2019 December Newsletter

To all our wonderful guests, friends, colleagues and suppliers – another year-end rushes towards us breakneck speed. Although 2019 has been a very tough year for most South Africans, there’s also a lot to be grateful for.

Weir in Delta Park

The summer rains have finally come to Jozi. Nearby Delta Park has transformed overnight and the garden here at Liz at Lancaster is green and lush. Guests continue to get endless pleasure from our little verdant oasis. 

South Africa won the World Cup Rugby (I think there are going to be quite a few little Jack Russell puppies called “Faf” in the upcoming year!)

The guesthouse continues to have loads of repeat guests and we hear an appreciative sigh of “we are home” from many a guest checking-in.

Liz at Lancaster beautiful back garden

All at Liz at Lancaster continue to work together as an amazing team – each contributing in invaluable ways to the caring, helpful service and wonderful eye for detail. Thandie manages her home and work commitments with amazing tenacity. Her daughter won the class end of year prizes for Spelling and Visual Arts. Alick has unfortunately STILL not had his hip operation but continues to remain his positive generous kind self with lots of teasing from his wife Joyce when we visit. Catherine sadly lost her 84 year old father to cancer and Tagala had a very grief-filled year losing his 4 year old son and his sister. The grace and strength with which he has faced these traumas is remarkable. Liz continues to research Joburg and its history, heritage, arts, culture and entertainment, while also working on several community projects and fitting in as much “Nana time” as she can.

Many of you will remember Zac Gumbo, who had to leave us in 2014 as the Department of Home Affairs would not replace his lost ID. It has been a long slow haul with Wits Legal Aid having taken up his case against the Department and it is now in the hands of an advocate and we await a court date. At least things are moving forward, albeit slowly.

On a national scale the Department of Home Affairs has at last withdrawn the unabridged birth certificate requirement for minors which so worked against easy access to South African travel for families.

Sacha Baron Cohen giving the Keynote Address at ADL’s 2019 Never Is Now Summit

But as I said, 2019 has also been a very tough year for most people in South Africa and, dare I say it, for many countries. We have all faced our differing political challenges. And social media has continued to develop from a mode of positive connection to the “most powerful tool of propaganda in history” (with thanks to Sacha Baron Cohen – his speech is well worth listening to or reading

Small businesses (taxis, retail shops, accommodation, travel agents) continue to be put under increasing pressure from large conglomerates and tech companies using big data and the science of the dreaded algorithm.

TripAdvisor

Tripadvisor now controls all aspects of the traveler experience

TripAdvisor has changed its default search setting from Traveller Ranked to Best Value. In an interesting 2016 article, Delgado notes how large internet travel companies have now moved to what he calls: “occupying the whole life cycle of the client.” (Sounds like an invasive parasite and for small business owners it’s beginning to have the same effect!) Previously travelers wrote reviews (the share part of the cycle) and potential travelers searched for accommodation based on these reviews. However, the infographic above shows how TripAdvisor has morphed from a “share and search” site based solely on traveler reviews, to a booking site whose default search is one of price comparison. And even this is misleading as it is clear that the search has been randomized as the order of the establishments that comes up, is different with every search (within minutes of each search). With its Instant booking function, Tripadvisor has now become a full blown OTA [On-line Travel Agent] where any meaningful establishment-guest relationship is denied until a booking is made. This makes it difficult for small personalized businesses like Liz at Lancaster.

AirBnB

Freshly cooked breakfasts are always a win at Liz at Lancaster

1. ““I don’t like AirBnB as I’m never sure exactly what I am getting and particularly in a place like Joburg I want to have the service and security levels of a guesthouse and know that there is always staff and management on site”. Yes … we like this response! For more see “When a picture doesn’t speak a thousand words”
2. “We often use AirBnB for overseas travel”. I have to agree with this having stayed in an AirBnB in Moscow and in St Petersburg (where yes… we battled to gain access to the apartment for an hour or so because of a breakdown in communications.)
3. “I looked for you on AirBnB but you are not there”. The answer is we are … but if the room is booked for the period you enter in your search (even if you are simply entering a hypothetical date to get a price indication), the establishment does not appear. And this is further complicated as AirBnB require that each room be entered individually as its own “establishment” – no general overview of the 7 units at Liz at Lancaster.

Guesthouses follow a completely different business model from the average AirBnB.  Guesthouses offer more in terms of service levels; staffing; added extras like daily cleaning, on-site laundry; on-site transport; option of daily breakfasts cooked to order; airport collection; 24 hours staff/management on site; local advice as to what to see and do including itineraries designed for individual needs, and so much more.

On the political front 

The shocking news is the continuing uncovering of the ruinous effects of State Capture. The fall-out has been devastating and the financial costs impossible to measure.

The good news is that the unspeakable corruption and looting exposed by our brave investigative journalists working for the likes of The Daily Maverick and Amabughane Investigative Journalism Unit, is now being further investigated in public commissions of inquiry. And some heads have already rolled. Ramaphosa won the ANC presidency in December 2017 by a very narrow margin and only because of some horse-trading. While many take the view that there is too little action and it’s taking too long (which it is), I take the view that Ramaphosa treads a delicate line between a major clean-up of corruption and getting ousted himself. 

After becoming president, Ramaphosa set up four commissions of enquiry to investigate corruption and the ‘capture’ of state resources. These hearings have all been conducted with full live public access – either through live streaming or on a dedicated television channel. In addition there are transcripts available on the various web sites:
SARS 
the Public Investment Corporation 
• the National Prosecuting Authority and State Capture 

Retired Judge Robert Nugent completed the final report of the Commission of Inquiry into the SA Revenue Service in December 2018. The Commission found that former commissioner Tom Moyane “seized control of SARS” and “dismantled the elements of governance one by one”. A damning finding if ever there was one. Moyane was fired by Ramaphosa in November and former SARS deputy commissioner Edward Kieswetter was appointed as the new tax agency boss. Things are thankfully moving forward.

In August 2019 a Commission wrapped up its findings into allegations of impropriety regarding the Public Investment Corporation, the Government’s asset manager which invests 2 trillion in public funds on behalf of the Government Employee Pension Fund. The CEO of PIC resigned early in the proceeding and loans to various companies have come under close scrutiny. Ramaphosa still needs to release the findings of the report.

Yvonne Mokgoro, a retired Constitutional Court judge chaired a board of inquiry into the fitness to hold positions of two advocates, both in top positions in the National Prosecuting Authority. The two were suspended at the outset of the inquiry and, based on the inquiry findings, were fired by Ramaphosa in April 2019.

And the names of many mentioned in testimonies in all the above inquiries, weave through the submissions to the largest investigation of them all: the Commission on State Capture chaired by Judge Zondo (with 194 days of hearings to date). Called to testify have been representatives of SOEs such as Eskom (power); SAA (National Air Carrier); Denel (armaments); Transnet (Rail); and SABC (Broadcasting and communications); along with governmental financial agencies, departments and institutions such as the Treasury; SARS (Revenue Service); and the Reserve Bank.


In Conclusion

We wish you all a very happy safe and restful festive season and may 2020 be a year where protest movements against “fake news”, populism, climate change denialists and rampant capitalist greed, gather even further momentum.

From us all at Liz at Lancaster:  Liz, Tagala (aka Mr T), Catherine, Thandie, Elliott and from Diepsloot informal settlement: Alick and Joyce

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