Monday, March 30, 2015

Why South Africa will never win the Cricket World Cup

Dear Cricket Lovers,
            Below is what I wrote in 2011 at the time of the previous Cricket World Cup. It is just as true today, if not more so. We'll never win this Cup when the selectors have a Government sponsored millstone of prejudice around their necks forcing them to selected players on colour first and ability second.

            The Times reported today that fast bowler Vernon Philander, a coloured was selected for the Proteas semi -final World Cup match against New Zealand ahead of Kyle Abbott, a white who had been the team's most consistent bowler in the matches leading up to this game which South Africa lost.

            This was done, the paper claimed, because the selectors felt that they had to add to Hashim Amla, JP Duminy and Imran Tahir to ensure there were at least four players of colour in the team.

            The really deplorable aspect was that Philander had missed a lot of the earlier games because of a hamstring injury and was not fully fit when he was picked for this, the Proteas' most important match. He managed to bowl eight overs for an expensive 52 runs without a wicket before his injury forced him to leave the field prematurely.

            Russell Domingo was the Proteas head coach, who is also coloured. His lack of confidence in his ability to produce a World Cup winning team was evident in the way he surrounded himself with almost a cricket team of specialist coaches and advisers. No other team at the tournament had as many.
           He said of Philander: "He is a hell of a good bowler and it's unfair to lay the blame on him or any other bowler."
            How right he was, the people to blame were those who picked Philander.

            The whole world was very vocal about the apartheid policy of discrimination against Blacks practised by the previous Whites only South African Government. But now that the Black African National Congress is in power and is advocating it the other way round in sports team selection nobody is saying a word.
            The policy was given a serious bloody nose when South African born Grant Elliott hit a six to clinch the win for his adopted country. A cricket refugee he left South Africa because he feared that as a white the quota system would prevent him from becoming an international.
            He really got his own back when he was also the Man of the Match with an unbeaten 84 for the Black Caps.
            Not content with the way South African cricket has already been hamstrung by this iniquitous policy the Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula is now threatening cricket and rugby (seen as essentially white sports) with all kinds punishments like "withdrawing national colours" if they don't meet transformation targets.

           Last year he blew his top and accused the mainly black national soccer team Bafana Bafana of being a "bunch of losers" when they were knocked out of the African Nations Cup at the group stage.

          Well Fikile my prediction is that you will have reason to say this a lot more often about our cricket and rugby players if you and your Government persists with this sports apartheid. And as nobody loves a loser we can expect sponsorship to drop and have these sports tumble down the world rankings, much like Bafana Bafana is in the habit of doing, until nobody really wants to watch them and all our stars are playing overseas.

First Posted 21/01/2011

Dear International Cricket Council, 
          Have you ever tried playing cricket with one hand tied behind your back? Well that’s what the South African Proteas are expected to do.
          And what’s more they are supposed to go to Asia and win the World Cup with this rather debilitating handicap.
          Oh! by the way I’m not talking about the World Cup for paraplegics. This is for able bodied players. So you can appreciate that it is also giving the South Africans a major headache with so much riding on their performance back home.
          Their impediment that pretty well guarantees that they won’t be raising the winner’s trophy is so hush, hush that the South African media hardly ever mentions it.  But Stuart Hess made a passing reference to it in the Cape Times when he reported on our World Cup Squad.
          Out of the 15 players chosen he told us that there were six black players - one short of what is understood  to be the agreed figure. He didn’t say who the agreement was with or how the selectors, headed by Andrew Hudson decided who is black and who is white.
          My sources tell me that the selectors were all issued with unique spectacles. They enabled them to tell who had enough coffee in their milk to be put in this special category where colour is more important than ability.
          I’m not saying that there aren’t players of colour in the team that don’t deserve their place. But if you have a system like this nobody will ever know how many more talented Whites were left out so as to make up the Black numbers.
          In South Africa’s new branding process you are considered Black when it comes to choosing the National cricket team if you are slightly brown of Indian origin; Coloured of black and white decent or completely Black from one of the indigenous tribes like the Zulus. If you happen to be any other colour you probably won’t be considered never mind how good you are because there’s no category for you.
          Here’s the team and I’ll leave you to guess their colour in the Comments section of this blog. Greame Smith (capt.), Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Johan Botha, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Colin Ingram, Morne` Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Robbie Peterson, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Morne` van Wyk.
          This colour coding applies essentially to the white dominated sports in South Africa. Nobody says a thing about mixing more colours in the virtually all Black National soccer team Bafana Bafana  which is ranked nowhere in the world. And who else would want to play for them anyway because they haven’t won anything of note for as long as even the most ardent fans can remember?
          Back to the cricket. The teams competing in this World Cup will be playing in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. How many of them are forced to included players who are not necessarily the best available just because they have the right coloured skin? Other than South Africa my bet is the answer is; None.
          So to even things up my proposal is that the Proteas should have 30 runs added to their score in every match to level the playing fields as it were.
          The countries where the games take place are a paradise for spin bowlers which is another factor counting against the South Africans. Brought up on hard, fast wickets more suited to quick bowling the Proteas haven’t got a spinner worth anything and most of their batsmen struggle again this kind of bowling.
          So even without having to play with one hand tied behind their back the team was probably onto a hiding to nothing. The only fair thing to do is to even the odds.
          I know this will invite some colourful headlines, but nothing in this life is ever just in Black and White.
          Yours truly
          Jon, an anthropologist of note.

P.S. Should a team chosen on apartheid lines be allowed in the World Cup just because South Africa now has a Black Government? In the old days the English team called off its tour to this country because the all White Government refused to accept a team that included Basil D’Oliviera, who was coloured.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Dear Consumers,
         It’s amazing how many top South African companies use the words “up to” when promoting their products or services. This is particularly prevalent among firms like Discovery; Momentum and various banks that have extensive rewards programmes.   
         Say an insurance company advertises that it will give you back “up to” 50% of the total of the premiums you have paid after two years. What would that mean to you?
         My interpretation would be that they could be giving you a lot less than 50%, but the figure sounds impressive and it makes the claim correct for any amount from just over 0% to 50%.
         A high percentage is a bait to get customers on the hook when the truth of the offer is so variable that it can be extremely suspect. That’s my belief.
         However in a confusing part of its Code of Conduct the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA) says this type of advertising should not be used, but only if certain obscure conditions apply.
         Clause 4.5 states: “Claims, whether as to price or performance, which use formulas such as ‘up to 10 kilometres per liter’ or ‘prices from as low as R5’ are not acceptable where there is a likelihood of the consumer being misled as to the availability of the benefits offered. Such claims should not be used.”
          In Clause 4.5.1 it adds that this should only apply “where the price or other advantage claimed bears no relation to the prevailing level of prices or benefits, and in particular where it does not apply to the goods or services actually advertised or to more than an insignificant proportion of them.”
         My question is: “How is anybody who sees this kind of adverting supposed to know what this last clause means exactly?” 
         The ASA’s view is that it’s up to the customer or client to find out by looking at the firm’s Terms and Conditions – a curse of modern advertising. But I doubt that there is any company website that explains the ramifications of this at all, let alone clearly.
         About four years ago Capitec, one of South Africa’s youngest and most innovative banks tore up its Terms and Conditions (See “Brilliant Trail Blazer’s new Consumer Standard”). Unfortunately there is no sign of other businesses following suit.
         After my admittedly rather short investigation my guess is that the Discovery Group uses “up to” with at least one “as much as 14%” as a variation possibly more than anybody else.
         On its website for the five arms of its empire that extends to Medical Aid, Life and Short Term Insurance, Credit Cards and the Vitality Wellness Awards scheme these two words are mentioned “up to 300%” of the time, or is it “up to 60%” or “up to 30%”?
       Any of these could be right because they cover such a wide guess.
         Discovery also uses them in its Television advertising and possibly elsewhere.


         Here are some samples of the many examples and at least one variation that you can find on the Group’s website. The * comments are mine.

Medical Aid: “Our plan contributions are as much as 14% lower than those of all South Africa’s medical schemes.” * Does this mean 0.1% lower, 10% lower or what?
“Executive Plan: Guaranteed full cover in hospital for specialists on payment arrangement and up to 300% of the Discover Health rate for other specialists.”
There are various other “up to” percentages for less costly plans.

Life Insurance: “Up to 60% of your premiums can be paid back to you depending on how well you manage your health.
“Receive up to 28% off your premiums up front.
“Up to 30% of you premiums back every year.”
Various “up to” percentage discounts are given if you have the other services provided by the group. * So it’s up to you to sign up for as many as possible to get a percentage of that juicy carrot that may or may not be much more than a pittance.

Short Term Insurance: “Up to 50% back on your BP fuel spend each month for driving well.”
Another version given is, “Get up to R800 of your fuel spend back each month.”
* This implies that you get money back wherever you buy your fuel, not just at a BP station.

Vitality: “Get up to 25% cash back on HealthFood items at Pick n Pay or Woolworths.
“Get up to 25% cash back on HealthGear at Sportsman’s Warehouse and Total Sports.” * Is this a lucky dip? Does it mean that today you could get say a 3% discount, tomorrow 8% and perhaps very occasionally when the stores want to get rid of excess stock 25%? Why is this so vague? Surely there should be a definite percentage discount if there is one.
“Save up to 80% on monthly gym fees at Virgin Active or Planet Fitness.”

I emailed the above to Adrian Gore, Discovery’s founder and Group Chief Executive and invited him to comment if he wished. I was told he had seen it although he was in London. The job of replying then tumbled down the ranks from Hylton Kallner, the Chief Marketing Officer who is also a director to Rene Vosloo, Head of Corporate Communication and Media Relations.

According to her I had got it all wrong if I thought Discovery had done anything amiss, so you readers will have to be the judge.
This is what she told me: “At Discovery we take our commitment to our clients and our abidance of the ASA Code of Conduct very seriously. Discovery doesn’t utilise the phase ‘up to’ unless our clients can and do obtain the values quoted under reasonable scenarios – for certain of the products quoted, clients receiving less than the benefits listed are in the minority (*by giving “up to” percentages no specific benefits are given), with the majority of clients in fact obtaining maximum ‘up to’ benefit. This is in line with our own principles of fairness and honesty as well as the FSB’s (Financial Services Board) Treat Customers Fairly legislative framework under which our products operate and are regulated.
“We are therefore confident and comfortable that all our material is developed within the ASA Code of Conduct.”
The FSB lists six requirements as part of its Treat Customers Fairly code. One of these is that: “Customers are provided with clear information and kept appropriately informed before, during and after front of sale.”
*But how clear is any “up to” a certain percentage at the “before” stage?
         One of the largest financial groups in South Africa MMI Holdings, more commonly known as Momentum is in a similar, if not quite as extensive an area of business as Discovery. It’s into Medical Aid, Life and Short term insurance; Fitness Promotion as well as Investments.
         The Proteas Cricket team is covered by Momentum Health.
         I don’t know which one, out of these two groups, first started this “up to” marketing, but Momentum’s is remarkably similar to Discovery’s.
         My guess it that there is an “up to” 100 chance that Discovery started it but then again the probability is “up to” 100% that Momentum got in first.
         On its website and in a Television advertising campaign during the World Cup cricket on DSTV Momentum tells us: “Get up to 60% off your Momentum life insurance; up to R5 400 paid into your Health Saver Account; join Virgin Active or Planet Fitness gyms for R99 and save up to 80% of your membership fees; up to 20% off your golf and cycling equipment at The Pro Shop or Cycle Lab and up to 50% off Mango flights.”
         Unlike Discovery Momentum does not state specifically that it abides by the ASA Code of Conduct but its Group Chief Executive Nicolaas Kruger had this to say in his introduction to the firm’s Code of Ethics.
         “Momentum is committed to do what is right, fair, reasonable and lawful.”
         There’s a heading entitled Speak Up, which could apply to me. It says: “We encourage people to speak up against any breach of our values and standards and have zero tolerance policy on retaliation as it is our belief that speaking up is always the right thing to do.”
When I asked Nicolaas Kruger Momentum’s Group CEO for his view he passed the job to Zureida Ebrahim the CEO, Client Engagement Solutions who replied on the letterhead of Momentum Multiply, which is its wellness and rewards scheme.
         She maintained that “client-centricity” was the heart of their business and they “demonstrated this in the ease and transparency in which our clients can take advantage of the various levels of benefits (hence the use of ‘Up to…’) available to them.”  *It’s hard to fathom how ‘up to’ percentages can be at all transparent. I would say they are the complete opposite to this. They hide the true picture.
         Zureida went on to say: “As the conditions of the ‘Up to …’ offer cannot be contained in the limited space of an advertisement, all our advertisements provide a website address where clients can view the terms and conditions of the offer.
         “Our sales process also provides a further opportunity for clients to gain more information on how the programme works as well as the benefits available to members.”

         She included a ruling made by the ASA in 2012 when somebody had evidently complained about the use of “up to” in ads. So I am not the only person who thinks this kind of advertising should not be allowed.
         Below is the ASA’s complicated ruling that “up to” ads are perfectly okay.

         Well I bet that if a survey was done there is "up to"a 90% chance that the majority of people would think this is certainly not alright.
         Based on my experience of the ASA’s decisions the chances are “up to” 100% that this decision was taken to appease all those companies that would have to go to considerable expense if they were ordered to change their “up to” ads to something more plausible.
         The ASA claims to be an impartial, independent body set up by the marketing and communications industry to ensure that its system for self-regulation works in the public interest.
         Only the industry knows how it can impartially enforce its Coded of Conduct when it is regulating itself. It’s like appointing your own judge at your trial.
         It’s dubious impartiality and bias towards big business was glaringly exposed in the way it dealt with various complaints that I made, the results of which you can read on my blog.
         Yours faithfully,
         Jon, your Consumer Watchdog, who does his best to get big business to come to heel.

P.S. I will be sending the link to this post to Leon Grobler, the ASA’s Manager Dispute Resolutions just in case he might one day say he knew nothing about what the advertising industry has really been “up to.”