Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Hello Peter

Here's your chance to complain about the general shite standard of service in the retail sector in South Africa. We went to the bank this morning, and outside the bank there were about 10 people hanging around with placards round their necks that read "WARNING!!!! Standard Bank divulged the confidential banking information of Deon Delport without his consent. How safe is your info? Visit www.hellopeter.com ref:D.Delport"

Well of course my curiosity got the best of me and later on when I eventually got back home - after waiting at the bank for almost two hours to see a personal banker, followed by45 minutes in Truworths Cresta to try and get some service to return a shirt that was too small, followed by half an hour at the cell phone shop who went and blacklisted my cellphone handset two weeks after after I had clearly told them to halt the process - I went to look up Hello Peter.

Basically, although the site is also an advertising vehicle, you can go and make complaints about bad service that you have received. A lot of the large companies also subscribe to the site eg Discovery Health, FNB etc and they ACTUALLY, surprise, surprise, respond to people's comments and try to sort them out. Also some of the people who complained ended up getting some quite nice sound advice from other complainers on how to handle their problems.

It also seems like the site is being quite well used by the public, for example - you can also make positive comments - Discovery had 63 positive comments and 348 complaints, Edgars had 59 positive comments and 165 complaints, and ABSA had 142 positive coments and a whopping 768 complaints.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

You're Fired!

"Donald Trump's flagship casino business yesterday filed for bankruptcy as part of a financial restructuring aimed at easing $1.8bn (£1m) debt. This is the second time Trump casinos have filed for bankruptcy. The business first entered Chapter 11 protection from creditors in 1992, then struggling with more than $1bn of debt."

Mzansi thinks Donald should be hauled into the boardroom, maybe the apprentices could give him some advice.

Dolphins to the rescue

A heartwarming story about how a pod of dolphins helped save a group of swimmers from being attacked by a great white shark off the coast of New Zealand. The BBC Online has the story.

The swimmers were being circled by a great white shark, which came within a couple of metres.

"...around half a dozen dolphins suddenly appeared and herded the swimmers together. The mammals swam in tight circles to create a defensive barrier as the great white lurked under the surface. The swimmers said the dolphins were extremely agitated and repeatedly slapped the water with their tails, presumably to try to deter the predator as it cruised nearby. "

Friday, November 19, 2004

Working in Aussie

When I think about Australia, I tend to think of blokes with corks on their hats, drinking beer and taking life easy with a "No worries, mate" attitute. However, Reuters reports that Australians work the longest hours in the developed world. A new report Titled "Take The Rest Of The Year Off Day", says that that if Australians took the rest of the year off from tomorrow and then took their annual four weeks leave, they would still work the same as the average worker in other industrialised countries.

Australians clock up about 1,855 hours' work each year compared to the developed country average of 1,643 hours. Australians are working longer hours than Americans, the next longest working nation, and even the Japanese, who are known for the phenomenon of "karoshi" or "death by work." Apparently Australian workers are paying the price with their health, they are reporting higher degrees of stress and anxiety, and obesity, depression and heart disease are on the rise.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Red List 2004

One of the world's largest conservation conferences, organised by the World Conservation Union - the IUCN - opened today in Bangkok in Thailand. More than 5,000 scientists, activists and government representatives are expected to attend the nine-day conference. The gathering has been designed to highlight the growing threat to wildlife caused by rapid human development in most parts of the world.

"From the mighty shark to the humble frog, the world’s biodiversity is declining at unprecedented rates. Halting the growing extinction crisis will be a major concern for IUCN’s 1,000 plus member organisations attending the 3rd IUCN World Conservation Congress" (More)

The IUCN has released their annual Red List at the confernce, a survey of animal species and plantlife that are under threat:

A total of 15,589 species face extinction.

One in three amphibians and almost half of all freshwater turtles are threatened, on top of the one in eight birds and one in four mammals known to be in jeopardy.

With amphibians relying on freshwater, their catastrophic decline is a warning about the state of the planet’s water resources. Even though the situation in freshwater habitats is less well known than for terrestrial, early signs show it is equally serious. More than half (53%) of Madagascar’s freshwater fish are threatened with extinction.

The vast ocean depths are providing little refuge to many marine species which are being over-exploited to the point of extinction. Nearly one in five (18%) of assessed sharks and rays are threatened.

Many plants have also been assessed, but only conifers and cycads have been completely evaluated with 25% and 52% threatened respectively.

Although 15,589 species are known to be threatened with extinction, this greatly underestimates the true number as only a fraction of known species have been assessed. There is still much to be discovered about key species-rich habitats, such as tropical forests, marine and freshwater systems or particular groups, such as invertebrates, plants and fungi, which make up the majority of biodiversity.

People, either directly or indirectly, are the main reason for most species’ declines. Habitat destruction and degradation are the leading threats but other significant pressures include over-exploitation for food, pets, and medicine, introduced species, pollution and disease. Climate change is increasingly recognised as a serious threat.

The world’s list of extinctions increases – from 766 in 2000 to 784 documented extinctions since 1500 AD.

Although estimates vary greatly, current extinction rates are at least one hundred to a thousand times higher than background, or "natural" rates".

Over the past 20 years, 27 documented extinctions or extinctions in the wild have occurred but this underestimates the true number that have taken place.

While the vast majority of extinctions since 1500 AD have occurred on oceanic islands, over the last 20 years, continental extinctions have become as common as island extinctions.

Humans have been the main cause of extinction and continue to be the principle threat to species at risk of extinction.

Habitat loss, introduced species, and over-exploitation are the main threats, with human-induced climate change becoming an increasingly significant problem.


SA Property Prices

Today’s Business Day reports that property prices at the high end of the market in the Cape have peaked. That’s according to figures released by Sotheby’s International Realty. October sales figures for the Atlantic seaboard demonstrated that sales volumes were sharply lower in Clifton, Camps Bay and Seapoint compared to the same time the previous year.

“Apartment , sales declined 24% and house sales fell 22% year-on-year, although the average value of the deals closed was 38% higher than at the same time last year” – but – “In October, Seapoint had 37 sales, which in value terms increased 103% - but last year this time 10% more properties were sold in the area.”

Barak Geffen, Sotheby’s executive director, said that he did not believe this was the long-awaited busting of the property bubble, but more a case of rust than bust. He added that some areas like Bloubergstrand were still booming.

Moving to Johannesburg, the high end of the property market is not following the same trend as Cape Town. Middle class suburbs that were traditionally white are now being buoyed by the “transformation effect”. Between 10% and 15% of properties sold by Sotheby’s in these areas are bought by Black professionals.

Monday, November 15, 2004

SA Wine

Some facts about South African wines (as reported by Sapa)


Groot Constantia


South Africa is the world's sixth largest wine producer, with 2.8 percent of global production.

The wine-industry is estimated to be worth R14.6 billion.

In 2001, there were 4390 primary wine producers and 388 cellars, an increase of 15 percent since 1999.

The area under vines is some 106,000 hectares.

About 746 million litres of wine were produced annually from 314 million vines.

South African wine exports grew to 210 million litres in 2002, up from 50.7 million litres in 1994.

In 2001 South Africa imported 2.4 million litres of natural wine, 20,787 litres of fortified wine and 15,103 litres of sparkling wine.

About 50 percent of bottled wine exports are to the UK, 21 percent to the Netherlands, nine percent to Scandinavia and 6.5 percent to Germany, together accounting for over 85 percent of South Africa's wine exports.

Other markets currently taking under three percent of exports, but identified as growth opportunities, include the US, India, China and Japan.

The wine industry brings an estimated 43 percent of tourists to South Africa visiting the wine lands.

The wine industry indirectly contributed more than R3.5 billion annually to the tourism industry.


Thursday, November 11, 2004

Bye Bye Bears

A new report shows that global warming in the Arctic is happening much faster than was anticipated. The sea ice around the North Pole on which the bears depend for hunting is shrinking so swiftly it could disappear during the summer months by the end of the century, the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ICIA) says. Polar bears are seen as facing the biggest threat from the melting of the Arctic ice cap by the end of the century, as their hunting grounds are expected to literally slip away from underneath them. Some 20,000 to 30,000 bears still exist. When they come out of hibernation, the bears would be surprised to see the ice receding earlier in the season every year. Their dilemma would be to remain on land where they risk dying of starvation, or to swim increasing distances to reach the ice to hunt for food. The greater distances mean the polar bears would lose a lot of weight, which could affect their reproductive systems, and also implies that females would have to leave their young behind to face a certain death.

The Arctic region is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, and its ice cap could melt away entirely during the milder summer months by the year 2100, according to the conclusions of an Arctic climate research team. The process is inevitable unless there is a massive reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases, researchers warn.

The death knell could also be sounded for other species dependent on the ice, such as the ringed seal, bearded seal and little auk.

As global warming increases, forests will increasingly sprout up in the southern parts of the Arctic, pushing the frozen tundra landscape -- and its wildlife of caribou, arctic fox, ptarmigan and insects -- further north. "What we predict is that the biodiversity will increase. But the species that are extremely well adapted to an Arctic environment are vulnerable," Callaghan said.

For those species that do manage to survive the changes of global warming, their way of life will undergo drastic changes, as the arrival of new rival species and parasites will create a new hierarchy in the animal kingdom. Reindeer or caribou herds will lose their natural grazing grounds and herders will need to find new routes between seasonal pasture areas.

Birds' migration routes and cycles are also likely to be affected by climate change as they will have to fly greater distances. Their migration could even affect the ecosystem thousands of kilometers away. (
More)

Iraq

The writings of an American mother who's son is fighting in Iraq.

"First, the minor stuff: my constant feelings of dread and despair; the sweeping rage that alternates with petrifying fear; the torrents of tears that accompany a maddening sense of helplessness and vulnerability. My son is involved in a deadly situation that should never have been. I feel like a mother lion in a cage, my grown cub in danger, and all I can do is throw myself furiously against the bars...impotent to protect him. My tolerance for bullshit is zero, and I've snapped off more heads in the last several months than in all my forty-eight years combined.


For the first time in my life, and with great amazement and sorrow, I feel what can only be described as hatred. It took me a long time to admit it, but there it is. I loathe the hubris, the callousness and the lies of those in the Bush Administration who led us into this war. Truth be told, I even loathe the fallible and very human purveyors of those lies. I feel no satisfaction in this admission, only sadness and recognition. And hope that--given time--I can do better. I never wanted to hate anyone.

Then there is the wedge that's been driven between part of my extended family and me. They don't see this war as one based on lies. They've become evangelical believers in a false faith, swallowing Bush's fear-mongering, his chickenhawk posturing and strutting, and cheering his "bring 'em on" attitude as a sign of strength and resoluteness. Perhaps life is just easier that way. These are the same people who have known my son since he was a baby, who have held him and loved him and played with him, who have bought him birthday presents and taken him fishing. I don't know them anymore.

But enough of my whining. My son is alive and in one piece, unlike the 1,102 dead and 7,782 severely wounded American soldiers; which equals 8,884 blood-soaked uniforms, and doesn't even count the estimated 20,000 troops--not publicly reported by the Defense Department--medevacked out of Iraq for "non-combat related injuries." Every death, every injury, burns like a knife in my gut, for these are all America's sons and daughters. And I know I'm not immune to that knock on my door either."
(
More)

As Micheal Moore, whether you like him or not, so rightly pointed out in Fareinheit 9/11, it's not the sons of priviledged congressmen who are going out to fight. Rather it's mainly those from poor and lower middle class families, for whom the army is the only "career" option that are going out to become cannon fodder. And the crazy thing is, George W Bush and his evangelicals have got them believing they're doing it all for God. Simply mind boggling!


Photo: A rosary hangs off the barrel of a machinegun mounted on a Bradley belonging to the 1st Cavalry Regiment 5th Battalion positioned on the outskirts of Fallujah, 10 November 2004. (AFP Patrick Baz). (Via Lawrence of Cyberia)

Not to mention the Iraqi civilian casualties, the last report I read mentioned 100 000 civilian deaths, that's a lot of people. So America went to war to make the world a safer place, something is not quite right right with this picture. Iraq has become a violent quagmire, a breeding ground for terrorists.

"Because the U.S. military occupation remains in place, the "transition" has failed to win Iraqi support or diminish Iraqi resistance to the occupation. According to Pentagon estimates, the number of Iraqi resistance fighters has quadrupled between November of 2003 and early September 2004, from 5,000 to 20,000. The Deputy Commander of Coalition forces in Iraq, British Major General Andrew Graham, indicated to Time magazine in early September that he thinks the 20,000 estimate is too low; he estimates Iraqi resistance strength at 40,000-50,000. This rise is even starker when juxtaposed to Brookings Institution estimates that an additional 24,000 Iraqi resistance fighters have been detained or killed between May 2003 and August 2004." (From the think tank Foreign Policy in Focus)

Policing the DRC - should South Africa pay the bill?

Irin reports that the South African Police Service (SAPS) is helping the Democratic Republic of Congo develop its policing system through a multi-million dollar training programme.

"The 10-year Development Assistance Programme is currently in its first phase, which kicked off in July this year and will run until the DRC goes to polls next year, according to SAPS programme manager Jap Burger. The estimated budget for the first two phases of the three-phase project is about US $36.9 million. Burger said funding was being discussed with various donors, but operational funding was currently being provided by the SAPS budget. Over 100 members of the DRC national police have so far received training. "

On the one hand I think its good that South Africa is helping the DRC in an area that will be vital to building peace. Peace in the DRC is vital to peace on the continent as so many other African countries tend to become embroiled in conflict in that particular country. The other side of the coin, in a country with a high crime rate like ours, and a severely under-resoursed police department - can we afford to have the SAPS police budget paying for this initiative, as valuable as it may be to long term peace and stability on the continent?

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

White Collar Crime in SA

Sapa reports:

"White collar crime was currently costing the South African economy upward of R40-billion a year. Geoff Midlane, managing director of Stallion Investigations, a division of Stallion Security, said there was hard evidence to show that corporate crime was siphoning off more money from the economy than was brought in by foreign tourism (about R32-billion last year). Midlane said a recent KMPG fraud survey, which for the first time included the public sector, detected a massive 13 percent leap in employee fraud reported since the last survey in 1999. "Every single one of our clients are reporting figures much higher than this and it was for that reason that we established a separate division within the Stallion Security organisation to address the problem."
Midlane said their experience had shown that as much as 70 percent of employees in some businesses acted dishonestly often leading to the demise of their companies. Midlane said their experience had shown that as much as 70 percent of employees in some businesses acted dishonestly often leading to the demise of their companies."

Anyone at your company displaying any of these symptoms?

"Midlane said the typical white collar criminal was between 26 and 40 years old, had a tertiary qualification and was hard working. They were generally egocentric, were big spenders and worked for their employers for longer than five years before they started embezzling money.
"It has been our experience that drugs or alcohol often played a role and fraudsters were often involved in extra-marital affairs," he said. Dr Alice Maree of Unisa's faculty of criminology, echoed Midlane's sentiments saying that unpaid debts were often the catalyst that led to corporate fraud. She said the typical white collar criminal had no previous criminal record, and was a seemingly stable individual. They craved recognition and were emotionally unsure of themselves. Midlane said one particular trait that corporate criminals had in common was that they seldom took leave."

The White House Rodeo

The White House Rodeo
By Mike Davis


Earlier this year, four gaunt horsemen in black shrouds cantered down Pennsylvania Avenue. Since no one complained or even noticed, they grazed their hungry steeds on the White House lawn. They've been there ever since and threaten never to leave.
This interview with them is a Tomdispatch exclusive:


"First Horseman, please state your name for our readers."
"My name is Oil and my price is $50 per barrel and higher yet to come."
"Fine, and you're from*?"
"Huppert's Peak."
"Is that in Colorado?"
No response.
"Are you in Washington for business or pleasure?"
"Both, actually. While wrecking the American economy, I'm also hoping to bring immense happiness to a handful of giant energy corporations."
"Well, that's a popular cause in this town, so please enjoy your stay.


Now, Second Horseman, can I have your name for the record."
"My name is Proliferation, son of Wot and destroyer of worlds."
"Wot?"
"The War on Terrorism. Only the strong and nuclear-armed shall survive, so sayeth Bush."
"I see, you're a traveling salesman. Visited any exotic locales lately?"
"Mainly Tehran and Pyongyang with some overnights in Karachi, Delhi, and Brasilia. But I have a heavy travel schedule over the next year."
"Enjoy your frequent-flyer points.


And now, number three, if I could interrupt for a minute?"
"No problem. My name is Global Chaos. I was just sorting through some vacation photos. Take a look."
"Thanks. Hmm, very National Geographic."
"Yes, I love the great outdoors. This is a melting glacier in Alaska. Here's a flood in Bangladesh. Oh, one of my favorites, the epic drought in the American Southwest."
"Eh, what are those white objects?"
"You mean the bones?"

"Bones? Maybe I'd better move on and meet Horseman Four."
"I am the pale rider and my name is Plague."
"I bet your first name is Bubonic?"
"No, that's my cousin. I'm the avian influenza pandemic."
"I'm sorry, but have I heard of you?"
"The World Health Organization says I am an unprecedented threat to humanity. The world is utterly unprepared to deal with my arrival."
"Well, that's one helluva blurb."
"Yes, and my grandfather killed 100 million people in 1918-19."


"No kidding? Well, thanks for sharing. Now, I wonder if I can ask a few questions of the entire group. First, does your posse, band, whatever, have an agent or publicist?"
'Yes, Saint John."
"OK, and has he arranged your DC publicity? Have you had much election-year media exposure? You know, O'Reilly, the Washington Post, Meet the Press, the Lehrer News Hour*.?"
"Oh, no," laughed Chaos, "no one has interviewed us."
"Come on, four big guys in black on horses, here in front of the White House during an election season."
"No, honest," Proliferation chipped in, "they don't want to acknowledge our presence."
"Well, how about the other side, the opposition party? Surely, they've looked to you for a juicy angle. I mean the horse doo-doos all over the White House lawn, not to mention*.. Hey are you guys even citizens? Do you have passports?"
"I can assure you," Proliferation insisted, "none of that matters. No one wants to admit we're here."
"But why?"
Plague spoke. "Apocalypse denial. Your whole society is suffering from acute apocalypse denial."
"That's preposterous, we're afraid of all kinds of things these days. We tremble at the very thought of anthrax in the mail, plutonium on the subways, or botulism in our Big Macs. We have regular orange alerts*."
Plague interrupted. "No, that's the whole point. You're so terrified of the shadows your rulers project on the wall that you can't see us standing here, right outside your door."
"Hmm, so I guess you guys are the real deal?"
"Believe it."
"So what's your business plan?"


Chaos cleared his throat. "For generations, the wealthier 40 percent of your population has lived inside an extraordinary bubble of privilege."
"In addition to enormous security of wealth and status," Proliferation took over, "your affluent classes have been sheltered from the bitter winds of history."
"We're the bitter winds," added Plague.
"And we'll burst your bubble," Oil promised.
A pale horse neighed.
"Unfortunately my recorder has run out of tape. I'm afraid we'll have to end the interview with that."
'No problem," Oil smiled. "Y'all come back and visit. We're not going anywhere."


Mike Davis is the author of Dead Cities: And Other Tales, Ecology of Fear, and co-author of Under the Perfect Sun: the San Diego Tourists Never See, among other books.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Miserable Maths

Sapa reports that the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, in a new report, has found that standards of matric maths in South Africa are nothing less than scary. Well, okay, they didn't quite phrase it that way, nevertheless, the report says that South African maths is poor even by African levels which are generally lower than the rest of the world. According to Professor Servaas van der Berg, author of the report:
"Since the 1980s, the total number of university-grade mathematics matriculations at higher grade has been dropping," said Van der Berg in the 2004 edition of the Transformation Audit, an annual publication of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. Van der Berg said there has been no improvement in matric pass rates between 1994 and 1999/2000, despite deracialisation and large resource shifts."


However all is not lost, "national pass rates have improved quite strongly in the last few years, partly due to education authorities reducing the number of over-age and less-prepared pupils writing exams."

Although that does seem to pale into significance when you consider that "Van der Berg said international comparisons showed an "extremely weak" performance by South African pupils, even against much poorer countries with far fewer resources than even those available to African schools under apartheid. "Nowhere is this performance as bad as in numeracy and mathematics where South African test scores are near the worst in the world," he said."