IF anyone imagined that historians are dry, fusty old
geezers who rabbit on about such things as the Peloponnesian Wars and how Constantinople
became centre of the Ottoman Empire, this stereotype isshattered after a meeting Sandra Swart.
Professor at Stellenbosch University’s History Department,
President of the Southern African Historical Society and author of RIDING HIGH Horses, Humans and History in
South Africa (Wits University Press), Sandra Swart is a vivacious
individual, absolutely in touch with contemporary society and displays a great
sense of fun and humour.
Well what has this to do with FarSide Productions? It’s the
horse thing of course. Professor Swart has documented the various complex
relationships between horses and humans in South Africa since early times. Our
current project, that has the Cape cart horses as its main subject falls into
this space. So it was only a matter of time before we found our way to
Stellenbosch to find out what the Professor had to say.
We found her, not in her offices in the History Department,
but at the University’s Equestrian Club above Coetzenburg’s sports fields,
worrying about her sick Appaloosa foal Voodoo and preparing to go for a ride on
its mother Aztec.
It was a preliminary chat and breaking-the-ice session. But
I can see that she will have some interesting things to say on-camera and
should add depth and perspective to the content of the show. I must say that I
am surprised at where this show is taking us: from the cramped streets of
Bonteheuwel in the uneasy company of a known gangster boss and his hit men, to
the leafy peace of Stellenbosch conversing easily with an Oxford-trained
CURRENT PROJECTS: SCHOOL PROSPECTUS
I have been busy writing copy for a school prospectus in recent weeks.
Because the job’s not yet finished, I‘m not going to name the school,
suffice to say that it is one of the better schools in the country and
has a proud academic and sporting tradition. A successful member of the
Proteas squad currently campaigning the cricket world cup is a product
of this school, as have been numerous other famous sportsmen,
scientists, literary figures and academics (some of them
To research this project I had to find out whether I was comparing
apples with apples, and pears with pears. So I downloaded as much
information about South Africa’s top-end schools as possible; from Grey
College in Bloemfontein to Bishops in Rondebosch with St Andrews in
Grahamstown, Michaelhouse, Hilton, Maritzburg College and the odd
Deutsche Schule thrown in. My desk is awash with the offerings of a
whole pile of private and Model C schools.
The first commonality that I picked up was that they all promised to
make ‘young men out of boys’. These boys invariably go through a
journey that encourages them to ‘embrace the future’ (although I
noticed that a number of schools were on public record as having staff
who loved to embrace young boys. But we will steer clear of that
subject for now).
TRADITION IN REVERED TONES
Then I noticed that they all spoke about ‘tradition’ in revered tones.
This I understand because I have been there myself. Some years ago I
assisted my alma mater, St Andrews, in a campaign to draw attention to
its need for additional funds to ‘embrace the future’ and uphold the
school’s fine ‘tradition’ in the years that lay ahead. On meeting with
the old boys organising this campaign, many of them former classmates,
I identified what I judged to be an unhealthy obsession with the
school’s clock tower. These men were getting all misty-eyed about a
stone structure near the tuckshop.
I could not understand this and asked them what relevance did the clock
tower have to their lives? Indeed what relevance did it have to the
lives of the people of the Eastern Cape or even the whole of South
Africa? After all we were meeting to convince people across the length
and breadth of the land to fork out cash for the ongoing wellbeing of
St Andrews College in Grahamstown.
They looked at me as if I were an imbecile. “It’s the clock tower,
Newby. You don’t understand. The clock tower represents the school and
all it stands for.’
I had always been under the impression that the clock tower was for
communicating the time of day to the boys of St Andrew. At any rate, it
could never be relied upon because more often than not, it ran late.
I left that meeting confused because those old boys, some of them good
businessmen and captains of industry had succumbed to sentiment and
nostalgia. Just like I had failed to realise the importance of the
clock tower, they had failed to appreciate the need to attach real
world relevance to their beloved school. They were confusing esoteric
symbolism with the need to be relevant.
Most things in this world need to be relevant to something, as a
raison d'etre for existence. For instance in my old classmates’ own
businesses or farms anything that might not be relevant to the
organisation concerned or bottom line would be canned or culled without
question. But in the case of their old school the luxury of
sentimentality had become a God-given right.
‘It’s not about the clock tower,’ I had told them. ‘It’s all about
identifying the relevance of this school within the various
environments that it exists and functions. Only then can you ask people
to part with money.’
Looking at the piles of school information that litter my desk, I see
now that it is not only St Andrews that wallows in sentimental
tradition, erroneously mistaken as the rites of passage to true
manhood. Nearly all schools indulge in this belief. The schools’
documentation talk about ‘embracing diversity’, ‘ensuring that the
individual has safe space within which he can develop’, but the
sub-text between the lines is clearly visible.
The old boys who have anything to say about the running of the school
want one thing and that is tradition. They want everything to be just
as it was when they were there. With tradition comes discipline and
conformity. It’s something that’s easy to understand and sits
comfortably on the conscience.
as my wife always likes to say, ‘we should be evolving’. There
should be some forward movement in our passage through time. Maybe
things don’t get any easier, but at least we can try to understand them
better. And if a school is going to attract new customers in the form
of pupils (or learners as they are called these days), then it should
differentiate itself from other schools. Much of that differentiation
lies in how relevant that school is to the community that supports it.
These might be a neighbourhood, town, city, provincial or national
POCKETS OF EXCELLENCE
Futurist Clem Sunter speaks of ‘pockets of excellence’ as part of a
scenario for a future South Africa that eventually becomes functional
and relatively uncorrupt. These pockets of excellence should stand out
like reinforced concrete bulwarks in our society, providing enduring
strength, reference, standards and knowledge, when most everything else
A good school could be likened to such a pocket of excellence. Its
people would learn wrong from right, supply guidance and strength when
such things are needed most. The description ‘philosopher king’ is a
fanciful term (Plato coined it in his work ‘The Republic’), but the
output of young men inclined in that direction might go a long way in
holding a community together.
A school could be differentiated from others if many of its scholars
learned that business and making money is important. But even more
important is how wealth is distributed. Winning in sport is also
important, but not just to provide vicarious pleasure seen through the
demented eyes of fanatical parents, but to teach individuals how to
participate graciously with respect and humility.
The mix – academic, cultural and sport – that any school might employ
to achieve such ends would be its differentiating factor. Yes tradition is
important too, but only if it has relevance to the bigger picture.
Come to think of it, should our businesses, corporations and other
institutions here in South Africa not also be considering
differentiating themselves along similar lines?
CAN A JOB IN THE INFORMAL SECTOR
STILL BE CALLED A ‘REAL’ JOB?
really be a bunch of stereotypically white, Anglo-Saxon, Eurocentric,
lemming-like consequences of the Coca-Cola Culture at times. And I include
myself in this grouping.
grandmother always told me that ‘a man must get a proper job’. After being
suitably educated, I went out into the world with her advice humming in my
head, searching for this proper job. Somehow I and most of my generation
imagined that such a thing incorporated a vocation or career path that had
attendant extras such as secretaries, company cars, offices and corporate
ladders that had to be climbed. Of course one had to pay taxes along the way,
belong to medical aid societies and make provision for the future.
‘If a man
has a proper job,’ she would say, ‘he can take on a wee wife at the right time
of course, and the bairns will come.’
who did not have proper jobs she regarded with thinly disguised scorn. She
called them wastrels and ‘useless chiels’ – people with shaky prospects and
So with smug
confidence that we were on suitable career trajectories, we set out in our
shiny shoes, double-breasted suits and silk ties. Our hair was stylishly cut
and we entertained dreams of fame, fortune, mortgages and respectability – we
had proper jobs and we had joined the Establishment! We were chartered
accountants, engineers, lawyers, traders, bankers, marketing men, academics,
doctors and professionals. We were the people that bodies like the Johannesburg
Stock Exchange needed to make the system work properly.
about all the people who did not have proper jobs? This marginalized majority;
were they just skiving around taking a quick R10 here, another R20 there for
dubious services and generally skating on the thin edge of the law? They were
certainly not to be taken seriously and played no useful roles in society.
I have been
working on this doccie ‘Life is a Hard
Road’ for the Carthorse Protection Association and spending time in Bonteheuwel
and Schaap Kraal with the CHPA inspectors.
who are used to the more affluent suburbs of South Africa, indeed any middle
class suburb anywhere in the world, it is difficult to describe life in these
parts without sounding melodramatic. Things take on a day-to-day desperate edginess
in a society that is riddled with violence, shooting and the pervasive
influence of tik.
ran up to inspector Diana Truter. They were young – between 12 and 14 years
old. One was dark and had no front teeth. The other was plump and sleepy
looking with a slight squint.
‘Op pasvir hierdie twee,’ said Diana. ‘They are hit men – assassins for
I asked what
they wanted and she gave me a weary smile. ‘Jobs,’ she said.
This got me
thinking about this job issue. It was evident that not many people were
working, judging from the number of locals lounging around the streets.
MABOY THE WELL LOOKED-AFTER HORSE
to say hello to Bushy Abrahams in Sweet Pea Street. Bushy is the owner of Maboy,
who according to Diana is one of the best looked-after working cart horses in
Cape Town.Bushy loves Maboy as he would
his own son.
the cart horse trade from my father,’ he explained. ‘I have fed my family and
brought up my children with the scrap that my horses have carried. I have been
doing this for a long time.
job, he concluded with quiet pride.
building a a new cart for his business in a workshop attached to his stables.
All its components came from scrap collections: meranti timber that is making
up the chassis and refurbished leaf springs that are becoming the suspension.
‘A cart is
expensive,’ Bushy laughs. ‘Why buy one when a man can collect the scrap to make
one that is even better?’
the CHPA bakkie and horse box over to Netreg Way where Bushy’s brother Francois
lives. His stables are in the back yard and there is only one access and exit –
through the front and back doors of the house.
pleased to see Diana and insisted that she have a look at his favourite horse,
Laban My Kind. I must have looked doubtful that all of Francois Abrahams’
horses go in and out the house on a daily basis. So he instructed driver Waseem
Davids to fetch Laban My Kind and bring him out into the street.
broadly, Waseem brought Laban My Kind through the house to the front. ‘It’s how
they live and although we think that it’s strange, there’s really nothing wrong
with it,’ said Diana.
Schaap Kraal we were welcomed by septuagenarian Oom Julies. Although
bent over with a pronounced limp, the old man was sprightly and exuded
an old world charm. His small holding looked like something out of a
Tolkien Middle Earth scene. Thousands of items were stacked, bundled
and neatly stowed by category. Washing machines, plant, pipes, car
parts and chunks of metal. In the background a group of 12 donkeys in
superb condition grazed peacefully.
Oom Julies is one of the oldtimers in the trade,' explained Diana. 'He's been going for a long time.'
our way back to the CHPA headquarters in Epping, I reflected on some of
the peole that I had encountered that day. I realised the Bushy
Abrahams, his brother Francois and Oom Julies all had jobs. They had
vocations as real as the ones that my peers imagined that they had when
they set out to start their careers so many years ago.
Carties go about their jobs with professional pride and camaraderie.
There are bad ones and there are good ones. But then don't get me
started on doctors and lawyers...! They fulfill a usefull
function in society - even more useful perhaps than a banker. So
what's all this business about a proper job? I asked myself. The
Carties feed their families and most of them love their horses more
than any racehorse owner might love his pedigeed animal.
realised how conditioned we are in our structured society; how ossified
and largely irrelevant our protocols have become. We worry about how
we look, who we do business with and what other people think of us.
Many of us would treat a Cartie with disdain and dismiss him as a loser
with poor prospects. Yet his days' work experience might be many times
richer than that of the average city office worker.
I wished my grandmother was still alive so that we might argue a little.
Carthorse Protecton Association inspector Zelda Erasmus injects antibiotics into a four-day-old foal which cut its leg.
Andrew Newby March 2015
Why do firms lie?
NEARLY all firms, companies and commercial entities in South Africa are
uncomfortably economical when it comes to telling the truth.
They either deliberately withhold information from stakeholders (staff,
customers, shareholders, suppliers etc), tell them outright lies or
manipulate their information output in such a way that they are cast in
a kinder light than the harsh beams of reality might have portrayed
them to a cruel world.
most extraordinary thing about this preposterous situation is that
nearly all firms believe that they have a God-given right to
communicate in this way. After all, this is not personal. It's
business. Any business school will teach you that the purpose of
business is to maximise profit and if one has to boost the bottom line
by telling a few fibs along the way - well, that's how things are and
have always been. Think of the businesses that you deal with. Think of
your situation at your own firm.
You may well be asking how qualified I am to be making such bald
statements that cast aspersions on business in general ... especially
with so many organisations these days using the word 'transparency' as
the cornerstone of their corporate credence?
Well I can and will. I have been around for a while: several decades in
fact. It has never ceased to amaze me when I see how readily companies
twist or evade the truth. Honest church-going family individuals
leading up large organisations or divisions; most of them lie and
conceal at the drop of a hat.The sorry thing is that most of these
organisations are no longer around. I can't but help feeling that there
has to be a connection between the untruths of their erstwhile leaders
and the ultimate sustainability and viability of their existences.
THE CASE OF CI INDUSTRIES AND THE BATHTUB TRAILER
I recall early in my communications career, fresh out of newspapers,
doing work for a well-known caravan manufacturer in Pinetown, KZN
(actually in those days the province was called Natal).This
manufacturer had diversified impressively into the mobile home,
truck-trailer and specialised small trailer sectors. Its marketing was
clean, clear-cut and unambiguous. The world appeared to be its oyster.
This was until it acquired the manufacturing rights for a new US-based
heavy trailer brand and head-hunted some new technical staff from its
arch opposition. The scuttlebutt in the heavy transport sector was that
the fresh staff had come across with some trade secrets involving the
manufacture of a high-tech 'bathtub' bulk carrying trailer.
My client was going into production with its version of the 'bathtub'
trailer when the story with all of its dodgy implications found its way
into the trade and financial press. Now here was a company with a
previously squeaky-clean image and unblemished history. Its chief
executive was a genial individual who collected vintage cars,
always had a good-humored smile for the Press and owned a Ferrari. How
could such a wholesome organization be involved in such nefarious
Because I was involved in their communication, I was called by an old
newspaper colleague, Graham Fiford, who had moved up in the world to
become Natal editor of the Financial Mail. I was asked: 'Hey Andy bud,
now tell me. Is it true that CI stole the Henred bathtub trailer
design? I need to know because I'm putting this piece to bed by lunch.'
I immediately put a call through to the marketing director, a tall vain
fellow who also collected vintage cars and was obsessed with the 1820
Settlers. I was told in no uncertain terms that CI would never do a
thing like that and the allegations were false. I was reminded not to
bring the subject up again because it was both vexing and annoying for
him to deal with such minor matters.
I relayed the information back to my FM mate and he said thanks, He
went ahead with his article on that basis. Several weeks later, after
some sharp exchanges between lawyers, injunctions and some appearances
in civil courtrooms, it transpired that I had fed Fiford with the wrong
information. CI had in fact done the dirty deed and this all emerged
reluctantly into the public domain like a dirty object that had been
extracted from a blocked drain.
Apart from severing my relationship with the Financial Mail, the
incident taught me some valuable lessons. It lifted the wool from my
eyes and I learned that my clients were well-practiced liars. They
thought that it was OK to communicate untruths in a business
environment. They twisted and turned the truth whenever it suited them.
They informed me that 'it was warfare out there and the management of
any company has the right to use whatever resources that it has at its
disposal to keep the ship afloat.' This included lying to the
public as well as to their own employees.
Today that budding Pinetown empire no longer exists. The core caravan
section has been swallowed up by their former bitter rival, Jurgens,
and the rest of the group including the substantial mobile homes
division, either perished or was absorbed by other entities around
South Africa. Jurgens CI has its headquarters near Pretoria.
THE CASE OF SHIRE CONSTRUCTION AND ITS CRACK SEALING PROCECURES
Many years ago, I had a client; Shire Construction, once a major force
in Natal's civil engineering sector. They were so pious that a pastor
was trucked in to bless their newly built headquarters in Westmead
before they took occupation. Fervent prayers were regularly murmured in
management meetings before whiskey bottles were sent sliding briskly
down the board room table in the direction of empty tumblers. When a
middle manager reported how much he had cheated the Natal Roads
Department in a road surface crack sealing contract, it was drinks all
round yet again accompanied by much clapping and congratulations. Shire
Construction went bankrupt more than 15 years ago. All that effort in
building up a neat, well-run engineering business with impressive core
competencies had been wasted.
THE CASE OF A SWEETHEART DEAL THAT LEAVES A SOUR TASTE
Some years back I was doing work for BHP Billiton at its Bayside
aluminum smelter in Richards Bay. Now most of us know that there is an
electricity supply/price issue in that neck of the woods. This has been
brought even more into the public's eye recently with rolling blackouts
(euphemistically termed 'load shedding') and rocketing electricity
prices. BHP Billiton, which used to be Alusaf, has long enjoyed a
'sweetheart' agreement with Eskom with regard to price and supply of
It may surprise some people to learn that only several years ago, BHP
Billiton's electricity requirements for its three smelters (two in
Richards Bay and one in southern Mozambique) from Eskom accounted for
nine percent of the utility's total output for the entire southern
African region. And what's more, BHP Billiton pays R0.09 per kilowatt
hour (reputed to be the world's cheapest rate) compared to the R1 per
kilowatt hour paid by the average South Africa. This disparity has only
been squeezed out of BHP Billiton and Eskom fairly recently. For many
years it was a 'state secret'.
Even I, a mathematical dunce and mediocre economics student, can
appreciate that this is neither fair nor sustainable. Yet it's been
going on for a very long time. Decades ago. when I first started doing
work for the company, I asked then CEO of Alusaf, Rob Barbour, what
price the company paid Eskom for electricity. After all I had been
tasked with writing advertising copy that gleefully boasted that the
smelter produced aluminum so efficiently and cost effectively.
'I'm afraid I can't tell you that,' he replied. 'This is a strategic situation.'
What Rob Barbour really meant was that Alusaf's avowed communications
strategy included not only withholding the truth because it had been
deemed a state secret, but also because Alusaf simply did not want
anyone to know. Like a smutty in-joke, management only told those whom
they felt they could trust and those whom they wanted to let in on this
dirty little secret. Little did Barbour realise that this lack of
transparency would return one day to bite the organisation (to become
BHP Billiton), the Government and Eskom on their respective backsides.
South Africans would one day be as mad as snakes and clamour to know
why this situation should continue.
Four years ago I asked senior BHP Billiton managers when the
Bayside smelter would be closing because it was clearly not viable to
keep on flogging a dead horse.
'Never,' was the reply. 'Bayside will continue operating. It is a
profitable facility.' Well, last year BHP Billiton closed down its
Bayside smelter, leaving the Hillside smelter up the road and the Mozal
smelter in southern Mozambique still running at full capacities. The
'sweetheart' arrangement continues to support these operations -
although nobody likes to speak about it too much and in Richards Bay
it's considered bad form to draw attention to it.
It would be nice to believe that the artificially low tariff is in some
way redeemed by the foreign exchange that it brings in. But sadly this
is not the case. Most of the revenue is never circulated locally; it
finds its way offshore to BHP Billiton's Melbourne headquarters. This
too is not a popular subject and comprises a large elephant in the room
that is the Richards Bay district. Of course those locals that are
still there worry about their jobs. But job opportunities have
gradually declined - victims of the Australian-based monolith's
ruthless international cost-cutting programmes.
If ever a pro-globalisation, pro-corporate ideology has damaged a
country, it's been this lengthy chain of events being played out here
in South Africa: an ongoing unholy alliance between Pretoria,
parastatal bumbler Eskom and the aluminum smelter
Alusaf-which-became-BHP-Billiton. The damage being effected with so
many lies, conceled secrets, smoke and lots of mirrors. This alliance
tinkered behind closed doors with South Africa's money and resources,
then one member ran away with the profits. The ones who suffer have
always been ordinary South Africans , mostly poor people.
THE CASE OF DORBYL AND THE MISSING MILLIONS
At one time Dorbyl, formerly Dorman Long & Vanderbijl, was the
biggest heavy engineering outfit in Africa. It was a landmark name on
the South African industrial terrain, having earned its reputation in
the relentless and unforgiving business of steel production. Over the
years, Dorbyl diversified into other engineering activities: ship
building and repair, buses, locomotives and rolling stock, steel pipes
(Stewarts & Lloyds) automotive components (Johnson Controls),
retail automotive chains (Midas) and numerous other well-known
In its heyday, I made a corporate film for them, wrote brochure copy
and directed photography. Dorbyl had a CEO. Shall we call him
Wild Bill? He was a genuine General Rockjaw; tough, aggressive,
unforgiving and with the personality of a Black Mamba. I recall filming
a Dorbyl meeting attended by divisional managers and directors, headed
up by Wild Bill. One by one, he demolished each individual to a silent
wreck, sparing neither insult nor humiliating remark. I felt so
demoralised and flat for these senior managers that I had difficulty
keeping focus and exposure.
'Bill can get on his high horse,' remarked the Dorbyl PR lady
cheerfully after the meeting as she dished out tea and biscuits for the
camera crew. 'He never lets up. He worries about what the JSE analysts
think. Although you know, Dorbyl's share price is quite good today.'
Fast forward a decade or so and global engineering markets have changed
profoundly - thanks mainly to China's enormous resource consumption and
cheap skilled labour. Dorbyl is unbundled. It no longer exists as an
industrial heavyweight. In fact there's a firm called Guestro Castings
& Machining in Benoni which is all that remains of this once mighty
empire. For an organisation that at one time generated 35 000 jobs, the
several hundred people now employed on the East Rand stand as a stark
reminder of the group's fortunes.
The fallout that emerged from this deconstruction process was quite
extraordinary. The finance director ended up in court trying to explain
where the R40-odd million that he had expropriated was now sitting.
Wild Bill had taken it upon himself to spend lengthy periods in the
United States where he was overseeing the disposal of a US housing
company, Alpine Housing, that Dorbyl had previously acquired. Not being
in South Africa to keep watch on his finance director who was
assidiously applying his creative accounting talents to purloin
funds that were flowing out of the unbundling process, Wild Bill
eventually facilitated the sale of the housing company for $158
million. He was paid a handsome bonus for his efforts. But not long
afterwards things went a little pear-shaped when it was discovered that
Wild Bill was actually part of the US consortium. Although he had only
0.4% share in the consortium, he had effectively sold a fraction of a
Dorbyl asset to himself. To rub salt into the sting, Alpine was resold
only months afterwards for a whopping $250 million. Where is Wild Bill
these days? He appears not to be in South Africa.
Wild Bill tried to convey the image of being a tough but honest cowboy;
a no-nonsense Dead-Eye Dick who could be relied upon to get things
done. In the end he showed himself to be nothing more than a conniving
bully. His finance director was a simple crook with access to large
sums of cash. In fact time and again, senior businessmen, company
owners and majority shareholders lie and manipulate the truth in the
name of sound business practice, but are really only motivated by two
things: greed and their own egos.
It's the sort of greed that little people, the worker ants in large
organisational structures can only aspire to but never indulge in
because they don't have the opportunity to do so. But the damage
already done lies in a persuasive corporate culture of lies and evasive
actions. If the big guys do it, then the little ones follow suit. You
lie to protect the mother ship, even if it does eventually spit you out
when your usefulness has run its course.
THE CASE FOR AN EASIER WAY
Would it not be easier if we communicated clearly and openly at all
levels of commercial intercourse? Would life not be a lot sweeter if we
did not have to continually second-guess the next guy's move? Wouldn't
a lot of time and trouble be saved in the long-term? Can we not rid
ourselves of this obsessive mindset of having to keep our cards so
close to our collective chests 'because these are Company Secrets being
held in our sweaty paws?
Finally, could we not work towards eradicating this all-consuming greed
that seems to lurk in most human chests? Open and truthful
communication is perhaps a lot more important than most of us imagine
it to be. The companies that do indeed practice it stand out like
beacons on a sunlit beach.
Andrew Newby February 2015
Thought About Making Your Own Videos?
we come to terms with the fact that the
is over and that 2015 has well and truly arrived, some of us might have
feeling that difficult times lie ahead. There just seem to be too many
variables, curved balls, ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybe-maybe nots’ flying
are all human and human beings crave certainty. We
want to know that we have things in control … that we are well prepared
eventuality that might befall us. But we also know how rapidly
realities tend to fall apart these days. Markets swing in the wrong
economies slump, fickle customers become even more capricious and
conspire to snatch the carpet out from underneath our feet.
nothing that FarSide Productions can say or do to
neutralise these market vagaries. They are part and parcel of our
what we do. But we can suggest a few things that might reinforce your
and make you more capable and more importantly … more positive in your
with whatever might come your way.
New Year advice is: ‘Take control of your marketing
proactive; explore all available techniques and methods
to enhance customer relationships and engagements; review your tried
but aging marketing mix that has stood you in good stead for the past
decades and see why it might not be working as well as it was five
Above all, think out of the box, understand what’s going on around you
communicate at all times – externally and internally.
means getting out there and embracing change because
all those nasty feelings mentioned above stem mostly from the winds of
blowing through our ranks. Communicating effectively, consistently and
appropriately in the long-term requires long-haul energy and
already know that video is the one tool that goes a long way in
need. But moving pictures are expensive and burn up lots of energy.
necessitate dealing with these high-maintenance video companies who
really know (and probably don’t care either) how your business works.
that you should be using more video, but quite frankly, it’s a pain in
does it have to be expensive? And should it cause you
so much discomfort and distress? Why can’t you take on many of your
productions yourself – using the combined talents of those people
organisation? This may well be you. Because, who knows more about how
company works than yourself?
you say, I may know how to: sell insurance,
manufacture automotive parts, supply specialised IT services for the
sector … and many other things (tick where applicable). But I don’t
know how to produce video programmes. This is where those pesky video
production companies have us over a barrel. They know stuff that we
just like we know stuff that they don’t know.
there is some truth in those sentiments. But we don’t
really have you over a barrel. We just like it when you believe
that’s the case. The fact of the matter is that if we
really as good at what we say we can do, there will always be space in
market for specialised video and communication services. Actually most
organisations have the collective capability to put together a little
to three minute show that can go up on YouTube, be embedded in a web
letter or sales person’s tablet for a one-on-one customer presentation.
COMPACT IS GOOD
Digital Age has made all of this possible. Consider
this scenario: these days I walk around with a small black, slightly
(my daughter refers to it as a ‘man bag’) and inside is a Sony smart
small bracket that snaps on to the phone that allows it to be screwed
on to a miniscule
table-top tripod. Along with the phone, bracket and tripod, I also
carry in the
bag a Panasonic digital dictaphone/sound recorder (the sort that
to interview people).
smart phone has 16 gigs of internal memory and I can
insert a further 64-gig micro SD card if that‘s not sufficient. The
runs for hours before filling up. The contents of both are easily
into a laptop or desktop PC. If I so desire, I can shoot 4K with this
but ordinary old HD is more than enough for most pu rposes.
here we have the basis of an elementary shooting rig
for well under 8K. It’s so portable that it makes no demands on its
because most people carry smart phones anyway. If the user wants to use
conventional camera, there are a plethora of them available on the
Sanyo, Sony, Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, Olympus. Most of them have
the DSLR or camcorder categories that shoot in fairly high quality HD.
low-cost aluminum tripod can be had for less than 1K and a cheap lapel
lavalier wired microphone can be bought for several hundred rand to
the audio requirements.
WHAT ABOUT THE
what about the editing? You may well ask. In the old
analogue days, production companies had to shell out hundreds of
rands to edit the ubiquitous bulky Betacam tapes that were generated in
production – big or small.
days, we’re well into the Digital Age and suppliers
are offering consumer editing software that can be acquired instantly
for a few hundred rand. Professional production houses use Apple’s
Pro or Adobe’s Premiere software. Here at FarSide we use Avid Media
from the US. There’s also a programme from Sony called Vegas and Grass
Edius is capable of handling a feature movie. All of these high-end
have mammoth learning curves, are mostly expensive to purchase and have
outrageous hardware requirements in terms of graphic cards,
some of the entry level programmes designed for
beginners are extremely intuitive. The British trakAxPC software is not
at all expensive,
can be learned in several hours and has direct YouTube upload
capability. At a
pinch, a person can put a very simple video together using Windows’
programme which comes free.
perceived difficulty in making video productions
usually lies in equipment operation and post production. Admittedly,
together a little show requires a carefully crafted workflow. But when
looks at the combined capabilities of most organisations, it is by no
COMMIT EVERYTHING TO
truth, the actual difficulty in making video
productions lies more in the attitude (or lack of it) of the person or
trying to make the show. If they are very clear about what they want to
communicate and they set about their task logically but at the same
creatively, they should not have a problem. Writing the script is the
biggest (and most hidden hurdle). Legendary film maker Francis Ford
Coppola (The Godfather series, Apocolypse
Now, The Rainmaker, The Great Gatsby, One from the Heart etc) has
gone on record as saying that he is perfectly
of every aspect of film making: the shooting, directing, editing and
production etc. But he is most nervous about the writing aspect of the
hand. Coppola commits everything to paper. He writes everything down,
in his words with ‘a big pile of dough’ and gradually reduces it to the
of the story that he wants to tell. Once that is in place, everything
falls into place. Making a three-minute product video is no different.
requires some cerebral effort.
suggest that to learn how to make short videos on quick
demand in response to shifting market changes, one should approach a
video production house (or better still, a video training facility) to
familiar with some of the basics.
companies that normally provide video services might feel
threatened by their customers hiving off and making their own shows,
the effrontery to request assistance to facilitate this move! If this
fact the case, then these production houses should have a long, hard
their own operations. Because they too are in the businesses of trying
it in an intensely competitive environment. They also need to re-visit
status in a changing order.
EMERGENCE OF A
succeed in that order requires collaborative
relationships and trust. A value-adding culture is emerging and video
companies need to work with their clients to establish longer-term
relationships and forego the ‘rip the ring out if you possibly can’
will always be the higher-end work coming from those customers that
more than a consumer camcorder and entry-level edit programme. That’s
future lies for the production houses of tomorrow.
those companies who build their capacity in the
moving pictures department, the rewards over time will be great. They
have to aspire to Coppola productions – they just have to become
communicating their stories in honest little 2-3 minute productions.
succeed if they flight them at the right time off the right platforms.
will emerge with a greater understanding of what’s happening in the
milieu along with a boosted confidence to deal with all those curved
spinning that are spinning around their heads.
Newby January 2015
A video for the Carthorse
Benjy takes a rest on a hot summer's day.
THECarthorse Protection Association
must surely rate as one of the top contenders for the ‘Cinderella
South Africa’ title (if there was indeed such a competition).
all charities and many NGOs do great work and make differences in many
lives. There are many that I would gladly support. But somehow the
Protection Association (CHPA) is the one that stands out above all the
it’s just my psychological makeup
that resonates so finely with the mission of this particular
people and of course its stock in trade, which are the cart horses and
of Cape Town.
It's a Cape Thing
This is a
Cape Thing … going all the way to District Six and before. My
was born in Simon’s Town in 1894, used to relate childhood tales of the
cart; its arrival was preceded by the distinctive sound of its horn
blown. This alerted locals to get outside into the streets in time to
their snoek, fresh off the cart from fishing boats of False Bay. In
horse-drawn carts were used widely for general transport, removals,
vegetable sales and other smous
these activities started evaporating with the implementation of the
Act by the Nationalist Government in 1968. As the coloured people of
and surrounds were forcibly removed to the Cape Flats and other
the Carties and their horses (along with many other victims of the
programme) faced an uncertain future. They were forced to turn to the
metal trade to eke out a living on the uncharitable, wind-blown, sandy
the Flats. Distances were long, pickings were few and misery abounded.
the community spirit of the old
Carties and their steeds all but evaporated, somehow the phenomenon of
horse-drawn transport in the Cape survived – but not without terrible
and suffering. Horses were overworked and it was not uncommon for one
and die on the road while struggling with an overloaded cart. Ignorance
part of the operators was rife, mainly because owners hired their
animals out to
rookie drivers who knew little or nothing about animal husbandry and
needs. The dubious criminal association with the scrap metal industry
has always been notorious for operating on the other side of the law if
further eroded the fine tradition that the Carties once enjoyed.
A Cartie takes a chance riding his steed
home bareback after getting her re-shod at the CHPA facility in Epping.
They are not supposed to ride their horses sans saddle, but clearly some of
the Carties revel in the Wild West chaos created as they come
galloping through the traffic. Nobody can fault this youngster's riding
The Cart Horse
Protection Association is formed in 1995
In 1995 some
concerned individuals, really worried about what they were seeing on
daily, started up what became the Cart Horse Protection Association of
mission lay in the eponymous nature of its title. The body was formed
protect cart horses, but in doing so, it had to get as many of the
(operators and owners) on board as possible.
To boost the
general wellbeing of Cape Town’s carthorses, the people who formed the
realised that they were in for a long-haul programme that would require
extensive education, fund-raising, policing, veterinary services,
infrastructural support and a lot more. It was a mammoth project and it
required really special people to make it work.
in the organisation was piqued when my daughter announced that she
wanted to make
her first full-length documentary about the Carties and their horses.
since she could walk, she has been fascinated by horses and it was
that she would turn her attention to the cart horses that klop past our
several times a week (more can be read about her project on her blog http://lifeisahardroad.wordpress.com/).
After dropping her off and fetching her at the CHPA’s headquarters in
times, I was so impressed with the work being done and the people doing
I decided that I had to contribute something. If I were Christo Wiese
or Patrice Motsepe, I would have immediately written out a cheque to
the CHPA for a million rands or more. But since I'm neither of those
two gentlemen, I offered what I had, which were my video and
communications expertise and services.
Filming in the informal settlement area of
CHPA turns 20 this
I was delighted when
general manager Megan White responded by saying that they would be
grateful if I could make a production that could commemorate the first
two decades of the Cart Horse Protection Association's activities in
Cape Town. The organisation turns 20 this year. We have had
meetings with Senior Inspector Diana Truter and begun shooting some
general scenes. It's going to be an interesting and I suspect,
gratifying project. We will keep you informed in this space on Portal
PS My daughter's Life is a Hard Road doccie is
still going ahead. But it's taking longer than originally anticipated.
Possibly she bit off a little more than she could chew - so we have
made it a father-and-daughter production and she can still call herself
Have a look at some of the
early clips that we have shot:
Andrew Newby January 2015
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