Politics = GoT

Politics: It’s a game, Jim, but not as we know it.

The recent ousting of former South African President Jacob Zuma, after weeks of carrot-and-stick negotiations, serves well to remind us that politics is a game. It has players, rules (some written, many unwritten), and it it has many uncertainties. As a result it demands strategies and tactics. But it’s not like every game you see on TV; just one. Politics is like the Game of Thrones - it’s riddled with knives and many other instruments of pain aimed at backs, necks, and underbellies. It is bloody and unforgiving; alliances are many and fluid, and the main aim for politicians is not to serve, but to secure power. Unlike the Game of Thrones though, the gore in politics is real, albeit metaphorical. The bloodlust is incessant, and the fighting ongoing. People get hurt, but more often than not, as has been the case in South Africa, the damage has been largely collateral - the citizens have born the brunt. The news media’s job is to report on events, but given the furtive nature of political wheeling

Oh dear, Afrin

What is Afrin, and why do you need to know about it?

If you’ve never heard of Afrin, don’t be surprised. Few outside of those who live in this forlorn stretch of northern Syria have. But at least you’ll be one of the first to see its possible role as an opening act in a larger theatre of war. You’ve been hearing a lot about Syria, that’s because it’s what’s known as a ‘proxy war’. Since 1945 there have been very few official declarations of war between sovereign states. Instead there has been a raft of prolonged military actions that have drawn in multiple countries. These conflicts are instigated by opposing powers who do not fight against each other directly. Instead, they may use third parties to do the fighting for them; hence the term ‘proxy wars’. Current case in point: Syria. What started as a brutal state suppression of a popular revolt and then morphed into a civil war, involving multiple armed factions has sucked in 32 countries, some covertly and, in some instances, supporting both sides of the conflict! Of those countries,

The shifting world of work #2

For many young people, the world of work means doing what’s right.

(This article is the second of a series on the shifting world of work). The traditional route to social-conscience for a business-leader was via a foundation, unusually, and not unassumingly, in their own name. Wealth, garnered over decades of business wrangling, was parked in the foundation to be dribbled away to the needy, over time, ensuring the commensurate tax benefits. That’s changed. And you have the T-shirt and sneaker tech entrepreneurs to thank for that. They are the new breed of altruists, and they have shifted the world of work. For them, in the era of social media, compassion is not a top-down affair, neither is it a matter of accumulate and allocate. Instead it is at the very heart of their business - their focus is on solving social problems through connecting, sharing and caring. For example, while Bill Gates is generous with the billions he made through the carefully guarded Microsoft proprietary software, today successful tech startup companies such as JFrog focus on the building and sharing of open-source software tools and

Cobalt dots

Let’s connect the following: Elon Musk, the DRC, and a famous Nevada brothel.

In journalism, a ‘backstory’ is the term given to the context of a developing story, and when it comes to the future of motoring, that backstory sees chemistry, electronics, physics, geography, geology, politics, and economics come smashing together with the world’s oldest profession. Few names are more synonymous with the rapid development of the electric car than Tesla. The American company specialises not only in electric cars, but the energy storage technology that drives them. CEO and co-founder Elon Musk is the company’s popular face. At the heart of the technology is a complex cocktail of five key chemicals: lithium, nickel, aluminium, silicon and cobalt. The last - cobalt - has a particularly dark side, unfortunate for a technology with a supposedly bright future. It is largely a by product of copper mining, and more than 60% of world cobalt production comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a country geologically blessed with enviable mineral resources, and consequently riddled with ongoing conflict. Mining in the DRC is dangerous, but has

Bath Free!

Foxes see opportunities where others only see adversity.

For thousands of teenagers, bathtime is an irritation, for millions more it’s a dream. A young man from Limpopo province in South Africa has designed a product that bridges this divide; and it’s earned him accolades deserved for a fox. Typical for a man in his 20s, Ludwick Marishane has the bright eyes of someone with the world opening up to him, and it’s a world he has changed for the better thanks to an idea he had to get out of bathtime. In rural Limpopo where he grew up, running water is a luxury for most, and bathtime means a bucket of boiled water and a brick of soap. At the age of 17 he wondered if there wasn’t a way to wash without water. Using his Nokia 6234 cellphone - eking out words with the basic predictive text facility of the numeric keypad - he searched Google for a solution (in more ways than one). There wasn’t one. He also discovered that over 2.5 billion people around the world don’t have proper access to water and sanitation;

The shifting world of work #1

For a view of the future world of work, witness what’s happened in financial services.

(This article is the first of a series on the shifting world of work). Not so long ago, banking was a rather pedestrian experience. It required standing in queues, paper cheque in hand, a paper request for deposit, a paper request for payment, and a wad of paper cash from a teller if you were lucky. Behind the glass walls was the first layer of a retinue of staff entrusted with managing your money. Above them, successive layers of increasingly important workforce, the top crust being the boardroom elite, usually drawn from the clubhouse brotherhood. A career in banking meant a degree in accounting, a foot in the door, and a willingness to put your nose down and work your way up. As a result, banking may have been long on queues but it was short of foxes. Today managing your money is in your hands, literally. Smartphones are our banks, apps are the staff - they’re used to receive and issue payments, and transfer funds; applying for a loan is now a

Powerful FANGs

What’s considered ‘essential’ for an economy is easy: if you control it you have power; but has what’s ‘essential’ evolved over the years?

Imagine spending a whole day without checking Facebook, scrolling through Amazon, catching up on your favourite show on Netflix, and not tapping into that wondrous little know-it-all Google search bar. The horror! The horror! Alright, let’s calm down everyone, it’s only a thought experiment. Put away that brown paper bag, it’s just a mild panic attack...breathe… Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google have sunk their FANGs into the flesh of our daily lives; so much so, they’ve earned their own cool acronym which is earning traction with economists, politicians and expert pundits everywhere. It’s appropriate - as any good acronym ought to be: you can imagine the mega-tech giants as indestructible hipster vampires, hovering nearby, periodically sinking their teeth into our nubile necks, and drawing up the life blood coursing through our veins. Without it they cannot survive. And we can’t hide from them. Between them, they know where we are, what we are thinking, who we know and love, what we want to spend

Food for thought

Statistics can be neat and tidy, but misleading.

Imagine this: a TV news bulletin says the economy has just grown by 3%. Growth in the economy is generally measured by expanding GDP - gross domestic product (the total value of goods produced and services provided in a country during one year); and 3% is healthy. Great! You fist-pump the air and think about buying that yacht. Hold your horses, your thoughts could be about to bolt in the wrong direction. Next, a news insert comes on about breast milk. The insert contains interviews with ‘leading nutritionists’. They almost all agree breast milk is superior to infant formula - a manufactured breast milk substitute. In fact, one scientist says more than one-fifth of deaths in newborn babies could be prevented if they were breastfed in the first hour of life. At this point your foxy whiskers should start connecting dots. If more mothers decided not to breastfeed, a rapid growth in the production and sales of infant formula could contribute to an increase in GDP. If more mothers breastfed, according to scientists that

Bad Flag!

A flag has gone up warning of a shift to a more protectionist world; did you spot it?

US President Donald Trump recently imposed a tariff on imported solar energy components, primarily from China - the world’s biggest producer. Given his ongoing climate change denialist tub-thumping, Trump’s antagonism towards solar energy is not surprising, but the imposing of tariffs is a flag that something bigger is at play: increased protectionism, with the mantra  ‘America First!’ at the helm. So what is ‘protectionism’? In this respect it is the theory or practice of taxing imports with the intention of shielding a country’s domestic industries from foreign competition. It sounds like good business sense for a country, but it’s not really. Globalisation and a growing global economy relies on competition and the unhindered exchange of goods and services across borders. Imposing tariffs on those goods and services just gets everyone’s backs up, and risks a tit-for-tat reaction. In effect, Trump has fired the first shot, and China is the target. Why did he do it, why now, and what will probably happen? Firstly, protectionism is often a political

Growing Foxes on the shoulders of giants

By Clem Sunter. The education system is ripe for revolution; and it is inspired by the thinking of five intellectual giants. In a presentation I gave last week in Johannesburg, I talked a bit about the programme called 'Growing Foxes' which Chantell Ilbury and I started at a private school for girls in London. [It is now also in leading schools in South Africa]. The purpose is to teach them how to think creatively about the future and thereby make better decisions about their lives. We are providing the course material and the principal is giving the lessons. The girls are all in their final academic year. After my presentation, a young woman came up to me and asked how all this came about. My response was based on the quote of the famous mathematician Isaac Newton: "If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants." In our case, we are standing on the shoulders of five giants in constructing the programme. Pierre Wack Pierre is the greatest scenario planner the world has ever produced. He was head of the function at Royal Dutch Shell during the 1970s and became