A SMAC in the Face #37:  ONO, It’s Laundry Day

In the old days, OMO washing powder advertised that it makes ‘whites bright’.  Definitely, that had to go and they’ve replaced it with some rather anaemic slogans.  Two-fisted punch was obviously a non-starter.  Not only was it already taken, it would make the laundry room feel like an unsafe space and the TV adverts would have to carry a trigger warning.  So, we are left with The Power of 10 Hands and Tough Stain Removal.

No matter what your preference is, there seems to be no detergent, mechanism or intervention that can deliver clean Municipal Audit Outcomes.  We are into the 29th year of the ‘New and Improved South Africa’ and the overall municipal finances are a disaster area.  Granted a Municipality has a very difficult job but, of all its functions, the easiest is to financially account for what it did do irrespective of whether it’s failing its mandate.  Accounting is a mechanistic process.  There is no need to reconcile conflicting human and political interests, being creative with solutions to intractable problems, extracting income from recalcitrant or poverty-stricken ratepayers, planning and regulation, generating and realising a vision, etc.  Once the accounting system has been set up properly, it’s mainly a case of following the recipe. 

Last week saw the Auditor-General release her annual report on this cesspool.  Of the 257 Municipalities, 25% (Western Cape – 3%) had going-concern problems.  Even more frightening was that 75% could not provide quality financial statements.  The Western Cape achieved 22 (73%) unqualified audit outcomes while the rest of South Africa received only 19 (8.4%)!  25 Municipalities (Western Cape – 0) seemed to take the modern trend of the paperless office to the point that the Auditor-General could not even begin to make adverse findings and just disclaimed them.  We do not know if this lack of paperwork is wilful to obscure corruption or due to incompetence and slackness.  I suspect a combination.  Most disaffected whities would automatically blame corruption, but that is contradicted by the creditors books which run at an average of 275 days (excluding the WC – 63 days).  Normally deals involving corruption are sorted out fast.  Also, the debtors books, running at 220 days (excluding the WC – 49 days), indicate that the financial systems have all but collapsed.   In the Free State, the creditors and debtors books are running at eye-watering 483 and 563 days respectively and for the Northern Cape they are 527 and 167.  There are many other metrics but they all tell the same grim story, just from different angles – barring the Western Cape which stands out as a beacon, the financial systems of the municipalities are chaotic and dysfunctional and that they haven’t collapsed yet is a miracle.

But what is glaringly obvious is the lack of consequence management otherwise these problems would not persist year after year.  Maybe we do need some two-fisted punch after all.

A SMAC in the Face #36: (Money) Lost in Translation

The story that broke surrounding the millions of dollars stolen from Squirrel Ramaphosa’s farm raised countless questions.  Why does Squirrel deal in cash, and dollars nogal?  Why was this not properly reported to the police or a case opened?  Is it true that the suspects were effectively kidnapped – held for days against their will, without charge and not in police custody.  Was it $4 million as reported by Fraser, erstwhile head of the State Security Agency who has the skinny on everyone, or a more modest amount according to Squirel’s spokesman?  In fact, Iqbal Surve’s news group, who love to tell porkies, report $80 million!   And so on.  But the one that piqued my interest was why was the cash stored in a couch.  After much scratching of my head, I remembered my Afrikaans.  Apart from a bank being a bank, it can also be a desk or a bench and a rus bank is a couch.  There you have it.  I solved the mystery – they actually did bank the money.

Jokes aside, this is serious shit Cyril.  It is disgustingly similar to the December 2009 theft involving David Mabuza, then Mpumalanga Premier and now No.2 (and we know what that stands for) in the country.  The head of security told the Sunday times that R14 million had been stolen but that he only registered a case for R4 million as it would have raised eyebrows otherwise.  Officially though, the only case on the books is for R1200 registered on 23 December.  This case has never been resolved and has been allowed to die a quiet death.

It is blindingly obvious to everyone except the clinically obtuse that there are nefarious goings-on in both the Mabuza and Ramaphosa cases.  No one deals in that amount of cash unless there is something to hide.  The Zondo Commission made it abundantly clear that it was cash that greased the wheels of corruption.  Cabinet Ministers and a variety of Zuma appointed players were given golden showers of cash money in a variety of amounts, denominations and delivery methods.  With the Guptas, supplicants had to first pay homage by visiting the ‘Saxonwold Shebeen’ whereas Bosasa played Mr Delivery.  Bosasa also used braai packs as an alternative currency – messier and not as compact, but easier to launder.  Within a few days all evidence would turn to shit just like the tenders that the braai packs bought.

Corruption on the industrial scale that we have witnessed would virtually cease if two simple laws were enacted.  The first would prohibit cash payment if it exceeded a stipulated amount, say R20,000.  The second would deem cash in the possession of individuals and companies to be the product of criminal enterprise if it exceeded a certain amount and confiscatable by administrative fiat.  Exemptions based on typical cashflows could be applied for. 

I’m very disappointed that Squirrel has his nuts in a vice and it looks like his smalla-nyala skeletons are coming out of the furniture.  It’s not that I think that he’s a great President, it’s just that he’s the best of a bad bunch.  I shudder to think of a future with any other senior ANC member.  They’re either corrupt, ideologically bankrupt or clowns like Mbalula.

A SMAC in the Face #34 – Tanks for Saving PE

What mirror did Port Elizabeth break?  It’s been in the grip of a drought for seven years now.  Worse still, for 28 years it’s also been in the grip of a useless municipality that shouldn’t be allowed to run a spaza shop, let alone a modern city.  The Bus Rapid Transport system that was hastily established to burnish PE’s image as a modern metropolis for the 2010 Soccer World Cup has gone nowhere and the buses parked.  The main Library had roof leaks in 2014 and closed up shop.  A refurbishment program was initiated which, with luck, might be completed this year.  Why should the response to the water crisis be any different?  With less than a month before Day Zero, one recent official response by the head of the Water and Sanitation Department, Barry Martin, is to pray for rain.  Ja, right!

Overlaying this Act of God, or whatever deity you choose, is the Act of Man or the lack thereof.  For the last year, my penpal (a bit of an old school word, I know) who inspired this piece has kept me apprised of the water situation in Lorraine and surroundings.  Hardly a week has gone by without water being cut off for days while some emergency repair was undertaken on the crumbling infrastructure.  In fact as I write this, 26 suburbs in Port Elizabeth were out of water today due to a burst pipe at Churchill Dam.  Compounding this Act of Man has been another, namely the copper theft at pump stations.  Vandals, it must be said, will never unionise as they don’t sleep on the job, they willing exceed 40 hours per week and happily do night shift.  The overall effect, of course, has been a huge uptick in gym membership in other areas for the sole purpose of a free shower.

Cape Town faced its own existential crisis a few years back.  More than a year before we were staring down the barrel of Day Zero, a massive publicity campaign was launched to keep the city updated on the situation and citizens cajoled to save water.  A daily water dashboard was published giving current water consumption, graphs of the trends with targets and the various dam levels.  The most effective measure though was to raise the water tariffs to extortionist levels early on and this was what probably saved the city blushes more than anything else. 

In the absence of an effective official response in Port Elizabeth, the residents have taken the initiative themselves with water tanks growing like pestilential weeds in the courtyards of middle-class houses.  This is not cheap and prices seem to range from about R7 000 – 13 000 for a small installation as everyone jumps on the only growth industry in town.   Obviously, this leads to a fair amount of tank envy as everyone compares sizes of their equipment and their ability to pump.  Catholics are lucky as they can easily assuage their guilt each Sunday.  “Forgive me Father for I have sinned.  I have coveted my neighbour’s tank and been having wet dreams and shameful thoughts.” Tank you!

SMAC in the Face #32:  The War of the Wordles

Who would have thunk that a silly but harmless little computer game would cause a rift between the two greatest English-speaking nations.  I refer of course to Wordle.  The outbreak of linguistic war between the Old and the New Worlds has its genesis in the fact that the game’s developer, Josh Wardle (believe it or not) is a Welshman who sold his Celtic soul when the New York Times bought his program.

First, the normally phlegmatic Brits provoked a trans-Atlantic twar when they complained bitterly about the American spelling of the word HUMOR on the 9th of February. Little did they know that the word, humor, was used extensively in Old English.  In the Middle Ages, they believed that a person’s health and disposition were the result of a balance of four fluids in the body – blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile.  These fluids were called humors and there was nothing funny about them.

On the 24th of February the New York Times evened things up with the wordle of the day being BLOKE.  This time it was the turn of the Americans to spew bile, both the yellow and the black varieties and probably indulge in a bit of bloodletting too.  To them, a bloke is just a guy but that does not signify to the Brits as they killed that Guy off with extreme prejudice on 5 November 1606.  A few days later Wordle had the poor Americans up in alms again with the word RUPEE.  “It’s not even an English word,” was one of the more benign tweets.

South Africans have grown up in the middle and are confused, particularly my generation who were brought up speaking and spelling British Standard English but are now force fed a diet of simplistic American English without the mystique and eccentricity of British spelling – what’s the difference between practice and practise or does the word end in -ise or -ize.  But we are lucky now with Wordle as we slide seamlessly between the two English languages and can solve AITSA as well.

Wordle has about 10,000 words that are valid entries to stop people randomly going through the alphabet.  It also has a predetermined list of about 2300 answers which will take us deep into 2027.  What are we addicts going to do then, huh – take up knitting when our bladder wakes us up in the wee hours and there’s no the new wordle of the day?  Since the takeover by the New York Times, they have removed at least 19 words from the possible inputs and 6 from the answers.  The reasons cited have been: offensive words straight out of Trump’s and rappers’ lexicons like PUSSY, WHORE, BITCH, etc.; triggering words such as LYNCH; obscure ones like PUPAL; confusing spelling between the Brits and Americans such as FIBRE/FIBER or current news items as in FETUS (which also has the confusing spelling – to Americans that is – of FOETUS).  Interestingly, towards the end of March the woke worthies of the NYT removed HARRY as an answer.  It could have fallen foul of a number of categories: it is offensive or a swearword to a lot of Brits in these post markle times, it is a current news item and, as a verb, it has an obscure meaning to illiterate Americans, or is triggering to some snowflakes. 

Take your pick but The War of the Wordles continues unless PUTIN presses a button which will be the end of Wordle and the World as we know it.  As Einstein said, “World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”

A SMAC in the Face #30: Adolf Hitlowitz

During the lead-up to and the prosecution of the war against the Ukraine, Russia, via Putin, his fellow travellers and his apologists have trundled out lies ranging from the ludicrous, through the outrageous to, the grotesque.  Russia claimed its ‘Special Operation’ against the Ukraine was aimed to de-nazify it.   This claim served not only as a hastily plucked fig leaf against world opprobrium, but also to mobilise the Russian people.  The Russians react with particular horror at the word Nazi who were responsible for up to 27 million deaths in WWII, directly and indirectly.  To reinforce this, Russia routinely publishes pictures of satanic symbols etc found on buildings that had been occupied by Ukrainian soldiers.  Lying has become part of the DNA of Russians to ensure personal safety, so I would not trust their authenticity.

The de-nazify lie failed to gain traction internationally, particularly since President Zelensky of the Ukraine is Jewish.  In an attempt to bolster their position, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, floated the bizarre lie during an interview on Italian TV on 1 May.  He claimed that Hitler had Jewish roots.

The Russian propaganda machine also indulges in a disgusting amount of bluster and dick swinging about how Russia is going to nuke puny Britain off the face of the Earth complete with graphics, not to mention other European countries.  But even more sinister for the Russians themselves, and I presume captured Ukrainians was a statement by Karen Shakhnazarov.  He leads the state-backed Mosfilm film studio and said on the state-owned Russian television channel Russia 1 a few days after the Hitler claim, ‘The opponents of the letter Z must understand that if they are counting on mercy, no, there will be no mercy for them.’   He then went on to add, ‘It’s all become very serious. In this case, it means concentration camps, re-education and sterilisation.’   Not only does this harken back to the bad old days (not that Russia has had many good days in the last century or two) of the Siberian Gulag but also has shades of the evils of Nazism – a case of the pot calling the kettle black.  Not quite the tone to take when accusing the other guys of being Nazis.

A SMAC in the Face #29:  MAD Vlad

Apart from the odd granny who was mad, my generation grew up with two other meanings of MAD.  The first was benign and a lot of fun.  I am referring to the monthly MAD magazine which, together with the Goon Show and Monty Python, I credit with helping us navigate the confusing modern world.  It was launched in 1952 and at its peak in the mid-70s was selling 2 million copies.  It satirised, parodied and lampooned movies and the political and cultural world around us with fantastic cartoons during the height of the nuclear war paranoia and the general culture of establishment’s censorship.  In so doing, it provided a teething ring for future comedians, radicals and well-adjusted people too.  Unfortunately, it fell on hard times and published its last edition in April 2018.

The other connotation of MAD was the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction which was a Mexican Standoff with nuclear weapons instead of revolvers in the cold war years.  This fragile strategy proved successful in maintaining world peace and was allowed to atrophy to some extent after the breakup of the Soviet Union.  Unfortunately, it has reared its radioactive head with the unstable Vladimir V. Putin, or MAD Vlad, threatening nuclear Armageddon, the first leader (apart from the Young Un) to do so since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.  This is a weak and infantile reaction by someone who didn’t think things through properly, particularly what he wanted to achieve and what would be his exit strategy if things went wrong.  He is now up the creek without a paddle and, with his old cold war foes and political opponents circling, his war chest is as bare as his heroic photos except for Russia’s nuclear arsenal – his ass in the hole.

A SMAC in the Face #28: The Power Behind the Drone

I was conflicted with the title – whether to call it The Power Behind the Drone or The Power Behind the Moan – after all, Harry changed from a bloke to a woke with mommy issues.  He has become exceedingly boring in the process, spouting baby psychobabble at the merest whiff of a TV camera and patting his shoulders with crossed arms to deal with his emotions.  Only Woody Allen can make more money out of his neuroses.

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A SMAC in The Face #27: Herd Immunity

Was the concept of herd immunity just a will o’ the wisp conjured up by fearful governments to give people something to hang on to until a vaccine could rescue us, or another example of bad advice given by medical professionals?

When Britain entered its third wave late last year, double vaccination rates there were approaching 80% yet their infection rate far exceeded previous waves.  The upside was that hospitalisation and death rates were lower.  The anti-vaxxers touted this as proof that, while not producing genetic modification (yet), vaccines didn’t work either and were just a profit-making venture by a vague group of people trying to control the world.  The cynical amongst us explained it by saying that all the vulnerable had already been killed off in the first two waves.  The few sober Brits who weren’t catching up on their pints at the pub attributed this high infection rate to the relaxed restrictions.  Still others stated that the Delta variant was more infectious but less deadly.  Whatever the truth, it didn’t bode well for the idea of herd immunity.

What about South Africa?  With Christmas approaching, less than 25% of South Africans were fully vaccinated when the Omicron variant hit.  This caused a frisson of excitement under the doek of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, our resident Grinch.  Her dear little heart was doing flick-flacks at the thought of cancelling Christmas again and closing beaches.  Unfortunately for her, some cool heads prevailed and she was left to fumigate herself in a dark corner somewhere.  The Omicron variant proved to be far less deadly than previous variants and only caused a minor flirtation with draconian measures.  But again, what was the truth.  We definitely couldn’t claim that vaccines were responsible for the lower death and hospitalisation rates.  The cynical view that the vulnerable had already died has some truth.  While SA only boasted around 90,000 dead – lower than the UK – the real figure was more likely around 150,000 as calculated from the excess death rates.  The discrepancy is easily explained by the chaotic state of SA’s health system that can barely dispense an Aspirin in some places.

So what is the truth?  My qualitative assessment of vaccines is that, if all the vulnerable had already been killed off before, then ICU’s should see a distribution of 25% vaxxed patients and 75% unvaxxed if vaccines didn’t work.  The reported experience has been that ICU patients have almost exclusively been unvaxxed and therefore vaccination must confer a large measure of protection against the worst outcomes.  But what about herd immunity?  Like the zero Covid strategy of New Zealand and China, I don’t think it’s achievable.  After all, have we ever achieved herd immunity against fast mutating viruses like the common cold or flu.  The answer is a resounding no, so why should we buy into this notion that the politicians, (ill)advised by their medical professionals, assuaged our fears with.  I think that Covid-19 is something that we’ll have to learn to live with

A SMAC in the Face #25:  The End of Genesis

We have become inured to the sight of decrepit Pontiffs being trundled out onto the Vatican balcony probably held up by a steel brace on wheels hidden by their baroque robes.  It was hard to tell if they were sentient or dead.  Such a sight confronted rock fans – some as young as 50 – for the sell-out final concert of Genesis on the 26th of March.  With a combined age of 214, the O2 Arena in London was appropriate as it looked like Phil Collins needed O2.  Thank god all the musical instruments are wireless these days so we wouldn’t have the embarrassing sight of Collins with his walking stick tripping over a cable and doing his hip in on his way to his chair on stage.  One could palpably sense the tension in the audience – will he make it.  He was like Capt Tom Moore who got the world to follow him during lockdown as he zimmered framed his way across his garden 100 times.  To the audience’s relief, Phil made it to his chair.  Many rockers of old used the microphone and its stand as a supporting act.  Who can forget Freddie Mercury imperiously colonising the stage with his phallic half mic stand.  Phil Collins also used his mic stand as a supporting act but more in the walking stick sense.

Whilst not the greatest fan of Genesis and Phil Collins, it is difficult for me to gainsay his influence.  He is one of only three musicians who have sold more than 100 million albums.  The others are Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson.  There are many others in the Rock and Role of Geriatric Honour Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.

At 78 we have the spritely Rodger Daltrey Who still sings My Generation.  I’m not sure if it’s the Beat Generation anymore or rather the retirement home and false-teeth-glue generation.  I think it’s time for This Song is Over.  Also at 78 we have Jagger whose sensuous child-bearing lips will soon become drooling lips.  What about the sylphlike Debbie Harry and her bewitching lips?  She is now 76 and while her lips can still do a stage act all on their own, she is not quite so sylphlike and performs as Platinum Blondie.  Robert Plant is 73 and it is a competition between the Stairway to Heaven and the #MeToo movement catching up with him and sending him to prison for sex with underage groupies, a perfectly natural Rock and Roll phenomenon of the time along with loads of drugs and eccentric behaviour.  Then again what has changed. 

Among the real oldies, we have Cliff (over the hill) Richards, the Peter Pan of Rock.  Unfortunately, he is a wrinkled Shadow of his former self.  Joining him on 81 is Tom Jones who used to wear pants so tight that you could see if he was circumcised.  Now It’s Not Unusual that he has to wear a strap on, sort of like a bodybuilder’s or a ballet dancer’s posing pouch.  We also have a relative youngster in Paul McCartney at 80.  He is now Sir Paul or perhaps Sore Paul, what with his cranky hips, but still manages to headline at Glastonbury.

What have we got to look forward to?  What about a snappy Goodbye to U2 at O2 – Bono is a pensioner at 61 after all.  Or maybe Cher (75 going on 42) appearing in her gilded Botoxed plastic sarcophagus at Las Vegas.  By the way, when will Boy George drop the boy bit – he is 60 you know.

A SMAC in the Face #24:  Turnaround Strategy No. 2452

Probably the most overused phrase in the limited ANC lexicon apart from ‘provincial (or similar) structures’ or ‘loyal cadres’, is the phrase, ‘turnaround strategy’.  I was reminded of this by a newspaper report of 2 March on the Limpopo State of the Province Address (SOPA) debate that ended as a shouting match when the corrupt ANC and the immature EFF were literally at each other’s throats.  The Roads Agency Limpopo (RAL) had revealed to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) that documents relating to R1.1 billion in irregular expenditure had disappeared from the agency’s offices in Polokwane.  A dog ate my homework moment.  So what’s new: the massive irregular expenditure, the loss of documents or the excuse?

The RAL was ordered to sort their document mess out and present a ‘turnaround strategy’!

Now we have the Post Office which has admitted to having a R8 billion hole in their finances.  The old Post Office never shot the lights out.  It wasn’t like the Royal Post Office where a letter posted in the morning would arrive with the afternoon postal delivery.  Nevertheless, ours was reliable, cheap and secure.  Only the most urgent documents were delivered by courier.  Although the long downward process started early on, this really got kickstarted by the complete shutdown by strike action of the Jet Park warehouse hub for months in 2014.  In mid-March the Post Office presented to Parliament its latest turnaround strategy in a hopeful document entitled, Post Office of Tomorrow.  Humph!

The public are sick of these interminable turnaround strategies which begin with the appointment of a new Board, a completely new suite of executives with their completely new office suites, who in turn appoint, without the mandated recruitment processes, a coterie of fools, family members, bae’s and ben10’s, people they owe favours to and some just for luck to make up numbers.  Few are qualified to do the job or are indeed interested.  They make a lot of promises and initiate some grand unthought-through and overpriced projects while they skim and take backhanders in Louis Vuitton handbags.  When it soon turns to guano, the turnstile strategy kicks in.  It’s out with the old and in with the new while the newly jobless are buffed up, retreaded and redeployed elsewhere in the state machinery to continue their work of destruction and corruption. 

Rinse and repeat.