Podcasts from the Edge

MULTIMEDIALIVE  |  Podcast , ±37 min episodes every 1 week, 2 days  | 
Peter Bruce, veteran South African newspaper editor and commentator, interviews the country's social and political leaders and experts in a weekly effort to explain what is actually going on in this complicated country. Bruce's interviews are about making events easy to understand for people with little time to listen.

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Will we ever cotton on?

As Ebrahim Patel ploughs on, recasting South African industry in his own image, good news stories on the ground are hard to find and one of the minister of trade, industry and competition’s frequently used weapons in his drive to promote localisation and import substitution, the Industrial Development Corporation, reported losses of R3.8bn last year. That’s a big number and testament to the quality of companies that its political masters (Patel) is driving it to invest in. In this edition of Podcasts from the Edge Peter Bruce talks to Nick Steen, a rock- hard former CEO with long, bittersweet experience in the local textiles industry that Patel is determined to protect. Do we have a future in textiles? Steen says we do, but not the way Patel imagines it…

Can SA keep up with the Joneses?

Can South Africa compete in the global automotive industry as our economy stutters and stalls while our main car export destinations — Britain and the European Union — set their own markets tough new targets in emissions and carbon foot print (they’ll want to know how the electricity powering SA car manufacturing is generated).? There is no room here for being second best. We are either at the top of our game or we can pack it in. There are, of course, bright spots and reasons to be cheerful. Australia lost its car industry but we have kept our and it is doing well. In this edition of Podcasts From the Edge, Peter Bruce talks to Justin Barnes, Executive Director of the Toyota-Wessels Institute for Manufacturing Studies. Barnes, the lead consultant in the creation of the SA Automotive Industry MasterPlan, is no starry-eyed optimist but he tells Bruce there’s good reason to believe we can continue to hold our own small but perfectly formed place in the automotive firmament.

Who do we think we are?

Peter Bruce gets a history lesson from South Africa’s top economic historian, Prof Keith Breckenridge. Trying to draw parallels between South Africa now, an economic wasteland coming out of a devastating pandemic, and South Africa a hundred years ago, an economic wasteland devastated by the deprivations of war and the Spanish flu, Bruce finds some unpleasant truths — World War 1 might have been followed in the US by the roaring twenties then but there was nothing roaring about the 1920’s here and the same is likely to apply now. Back then we suffered crippling strikes and an overvalued currency that made it hard to export. At the same time, the outline of what our industrial skeleton began to take shape. The ANC is still trying to recapture some of that confidence but, as Breckenridge points out, the same opportunity the colonialists and Afrikaner nationalists missed in failing to give property rights to the poor, where they live, is being actively reproduced by the ANC now as it empowers tribal authority at the expense of the people.

Localisation — is it siege or surge?

As the policy debate around localisation — or import substitution — as a formula for reindustrialising South Africa heats up, the lines are being drawn between fervent advocates of the government line on making imports as expensive as possible and trade liberals arguing for as few barriers to imports as possible, both Business Unity SA and Business Leadership SA have produced helpful research that tries to slow the argument down and to focus on where localisation makes sense and where it might not. The report was written by economist and Intellidex partner Peter Attard Montalto, who chats here to Peter Bruce on Podcasts From the Edge about where constructive opportunities for localisation might lie, and the work the government and its many diplomatic outposts might do in promoting the best possible results of localisation, which is to export. Are we doing enough to develop new markets?

When Cyril speaks out of both sides of his mouth

If President Cyril Ramaphosa needed to take anything out of his two-day appearance at the Zondo Commission last week then he would have needed to put a lot more in than he did. Instead, he was allowed by his inquisitors to have his cake and eat it without ever being asked how even one example of grand corruption may actually have worked. Listen to former Cosatu leader and Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa talk to Peter Bruce about the centrality of party funding in corruption, the way forward for our politics, why a disastrous ANC will probably sweep the upcoming local elections and what needs to be donate make the way we create wealth more inclusive. If we want to avoid awful stories like Absa losing CEO’s of the quality of Daniel Minele then unions need to be sitting on the boards of South African companies. Business doesn’t want that and, frankly, neither do the unions. Which is why the state may need to find the courage to bang some heads together.

The R1 deal that could make or break South Africa

In this latest edition of Podcasts from the Edge Peter Bruce talks to Seriti Resources CEO Mike Teke about the choppy waters suddenly surrounding the agreement to take over the vast coal-mining resources of South32. Combined with the Anglo American coal business Seriti has already acquired, the South32 mines would make Mike Teke the biggest single coal-supplier to Eskom, SA’s debt-drunk power utility. But there’s a problem — one of the South 32 mines supplies directly to Eskom’s critical Duvha power station and it loses money with every delivery. Teke says he won’t do the deal until Eskom agrees a better coal price for the supplying mine. The National Treasury won’t give it permission to pay. But without the mine Duvha would close and that would bring even more chaos to the power grid. What is to be done? South 32, desperate to get rid of the assets, has since offered Seriti $250m over the next decade. That’ll help, says Teke but he still wants to hear what the Treasury does with a second approach from Eskom. He wants the current price of R280/t of coal increased to R550 a tonne. That may sound a lot but Teke reminds Bruce that coal export prices are now well above R1000/t. A deal will be done, says Teke, and he’d even be prepared to share ownership of the Duvha mine if one of the many losing bidders for the South 32 assets would like to try their luck.

Lockdown alcohol bans? The game has suddenly changed.

Government has banned sales of alcohol for 19 weeks overall since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis in South Africa last year. New research, paid for by Distell but conducted independently of the company, says that not only has that cost the economy R2bn a week in growth and much more in excise taxes, but that it hasn’t has much effect at all on hospitals, which according to the government the bans were implemented to protect. The research is explosive. The 60 per cent drop in trauma at South African hospitals matches similar trauma unit statistics from all over the world during other lockdowns. They neither the UK (down 57%), Italy (-57%) to the US (-54%) banned the sale of alcohol. So why us? Listen to the latest edition of Podcasts from the Edge with Peter Bruce as he talks to Ian McGorian, who did the research, and to SA Liquor Brand Owners Association chair Sibani Mngado to try and unpack the slippery thinking that drives the huge and influential anti-alcohol lobby in South Africa and inside its government, which should perhaps know better.

Without Graeme Smith our cricketing future is bleak

Can South Africa’s cricket team, just ten years ago number one in the world, come back from what is clearly a major slump? Are Temba Bavuma and Dean Elgar, new captain’s of the men’s short and test forms of the game good enough to take us back to the top? Can anything be done about the administrations of the game and has the involvements of sports minister Nathi Mthetwa done more good than harm? In this edition of Podcasts from the Edge Peter Bruce talks to leading cricket commentator and writer Neil Manthorp about his impressions of the game and where we stand. If anything emerges from this conversation it is how central CSA director of cricket and former Proteas captain Graham Smith is to the future. He is the only administrator anyone else in the world knows, explains Manthorpe. His contacts and phonebook are priceless and he is uniquely placed to bring us into competition with the world’s top teams again.

Man bites dog: The political news in SA

Nothing is harder to divine in South Africa right now than what true true “balance of forces” are inside the ruling African National Congress. Put another way, who is in charge, the cowboys or the crooks? You can make a plausible case for secretary General Ace Magashule being poised to remove, or begin to move, President Cyril Ramaphosa from power or that Ramaphosa is wholly untroubled by Magashule and will easily see a second term in office. I this edition of Podcasts from the Edge, Peter Bruce talks to veteran political editor and now Financial Mail Deputy Editor Natasha Marrian and asks which way she thinks the currents inside the ANC wetlands are slowly moving.

Like all smart political watchers, Marrian hedges her bets but, for now, reckons Ramaphosa has got the better of the Radical Economic Transformation (or RET) faction. “Have a look at what ANC voting block has been to visit Jacob Zuma at Nkandla recently,” she suggests. The Women’s League, and they would, wouldn’t they? This entertaining and wide-ranging discussion looks at the roadblocks Ramaphosa has to drive through this year…

Getting, farming and land right, once and for all

In the latest edition of his Podcasts From The Edge, Peter Bruce speaks to widely-celebrated agricultural economist and government advisor Wandile Sihlobo about South African success in farming, and how that might be built on. We’ve become the second largest citrus exporter in the world. Can we do more of that? When it comes to sorting out deep rural SA, says Sihlobo, both in farming and in local government, “it might not be a bad idea” to no look back to methods the Old Regime used to use that worked.

Scrapping for Steel

Doron Barnes has been fighting for steel for as long as he can remember. When he and his dad were running Barnes Fencing two decades ago he was fighting Arcelor Mittal for steel rod to make wire from. Now he’s the owner and boss of Scaw Metals, one of South Africa’s biggest steel suppliers, and he’s still fighting his corner. This time he’s taken on the scrap metals industry and, as he did with Mittal back then, he’s won again as the government puts a raft of regulations in place to keep quality scrap in the country and to clamp down on exports. Some might argue state regulation distorts the market but Barnes isn’t phased. He melts his own steel in arc furnaces and as far as the scrap industry is concerned, he’s just doing what he has to do.

Paper Cuts from the Pink ‘Un

Podcasts from the Edge this week sees Peter Bruce talk to former Financial Times Editor Lionel Barber about his new book “The Powerful and the Damned — Private Diaries in Turbulent Times” now widely available in South Africa. The two talk about life in a newsprint newsroom, going full speed for digital subscriptions, the prospect of Donald Trump returning in four year’s time and what it feels like to talk to Vladimir Putin (its creepy). Barber was FT editor for 14 years and, always, only one thing matters. “I want to win,” he says of his everyday driving passion. “I’m more competitive than the Springboks.”

23 episodes

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