from Louis in Johannesburg: Organic Gardening, churches and world leadership

September 14.

The spring has sprung and the crops are in the fertile ground nourished organically by compost from last year’s leaf drop, irrigated from our granite-based spring water.

Spinach in the foreground, cabbage in the RHS distance, onions peeping over the palisade in the LHS, radishes and more. Growing vigorously in the early morning spring sunlight under bird-proof netting. We can’t wait for the harvest in a couple of weeks. Morogo, cole slaw, radishes in the salads, onion relish etc.

Returning to the description of the various places of worship in the vicinity of our small farm and vegetable garden.

I was struck recently by a comment by one of the political commentariat about South Africa being “Russia with a good climate.” A couple of years ago I was visited by Slawa, a Russian friend. His father translated the ship’s log of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama from the Arabic – they were written into Russian. How I wished I could read Russian to trace the early days of discovery of this part of the world. Da Gama is one of the first visitors to Southern Africa in the 1490s.

Slawa wished to attend the celebratory service of St Stephen at the local Russian Orthodox. St Stephen, who’s feast day falls on April 26, is one of the most successful and dynamic missionaries of the Russian Orthodox Church. I duly transported him to the exquisite church a few kilometres away across the valley. This beautiful church was built by the Russian community living in Midrand.

The Russian community consists of approximately seven thousand souls living in close proximity to our home in Midrand. Midrand provides equal access to Pretoria and Johannesburg as it is situated approximately halfway between the two cities. Slawa reported in a hushed voice that he had identified a number of KGB agents attending the service as well. Apparently they are easy to spot. I wondered what they pray for?

https://www.st-sergius.info/en/

St Saviour’s church, literally two doors up the road we live in, has a more interesting history. Its building was part of the property developer’s strategy when he developed Randjesfontein in 1980. I moved in in August 1980. St Saviour’s used to be a local church in Pietermaritzburg, the capital of Natal Province now called Kwazulu-Natal (KZN). The St Saviour’s building was acquired for R1 and moved to our suburb where it was rebuilt to its original design. The link below provides easy access to it. One of the annual events I used to arrange during my fifteen year corporate tenure at Eskom was a reception held on our property. One particular year we hired the African Jazz Pioneers to provide music while we celebrated another successful year. There are a number of dams on the property.

On that occasion, we were sitting on the lawns approximately where the vegetable garden in the above pic is now situated. The St Saviour’s church was visible from where we were partying. During one of the breaks in the music flow the trombone player signalled to me to approach him to talk privately.

He said. “I used to live in Pietermaritzburg and walked daily past a church that looked very much like that church up the road on my way to school.”  But, he continued, “I know churches do not move from one city to another.”

I replied hastily, “Well, this one did!”

St Saviour’s has a lovely acoustic amongst the vaulted, yellowwood beams and open ceilings. Many an operatic recital was held in it and art exhibitions in the cloisters adjoining the church with a magical herb garden in its centre. It has become a popular venue for weddings. The graveyard opposite its entrance silently bears witness to its past. The patriarchs of the Erasmus family were laid to rest here in the 1880s. Many generations later the Chaukes and Sitholes also were accommodated in the small cemetery.  The Erasmus family owned vast tracts of land and gave their name to many developments and suburbs in the vicinity such as Erasmusrand, Erasmia and so on. The property now called Randjesfontein Country Estate (RCE) is where we have lived since August 1980. More than 400 families call it home. See link below for details and visuals.

https://www.midchurch.co.za/cp/7243/st-saviours-church

Yesterday, was a red letter day for me marking the 150 anniversary of the passing of Jan Smuts. My family were ardent supporters of Jan Smuts and Louis Botha. We visited the “Big House” he and his family lived in Irene, a twenty minute drive from here. Once again I was awestruck by the colossus of Smuts the polymath. He overshadowed and struck fear into the hearts of the apartheid government who voted him out in 1948 to begin the path to becoming the polecat of the world. South Africa is one of the few countries where Smuts’ contributions to the establishment of the United Nations and other international contributions does not form part of the school curriculum.

The National Party and its adherents systematically continue to erode his legacy in South Africa. He remains relatively unknown in South Africa, his home, to which he regularly returned from abroad. Christ College, Cambridge ranks Smuts with Charles Darwin and John Milton as the three brightest alumni in their history. He later became Chancellor of Cambridge. A new curator to the Smuts House Museum has reorganised exhibitions in the house around the theme of “a boer family and their life at home”. Gratefully Isie his spouse or “Ouma Isie” as she has become affectionately known has been featured prominently. Smuts coined words such as holism (in his writing, “Holism and Evolution” completed in 1927), “commonwealth” to replace “Empire” in a more meaningful way capturing the essence of a post-colonial era.

In the context of the era he lived in, Isie Krige Smuts matched Smuts intellectually and emotionally. She spoke Afrikaans, English, French, German, Spanish, Greek and quoted biblical passages in classical Greek to which Jan Smuts would reply also in classical Greek.

The “Big House” as it is known has been superbly curated and improved. The two centres of the house are Smuts’ library and the kitchen where “Ouma Isie” would cater for a constant flow of guests including royalty from Great Britain and Greece. Reigning King George’s family including a young future Queen Elizabeth visited in 1947.

Smuts did not suffer fools easily. However, he indulged children. One of his feats he would engage them with was to invite them to pick any book from his library of approximately six thousand copies. They were requested to read any two pages from the selected book. He would then tell them the title of the book and recite the two pages back to them word perfect.

Social distancing was absent during the two lectures we attended on Jan Smuts and Ouma Isie. However the passionate curator painted a picture of a modern partnership, even by today’s standards between Isie Krige-Smuts and Jan Smuts. Ouma Isie often stood side by side with Smuts and delivered campaign speeches, translated his writing into other languages and provided support where needed.(see link below for more information)

https://www.smutshouse.co.za/   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Smuts

from Louis in Johannesburg, South Africa: Small holder organic farming, bartering and trading within suburbia. Thanks Covid19!

August 30. I have been awestruck by the rapid digitally enabled transformation of learning. Rachel is not looking forward to returning to class based schooling which is scheduled to resume soon. She is dreading the exam season which does not suite her learning style and persona. 

Thanks, David for your helpful observations about the shortcomings of exams as they are now structured. The links you provided have also proved insightful and rich, thank you. The beneficial application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be welcomed by Rachel. Hopefully it arrives within the next four years. Klaus Shwab, founder of the WEF, reminds us that 4IR is not value free. There are constructive as well as destructive applications of the disruptive technologies contained in the so-called Fourth Industrial revolution (4IR). The application of AI in examination of knowledge would be constructive application. Smart cities which are rapidly evolving in The People’s Republic of China (PRC) seem to be reinforcing coercion and control by intruding into the private space of its citizens. In due course I expect 4IR technologies will also be used to enhance informed economic choices thus catalysing wealth-creation and democratic processes.

COVID19 has compelled me to stay out of its path – by all accounts I am in its kill zone. That has been a mixed blessing as it has enabled me to not only self-isolate but also turn inward to writing and gardening/farming. A recent visitor commented, once he had seen the various facets of self-isolation on our small holding, that we had prepared for the apocalyptic moment where SA as we know it has collapsed.

In the meantime, back on the ranch (on our self-isolated small holding) in our agriculturally oriented suburb life is changing for the better COVID19 notwithstanding. It is returning to life as I imagine it once existed. This lifestyle is becoming the new normal on our suburb of more than 400 families. Yes, it’s a gated suburb. Ow else could it be crime-free in the current version of SA?

Small businesses developed out of necessity are truly the mother of invention. COVID19 has all but wiped out small businesses. Most restaurant chains have closed many outlets and some franchises have been declared bankrupt. Giant synfuel corporations SASOL reported a R90bn loss last week.  In the meantime Sean, just up the road we live in, has become a supplier of packaged meat products and supplies our needs. He delivers to our front gate, complete with face masks and sanitised bags, thinly sliced smoked bacon, smoked pork-neck, rump and T-bone steaks and topside mince and more.

Other suppliers add Salmon and other fish delicacies to their offerings. All of it at prices well below what the retail chains ask. We have redirected all our purchases to support these businesses. Sarah, also close by, supplies us with fresh farm eggs by the dozen, untouched and virus-free delivered weekly from a farm more than 400 kilometres away. The farmer now has sufficient business from the surrounding suburbs obviating the need to subject herself to the vagaries of the large chains and their unethical manipulation of quality and price of the little supplier. I expect if these initiatives survive beyond COVID19 they will become the new normal.

A WhatsApp group has sprung up amongst the 400 families to put buyers in touch with local suppliers. Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ at work! Sarah our egg supplier also supplied us with Spekboom cuttings. The Spekboom, an indigenous succulent from the Eastern Cape, is interesting as it grows easily from slips. It is a very good carbon dioxide sink. It is edible to both browsers as staple feed and humans as a delicious salad ingredient. I have planted a row of these useful plants and intend supplying our kitchen from the growing hedge it will form in our dry garden. More about the broader Midrand context and churches in a future entry.

This morning at dawn, I received a tour of the crops that are growing in the cultivated area of our property by Malawian gardener, Victor Magonja. Onions, Radishes, Spinach, Cabbages, Hubbard Squash thriving as the season turns to spring and summer. Gem Squash planting from seeds harvested selectively from last season’s crop to follow as staggered planting limits the feast and famine cycle of glut and shortage. We tithe our crops with anyone who participates in their cultivation. Spinach is a great favourite, for making traditional African Morogo, amongst our friends and colleagues.

We also make Morogo as a dinner staple in season and freeze surplus for out of season consumption. I can see in my mind’s eye the welcoming, broad smiles from friends and colleagues which greet an armful gift of freshly picked Spinach.

http://globaltableadventure.com/recipe/stewed-spinach-greens/

Delani Mthembu, Myelani Holeni and Alex Mabunda and neighbours are the primary beneficiaries. Our pecan nut trees are also harvested delivering 30-40 kgs of nuts per fully grown tree. All crops are organically cultivated, with nutritional compost also from our garden.  

Thanks to Monsanto and others which practice shareholder capitalism (which is in decline and probably failing) seed harvesting is not possible as the GM crops have been modified so that seeds are sterile and cannot be replanted. We found this out with the corn we planted. Unethical capitalists compelled us to buy new seeds instead of harvesting and replanting. We are finding out by trail and error which seeds can be replanted and which can not. We avoid buying GM seeds where we can. Historically, Monsanto registered seed banks in the USA as their intellectual property. One of these seed banks contained 11,000 seeds! Access to these seeds now carry a royalty to Monsanto.(‘Future of Food’ documentary available on DVD made by Garcia’s widow). In Holland we were able to attend public activist citizen gatherings including the Dutch Minister of Agriculture to talk about these matters.

Winter evenings are spent in front of a roaring fire fuelled by recycled invasive Eucalyptus hardwood. Namibian charcoal, made from invasive species, fuels our outdoor cooking when Eskom fails to meet demand and we experience blackouts. Rolling blackouts are now quite common.

from Louis in Johannesburg, South Africa: beyond the looting

August 1. As the funds that may be stolen are exhausted, the looting intensifies and becomes desperate. The ransacking of the VBS bank, which housed the life savings of the poor collapsed under the weight of theft, is one indicator of this desperation. The EFF, allegedly involved, has suffered reputational damage as a result. Hopefully, voters will punish them at the forthcoming municipal elections in 2021.The good news is that this looting will stop soon as funds dry up completely. The IMF Covid19 relief fund once it has been plundered will enable the IMF to refuse to provide any further funding. Technology now assists with software that can trace all banking transactions. In the hands of competent journalists transfers into the accounts of politicians and their trusted family members and other surrogates can be traced and published.

In the absence of national leadership and any sign of embarrassment at being caught, thieving will probably continue until all taxpayer’s money has been exhausted. In the face of these dire circumstances, I remain an optimist. The unrecognised work of faith-based organisations such as Caritas, Gift of the Givers and church groups such as the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) provide a basis for trusting the decency of the average South African. Survey after survey demonstrate their priorities for a job, education for their children and decent healthcare. Building trust and cohesion between races in the middle levels of society is the result of the selfless work by the average citizen taking care of their neighbour, also faith-based organisations and churches.

Caritas strives for a world where the voices of the poor are heard and acted upon, where each person is free to flourish and live in peace and dignity and where our natural environment given by God is managed responsibly and sustainably in the interests of the entire human family. While many councillors and other ANC office bearers shamelessly steal food parcels destined for the poor, these organisations ensure that parcels in their hands reach their destination. Selfish politicians, and others that should know better, call for schools to remain closed, forgetting that children receive meals at schools. They now have to find a daily meal in other ways.

I woke up this morning to the Muezzin in the Turkish Mosque in Midrand, calling the Muslim faithful to prayers at dawn. It was the first time I had heard the Muezzin’s call to prayer. The cold morning air and a favourable breeze as well as the absence of traffic noise because of Covid19 curfew probably enabled this experience. The Mosque is situated approximately ten kilometres away on the other side of the massive granite dome midway between Johannesburg and Pretoria. I was both surprised and elated. The additional volume from the Muezzin’s public address system was probably part of the EID celebration. Eid Al-Adha is celebrated on the 10th day of the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar. In 2020, that date falls on July 31.

I was immediately transported back to Istanbul where I lodged for a month in Sultan Ahmed, the oldest part of Istanbul. I was in lodgings in the shadow of the Blue Mosque with its six minarets, in the vicinity of the Hagia Sophia once the largest Christian church building in the world. Built in 537 as the patriarchal cathedral of the imperial capital of Constantinople, it was the largest Christian church of the eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire) and the Eastern Orthodox Church, except during the Latin Empire from 1204 to 1261, when it became the city’s Roman Catholic cathedral. In 1453, after the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire, it was converted into a mosque. In 1935 the secular Turkish Republic established it as a museum. In March 2020, it re-opened as a mosque. I learnt on my month-long stay in Istanbul to value and look forward to the richness of the Muezzin’s call to prayer as part of my soundscape. I was also reminded of working in Mali where we would pause our workshops during the day for prayers of the faithful by our Muslim participants. Praying the Angelus came to mind but few people observe that ritual these days.  

In Midrand where I have lived since 1980, we are the beneficiaries of a number of unique churches, namely, St Saviours an Anglican Church just down the street, the Russian Orthodox church across the valley and the Turkish Mosque close by. More about the former two churches in a future diary entry.

Nizamiye mosque in Midrand, South Africa

The construction of the magnificent, authentic Turkish Mosque in Midrand is the consequence of USA regulation or should I say over-regulation and perhaps prejudice against another Muslim place of worship on their soil. “Uncle Ali” first attempted to find a site for his dream mosque and Islamic School in the USA. When this failed, he approached the South African Government and specifically the Midrand Municipality.

The only stipulation from the Midrand local authority was that if “Uncle Ali” built the Mosque in Midrand it would be open to all who wished to visit it. Informal sources assert that “Uncle Ali” invested nearly one Billion Rand, constructing a scaled-down version of a Turkish mosque designed by one of the finest Islamic Architects. “Uncle Ali”, as he is affectionately known, personally supervised its construction and the Islamic School next to it from his caravan parked close by. The Islamic school boasts a number of its pupils graduating with distinctions in ten subjects when only seven passes are required for admission to universities in SA.

The Imam provided me with a personal tour of these magnificent buildings, resplendent with imported ceramic tiles, paintings and other internal adornments, honouring Allah. Shining marble floors, convenient foot-baths and suspended lights complement the spiritual atmosphere and Muslim ritual. Four Minarets and a copper-clad dome stand out on the horizon announcing the presence of an important Islamic place of worship and the presence of a community of the faithful who worship in this Mosque. Ironically, the Muslim-owned Mia property on which this mosque is built was situated far out of town in 1934. As Johannesburg and Pretoria have become one metropolis this Muslim community now finds itself at the confluence of two cities.

Testimony to the spiritual diversity of Midrand it has been constructed in a corner of a vast Muslim-owned, 2000 hectare property straddling the Juskei River which is being developed into a R30bn multi-purpose zone. The four floodlit minarets subtly shift colour against the night sky, hypnotically changing from luminous green to cobalt blue. The physical beauty is accompanied by active, positive community engagement. The Islamic Gift of the Givers Foundation is the largest disaster response non-governmental organisation of African origin on the African continent. The essence of its presence is to bring hope and restore dignity to the most vulnerable. It has played an important part in providing material relief in the form of food, blankets and shelter amongst the poorest of the poor during the Covid19 lockdown. At times it has been the only lifeline between ISIS captives in Mali, Central African Republic. Nigeria and other African states and their families.

from Louis in Johannesburg, South Africa: the unfolding dynamic of schools

July 27. One continuum for national decision-making and leadership stretches from responsible, informed choice to thoughtless compliance with centralised edicts.

The one end embodies the freedom of choice and the other control, coercion and compliance. The Covid19 pandemic has uncovered where South Africa can currently be located along this continuum. The process of unlocking the economy and critical institutions such as schools within it reflects where we are on this spectrum. The policy formulation has many cross pressures in it including; vocal organised labour, the so-called Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) political party (advocating closure until after Covid19 passes), cautious business community, the ANC government Minister, a consensus seeking President and the DA opposition with its Cape basis of successful governance.

Government, specifically the High Court, decided that private, independent schools shall reopen on the 8th of July. This decision has now been shifted to 31st July 2020.The inequality in South Africa also segments education into a dual-logic system. Poorly run public (government) schooling and at the same time, world-class private schools funded by parents. One would imaging that a sensible government would try and emulate world-class education. Instead, the impulse of politicians seems to be to bring down good schools to the level of public government schooling. Educator Jonathan Jansen is recommending that because of the disruption by Covid19, the Minister should cancel this year of schooling including examinations and start again in 2021.

At the same time, the school daughter Rachel is part of, Cornwall Hill College (CHC), has been preparing for almost three years to switch to digital learning. Digital learning is also being called “homeschooling” and suits Grade 9 Rachel’s style of learning. No wonder she is reluctant to return and be exposed to viral infection. The risks of exposing pupils and teachers to viral infection compel school leadership to be cautious. There are now isolated infections of both teachers and pupils. All the necessary precautions have been taken such as the issue of linen masks, sanitisation stations, one hundred per cent daily monitoring of body temperature and deep cleaning and sterilisation of the entire school or part thereof in the event of viral infection. A visit by the Department of Health to inspect the level of compliance. “As a result of this, all grades in the Preparatory School and High School will be allowed to return following the decision by the High Court”. Regulation of safety has its purpose, however responsible local leaders at CHC have probably been making better decisions as they pre-emptively respond to local conditions.

One scenario for the unfolding dynamic could be that the school opens and when infection enters, it closes and deep cleans. Once it is safe, the pupils and teachers are allowed back based on the judgement of executive management. This cycle could continue until a stable situation evolves. This could be where E-learning emerges as the dominant form of tuition with some exceptions such as grades 7 and 12 where personal tuition could be chosen to ensure a successful outcome for important grade examination. The pupils at school could practice safe distancing because of the space left by pupils opting for E-learning. E-Learning has been massively accelerated by the Covid19 pandemic. Some estimates say that we have doe in two months what would normally take two years. This dynamic and the investment it takes can best be managed locally as it requires responsible, evidence-based judgement by local decision-makers.

In all revolutions, there is damage, in South Africa, the damage has been to the quality of thinking. A wise observation by an industry leader. So it seems with the ANC government decision-making. Voters have yet to discover the power of their votes. For now, they wait for the government to tell them what to do and hail any sign of leadership by President Ramaphosa, however transient as messianic.

On a more positive note, one of the unintended consequences of social distancing is that E-learning has received a major boost. With a minor drop in quality of face to face education, pupils can stay safely out of the way of the Covid19 demon. Judging by the overwhelmingly positive feedback from parents, the first flush of positive feedback would constitute a successful Beta-test for its E-Learning capability. This may encourage the entrepreneurial spirit amongst the school leadership. They could launch into the waiting market for digital learning. Quality E-Learning opens the reach for a school into the whole of Africa and beyond.

from Louis in Johannesburg: Fracture Lines …

It has become a truism that Covid19 has exposed many of the fracture lines and contradictions in South African society. The inequality across SA society has become much more visible and prominent. There are stark provincial differences in dealing with the crisis. Ideologues persist in shunning the private sector, which at the same time are providing a far more efficient basis for testing services to stem the pandemic tide. Prevention measures remain better than cure.

There can be no mistaking a capable state with a clear strategy, leadership that takes a stand for their strategic priorities and relentless delivery of quality services. In Gauteng province where I live, we have gone in the last few weeks, from the expectation of a massive wave of infections to the reality of infection levels that may well overwhelm the medical facilities available.

The stated intent by the ANC government of “flattening the curve” was to buy time to expand medical facilities such as testing and tracking as well as increasing beds available for those in most in need of intensive care. The official reason given was “to save lives” This government mantra reminds me of the  mini-speech/presentation delivered on take-off about “the unlikely event of an emergency landing etc.” The best part is the “life-jacket under your seat” part, especially in the event of an emergency sea landing. With large jet engines hanging off the wings which will be the first to touch the water surface in an emergency landing, does this not cause the aircraft to cartwheel out of control killing all on board! Safety regulations being what they are, they shall be obeyed even if they do not make sense. Politicians being what they are, they must be seen to be doing their best even if their leadership does not make sense. In defence of political leadership, much has yet to be understood about the behaviour of the Covid19 virus. A curious comparative African statistic  on 4th of July 2020 raises many questions.

South Africa: Population 59,312,107 Total deaths 2,952, Full lockdown, Unemployment rate 30.1%, GDP Growth -7.2% in 2020.

Tanzania: Population: 59,727,695, Total deaths 21, No lockdown, Unemployment rate: 1.98%, GDP Growth 2.5% in 2020.

The Democratic Party-run Western Cape Province is the only province that has done this. The eight other Provinces seem to have postponed the inevitable tsunami and squandered the time created by lockdown by a lack of implementation, leaving very few options. It is emerging that lives lost through the loss of jobs may be substantial; some estimates place the economic consequences at R1.2 Trillion and counting. Testing by the government takes at least six days to obtain results. My Covid19 test took six hours in a private sector facility. The ANC Government insists on working separately from the private sector while it is clear where efficiencies lie. An ideological bias towards a statist policy creates a manifest learning disability. ANC politicians continuously refer to expected surges trying to create the impression that they are in control, while the opposite is true. Professor Alex van den Heever of the Wits School of governance said recently that the government now needs to seriously change tack and begin to do its job-rather then just pretending. The Western Cape’s response to Covid19 should be recognised and replicated because it represents best practice.

I’m not holding my breath. There seems to be a deep inability to learn within the ANC government. Other examples exist but are ignored. Much yet to be desired for evidence based policy and modern government.

Cape Town was the first Metro to conduct a full virtual council sitting where it passed an adjusted budget with an R3 billion social support package. This was made possible by the City’s history of responsible, clean financial management. It offered the most comprehensive services to homeless people of any metro during the initial hard lockdown providing temporary emergency facilities housing 2,000 people: providing meals, shelter, blankets, sanitation and psychosocial services including assistance with getting identity documentation and registering for social programmes.

President Ramaphosa, who has recently been compared to Churchill, admonished the population not to stigmatise of people testing positive for Covid19. He commanded that it “must stop.” Stigmatisation seems to be a throwback to one of the responses to HIV/Aids infection. A kind of denial of existence. In his defence, he has prioritised the lack of capability in government. However, a general lack of follow-through by government, now also in the case of flattening the curve tactics. The time between early lockdown and exponential infections seems to have been squandered in all provices where the ANC rules.

Capability can be seen and appreciated in Japanese industries, during the quality revolution stretching from the1940s to the 1980s. In Singapore, the government scenario planning unit anticipated, amongst other dynamics, a viral attack and prepared plans accordingly. More recently, China has demonstrated its capability to build medical facilities at a breath-taking pace. The capability of these government organisations is unmistakable. This capability has taken years of steady investment to build.

from Louis in Johannesburg: life under lockdown …

June 29. Life under lockdown in South Africa has settled into a routine. These routines have been stripped of the jarring interruptions from another way of life where the clock and the time it keeps rules. Electric lights still extend the day beyond what is a healthy cycle. I prefer this rhythm. The rooster’s crow as the sun rises is one signal of dawn breaking. The playful bark of our small dogs starts their announcement of a new day. No better, non-violent alarm system, self-adjusting to solar time. Going into Southern Hemisphere winter in May, nights are lengthening and days shorter. Our little natural system is geared to track this shift. I am the beneficiary of that shift for now. Time to feed the dogs, and the chickens and also to collect any eggs for breakfast. Enjoying an egg this fresh tends to make one judgemental about the so-called fresh eggs from the local supermarket

Then into my workspace to continue working on the writing and other matters of developing an income in this time of lock-down. I am committed to converting a thesis to a readable piece of writing for practitioners interested in rebuilding towns and cities as the next phase of my so-called career. This diary has recently taken second place to my plan to leverage my modest process-consulting business of scenario-based strategy and executive education (aka capacity-building) during and after this lock-down. I appreciate the privilege we enjoy working from a home office. Commuting to the office is a one minute stroll down the corridor gets me into my “office.” From there Zoom and Google meeting connects me to a scenario session in New Hampshire and a family friend’s funeral in Dublin in the same day.

Since 1990 when I left the corporate world, I have enjoyed the benefit of knowledge work. Long may it continue. In the early 2000s an Irish Life assurance company engaged us to develop scenarios for a viral attack and its consequences. That’s where I learnt that a viral attack similar to the 1918 so-called Spanish Flu was inevitable. The timing was unknowable. Since the Spanish Flu we have seen a succession of viral attacks on the human species. A number of other “inevitable surprises” spurred me to consider what a sustainable, robust plan for our home in Midrand would look like.

We live in a community of 450 families. Together we have pooled our resources to ensure that criminal elements cannot enter to make or lives a misery. Our security manager, an ex-cop with sound relationships with the South African Police Services (SAPS), understands that criminals are not deterred by the consequences of their actions but by being tracked around and within our community. In these days of extended lock-down our community support grows by the day. Sean from Homestead Meats delivers bacon, sausage and steaks later today. His meat processing is down the road from our home. Sara brought in eggs by the dozen a couple of days ago. She is down the road as well. We support both these home-based entrepreneurs in their efforts to sustain their families in these times. Back to creating a sustainable home, we installed solar water-heating and grid tied, generator-assisted electricity, which hedges us against our faltering national electricity supplier and its predatory pricing. We have been off the water grid for years but receive regular “accounts” from Joburg water. The so-called accounts seem to be based on some poor soul extending last month’s reading and rendering an account based on that estimate.

Our organic garden delivers, spinach, pumpkins, gem squashes, basil, rosemary and other herbs for kitchen cooking. “Flattening the curve” between growing your own veggies and the demand in the kitchen takes on a whole new meaning. Suddenly the importance of curried beans, frozen veggies and surplus pesto to absorb an overproduction of basil highlights the complexity of farming where supply and demand must be matched to avoid wastage.  We are constantly and painfully aware of our privileged life and remain engaged in assisting in the broader community at an interpersonal and project levels.

A local car guard, from the DRC whom we have befriended, receives a monthly stipend to sustain his six children and spouse. Another person, a Malawian, receives food parcels and monthly payment regularly as he stays in isolation. During the hurricane/typhoon last year in Mozambique, Marie moved 32 tons of clothing and food into Mozambique via the Charitas faith-based network to help the needy there. Currently she is again coordinating the Charitas efforts to assist people in need as result of the Covid19 pandemic. 

Over the past four years, I have coordinated a blanket-fund as part of a men’s group. We raised funds, acquired and distributed more than 4,000 blankets to the poorest of the poor. My engagement in various poorer communities has indelibly changed my perspective on township life in our province and how to support the needy. For instance, balancing the quality of blankets purchased and distributed, with the context of the recipients is critical. Too high quality and they are sold to buy food. Too low quality and they are discarded on the refuse dump where I understood they are harvested by other people lower down the needs chain. Zero wastage in poorer communities. This, besides raising money for numerous other donations to orphans in distress in an underfunded orphanage and a mission station for abused women and their families to name a few. In these ways we ensure that as a family we maintain an ethical balance between our relative comfort and those in need in this country fraught by the greatest inequality anywhere. Dwelling on how corrupt politicians blatantly steal food parcels destined for the poor or use their power over the starving to extort votes for food seems “just how it is here” for now.

My hope is that as the Covid19 exposes the political opportunists and fracture lines in the SA society opportunities for policy improvement will open up. The imminent entry by the IMF to fund the national deficit will eliminate short-sighted ideology-based decisions and encourage pragmatism in terms of evidence-based economic policy. According to the Institute of Race Relations’ surveys, the average South African simply wants government to create jobs, reduce criminality, provide education for their children and medical care for the sick. Expropriation of property without compensation is ranked last in a list of ten top priorities. The ideological blinkers worn by the socialist/Marxist national political leadership of the ANC prevent them from seeing the priorities of the average person in the street. Never were Prime Minster Thatcher’s words more prescient; socialists are politicians that run out of other people’s money.  Every Rand paid by the taxpayer devotes 58 cents to servicing foreign debt. Many of the State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) are technically insolvent. Eskom now owes R500 Bn which is state guaranteed. Ministers are trying to recover South African Airways (SAA) which is also technically insolvent. This in a climate where airlines in general are struggling to survive.

For the first time in memory, government is turning to the much maligned private sector vilified as “white monopoly capital” (WMC) as a potential source of further borrowings. LOL. Attention is gradually shifting towards unlocking the economy and restarting organisations which have been dormant during lockdown. The extent to which society has adapted to social distancing, and other behaviour required to keep safe, is astounding. Many now prefer this mode. School children in high school now prefer what they call home-schooling via computer link. Teachers have made the investment in digitally delivered provision. The adjustment may be permanent, with typically the higher grades preferring this mode while the lower grades, which need careful supervision by parents at home prefer a back to school choice.

Many of the private schools have been accused of racism amidst the global wave of Black Lives Matter (BLM). In South Africa its history predisposes this society to ingrained racist practice which is often invisible to itself. Transformation usually begins with non-racial policy and due process to deal with behaviour that violates policy and agreements between parents, pupils and schools. However, behaviour of pupils is shaped by the attitudes and values formed in the family context. Prejudice and stereotyping persists in families long after the need for societal transformation is seen to be essential. Schools as institutions are also being called out for individual racist behaviour under the current our cry for BLM.    

from Louis in Johannesburg, South Africa: Presidential Leadership

14 May. The Presidential leadership in SA is now being compared to Churchill. That has to be in comparison to his predecessors Zuma and including the Mbeki Presidency where paranoia and fear of conspiracy typified decision-making driven amongst other figments by the loss of SA sovereignty to the IMF, the World Bank or some such Western bogeyman. Dealing with the COVID19 virus was initially impaled on the horns of a dilemma of “doing too little too late and doing too much too soon”. Social media, as well as mainstream media with few exceptions, basing some of the more dire mortality scenarios on flimsy evidence and so-called models, scared decision-makers and panicked citizens at scale. Decision-makers at a national presidential level should have their eyes set on a 20 to 25 planning time horizon as that is how long it takes for policy and decision at that level to prove itself right or wrong aka Elliott Jaques’ “time span of discretion”. This principle is one of the few scientific facts in the so-called management sciences.

The lockdown decision in SA was taken with very little consideration for how the unlock would be achieved. This lack of looking beyond the immediate is also real for schools and many of the other institutions directly in the path of lockdown. The presidency is now once again in reactive mode attempting to deal with another dilemma between saving lives with lockdown and saving lives impacted by economic destruction with unlocking the lockdown. Only a government genuinely committed to centralised command politics could have any faith that once it was ready the decision to restart the economy would actually start the complex interconnected web, which is an economic system. The so-called Command Council an extra-parliamentary body to lead the campaign against the COVID19 viral attack is now itself under attack and its local constitutional standing in question. In the background, the IMF offers low-interest loans to economies in difficulty in these times of widespread global economic distress. Public servants who bear no risk of organisational failure have insisted on generous, higher than inflation salary increases modelled on the private sector.

In SA critics are finally questioning whether “Saving lives from COVID19  is more important than 5 million joining the unemployed?” So far, the decision has been lopsided in the direction of preserving lives at the cost of between 3 and 5 million people losing their jobs. The enterprises employing them will either go bankrupt or be forced to scale down significantly. Politicians may categorise this cost as an unintended consequence or some such. Two consequences come to mind:

-widespread hunger and potential loss of livelihoods and lives from an imploding economy, and

-patients with cancer and other dread diseases taken out of hospitals and ICUs to make room for incoming COVID19 patients.

President Ramphosa’s presidential decision to lock down is now being labelled as “Nongqause II”. Nongqause I is indelibly etched in the history of the AmaXhosa. It was where the infamous, self-inflicted cattle-killing amongst the Xhosa in the mid 19th century resulted in catastrophic famine and death. It took the Xhosa decades to recover from the widespread hunger and starvation brought about by Nongqause I. On may 5th in Durban the president blamed COVID19 for dealing the economy “a heavy blow.” This statement is not true or balanced. This government has lauded itself for following the best scientific advice. The question now is if it ever considered the scientific basis for recovering the collapsed economy and the impact of trampling on freedom during lockdown would do to the dignity, livelihood and well-being of the population.

from Louis in Johannesburg, South Africa: Collateral Economic Damage

April 6. Collateral economic damage is focusing on the small, micro and medium-sized enterprises (SMMEs). They are mostly in start-up mode and developing. They do not yet have the reserves to sustain themselves over the coming contraction if the economy post-Covid19. Many of them have let some or all of their employees go, and many have continued paying full or part wages. The electrician, Greg in our suburb, who services electrical installations and more recently our security lights is in this category. He has a team of three semiskilled assistants. He has put them on leave with full pay until the crisis passes. The suffering of these now unemployed workers as a result of a decline in work may lead to negative social dynamics.

The first movers in providing support to this sector was Nicky and Jonathan Oppenheimer and Johann Rupert of Remgro both providing R1bn contributions to the SMME sector. Since the fearless Minister of Small Business Development tried, unsuccessfully, to impose racial criteria for benefitting from these funds, donors have quietly gone about moving their contributions out of reach. Patrick Motsepe of African Rainbow Minerals has since provided his R1bn, and Naspers has provided R1.5 bn. Mary Oppenhiemer and her four daughters have also provided R1bn. The R500mn support offered by the government from tax monies pales into insignificance in the face of these generous private sector donors.

In a country where much-maligned White Monopoly Capital (WMC)  is being scape-goated for societal inequality, the usual chorus of voices is now silent. The highest noise is made by the so-called Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). This political party has a growing support base from unemployed youth and other economically illiterate folks. Their preferred models for economic development are Zimbabwe, Venezuela and other failing or failed states. The EFF neither understands economic freedom, nor has it taken the responsibility to run a town or metro where its lack of economic literacy would become apparent. It does understand fighting and has used this tactic effectively to put pressure on Past President Zuma.

Young Julius Malema is the so-called leader calling himself the “Commander in Chief” of the EFF. Fanciful. He has threatened genocide on whites in SA to draw attention to his populist ideas. His opportunism is wearing thin with the population. His constituency is the unemployed youth who could yet be exploited and turned towards a fascism bent post Covid19 where the economy tanks. Surveys indicate that race relations are intact but fraying at the edges. Most of the populist voices and factions are silent in the face of clear leadership from the President. Heaven forbid this should change.

From Louis in Johannesburg – Before April 2, 2020

Louis van der Merwe PhD (Dev. & Mngt.). Professional; Strategy process consultant and executive educator, Scenario-based Strategy, systemic approach to successful large scale organisational transformation including Eskom (SA) in the 80s, Shell Oil (Houston), Royal/Dutch Shell Europe Oil Products (SEOP) and others. More recently he developed a diagnostic for gauging City Government Resilience. He is converting this research into a handbook for practitioners.

2 April. We are now seeing the first infections in the townships of Alexandra (Gauteng Provence) and Khayelitsha (Cape Province). I am holding my breath expecting reports of exponential infections from these initial diagnoses. President Ramaphosa continues to lead from the front, with his approval ratings rising, has initiated widespread testing. This campaign aims to engage 10,000 field workers and will make a huge difference to building a feedback loop with which to diagnose hotspots which can then be more intensely and effectively isolated.

Self-isolation moves forward in a typically South African manner. There seems to be widespread compliance from knowledge workers who routinely work from their home offices  in virtual mode. These privileged few hardly feel the pressures of social distancing as long as they do not have to leave the isolation and safety of their homes to stock up on meds or groceries. In township it’s a different matter, providing serious challenges to citizens of crowded township such as Diepkloof, Thembisa and other large settlements. These structures of apartheid reflect societal inequality which has persisted notwithstanding 25 years of democracy. The massive migration into urban areas creates further population pressures on accommodation and services.

The authorities have also responded in an uneven manner with brute force meted out in townships and at the same time a gentler approach to the middle-class, predominantly white, suburbs. Reports of sjamboks being used to coerce folks in townships to stay home as well as other heavy-handed measures reminiscent of the apartheid era are now reaching the ombud. The ineptness of politicians are now visible for all to see. Ministers of Police (Cele) who has in the past invoked violent policing and Transport (Mbalula) who has tried unsuccessfully to compel minibus taxis to reduce crowding are but two examples. Why cigarettes and alcohol were banned is not clear other than an effort to stem social contact in shebeens and interrupt the flow of funds from smuggling of tobacco products. Taverns and township shebeens have to close at 18:00. These trading hours seem to be strictly enforced, with fines for non-compliance.

In our home office we have recently connected to a local fibre optic service provider and have since received much better connectivity and rapid recovery after interruptions. A real person shows up to assist with diagnosing the cause(s) of disruption versus the non-response of call centres and their pre-recorded telephone messages. Our vibre-optic service provider has had to expand their bandwidth twice to accommodate the increase in demand from people working from home and streaming entertainment. This signals a commercial adjustment to changes in demand. These adjustments to the “new normal” will most probably continue into the post COVID-19 era. Home-schooling which has been a fringe activity will probably also go mainstream as the digital support expands and quality education offerings become available. There is a growing awareness and acceptance that life post COVID-19 will be different.

29 March. I am finding it difficult to appreciate that it is already Sunday today. It does not feel like it. Life is gradually settling into a routine. Typically I rise at 05:30 to have breakfast and then routinely go to my home office where I can engage with work as usual. We have recently let our home office of thiry years to a friend as a cottage. He had lost his accommodation and was in urgent need of an alternative.This new arrangement required us moving the office to another part of our establishment which we used to use for training workshops. A useful if disruptive exercise as one has to sort through accumulated records and clear out redundant stuff.

Speaking of routines I recently received a useful posting on how prisoners in goals survive over long periods of time through following strictly, a daily routine. According to this posting from somebody who had been incarcerated by the apartheid regime and who has had contact with people such as Nelson Mandela, disciplined routines are the key to dealing with long-term isolation and confinement. In the face of the current social self-isolation, this advice seemed to make sense. Rising at the same time every day, dressing as if one is going to work, eating with enjoyment and exercising etc. at the same time every day. She advises that this provides a basis for maintaining self-worth and dignity within a confined prison situation. Nelson Mandela had a habit of making his bed every day even when he was in a luxury hotel, a habit that had been ingrained during 25 years of imprisonment. This single piece of evidence convinced me of the usefulness of this advice. Besides, the source of the posting was credible and regularly posted useful postings in the WhatsApp group I was part of. As life in self-isolation in our family starts to settle into a routine called “the new normal” naturally, I am considering defining this routine for myself to see if it assists in dealing with the isolation and confinement. As I learn a new behaviour, I assume that many are learning to find the positive effects of the new normal. Telecommuting, remote learning and many other current necessities may persist beyond this emergency time.

The streets of the urban area are deserted as urban dwellers adhere to the social distancing and self-isolate. In this socio-economically and racially separated country, it is difficult to establish what the state of affairs is in townships. Minibus taxis in Durban are refusing to comply with the distancing legislation which limits the number of passengers they may carry by withdrawing their services altogether. More substantial bus services which carry 50 passengers at a time are taking over their service from them. Anecdotal stories, emerging from townships about the impossibility of social-distancing in crowded conditions foretell a dire future. People in places like Diepsloot north of Johannesburg, a large settlement of close to one million people are ignoring the call to self-distance. The reported infection levels in SA are low in comparison to Italy and now New York. Without testing for COVID 19, at scale, it remains impossible to tell if and where infection hotspots are developing within these settlements or anywhere in SA for that matter. Government is now scrambling to provide tests. The situation in Zimbabwe as a whole seems even direr than local squatter camps. Commentators in the media, who are desperate, have resorted to abandoning any hope for the Zimbabwe situation. Amidst the growing appreciation of the economic consequences, many small businesses in SA have put workforce on extended leave on full pay. Super-wealthy families such as the Oppenheimer and Rupert families have donated one billion Rand each to supporting smaller businesses. The Minister of Small Business Development attempted to insert a race-based condition for access to these funds. Rupert, quickly put that thought to rest by stating that the funds were “for all South Africans” based on merit. Amidst the usual obfuscation and attempted lies by the Minister and her bureaucrats, she withdrew the race-based conditions. Another example of learning and adapting to the new normal.  

26 March 2020 continued. Supply-chains hold up, sort of. Pictures of empty shelves where they exist have gone viral amidst panic buying of essential supplies in holiday resorts such as Ballito near Durban and probably others. However, in Midrand, between Pretoria and Johannesburg buying has been heavy and now out of stock in categories such as Vitamin C and other vitamins, and facemasks in major outlets such as DisChem. Supermarkets remain fully stocked, and shelves have no empty spaces. The ludicrous behaviour around fighting for toilet paper in the USA absent. Pressure is building to stock up before the lockdown at midnight tonight on Thursday 26th March. The local Pick n Pay has empty shelves in popular items such as chicken. However other meats are fully stocked. Shops are regulating how many people enter so that social distancing can be adhered to in the shop. Social media is playing a decisive role in building awareness and distributing official decisions. Consumers of social media are learning how to discriminate between fake and genuine fact-based news and information. A steady flow of gallows humour on social media reflects a South African way of dealing with an impending disaster. The full array of military equipment is on display along highways and in major towns and cities as a show of force and a warning to anybody contemplating a breach of the lockdown measures. SADF roadblocks with powers to test for the CORONA virus and quarantine until test results become available (in six days) serves as another threat to stay home and indoors. Reading between the lines of official statements there is clearly an awareness amongst top echelons of government that they have to have a plan B. The scenarist in me says that the “State of Disaster” which is the level of alert we are currently at can be followed by a “State of Emergency” while remaining within the constitution. A State of Emergency provides more power to act on folks resisting the lockdown including curfews, commandeering resources, key points etc. Plan B may be to declare a State of Emergency soon in order to assert the needed pressure for compliance for successful lockdown to flatten the SARSCov-2 infection curve. The next level of escalation may be to suspend the constitution and declare “Marshall Law” which is usually only invoked during wartime. President Ramaphosa’s popularity is steadily rising as he leads based on international best practice, evidence, science, and the excellent medically based advice of the Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda north of here has set an example for an African state bootstrapping itself to greater economic growth sustaining 8% per annum. Some say Rwanda is becoming the Singapore of Africa. He has a 96% approval rating which has provided him with a relatively free hand to improve the lives of his citizens in a blend of market-based policies and autocratic decision-making. Rwanda could be named a constitutional democracy with and African Character, an African version of China’s “one country two systems”. A similar approach could break the ideological bind between centralist socialism/communism and market-based economics the SA politicians are currently in.

26 March 2020. President Ramaphosa acting presidential. President Ramaphosa, supported by the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkize, with state of the art advice on how to flatten the infection curve to avoid overwhelming the health system, has declared a total lockdown for 21 days. To date he is dominating the communications to the general public. Sustaining this level of communication will probably be as critical as containing the spread of the virus. His measures take into consideration the vast socio-economic inequality. Water points are being installed in squatter camps. Testing is being intensified. The ANC Alliance has done very little since 1994 to address the inequality in society.  His announcement on public TV was calming, comprehensive, matter-of-fact and evidence-based. A detailed written communication followed almost immediately afterwards. He appealed to solidarity several times in his address, deviating from the identity politics and inward focus of a majority party. He marked the contribution of R1bn each from the Oppenheimer and Rupert families to support small and medium businesses during the crisis.  He also started the process of reinforcing the rule of law and accountability which the ANC Alliance had ignored and eroded since the advent of democracy in 1994. With this, the public discourse is starting to turn to an appreciation of the fact that past president Zuma and many of his cronies were now out of the national leadership. Zuma’s interest in personal enrichment in preference to national interest had been responsible for industrial-scale plundering of the fiscus and State-Owned-Enterprises during his term of office. Corruption had severely damaged the capability of the state. Key positions such as, amongst others, the head of the National Broadcaster (SABC), the National Prosecuting Authority(NPA) were no longer in charge at this crucial juncture on our history. He is marshalling state organs to support broad-based teamwork and increasing effectiveness of the lockdown. Some of the drastic measures announced were followed by a cryptic ministerial suffix “For now…” implying that they may be in place for some time if not permanently. My personal bell-weather for compliance and enforcing the rule of law: Minibus-taxis and metered taxi drivers complying with capping their passengers to half of maximum carrying capability to enable some social distancing.

A list of Call centres and Hotlines, circulated widely, captures the comprehensive approach adopted by government as well as the complexity which we face.

The list: Heading: COVID-19 PANDEMIC followed by: National Institute of Communicable Diseases 080009999, South African Police Service 0860010111, Department of Home Affairs 0800601190, Gender-based Violence command centre 0800428428, National Crisis Line 0861322322, Department of Water Affairs 0800200200, Reporting undue price increases 0800141880, Department of Tourism 0860868747, Support for SMMEs 08606637867, Presidential Hotline 17737, WhatsApp 0600123456.  

25 March. Grist for scenario thinking and development of narrative(s). Full lockdown scheduled to commence at midnight on Thursday 26 March 2020. In addition to the scenario research used for decision-making in an educational setting, a broader set of scenarios would be useful to raise the level of decision across governments and commercial organisations. At executive levels in most organisations, their planning time horizon was too short at 3-5 years. It should be in the 15 to 25 year according to Elliott Jaques who has studied the requisite time horizon where executive decisions are seen to be right or wrong. He calls this point “the time span of discretion”  He found this to be a constant across a sample of more than 60,000 executives internationally. He cites this as one of the few scientific facts in the so-called management sciences. It therefore makes sense to develop COVID 19 scenarios on a 15 to 25 year time horizon if their users are to avoid surprises.

Branching points and research questions in narratives could be;

  • With a heavy load of HIV AIDS as well as Tuberculosis (TB) in the population, what might be the infection levels? Some success elsewhere using antiretrovirals augured well for their use in combatting the virus
  • Was there a tipping point where the bottlenecks in medical diagnostic and treatment facilities spill over into social unrest with demonstrations and setting these facilities alight as a protest
  • The decline in demand for commodities from China, the reduced tax base in SA as the economy shrinks creates a perfect storm which places salaries of public servants and payment of social grants under pressure. This reduction in patronage, in turn, erodes the ANC hegemony and source of patronage which could account for the unusual voter loyalty to a corrupt government. As defaults occur ANC alliance credibility erodes and democratic dynamics spread beyond the internal dynamics of the ANC Alliance, and accountability grows
  • The “we are staying” Facebook phenomenon demonstrates a widespread reaching out across the social divide by more than a million folks who have decided that they would not emigrate. Having reflected on what they would then act on within SA they embark on what might be labelled random acts of kindness and social projects for the benefit of those around them resulting in growing trust and goodwill between the various socio-economic cleavages in SoA society.
  • In addition to short term scenario-thinking including the more obvious dynamics already mentioned above, were there scenarios downstream from the impact of the virus?

Looking back in history what we could learn from the 1918 so-called “Spanish influenza” aka Spanish Flu. The Spanish Flu pandemic seems associated with the dramatic economic decline resulting in the great depression starting in 1929 approximately ten years later. The impact of the depression created a vulnerability amongst the poor and jobless to populist politicking and an attraction to socialism which in turn enabled fascist leadership in countries such as Italy and Germany. These dynamics, amongst others, played an essential role in setting conditions for the Second World War. In Germany, it led to the scapegoating of minorities, specifically Jews and also Roma and Homosexuals. The result was the Holocaust and its industrial-scale human extermination. Were there lessons to be drawn from these dynamics for building scenarios for SoA over the next twenty to twenty-five years? The seeds of this scenario can already be found in the politicks of the so-called Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and Black First Land First (BFLF) political parties.

24 March 2020. A culture of protest and resistance. We have learnt from the delays in Italy, days matter in arresting the exponential growth in new infection numbers. At the same time scenes in South Africa King Chaka swimming pool of thousands of children frolicking in beachfront pools with abandon, chanting “Corona, Corona” has gone viral. Where are their parents in this one may ask? Perhaps an early indication of the lack of resilience of family structures and poor parenting practice or single-parent families where the parent has to retain their job to put food on the table for their families, with parenting left to a Gogo (granny). In this context, both the children and their grannies are at risk of infection.

24 March 2020. Covid 19 under-reported in SoA. Business partner Themba (not his real name) had been travelling extensively to Russia, India, China and other destinations for developing the fast-growing consulting business NTIYISO where I am Expert Partner. NTIYISO meaning “Truth”in xiTsonga had grown to more than 160 Consultants and associates since its establishment in 2005. NTIYISO Partner Themba was showing many of the symptoms of the COVID 19 virus infection. He had fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle and joint pain, Headache and Chills and was in search of a test and diagnosis. He also needed to differentiate between regular flu symptoms and the dreaded COVID 19 virus.

His frustration with delays and costs with trying to obtain a diagnosis probably reflect the blockages experienced by many others. He spent a full two days or more sent from pillar to post before finally getting all the needed referrals and dealing with other red tape protocols for being tested. Pathology laboratories were directing patients to ”go home until symptoms appear.” When he called me to ventilate about his desperation, he was almost hysterical with frustration and disillusioned with government publicly declaring that the country was ready and yet he could not get a simple test done. All of these delays were legitimately part of ensuring patient safety. He was indeed tested three days later and continues to await the results of those tests. A six-day cycle to date from initiating tests to obtaining results. He confirmed that these delays in and of themselves would result in under-reporting cases. Whether this is representative of the broader population is another question. In a climate where politicians claimed “that the country was ready for the COVID 19 virus,”  their claims ring false. My sister Elisabeth who manages a Municipal clinic and is a veteran of more than thirty years in the frontline of community health in the City of Tshwane, formerly Pretoria, refers to help-lines and call centres to deal with this emergency. However, when she has tested these numbers, there has been met with a “no-reply” response or unanswered.

23 March 2020. Decision-making in a school system II-Developing Scenarios. Without a well-researched position on how the pandemic might unfold in SoA in the immediate and medium-term future, the board and this decision-making process remained trapped in a reactive mode. I recommended that now was the time to develop short terms scenarios for the different paths the Corona Virus would follow in Southern Africa (SoA). With inequalities persisting in SoA there may be different pathways that the virus might initially follow in the various socio-economic groupings in SoA. Porous borders required that the SoA region should be treated as an interconnected whole for scenario development.  Scenarios developing in the Northern hemisphere would be of limited use in SoA because of the relatively complex socio-economic nature of SoA. I added key concerns that should be understood about the local pandemic and expressed in scenario thinking are;

  • What would the length of the cycle be from initial infection to the exponential rise and decline to where China now found itself with zero infection for two consecutive days. A position on this would inform the potential length of time the school might have to continue its distance learning approach.
  • What would be the economic impact and specifically the impact on jobs
  • How would informal settlements and crowded townships cope
  • The resilience of family structure and parental leadership of minors in the various ethnic groupings in SoA

21 March 2020. Decision-making in a school system I-Risk management list don’t work. This past Monday the School Board of Directors met to take a decision on closing the school in terms of the directive by President Ramaphosa and also how to engage distance learning using the digital capability in the school. Most of the learning in the preschool, preparatory and college was assisted by Chromebooks laptops and google classroom software.  I had built capacity for scenario-based strategy over two years with the person responsible strategy within the school’s strategy function. However, after the initial enthusiasm and some effort to include scenarios into the strategy document, the method had fallen into disuse. I saw no evidence of scenario thinking amongst the executives. Besides, the Chairman of the Board and others in the executive seemed to believe that scenarios were non-essential to strategy-making. In the meantime, a detailed Risk Register was developed. It contained extensive lists and categories of all the possible risks to the school, colour-coded to indicate the level of risk. This document which was regularly applauded seemed to have displaced scenario work. The various portfolio holders on the board had to connect their portfolio to the relevant risk in the risk register. My first assumption was that there was a fiduciary requirement for such a risk register.  Secondly, I assumed that the risk register would be unable to assist the school Board as well as executives in anticipating risk. In preparation for the past Monday board meeting, I compared the most recent risk register in November 2019 with the edition submitted in the board pack. No mention of a virus attack in the November edition. However prominently featured in the current version as the top priority was, you guessed it, VIRUS Attack! It had been back-fitted.

20 March 2020. Action in a crisis situation. Our first action ensured that our last will and testaments were in place and available for both Marie and myself. Rachel is the focus of our lives and must be cared for should one of us or both pass during this crisis. This first action step was an unusually easy conversation. It consisted of a few agreements about the next steps concluded matter-of-factly. A sense of relief followed, knowing that our family matters were in order, thus taken care of as best as one could in these circumstances. In the event of Marie and I, both passing Rachel would be cared for by her godmother Siobhan and spouse Barrister, David Lydon living in Birmingham, UK. I was surprised at how easy this conversation had been. I even felt a sense of acceptance of passing on to whatever followed my earthly life. I had come to believe that life on earth was an investment in a spiritual journey to the after-life. With only three of seven siblings surviving, we had often experienced death and dying in my family of origin. I had also had two near-death experiences and felt comforted that I knew something about the process.

19 March 2020. Response to vulnerability. We as family realised that we were vulnerable to the virus. I was in the target zone for fatalities from the effects of the COVID 19 illness, being “elderly”. Any scenarios for another twenty-year career tranche would have to be subject to the impact of the unfolding pandemic on our family. I have found it a useful exercise to confront your demise and set a specific timeline to it as a basis for planning and prioritising. At 26 years of age, I had two near-death experiences due to the unfortunate choice of a medical practitioner. At the time, once I recovered sufficiently, I decided that I had fifteen to twenty years to live and complete whatever I wished to do in the rest of my life. That period turned out to be the basis of my professional life to date. I learnt a valuable lesson from my deceased brother Martin, who was born with, amongst others, a congenital heart condition. The closer he got to death, the more he would formulate plans.

17 March 2020. Family coping with potential demise. I come from a large Catholic family, where I am second born of seven siblings. My mother with Irish roots to County Cork, Ireland, passed at age 96 and my father an eleventh generation South African passed at 92.  If I survive to the mean age of my parents, I have twenty years of active life ahead consulting, mentoring and writing as long as my competencies remain in demand. This past Wednesday I would have addressed the top twelve Cape Town City, Executive Directors as so-called “Thought Leader” on critical thinking including Scenario-based Strategy, Systems Thinking and Strategic Conversation as part of a leadership development process courtesy Price-Waterhouse Coopers (PwC). The postponement of this appointment to May this year is part of social distancing as a defence against the COVID 19 Viral attack. Demand for my professional knowledge and skills seemed to be picking up, with my writing planned digital marketing aimed at enhancing this existing demand. This assignment was the result of a connection to my corporate reputation in South Africa from the 80s. I am confident that as my writing became known, more referrals would surface in SA and deliver requests for useful work.