SA is

If you’re reading this in the dead tree version of Business Day, and that is the version you prefer, there is a good chance the word Twitter will evoke an inward groan. Everybody seems to be talking about it, people are telling you you need to do it, but to the extent  you can get your head around it, the whole thing seems, well, somewhere between silly and unseemly, not to mention an enormous waste of time. A brain-suck, to use a current American phrase.

I would urge you to reconsider, especially if you have something nice to say about South Africa in 140 characters or less. In that case, your country needs you to sign up for a Twitter account. This can be done from any Internet-connected computer and will take less time than a round of solitaire.

Then you can start communicating with the world.  Tell it what you think about South Africa, being always sure to include in the message the code #SAis. This is known in twitter-speak as a hashtag. What it does is permit visitors to to locate your thoughts on South Africa via a simple search.  The search will turn up not just your insights but a constantly updated compendium of the wisdom of everyone else who has used the #SAis hashtag. The compendium can be inserted as a feed onto any website, blog or Facebook page, multiplying its visibility. Continue reading “SA is”



Aad Kieboom, a Dutch economist consulting on the expansion of Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, not long ago decided  the time had come to solve the problem of accuracy in men’s rooms. His solution was to improve patrons’ aim by having flies etched inside the urinals as a target. In trials, the flies were found to reduce splatter by 80%.

Kieboom’s etchings are what  Cass Sunstein and Edward Thaler call a nudge in their book of the same name.  Thaler, a behavioural economist, and Sunstein, a legal scholar, were until last year colleagues at the University of Chicago.  Sunstein, after a brief detour to Harvard, was recently appointed by another former colleague from Chicago, President Barack Obama, to run the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. There, he oversees the flow of information from, into and within government and the crafting of federal regulations. Directors of OIRA have seldom been household names; Sunstein may prove the exception.

He first came onto my radar when he presented at a June 1992 conference in Washington on constitutional options for post apartheid South Africa. I forget his exact thrust that day. What I do know is that he became a great admirer of the constitution South Africans did finally work out for themselves. Continue reading “Nudges”


Early one Sunday morning, half a lifetime ago, when I was living in a still borderline neighbourhood of Washington’s Capitol Hill, the doorbell rang. It was a young man dressed for church. He said he needed five dollars for the collection plate. To get it, he had taken hostage my freshly delivered copy of the New York Times. I regret to admit I paid the ransom.

Such blackmail would not work today. The New York Times is still an essential part of my Sunday but it arrives in too many forms to be intercepted by a shakedown artist. I can read it on my PC, my  laptop, my cell phone, and this week at least on the Kindle e-book viewer the kind folks at, the giant online retailer, have lent me to review.

The Kindle lets you read books, magazine and newspapers bought from Amazon. Available only in the US at this stage, the device is about a centimetre thick and has the footprint of a full-size Moleskin notebook. A larger version has been announced. The screen of the present model is the size of the smaller Moleskin and renders text with the sharpness and quality of a printed page. Like a printed page, it requires external illumination but is readable and all but free of glare from any angle.  It is very easy on the eye, though less so, at $359 (R3 100), on the wallet. Continue reading “Kindle”


Back when I was a member of the Fourth Estate, I was always quite happy to bite any hand that fed me. If you offered me an expense paid trip, I would generally have no compunction about taking it, but you had better be prepared to count your fingers when I wrote it up.

When I mentioned this the other day to Steve Goff, the Washington Post’s soccer correspondent/blogger, he sounded quite appalled.  What shocked him was not my capacity for ingratitude when calling things as I saw them, but that I would have ever dreamt of accepting a freebie in the first place.

Our conversation, at this stage being conducted, with epithets, via e-mail, had begun more decorously at Washington’s National Press Club to which we had repaired as lunch guests of South African Tourism to hear Lucas Radebe talk about South Africa’s preparations for 2010. Continue reading “Sanctimony”


Recently in this space I wondered whether it was really in South Africa’s interest to make another trek into the weeds of wat verby is for the purpose of extracting money from foreign firms that may have aided and abetted apartheid crimes. That is where cases now before a federal court in New York are taking us.

Here is a journey of whose value I am much more certain. As soon as the opportunity presents itself, go and see the movie Skin, now winning acclaim on the international festival circuit and scheduled for release in the UK in June,  the US in August. Hopefully, you won’t have to travel that far but it rather depends on Ster-Kinekor which seems to be having trouble making up its mind.

Skin tells the true story of Sandra Laing, born in 1955 to Abraham and Sannie Laing, an Afrikaner couple from Piet Retief, he of German stock and she of Dutch, more or less. Somewhere along the line, their gene pools picked up a little indigenous DNA which, as if to present a raised middle finger to the social engineers of apartheid, blossomed forth in Sandra. Continue reading “Skin”