Moving to Johannesburg


So in the second last week of May, I moved to Joburg, Yunus Carrim was ousted as the head of the Department of Communications in Zuma’s new cabinet, Vodacom bought Neotel, Internet Solutions bought out AlwaysOn, and Telkom bought BCX.

Technically, only the first and fourth items in that list are done deals.

Oh, and I messed up my left shoulder again practicing legless rope climbs.

My goodness what a bunch of churn! Not even sure where to start with this …. Vodacom had announced intentions to buy Neotel last year so this wasn’t really a surprise; the surprise was how long it was taking. Most consumers don’t really give a hoot about such things, but in the world of telecoms, this is a big deal: the biggest mobile carrier buying one of the biggest fibre players, with a whole lot of international capacity and spectrum to boot. Telecoms gobbledygook aside …. It’s a major, major thing, which will either be really good for the industry by having one large, competent player with nationwide reach …. Or possibly really bad. As communications person for WAPA, I had to figure out our stance on this, which was not as straightforward as it might seem.

My new home! Morningside.

My new home! Morningside.

Internet Solutions buying AlwaysOn was partly unexpected and partly not, for reasons I can’t really say publicly. Telkom and BCX? Really nothing I have to say about that other than this: the industry is consolidating, and fast. Very interesting times indeed.

Telecoms is like high school: we mostly all know each other, if not personally then by reputation. And: we gossip. A lot.

And yeah it can be dodgy and yeah it can be cutthroat but I tell you what …. Some of my reactions in this week surprised even me. It’s like when you get news that’s good for your employee and bad for you as a manager (like when Jade called last year to tell me she was pregnant and my first reaction was to squeal with excitement before thinking: ‘Oh, shit!’). It’s been less than two years and I’m a card-carrying telecoms girl. Do NOT mess with this industry or I take it personally; perhaps even more so than a specific commercial interest in my own companies, as important as I find that.

Part of my offices, in Woodmead

Part of my offices, in Woodmead

Look, it’s not perfect. It’s much maligned for high prices, poor customer service, shoddy infrastructure, etc. Name me anyone who likes their ISP or mobile carrier. Except for Afrihost, and maybe T-Mobile, that make a huge effort to be different. But on the other side: these companies lay out MASSIVE amounts of cash to build networks. You’re talking 5, 10, 15, 20 year ROI stories. Most industries and companies don’t have the guts, or the patience, for that; and then governments decide to come in and change the rules, or OTT companies come and act like parasites on the network. There’s a difference between symbiosis and parasitical behaviour.

But on more than one occasion, I felt like I got punched in the gut, and by I, I mean the industry. It’s no surprise to anyone who reads this blog or knows me at all that I take stuff personally. Not most stuff: business is business, and sometimes deals just don’t make sense. Or sometimes they do but companies aren’t used to partnering and it falls through. Like a spouse that doesn’t understand the notion of compromise.

But my family I take personally; and my staff, partners, and allies are my family.

Don’t mess with my damn family.

Sandton, at a roofdeck party

Sandton, at a roofdeck party

I love it; I love talking about it, I love the people I’ve met through it. As high schools go, it’s not too bad.

Maybe it attracts those of us who openly admit we never fully grew up: it’s got the cool kids (Afrihost, who openly admit they make major strategic decisions while out drinking), the football captain who’s untouchable and knows it (Vodacom, for obvious reasons), the weird guy with the strange outfits (Cybersmart, for the logo alone!), the guy who joins the cheerleading squad so he can hang out with the girls, and everyone sees through this but he doesn’t realise they do (not to blow his cover…).

But I say all this with love because we call players that for a reason. You don’t hate your competition. It’s there to make you better, and to give consumers choice. I’ve even grown to tease and quite like some of the guys who work for my competition.

Not saying there’s not enemies. But enemies and competitors are two different things. Thanks to my friend Maged for pointing out the difference to me some weeks back.

Some of the gold mines, as seen from the air

Some of the gold mines, as seen from the air

Competitors you respect; enemies you don’t. Competitors compete, enemies play dirty.

But enough telecoms nerdiness. Joburg! I’d been meaning to move here for ages, and from when I decided in December, some people believed me. Others told me I was crazy and I should stay in Cape Town. There’s a certain look of surprise and joy that you just can’t hide; and I saw it on someone else’s face this week, before presiding over destruction like the Star Wars Emperor. I felt the joy part (if not the surprise) in my own smiles.

What is it about Joburg?

The sunny winter days?

The rolling hills and trees everywhere, where you feel like you’re always in e leafy suburb, because you are?

The assumption, when you call a major telco, that you can just swing by the next day? Not having to explain that no, I’m actually in Cape Town but I’ll be up next week, is a nice feeling.

A typical street

A typical street

It’s always had this strange allure to me, like a magical place in the sky where business happened and people sat in traffic and it was just highly unpleasant. That’s the strawman. The reality is a bit different; the business pace is fast, and outside of the charmless parts of Sandton, Midrand, and Centurion, or the dangerous parts (I’m still nowhere near a Jozi expert), or the massive shopping centres, it’s lovely.

You have Zoo Lake & Emmerentia; the Maboneng Precinct, the Highveld sunsets, Melville, and expensive houses perched on cliffs overlooking the hilly terrain.

Actually, you have Los Angeles. If Los Angeles had higher walls, more trees, more varied weather, and no beach.

So, strange that a Norcal girl would choose to live in the Socal of Africa. But hey, the heart wants what it wants!

Coffee. And some eggs & bacon.

Coffee. And some eggs & bacon.

On Thursday evening I returned to Cape Town, in time for qigong where we’re now on to sinew changing which is quite hectic, then a packed Friday of meetings (the way to make Cape Town move quickly is to only work in town one day a week!!).

The weekend brought more Regionals training, which was going SO WELL because my psoas was feeling better and I could actually snatch and overhead squat again, although pistols on the right leg still eluded me. And then …. There was the legless rope climb of death.

You know that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach?

And then I checked the news.

Not a great way to end my weekend.

  • “But I’ve disclosed it. So it’s OK.” – Dominic
  • “It seems like it makes sense. In a complicated sort of way.” – Dominic
  • “I’m not sure if I had one too many Savannas to drink but when I saw that email I just started laughing.” – Blake
  • “I follow you very closely. Not like a stalker.” “I’d be very careful about what you say next.” – Paul & Paul
  • “I’ve figured that out. But don’t ask me how, because that’s IP.” “Well, that’s funny because the very next thing I was going to ask you was how.” – Paul & Ellie
  • “The ones on this call are the ones that are making things happen.” – Doug
  • “Vodacom is the new Telkom.” – Mohammad
  • “You can never win on price.” “Even when you win, you lose.” – Paul & Ellie
  • “Film and Publications Board. Don’t ask why I know this.” – Ellie
  • “If my hair catches on fire, I’m suing SES.” – Ellie
  • “Oh come on now, if I was going to cheat on you why would I tell you about it?” – Ellie
  • “Who are you competing for?” – Jason
  • “Every rest day I think to myself ‘maybe I can just train a little bit.’” – Rick
  • “Pas bon.” – Ben
  • “You don’t control the entire radio network because the end points are someone else’s radios.” – Enrico
  • “You’re French now.” – Fred
  • “Are you gonna be able to compete?” “I’m not sure.” – Lara & Ellie

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