I went into my local supermarket a last week, and lo and behold, Christmas is here!
The aisles were full of chocolates, tins of Christmas biscuits, fruit cakes and an array of hard teeth-breaking children’s sweets that are meant to fill Santa’s stocking.
Now, I know I don’t want to sound like Scrooge, but it seems that every year the commercialization of Christmas gets earlier and earlier.
And it’s not just Yuletide, but also Halloween, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and all those other days in the year that really shouldn’t be hard on your wallet but sometimes are.
This year, again, the South African Savings Institute is due to launch its yearly plea to citizens to not overspend and get into worse debt over the festive season.
But do consumers listen?
My questions are: does all this early, in-your-face Christmas branding make you want to start buying gifts and food now? Or are you going to spend more wisely this Christmas?
There has been a bit of a tit-for-tat war going on in the South African press between two outspoken men.
One, Kenny Kunene, a nightclub owner, held a lavish 40th birthday party recently, during which sushi was reportedly served on the bodies of half-naked women and guests drank expensive imported whisky and champagne.
Leading government and African National Congress leaders attended the party, according to press reports. Other newspapers show photos of the flamboyant Kunene standing in front of his expensive sports car, which has “So What” written on the number plates.
This kind of in-your-face conspicuous consumption has “sickened” the main labur union leader, COSATU’s Zwelinzima Vavi, who says this kind of behavior from the new black elite sets a bad example and insults the poor of South Africa.
Kunene says he spent more than $100,000 on the one-night bash - in a country where unemployment is rife and many families struggle to put food on the table.
My question is - how much “bling” is too much? Are African high rollers judged more harshly than, say, big-spending Russian oligarchs? Or is Vavi correct in saying that South Africa’s rich should be more circumspect with their wealth?
I was sitting staring out the big windows in my 15th floor office, looking at the Johannesburg skyline and admiring the bursts of purple Jacaranda trees dotting the cityscape when my phone rang.
It was Chris Karanja, who is corporate communications manager from Kenya Airways. He phoned to point out that one of the recent interviewees on Marketplace Africa misrepresented the airline industry in Africa. The guest said that you couldn’t fly across Africa from west to east or east to west and that if you wanted to travel across Africa you would have to fly to Europe and back.
I couldn't help it! But I just had to do another story about South Africa's wine industry. As someone said to me on twitter recently, I am starting to sound like I cover the "wine beat," which doesn't sound like a bad thing to me!
Besides the quaffing benefits, I also think South Africa's wine industry is an important business story that perhaps doesn't get enough attention, what with all the calls for nationalizing mines and public service strikes.
Many South Africans seem to forget the wine industry is a major contributor to the GDP and provides direct employment to more than 250,000 people.
Even though there are huge opportunities for the industry to grow, South Africa's wine makers are struggling. There are a number of reasons for the hangover.
Locally, more South Africans drink beer or whisky than wine. Internationally, the strong SA currency means wine farmers are getting less for their wines in overseas markets.
Wine consultants, like Emile Joubert, are also critical of industry bodies who insist on trying to market South African wines to the United Kingdom, which is over-saturated with cheap, good wines from all over the world.
So, he says, the English supermarkets and wine buyers are "Killing us for price. We are selling wine cheaper there than what it takes farmers here to produce it."
It begs the question why South African wine producers don't look to sell their delicious wine to China, India and, more importantly, the rest of Africa?
So my question is: do you think South Africa's wine industry has missed opportunities to market its product globally?
All of you fellow Africans out there - do you buy Portuguese, Italian or French wines rather than South African wines? Are enough premium South African wines even sold in your countries?
There are many theories about why Africa has been left behind economically, and the debate often degenerates into a blame game.
Colonialism is at fault, say some. A cycle of victimhood is entrenched by a culture of dependency on aid, say others.
Many say Africa has been shut out of markets and denied the means to compete on a level playing field.
The latest addition to the debate comes from a South African academic, Greg Mills, who has written a book called “Why Africa is Poor: And What Africans Can Do About It.”
He argues Africa is poor because “Africa’s leaders have made this choice.” It’s a controversial angle, but the basic premise that poor leadership has steered generations of African countries down the path to poverty is not new.
All of us who live in Africa can name leaders – from presidents to local municipal workers – who have made their communities poorer. It's not just the Mugabes or Mobutus of this continent who have shattered Africa’s promise, it is the often nameless, mid-level workers whose corrupt or incompetent actions result in schoolchildren not getting books, for example.
We interview Greg on Marketplace Africa this week, so watch the interview for more of his analysis.
However, I wanted to know from you: why do you think many parts of Africa have not realized their potential after more than 50 years of independence?
What is the secret formula? Is there one?
Morgan Tsvangirai, the prime minister and leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, has said that he would rather be “occupying space than throwing stones from outside.”
However, Tsvangirai has been criticized, even from within his own party, for compromising too much in order to “occupy” some of Zimbabwe’s political space. His party, the MDC, have been in a coalition government with Robert Mugabe’s ZANU PF for the past two years, but key points in the 'power-sharing agreement' have still not been implemented.
Sticking points are the new constitution, targeted Western sanctions and the timing of new elections, among other issues.
Many worry that the MDC is a 'junior member' in the coalition and that Robert Mugabe has outmaneuvered Tsvangirai and his party.
Tsvangirai denied this when I put it to him in an interview. He said he shared equal executive power with Mugabe. He also stressed that Zimbabwe was a far more stable country since 2008 and, with that in mind, he is trying to drum up foreign investment to help boost the country’s fragile economy.
So the questions I have are: Would you invest in Zimbabwe? Do you agree with Tsvangirai that it’s better to be inside government, working for change from within? Or do you think he has 'sold-out?'
The strike that crippled South Africa’s hospitals and schools is no longer in the headlines, but it’s not over yet.
The public servants strike was suspended after three weeks of teachers, nurses and hospital workers staying away from work.
There is no resolution yet to the pay dispute, just a limbo of uncertainties as unions say they are working out a draft wage agreement with the government.
The unions say they have won a victory because the government failed to crush the strike, but in reality the biggest losers were the striking workers, say economists.
Although South Africans have a constitutional right to strike, they do so with a no work, no pay caveat, so after nearly 20 days on the picket line many of the strikers were much worse off financially than they were before the strike.
Economists calculate that striking teachers and nurses have lost about 5% of their annual salary.
Do you think it was worth it?
Are you a wine snob? Will you only drink your vino out of a glass bottle with a firmly sealed cork? Or have you already been converted by the nifty screw tops that seem to be on just about every bottle of Australian and New Zealand white, and many South African bottles of wine?
The reason I ask is because CNN recently spent time in Stellenbosch, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world, by the way. I profiled a well-known South African wine estate about their initiative to sell some of their wine in plastic PET bottles.
Backsberg Estate say that plastic bottled wine is more environmentally friendly, because you save substantially on transport costs and it’s easier to recycle. This is because a plastic bottle is smaller than a glass bottle so you fit more into a container and when it’s finished you can squash it up and so waste removal costs are also cheaper, says the winery’s marketing manager Simon Back.
They are also emphatic that it’s not their ‘plonk’ or cheap wine going into these bottles – but a decent tipple from their acclaimed vineyards. Its brand name is ‘Tread Lightly.’
So would you tread lightly when it comes to a plastic bottle of wine? Would you give it a try on your next boating or camping trip (it weighs much less that a glass bottle of wine).
Do the environmental and convenience factors matter when you buy a bottle of wine? Or would you rather have the familiar heaviness of a glass bottle of wine and the pop of a cork?
The South African government has increased its offer to striking public sector workers, in the latest effort to end a walkout that has crippled hospitals and schools across the country.
After repeatedly saying the country could not afford to increase wages to the levels demanded by the unions, the government has now increased its offer from 7 to 7.5 percent, which is nearly double the inflation rate – but less than the 8.6 percent rise unions have demanded.
The government has argued that the money spent on giving public servants wage increases could be used to create jobs, build more houses and help South Africa's poor.
The striking workers, who include teachers and nurses, contend that they are a critical part of South Africa's work force and that they are not earning a living wage.
Is the decision to offer a 7.5 percent increase the right one? Can you see a better way to resolve this dispute? I'd like to hear your views.
Running your own company is hard work. So is running a family. So many parents try to juggle both, struggling to manage their careers and ensure their children are happy.
As a working mother, I have huge respect for anyone trying to manage the demands of work and family: Trying to achieve a "balance" between both aspects of your life is always hard.
Every working parent figures out by trial and error what works for them.
If you have your own business, it’s easier, in a way, to juggle the demands of school pickups and sick kids. That is according to one working mom, Kirsten Goss, who runs a jewellery design business from her hometown of Durban.
She has a shop in Kensington, London selling her beautiful pieces of jewellery, which are all made in her studio in Durban. Besides sourcing stones, designing necklaces and earrings, managing staff and travelling to London once a month, Kirsten also cares for her two young children.
So what are her tips for a happier working parent?
Location helps. We spent some time recently profiling Kirsten Goss for a story on Marketplace Africa and there is no doubt that a smaller town like the port city of Durban, with its warmer weather and simple outdoor lifestyle, helps.
She says she would not be able to manage her crazy juggling act between work and parenthood in a busy, urban, expensive town like London.
Having an understanding spouse also helps, she says.
You also need a capacity to be in two places at the same time - a superhuman ability that every mommy know all too well!
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