Dear Editor

Strachan fix

Your editorial “What about the landlords?” leads me to ask “What about the Strachan column?” It is just not right that an avid reader must do without his monthly dose of Strachan’s wry look at life. You tried to explain away your actions in spiking his offering but this did not convince me. Has Mammon raised his head at Noseweek? At the expense of Harold!!!

Perhaps a double dose for July will appease an irate subscriber.

Ian Shuttleworth
Sea Point

Diamond disclosures

Barry Sergeant’s report on the latest legal intrigues involving De Beers and the SA Diamond Regulator (nose188) reminded me that in the 80s-or-so De Beers (aka CDM) were accused in Namibia of transfer pricing their Oranjemund output. Was the unfortunate Mr Benn perhaps threatening to make similar disclosures here?


Nightmare tenants

While reading “Prince of Pot”, Helen Grange’s account of the difficulties experienced by a landlord in evicting his non-paying tenant (nose188), I could not but shudder in sympathy. I found myself in a similar situation after buying an investment apartment in 2007.

My tenant, a young lady, was a consulting finance expert employed by a bank. She drove a BMW 5 Series and seemed good tenant material. Shortly after she took occupation however, she stopped paying rent and for electricity and water. South Africa’s insane legislation that protects a tenant from consequences normally associated with non-payment of rent, deprives a landlord of any rights.

One would be forgiven for believing the article grossly exaggerated the landlord’s plight, but that is not so. It took me years and several court actions to evict my tenant. I lost all return on my investment, and was held liable for sums owed by her to the electricity and water suppliers, while being forbidden to disconnect the electricity without obtaining a court order – an expensive exercise that can take up to three years.
With no income and only expenses, including legal costs, I still had to pay the bond, which meant I had to take out a personal loan. I wish I could conclude with a satisfying account of how justice won out and I was reimbursed. Not so. The tenant disappeared into the night. I had learnt my lesson and immediately sold the apartment.

If people stop buying investment properties for letting because the risk is too high, pretty soon there will be no stock available to people who cannot afford to buy their own homes.

A C Robertson

► His outlandish excuses about the religion (not cult) of Rastafarianism notwithstanding, the tenant Gareth Prince’s chronic, barefaced abuse of the judicial system (nose188) has nothing to do with his use of marijuana and everything to do with his training as a lawyer.

Steve Pain
Kleinkruisrivier, Riversdale

► To those who might call for “legal reform” of the laws pertaining to landlord and tenant (meaning fewer rights to appeal): Don’t throw out people’s right to appeal and to seek relief just because of one loony unemployed lawyer. Most people in fact don’t access their rights, so please don’t call for diminished rights based on this crazy and unusual case.

The JSC (or whoever) should however check whether the judges who assisted this unusual character were correct. Check what actually happened, don’t just dive for undoing necessary laws.

Pete Swanepoel

► Our constitution and the PIE Act protects both landlord and tenant but it appears as though the owner was seriously let down by our judicial system.

Philip Bam
Cape Town

Lessons in St Lucia victory

Glenn Ashton’s penetrating analysis of the apparently illegal aspects of the heavy mineral sands mining activities at the Tormin mine on the West Coast, by Australian Mineral Commodities Ltd (MRC), reminds us how vital for environmental protection and awareness was the great victory at St Lucia 20 years ago. In the two petitions at that time, half a million people signed to save St Lucia from strip and dredge dune mining on the Eastern Shores of the Lake. Nelson Mandela also signed.

That titanic environmental struggle led to the establishment of South Africa’s first World Heritage site. Under 20 years of dedicated management by Andrew Zaloumis and his team, St Lucia has been turned into the iSimangaliso Wetland Park to achieve international repute. Not only was the goose saved, but it produces ever-increasing numbers of golden eggs – the truly win-win solution locally and nationally.
Ashton puts his finger on the key point that government is complicit – advertently or inadvertently – in the irreversible disruption at Tormin by failing to enforce compliance with the legal restraints MRC has agreed to abide by.

In the fight for St Lucia it was emphasised by the NGOs and scientists that not only is the strip mining process irreparably destructive and immitigable, but that the enforcement of regulations, for the full life and decommissioning of a mine, could never be properly achieved.

The struggle to save the Wild Coast at Xolobeni from dune mining highlights the way wealth creation and the environment can be managed – the West Coast way, or the St Lucia way.

Jim Phelps
Fish Hoek

Nest Life screws the poor

Your article about the “moral rot of unsecured lending” being exploitive and degrading (nose179) again brought to the surface the fact that certain business models in South Africa that are supposedly aimed at helping the most disadvantaged people, are achieving the opposite, e.g. Caiaphas Khumalo’s article (nose180).

Another case in point: my former gardener took out a family funeral insurance plan with Nest Life, which also covered the family in the event of permanent disability resulting from an accident. His wife and daughter were badly injured in the De Doorns bus crash and his wife had to have her arm amputated just below the elbow. Nest Life covered the hospital charges for his wife, but repudiated the disability claim, saying: “Permanent disability means a state of incapacity due to member’s injury which in the underwriter’s opinion is permanent and irreversible, and results in the member being unable to perform the duties of any occupation on a part or full time basis. Any occupation means any occupation capable of being undertaken for remuneration or profit.”

They advise him, if he is not satisfied, to approach the Ombudsman.

His wife has only ever worked as a domestic worker. Yet Nest Life’s wording about any occupation essentially means that the only way to qualify for compensation would be to lose all limbs. Yet again, the poor are screwed.

Ian Pringle
Constantia, Cape Town

Fallacy of feeding the world

The World Economic Forum’s “New Vision For Agriculture” reiterates the fallacy that small-scale and subsistence farming can satisfy the world’s ever-increasing need for food. Waffle about the potential of small-scale farming resulted in this final communiqué: The way forward should be:  “• Country-led, driven by local stakeholders in partnership with global organisations • Multistakeholder, engaging government, private sector, international organisations, civil society, farmers’ associations and others.” 

This verbiage will not feed the forecast 9 billion souls. Any betterment of living standards will increase the food deficit.

Hilary Venables, writing in the same vein in “Big Agri feeds it’s own bottom line” (nose182) has been
sadly misled. World population is increasing, and it is also urbanising.

My primary problem as a small farmer is getting my produce to the consumer. It is handled by three or more middlemen, which not only reduces my take of the final price, but means my produce is no longer fresh, and may be rejected. Only the big farming conglomerates can afford to process their produce themselves and have the resources to satisfy the regulatory authorities.

GM products are designed for the benefit of big agriculture. Corporates plant hectares of Roundup resistant crops, while I have to skoffel to keep the weeds down. My production per hectare is much lower than on the mega-farms.

I am uncomfortable about the use of GM organisms, but until the world’s population stabilises, GM and massive farming corporations are the only way of keeping the wolf from millions of doors. We should be less concerned about who grows the food and more concerned about the growing population.

Ian Hurst
Groot Drakenstein

Rottweiler reportage

In one of your investigative jobs, I was your handlanger and I recall thinking then: “Jeez, this guy goes for the throat; first time, every time.” You still go for the throat. Journalism would be infinitely poorer without you. Salute.

Ernest Oelofse
North Coast, KZN

You make it sound so gruesome, but thank you for the compliment! Ed.

An extraordinarily slack piece

Given the numerous errors contained in the extraordinarily slack piece in your June edition (“R852,000 flying Tutu: who cashed in?”), while putting aside the gratuitous sarcasm and innuendo, I would like to set the record straight with the facts as I know them.

First, the title of the artwork is Arch not The Flying Arch.

Second, in the middle of 2012 when I became aware that Idasa was in severe financial difficulties, I offered to buy the artwork from Idasa – because I was very fond of the piece and because I knew Idasa urgently needed cash to meet its monthly salaries and other liabilities.

Third, having made inquiries as to what it might be worth, and deciding, as you did report, that the organisation did not have the time or expertise to take it to public market, a price of R200,000 was agreed (a considerable profit on the R40,000 that your piece reported Idasa had originally paid the artist for Arch).

Fourth, Arch did not, in fact, disappear from public view in 2012, but remained flying at Spin Street until the middle of 2013, when it was moved to the Youngblood Gallery in Bree Street, where it remained for several months before then moving to hang in the Savoy Cabbage restaurant for much of 2014.

Fifth, while I was reluctant to sell Arch, it was an unwieldy and expensive piece to own, requiring a specialist company to move it because of its weight and delicate engineering; indeed, each move cost me around R20,000; with upkeep and spring-cleaning, I spent close to R80,000 on Arch.

Sixth, although in an initial conversation with Strauss & Co in early 2014 I was told I would be lucky to get R200,000 for it, given that the artist is not especially prominent, I was later approached by them to see if I would agree to Arch being part of a modern art auction they were planning for early 2015, and I agreed.

Seventh, Arch sold for a “hammer price” of R750,000 not R852,000, as even a cursory piece of professional journalistic inquiry would have discovered: the R852,000 included the 12% commission that the buyer pays the auctioneer; and, in turn, I paid my seller’s 12% commission on the R750,000. I will leave your readers, if they are remotely interested, to “do the math”.

Richard Calland
University of Cape Town

We rechristened him the Flying Arch and I’m sure no-one but you has taken offence. Any slackness in our piece is to be attributed to the slackness of the many Idasa sources (yourself included) we interviewed and accurately quoted. Had you told us then what you are telling us now, I would have told you how impressed I am at the extent of your budget for art. I also conclude from where it has hung in the intervening years (inter alia in a dark, unused room at Spin Street), that you did not buy Arch to decorate your home, but as an investment – a smart one, as it transpires. Thanks for clearing up these issues.Ed.

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