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The View From Afar

Western media, specifically the British press, are notorious for attitudes that are (at best) patronising when directed at Africa. But is there still truth to this perception? Is South Africa really regarded as backward by the UK’s great newspapers?

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In early June I got a call from Richard Lapper, the recently appointed Johannesburg correspondent for the Financial Times. Lapper, a British citizen, said he’d heard about my book Ways of Staying – specifically, he told me, he’d heard that the book dealt with the question of middle-class South African emigration, a subject he was interested in learning more about.

We arranged a meeting for the following afternoon, and I opened the discussion by correcting Lapper’s misconception. “As the book’s title suggests,” I said, “it’s more about how people stay than why they leave.” This then led into a broad discussion on leftist politics, societal inequalities and the responsibilities of the privileged. Eventually, as we were calling for the bill, Lapper told me that he’d come to South Africa from Brazil, where for many years he was the FT’s Latin American editor.

“I published a piece a few weeks ago called ‘Zuma should learn from Lula’,” he said. “You may want to read it.”

I did exactly that as soon as I got home. Happily, the piece was anything but the sort of one-dimensional, ill-conceived hatchet job that many of us have come to expect from foreign journalists writing about South Africa.

In 2002, began Lapper, shortly before Lula da Silva became president of Brazil, the country’s elite were in a panic. A common refrain was: “[Lula] is going to win the election…so the crisis is going to get much bigger and soon.” Obviously, Lapper’s hook was that the same was being said of Zuma in the months before the South African elections of April 2009. What moral lessons, if any, can be drawn from these two examples? Given the clear differences in outlook between Lapper and Jenkins, there’s an inclination to argue that what we’re dealing with here is balancing extremes – a simple case of losing on the swings and winning on the roundabouts. But unfortunately, as suggested above, Lapper is more than an “extreme”. The FT correspondent is an exception.

Western media’s default stance on Africa – and within the purview of Western media, South Africa is hardly ever assessed independently of the continent – remains as predictable as ever: we’re dark, dangerous, intractable, backward. A cursory glance at most of the world’s mainstream news networks, newspapers and news websites is enough to confirm this enduring fact. Still, if further proof is needed, one can always interrogate the perceptions of those journalists who write about African countries without ever having actually visited them. Take Louise Taylor, for instance, “north-east football correspondent” for the UK’s Guardian, the same leftist-intellectual institution that publishes Jenkins.

In early July, Taylor wrote a “sportsblog” for her newspaper under the header “Why going to South Africa for the World Cup terrifies me”. Her article, which attracted 740 online comments, many of them from irate South Africans, opened with a quote from a travel brochure on the country’s physical beauty. In paragraph three, Taylor hit her theme: “I’ve never been but would love to take a typical Cape Town/Garden Route-type holiday. What I would definitely balk at, though, is touring as a fan at next year’s World Cup – an event, with the final 12 months away, we are counting down to. Indeed, having done a bit of research on the subject, I know I’d be absolutely terrified…”

Why, you ask? Well, South Africa’s murder, rape and robbery stats are easily available to anyone with an Internet browser, and quite rightly Taylor cites them all. She also cites the apparent lack of safe public transport and the fact that the world’s biggest security firm, G4S, has declined to work at the 2010 tournament. Likewise, fair enough. But then she continues with a strange piece of attribution, borrowed from a co-journalist named Gabriele Marcotti, who, unlike her, had been to South Africa – for the Confederations Cup, in fact – and so clearly knew what he was talking about. “Marcotti wrote of some long, unpleasant drives in the dark after covering matches. Commenting on the lack of dual carriageways and lit highways in certain areas, he described negotiating one road heading towards Jo’burg as ‘like snorkelling in a sewer filled with squid ink’. Shortly afterwards came the sad news that a German journalist had been killed in a car accident while driving to a Confederations Cup match.”

What we are presumably to take from this is that there are no road accidents or unlit roads in Germany, right? But wait, there’s more. Taylor’s pièce de résistance is reserved for the end, where she shares her belief that if World Cup 2010 really had to go to Africa, Egypt would have been the ideal choice. Her logic? No crime, of course. And also this: “Surely if the Egyptians could build the pyramids they could host a World Cup.” The best response came from a punter in the comments section, who said that maybe we should host 2010 in Babylon, because hey, they built excellent gardens.

Yet Lula, a man from an underprivileged background who was once a trade union leader and founder of a major leftwing party, went on to steer Brazil towards a period of relative economic prosperity. He did this, Lapper observed, while focusing on the plight of the poor and steadily expanding his country’s social welfare network. Lapper concluded: “In Brazil Mr Lula da Silva was able to use his ‘man of the people’ image to contain expectations of overnight change, and persuade supporters to stick with him for the long haul. It is a trick that Mr Zuma could repeat.”

Notwithstanding the protests and strikes that would grip South Africa some two months later, it was an important and incisive article, notable as much for the pragmatic perspective it offered its influential readership as it was for its undeniable rarity. Because who could forget what had only seven weeks before been published in the Guardian, that proud bastion of British liberalist thought?

Written by popular columnist Simon Jenkins, the now-infamous piece began thus: “As I basked in the epic view of Table Mountain, with the sun sinking gently across the world’s most gloriously sited city, I could not resist the old Afrikaner cliché that this was God’s own country. ‘Yes,’ replied a friend wearily, ‘and He is about to give us a criminal and a rapist as president. Big deal.’ Those dealing with South Africa must probably get used to Jacob Zuma’s style of government, morally contaminated, administratively chaotic and corrupt.” Zuma, of course, wasted no time in suing the Guardian for defamation. The South African president won his case on 30 July – when an acceptable settlement was reached in the United Kingdom High Court of Justice Queen’s bench division.

To be fair, while Taylor and Jenkins are symbolic of a dominant and deep-seated Western media bias, a handful of the foreign correspondents based full-time in South Africa seem well aware of the Eurocentric prejudices they work within, and some make every effort to inject subtlety and nuance into their reports. Like his predecessor at the FT Alec Russell, Lapper seems to understand that large investment decisions may well hinge on what he writes, and so not only must he be accurate and balanced on the economic issues, but as importantly, he must strive to reflect the wider socio-political context as well.

The same could once be said of Chris McGreal, the former southern African correspondent for the Guardian, even if it couldn’t always be said of his colleagues in London. And David Smith, McGreal’s replacement, so far seems intent on making amends for the Guardian’s recent embarrassments – his few pieces on South Africa have shown an uncanny understanding of our inherent contradictions, particularly those illogical cracks that are now starting to show in the president himself.

“On Wednesday [22 July],” wrote Smith in late July, “as youths fought running battles with police in Siyathemba township (near Johannesburg), jobless people marched and looted shops in Durban, and residents of Pilisi Farm informal settlement barricaded a highway with burning tyres and stoned passing cars, Zuma was at the Union Buildings with Sir Richard Branson. It was not, in fairness, a publicity stunt for the tireless entrepreneur’s Virgin Atlantic, but rather the joint announcement of a disease control centre for South Africa.

“At the press conference, however, Zuma refused to answer questions about the service delivery protests.” The task of foreign correspondents, of course, is not to paint rosy pictures; yet neither is it to inform by sensationalism and degradation and the peddling of harmful myths. If Zuma is indeed to get through his challenges and emerge as a Lula, at least we have two correspondents who are equal to the telling.

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Business Landscape

How Schindlers Attorneys Became Involved In The Landmark Cannabis Case

Everything you accomplish accumulates and eventually comes back to assist you further along in your career. This is how a final year LLB assignment became the basis for a Constitutional Court case.

Nicole Crampton

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Schindlers Attorneys are the law firm that were involved in the landmark Constitutional Court judgement on cannabis use within a private space. Paul-Michael Keichel, Partner at Schindlers Attorneys shares how they came to be the foremost legal experts on cannabis and how they became involved in the Constitutional Court case:

How the journey began

“In 2005, my first year at Rhodes University, whilst studying for Intro to Law, it occurred to me that there were strong constitutional points that could be raised to objectively justify the decriminalisation of cannabis in South Africa,” explains Paul-Michael Keichel.

“In my final year LLB, 2009, I took Constitutional Litigation as an elective (largely motivated by the creation of a timetable clash, which meant that I’d not have to sit another semester of lectures for a module that I had failed the previous year). This provided me with the opportunity to write an assignment titled “A Critical Analysis of Prince and an Objective Justification for the Decriminalisation of Marijuana in South Africa”, in which I composed my argument (based on the right to equality in our Constitution).”

Related: 7 Top Lessons You Can Learn From The US Cannabis Market

The start of the partnership

“Fast forward to 2013 and the Dagga Couple find themselves at Schindlers (where I am a first-year associate) to register their NPC, “Fields of Green for All”. The attorney handling the registration (who I’d also bored with my argument) suggests to the Dagga Couple that they speak to me. It turns out that they already knew of me, because my assignment had (unbeknownst to me) done the rounds on the underground cannabis networks. We get chatting and I rope-in my brother, Maurice Crespi, the managing partner of Schindlers,” explains Keichel.

“We are the only firm out of many approached by the Couple who are willing to take on their trial action against 7 state departments and Doctors for Life to push for a declaration of constitutional invalidity of the laws prohibiting cannabis use/possession/dealing in South Africa. We decide to run the challenge for them pro bono.”

The Cape ruling that started it all

“Prince and Acton et al have their matter heard in the Cape, which resulted in the 2017 Judgment. We run a portion of our trial (including expert evidence from international scientists and doctors – the best in field), but it is rendered part-heard. We then heard that Prince and Acton et al’s matter will be heard by the Constitutional Court in November 2017 and we decide, with the Dagga Couple, to intervene in that matter, upon which it is confirmed that my 2009 assignment forms the on-record basis of a major chunk of Prince and Acton et al’s arguments in support of legalisation.”

“Our involvement in the Constitutional Court was such that we provided clear legal argument and authority to support and expand upon what Prince and Acton et al were trying to say to the Court. Ultimately, much of what we submitted has found its way into the judgment of the Constitutional Court.”

Related: 10 Cannabis Business Opportunities You Can Start From Home

How a final assignment became the foundation for a Constitutional Court case

“So, an idea (bolstered by wanting to create a timetable clash) resulted in an assignment, which provided certain credibility and impetus to cannabis activists. Two of these activists ended up being our clients, which, despite being handled pro bono, has brought Schindlers immeasurable positive publicity, and which, ultimately, contributed to the decriminalisation (and potential future legalisation and commercialisation) of cannabis in our country.”

“Schindlers now has a dedicated “Medicinal and Recreational Cannabis Law” department, through which we will continue to make submissions to parliament, apply for licenses on behalf of our clients, support those who have been arrested and charged.”

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Business Landscape

6 Ways To Win A Better Deal

Be proactive not reactive by working through these six critical elements of your strategy.

Andrew Bahlmann

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By far, the majority of our clients start the journey of selling their business by working on a very reactive basis. Most business owners going to market say they just want to ‘see what happens’.  But this means you are starting the process on the back foot.

This approach automatically takes the control of the business sale out of your hands and puts it into the hands of the market. Keeping control is a critical element in selling your business for maximum value.

Letting the market tell you what they think about your business and what they want from you means that straight away the acquirers set the hoops that you need to jump through.

They tell you what they want. Any engagement is on their terms.

You have not defined terms or standards to use as a yardstick for what the market is saying. So you are much more likely to find yourself boxed into a corner, forced into the role of price taker rather than price maker.

Taking the time to define your ‘go to market’ strategy is a critical factor in achieving success for yourself, what you want for your business and how the market aligns to this.

Be proactive not reactive by working through these six critical elements of your strategy:

1. Define your non-negotiables

We all have certain non-negotiables in our lives and you must think through those that you want to apply to the sale of your business.

Spend quality time working out what your personal and business non-negotiables are. Then make sure that they feature prominently in your deal strategy. Examples could be:

  • I am prepared to stay on for only 18 months after the sale conclusion.
  • My staff need to be looked after as they have been with me for 20 years and are like family.
  • I want to sell 100% of my shareholding on Day 1.
  • I am not prepared to warrant future profits.

When you start out on the selling journey, this list will probably be a lot longer. Usually, it will reduce as you travel further and further down this road but you may even add new non-negotiables once you climb into the trenches and take control of the process.

Don’t be shy about presenting your list of non-negotiables to prospective buyers. They will certainly be putting forward their own list as well.

Related: Savvy Business Sale Spells New Life

2. How ready and committed are you to sell your business?

Selling your business is one of the biggest decisions that you will take in your life. It is an emotional rollercoaster. You will face more questions than answers as you progress down this road. Nobody can ever be 100% ready but you can help yourself prepare as much as possible by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do I know what my business is worth?
  • Is my business ready for acquirers to see?
  • Am I ready to let go of my business?
  • Can my business run without me?
  • What makes my business attractive and enticing to an acquirer?
  • Do I have the time and skills to embark on selling my business myself?

As you work through these questions, a whole host of other questions will probably occur to you. Be decisive, objective and critical in asking and answering all these questions.

3. Put a plan together

Like any other business or strategy implementation, selling your business is a project. All projects need a plan of the objectives, timing, resources and risks required to succeed.

Selling your business is by far one of the most important projects that you will ever drive and also one with the least room for error. Your planning cannot control the biggest variable of all – how the market will react to your business. But being as well prepared as possible will help you cope with this.

4.  The market wants a serious seller

The way that your business and personal brands show up in the exit process is critical. Buying or selling a business is a very time-consuming process, with both seller and acquirer committing quantities of effort, energy and resources.

The market therefore wants to deal with a committed and serious seller. Any business owner just dipping his/her toe into the water to see what happens will frustrate them and potentially damage future transactions if that toe is removed from that water.

Related: When Is The Right Time To Sell Your Business?

5. Be ready for the experts

You are brilliant at running your own business, which is why you are considering selling it for maximum value. The acquirers on the other side of the table are, of course, also experts at what they do and how they do it.

Expect them to speak a different corporate language, exude negotiation and transaction skills and have mastered the ability to control the transaction. If you do not have a strategy or blueprint to default to when the heat gets too high, you will lose your way and could be blindsided into the wrong transaction.

6. Bring it all together

Work through the various steps identified above and craft your deal strategy. Let this framework be your compass during the transaction.

Always lean on it when there are too many variables being thrown at you. Having your strategy is the first step. Sticking to it will be your biggest test when the pressure is on.

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Business Landscape

Hooked On Ethics

The business that puts ethics at the forefront of its culture is the one that will shine in a landscape littered with dishonest behaviour.

Howard Feldman

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There is significant research into how the work environment influences ethical behaviour. Study after study has shown how the ethical values upheld by management filter down to all employees, affecting behaviour and business practice. The biggest influence on a person’s ethics is their environment. In South Africa, the after effects of the recent political regime continue to shake both country and citizen. Corruption has seeped into almost every part of the government and in some of the country’s most prominent private organisations.

The old saying that the ‘fish rots from the head’ has never been truer, nor more obvious.

The ethical dilemma

The reality is that the government’s flagrant disregard for ethics saw corruption become a part of everyday life. This makes almost everyone ask themselves questions like – why should I pay X utility bill? Why should I pay my TV license? The money is being clearly used fraudulently. Sure, it is the law, but leadership has proven that ethical behaviour isn’t rewarded or recognised.

But it is. The value of building an ethical business and upholding a culture that promotes honesty and integrity cannot be understated.

Related: Developing Your Business’s Ethics Policy

Here are five reasons why…

  1. Those who skirt the edges of ethics almost always get caught.  There has been a steady shift in the country’s moral compass as leadership has taken a far stronger stance on rooting out corruption and already some of the country’s biggest names have been found guilty. KPMG, McKinsey, Bell Pottinger and SAP have all had their names tarnished by the scandals that have rocked the country.
  2. Employees are more engaged and better behaved. A weak ethical culture filters down from the top, influencing behaviour and attitudes. If employees feel that they can get away with bad behaviour that benefits them, or if they feel that their environment encourages this, then they will.
  3. A strong ethical influence will dictate how employees treat customers and one another. If your company enforces and rewards honesty and integrity, then these will be the qualities that clients will perceive. Their lack may also see you lose market share and your reputation.
  4. Like attracts like. If you create a culture that rewards employees that work all hours, deliver the goods and commit themselves then you will attract more people with these qualities. The same applies in reverse – reward bad behaviour and the results will rapidly speak for themselves.
  5. Your business reputation. Trust can’t be bought. It is hard won and easily lost. If you lose your reputation then it is very unlikely you will win it back and it will follow you for the rest of your life. The same applies to your staff. If their behaviour is questionable it could damage your company. Make sure you set the rules of what is or is not tolerated by your company culture and consider investing into ethics courses that allow your teams to stay ahead of the curve.

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