Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What should South Africa do about unskilled migrant labour?

I'm doing some renovations on my pond at the moment. Which has been a nightmare and story in itself. It took 4 months to find a contractor. In a city of 8 million people, you'd think finding a koi pond contractor should be relatively easy. After all it's hardly rocket science. However I fired many potential contractors before I even got their quotes. Others told me they had a six month backlog. And others apparently don't bother unless your koi pond has multi-million rand potential. But finally I found someone who is apparently reliable and available. So now I have a two metre deep hole in my garden.

The labourers working on the hole initially consisted of one South African and two Zimbabwean refugees. The Zimabaweans could hardly speak English and were hardly productive. And they lived in Krugersdorp which meant it took them about 3 hours to get to work in the morning.

With over 40% of South Africans unskilled an unemployed, should we be taking on Zimbabweans or any other refugees? They are typically exploited and many building contractors pay them less than R20 (US$3) per day. They can't afford transport on these wages and end up squatting on vacant land or river banks in the cities. R20 will buy you a loaf of bread and a litre of milk.

While all this is going on, our world cup stadium workers have been striking for bonuses double their current level. I understand they earn R2 200 per month (just over US $300) and have demanded bonuses of R1 500 per month. This may not seem like a lot. However, in a global economy, we're competing with Chinese workers earning less than a third of that. Which is why our textile industry just cannot compete.

Of course one might argue that Chinese markets are distorted by human rights abuses, etc. While this might be true, every cent inflated due to protectionism comes out of the South African consumers' pockets (illustrated through the economic concept known as a deadweight loss).

South Africa's only long term solution is to raise levels of skill. The short term solution of deflating the Rand will merely result in inflationary pressures due to imported goods and thereafter a potential wage price spiral. Sadly it takes generations to move from uneducated unskilled labour to sophisticated engineering and manufacturing economies like those of Korea. Although the South Korean story is truly inspirational - it moved from a largely agricultural economy to a world engineering and manufacturing leader in little over 40 years.

But back to those Zimbabweans. They took jobs that any unskilled South African worker could have performed. In contrast, a friend who married an Australian teacher was forced to emigrate because she could not get a work permit in South Africa. There is a shortage of teacher's in South Africa. Their staying in the country would have resulted in a multiplier effect of spending and job creation for lower skilled workers (each higher income worker creates between 3 and 5 lower income jobs in South Africa).

Instead they left, costing the economy two skilled workers who are in short supply. And the income they earned that would have been spent and created lower skilled jobs. And we have workers flooding across the border and taking jobs from workers we have in excess supply.

Pretty screwed up. Frankly I believe the problem is that we have a government that feels unable to criticise or refuse demands from other African states. Switching on the electric fence along our border (turned off in 1994 due to the number of deaths of illegal immigrants), forcing Zimbabwean regime change and refusing unskilled immigration and refugees are unpalatable to a government that sees criticising other African / non-western nations as a betrayal.

Our mines are full of migrant workers from neighbouring states. This is a legacy from apartheid days where migrant labour provided a means of keeping wages low. To some extent it is understandable that former liberation movements feel unable to slam the door shut.

It is distressing though that our labour department postures with an apparently frivolous complaint against Comair and our major trade union grouping Cosatu is arguing against tighter immigration laws. Surely time and effort would be better spent inspecting building sites, farms, etc and ensuring workers are properly accredited with South African residence and work permits.

I wonder what our unemployed South African workers think?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Should I kill him?

So you know when you're on IoL and they have a picture of a person from IoL Dating on the right hand side of the home page?

Other day this bloke caught my eye. Jeez, very much the type of guy that... I fall for some woman and some guys.

Anyway, so I start chatting through my Datingbuzz subscription. He's 26, a pilot and owns two planes through his inheritance. His photos range from cute with some borderline steamy. I give him my number and we start chatting on the phone. I tell him he sounds older...

Nevermind, continue chatting and then some more photos go up - pretty borderline! But he is frikkin good looking and is soon the number one most popular profile on Datingbuzz (the platform behind IoL Dating and a number of other dating sites). He seems nice and he knows I was interested before those steamy pics.

Having learnt my lesson from online dating in the past, I request a coffee before I waste my time for too long (lessons? Frikkin wierdos in real life...)

Day of the proposed meeting his profile disappears and I hear nothing. I leave a message on his phone and am irritated. Then I notice another bloke has favourited me and lives in the same area as previous guy. Except he is 40 and looks less than average.


I send a message to new fan saying "You're ... aren't you?"

I get a message back, "I'd love to answer but I haven't got a subscription yet."

I get a call from the missing person over the weekend. "My new fan is you isn't it?" I ask. Pause. "You're very clever..."

Farkin hell. If he was in front of me I'd have decked him. I keep my cool and ask what the fuck he thinks he's doing. "Hey IITQ, I told you the truth about everything except my photos."

"And your age?"

"Well that too, but everything else..."

"So where on earth did you think this would go?"

"I didn't want to attract someone because I'm a porn star or for my money, or..."

"So you thought an entirely different persona would help?"

"Look if you don't want to continue this I promise not to stalk you or anything... I'll delete your number and you'll never hear from me again."

"Good idea. Goodbye."

Jeez, I must be jaded. Inside I wanted to rip the fucker's head off. And I just said goodbye.

That's it. I don't think their is another vaguely normal person on Datingbuzz. I am too good to be true.

Is this you - your photo was used on someone else's dating profile. Of course, it's just as likely you were pinched from some porno...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A ray of hope? - Part II

Let's hope this is.

The plague that is sweeping this country needs some serious action.

It's war on crime

November 11 2007 at 08:55AM

By Angela Quintal

A radical overhaul of the country's dysfunctional criminal justice system will see at least one out of every four police officers a detective, will boost incentives to attract and retain skilled investigators and will improve facilities and crime-busting equipment.

The government seems ready to spend whatever it takes to turn the tide on crime.

The far-reaching plan, to come into effect within months, will also beef up police forensic services, pay prosecutors far more and drastically change criminal court processes to avoid delays - including making sure that the cases that go to court are ready for trial.

A seven-point strategy approved by the cabinet this week goes to the heart of the problems in the criminal justice system.

The new plan, influenced by a British review of that country's criminal justice system, intends to empower those at the coalface - with crime-battered citizens the ultimate winners.

It aims for quick, equitable and fair criminal justice that has the confidence of the public and impacts massively on crime.

The plan will be refined at the January cabinet lekgotla and its details will be announced by President Thabo Mbeki in his penultimate state of the nation address in February as he opens parliament.

The seven-point strategy will have huge organisational and budget implications.

The blueprint has the support of big business, which was intimately involved in planning the new strategy through Mbeki's big business working group and the Anti-Crime Initiative.

Earlier this week, Johnny de Lange, the deputy justice minister, told reporters that it was no longer a matter of tinkering with the problems. Instead, the government was looking at a fundamental transformation of the system as a whole.

The president is understood to be keen to leave a legacy in which, instead of being seen as a crime denialist, he is remembered as the reformer of an old-fashioned and dysfunctional system.

Part of the strategy relates to empowering those at the coalface to do their jobs. This would include improving the lot of detectives, prosecutors and forensic experts, among others. It involves, for example, a major programme of capacity building in the police detective services.

At present, only 14,2 percent (22 519 members) of the 158 000-strong police force are detectives. The plan is to increase their numbers to at least 25 percent and eventually a third of the total force.

There will also be an increase in facilities and equipment, given that there are only 6 513 vehicles, 3 505 computers and 1 879 cellphones for 22 519 detectives.

There is also a commitment to attract and retain experienced detectives and attract graduates. The detective service must become "the preferred or sought-after employment option in the SAPS", according to a presentation by De Lange to the cabinet this week.

The government agreed with unions that there would be pay parity in the SAPS. However, an occupation-specific dispensation now seems to be on the cards.

This would include:

# The introduction of salary incentives to attract and retain a new breed of skilled detective by, for example, providing a specialised career path and an attractive monthly allowance;

# The creation of new senior detective posts in designated courts in cities and large towns to oversee the quality of investigations and the "sifting" of trial-ready dockets;

# The creation of new posts of legally qualified officers in the detective services to advise detectives, thereby improving the quality of investigations; and

# Expedited and appropriate training programmes.

The forensic services of the SAPS and the health department will also receive attention, with substantial increases in numbers, improved facilities and equipment and the possibility of an occupation-specific dispensation.

According to figures supplied to the cabinet, nationally the police have only 1 691 forensic experts operating from 91 offices around the country.

They are responsible for gathering evidence at all crime scenes, which could include DNA, ballistics, fingerprints, crime-scene mapping and photography.

They also analyse fingerprints, but all other materials are sent to the national office, where 923 forensic experts analyse samples from all crime scenes.

To compound the situation, the health department employs only 58 forensic analysts to deal with the analysis of alcohol or drug concentration in blood.

There is a massive backlog of alcohol tests in some centres, numbering 12 028 in Cape Town and 7 721 in Johannesburg, which has led to a huge number of criminal cases being struck off the court roll.

Similarly, toxicology has a large backlog, with 2 359 cases outstanding in Cape Town, 3 331 in Johannesburg and 1 536 in Pretoria.

Other priority action includes the National Prosecuting Authority, where the vacancy rate for experienced prosecutors stands at 23 percent.

Key to addressing this would be to deal with the huge salary discrepancies between magistrates and prosecutors, the cabinet report says.

Another strategy highlighted by De Lange this week will be the transformation of criminal court processes to ensure that these are focused on trials rather than time-consuming administrative actions such as postponements.

o This article was originally published on page 1 of Sunday Independent on November 11, 2007