Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Broadside for the Navy - racialism or the usual bungle?

Dear Johannes Mudimu, Chief of the South African Navy,
          We all know your kids, if you’ve got any, could float a more impressive array of boats in their bath than our Navy can do at sea. You have the dubious distinction of being in charge of a joke.
          I accept it’s not your fault that the African National Congress Government has wasted billions on useless ships and submarines. But some of the bungles that followed were under your command.
          How embarrassing it must have been for you when one of the three new, Type 209 German submarines that we got at a paltry 285 -million dollars each was put out of action by a Navy Incompetent. That’s one of the ranks in our tin pot Navy isn’t it?
          He put a plug in the wrong socket during a switch over from the shore to ship electrical supply. The sub’s been out of action now for three years. But as luck would have it your Navy has only managed to train enough submariners for two subs so we didn’t need this other one anyway.
          As you know one of the subs was bashed because the entrance to the sub base in Simon’s Town is too small for this kind of sub. And in keeping with our Government’s proud, naval tradition there are no plans to widen the entrance.
          These are just some of the examples of the screw-ups that you no doubt have had to try and deal with during your tenure.   
       But just because we might lose a few submarines or ships here and there because your guys are technologically backward there’s absolutely no excuse for not paying people who have worked faithfully for the Navy for years..
          Michael Fielding has lectured on Warfare Communications at the Naval Staff College in the Muizenberg suburb of Cape Town for more than 30 years. You might have heard of him. He even developed some of the courses.
          In spite of the fact that he had not been paid for a year and was owed 50 grand he still turned up to give one of his lectures. You can imagine how surprised and upset he was by what happened as he was just about to start. He was told in no uncertain terms that he could not carry on. He had to hand over his notes to one of the officers there.
          Not surprisingly he immediately thought that racialism had raised its ugly head. You see he is White and as you know members of your Black ANC Government have been making loud, anti-white noises lately. So much so that Professor Ben Turok, an MP and long time ANC stalwart stated openly that these "crude reference to race reinforce the perception that we are moving away from a non-racial society towards a Black republic."                                       
Needless to say Turok is also White.  

          So which is it Vice Admiral Mudimu, racialism or one of those bungles that your Navy has become famous for?
          "Nobody tells me what's going on," Fielding told me. " It's very worrying." He added that he had written to the Admiral and I assume that means you.
          Fielding is such a loyal Navy supporter that even after the way he had been treated he offered to mark projects at no fee.
          However Commander Keith Abrahams, who is in charge of the Staff College, tells me that everything is hunky-dory. 
         It was all caused by an administrative glitch while they were waiting for the latest approved guest lecturer's list to be finalised.
          Fielding, he assured me, was on the new list and would be getting his money. The key question Vice Admiral sir is…. WHEN?
            The ability to communicate clearly, I would say, is essential to any well run force and more especially a navy as you have the sea to contend with as well as any enemy that you might be facing.
          So imagine what could happen without the likes of Fielding to train your officers. You could get a communication like this:
          'Sir we’ve just lost another one of our submarines. A dive order was given and due to a communication glitch somebody left the hatch open. I’m afraid that we have to put it down to the fact that communication lectures had to be abandoned because we couldn’t get anybody who was prepared to work for nothing.'
          Yours sincerely,
          Jon, who once paddled a  dugout canoe down the Congo River.
P.S. Admiral I was wondering whether you’ve every captained a ship or commanded a sub. I see on the Navy’s website that you joined the ANC in 1975 and served in its army in exile set up to topple the White, apartheid Government that was in power at the time. And you received your military training in central Africa, East Germany and the Soviet Union.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Standard Bank - What standard?

Dear Jacko Mareee, Chief Executive of Standard Bank,
          I can’t understand how your bank was voted No1 for service in the Banking Category Orange Index Awards, whatever they are, because all I got from this so called champion of service excellence of yours was a LEMON.
          If my experience is the yardstick the Standard you set is nothing to brag about. I’m sure you wouldn’t want it included in those whole page, newspaper advertisements you have been running since you won the Award.
          It’s more important to tell the world how all of us wear takkies on pay day so we can serve you faster. Well the service I got was takkie and it certainly didn’t involve speedy service because I’m still waiting after nearly three years.
          As I’ve already told you I have been trying to get your bank to stop sending vehicle finance statements and threatening letters of demand for Mr X to our address. This has been going on ever since my wife and I moved into our present house.
          The previous owner was not Mr X and from what I could establish he lived here five or six years ago. Yet in spite of the fact that your bank has been told this repeatedly and has promised to rectify the situation on numerous occasions the letters keep coming.
          My concern is that if judgment is taken against him we could have the Sheriff coming to our house to take our possessions. And I’ve heard of scary stories of what can happen if nobody’s at home to correct a mistake when the Sheriff arrives.

          I thought the problem had been finally solved a few months ago when your Western Cape Regional Director, Johan van Wyk undertook via his PA Corinda Strick, to stop the letters being sent to us. How wrong I was because it seems that this is of such mammoth proportions that one of your directors can’t solve it.



         And it’s even too big for you to handle.         

       The statements keep coming. And immediately after I had emailed you things got uglier than ever.     

          The latest is a letter marked URGENT on the one corner. It threatens him with legal action unless he pays the significant overdue amount. It also said that unless he paid adverse information regarding your payment performance will be reported to the National Credit Bureaux and could affect your ability to obtain credit in future.
          Instead of replying to the email I sent to your personal email address the buck was passed to Yasmin Bhoola, your Manager:  Executive & Escalated Complaints, Office of the Chief Executive.  Some title that.
          Yasmin told me in an email that the bank contacted Mr X and established that he is overseas.  She went on to say that according to the National Credit Act the bank couldn’t change the man’s address without his permission. Yet it contacted him????
          She added, We have been advised that he will be back in the country in April and we will then address the issue with him.

          A spokesperson for the National Credit Regulator told me that in the circumstances the Bank was quite entitled to change the man’s address without his permission. So who is right Jacko?
          And if your bank is No 1 for service why has it taken something like three years for it to come up with this excuse for not changing the address?
          Also if efficiency is the buzz word at Standard wouldn’t you want to have an up to date record of the addresses of people who owe you money. This is especially so if they have a vehicle in which your bank has an interest.
          What’s the point in telling Mr X, in your latest threatening letter, that We would like to remind you of your legal obligation to ensure that your asset remains comprehensively insured at all times if the letter is sent to the wrong address and your bank has been repeatedly told about this?
          Also Jacko hasn’t it occurred to anyone in your bank that it is decidedly odd that the gentleman in this case should not bother to tell you of his new address five years or more after he left the one he gave when he had his car financed by you?
          In recent months I have had reason to send complaints to the personal emails addresses of the Big Bosses of  all South Africa’s major banks, Nedbank, Absa, First National and now Standard. And only one of them, Michael Jordaan at FNB had the courtesy and the good public relations savvy to reply directly to me.

          So I thought you would be interested to know that he holds regular night classes for bank chief executives and other top brass in this sector, but so far the attendance has been depressingly poor.
          Yours hopefully,
          Jon, a Consumer Watchdog you can bank on.

PS. If our address gets much more tainted perhaps we should change it and you can go on sending the bank’s threats to an address where the delinquent Mr X will never see them. And that's exactly what you are still doing nearly two months after I first contacted you.

Buy my book 'Where have all the children gone?' on Amazon.com  It's a thriller with an underlying love story that defied generations of prejudice.

Brilliant Trail Blazer's new Consumer standard

Dear Consumers,
          Brilliant, fantastic. There's nothing like a trail blazer and hopefully they'll all be doing it one of these days.
          How come it’s taken something like a 100 years at a rough guess, for somebody to realise that consumers can’t go on being taken for a ride like this.
          It’s a minefield. Watch out; Watch out; businesses keep telling us. They’re all over the place, these warnings.
          Don’t’ think for a minute that they are there to protect you, the consumer. But you are still expected to comply with them as one of the privileges of parting with your hard earned cash.
          I don’t know when they started creeping in; those ominous words Terms and Conditions Apply. They could only have been dreamt up by some corporate lawyer determined to ensure that his client received the utmost protection from those ravenous sharks in the consumer pool.

          It’s behind these few words that advertisers hide all the nasty bits; all the things they are too ashamed to tell you openly in case they put you off their product completely.

          If they do actually let you see them in an ad why do they appear in the smallest possible print if they expect you to apply them? Looking at just a couple of editions of the Sunday Times I found these horrors in most of the large advertisements.
          One ad from Clover Dairies exhorted us to buy a bottle of milk to get a complimentary Sunday Times subscription delivered to your door. Simple enough you would have thought but the mile long Terms and Conditions torpedoed the whole thing.
          This was especially so as the print was so minute that only a forensic laboratory would have been able to decipher it. Even a paper that is in the printing business is so ashamed of them that it doesn’t want you to see them.
          All those words of warning for a bottle of milk and a newspaper; it’s unbelievable. Thankfully this dairy/newspaper team is not selling cars.
          A center spread colour ad for First National Bank told us about various aspects of its wonderful service. And in the one corner the tiny Terms and Conditions warning appeared to put the breaks on any fancy ideas you might have about asking for more than you are entitled to.
          Where you were supposed to find them was your problem. Did that gel with the bank’s motto: How can we help you? that appeared on the other side of the page?
          Other ads continued to promote this game of hide and seek. Cell C told us helpfully that for Terms and Conditions visit cellc.co.za
          Fixed line operator Telkom took up an entire page to tell us about its Gr 8 Deal which is its venture into the cell phone business. And of course the smallest print at the bottom was reserved for the catches, otherwise known as its full terms and conditions. These were hiding on its website.
          With all these big companies still stuck in a time warp it’s been so refreshing to see Riaan Stassen and his Capitec Bank cutting through this ridiculous protectionist, consumer unfriendly behaviour. Its television ad shows a man holding up a card with Terms and Conditions Apply written on it in bold letters.
          What do you think he does with it? He tears it up and throws it away.
          No wonder South Africa’s youngest bank, that is just 10 years old, was named one of the 27 Great Brands of Tomorrow by Credit Suisse. It was the only African brand to be included.
          Not surprisingly its share price has gone through the roof.
       How long have we got to wait before the rest of the business world in South Africa wakes up to the fact that Terms and Conditions are a gigantic no, no and should all be torn up and thrown in the rubbish bin?
          Do your bit consumers by keeping well clear of the Terms and Conditions freaks.
          Yours watchfully,
          Jon, the Consumer Watchdog

P.S. I have now been embarrassed into revealing my Terms and Conditions referred to in the introduction to my blog. They are: Don’t believe anything on my Blog unless it’s true. That’s the gist of them but my lawyer has managed to spin them out to 25 pages which can be found on my website if only I had one.

Turning innocents into killers - The American Dream

Dear Americans everywhere,
Would you be happy to let me teach your young children how to be killers?
Would you like it if I handed them a high powered rifle with a telescopic sight?
Would you like it if I showed them how to use it, not to shoot some cardboard target, but living flesh and blood?
Would you be happy if I suggested this would be the ideal way of taking the minds of terminally ill children off the affliction that had cast a deep shadow over their entire family?
Would you believe me if I was to tell you and the children that the whole idea has God’s complete blessing?
          Well I can’t answer for you, but I can give you my opinion and that is that the concept is SICK, SICK, VERY, VERY SICK.
          But it’s being actively promoted in that United States of America of yours as something special; something exceptionally good. Isn’t yours the country that some people believe is the most civilized in the world?
          So how come there is not a public outcry every time this is even remotely suggested let alone shown on television on the ESPN channel.
          You know what I’m talking about don’t you. It’s that Catch-A-Dream programme that grants outdoor wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses.

          Said like that it sounds very noble. But it’s the killing part that makes me shudder. It was graphically illustrated by something I saw on ESPN which started by warning viewers who might be squeamish that the programme contains impact shots.
          With that introduction you must surely agree that most parents would immediately think that this was perfect for their kids to watch or better still to actually take part in the videoed action.
          We all want them to be exposed to impact shots as soon as possible to make men out of little boys. And well your guess is as good as mine as to what psychological benefit it is for little girls. Perhaps it will make them more able to adjust to the pain of child birth or to be more comfortable in a mink coat when they grow up?  
          There was Dana Redman, a beauty who looked no more than about 15 and who showed no outward signs of her debilitating illness. She had cystic fibrosis we were told. This is a most unpleasant, hereditary disease that affects the pancreas and other glands in the body.
           She was in a tree-house, not the normal one that some kids have in their back yard, but one specially designed to make killing as easy as possible. She said almost apologetically she had never shot anything before.

          But her Dad and the macho men with her were going to make sure that what the commentator described as the "fulfillment of a young girl's fantasy" came true that day if it killed them. After all what they had in mind is what every girl her age dreams of.
          In the wood below the tree house a deer with its big brown eyes wandered unperturbed. It was almost within stroking distance.
          Dana drew a bead on it and fired. Unintentionally or was it intentional she spared the animal’s life as her shot went wide. We will never know what she was thinking.
          That wasn’t going to satisfy the blood thirsty circus that was sweeping her along. So later in the day she was once again in the tree house playing a true life big game hunter. And this time the animal was not so lucky.
        You should have seen the celebration. It was as if she had announced her engagement or some other momentous event in her life. Her parents couldn’t have been more delighted.
          Dana posed for photographs with her arms around the dead buck so nobody would ever be able to forget the day she became a killer. "I'm so proud of you", her Dad Wesley told her.
          Beaming he faced the camera saying, "This has been a dream of a  life time not only for this little girl, bu for me." Did his daughter ever have any say in the matter I wondered?
          The Catch-A-Dream organisation claims that hunting exposes the children to the "Wonders of God in the presence of the Creator who is the Author of  real hope." It isn’t for the deer, the turkeys or anything else that the kids are encouraged to blast away at.
          Would God sanction this, do you think, as a good way of uplifting children who might not be far off from joining the very animals that they were being encouraged to kill?
          You Americans, especially those in the hunting fraternity, might have some serious explaining to do at the Pearly Gates.
          Shamefully yours,
          Jon, a member of the League against Cruelty to Sick Children.

Obama,Bin Laden and US bungles

Dear Barack Obama, President of the United States of America,
          Can’t you Yanks get your act together? When it comes to the big time in America you contrive to ensure that just about everything turns out to be a monumental bungle that spawns a million mystery theories.
          You can’t even keep your presidents safe so it was hardly surprising that 9/11 occurred.
          In a country notorious for having its presidents taken out your Secret Service or whoever the agency was that was supposed to guard John F. Kennedy allowed him to drive around in an open car. And surprise, surprise in a country where guns of all types are as easily available as sweets the President gets the bullet. Not long afterwards the same thing happens to his brother Bobby who was a Presidential hopeful at the time.
          In both cases nothing was clear cut about the subsequent investigations and the theories multiplied like measles at a kindergarten.
        In the aftermath of 9/ll it became clear that if your intelligence agency, sorry unintelligent agency, had been doing its job properly the people who crashed the planes into those towers would never have got off the ground. God knows they had enough leads to go on to prevent this before it happened.
          Now we have the Bin Bungle. You and your counter terrorist advisers tell the world an ever changing version of what happened when US Navy Seals commandos were supposed to a have shot Osama bin Laden. I would hate to have you guys giving evidence for the defence at my trial.
          How many versions are we going to get Mr President, from the head of the so called most powerful nation in the world. One minute we are told that when the Seals stormed Bin Laden’s fortified compound at Abbottabad where the terrorist mastermind was shot dead, he was armed and resisted capture by using his wife as a shield. Three other men and a woman were also killed in the raid.
          One of three helicopters went down with technical problems. Shouldn’t they have been told not to use secondhand ones on such an important occasion?
          Then after we hear that his 12 year old daughter Safia claimed her father who was unarmed, was taken alive and slaughtered in front of his family Leon Panetta, your Central Intelligence Agency director gives us another angle. They would have captured him alive if he had put up his hands and surrendered but as this never happened the Seals had full authority to kill him.
          In other words they were old style Wild West shoot to kill bounty hunters.
          To perpetuate the confusion and the spate of mystery ideas that always go with American killings of this kind the body was dumped at sea. Let’s face it who wanted to see it anyway.
          But for those who think Mr President that this killing was just a publicity stunt to boost your popularity and that the real Bin Laden is still out there planning a Five Towers operation this time I see that a DNA sample was taken from the body. How does that make your story more convincing?
          As a complete novice in these matters I thought that for DNA to be of any use you had to have known DNA from somewhere else with which to compare it. Where is that going to come from Barack, my dear chap – the same body that is now floating in the ocean somewhere?
          One report I saw said that you and your security officials were watching the whole operation on video from the White House situation room. So how come we have got so many conflicting official versions? Was the picture a bit blurred or did you perhaps have a power failure?
          It’s rather like interviewing people who have just left a football match only to find that hardly any of them can tell you the correct score.
          Just admit it Mr President you haven’t a clue about what actually happened with the result that nobody else has either.
          As a well known Unintelligent Adviser my advice to you and your Intelligence Agency hot shots is to make sure you keep well away from open limousines for at least the next 50 years.
       Fresh air is all very well but you don’t want it blowing through your head.
          Yours faithfully,
          Jon, a Concerned Observer.

PS. My name’s Abbott (referred to by my ex as a Bad Abbott- too close to Abbottabad for comfort) Mr President so can you make doubly sure that none of your slippery Seals rock up at my house because I don’t think they would be convinced if I was to tell them that there have been no weapons here of any kind since the place was built.  Also we haven’t got room for helicopter wrecks in the garden. 

Hunt for South Africa's Holy Grail

Dear Sipho Pityana, Businessman and dreamer,
          Help! Help! We need everybody’s help to find our country’s Holy Grail.
          But what chance have we got when some of the best brains in South Africa like you believe that a myth will rid the country of its chronic corruption.
          The Constitutional Court (Concourt) has decided that it was wrong for the Government to disband the special crime-busting unit the Scorpions in 2008 when it looked as though its sting was getting much too close to the tail of our President Jacob Zuma.
          It was probing a bribes scandal involving Zuma and his former financial adviser Schabir Shaik.  Shaik got 15 years for his lack of political influence while the case against Zuma was abandoned on some vague grounds that he was being politically persecuted.
          We couldn’t have that could we? That’s how much it pays to have the full backing of the African National Congress.        

          The Government replaced the Scorpions with the more manageable Hawks. And it was this that was unacceptable the Concourt ruled.
          The reason for its judgment, as you know, was that the Hawks were insufficiently insulated from political influence in its structure and functioning. It gave the Government 18 months to produce another independent investigating unit as if the Scorpions had been so influence free.
          Eighteen months? That’s African time with a capital A because nothing can be done now in this country of ours least of all in legal circles?
          The court’s misguided concept is being perpetuated by the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, which you founded. Writing in the Sunday Times you revealed that this Council believes that corruption can be solved by having a statutory agency free of political or any other form of influence with civil society involved in the appointment of its leaders.
          Sipho why can’t you realise that this is what fairy tales are made of? Where in the world could you find a group of people that could be that impartial least of all in South Africa?
          It’s nice to dream Sipho but when you wake up you will realise that your concept will never materialise any more than the decision of the Concourt judges.
          All of you are putting the cart before the runaway horse that nobody has yet been able to catch.
          Your Council’s idea is made even more impossible because you say your special unit must be appropriately resourced by the Government with taxpayer’s money. You go on to tell us that there are already a range of agencies with a mandate to investigate acts of corruption but their effectiveness is hampered because they are not dedicated crime busters (You can say that again) and nor are they truly independent.
          You recapped on the fact that our previous National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi was found guilty of corruption and his successor General Bheki Cele has had his honesty questioned by the Public Protector, Thule Madonsela over a dodgy lease for a new police headquarters.
          But all you do is skate round the real problem.
          Our campaign, you say, is intended to marshal the courage, principle, selflessness; energy and sacrifice that saw us not only bring down apartheid, but also establish a constitution that is a bulwark against arbitrary rule, abuse of power, corruption and criminality.
          More fine words Sipho, but as Chairman of this new Council of yours shouldn’t you be leading the way by showing a lot more of that courage that you talk about?
          Be realistic. That Constitution of ours that some misguided souls say is the best in the world has done sweet tweets to stop the abuse of power, corruption and criminality in our country.
          And you haven’t got the courage to openly name that runaway horse that I was talking about.  
          How ironic is this? The leader on the same page as your article in the Sunday Times told us that the court ruling was passed by a narrow majority with the Chief Justice, Sandile Ngcoboappointed by Zuma to the job in 2009writing a minority opinion against the ruling.
          The paper also told us, this trickle of justice might not be sufficient to reverse the tide of corruption, but it is a timely reminder to the powerful that the law still stands above them. As if they care?

          It can’t get much more depressing than that. That trickle is drying up fast.
          So unless we catch the real source of the problem and have it put down we will go on looking for the Holy Grail of an independent investigation unit forever. And for those who don’t want to face it the PROBLEM IS THE AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS GOVERNMENT.
          Yours respectfully
          Jon, a Realist who likes to call corruption what it actually is and in South Africa its name is the ANC.

Buy my book "Where have all the children gone?" on Amazon.com   It's a thriller with an underlying love story that defied generations of prejudice.