Category: Economics

Hellkom like no SOE ever scorned

Herewith my experience attempting to relocate a Telkom line, Ed.

My first call to the Telkom operator from the line that is going to be relocated is unsuccessful, thus beginning a series of similar unfortunate phone calls. Each time I am asked by a machine to enter the number I am calling about and also my 13 digit ID number, only to have to repeat this information verbally to the operator, a case of pretending to be in the information age?

I explain that I am moving from Woodstock to Muizenberg. I give the exact street address and room number of the apartment, a duplex near the Beachfront. The person tells me the address is on google maps but not on the Telkom system. I need to give the ‘name’ of the apartment, she says. I tell her, I don’t know the exact name, but surely the street address and room number will suffice? She puts the phone down on me.

I arrive at my new address, and call Telkom again from a mobile phone. After about 40 minutes on hold, with an obsequious rich voice assuring me that I am being attended to, I give up, (It seems Telkom have two voices, one when soliciting services and another when demanding money — that irritating old apartheid Tannie must work when it comes to bad debts).

Next call I eventually get through after 20 minutes. Each call consumes an enormous amount from my capped mobile contract. There is no toll free relocation number to assist persons such as myself. No attempt to finesse the plight of those unfortunates wishing to relocate. I duly give the details of the apartment, including its “name”. “It’s a totally different area, says the operator, you will have to get a different number.” Fine I say, when can you relocate the service? I am told the relocation will take up to 7 working days.

Wishful thinking, after the expiry of this period, I call Telkom one again, only to be told that the relocation can take up to 21 working days not including weekends.

DAY 16, I get an SMS arranging a morning appointment, enter @yes or @no. I sms my acceptance. D-Day arrives, beginning with an early morning sms addressed to Dear Customer, ‘a Telkom technician has been dispatched to install your telephone line for your order today, your continued support is appreciated.’

By mid-morning I am beginning to not appreciate. By midday I am positively livid. Then I receive a mobile call from the “technician”, a person apparently contracted by the company to install my line. ‘I was at your address in Woodstock this morning’ he says, all Gung ho. “You weren’t there.” I explain that he has attempted to reinstall my line at my old address, and that I am in Muizenberg not Woodstock. “That’s the order I got. Its a totally different area he says.” I tell him that his company appears retarded. He puts down the phone and I don’t get an opportunity to question him as to why he didn’t call first thing in the morning. I suspect that he is simply happy to get paid a call-out fee without doing any work, a new loophole being exploited by outside contractors, that are also rife in the insurance industry.

Thus at the end of the day I receive yet another Dear Customer SMS, assuring me that a technician has been dispatched, no such luck, except for the lucky fellow who has now probably billed the company twice.

DAY 17 AM, I call Telkom, am once again asked by a machine to enter the number I am calling about and also my 13 digit ID number, only to have to repeat this information verbally to the operator, before being referred to another person for assistance. I barely have time to repeat all the information once again, before my mobile phone cuts out, victim of diminishing finances.

What strikes me is how the supposed digital sophistication of the company is turning out to be a highly complicated, analog affair, as if kilometres of copper cable would need to be hauled from one suburb to the next, merely to accommodate a simply change of address. The same obfuscation is apparent in the world of plumbing where a simple hot water geyser, basically a large kettle, is turned by a trick of the imagination, into an ancient steam engine necessitating the attendance of a team of engineers in the minds of the victims of the charlatans of the profession.

Walking on the street on the way to recharge my mobile, I notice a man working on a Telkom cable box. I ask him what he is doing, apparently he is an apprentice. Soon a technician arrives in a van. I relate my tale of woe. He asks if I have the order number. He makes a note and takes down my mobile number. He says in all likelihood the other technician won’t get paid. Will he help me?

There was a time when Telkom was a purely analog company, replete with switch boards and physical switching of calls. One could call an operator to place a collect call, while the post office handled telegrams, the antecedent of email and sms. Then the Internet and the Information Age arrived. Instead of rebooting, the company carried on providing copper cable, assured of its monopoly on telephony, a mantra of the volkscapitalisme under the old National Party, a socialist status quo which continued under the ANC, only to see wireless operators and the invariable march of progress and free enterprise, beat it to the punch in terms of sheer numbers.

South Africa has a history of late adoption of technology and, aside from cellular, Telkom is no exception. After killing off Internet dialup services the company begrudgingly offered broadband in 2005, some 20 years after the technology and the Internet had caught on in the West. For two decades the only form of Internet enjoyed by South Africans was thus to be had via Internet Cafes and exorbitant cellular contracts that really take the joy away from surfing. Then Telkom shifted into wireless and also listed on the JSE, an example of a ‘hybrid SOE’ with both government and private investors, punting hybrid technology while seeking to compete with the new wave of optical networks. As I write this, there are now various offerings of fibre cable by the three big mobile operators, (Cell C, MTN, Vodacom) and all are pretty expensive in comparison to copper. So far as price is concerned, Telkom’s offering is cheaper by yards. Technology such as G-Fast has extended the lifespan of copper.

The cost of delaying the inevitability of the Information Age, and the need for competition, has been a loss of economic activity and productivity that spans a generation. For South Africans champing at the bit, it is the ANC and SOE Minister Lynne Brown who needs to take responsibility. Like the Nat Minister who famously opposed the introduction of Television, Brown has consistently punted the anti-technology, anti-Internet views of the labour-left coalition governing the country, at the same time as claiming to be rolling out services, part of the talk left, walk right approach which has dogged the party. (Who can trust the party these days?)

While mobile networks connected consumers to the new world of Android and Google Apps, it is fibre cable which holds the promise of allowing consumers to turn into providers of information, while bringing IT capacity to small businesses seeking to compete on the international stage. South Africa’s digital economy is still in its infancy, and the cost of retarding growth for purely political and ideological reasons has demonstrated that when it comes to labour rights, one may want a dash of Marx but when it comes to a flagging economy, what you really need are economic theories based in the here and now, geared to the problems of the day, not the 19th century.

DAY 17 PM Once again I get through to an operator. According to her, my order of 1 August is not on the system, but technicians ‘were at my premises yesterday’ she says, sadly the order was, surprise surprise, cancelled. She promises to follow up, to see what happened. I tell her that aside from the internal inquiry in the company (and a potential suite for damages) I still need my service to be installed at my new address as guaranteed. Since the company is an SOE, liability is restricted. I probably still have a shot at a complaint to an Ombud, but there is precious little I can do to stop the behemoth from needlessly damaging my own business. R50 airtime later and I am once again cut off by Vodacom, which appears to eschew calls to other operator service numbers. Calling service numbers is a bit like playing slot machines in R20 increments.

Never fear, the mobile counter at Checkers offers various SIM packages with free connectivity deals, there is Vodacom’s Free Facebook connect, and a Cell C free for R12 Whatsapp deal. But no free service numbers across networks. No allowance for error on anyone’s part. Then there’s the fine print, in order to purchase a new SIM one needs to RICA the SIM, and in order to comply with the legal result of the USA Patriot Act, renamed The Democracy Act in South Africa and all resulting from a suite of post-911 global Anti-Terror and Anti-Money Laundering legislation, one needs to provide paperwork such as proof of address on the off-chance I might be spying on my government, or part of an international terrorist syndicate. If adult persons such as myself find it hard going getting connected, what about pensioners and the infirm?

The 20 year one-horse cable race provided courtesy of the ANC reminds one of the joke about flogging the dead horse. A committee has been appointed to inquire into why the dead horse is not doing its job.

DAY 18 I go into town, recharge, only to have mobile data suck my account dry. Neglected to turn it off, me bad, buy hey why is the default plan always pay, pay, pay? I get to a Telkom outlet, only to speak to a Tony Erhenreich lookalike, replete with golfing shirt. He claims he can’t help me, since “this is a Telkom mobile outlet” and “we’re a mobile company”, but nevertheless puts me on a free line to a helpdesk. I speak to the operator, assured that my precious mobile units are not being eaten. The operator is adamant that the address where my new line is to be installed is in Woodstock not Muizenberg, I ask her if she is perhaps a foreigner? No, she says she grew up in KZN. Never been to Cape Town? No. Never studied geography? No. ‘Cape Town, its a major a metro, you should visit Muizenburg sometime, you would like it,’ I say. She duly completes yet another reorder and issues a reference number. I get home only to open my Telkom bill, to find there’s an offer of a ‘free cordless phone, our housewarming gift to you,” in fine print at the bottom of the damn thing. To receive it, I would have to apply for a relocation online. Is this all just a perverse case of reward and punishment? The corporation is punishing me for not applying for a gift, via the appropriate channels?

DAY 21 I receive yet another chummy “Dear Customer” sms, this time thanking me for ordering a telephone service for my new address. Apparently my “order” is receive attention and further communication will follow. The sms thanks me for choosing Telkom. “your service provider”

DAY 24 I am admitted to the online club of fuming Telkom users, each one with a jarring story to tell. There’s the guy whose service failed, who then upgraded to a 20mb line, expecting better service for more money, only to find he was now being billed for a service unavailable to the area he lives in, and to make matters worse, he is now blacklisted for refusing to pay up. Or the customer who got told Telkom don’t install cables in ‘black townships’ due to supposed cable theft. (whatever happened to fibre to the curb or fibre to the home?) Or the lady whose four year saga involving payments and no-service really takes the cake in terms of limited liability and refusal to abide by a government decreed service mandate, one of many election promises made by the ruling party. A litany of complaints involving failure to repair lines, even in popular metro areas. The abuse of debit orders. A culture of ineptitude and buck-passing, and abdication of responsibility. As the Peter Principle dictates, ordinary people will always rise to their own level of incompetence.

DAY 25 Am considering building my own telco. Another SMS arrives, this time with a more serious tone: Dear Client, Telkom will send a representative to your premises to fulfil your request … we have scheduled an all-day appointment for Monday. That’s right, an all-day appointment productivity sink. The company also demands various documents such as a certified copy of my ID. So much for being a loyal customer. Or perhaps they’re just concerned I may have changed my identity in the past 5 years that I’ve been getting service from them. Enough time to take those hormone shots?

TO BE CONTINUED

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Our 14 point action plan

1) Fire No 1 and pay back the money

2) Cut back on five hour lunch sessions, R1bn wagyu steaks for No 2

3) Dump the Gupta Raj and the British East India Company kickbacks.

4) Reduce size of cabinet to pre-Zuma levels

5) Break up SOEs into smaller units, sell SAA.

6) Dump Eskom and introduce an Energy Commons

7) Introduce a Social Wage for all (including Basic Income Grant)

8) Household responsibility to provide home economics

9) Income equalisation for periodic work

10) Rent Stabilisation for those renting

11) Compulsory Civics classes for young scholars and new immigrants

12) Adopt David Robert Lewis’ Electronic Freedom Charter

13) Celebrate the Earth Rights we got into the Constitution

14) Hire competent staff at finance ministry

Competing visions for a new South Africa

TWO parties, each with contradictory and competing visions for South Africa’s future, hold centre stage. In the one corner, the African National Congress with its legacy of struggle against apartheid and nation building, that has increasingly come under the spotlight with revelations of corruption and state capture, and the failing economic policies and antics of its president Jacob Zuma

In the other corner, the Democratic Alliance, an opposition political formation with market friendly policies, but hampered by a troubling legacy, fraught because of its historic support from white capital versus the emergence of black capital under the ruling party, and yet presenting a different vision of reconciliation, inclusion, and equal opportunity.

So far as DA leader Mmusi Maimane is concerned, the struggle is about keeping the reconciliation project alive while creating an open and inclusive society in line with a constitutional vision that is the antithesis of the creeping totalitarianism and authoritarianism of the current administration.

Over the past months, the ANC has diverted itself from the proud nation-building of past administrations, towards an increasingly tribal vision of a society not unlike the Bantustans of the apartheid-era. A country defined by race, where domination of one group by another is the order of the day, and where expropriation of land without compensation is matched by the growth of state and tribal authorities.

And yet within the ANC itself, there exist competing visions to what has been broadly condemned by the investment community as “Zumanomics”, an unworkable recipe for economic disaster.  Thus a lively debate on so-called ‘radical economic transformation’ has ensued at the party’s organising conference.

So far as ANC NEC member and Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa is concerned, “South Africans should focus less on the colour of monopoly capital and rather focus on contesting monopoly capital in all its forms”

“We shouldn’t be aspiring to change white monopoly capital to black monopoly capital. The uncompetitive nature of monopoly capital makes us raise an issue of contestation, whether it will be black or white,” Mthethwa told reporters during a media briefing this week.

It was party spokesperson Zizi Kodwa who thus also articulated a view that is in direct contrast to the DA faction under Helen Zille and seemingly the ANC under Zuma. According to Kodwa, “the new South Africa creates a clean break from our ugly past giving birth to a new nation with new prescripts. South Africa is not an improved version of the past or a case of taking our better past forward, South Africa is a new nation.”

Can the DA match its own rhetoric and the propaganda of the ruling party, with a victory at the polls? The alliance has seen major victories during the past general election in several of South Africa’s metro’s including Johannesburg, and Nelson Mandela Bay. As the ANC moves to reduce its opposition to the left, it invariably risks losing the middle ground, where the most votes in the next election are bound to reside.

Thus as the party erodes the opposition EFF base, whose red shirts are now ironically being deployed in support of the DA — the ANC policy conference and its adoption of far-left language, risks reducing the party’s central mandate as articulated by the NDP and will come as a blow to those arguing for moderation.

All good news so far as the DA is concerned.

Recycle & Repair Shops, redefining sustainability

The Recycle Swap Shop operates from the premises of Hou Moed Centre, within the marginalised township of Zwelihle in the seaside town of Hermanus. Zwelihle’s children often struggle to get their hands on essential items that are often taken for granted by many; like toiletries and stationery, let alone more costly items such as shoes and school uniforms.

In 2003, the situation facing children and their families in the “squatter camp” visited was simply, desperate. The RSS concept was the answer.

Sweden is stepping up its recycling game. A Swedish municipality recently opened up what could be the world’s very first shopping mall dedicated to recycled, reused, and repaired goods.

The new mall, ReTuna Recycling Galleria, is in the city of Eskilstuna, Sweden. And it’s a one-stop-shop for sustainable products. The mall boasts over a dozen different stores focusing on everything from reused household goods to refurbished electronics—as well a restaurant, educational center, conference center, and an exhibition.

Joining France’s countless pastry shops and bakeries is a new kind of shop, which collects unwanted goods, repairing them if necessary, selling or upcycling them if possible, and, if all else fails, properly recycling them. And their numbers are growing.

Ressourceries, which could be translated as “resource shops,” operate something like Goodwill or the Salvation Army, accepting donations of used goods and reselling them at discounted prices. But the ressourceries take it to the next level by just about anything that’s brought through the door.

New York City’s Pop Up Repair Shop was a one-month experiment “aimed at breaking the cycle of use-and-discard goods.” It was the first step of a larger exploration of the issue, led by Sandra Goldmark, a set and costume designer and theater professor at Barnard College. Sandra and her husband Michael Banta, a theater production manager at Barnard, launched the shop using funds from an IndieGoGo campaign, which raised over $9,000.

“The most well-known example of items that are relatively simple to repair are clothes. Putting a patch on some jeans or a jumpers elbow, darning socks, these are some of the simplest repairs that most of us have experienced, if not done ourselves” says Recycling Expert UK

Once seen as a niche part of the fashion industry, being eco-conscious has rapidly become one of the hottest ‘topics’ of our time. From luxury fashion houses to fast-fashion retailers, and everything in between – more and more fashion companies are responding to mounting consumer interest and ‘going green.

There are literally hundreds of online projects involved in recycling and repair in one way or another.

The Bicycle Recycle Project at Seven Hills School in Nevada City, California, provides students hands-on learning of basic bicycle mechanical skills, reinforces the value of recycling, and provides the satisfaction of helping others.

Other recycle projects include an Electronics Exchange where consumer electronics may be repaired and swapped.

Meanwhile, the BBC bemoans the flipside: Why is it so hard to repair anything?

 

 

The new labour struggle: less work, same pay, and basic income for all

SINCE the 19th century May 1 has been International Worker’s Day, chosen by organised labour to celebrate the contribution of workers around the world. But it’s frequently forgotten that the day actually celebrates a particular achievement of the labour movement: being able to do less work. Not better paid or decent work, but shorter working hours.

May 1 initially commemorated the 1886 Haymarket affair, where Chicago workers were striking for a radical and dangerous proposal: the eight-hour work day. This idea was so incendiary that the protests turned violent; both police and protesters died in the conflict.

Today more and more people around the world are facing precarity, casualisation, inequality and unemployment. It’s time to pursue a new agenda for a new global labour movement – or rather, to update the old agenda of the 19th century: less working time and more money for all, in the form of shorter work days and a universal basic income.

What happened to the struggle?

An eight-hour work day and weekends off were far from the norm for most full-time workers before the early 20th century. They usually worked 12 to 16 hours a day, six days a week. It took a protracted, often violent organised labour struggle in the face of strenuous opposition to change that.

Forty-hour work weeks were finally legislated around the world less than a century ago. This seemed like just the beginning. The economist John Maynard Keynes predicted in 1930 that thanks to technology, within a century we’d all stop worrying about subsistence. We’d work 15 hours a week, just enough to keep us from getting bored.

In some ways he was right. Technological advancement has exceeded his wildest dreams; productivity and output per worker has soared. But this has proven to be our problem rather than a source of liberation.

As productivity grew and each worker could produce ever more output, we consumed more and more stuff so that full time, 40-hour-a-week employment could stay stable. Now we’ve reached our limits, with climate change, pollution, deforestation and extinction spiralling out of control. We can’t afford to keep consuming ever more.

We’ve also moved into a different phase of automation, a “fourth industrial revolution” where artificial intelligence and machine learning can do the work of accountants, lawyers and other professionals.

The logical solution would be to enjoy such automation by working less (while the amount of stuff produced remains the same with machines’ help). Instead, those of us lucky enough to be formally employed still work nominally 40-hour weeks (in reality too often working far more) while ever more people can’t find any steady employment.

The fruits of soaring productivity growth and the wealth generated by automation are not being redistributed via rising salaries or shorter working hours. Instead they are captured by a tiny global elite. The richest 1% now has more wealth than the rest of the world put together. Yet there isn’t a mass organised struggle explicitly calling for a redistribution of wealth and work.

It’s time to revive a very old labour ideal. Industrial Workers of the World/www.iww.org

Instead, in places as varied as South Africa, the US and Europe increasingly frustrated, alienated populations faced with the rise of precarious work and wage stagnation point their finger at foreigners and immigrants. Their calls are not for redistribution, but for isolation and xenophobic exclusion.

South Africa is a prime example of this contradiction. It’s the most unequal major country in the world, with staggering wealth and unemployment rates. It has experienced years of deindustrialisation and jobless growth.

South Africa is experiencing the sorts of contradictions that follow in automation’s wake. Factory and even service jobs are being automated, and CEOs earn 541 times the average income. Meanwhile, people desperate for a wage resort to what anthropologist David Graeber terms “bullshit jobs” like pumping other people’s petrol or watching their parked cars.

South Africa’s inequality isn’t just a matter of income or wealth. It’s also a matter of working hours – some people have too many, some none at all.

From labour to leisure

An obvious solution would be to cut back on the standard work week so that demand for labour goes up.

Education institutions would have to scramble to fill some of the demand for skilled workers. But the pressure might be a good thing. It would push the school system to produce well-equipped graduates, and provide new solutions to problems such as the university fee crisis, spurring greater urgency for the state or private sector to underwrite higher education programmes.

This would also decrease inequality. The only way to keep wages the same while hiring more people is for wealth to get spread out: for the highest earners and others who capture the fruits of corporate profits (i.e., shareholders) to get less so workers get more.

Shortening working hours has also been linked with a host of other social goods like better health outcomes, less impact on the environment, higher gender equity, and increased happiness and productivity.

Labour must also be decommodified more broadly. Then even those unable to sell their labour in a rapidly automating world would reap some of automation’s fruits.

The simplest proposal to achieve this is the universal basic income guarantee: the idea that everyone gets enough cash every month to cover essential living costs, no matter what. It’s a redistributory measure. If you earn enough to not need it, you give it back to the communal pot when paying your taxes.

If that aspect is taken into account, the proposal is surprisingly affordable. It could also end poverty, stem inequality, enable work that isn’t valued by capitalist markets (such as care work or the arts), and empower workers to bargain for better conditions without the fear of starvation or homelessness.

What we need are shorter working hours and a universal basic income. In other words, a leisure movement – not a labour movement.

Radical, and attainable

Such a call is both radical and attainable. It’s attainable because it simply spreads out the gains from productivity growth. It’s radical because we live with the cultural ramifications of centuries of labour scarcity, when everyone had to work as much as possible to produce enough goods to go around. That’s not the case anymore, yet the old mentality remains: hard workers are morally superior, and laziness is unquestioningly a character flaw, a moral failing.

This is a default assumption not only among the middle and upper classes, but as my own and others’ recent research in South Africa and Namibia shows, among the unemployed poor as well.

This proposal is also radical because it challenges the unopposed accumulation of wealth amongst a small elite. It will certainly be opposed by the very wealthy. But then, so were calls for a 40-hour work week.

Via: The Conversation

BRICS dilemma, folly or curse?

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Master of Junk

IT WAS never meant to be anything more than a political union, similar in status to the non-aligned states. Economically, only two of the five BRICS nations, China and India are doing well, the rest are all currently in junk status. Russia was junked in 2015, followed by Brazil in 2016 and South Africa in 2017. In many respect it is Russia which has tilted BRICS in favour of junk, and has lead the pack in this regard, with the result, there is now a Good BRICS and a Bad BRICS story.

Goodness BRICS

Let’s take a look at what is good here. So far as the China is concerned, the need to create markets for its overproduction of goods has meant that it is forced to continue investing in overseas markets, and the result is largely of benefit to us.

South Africa, an outlier so far as size is concerned, has seen several deals involving, variously, the creation of an entire city in Modderfontein, the relocation of a Hisense television factory to our shores, and the latest investment of 11Bn Rand towards a new car factory in PE. So in addition to our ample resources and export market, there is now significant beneficiation of goods within the country, in an evolving relationship, all producing goods which in turn end up in the West.

India, another global leader, has taken a slightly different tack. The past decade has seen successive major investments by Asian-based entrepreneurs in the South African economy. Beginning with Lakshmi Mittal, who bought former state-owned ISCOR shortly after democracy, to create ArcelorMittal. More recently the Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal bought a substantial stake in Anglo American, a traditional dual-listed South African business, which has relocated its headquarters to London. The pattern is thus one of picking up bargains, arguably to the benefit of stakeholders. Though trade between the two countries is booming, this is often however at the cost of local clothing and textile workers.

Badness BRICS

Where trade with the two Asian economic giants of BRICS has tended to benefit South Africa. The reverse is true when it comes to Russia. Instead of buying out state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as in Mittel, relieving taxpayers of an unnecessary drain on the treasury, or simply just investing money, the Russian strategy has been instead to hijack the remaining SOEs whilst foisting projects upon us of dubious merit. In effect it is Russia which has engaged in what can only be called a form of state capture, and nuclear colonialism.

The proposed Rosatom nuclear deal along with its many intrigues under Malusi Gigaba is very bad for South Africa, both economically and politically. Apart from the fact that the deal will result in an unnecessary 1Trn Rand expenditure from the treasury on nuclear technology already past its sell-by-date, — bringing to a halt and seriously compromising a highly successively renewable energy programme — it will not only relieve the country of taxpayers money, but will also remove scarce foreign exchange.

If implemented the Rosatum deal would commit South Africa to paying forward for its electricity in Dollars for the next 60 years — a currency that Russia desperately needs in order to balance its own books. In effect no money is being invested by Russia as such. Instead, the country would borrow money on the open market against its forward production, in order to buy moribund technology from Russia in a similar deal already concluded with Saudi Arabia. The ‘sukuk deal’ financed Medupi and Kusile in this way, and albeit local technology which benefitted, the resulting finance model is no doubt to the ultimate detriment of the economy and climate. See how Saudi money dried up.

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