accounts people can do nothing for a few hours a day whilst the electricity is down.
The cuts for business and private consumers stopped in February, fortunately for me, but they are expected to return in March. One story has it that in February, the industrial users have been forced to take less power but will start again in March, leading to cuts for other users. The other story has it that there have been significant repairs and maintenance carried out in February and that everything will be fine in March. We (or they) will soon find out.
Otherwise, despite a booming economy, there are fears that things are heading the wrong way and the main cause of people’s fears seems to centre on Mr Zuma, the new President of the ANC, a populist politician who has an appeal to the masses but is seen by others as a potential new Mugabe. He is also under charge for rape and is suspected of violence and embezzlement. He is promoting his friends within the ANC and the old guard, the heirs of Mandela nd his era are losing out. Just yesterday, Zuma said he saw nothing wrong with the fact that white journalists were banned from an event at which he was giving a speech, this event having been organised by the Forum of Black Journalists… now had it been the other way around…
And then we come on to the whole business of Black Empowerment (BE) which is a process through which blacks are being helped to participate better in the economic process. Companies can be BE certified, if they meet a number of various goals regarding things like ownership, management, skills training, social development, procurement. You score more points to the extent black people are owners or managers or are being employed or are being trained in skills and so on. Procurement deals with where you buy your supplies. If you buy your supplies from BE certified companies you get more points. Therefore if you want to sell your goods or services you need to be BE certified yourself and to be that you have to meet a whole load of the other criteria.
It IS discrimination, but it has been well thought out and gives companies a choice in how to meet their required number of points. It certainly seems better than some of the alternatives (look no further than Zimbabwe). However, white people are appearing to suffer in the labour market, and many have left or are planning to leave, but also many are returning. Something had to be done to improve the levels of equality between white, black and coloured. Our company has gone through a few changes itself but has not quite been certified and, the BE empowerment thing does provide business opportunities in that once we are certified we can help other companies obtain their certification by buying their services from us…
The other main stories, apart from the budget on my first day, were the decision to start forced land purchases from white farmers to be distributed to black ones (not Zimbabwe-style), these black farmers having proper training and qualifications to manage large farms. The other was a decision to allow the culling/killing of elephants, a decision which will probably get more international press than any of the other things going on.