Friday, October 23, 2015


Dear Sister Barbara, 

          This letter is addressed to you as
          headmistress of the High School at St
          Theresa’s, better known as Rosebank 
          Convent, Johannesburg.
          I don’t think you will find many people who will agree that your punishment fitted the crime or complied with any kind of Christian value.
          The crime, if there was one, was so insignificant as to perhaps warrant nothing more than our daughter Belinda Abbott (now Glynn) being told not to be late again.
          But for some reason only you will know you decided that what she had done was so horrendous that you had to belittle her in front of the whole school.
          Here was a girl with an unblemished record in her final high school year being told by you that she was not welcome to attend the prize giving rehearsal. This was in spite of the fact that she was due to get the Art Cup and had been the top art student in her class year after year.
          The situation was made worse because the only reason she was half an hour late for the evening rehearsal at your expensive private school was that your science teaching was not up to scratch. This resulted in us having to pay to send her to Graeme Crawford, who ran extra science classes for children at top private schools.
          As you probably know he subsequent founded the Crawford Colleges in South Africa and then Reddam schools, the first of which was in Sydney when he emigrated from South Africa to Australia.
The dress Belinda designed for the Matric Dance in her second last year
of school. She attended this as she headed the team that did the decor for
that year's dance
          Belinda’s Crawford lessons were arranged and paid for in advance. At the time we had no way of knowing that one of them would make her slightly late for the prize giving rehearsal. In a letter to you I explained why she was late and I assumed that you would understand it was not her fault. 

        Can you imagine how devastated she must have felt? And this was compounded at the actual prizing giving that followed shortly afterwards when she was not given the Art Cup.
          After Belinda had left your school with an impressive matriculation result, insult to injury was added with that unbelievably insensitive letter.
          As the Art Cup was a floating trophy winners had to return it in time for the prize giving the following year. And the letter asked us to please return it – THE ONE SHE WAS NEVER GIVEN.
          I’m all for discipline at schools but not when it has this kind of outcome, made worse by the fact that yours is a Christian establishment where Belinda should not have ended her school years by being so unjustly crucified.
          Fortunately this crushing experience did not hold her back. If anything it might have spurred her fashion designing career on to the heights it has now reached in Australia (belinda glynns fashion scoop). Ironically this is where Crawford, her extra science tutor, went as well.
          She had what Australia’s Fashion Journal described as a Scoop at the recent Melbourne Spring Fashion Week. Not bad for the girl you did your best to crush.

          Jon & Gayle her disgusted parents.

P.S. As a result of your vindictive behaviour Belinda turned her back on Christianity and never again entered the doors of a church.
May the Lord forgive you Sister Barbara, although I’m not sure that Belinda will.
*Note: I sent a draft of this to Sister Barbara before I post it and invited her to comment if she wished but I got no response from her.

Belinda's half sister was Mandy Holman at the time and at the age of 58 she still has vivid memories of how cruel those nuns were. "I remember," she said,"being hit with a ruler behind my knees in the office of Sister Emelda for 'stealing' 5 cents from Angela Gray in my class. This, after she had tried clawing it out of my hands with her nails. Angela was in fact trying to steal MY 5 cents. But as I was the one from a divorced home(not common in those days) I was assumed to be the thief. Not only did I get a terrible hiding I have never forgotten the injustice of it. I had to hand over my 5c to the thief."

Saturday, October 10, 2015


Dear Tourists,
City's roadside sign
with a Rasta flag
next to it.
          As you probably know Cape Town is a must see on any visit to Africa. World Travel Awards listed it as the Best Destination on the continent.
          But what has not been at all well publicised is possibly the City’s best kept secret – the spot the Rastafarian competition. And once you’ve spotted him (there could be several of them) the final part of the test is to guess what he’s up to.
          There’s a substantial prize for the winner, but for some obscure reason I can’t get the City to reveal what it is.
          It would be most unfair if what I have just told you was all you had to go on. In fact it would make the whole exercise virtually impossible. That’s bureaucracy for you.
          So I’ve decided to help at the risk of being accused of being a spoil sport by the City.
          I have just spent months trying to crack the mystery which even has the City’s own Law Enforcement officers baffled.
          This is how my investigation went.
Day 1 (20/3/2015)
I initially thought this was a National Parks (SANparks) problem as the secretive man I had seen was in the bushes on the M65 which is one of the main tourist routes to Cape Point. Where he was between Kommetjie and Scarborough is rocky mountainside that melts into fynbos covered areas that run down to Witsands, a popular surfing beach. A Landrover stopped at the side of the road and this man wearing a Rastafarian coloured beanie came out of the bushes and handed the person in the vehicle something. The transaction only took a few seconds before the Landrover was on its way again.
In the distance on the right is where the boat slipway is and this sign is
next to the road where the Rastas are in the bushes
        In an email to Gavin Bell, the SANparks manager for the area I asked: “Surely you are not allowed to trade in a national park and the real question is, ‘What is this man up to?’ He has been there for years and if you are not allowed to trade in the park why has he been allowed to do what he does, whatever that is, for so many years. One thing is certain he is not there to admire the view.”  Bell replied saying that the place where this man was “operating” was on City Council property.
Day 2 (26/3/2015)
My complaint was subsequently passed to Richard Holdstock the Council’s Area Co-ordinator, Business Areas Management by Alderman Felicity Purchase the Councillor for the area to “follow up with this illegal trader at the Witsands/Slangkop turn off.”
Day 3 (10/4/2015)
Holdstock stated: “Law Enforcement and I were out at the site this week (twice) and found no activity on both days. However we are aware that illegal trading does happen here. It really is a hit and miss approach, but we will check the weekend and deal with any illegal trading in the area.”
A Rasta in the bushes next to his very large flag with a passing
 car in the background
Day 4 (23/4/2015)
I emailed Holdstock saying: “They are there now mid-day Thursday. They fly a little flag at the side of the road to indicate where they are in the bushes and what I assume is their car is a white one parked near the cross roads.” He copied me an email he sent to some official called Steven Titus in which he said: “Can this be checked again. Complainant says they are there now.”
Day 5 (27/4/2015)
My email to Holdstock said: “They were there again about 12.15 pm yesterday.” I gave him the registration number of the car that appeared to belong to them.
Day 6 (28/4/2015)
I told Holdstock they were there at 10.00 am and their flag with the Rastafarian colours was flying next to the road.
Day 7 (7/5/2015)
“It seems odd that your guys can never find these people because every time I have been past there lately they are there,” I told Holdstock.
The Rasta, who I think is the main one, in the bushes just off the road.
He sometimes can be seen here sitting in a folding chair under an umbrella to
protect himself from the sun when it's hot
Day 8 (8/5/2015)
Holdstock sent an email to Steven Titus and Kenneth Jonathan, who I assumed were in Law Enforcement, asking them to check the place that weekend and take “positive action” if anybody was there. He copied this to me.
Day 9 (11/5/2015)
Holdstock referred me to an email he had received from Jonathan who stated that the area had been visited several times and no trading was taking place when they were there. He added that there had been a fire there recently making any “dubious activities clearly visible” so the Police (they are separate from the Council’s Law Enforcement department) would have been able to spot them.
I pointed out that they were not in the area that was burnt but in the bushes next to it and added: “If Law Enforcement can’t find them it’s best to call in the Keystone Kops because they would do a much better job. As I have already said they fly a flag to show where they are in the bushes and they are there very often. So much so that when I went there almost every day this week they were there.”

Looking for the Rastas
   I ended my email with this P.S. “For those who don’t know the Keystone Kops were fictional, incompetent policemen featured in silent film era comedies.”
Day 10 (12/8/2015)
I sent an email to Holdstock with a photograph attached of the Rastafarian’s flag, which was much larger than usual, saying: “This marks the place where he is hiding in the bushes and I don’t think he is selling flags. Hopefully this flag is big enough for Law Enforcement to see.
          “The public are supposed to be encouraged to report things that don’t appear legal, but it’s not much good if the cops say they can’t see the obvious.”
Our emails then went like this:
Holdstock - I saw the flag myself last week. Law Enforcement have been notified. Thank you for your observations, they are appreciated.
Me - Richard presumably you don’t have the power to tell Law Enforcement to actually do something.
Holdstock - It’s just a question of when they will get there, but they will go.
Day 11 (21/8/2015)
My email to him: “Surely you must agree this is absolutely ridiculous. I have been on about this for weeks (apart from the fact that this has been going on for years) and you now tell me that it’s just a question of “when” Law Enforcement will get there. Lucky it’s not a murder in progress. You saw the flag yourself and today there were two flags about 100m apart and the car was there with what looked like one hanging out of the window.
          “As I’ve said before if we had a survey that asked people why they thought the cops won’t go there I’m sure there would only be one answer. And that’s the kind of thing that is bringing this country to its knees.”
A shady character
          The same day Holdstock emailed Shaun Graham Smith, Assistant Chief, Law Enforcement with this request: “Please can your team deal with this complaint, it seems to be going on for far too long and the complainant is getting frustrated.”
Smith replied: “We will check the area again. The SAPS (South African Police Service) Ocean View (this station is five minutes drive from where the Rastafarians are and it is open countryside between the station and them), but have found no illegal substances in the vicinity or on these persons to date even when SAPS used sniffer dogs no evidence of drugs were found.
          “Law Enforcement will deal with any By Law infringement being committed on the site, but the ongoing suspicion of drug dealing must be reported by the complainant to SAPS (This was the first time since I first complained five months earlier that I was told that I was complaining to the wrong law enforcement agency) whom has the Legal mandated competency to investigate crime.”
Day 12 (27/8/2015)
Holdstock asks Smith: “Can I confirm that your team dealt with this, as I had a Rasta requesting a permit for that site. Can I respond to the complainant?”
Day 13 (28/8/2015)
Smith to Holdstock, which was copied to me: “We are doing regular checks on the trader. To date we have found nothing at the site not even goods he’s trading in. The only item on the site is a flag. What commodity is he applying for permit to sell?  The area he stands is a prohibited trading area. You need to find him an alternative spot with legal trading sites.”
Day 14 (1/9/2015)
Here’s the email conversation on that day:
Holdstock - Law Enforcement will continue to enforce illegal trading when and where it happens, but it seems that it is not happening here. The Rasta came to apply for a trading site for that particular area and my office refused his application based on the fact that the area is a ‘prohibited area’ for informal trading. This is why I know Law Enforcement has been hassling him, as the only time they approach us is when they do. We will keep him hot.”
Me - It’s painfully obvious that he is not just sitting in the bushes. Can you tell me who he is?
Holdstock - He was trying to trade at Witsands in African art. Staff cannot recall his name as it was not necessary to complete an application due to the area being prohibited.

Day 15 (2/9/2015)
Me to Holdstock: “I was at Witsands to day and there were two policemen (SAPS) in a police vehicle parked near the slipway. I went over to them and asked the driver what the Rastafarian did in the bushes. He immediately said: ‘He sells dagga (also known as cannabis, the use of which is illegal in South Africa)). He has been caught several times, but he won’t listen and keeps coming back.’
          “It seems he is well known to at least one section of the police. Perhaps the other section has its own reasons for making out they can’t find him.”
Sunday Times headline
          So the Rastafarian and his fellow Rastas will carry on doing what they have been doing for years – running rings round the Keystone Kops selling dagga beneath a City of Cape Town roadside sign on a very well known tourist route to Cape Point.
          This is in spite of the fact that Cape Town is fast gaining the reputation as the drug capital of South Africa and this is the cause of numerous gang killings.
            Don’t be surprised if travel agents start promoting “Dagga Tours to the Scenic Cape. Rasta’s specially catered for. Don’t worry if it’s illegal. We’ve got that covered.”
          Jon, who smells something extremely fishy here and it’s not the ramp where the boats are launched.

P.S. I don’t know if you have noticed but by some quirky behaviour on behalf of my computer the Days 1, 2, 3 etc in this post have ended up in the colours of the Rasta flag – and in the same order as on the flag what’s more, although possibly when the cannabis has got the better of them the colour order changes. 

Friday, October 2, 2015


Dear Consumers,
Patricia van Rooyen
          Have you ever had much joy trying to lodge a complaint directly with a Chief Executive Officer of a large company? Well in my limited experience even if you are able to get their direct email address the chances are they won’t answer you.
          Your inquiry will tumble down the line to some lesser minion.
          That’s exactly what happened when I emailed Maria Ramos (Absa's Star), the CEO of the giant Barclays Africa Group that includes Absa Bank, about a problem I was having getting a refund when my credit card was scammed.
          Perhaps you think I’m being unreasonable but my feeling is that as Maria made her personal email address ( available to the likes of me she should have answered my emails personally. Either that or she should have ensured that her personal email address was not available to ordinary bank clients like me.
          Patricia van Rooyen on the other hand is a very different, special CEO when it comes to customer service. She heads the M-net pay television’s Sub-Sahara region.
I accept that the M-net is a good bit smaller than the banking empire that Maria heads even if M-net does stretch across Africa, but I don’t think that invalidates my point.
          As an M-net subscriber I have raised several matters with Patricia in the past and she has always replied to my emails almost instantly and my problems have been sorted out quickly.
          So when I saw a disturbing report in The Times by that ace consumer journalist Wendy Knowler I sent this email to Patricia.   

      “I was appalled to read in Wendy Knowler’s column in The Times today that Multichoice (part of M-net) is doing its best to force subscribers to buy new decoders by not repairing or replacing old ones. Talk about an unscrupulous business practice. Loyal subscribers like myself, who have been with Multichoice for something like 20 years could find themselves forced to buy a new decoder by this deplorable business practice. How many people would buy something that might need to be repaired in the future if they were told this might not happen? How long will it be before this make money at all costs firm decides that it’s time to drum up more business by not repairing the decoders that people are being forced to buy now? Just because M-net/Multichoice have got a virtual monopoly it’s no excuse for treating customers like dirt to be milked and then discarded, just to try and make more and more money. It’s customer relations at its worst.”
          This was Patricia’s reply: “Allow me to put some perspective on the matter. All hardware and software technology changes and improves over time. This applies to cellphones, laptops, PCs etc. A decoder is no different. It is very unlikely that if I have a Nokia cellphone that is 10 years old, and I take it in for repairs that anyone will be able to repair it – as the parts will probably not be available. They will tell me to rather buy a new phone; it will be cheaper to buy a new phone anyway. So – in a nutshell – there are simply some very old models of decoders that we can no longer support. They have a lifespan, and at some point they become redundant.
          “When Microsoft tells their customers it is time for an upgrade of software no-one complains. Yet, if you had a PC that was 10 years old you would not be able to upgrade your Microsoft. The software and the hardware must both be upgraded for the software to work. The new decoder software will simply not work on old decoders. We really don’t have any intention of treating our customers badly – on the contrary we want them to have great viewing experience, hence upgrades in both software and hardware are necessary so our viewers can have great features like Box Office, catch up, remote record and, and, and.

          “Maybe our problem is that we don’t explain ourselves well. Maybe we should tell our customers that the life span of a decoder is approximately 6 years and then it will need to be replaced. We make no money on the sale of decoders. In fact we subsidise the price to try and make them more affordable. So every single decoder we sell costs us money.”
          “Not sure if I make sense, but that really is the situation.”
          I replied thanking her for the explanation and getting another of her executives to clarify some other questions I had.
          Jon, the Consumer Watchdog who believes in praising the good as well as taking the bad to task.

P.S. In my final email to her I added: “I am sure this will never be necessary as I will be gone long before you, but if it happens the other way round your efficiency is such that if I sent you an email you would answer it from heaven.”