Thursday, October 25, 2007

A new continent: Africa, starting with Johannesburg

Aside – India’s Resilient Economy according to McKinsey
Apparently, according to a McKinsey study written about in Newsweek, India’s economy is much more resilient than China’s in the event of a global economic slowdown because rather than profiting from exports, they have been driven by domestic demand. The article says the Indian weakness in not being able to challenge the Chinese manufacturing juggernaut has become a strength, relatively high costs of borrowing (c.f. China’s often near-zero rates) mean that no one has invested in infrastructure! Hurrah! Their lower rates of investment relative to GDP have meant greater consumption. Conversely, their reasonable saving rates have meant people putting away their earnings (I’m sure this statement doesn’t apply to 99% of people living below the breadline), compared with China where rates have driven people into high-yield and risky investments.

However! I don’t agree with the general surmise of the article, which is, to interpret it in another way, because India’s money has been filling the pockets of the upper echelons of society only, they will not be affected by a downturn in exports because they don’t have capabilities in this field. The article suggests that India may invest in manufacturing and become the China of today. Not if the global downtown the article predicts occurs. Plus if India hasn’t invested in manufacturing until now, why would they change? The poverty gap in China has been reduced massively in the last ten years according to a recent UN study (1/3 in 1990 down to 10% today). I’d be very interested to see equivalent numbers for India. China is surging ahead because they aren’t just investing in private jets and high-rise condos for the few, they are building a country which has the infrastructure to continue to continue to own the world.

The services industry took off in India faster because of language skills there. All other considerations are stacked against the country – I know having been involved in my former company’s offshore setup project - even in the most developed areas one can expect power to be out 30% of the day, and the two carriers provide such unreliable connections that in addition to having multiple redundant lines coming into your building, it’s best to have satellite and microwave backups too for when the inevitable happens. When your CEO arrives at the filthy cramped airport (Delhi, Mumbai) and catches a taxi that is 50 years old with holes in the floor along the dirt tracks that run through Delhi and Gurgeon, will he still be thinking “this is a place to do business”? As Stu said a couple of years ago, just watch when China moves into the service industry.

Of course, this won’t be a problem for the upper echelons of India’s society, who have pocketed all the cash from today and are mobile – moving to the US or UK when they realise that the third world country they have been uninterested in developing is still just that – third world. The way to change this of course is to improve relations between China and India such that China starts buying India for the mineral resources like they are doing for the rest of the world!

As a footnote, what are the top stories for the two countries respectively at this very moment? China: Congress has set Hu Jintao’s priorities to write environmental concerns into their legislative charters. India: The Deputy Prime Minister of Delhi has died after being attacked by a gang on monkeys on the street.

HKG to JNB with Cathay
The flight is okay. We don’t have true flat beds, as Cathay don’t switch to 747s until next week, dammit! It’s fairly full in Business Class, but the staff are very good. I watch Su Zhou River on my laptop, then try to write my blog, which sends me immediately to sleep (you thought it was just you, dear reader?!). We arrive and I step off the plane almost to the second, how do Cathay do it?! Johannesburg airport is modern, and the black people everywhere makes me feel like I’m home in London!

At immigration, the lady asks me how long I will stay here. I’m not sure to be honest, perhaps 2 months?! She gives me a three month stamp. One blank page left in my passport. I’ll try to renew it here. Coming out, my taxi man doesn’t seem to be here, so I have time to use the ATM before he appears, and drives me in his Merc to my hostel. It’s not cheap to taxi to and fro the airport, but given the talk about Jo’berg being dangerous, and me not knowing what I’m doing, I thought it was the sensible thing to do.

As we drive along, the chap tells me the names of places, many English – Hyde Park, Croydon etc! Finally he arrives at the Africa’s Zoo Lodge, and beeps his horn at the large gate.

The Zoo Lodge

After a minute, some eyes look out of a small peep-hole, then the gate opens. I meet the boss Bushy, Alfred, Judith and everyone else. Alfred takes me to my small but fine room, with its soft bed, then gives me a tour of the hostel. It has an inside living room and bar room with pool table. Kitchen, then at the back a pool with garden and second bar.

Bushy tells me that they’re planning to have a braai (barbeque) in the evening out back. Great!

I wander out to the left to Dunkeld shopping mall for meat and booze. The security in this area is ridiculous, with all places boasting high gates, electric fences, barbed wire, signs advertising armed response protection, all of this makes me feel far more nervous than I would otherwise.

At the butchers I pick up some lazy aged spiced sirloin, and some spicy sausage wore (boerewore). For booze, they’re selling Windhoek lager in 24 bottle packs, though I worry that my pack will break with the weight!

There’s a rasta bloke on corner, we talk briefly, and he tells me people call him Rasfabulous. He’s selling green Springbok tops, which are flying off as people pull up in cars and buy them. Previously regarded as white only, with blacks following football, rugby has become more unified, and it seems like the whole country is behind the team.

Interestingly, one of the main ways of travelling about in Jo’berg, or Jozi as it’s known locally, is by small minibuses which seem to ply all main routes, and are always full of people. Now, the way to hail these buses is not simple. They’re not labelled, and don’t have a fixed stop, and yelling in Zulu will not get you anywhere. You wait at a junction, and hold out your hand, displaying some sort of fingered sign depending on where you want to go. Apparently there are about 60 different signs, and the same sign can mean different things on different routes or even different sides of the road! Apparently the only universally-understood symbol is to “go local”, when one rolls the hand into a fist, points it down at the ground with your index finger. This means you want to go just down the road!

Next I walk down the road to the other way, to the Rosebank shopping mall. Some of the streets are beautiful, lined with Jacaranda trees adorned with purple flowers.

Rosebank is a big place, one of the larger malls in the city. First I pop into a mobile shop and pick up a local sim. Then lunch at Mung and Bean, an enormous tasty panini with a cappuccino.

After lunch, I find the internet café called Milky Way. They seem to have an ultra-fast connection which is great. As I use the net, I realise I have the time zone wrong. I thought we were on GMT here but we seem to be 2 hours ahead. On my way back to the hostel, I plan to go to the supermarket, but it’s shut already, damn. Back at the hostel, I help to carry a large TV through to the bar at the back in the garden. Bushy tunes it in. We’re ready!

The BBQ provides a large bowl of tasty meat. This combined with bread, beans, maize, salad makes for a tasty dinner.

The match is okay, a bit frustrating in terms of the ping pong and lack of tries (apart from England’s unfairly disallowed one!), but of course the result a disappointment. I go to bed rather than watch the awarding of the cup.

There’s a load of noise in the middle of the night, some kind of argument with some troublesome guests I think.

After a lazy start, I give my laundry to Bushy to do, as I haven’t much he does mine with someone else’s, saving some cash. I make a toasted sandwich and work on the blog. They offer me lunch, more bbq meat with veges and salad, very nice. I get to try the worl sausage. Later I head out to Rosebank. I’m too late for the supermarket again (it’s Sunday), so head to the internet café for my daily fix. I lose track of time, and it’s dark when I leave. I pick up a pizza to take home. Whilst I wait, I read the security section of LP. It says that Johannesburg is the most dangerous city in South Africa. I have a 20 minute walk home. Gulp.

To be honest, I was feeling very nervous. Especially as the moment I walked out of the mall, a chap came up to me begging. I walked on, feeling very vulnerable and exposed. The street lights were out along the road back to the hostel. When I finally got back, and pressed the buzzer, I prayed for them to open the doors as soon as possible and let me in!

Having a drink in the bar, a couple of the local guys talk. One says on the corner just along this road he saw someone shot in the leg and robbed. No demands, just a bullet in the leg then the request.

This is the morning the Springboks come home. So I’m going to the airport to meet them. Well not really, it’s my last flight of my Round the World trip, and there are 15 beefy blokes dressed in green flying 12 hours to celebrate with me! 23rd October 2006 I took my first flight of the ticket, from Mauritius to London. 23rd October 2007 I’m flying Jo’berg to Cape Town, 12:45pm departure with British Airways aka Comair. The end of a magical year. What next? Who knows. A new passport, that’s for starters – I have one blank page left in this one, issued in 2006.

It takes a while to check in as the girl doesn’t seem to understand that I’ve changed the flight time on my paper ticket. I don’t take advantage of the gun check-in.

Couldn’t make it up

The BA Terraces lounge is a bit disappointing too, without free wifi and crap coffee. Does the job though, and I watch King of the Hill, ignoring the half of the SA team who are sitting about signing autographs. We have Schalk Burger on our flight, along with Jake White, the coach, who has a large metal briefcase which is suspiciously cup-sized. I wonder why that wasn’t checked in...

I’m hoping Cape Town is going to be easier than Jo’berg. I’ve spent three days in Jo’berg and seen nothing but the Zoo Lodge Hostel and Rosebank shopping mall. Last night I went to meet Travis, a friend of Thuzar’s, in Nelson Mandela Square next to Sandton Mall, which is another characterless venue. I’m sure there are nice places in Johannesburg, but they’re going to be in areas that I’m being strongly recommended not to go to. Even going to the airport involves taking a bus into Park Station, apparently dangerous and a mugging black spot, then busing back out. I take an expensive cab.

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