Opinionista Bob Skinstad 8 November 2013

Some tips for the Springboks, Gautrain and SAA

I haven’t written for a while - apologies, I am trying to be as regular as possible – no pun intended, and while writing is an extra mural for me, I have had a few mural things to attend to.

New directions and excitement have been the order of the day job, same industry but a new role and an opportunity which has come about very suddenly, and has been all-consuming. As the dust settles I will manage a more formal writing calendar.

Anyway – the new role is about fixing what is broken, it is an exciting opportunity to resurrect a giant of the technology arena is Southern Africa, and one I will be committed to for a long while.

Fixing has been a theme of a good few days in Johannesburg and some other countrywide visits. Due to internal and external business improvement being front and centre, it has made me look at other problems and it has spurred me to do some writing about some areas that could do with a bit of duct tape and some elbow grease.

In fact on a flight this morning, I picked three that I came across – so I will focus on them.

1. Springboks – close to my heart and definitely on the up, where to improve and what to change: There are a few things that make a team competitive regardless, defence and set piece excellence are non-negotiables, and then goal kicking is vital.

Attack, unfortunately for a player like me, is often built only out of confidence in defence and set piece, and it has a limiting effect on creativity, especially where and when you would be happy to attack.

Although outplayed, I think we were all delighted to see how we attacked the New Zealand team at Ellis Park, and it brought gushing, enthusiastic fans out of the woodwork.

Improve? Yes, the finishing was poor by us and great by them. Ben Smith sniffed the gap and scored, twice. By comparison, we were over the advantage line and in their red zone, with a three on two, and bundled into touch, thrice. Two different outcomes for similar events. If you take out the brilliant individual efforts of Bryan Habana and the loose forwards who gave him the ball in space, from memory, first Duane then Flo, we actually finished very little of what we had enthusiastically started.

They did a lot with very little, and we did very little with only a bit more. Still, we were there, in possession and in their territory.

So, like the fumbling teenager at the back of the dance hall, with raging hormones and a ‘broek vol planne’ who gets the sequence of events ever so slightly wrong, there will be a next time, and then, with that all important improvement, we will be ready and experienced enough to score.

I like the tour group; it smacks of improvements to a squad that is already looking like it knits together in culture, and learns how to grow each week.

A few new faces, a few old ones, and some combinations to make you drool.

Pat Lambie, the baby-faced assassin, with nerves of steel, must be looked at as an attacking flyhalf option, even if it means moving Morne Steyn to 15, where he has played before, or even switch them on attack and defense. That would be experimentation, and I concede, hard to do when you are fixing on the go!

2. The Gautrain was another area where I looked beyond the joy and ease: it has added to my constant travel schedule, for little itty-bitty improvements that could make it even better.

I have only done the Sandton ORT and return leg, albeit a hundred times, so I was delighted to read about the uptake in commuters from Pretoria, Rosebank and the other lines, and the difference it has made in their lives, verified by two work colleagues this week.

So, if I wanted to improve the Gautrain, I would…..

a) Improve and upgrade the lifts. They are too small, and because they open from both sides, it causes great confusion to new users. Badly signposted, there are also way to few of them. There is a cavernous opening from the top of the Sandton side to the trains below, with several elevators. They seem to be in a constant state of partial repair, so anyone who can’t walk up (or down) the numerous flights of stairs, could get half way on the escalators, get stranded, and have to return again, all the way to the elevators, and we have already covered that.

b) Improve the waiting areas. Uncomfortable seats and very little space, with no vendors for food, drinks or newsstands, in the instant gratification oriented society, it makes the wait drag out. Even some advertising or news boards, with a loop of information would be better than staring at your phone, static posters, or the 11 minutes to go sign, for the full 11 minutes, and more.

c) Have an on/off system for the trains, and manage it through the ever-present guards, who seem to able to tell you not to eat, drink or chew gum, and simultaneously remain oblivious to the plight of a travelling mother with children and bags, being buried back inside the train by boarding passengers.

A system to get those that are on, off, and those that are off, on, would work like a dream, especially with all the smartly dressed security officials making it run smoothly.

There, I think they are easily fixable, and would improve the journey drastically, would love to hear your thoughts.

3. Lastly, SAA. Don’t worry, I am not going to list the ways that I think we could fix our national carrier, it is a topic too hot, too contended, and too in-depth to cover here. I don’t think it is unfixable, but it would attract some accountability, public funding and organizational genius to get it completely right.

I am however, going to ask that we fix the latest route change. Argentina will no longer be serviced directly by our national carrier. Argentina’s ambassador has said it is a political decision, and not based on the commercial criteria. Keeping our trade relations up with the Brics countries is vital, as the rest of the world looks to developing nations for growth.

I am quite privileged to be the Tourism Ambassador for the Overstrand and Cape Whale Coast and have had my eyes opened to the ancillary economic benefits of tourism, by the ceo of Wesgro, Nils Flaaten, and Minister for Economic Development, Alan Winde, and their capable and dedicated teams who manage the relevant departments.

Together, we are constantly looking to grow areas of our tourism that are already there, and more importantly, ones that weren’t there before.

Argentina and South Africa share similar climates, passions for outdoor activity, sporting excellence, winemaking ability, and many other traits, and we can grow our visits between the countries because of these similarities.

Recently, there has been an incredible uptake in travelling rugby teams from Argentina. Young, active people want to come and see South Africa and spend some travelling and playing time here. Super Rugby currently eludes them, and is a live spectacle they all book and take in on their visits. We fall into their ‘off peak’ rugby window around February and March, and have a well-priced, diverse, accepting and rugby mad community to receive them.

The sport is played in most high-end schools and universities in Argentina, and the scholars who don’t make it as professionals end up being business leaders who can take our trade relations forward.

The numbers will out, and it might be that the flight is not yet as popular as it could be, but I think the improvement I am asking for is one that encompasses a view to growing an important part of our economy, not one that stifles it.

Ok, all fixed then? Brilliant. DM



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