The Emperor and the Miners

November 21, 2009

Once upon a time at a Platinum Mine – in the far west of a country, well known for its dancing emperor and Clown Prince, the ruler saving money by multitasking the prince to fulfil the role of court jester and stand-up comedian – the workers, having been told, by the emperor that they were special and feeling they were entitled to all the riches of the platinum mine, an idea mooted by the Clown Prince, decided to cease work until their wages were higher than in any other place in the world.

The workers, quite rightly, believed they were solely responsible for bringing the ruler to power and anyway, he did promise them wealth and comfort beyond their wildest dreams should they carry him to power. The workers fought hard and dirty and got the emperor to power and this was payback time.

Much to the shock and surprise of the workers, now refusing to work in support of their demand for their promised rewards, the evil Mine Boss dismissed them, banished them from the mine asigning them to a life of hardship, a life without DSTV and washing machines. The Evil One brought in other workers; workers who promptly and without hesitation took over the meaningless jobs with great proficiency. Imagine the confusion, humiliation and surprise of the Banished, having been chased away like worthless dogs, witnessing the cockroaches that have been begging for jobs day-in and day-out at the mine gates, taking the jobs that rightly belonged to them, the members of the guild of miners, who swept the Emperor to power.

They were understandably upset and appealed to their guild and the Clown Prince and the Emperor to assist them with reinstatement but to no avail, because friends of the Emperor were also friends of the Evil One. When they saw there was no deliverance from the fate delivered upon them, they slinked back to their houses. There they lay about, drank beer frolicked with their wives, when mentioned wives returned from the fields, where they were trying to eke out a living.  However during lonely moments they, the Banished got together and counted there remaining and fast dwindling cash resources with great concern.

And so it came to pass. Whilst they were sitting around drinking beer and bemoaning their financial woes, having realised the money promised by the Emperor for the unemployed was barely enough to buy food, a scary short little man of demonic appearance arrived, as if out of nowhere, in their midst. This little man of much power declared himself to them as the Tokoloshe – master of malevolence

The Tokoloshe, having listened to doleful lamentations, presented them with a plan so evil, it almost froze the blood in the veins of the bravest warriors amongst them, one of them, Funa Pumile, so-called because of his urge to rest often, afterwards swore the HIV viruses in his body instantly died. The Tokoloshe as is his want, did not only give them a plan, his servant, dressed in a splendid blue uniform, not dissimilar to that worn by the Emperors Police, gave them short sticks that fired very small arrows at great force and velocity. One of the banished workers fired a test arrow at the wall of his hut to find his recently born baby as dead as a dodo. Strong muti indeed.

The Tokoloshe also had his personal witchdoctor at hand and he promptly supplied the banished workers with a potion, made from wondrous herbs blended with body parts of the now dead baby using a machine – borrowed from a workers kitchen, they haven’t reached the pawning phase of hardship yet – blessed by Russel Hobbs himself, to give them immense strength and make them impervious to the weapons of their enemies.

After drinking their potion, mixed with copious amounts of alcohol, and smoking lots of magical herbs the banished and rejected workers proceeded to the mine with sticks, dancing and singing, jubilant in the knowledge that they will regain their positions, and more. After all, did the Clown Prince not ask for the seizure of mines by the people? Did the emperor’s councillor on gold, gems and fabulous mineral wealth, not threaten the evil mine owners to fit-in-or-fuck-off? They marched with the knowledge that, as in the past, their ruler expects them to act strongly and take, with necessary force and commensurate trashing, what is rightfully theirs.

Soon after they arrived at the mine, whilst they were singing and dancing, summoning the great spirit of the Machine Gun and focussing their minds, now slightly befuddled by a haze of intoxicating herbs, a few rotund policemen, not dissimilar in appearance to Mr. Plod, good friend of Noddy, arrived and prevented them from approaching the Evil One where he was sitting in his sumptuous office sipping coffee and counting his fortune.

Having recognised friends and allies amongst the police and not wanting to hurt friends, they used tactics taught by the Tokoloshe and some of the Emperor’s advisers many years ago and staged a fake retreat. The police, not seeing any killing opportunities, promptly withdrew, signalling the opportunity for the banished workers to attack and breach the defences.  

And children, that is what they did.

They broke through the barriers of steel and concrete and proceeded underground. There they secured an area and promptly proceeded to, using the skills passed on by guild leaders and Emperor’s advisors, construct pipe bombs using pipes and explosives liberated underground. They secured a comfortable area, not to cold and not to warm, a suitable sleeping place, for those that do not have watch or bomb making duty, where they could dig in so to speak.

Once they secured their control centre they did what they do best underground; they promptly went to sleep, all of them except one, a man by the name of Katalile Minadagiwa, who, due to his inability to participate in logical debate and being a fan of the Clown Prince, having studied every speech ever made by the crown prince, was chosen to negotiate with the Evil Owner.

In the meantime, the police were called back and arrived with the police’s newly trained special forces, flown in by special jet, in tow. Whilst the suitably obese police commissioner shouted instructions, Katalile spoke to The Evil One on the telephone, demanding the presence of the ruler, the Clown Prince or the big cheese of the guild. 

Whilst this hullabaloo was carrying on the task force proceeded underground armed with rifles, grenades flame throwers and all manners of violence perpetrating equipment, to back up their newly acquired licences to kill, proudly displayed on cards contained in a little pouches hanging around there necks. Positively professional, reminding somewhat of the ID tags of conference-delegates, all very smart.

Yes children; they were ready and well prepared to marinate, tenderise and roast their adversaries. The scene was set for an epic battle. A fight to death – a battle for the hart and soul of the economy.

The first bomb was set off by the rebel miners, a policeman was pole axed by shrapnel from the pipe bomb and all hell broke loose. After the lapse of a suitably long period of time to justify the description of ‘epic battle’, surpassing in length and intensity of the well publicised turf wars of the Zama-zamas having produced a sufficient number of wounded on both sides, the begrudged miners were subdued and hauled away to be drawn and quartered by the Emperor’s men, at the behest of the Evil One, who, it was learned, made a sizeable contribution to the “Welfare of the Emperor” fund.

The mine owner subsequently liberated his money and moved it to a far of land with an honest Emperor and peaceful hard working people. There he started a new mine and became immensely rich.

The Clown Prince became bloated and fat, and his head – like a black hole, dark, empty and dense – imploded and he became rather pleasant blabbering incoherently day in and day out in the process, driving the Emperor insane, prompting him to embark on a crusade against fair-weather friends.

The mines in the once great land quietly died and the workers returned to the land where they tried to eke out a living and eventually succumbed to famine and pestilence.

Ed. What a load of non-sense. You certainly have a wild imagination


A One-Eyed View

September 16, 2009

If I was a Deputy President in any organisation remotely associated with the ANC Alliance, I’ll be afraid, very afraid, as the saying goes. First, Petrus Mothlanthe, Deputy President of South Africa and the ANC, has a dicey experience during a scheduled landing in Bangui, en-route from Libya. What was he flying in that couldn’t manage a non-stop flight? A single prop micro-light, fitted with a second-hand lawnmower engine? I suppose we must be grateful for small mercies. Didn’t his predecessor, the fat lady with the funny name, charter a Gulfstream to fly to Dubai to watch the “Dances of Cranes”?

Mothlanthe’s reported “mishap” resulted in the arrest of the air-traffic controller in Bangui. Makes you wonder. Could the controller be a Zimbabwean with close ties to Robert Mugabe? Could Mbeki be calling in favours?

The most astounding event however, remains the unfortunate and unplanned removal of the NUM Deputy President’s eye by striking NUM members. The botched operation, which was somehow kept out of the media for more than 24 hours, was apparently, like many botched circumcisions, performed by an unqualified witchdoctor. In this case, a Xhosa rock drill operator who was kicked out of Witchdoctor School after three failed attempts at the anatomy exam. A lecturer, wishing to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, said the man could not tell his backside from his elbow. Despite his inability to pass, the examination authority continued attempts to close the knowledge gap—that is the gap between the student’s knowledge and the examination standards—a process, uniquely South African and commonly known as “dumbing down”. Apparently, training authorities reached the end of their tether when the candidate failed to hand in a clean sheet of paper in his final chemistry exam.

The unfortunate aspirant witchdoctor, Doktela Coldset Uthuli, found a job on the mines but never abandoned his dream of becoming a doctor. It is here where he stole some stone-age cutting tools and other “magical” artifacts, from a display cabinet in the Geology Department, which he used in the operation on poor Piet’s eye. In the meantime Piet told associates he now has a different view of the world, a lot less complicated with fewer dimensions…a lat earth view so to speak.

To crown an eventful week , the Deputy President of the South African National Taxi Council, said to be instrumental in the MOU signed on Friday, was murdered. The Piccanin President, Juliaas, was quick to ride the BTI in honour of the fallen hero, and great ANC hope in deliberations aimed at solving Taxi/BRT fracas.

Patrick Craven, having seen the violence and mayhem, expressed his dismay at the violence perpetrated, an un-expected reaction in itself, coming from a leader who, in the past, was unable to find any indication of violent tendencies amongst COSATU members. It may just be possible that there are some unhappy people lurking around, expressing their displeasure in the only way they learnt during the struggle, and, as prominent leaders of the Alliance often reminds us, “The struggle continues, the revolution is alive and so is its methods”.

Zuma – A Miracle of Our Time

September 14, 2009 

I cannot help marveling at the brilliance of our President. Those mocking his lack of education must be choking on their words. There we had it again this weekend when he displayed his brilliance when it comes to insight and logical deduction. I am off course referring to his profound statement that South Africa will be taken over should the soldiers strike whilst we are being invaded. Now who, but a genius, could have foreseen the grave risk with such clarity. It never occurred to us mere mortals that striking soldiers could threaten our democracy, risk our sovereignty and expose our weak, unprotected underbelly. My goodness…imagine South Africa’ s vulnerability with fiendish power hungry predators like Robert Mugabe and Lesotho’s vicious, expansionist Pakalitha Mosisile lurking in the background. 

Zuma surprised his critics even more when he an admonished strikers for damaging the economy and trashing the streets. A clear show of integrity and consistency by our brave leader who will not waver when he has to face up to current realities. His statement is true to form. His critics will remember, during stay-away action and protests, in support of his legal battles, he steadfastly admonished his followers to go to work. He went so far as to do war dances and issue direct threats to shoot them with his machine gun, fortunately for the anarchists someone hid the gun, in a genuine effort to force them back to work. 

The cherry on the top was the way he told business to sharpen their negotiation skills. It is their bargaining skills, or rather lack thereof, that cause strikes. The so called “captains of industry”  should be ashamed of their failure as leaders. There, staring them in the face, right in front of them they have an example of a man who have the ability to make people believe that excrement is chocolate. All they have to do is learn from the master. But no…the clever business leaders with their fancy MBA’s, thinking they are dealing with an uneducated “native”, are too smart to learn from someone considered academically inferior.

NUM Humiliated

September 14, 2009

The humiliation suffered by the National Union of Mineworkers because of their unsuccessful strike action at Rustenburg platinum mines, Aquarius and Impala was long overdue and couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of people. The bloody nose they received may bring sanity back to the workplace. The strikes, like the other strikes and service delivery protests we had to endure over the past months is largely because of expectations created by the governing ANC and it’s partners in the run-up to the election. In most of the strikes to date unions and their members embarked on strike action, despite receiving wage offers well in excess of the inflation rate. In most cases, the strike action was rewarded with additional small, token, yields by the employer, which inevitably amounted to less than the ultimate losses in earnings suffered by the happy, dancing strikers. NUM, propagators of the construction industry strike and the Crocodile River hostage debacle, have been cock-a-hoop about their successes in holding the country hostage and their successes, which amounted to very little more than victory for the union leaders. 

The Aquarius and Impala strikes were however different and can prove a turning point. In both cases, the union representative created expectations of a high increase—reflected in the extreme nature of the demands—with members. In both instances, union leaders eventually agreed to management’s final offer only to find they could not convince their members to accept the offer. Members embarked on strikes at both the mines and NUM leaders found they had no control over the members. A matter of concern to the mining companies because of the threats to life and property. 

At Aquarius, fourth biggest platinum producer in the world, the 2700 strikers were dismissed and a process of re-engagement commenced. This created the opportunity to streamline the workforce, still slightly bloated by the feeding frenzy during the last platinum boon. As a result, the union action will probably be 300 -350 job losses. NUM leaders at Aquarius suffered a total loss of credibility with some beaten up and others having to go into hiding. The dismissed workers who are lucky enough to be re-engaged, will probably lose some of their benefits whilst the less lucky ones will go home without so much as handshake, never mind a severance package. 

The strike at Impala involved 25 000 people and the situation was slightly more complex. When the Union, after agreeing to management’s final offer, failed to convince the workers to accept the 10%  offer, they embarked on a strike. Impala wanting to box to Queensberry rules, applied for a court order to force the workers back to work. The attempt failed, the strike went ahead accompanied by the obligatory intimidation and associated violence. A minority of workers never went on strike, a fact denied by NUM, in a vain attempt to convince the world that solidarity was unaffected. After a few days, it became clear that deep divisions had developed within NUM, acknowledged by an insider after the strike ended. The divisions manifested itself when it culminated in a vicious attack on the deputy president of the union by members,  resulting in him losing his eye whilst trying to convince them to go back to work. A branch leader was badly beaten in the same incident. Again, NUM tried to white wash the incident by blaming criminal elements for the attack. They were of course correct in their assertion, the attackers are criminals but they are also members. The divisions became deeper and the disillusionment with NUM grew, so much so that on Monday, a regional representative was held hostage at one of the Impala mines, his clothes were torn from his body before he managed to escape and go into hiding. Following the incident, the entire branch committee was kicked out and a new committee was elected. The new committee went to the rest of the mine and convinced workers, supporting the strike action, to go back to work. 

The miners returned to work on Tuesday and the CEO of Impala issued a statement outlining the cost and losses suffered because of the two week strike. He made it clear that attempts will be made to recover cost by cost cutting which will inevitably lead to the closure of marginal shafts and the commensurate job losses. Fortunately, for Impala workers, now facing the prospect of retrenchment they will, unlike the Aquarius workers, receive severance packages, not that they deserve it. Despite this, NUM having to save face declared that the strike action was a worthwhile exercise and a victory for the union. 

The divisions, so clearly illustrated in these two cases, mirrors the state in which the Broad church of the ANC in North West and other parts of the country finds itself. Divisions, between the executive, the branches, the regions, left, centre, right and ordinary members, run deep. People are becoming disillusioned by the empty promises and mindless rhetoric. The events in Rustenburg, was a heavy blow to NUM, especially when they hoped the wounds, left by the rift between Mantashe and Palane had healed This time however, the divisions  go beyond NUM and extends into the heart of the ANC. 

Unfortunately, because of this shortsighted action, the innocent will suffer but that has never a consideration with unions and its members. Because of job cuts to be implemented to compensate for losses suffered and to maintain profitability, some NUM members, who refrained from participation in the strike will lose their jobs. Some loyal workers, middle management and senior management, employees who never strike and have already agreed to zero increases, because of the low commodity prices and thin margins, will be retrenched because of the action of the NUM members. Many of the retrenched managers and senior officials facing retrenchment employ domestic workers who will now lose their jobs swelling the ranks of the unemployed. 

Despite the facts staring us in the face, NUM claimed the strike was a positive action. The truth is, there are no winners here. We can only hope those, who selfishly caused this tragedy, learned from their folly. I doubt that though. Subsequent to these strikes, COSATU defiantly defended absurdities such as soldier mutinies and threats by the desperate textile industry to strike, despite being closed down by cheaper and better Chinese imports. 

Given our past, this lesson will be forgotten by the time we enter the next election when the next generation of madmen will subject us to new lies and empty promises.

The Chinaman and the Sheep

August 13, 2009

A woolly, feel good story of hope and success. 

In view of a suggestion, made by Clem Sunter, that all South Africans, especially those complaining about the ills of our society, should focus more on finding the good news stories and boldly broadcast these astonishing triumphs, of our rainbow nation, to the world out there. I hope Mr. Sunter does not expect us to put our heads up our collective bums, and tell everyone, prepared to listen, the brown stuff we see, is top quality Belgium chocolate, made in South Africa, by workers who just obtained an increase, double the inflation rate, after threatening to cut off the chocolate supply to the 2010 world cup. 

I was so inspired I immediately went out to look for good-news stories to celebrate and there, amongst the flood of toxic economic data, the dropping manufacturing output, falling mining output, transformation to – in grand Zimbabwean style – a net food importer and rising unemployment, I read about the magnificent performance by the woolgrowers of South Africa. In the middle of South Africa’s unique, and much fêted strike season, the woolgrowers apparently produced and sold the highest ever volume of wool. A remarkable feat indeed, in times of global economic doom and despair. Being naturally analytical by nature, I started digging, hoping to find the reason for their story of glory and triumph. It seems, the biggest buyer of South African wool at this year’s sale, was the Chinese. Very good news, I thought, our wool goes to China and we end up clothing all those little Chinese children. 

To my surprise, as I researched my good-news story, I found, to my shock and horror, Chinese textile workers will turn the South African wool into clothe, which they will sell to us, at prices lower, despite import tariffs, than our textile workers can produce it at. I also discovered that the textile workers are demanding, like all other unions, an increase well in excess of the current inflation rate, which will result in an inevitable increase in local production cost. Does not make sense, does it? My good-news story approaches the farcical when, to my astonishment, I realise that the textile industry is earmarked for a “Presidential bail-out” and the current Minister of Economic Development, Ebrahim Patel, is a past General Secretary of the trade union (SACTWU). I suppose, expecting the workers to understand the consequences, is asking a bit much, after all, the President and the Minister in charge of economic development, seem to have things under control. It is ironic that one of our stated economic developmental objectives is the promotion of downstream value-adding product enhancement. Well, so much for my good news story, destroyed by an industry, which has been on the road to self-destruction for years. 

Not surprisingly, the “good news” story turns out to be a common occurrence. South Africa, having the best Chrome Ore resources in the world by far, developed and grew from a small base in 1980 to the worlds primary ferrochrome producer in 2004. However, since 2004, ferrochrome production stagnated and ore producers started exporting chrome ore to China who, with ore from South Africa, Kazakhstan and India, are now producing Ferrochrome cheaper than we do. The premium resulting from the additional cost of shipping high volume, low-grade chrome ore, instead of lower volumes ferrochrome, are negated by the lower cost of labour and power in China. The creeping rot will continue to accelerate, at an alarming pace because of unsustainable and unrealistic increases in the primary input costs, power and labour, over the next few years. Somehow, like confused alchemists, we turn gold into dirt by allowing the rape of the best Chrome resource in the world. 

It is “success” stories, like these, that drive investors to Brazil, China, India and Indonesia. Volkswagen recently, having reduced output from South African factories, has opened a factory in India. BHP Billiton, a company with South African roots, reduced aluminum output from their Richards Bay plant and moved production to Brazil. The same BHP Billiton’s planned capital expenditure in South Africa is limited to USD 1.3 million, a mere 10% of their total planned capital expenditure.

Sorry Clem, maybe you can find good news in this lot…I tried. Just do not blame me for not suggesting a solution. It is just too obvious. Even Malema, Vavi, The President and Patel should spot it.

Victory to the Anarchists

July 15, 2009

What a glorious feeling to wake up to the announcement that the construction industry strike has ended. In such things, there are always clear winners and losers with this case not being an exception. The clear winners at the end of this frustrating and irritating episode is the union leaders, who clearly got their intended result, so much so that they have been able to convince or coerce management to have a signing ceremony for the sole reason of publicly celebrating their victory whilst rubbing the noses of management in it. At the ceremony, the parties will no doubt, declare that it was a win-win solution. The truth being that any wins, except for the union leaders’ victory, are short term and only insofar as the 2010 Soccer Stadiums are concerned.

Once again, the unions achieved victory through anarchy and intimidation. What was especially noticeable, and it has been that way since the election, is a new sense of militancy given to the union by Jacob Zuma, a fact acknowledged by well-known and former activist, Charles Nupen who, in a fatalistic manner, excused the situation as something we should get used to as “normal”.

The losers in this sad tale are many. The first and foremost loser is South Africa, a country was held to ransom by a small number of arrogant anarchists with a narrow and selfish agenda to exercise their power and enforce their will. It showed the word a country where anarchy and militancy holds sway, a place investors should avoid.

The “poor” workers lost. However, for them I do not feel sorry. They deserve what is coming to them. They, mostly having a low level of skill, and would in any other place be easily replacable, were prepared to forfeit at least R 600 in wages because of the strike, in order to gain an additional R 30 per month. Certainly not the type of action I will attribute to a lucid and logical person. It makes me wonder whether it is hunger pangs dulling their brains, plain laziness or that unique South African sense of entitlement. The pain exceeds the gain in this case. The mere fact that some people tried to work indicated that there are people who need the money and are prepared to work for what management offered. These people, who wanted to work, unfortunately did not only loose income, they were also humiliated and stripped of their dignity when they were intimidated and beaten up by the anarchists because they wanted to exercise their right to work, for them I feel sorry.

The construction companies also employ highly skilled staff. People who generally understand the effect of wage increases on the long-term viability and profitability of the company. They did not strike and probably never will strike. They, in most cases, have accepted lower increases. The loyal, once again, will subsidise the stupid and the lazy in the organisation. How long can this loyalty last I wonder? I doubt whether they will want to carry on wearing the loser tag.

The ten million unemployed workers who cannot find work because unions are keeping wages unreasonably high will be weeping in desperation when they hear about the signing ceremony, where the union will celebrate the victory of the artificially protected employed and the demise of opportunities for the unemployed. The unemployed and hungry will weep at the plates of food consumed by the victors, at the signing ceremony. These desperate people are the losers.

Management, of the construction companies, won a short- term reprieve to complete their stadiums on time but in the long term, has shown their vulnerability to the “blackmailers” and “hostage takers”. When the high-margin government sponsored world-cup projects are completed will have to compete for lower margin projects. This will become increasingly difficult given the ever-decreasing labour efficiency of an overpaid and low-skilled, but politically powerful workforce. Already they are losing contracts abroad. Although they are losers, I have no sympathy with them. They are the cowards Trevor Manuel referred to recently and they deserve what is coming their way.

Also, spare a thought for the investor, not all of them wealthy. People like you and me, who have our retirement funds invested in these companies. Spare a thought for the small construction companies, who often sub-contract to the big players. Their profit margins are smaller and they are often coerced by the big players to accept conditions they can hardly afford. Some of them will go out of business once the world cup projects are completed and the ranks of the unemployed will swell once again.

The general population, the ordinary citizen is another big loser. The victory of NUM will exacerbate the wave of strikes and anarchy we have to endure, teachers, doctors, emergency workers, health workers and transport workers will all take heart from the glorious, well-published and much celebrated victory of NUM.  I am sure we will soon have a national day of celebration, a festival where we will celebrate the power and glory of the “Union Leader” your friend in need, if your subs are paid. In the mean time, we will pay for damage done to property and services not delivered. We will clean-up after them when these proud South Africans march and destroy.

How do we rectify the situation? Government must take a stance against the anarchists. They must stop talking and refrain from passing their monkey to business. Avoiding confrontation with the monster they created is a cop-out. I however doubt their ability to take strong action in the fear that it may result in diminishing popularity amongst, what they perceive to be a major support base.