Clem Sunter

Another uplifting 24 hours in South Africa

2013-05-17 09:49

Clem Sunter

Deluged as you are with the bad news of crime and corruption, families landing their relations at the wrong airports and unions fighting one another in the workplace, you can still spend 24 uplifting hours in South Africa. You can still feel that this is a great place to live and you can still marvel at the wonderful and innovative people around you. Of course for that short period of time, you have to block out all the news reports and turn your eyes away from the headlines on newspaper stands and those earnest faces giving you breaking news on the TV screens.

My way of switching into a positive mode is to make a mental note of all the pockets of excellence I have run into during my daily existence here. Two days ago I experienced three in 24 hours; one through my ears, the second through my eyes and the third through my feet.

Trust, but verify

My first experience was attending a breakfast at the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel in Johannesburg where I learnt that we are the world's leader in biometric systems used for access control into offices. One in five employees now check in and out using their finger or thumb print, a much higher ratio than in the US. Virtually all the world's leading advances in this field emanate from South Africa. It has huge potential now as a device to protect your internet site and your bank account. Did you know that for every one dollar stolen from American banks using the classical technique of holding up staff with shotguns, over one hundred dollars is stolen using cyber-theft? Fascinating too is that every US President is issued with a "biscuit" which has the nuclear weapons launch code. One completely mislaid it and brazenly denied the fact for weeks to his security detail; and another one sent it to the dry-cleaners.

The point of these stories is that no card and no pin number is directly linked to an individual like a unique fingerprint that you carry around with you all the time. A biometric system not only verifies that it is your fingerprint, it reduces it to an algorithm that cannot be reassembled by hacking into a computer. I know a number of you readers will immediately say that this will only be an added incentive to a robber to cut off your finger; but the new device will be able to measure whether there is a pulse in your finger and distinguish between a live and dead one. Skin grafts are beyond the normal bandit. So, as one of the presenters said, the future no longer lies in your hands but at the tip of your fingers. Incidentally, 90% of the people committing cyber fraud have no previous conviction so profiling is useless.

A spicy opening

After the breakfast, I flew to Durban to give a talk at a function for estate agents and stayed overnight at the Elangeni. The hotel has just opened a steak house on the ground floor and the food was exceptional. I had a fillet cooked to perfection with a genuine Madagascar sauce, big non-greasy chips and spinach that had not been overcooked into an unrecognisable mush. The starter reminded me of Istanbul because it was a spicy, hot spread that you could put on your bread rolls. The point worth making is that although the tab was quite pricey by South African standards, the meal would have cost at least double in Perth or London.

A morning walk

The following  morning I went for a walk down the sea front to the uShaka Marine World. The promenade they have created beats the beach fronts in Sydney or anywhere in the UK but that is not difficult. The surfers, canoeists, joggers, walkers like me were experiencing the sheer heaven of another day on Earth where nothing can get in the way of the pleasure you feel. There was one police van along the entire strip and no one - not even the many women walking or jogging alone - looked as if they felt insecure. Equally, the place was free of litter and I thought we are world class if only we all try and work together.

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