More chiefs, but where’s the service delivery?

September 30, 2010

I was given a little booklet by Statistics South Africa entitled Stats in Brief 2009, and a very useful little document is is too. Hardly bigger than a Kindle screen, it contains in its 200-odd pages a wealth of statistical data on South Africa, from economic statistics to tourism figures. All the data in this little book is also available on Statistics South Africa’s website, but the book format, with its ease of moving between pages/sets of data, somehow enables you to make connections that are much more difficult to detect while navigating the web. For journalists, it is a veritable treasure trove of potential stories.

For example:  on Page 64, you’ll find that there has been no virtually no job growth in the Eastern Cape province over the past nine years. Turn the page, and you’ll notice that there has been about 47% growth in one particular job category: legislators, senior officials and managers. Mmm. Thumb through to the section on municipal expenditure and – my, oh my – the Eastern Cape province spends more on municipal councillors’ remuneration than any other province save KwaZulu-Natal, which has about a third more people. In percentage terms, the Eastern Cape muncipalities devoted 4.4% of their expenditure to councillors’ salaries in 2008, compared with a mere 0.8% in Gauteng, and up from 2.8% in 2001. Now if service delivery only improved at a similar rate…

Kudos to Stats SA for making this sort of informaiton available in such a user-friendly format.


NYT’s Norris transforms humdrum market story

May 7, 2010

What a great example of financial writing from the New York Times’ Floyd Norris, who lifts the normally humdrum market story to new heights:

Combine one part nervous traders, one part Greek crisis and one part trader error. Stir in one part central bank complacency. Bring to boil. Panic.

Read the full story here.

Billions of rand later, Old Mutual may be returning to its roots

February 23, 2010

So Old Mutual has slapped a for-sale sign on its US business. Speculation is rife that the insurer may also offload its European business Skandia, to concentrate on expanding its presence in Africa.

Wouldn’t that be a rich irony? After pouring billions of rand down the drain in disastrous overseas ventures, the geniuses who run Old Mutual may find themselves back where they started: at the helm of a (highly profitable) South African life insurer.

The share price tells the story: reacting to the news of the planned sale, it jacked up more than 3% to R13.22, what it was at the IPO. If you bought Old Mutual shares five years ago – in the midst of one of the biggest market booms in history – you would still be down 10% today. If you’d bought Sanlam, which chose to stay in South Africa, you’d be 85% better off.

What’s with Business Day and the “internet thing”?

February 12, 2010

Business Day is a great newspaper and a must-read for me every day. Strong on news, great on opinion and analysis – but boy, when is it going to move into the digital age?

More than three months ago, editor Peter Bruce announced the newspaper’s new online strategy. But nothing has changed: the website remains a mess. Still having Monday’s column by your editor as the headline piece on your opinion and analysis page on Friday is no good. And if you are going to blog, then the least you should do is post from time to time. After promising readers a daily blog, Bruce last posted on December 13, and some other staff writers seemed to have thrown in the towel after just one attempt. What’s more, there is no information about the writers on their blogs, and the blogs are in now way mainstreamed as part of the newspaper’s offering to readers. It is as if someone decided to tack on staff blogs, and then forgot about them. Shoddy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Business journalism in English

January 22, 2010

One of President Obama’s proposed bank reforms is aimed at  ensuring “that no bank shall (conduct) proprietary trading operations unrelated to serving customers for its own profit.” How many newspaper readers/Twitter followers/television viewers/etc would know what that means?

Here’s Daniel Gross of Slate’s paraphrase:

“In English: No federally backed bank will be allowed to use other people’s money to take big risks, reap most of the rewards, and suffer minimal consequences if the investments fail.”

Funny how things suddenly make so much sense if you say them in plain English.

The rand defies gravity

November 9, 2009

After weakening briefly in the wake of the mid-term budget speech, the rand as back to R7.44 per dollar, a rate at which our economy is going to find it very difficult to stage a strong recovery. Lower interest rates made no difference. Relaxing exchange controls didn’t bring about the expected rand-weakening capital outflows. Not even a raft of idiotic policy pronoucements by the likes of Julius Malema, coupled with turf battles between the left and right over who controls economic policy, have dented the currency. What to do now?

Short of firing Pravin Gorhan, making Malema minister of finance, and nationalising the mines and banks, the only answer is: more decisive intervention in the foreign exchange markets by the Reserve Bank. Buy, buy, buy dollars.

Shock! Horror! Now the ANC Youth League wants to nationalise state-owned enterprises!

October 30, 2009

Never accuse the ANC Youth League of a lack of ambition. In an interview with the Mail & Guardian, secretary-general Vuyiswa Tulelo said the league wasn’t planning to stop at nationalising the mines. The mines are just the first step, she said.

“Later we will look at other sectors, including state-owned enterprises, especially rail and energy.”

Nationalising Eskom and Transnet? I though the trick was getting rid of them?

Tulelo also has advice for those who fret that the state won’t be able to run nationalised industries properly. “If you give people performance contracts, they will be forced to do better.” But that didn’t work for those who are running the soon-to-be nationalised Eskom right now…