Thursday, 30 August 2007

South African Government And Internet Censorship - Busted!

A free media is central to democracy - the voice of the people needs to be aired and made public so that all, including those in power, have a sense of the mood of the people. It is consensus among most South Africans (my opinion, not based on research!) that the SABC is the government mouthpiece. It was under the apartheid regime and continues to be so under ANC rule. What we don't need, or want for that matter, is for the electronic media to become the voice of government and we certainly don't want government interference or censorship in online publishing.

It was therefore pleasing to see action taken last Friday against a government official for censoring a Wikipedia entry on South Africa's HIV/AIDS policies. The official had vandalised the entry in the online encyclopaedia from a computer that was traced to the offices of Statistics SA, the government statistics headquarters that are situated in Centurion. The offices are part of the State Information Technology Agency.

The interference in the Wikipedia article was discovered by two ITWeb journalists who tracked the deletions to Statistics SA using the IP address of the machine which the editing took place on. Further investigation by Statistics SA then led to the culprit being identified. The employee faces a disciplinary hearing.

According to Carey Finn of IOL the changes to the wikipedia entry were detected by other users and reversed within three minutes. The government official had deleted the topic and supporting references, replaced this with a profane comment, and then removed the effects section of the entry as well as references to an article by Pieter Fourie and the AIDS Portal SA website. All that remained was the section detailing the government’s actions against the spread of HIV/AIDS. Wikipedia’s policy describes vandalism as "any addition, removal, or change of content made in a deliberate attempt to compromise the integrity of Wikipedia".

The very nature of the internet dictates that it is a place where all voices can be heard. Wikipedia taps into this and provides a platform for anyone to contribute to the global knowledge base. It should be a place of fact not opinion and so one would want to keep a check on what is being written. However it is not up to government officials who disagree with a posting to abuse the democractic nature of the site and make alterations to articles which don't suit the official stance of government.

It is pleasing to see government take action on this matter - now let's work at a truly democratic public broadcaster...

Monday, 27 August 2007

Make Way For The Pram!

I realised this past weekend while browsing the new Exclusive Books branch in Sandton City, that those responsible for the layout of stores do not take much cognisance of the need for space to manouver with a pram. My 1 year old was forced to endure bump after bump as I carefully negotiated my way around the store. At places I was forced to double back on myself so as to find the correct path through which I could carefully push the pram. Heaven knows what those in wheelchairs do!

As I went into other stores I noticed a similar trend. Very few shops seem to have given thought to accessibility. It seems to be a case of getting as much stock on the floor as possible so as to bring in greater revenue. What they seem to forget is that a pleasant shopping experience means repeat business!

Come on Exclusive Books! Make some space for those of us (dads and moms!) with our little ones in prams! Consider those who cannot walk into your store and need to use wheelchairs! We are all your customers!

Friday, 24 August 2007

New Blog of the Week - #8 - SA Medical Community Uncovered

Although not technically a "New Blog", with all the furore going on around the antics of our dear Health Minister, I thought it good to give you a blog focused on the South African medical community.,

Describing itself as a blog where one can discover what's under the gown in the South African medical fraternity, All Scrubbed Up covers doctors, surgeons, practices, hospitals and the funny, sometimes controversial stories that go with them.

The site is well written and laid out and has some nice medical videos to peruse - some serious and some funny. It is this mix of the serious and humorous that makes this blog so appealing. At the time of writing there are several posts on male pregnancy - seriously!

With the embarrasment of our national health minister making the headlines, perhaps it is good to focus on other things in our medical fraternity!

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Great White Sharks - Be Careful Where You Swim!

I have always enjoyed the sea - watching it that is! Although I grew up in Cape Town I have never enjoyed swimming in the ocean that much. I love being at the sea and have snorkelled at Boulders and other areas from time to time. However I don't really enjoy swimming out in the sea as much as many of the city's residents.

Now I know why! The City of Cape Town issued a white shark warning on Tuesday as we head into what is traditionally a period of greater shark activity in the waters around the city.

"Although white sharks are present in our waters all year round, we are approaching the time of the year when the possibility of encountering one of these animals is much greater," Gregg Oelofse of the city's environmental resource management department said.

Oelofse said that sharks moved from the waters around Seal Island in False Bay in the winter, to the coastal inshore areas during the summer.

Statistics over the past five years show that the period of mid-August to end September had seen the highest numbers of interactions between white sharks and recreational users of the sea.

People using the ocean should be "extra vigilant" over the next few months.

This past Monday (20 August) shark spotters sighted a shark at Fish Hoek beach just after midday - the first in the area in months.

I definitely won't be swimming this season!

For those who wish to get a little closer to these apex predators, take a look at this opportunity to go Great White shark cage diving

For some incredible footage of False Bay sharks take a look at this documentary from the Discovery Channel -

Thursday, 16 August 2007

New Blog of the Week - #7 - Rugby World Cup Guide

With the 2007 edition of the Rugby World Cup only a few weeks away I was delighted to find a blog which is not based on the ramblings of an uninformed fan but is rather written by someone who clearly has a love for the game and is genuinely interested in providing information to others around this fantastic tournament.

The blog is entitled and is an independent site giving readers a huge amount of information around the RWC 2007. Categories of information include

- Fixtures / Schedule
- Glossary
- History of The Cup
- Match Summaries
- Pool Stages - Results
- Stadiums
- Statistics
- Supporters Gallery
- Team Odds
- Teams
- Ticket Information
- World Rankings

Details of upcoming friendlies are also posted.

This is the blog of a true fan and I look forward to seeing its development in the weeks to come.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Let's Drink Some Wine In Soweto

13 years into a democratic South Africa there are still many white South Africans who have not ventured into a township. They don't know what they are missing! There is a vibe, a truly South African essence, that is not found in the suburbs. Many tourists have found this to be so and have found much joy at being able to interact with township residents.

Living in Johannesburg for the past 10 years has given me opportunity to visit Soweto on several occassions. Interestingly Soweto is the largest township in South Africa with a population of 1.5 million mainly black residents - 40% of Gauteng's population. It is a vibrant metropolitan area and is known for setting trends in fashion, politics, language, dance and music. Like every other urban area it has its problem areas and yet, from a safety perspective, I often feel safer in Soweto than in Sandton! It is far removed from the images of the 1980's that we saw on the SABC as the residents protested the apartheid regime - it is truly a great place to visit!

Various initiatives have been in place for several years now to entice more South Africans to come into Soweto. One of these is the Soweto Wine Festival which began in 2005. This year the festival has Standard Bank has its headline sponsor and will showcase over 800 wines from 125 wineries.

The festival will be held at the Main Hall, Soweto Campus at the University of Johannesburg on Old Potch Rd, Soweto on 7 & 8 September and is being hailed as the most exciting Soweto-based initiative in years.

To assist those not wishing to travel into Soweto in their own vehicles on the two evenings Jo’burg Tourism is providing branded buses from the Cape Wine Academy offices, Conference Centre, 114 Grayston Drive, Sandown, Sandton

Transport Times:
Friday 7th September – 3:30pm & 6pm & 7pm
Saturday 8th September – 4:30pm & 6pm & 7pm

These busses will be available to return from the festival as well. There will be a special combi that will take back those that need to leave the festival earlier.

This is a great initiative that is helping to make Soweto a preferred destination for Johannesburg tourists and locals alike. I do hope that if you are in the Joburg/Pretoria region you will consider coming along for two wonderful evenings.

Buy SA Wine

Friday, 10 August 2007

New Blog Of The Week - #6 - A Golfing Blog

Golf I once tried my hand and golf and discovered that it really wasn't my thing! I would far rather spend the day on a cricket field than chasing a small white ball into a hole! What I discovered during the months I spent trying to perfect my swing is that golfers are some of the most passionate people you will ever meet. They live for their game. They want to read about it, learn about it, play it every day and they will spend hours discussing what to the rest of us, seem inane details.

This week's featured blog, Robin On Golf, is written by a true golf fan - Robin Thomas (handicap 18). What makes this blog special though is that although it is clearly written by a passionate participant in the game, it is well-written enough to appeal to those with just a passing interest in the sport, such as myself.

It is still fairly new so there is not a large amount of content. My prediction is that this blog will become very popular over the coming months as long as the content continues to be regular and have wide appeal.

Well done Robin! Keep up the good work!

Wednesday, 08 August 2007

Blue Train Colour - Does It Matter If Its Yellow?

For the past 70 years the Blue Train has travelled the breadth of South Africa giving those who have travelled in her memories of five-star luxury that is regarded as one of the most luxurious train journeys in the world.

However this post is not designed to expound the virtues of this magnificent train - to download a brochure to read all about the Blue Train click here; for a PowerPoint slide show click here.

I came across a news article about a passenger, Ian Crowhurst, who lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority because the locomotive which pulled the Blue Train on his journey happened to be orange!

Now I will agree that the iconic image of the Blue Train is spoiled by the sight of an orange locomotive, but to lodge a complaint with the ASA just seems a step too far! Quite correctly the ASA responded by saying that the complaint was illogical as this logic would imply that the Green Truffle restuarant would have to serve green truffles and Blue IQ would have to prove that its consultants have Blue IQ's!

What I do not agree with though is their contention that because the customer is paying for the experience of travelling in the Blue Train, the colour of the locomotive is immaterial. Of course it matters! The Blue Train is an icon of South Africa and the sight of the blue locomotive speeding through the Karoo is part of the South African experience. If I had forked out R10 000 to travel from Cape Town to Pretoria I would want the full experience which includes the iconic blue locomotive.

The Blue Train should be pulled by a blue locomotive - period. When this does not happen, a letter expressing disappointment should be sent to the train operators. If enough travellers write to the operator, to travel magazines and other tourism publications, the negative publicity will begin to ensure that the train operator begins to think again before changing the colour of the locomotive.

For a visual experience of this magnificent train, take a look at this DVD :

Tuesday, 07 August 2007

South African Airways - A Hard Look In The Mirror

For many years South African Airways held its head high as a leader in the field of airtravel. Over the past few years though there has been a steady decline in the profitability of the airline and an increasing perception among the flying public that they really are not an airline in which to put much trust. Besides the ongoing complaints about bad service and a frequent flyer program that has been beset with problems, there has not been empirical research to show why the decline has happened - until now.

Synovate has released their report into the state of South African Airways and it does not make for happy reading. A few of their findings :

1) Of the airlines with less than 60 planes in their fleet, SAA offers the lowest number of destinations, 34.

2) SAA has a relatively high number of employees: 11000 for 58 planes and 34 destinations. To compare, Polish Airlines has 3500 employees for 51 planes and 58 destinations.

3) SAA employs 190 people per plane per fleet — very high, compared to the likes of world-class airlines … which [typically] employ less than 100 heads per plane.

4) In March of this year SAA reported a R603-million operating loss.

Basically poor planning in terms of recruitment and route management are two of the main causes for the decline in what used to be the pride of Africa's skies.

How is it possible that an airline supposedly run by competent managers could allow such poor business planning and management? Why does it take an external company to show those in the business that their recruitment strategy is flawed? Surely senior management at SAA have the lastest international comparatives to hand?

The results of this survey will mean yet another restructuring at SAA and yet more people will find themselves unemployed as the airline cuts staff to reduce operating expenditure. South Africa cannot afford this kind of corporate mismanagement. Will senior management be held accountable? I doubt it. The cynic in me tends to foresee this happening all over again in 5 years time although I would hope things would be different this time around.

Some may say that the explosion of low-cost carriers into the South African market has been responsible for the decline of SAA. I say "rubbish!". Corporate mismanagement and the lack of interest in the paying passenger has been the cause of its decline. Lets hope that this hard look in the mirror will serve as the final wake-up call for our national carrier. If not, it will just be yet another nail in its coffin.

Click here for the CHEAPEST flights!

Monday, 06 August 2007

Rubbish Monster - Clean Up Or Else!

I remember very clearly the anti-littering campaign in South Africa during the 1980's - Watch the Zap It In A Zibi advert here and bring back the memories. The message was very clearly etched in my mind after countless SABC screenings of the ad, the posters in schools and around the suburbs and in the general print media.

In 2007 there is clearly a need for a renewed campaign against the scourge of littering. Our beautiful country is becoming a giant repository for junk as an attitude of social irresponsibility takes hold.

Enter - The Rubbish Monster! Watch the ad here (7.8MB).

This is the creation of Braam Jordaan of the Computer Graphics Society. The back story to the creation of this ad makes for interesting reading. I have not seen this ad on TV yet but I do believe it should be shown. Perhaps this character will hold as much sway in the minds of today's youth as the Zap It In A Zibi Can ostrich did for me back in the 1980's.

Friday, 03 August 2007

New Blog Of The Week - #5 - Escape Gauteng

Following on from my post about the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, I have decided to award this week's "New Blog Of The Week" to Scapeout. The intention of this blog is to give those of us who live in Gauteng information about breaks away from the city which will refresh and recharge.

The writing style is informal and makes for easy reading. The personal anecdotes from each place remind the reader that these are personal recommendations not just a list from a tour guide.

There are plenty of pictures to give the reader a sense of the place reviewed. A very helpful feature is the box giving travel directions to the attraction.

I would love to see this idea being expanded into other cities around South Africa. Any takers?...

Wednesday, 01 August 2007

50 Top Websites - End Of Survey

On July 11 I began a survey / campaign to source the top 50 South African websites based on user votes. This has certainly been an interesting exercise! There have been those who have entered into the spirit of the exercise and those who have seen it as nothing more than a waste of time and a tool to weaken the South African blogosphere. I have had messages of affirmation and others critical of this initiative.

Running this survey has never been a scientific exercise and in no way can the results claim to be conclusive. There has been no control group, no minimum vote count, in fact it is been a singularly unscientific approach! Readers were asked to vote for their favourite site - end of story!

You will see from the results that the big players have received many votes - indicative of their usefulness to the South African internet user perhaps. However there are a number of relatively unknown sites/blogs that deserve greater attention. Some voters unashamedly voted for their own sites/blogs. Where I picked this up, I have taken away their vote! Please do yourself a favour and visit the lesser known sites - you may just pick up a gem! In fact, why not feature some of them in a blog post to raise their profile.

The top ranked sites were (in alphabetical order) -

* Amatomu
* Grabble
* iBlog
* Keo
* Muti
* MyBroadband
* News24
* SA Good News
* SA Rocks
* SA-Venues

I guess there is not too much surprise in these nominations. These are sites that will be popular with internet regulars because they provide useful and informative content that is updated regularly.

However the following sites also received nominations - although some are corporate and others are seemingly odd nominations, it has to be remembered that this is cyberspace democracy! They all received votes whether we agree with their nomination or not! Take a look here :

* Afrigator
* Bed On Bricks
* BizCommunity
* Blue World
* Cape Gateway
* Cape Town Daily Photo
* Charity Wines
* Cherry Flava
* EishCoZa
* Friends of JZ
* Golfers Information
* Goldfish
* Good Citizens Club
* Grow South Africa
* Hunter of Genius
* iMod
* IOL News
* Jonga
* Jump
* Mahala Media
* Mail & Guardian
* Mnet
* Modelbase
* MoneyWeb
* Mweb
* My Kinda Prices
* MyVideo
* News Phorum
* Pixels For Charity
* Private Property
* SA AirForce
* SA Property
* SA Rugby
* South Africa - sourcing cheap flights to,from or within SA
* SuperSport
* Tertia
* The South African Insult
* Think Money
* Tomorrow Today
* Urban Mamas
* Vottle
* Weather SA
* Webtrepreneur
* Yeigo
* Yuppie Chef

Please leave a comment with your thoughts on this list. I have my own thoughts but will leave these for another post - let's hear what you have to say first!