Another COVID wave?

Maybe not

Time for a bold take. There won’t be a fourth COVID wave!

We’re exiting the third wave in South Africa, and (depending on how you count) globally too. Most people seem to be expecting another wave in Dec/Jan. I think there’s at least a 50% chance it won’t happen. (Yeah, that’s only 50%, but higher than many people are guessing).

Why? Because waves are driven by variants. Another wave would need a variant that is substantially more infectious than Delta, and/or evades immunity, and/or there is a massive decline in vaccine effectiveness. Some of those happened with Beta, and then Delta, but there’s no sign yet of a similar variant (early days I know). Historically, though, respiratory pandemics (eg 1918 flu) have 1-2 serious variants and that’s it. Plus, the hurdle for a successful breakout variant grows with every vaccination performed.

So it’sm far from certain but let’s put a stake in the ground 🙂

PS. Get vaccinated. COVID can kill outside waves, and we need to keep that hurdle climbing else a fourth wave is much more likely.

More Predictions

It’s time for some more predictions! Last time I did that (My predictions for the next 10, 20, 30 years) I was, if anything, too conservative Although, the section of “Black Swans” at the bottom was particularly accurate… (and has NOT been edited since it was written).

Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

So here goes! Where do I think common opinion is wrong, especially in South Africa?

Electric vehicles and renewables

  1. By 2030, 40%+ of new cars sold in South Africa will be pure electric, with East Africa (eg Kenya) a bit behind, and West Africa a bit further behind. This seems inevitable when looking at the promises from major Western car companies, and the pace of innovation and falling prices from Chinese car companies.
  2. Due to 1., by 2030 the demand for petrol in South Africa will be falling 3%+ per year; and electricity demand will be growing 1% per year due to electric cars (though it may be falling for other reasons).
  3. Despite decarbonisation of electricity, and the growth of electric cars, the price of electricity in major global markets will NOT rise significantly from today’s levels, and may even fall, due to rapid rollout of solar and other renewables. South Africa is a special case depending on Eskom’s finances.
  4. By 2030, there will be large businesses built on taking advantage of near-free electricity during sunny hours (e.g., bulk hydrogen production), in several global markets.
  5. There will never again be a major (>300MW) coal power station built in South Africa.
  6. Kusile coal power-station will stop operating (or at least have been converted off coal) well before 30 years (2050), despite a design lifetime of 50+ years (around 2070). Which means an even bigger disaster for its return on capital.

Consumer trends over next 10-15 years

  1. The distinction between FMCG company / “brand” (designs and coordinates the manufacture of products, high margins, high marketing spend %, little direct consumer interaction) and retailer (sells products from brands, low margin, high volume,  low marketing spend %) will continue to blur in both directions, to an effective spectrum; plus there will be new logistics business models beyond traditional retailers, that aggregate deliveries from multiple other players (i.e., Instacart model evolved further).
  2. Traditional monolithic brands will fragment in favour of increasing numbers of niche brands with more authenticity and story. New “meta-brands” will appear, in the form of structured ranges of endorsements by influencers.
  3.  By 2030, 20%+ of “meat-like” products sold in upper-end grocery stores will be plant-based (i.e., non-animal).
  4.  By 2035, we will routinely take individualised medical probiotics in order to tune our gut biota, as treatment for a wide variety of complaints.


  1. By 2035, it will be functionally impossible for “legitimate” companies and individuals to use tax havens and financial engineering to pay near-zero taxes on profits or income.
  2. There are fortunes that will still be made in simplifying the payment of paper (or PDF) invoices, using machine learning text recognition to automatically load payment requests via bank apps/APIs. This will happen far faster than we can persuade people to stop using paper-based invoices for billing.

The July 2021 Riots

A thought to ponder

My enduring image of the 2021 looting will not be empty shelves or burning warehouses, but a short video of a boy, maybe 10 years old, carrying a MrPrice bag. He’d been stopped by a passer-by who went through his bag. It had a t-shirt or two, a pair of tekkie shoes, one 5-pack of underwear, and one or two other things, neatly folded away.

It didn’t have toys. Or flatscreen TVs. Or even food.

It had a few clothes, and a single pack of new underwear.

The bag was closed again, and he went on his way, in the grimy and thin clothes he was wearing, into a Johannesburg winter night that was at about freezing point.

There are many things to be said about attempted coups, and factional battles, and senseless vandalism, and the desperation of yet another COVID lockdown, and a terribly slow police response, and the community response that showed the best and sometimes the worst of us, and about how the ultimate victims of the looting are almost entirely going to be the people who can least afford it. And it’s all true and important, but also … not really anything new. It’s just where we are, the unsurprising result of the last few years, and also the last few decades, and also the last few centuries, as we take steps forwards and backwards.

But when the sun comes up in the morning, we need to get up, and put down our social media feeds, and get back to work. Cleaning up, building, teaching, healing, starting businesses, spending tax money responsibly, serving customers, processing paperwork, even sending emails. Because doing those things better is the only way I can think of that we can gradually build a society that is good enough for us all.

Not (just) so that looting doesn’t happen, but so that a 10-year-old child doesn’t need an outbreak of looting to get a new set of underwear.

Why does the start up industry beat corporates?

We seem to have, today, an unparalleled explosion in young, new companies, pioneering new products or ways of doing business, and thereby disrupting seemingly invincible pillars of our economy through explosive growth — commonly called startups. How is this possible?

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Startups face a seemingly impossible challenge: they seek to build successful businesses from nothing. To do so, they need products that are so much better than alternatives that customers choose to use the new products, despite the lack of any brand recognition. These products need to be built on a shoe-string budget (at least initially), and quickly, by a team of founders that are working with limited resources, limited structures and few established commercial relationships. How can this ever work? Why don’t bigger companies, with access to all the same new technologies, lots of resources and skilled staff, a brand, and sales and marketing teams, win every time?

The answer often comes down to two things: startups have a completely crazy idea that actually works, and/or they are unreasonably good at something.

Continue reading “Why does the start up industry beat corporates?”