Album Review : GoodLuck – The Nature Within

The new album from GoodLuck, “The Nature Within

GoodLuck, one of South Africa’s premium electronic live bands, recently released their third album, The Nature Within.

This album is characterised by smooth saxophone grooves, uplifting melodies and good hooks. At times it can be punchy and a little trippy at the end, with “Fire in my Heart” bringing that interesting sound near the end of the album.

The album starts out well with “Taken a While”, which is followed by a very easy going cover of “Thinking about You”. “Be Yourself” is a bona fide party anthem, and I got to hear it live at the “Live at Vergenoegd” concert in November. “Chasing Dreams” is another uplifting track, which is followed by those smooth Sax grooves on “Back in the Day”. The album then progresses to a punchy, trippy feel with “If I had a Penny” and “Fire in My Heart”, then ends well with “Mountain Burning”.

This album will appeal to a broad cross section of people, and would make a good Christmas gift. For more on the band, and where to catch them live, check out their website here

Review : Annie

Annie, currently on stage at the Artscape Theatre until 08 January 2017.
Annie, currently on stage at the Artscape Theatre until 08 January 2017.
This past Saturday, I went to the opening night of the stage production of Annie at the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town, and what a masterful production it is.

This well-loved play has an excellent cast, with the orphans comprising of 3 teams. The team (Liberty) that was on stage was led by Emma-Rose Blacher, who gave a command performance in the lead role. The rest of the cast is stellar too, with Charon Williams Ros playing Miss Hannigan and Neels Classen doing the role of Daddy Warbucks supreme justice.

But what is this musical without its signature tunes. “Maybe”, “It’s the Hard Knock Life” and “Easy Street” were the standouts for me, while “Tomorrow” (including the reprise) was quite the tearjerker. The music director, Bryan Schimmel, deserves the credit for producing these numbers so very well.

The rest of the cast, ensemble and back stage crew combine to make this production a world class event, and definitely should not be missed this festive season. If you’re looking to take that special someone to see a fantastic show, or to treat the family to a wonderful night out, then this should be on your list.

It runs at the Artscape until 08 January 2017, and tickets range from R100 – R500.

Don’t miss out!

If Zuma goes…

Currently the African National Congress’s (ANC) highest decision making body outside of its elective congress, the National Executive Committee (NEC) is meeting for the final time in 2016.

The meeting was scheduled to conclude yesterday, but due to a surprise motion to ask the president to step down, the meeting has gone into an extra day.

Now according to this report, 3 ministers led calls to either ask the president to step down, or for the NEC to remove him. All indications are that the motion was voted down. However, the fact that the meeting is still continuing implies that the issue still lingers.

Never before has the president being backed into this big a corner. His many failings (the Constitutional Court ruling against him, the 783 corruption charges that most likely will be reinstated, his relationship with the Gupta family, the implications of the Public Protector’s ‘State of Capture Report’ etc) point to him being in a more desperate situation than ever before.

This makes him wounded, and as before, doubtless he will paint himself as the victim of a conspiracy, claiming that he has done nothing wrong. (The precedent here is when he didn’t see anything wrong with the state paying for non-security upgrades to his Nkandla homestead). However, if his supporters in the NEC rally around him and the motion is voted down, he will go on the offensive like never before.

Let’s remember that this is a president who. for the duration of his term in office – and until he vacates the Union Buildings – has done nothing but try to exploit the state to his own ends to the detriment of the citizens of the country and the constitution he swore to uphold. And after the ANC’s dismal performance in the 2016 Local Government elections, he now is at the helm of a divided cabinet, and a clearly fractured NEC.

Everything points to the sad reality that he will not seek to bridge the divisions of the party and his cabinet, but rather to use it to his advantage to advance his goal of a total capture of state institutions. No doubt he pressured the current Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, to lay charges against her predecessor, Thuli Madonsela, over the leaking of an audiotape of a four-hour interview she had with President Jacob Zuma with regard to her report. And this is only the latest in a long line of attempts to capture state institutions.

If Jacob Zuma survives today, and I think he will, but only just, he will feel emboldened and continue unfettered in seeking to destroy his enemies within the party. Most likely, he will start with a show of strength at the ANC’s January 8 statement, and follow it up with a cabinet reshuffle, thereby sidelining his detractors and strengthening his grip on the party and state.

His recent utterances in the Parliamentary Question and Answer session about the politicisation of sovereign downgrades indicate that he has no intention of stimulating the economy and he has little understanding of, nor willingness to, attract foreign direct investment. Add to this his constant fight to remove the Minister of Finance through spurious means, and it’s clear that the economy will deteriorate immensely, the longer he stays in power.

If, however, he is ousted, it will not signal the end of the capture of the state. Those clinging on to him for their spot at the trough will no doubt continue to defend their positions, which will lead to further infighting in the ANC, which will yield even more looting of the state.

All of this will come at the expense of job creation, economic growth and building of a capable state. This will put the country in a more precarious position, and a downward spiral, affecting the poor the most.

And whether he goes or not, the poor will not be better off, and it’s only a matter of time before this class stands up to him like never before. And that might be the point of no return for Jacob Zuma, and quite possibly, the ANC.

Album Review : Mango Groove – Faces to the Sun

mg-faces-to-the-sun

Mango Groove, the iconic South African band, have released a new album called “Faces to the Sun”. It comprises of 2 parts: “Memories and Moments” and “Here, Now and Forever”.

Memories and Moments

This part of the album is a collection of 15 iconic South African songs, giving them a makeover. And it is these makeovers that makes this part of the album fascinating. The song choice is superb, from their very own ‘Another Country’ (done better than the original in collaboration with Zolani Mahola from FreshlyGround), to ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ and the iconic ‘Great Heart’ from Johnny Clegg. The 70’s Gospel version of Meadowlands and Big band feel to Vulindlela is different, but in the best possible way.

I told you they chose some iconic songs.

But the real pearl in this part of the album is the way that they manage to capture the mood of South Africa at present, using great collaborations (Juanita du Plessis features on ‘Kinders van die Wind’), songs that identified with the struggle against apartheid (‘Under African Skies’ off the fabulous ‘Graceland’ by Paul Simon, featuring Kurt Darren), and time-tested anthems (‘Malaika’ featuring the masterful Vusi Mahlasela and Mafikizolo’s ‘Emlanjeni’ featuring NJ Kunene). ‘Memories and Moments’ takes us to the heaviness that our country is currently going through, and the struggle to come. And if you listen closely, Mango Groove captures this mood as only they can.

Perhaps the standout track is Weeping, the archetypal struggle song. Be warned, it’s a tearjerker. Their rendition has an eerie identification with our current leadership. Let’s hope we win this struggle too.

Here, Now and Forever

Flip to the second part of the album, and you have that characteristic lightness that is so welcome. Straight ‘From the Get Go’ to the strong message that comes with ‘Kind’, the reggae beat on ‘In Our Own Paradise’ and the catchy ‘Sweet Surprise’, this part makes you clap your hands and stomp your feet as if you’re at their concert.

The title track lives up to the promise of being the most identifiable song, and it brings the same happiness that ‘Special Star’ brought to us all those years ago.

The Press Release and Sleeve Notes for the album can viewed here

The way that Mango Groove captures contrasting moods in 2 parts is masterful. This is what makes them a national musical treasure. This album doesn’t disappoint and is definitely one for your collection.

Swing wide the gates of Africa

After Donald Trump’s stunning victory in the US election this week, everyone (and I mean everyone!) is waiting with bated breath to see what policies he will implement when he comes into office next January.

If he stays true to his campaign promises (and let’s hope he doesn’t), then America will almost certainly close ranks, both diplomatically and economically, which will mean fewer opportunities for emerging markets.

And like this Destiny Man article proposes, the details – which Trump was light on, during the campaign – will be vital, especially to African countries with regard to AGOA, and if this partnership will continue in its current form.

So, what then of African growth and development in the face of a US gradual (or quick) withdrawal?

Well, our collective dependence on China has shown that putting our economic eggs in one basket is a very risky policy. Many African countries, due in chief to the steep, steady decrease in commodity prices, have suffered material losses in forex reserves, thereby hampering trade drastically. In one of my previous jobs, our exports into Angola and Nigeria were hardest hit due to import regulations constantly changing as a result of loss of available liquidity. The knock on effect, of course, was VERY slow customs clearance (which widens the opportunity for corruption, naturally), inflated demurrage bills, and a slow-down in sales due to the unavailability of product.

BUT, the point is, growth in Intra-Africa trade is still possible, and as the continent’s largest economy, we should be driving force in the African Economic Resurgence.

As it is, South Africa is already providing the stimulus for various sectors, like Retail (with Shoprite leading the way), Cellular (MTN), FMCG (Tiger Brands) and Agriculture (many of our farmers now ploughing the fields of Central Africa). Another field where South Africa can lead the way is fostering small business development through the use of technology. There are many IT geniuses who are developing apps that help the rural entrepreneur growing his or her business, and the export of this particular service can grow African economies immensely.

And because the rest of Africa is expanding off a low base, growth in the continent can be considered to be exponential, if it is governed by a coherent vision, strong policy implementation, and effective management.

And this is where the fundamental shift must happen. Africa’s history is beset by the ‘Big Man’ phenomenon, which has only caused accumulation of wealth to the elite, rampant corruption, and a systematic breakdown of economies. However dire this may sound, a vision of open markets amongst ourselves will give rise to greater growth. Strengthening of Intra-Africa trade agreements and blocs, such as SADC and ECOWAS, will foster greater cooperation between countries, and go a long way toward fostering lasting, fruitful economic partnerships.

This can only be done by a government committed to:

1. A vision of an open economy, where everyone has a right to access opportunity
2. Policies that foster trade amongst African countries e.g. Free movement of goods and services within SADC
3. Effective management of trade, decreasing corruption, and stimulating growth

The present Department of Trade and Industry, in conjunction with the Department of International Relations and Cooperation must work together to see that the vision of African growth, by Africa itself, is realised.

We should be at the vanguard of African growth. Is this government up for it?

The Real Fight for Economic Freedom

Later today, Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan will table the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) in the National Assembly. Normally, this is a virtual ‘run-of-the-mill’ speech, where the ministers gives an update on the budget speech he tabled in February this year, and what to expect in the budget speech of next year.

However, this speech will have a far greater importance. Between now and the next budget speech, there are a number of significant events that must be addressed in order to keep the economy afloat.

The first is the protests for fee-free higher education, commonly known as #FeesMustFall. These protesters will be outside the gates of parliament as the minister delivers his speech, and it will be interesting to see how the minister will address their demands, if he can at all. Providing free higher education is estimated to cost R20 billion, as provided by STATS SA here.  It is difficult to see how the Minister will be able to cover the tuition fees, and further, the fee payment structure and the income streams of the universities will have to change, in order to accommodate this demand.

Further to this, the second (and knock-on) event will be student enrollment. If tuition fees are to be subsidised by the government, tertiary institutions will have less money at their disposal and hence will have to cut costs. One of those measure would be to curtail student enrollment (this would also be due to students finishing the 2016 year in 2017, causing less availability for the 2017 class). However, this might aid the higher education system, as in its current form, it is grossly inefficient. There are 400 000 (40%) more students in the system than it can handle, and when taking natural attrition into consideration, it’s still too much for the system to accommodate. The minister will need help from the higher education ministry in addressing this problem. Let’s hope he gets all the help he needs.

The third, and possibly most important, big event will be the revised outlook on our economy by credit ratings agencies in December. We managed to dodge a ratings downgrade in June of this year, and the minister has made every effort to avoid the same at the end of the year.

However, he has not been helped by various diversions, and not by his own doing.

Firstly, the fraud case brought against him by the National Prosecuting Authority and the Hawks. Every learned legal mind in the country has said that the charges are frivolous, weak and politically motivated at best. However, this move by the NPA will only be seen in a negative light by the ratings agencies and will not aid the cause of economic growth and freedom. The case is due to be in court on November 2, and I am sure that the minister will be vindicated.

Secondly, the increase in violence in the #FeesMustFall protests. The torching of cars and buildings has now overshadowed the foundation of the protest, and it is now losing popularity in the public eye. Clearly those behind the violence seek to bring the higher education system to a complete standstill, which can only stall the economy, and obliterate the chance for sustained economic growth.

Finally, the other projects that government want to execute will also need attention. Chief among these are the Nuclear build program, and the rehabilitation of South African Airways. The nuclear build program is expect to cost R1 trillion, while SAA will need at least R5 billion to stay afloat. The minister will have to decide whether these projects take precedence over poverty alleviation and job creation.

The destruction of the economic through physical and intrinsic means cannot be allowed, and the minister has to juggle these matters with the real fight for economic freedom, which affects the poor the most.

How is this to be done?  Firstly, he has to continue removing obstacles to investment, by continuing to liaise with the business community, and implementing investment-friendly policies, as well as labour reform.

Secondly, fight the NPA and the Hawks in court. This should yield a resounding victory, which will further vindicate his stance against corruption, and solidify his status as the gatekeeper to the public purse.

Finally, on corruption, continue to seek answers on the questionable transactions of the Gupta family business. This family has sought to capture the state through the president, and they must be stopped if true economic freedom in South Africa is to be realised.

#FeesMustFall – What it’s really about

Currently, South Africa’s Higher Education System is gripped by violent protests from students demanding, among others, free higher education for all. These protests are a continuation of the same protests in October 2015, as it is in October when fee increases are negotiated for the following year.

As with last year, the main demands of the protesters were, and still are :

  • Free higher education for all students
  • The decolonisation of higher education
  • The abolition of outsourcing of workers in state institutions of higher learning

Unlike last year, however, we have seen the protests take a violent turn as they dragged on, with widespread violence being reported across the country’s universities, with its the main focus being the University of Witwatersrand in Gauteng, UCT and UWC in the Western Cape, and UKZN in Kwazulu-Natal. Furthermore, threats of violence against non-protesting students have increased dramatically. Social media posts (especially through messages and voice notes on WhatsApp) that threaten grievous harm to person and property to anyone, academic or student, are widely circulated. This puts anyone’s lives who tries to continue the academic program in grave danger, and the prospect of normality on the nation’s campuses virtually non-existent.

Notwithstanding the police’s (and university management’s) response to the protests through the use of crowd control (Stun grenades and rubber bullets etc.), these protests have taken a turn which has become eerily comparable to past strikes of municipal workers against their employer of the past few years. The violence and destruction used in both these forms of protests are strikingly similar, which begs the question :

What are the #FeesMustFall protests really about?

The protests have become less about the foundational  aspects of higher education funding, and more about an abhorrent student uprising, with a view to destabilising a critical state institution and bringing the nation’s economy to a grinding halt.

Because make no mistake, if these protests cause the loss of the academic year, that’s exactly what will happen. The economy will be robbed of an intake of skilled graduates into various sectors, and this decrease in skills will negatively affect output and productivity across the board. And while, we can debate the quality of degrees issued by some of our universities, in this case, it is abundantly clear that some education is better than no education.

The fact that the protesting students wish to draw similarities between their actions and that of the student uprisings in the days of the struggle against apartheid would be the main justification for the destruction of campus infrastructure across the country. This, however, is a fatal comparison, as the resources required to repair the damage (currently conservatively estimated at R600 million), will only serve to hinder the government’s ability to provide for free higher education, even if it could in the first place.

Moreover, the students must be getting help from outside sources. Where would they get the funds required to bus them in from townships, the money required to buy human faeces to spread on campus grounds and legal support for those who have fallen foul of the law? The most plausible answer must be from organisations who have clearly communicated their objective to overthrow the government through violent means on whatever platform is available.

We can only hope that the leaders of this movement regain control of the direction of these protests, see the lasting negative consequences of their actions, and seek to continue their action in a manner that would benefit their cause, and add to the goal of reaching economic freedom for all South Africans, in the best way possible.

The Conundrum of Inclusion

Last night I was at a Blue, the Network event in Woodstock. A little background to the network; Blue, the Network is an initiative of the Democratic Alliance to bring together young professionals across various sectors to talk about innovations and ideas, which will lead into action in bringing about a new type of politics. For more information, you can visit the page here.

Among the guest speakers was the Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille, who very succinctly outlined the vision to position Cape Town as a leading African City, creating opportunities for economic development, uplifting the conditions of the poor through various projects and delivering world class services to all its citizens.

In the Q&A session afterwards, a young lady put a question to her (in the form of a statement) addressing the difficulty black people face in Cape Town regarding being included in business circles, especially around the issue of language use in business. One of the speakers of the night, Mphumeleli Ndlangisa, founder of Magna Carta Wines, expressed the same frustration, noting that most business meetings in the Stellenbosch area are held in Afrikaans, a language which he struggles to communicate in. Especially in the business context. This, of course, is very much a valid and pressing issue if we are to effectively transform the economy so that everyone benefits from economic growth and job creation.

The answer, in my humble opinion is a very simple one; we should all respect each other’s language constraints, and go into any conversation with the goal of seeking first to understand (to borrow one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).

In my professional career, I’ve worked for 3 different multi-national organisations, where English was not always the language of communication. In 2 of these organisations, Afrikaans was the language most often used. Now, I can understand Afrikaans very well, but I can’t always speak it well. So, when I can, I try to speak the language as best I can, and the moment I feel uncomfortable in doing so, I switch over to English. And here’s the thing; not once did anyone ask me to stay speaking in Afrikaans. And furthermore, when I didn’t understand a word or sentence, I asked that they either repeat it, or that it be translated into English, and again, not once was this request ignored.

One more example. Our office is in Cape Town, and one of my colleagues, Nokuthula, relocated from Gauteng. She has a very basic understanding of Afrikaans. So when there is a meeting with her present, the meeting is strictly held in English. In this way, everyone is included in the conversation.

In closing, one of the best ways that we can build our economy is inclusion of everyone through effective communication. Having 11 official languages makes it difficult for everyone, but if we seek first to understand each other, I believe we will be well on our way to foster an inclusive society, develop our economy, and build our beloved nation together.