SA must wake up, smell coffee and fix education problems

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If there was any doubt about the extent of the work that South Africa must do to fix its education system, it was most probably put to rest yesterday when Kenyan business mogul Chris Kirubi slammed the country for not thinking creatively enough.

Speaking at an event about investment opportunities in Africa, hosted by another billionaire – Michael Bloomberg – Kirubi said South Africa was beset with schools with low-quality teaching.

He said that all it would take to tackle this problem would be for South Africa to open up to allow for teachers from abroad to come and assist in raising the quality of education.

“You are suffering with the quality of schools, which are way backward. We are loaded with teachers who can help children catch up and become international players,” he said to embarrassing silence.

In effect, he is telling the truth, judging by the extent that Kenya is making strides in technology innovation and start-up culture. If indeed we must import teachers, to show us how it is done, we must take the advice because our 30 percent “pass all” culture is causing untold damage to our ability to compete.

Failing this, we will soon need to play catch-up not only with the rest of the world, but with Africa – right here in our back yard.

Chicken wars

In these tough economic times, the lowly chicken has picked up an uncanny ability to arrest attention whenever it is mentioned. From import tariff fights, to producers complaining of high input costs, to brining and all other chicken business matters, people sit up and listen.

This time the chicken entering Taste Holdings’ coop in the form of Zebro’s Chicken is commanding attention.

The new chicken fast-food restaurant, which has been acquired by Taste Holdings, is about to shake its competitors a bit.

The Zebro’s Chicken brand comes with a unique way to prepare chicken commercially and that is to braai it. Taste Holdings chief executive Carlo Gonzaga said one of the reasons this deal made so much sense was its preparation method.

Now if you mention the word braai in this country, you are truly speaking to South Africans. We even have a national holiday dubbed Braai Day.

But maybe Zebro’s braaied chicken will have to wait because South Africa’s fried chicken champion, KFC, is embarking on a massive restaurant roll-out even though it is already the biggest chicken outlet.

KFC has not only partnered with more local chicken producers but it has also moved to other parts of the continent.

Just like KFC, Zebro’s Chicken has been trading its 40 stores in areas like taxi ranks, malls and rural towns.

Both KFC and Zebro’s claim that they are targeting the lower end of the market but they forget that at those taxi ranks, townships and rural towns there is a big informal market chicken offering known as “chicken dust”.

This is a fairly new concept that is also based on a braai or flamed-grill concept. Chicken dust might well be a competitor to KFC and Zebro’s Chicken in this space.

It is Gonzaga’s dream to see a Zebro’s Chicken store next to every Fish & Chip Co outlet, as he feels they service the same consumer.

The stores would be rolled out nationally and this should bring smiles to local chicken producers. May the best chicken – between braaied, flame grilled and fried – win.

Energy

The government has spent 20 years supporting the development of the country’s first thin film solar photovoltaic (PV) panel manufacturing project.

A significant R180 million of government funding has been directed to the project, which yesterday got closer to the reality where the country can manufacture its own PV panels.

But it was a bit confusing to hear that after all the financial support and time it has taken to develop the hi-tech technology unveiled in Stellenbosch yesterday, the government has not made a decision about moving from a demonstration plant to a full commercial plant where panels could be manufactured for local commercial use and even for export.

The thin film PV panels demonstrated by Photovoltaic Technology Intellectual Property (PTiP) at the Stellenbosch Technopark were fully developed in South Africa and it is one of the most fascinating technologies the country has produced.

The film used on the panels is only three microns thick, with a quarter of human hair diameter. Its material is 98 percent thinner than that of silicone-based PV panels, which are at least 300 microns thick.

Of course, this does not say much until one learns that because less material is used in these panels, it means that there is a 30 percent reduction in production costs, thus driving the cost of solar PV power even lower.

Already the solar industry expects PV energy to reach grid parity in two years, meaning that its cost of producing electricity would be comparable to that of power utility Eskom, PTiP chief executive Vivian Alberts indicated yesterday.

So hopefully the government will quickly make up its mind about the full commercialisation of the country’s first thin-film PV production plant when given these figures. page 16

Edited by Peter DeIonno. With contributions from Ellis Mnyandu, Nompumelelo Magwaza and Londiwe Buthelezi.


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