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There is something strangely compelling about Chris Griffith’s now infamous comments about his salary and perks – published in Business Day last week.

Remember these are the words of the CEO of Amplats, the biggest platinum company in the world. It cannot have escaped your notice that a bitter and grinding strike throughout the South African platinum sector is entering its 17th week. The Business Day story about the comments also refers to the 2013 Amplats annual report that mentions Mr Griffiths was paid R17.6m, of which R6.7m was a basic salary, for that year.

I have put the following quotes from Chris Griffith in the order in which they appear in the story but they did not necessarily flow together like this in the original interview:

If this debate is around the comparison of CEO pay and somebody else, then we’re completely missing the point. There is a greater supply of lower-skilled people … What the unions are doing is putting more people out on the street … Am I getting paid on a fair basis for what I’m having to deal with in this company? Must I run this company and deal with all this nonsense for nothing? I’m at work. I’m not on strike. I’m not demanding to be paid what I’m not worth.

Since then Griffith has apologised, saying:

I wish to apologise to the employees of Anglo American Platinum and the readership for comments I made in a Business Day article on Wednesday … My choice of words was inappropriate and a poor way to describe the extremely challenging situation we find ourselves in.

But the truth of the matter is that Griffith’s original comments are clearly what the company believes because this is what it does. Everything else is public relations and spin.

At the AGM of a listed company shareholders vote approval or otherwise of executive remuneration. So in one way or another the actual owners of this company are happy to pay Griffith’s fee. The company either believes he is worth that (and they pay him for it) or they do not believe he is worth it (and they pay him less … and perhaps he doesn’t accept the job.)

This might feel monstrous and unfair to you and me – especially when we read of the hardship experienced by the workers on those mines and the sacrifices they seem prepared to make to improve their lot. But in the world in which these hugely powerful companies operate, supply and demand is the basic mechanism that determines the price of everything.

I don’t like euphemisms – it is (almost) always better to see the snarling teeth of the beast rather than to be beguiled by its fake smile.

The whole exchange reminds me of a P. J. O’Rourke essay I read several years ago.

He’s talking about bigotry in apartheid South Africa (and be warned he uses language often considered to be rude or impolite*):

Everywhere you go in the world somebody’s raping women, expelling the ethnic Chinese, enslaving stone-age tribesmen, shooting communists, rounding up Jews, kidnapping Americans, settling fire to Sikhs, keeping Catholics out of the country clubs and hunting peasants from helicopters with automatic weapons. The world is built on discrimination of the most horrible kind. The problem with South Africans is they admit it. They don’t say, like the French, “Algerians have a legal right to live in the sixteenth arrondissement, but they can’t afford to.” They don’t say, like the Israelis, “Arabs have a legal right to live in West Jerusalem, but they’re afraid to.” They don’t say, like the Americans, “Indians have a legal right to live in Ohio, but oops, we killed them all.” The South Africans just say, “Fuck you.” I believe it’s right there in their constitution: “Article IV: Fuck you. We’re bigots.” We hate them for this. And we’re going to hold indignant demonstrations…until the South Africans learn to stand up and lie like white men.

That’s P. J. O’Rourke, Holidays In Hell,  Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988. It’s very, very funny – albeit irritatingly smug and right-wing. I have long since lost the book, but I found that quote here.

 

(Below anxiously added a few hours after initial publication.)

* And be further warned that he (O’Rourke) is sneakily winking at apartheid … weellll, at least they** don’t lie about it! 

** And be even further warned that he talked about “South Africans” in 1988 as if the term referred elusively exclusively to white South Africans who supported apartheid.

(Lawdy, enough already! Just leave it alone, the damage is done – Ed.)

(… and finally, despite Ed’s protestations, and after having glanced over this several weeks after publishing it: PJO also failed to understand the systemic and systematic nature of apartheid …. ‘hunting peasants from helicopters’ is an outrage, but comparing that to ‘apartheid’, the specific historical system of government and social control for a whole country,  is a category error.)

 

 

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An irresistible opportunity for a caption competition arose when I saw this picture on Die Burger‘s webpage:

RadebeCwelebetter

What is intelligence minister Siyabonga  Cwele whispering in the ear of justice minister Jeff Radebe? What is Radebe thinking? I hesitate to ask.

Post your suggestions in the comments section below. The winner will receive a copy of the excellent ‘SA Politics Unspun’ by Stephen Grootes – which I will review here soon. The judge’s decisions are arbitrary and subjective … and seldom final.

That picture accompanies a story in Die Burger describing the alleged cover-up by the security cluster of public protector Thuli Madonsela’s Nkandla report – thanks to the person who pointed it out … catch the original here.

Below follows a sliver (‘slither’ as a young close relative of mine is wont to say) of my weekly politics summary and analysis from early Monday morning – I have stripped out some technical issues so what is left is little thin (although it was, frankly, a little thin anyway.)

But purely for the record:

Election fever and the registration weekend

  • Election fever takes hold – AgangSA launches with tea and cakes, EFF slaughters 8 bulls
  • Winnie Mandela still in ANC colours, but speculation as to her loyalties continues
  • Vigilante violence in Khutsong – Minister Nathi Mthethwa holds the thin blue line
  • The Democratic Alliance feels the stress of attempting to hold on to its old support base while pursuing a new one

Despite the 2014 election dates not yet having been announced, most parties are entering campaigning mode. (The elections must be held, according the SA Constitution, between April and July 2014). This weekend the Independent Electoral Commission held the second and last national voter registration drive and managed to register just under 500 000 new voters – and change the details of an additional 600 000 others (Independent Electoral Commission).

Election noise from almost every corner of the country is already deafening. Here are some of the highlights (and lowlights) from this past weekend:

Winnie appropriately dressed in Bekkersdal

Various leaders visited Bekkersdal, a community to the west of Johannesburg that has been plagued by violent service delivery protests and where many IEC registration booths were unable to open on Saturday morning. The most notable was Winnie Mandela who was “warmly received” by the community (eNCA). The twitterati and commentariat were obsessively interested to see whether she would arrive wearing red – indicating a possible defection from the ANC to the EFF. She arrived in ANC colours and spoke like a loyal ANC leader – for now, anyway. Registration booths opened in Bekkersdal yesterday.

Police minister stands his ground

Minister Nathi Mthethwa and several of his generals bravely faced down an extremely angry Khutsong audience (also west of Johannesburg) yesterday. Mthethwa visited the troubled area in the wake of last week’s vigilante violence in which 6 alleged criminals were murdered – by stoning and burning. Mthethwa, a close Jacob Zuma ally, stood his ground as audience members screamed at him and his senior officers, accusing the police of incompetence and corruption and threatening to fry criminals ‘like chicken’. Mthethwa urged the crowd to work with the police – and expose the area’s drug lords and corrupt cops.

The best action was on Twitter

Much of the off-beat action was on Twitter. A flyer portraying itself as having been distributed by the ANC Youth League promising a R60 car-wash by scantily clad young women near a registration station in Kenilworth (looks fake, but you never can tell). One tweet pointed out an essential difference between AgangSA and the EFF: “Agang launched with Tea and cakes, EFF slaughtered 8 Bulls” – which, in our opinion, nails down the difference between the two new parties rather well.

DA swerves

The Democratic Alliance continues to shudder from its ‘mistaken’ backing of the Employment Equity Amendment Bill in the National Assembly recently. It appears the flip-flop is based on tension in the official opposition between those who believe backing state interventions to reverse the relative exclusion of black South Africans from senior management positions as well as from other forms of ownership and control of the economy is essential if the DA is to win black votes. The South African Institute of Race Relations quoted in the Business Day on November 6th says: “DA support for this kind of racial engineering will come as a shock to many of its current supporters.” As it happens Helen Zille backed away from supporting the bill and has reshuffled her shadow minister of labour, Sej Motau. Tension around this matter will remain and grow in the party.

I am an independent political analyst focusing on Southern Africa and I specialise in examining political and policy risks for financial markets.

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