Christmas: A Time to be Grateful

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Be Grateful this Christmas

Before we even knew what hit us, 2015 is drawing to a close and it is time again for Christmas celebrations. For many of us Christmas – and especially the week between Christmas and New Year – is a time that we can slow down and take stock of the year that has passed. It is also the time of year when we should find the time to be grateful for all that we have, as sometimes we tend to forget just how much we are blessed with. And even if you do not celebrate Christmas, you can still spend some time to remember all the things you can be grateful for.

For many Christmas time is as much about spending time with family and friends as it is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. While there is a lot of excitement about Christmas and a build-up which already starts when the first of the Christmas decorations appear in the shops, we also have to remember that it is not all about the gifts and the food. It is also about fellowship.

Sometimes it seems as if everyone gets more relaxed, friendlier with strangers, and try to connect with friends and family which they have not seen in months or years as Christmas draws closer. But Christmas and New Year’s should not be the only time during which we think of others in this way; we should actually be doing this throughout the year.

When we look at the world as a whole and see all the suffering which is taking place on a daily basis, we can really see how lucky we are to still have family and friends around us and how lucky we are to still be alive. It is also during Christmas time that we all try to give something to those less fortunate than ourselves because we see that we have much to be grateful for. But we should also try and do this throughout the year. May we all in the coming year remember the feeling of gratitude and fellowship that we have at Christmas time and may we carry that with us throughout the year.

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Student protests: More than free education

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Students and workers unite (briefly) to protest for a free education

Student protests spread from Johannesburg across the country. The ostensible reason is the exorbitant increase in tuition fees. Fees are absurdly high, and readiness of the wealthier universities to meet the shortfall out of their own pockets proved the point. But if we look under the surface, we will find that there is more to the current crisis than meets the eye.

“Without consultation”

An interesting alliance was briefly embarked upon when workers joined the student cause, but alas it did not last. Soon disharmony about agreements signed without proper consultation reared its head, and the impulse to ‘protest’ was let loose like Shakespeare’s hounds of war once more. Already a culture of protest exists in South Africa, but has constructive debate become completely obsolete? Many issues around the fees freeze or abolition have arisen, and one had hoped that like with the Rhodes must fall campaign it would enable the narratives so necessary to a healthy democracy, that it would facilitate citizens becoming more informed about the forces that shaped our society, that a longer view of our history would inform the next step in a maturing system of majority rule, … but sadly the political rhetoric is becoming increasingly banal.

Violence and accusations on both sides prevent meaningful dialogue

Students burned tyres, occupied buildings and erected barricades at the University of Cape Town. Twenty- three students were arrested on charges of disrupting the peace and refusing to vacate a building. About 200 UCT students, workers and academic staff gathered at the Rondebosch police station, demanding that they too be detained in solidarity.

“They will probably throw stun grenades at you and fire rubber bullets but do not disperse!” shouted one of the leaders, Dudu Ndlovu, over a loudhailer. If this is not provoking violence, what is?  Duly the police fired stun grenades to disperse protesters at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. Stellenbosch University authorities obtained a court interdict to bar protests, to allow the students to write exams without interruption. At Wits University in Johannesburg, vehicles driving onto campus were overturned. Some examinations could not take place; work was disrupted everywhere on campus.

Points of view

  • Students say the high fees further disadvantage black learners in Africa’s most advanced economy who had little access to universities during decades of white apartheid rule.
  • Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande says that each university catered for its own finances and that the government could not afford to provide free education for poor students.
  • University administrators say without much bigger subsidies from government they have no option but to raise fees to maintain academic standards. Also, that the weaker rand currency makes library books, journals and electronic research equipment priced in dollars, very expensive.

What nobody is saying

  • The ANC/Government representatives have hijacked the student cause. While agreeing with the protesters (and so ensuring votes), they have not increased subsidies.
  • Students are aware of the fact that even with degrees they are not assured of employment afterwards.
  • University studies are out of reach of many students because of the inferior quality of our primary and secondary education.
  • No country under the sun, not even developed European nations, have such a high percentage of university students among their youth. Vocational training, practical skills, entrepreneurship and labour feature too. No economy needs, nor can it appropriately accommodate that many graduates.
  • Many white citizens of between 40 and 80 with university degrees had to pay off study loans, some well into middle age, or were (some still are) tied to an employer who funded their studies. 60% of Afrikaners were paupers after the Anglo-Boer war and extreme poverty rendered them unable to access education until well after 1948.
  • Our youth is despondent: Their families invest much hope in those that do get grants and go to university, or families impoverish themselves to keep youngsters at university, yet the young people see criminals flourish, and unemployment soar.

This struggle is far from over. The ramifications are only just beginning …

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MTN and the empty tin syndrome

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MTN Global Markets unstable?

MTN’s two biggest markets are South Africa and Nigeria. In South Africa strikes, limited handset availability and increased smartphone usage hampered growth. In Nigeria disposable income constraints and competition threw a spanner in the works. In Iran MTN’s joint venture did well, and oddly, business in Syria boomed in spite of what is effectively a civil war. By no stretch of the imagination can one call these areas “stable”, yet perhaps it is, ironically, exactly that restlessness that encourages market growth: interpersonal contact and group communication become essential.

Naughty, risky or hubristic?

MTN was fined $5.2bn for failure to cut off unregistered users. Trade in the firm’s shares was suspended at the JSE as stock fell by as much as 12%. Africa’s largest mobile telecoms operator negotiated with authorities in Nigeria and the JSE is investigating the company over possible insider trading. MTN chief executive Sifiso Dabengwa flew to Abuja to make an attempt to have the penalty reduced. The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) gave MTN two weeks to pay the fine that has been imposed on MTN Nigeria for alleged non-compliance with telecommunications regulations of that country as well as allegations that MTN Management did not immediately disclose this material information to the market. The telecoms regulator in Nigeria has fined MTN in that country US$5,2bn (That amounts to more than the company’s annual revenue in Nigeria, and nearly double the entire MTN group’s net profit in 2014.) The fine relates to the timing of the disconnection of 5,1m MTN Nigeria subscribers who were disconnected in August and September 2015 and is based on a fine of about US$1 004 for each unregistered subscriber. It seems that MTN either did not disconnect customers with unregistered Sim cards, or did not do it in time.

The Public Investment Corporation, MTN largest shareholder, was concerned that the mobile operator did not anticipate the fine it faces from Nigerian authorities. Things are afoot in Nigeria: A huge drop in oil price, among them. Can we see the MTN fine in isolation, or are there other forces at play? Did nobody take the regulations seriously to begin with or is negligence the order of the day? One supposes if Volkswagen can be foolish, a major listed company like MTN can be foolish too. In contravention of the listings requirements, the MTN group withheld the information from investors.

South Africa – the gateway to?

We rather fancy ourselves as the gateway for investment in Africa, mostly for good reason. We are justifiably pleased with many export products and services. However, do we assume that we can get away with ignoring regulatory institutions? The International Court (and we are signatories to the Rome Statute) is but one recent example of our complacent assumption that we are above the law. One of our leaders (unintentionally, one hopes) said on public television that we in South Africa are subject to the “rule of flaw”. Let’s hope he is wrong.

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