Myrle Vanderstraeten joined Gleason Publications in October 1998. Assistant editor to David Gleason on without prejudice from October 2001 until March 2011, Myrle took over the reins as editor in April 2011.
Passionate about the publication, she has revelled in the challenges to maintain the magazine’s reputation as “a rare source of valuable information” and views the entry into the digital world as an exciting step that will expand without prejudice’s footprint into other jurisdictions.
This month we revelled in the Olympics; held our collective breath as our athletes looked likely to be medal contenders and cheered as loudly as we would have done had we been there when they took the podium. Three gold medals, two silvers and a bronze – a fabulous tally and, given the lack of funding for our sporting talents, probably more than we should reasonably have anticipated.
When South Africa became a democracy there were, for me, three essential elements that would now be available to citizens regardless of creed, colour or gender. In no particular order – an independent legal system on which everyone could count to be fair; the possibility to be the very best in whatever field was selected and education for all – without which there is nothing else.
One disappointing refrain weaved through the comments from our Top Students of 2002 and 2006 and it is one I that I now hear from the Candidate Attorneys who were the graduates of 2011 – the state of the courts. It is not only the physical state but it is also the attitude.
Reports of the numbers of postal workers striking vary from scores to thousands. The reason for the strike is a demand by casual workers, sourced from labour brokers, to be employed permanently. Currently the Post Office is, apparently, only prepared to hire people for 12 months. This, Mervin King of the Communications Workers Union said, is not good enough. “As far as we are concerned, the Post Office has money. If not they must go to government to ask for some." For government one should, of course, read – taxpayers.
I commented in the April issue that the Top Student feature appeared for the 10th year in succession. This issue carries Where are they now? and features those original 16 2002 graduates; it makes for interesting reading. I must extend an apology to the graduates of 2006; having compiled the feature to include the Top Students both 10 and five years back, we took the decision to carry one in May and the other in June. I put several under pressure to send me information and photographs and I hope they will not be too annoyed to find they will only appear next month. The bottom line is that both the "2002" and the "2006" groups are worthy of an exclusive feature.
This is the 10th year in which without prejudice has carried its annual Top Students at the Top Universities feature. In 2003 without prejudice was at the start of its second full year in the market place and there were 16 top final year LLB students from the five universities featured in the inaugural survey – UCT, Natal, Port Elizabeth, Pretoria and Rhodes. That year neither RAU (as the University of Johannesburg then was) nor Wits had finalised their top students of 2002. When it came to 2004 the students of all seven of the universities were included. 2007 saw the entry of Stellenbosch University and the University of the Free State contributed from 2010. without prejudice will attempt to contact those 16 graduates and it will be interesting to see how many of them have stayed in the law and where they are now practising. This will appear in the May issue of the publication along with our, Where are they now? feature that keeps up with the Top Students five years back.
February is always an excessively busy month in the Gleason Publication office. Figures are checked, sent back for verification, checked again and, sometimes, again and again. The end result makes all the effort worthwhile and it is little wonder that without prejudice's sister publication, DealMakers is held in such high esteem; there is no other M&A and General Corporate Finance publication like it in South Africa and international outfits do not follow the same criteria. DealMakers' results only reflect the work done by South African offices of tombstone parties on deals undertaken by firms listed on the JSE. The highlight of the finalisation of rankings is the DealMakers Gala Awards evening and, included in the acknowledgements are of course, the law firms.
It is said that one of the certainties of life is change. Of course there is also the French saying Le plus ça change le plus c'est la même chose. Effectively they are one and the same for eventually the change becomes the certainty, if only for a while. For those of us who do not object to change it is seen as a challenge and a break from routine, which is the killer. The current state of the economy and the consequent strategic plans that firms make have ensured that change is very visible. This is particularly so in the legal sector where, for many years, people started out as candidate attorneys and retired as partner. Ten years ago in South Africa there were few partners who moved and even fewer teams who left en masse.
2011 proved a difficult year for many individuals, companies and countries; the global economy was dismal and the downward trend shows no sign of abating, as David Gleason graphically describes in from my window; the so-called Arab Spring that began in December last year is far from over; many people have lost their lives, and nearly 29 000 people died in the devastating tsunami and earth- quake that hit Japan while hundreds of Americans lost their lives in tornadoes that hit the country. Steven Jobs, who changed the way we think about communicating, died after a valiant fight against cancer. A hacking and bribery scandal saw News of the World close its doors after 168 years.
“We are the 99%" has become instantly recognisable as the slogan of Occupy Wall Street. The demonstrations in New York City (which have now spread to, it is claimed, at least 900 other cities) have been called “'The American Spring," and a “democratic awakening" by some while others, less enamoured of the event, have called it leaderless and a group of rabble-rousers.
The opportunity to be part of a new magazine is rare and even more seldom is it that the publication is a “one of a kind." I was extremely fortunate to have been invited by David Gleason to be a part of the without prejudice team at its inception. We started without prejudice in October 2001 and you will see from the copy of that issue that the magazine had a very different look. While this may have changed over the years what has not changed is our aim to produce a magazine of note, one that provides current and relevant information written in a way that does not make your eyes glaze over and your mind slip into neutral. In this fast-paced world knowledge is essential and accurate information vital for informed opinions. Our objective is to provide that to our readers through articles that are concise, critically analytical and, at the same time, interesting.
2011 has been savage. The world has reeled from the impact of both natural and manmade disasters; from earthquakes and tsunamis to uprisings, civil war and famine to collapsing economies. The "gloom and doom" forecasters have had a field day and there have only been royal weddings and sporting achievements to lighten the load. It has already been suggested that Hurricane Irene will cost insurers between $1.5 and $3 billion to cover claims and this, according to Eqecat Inc, an American catastrophic risk management firm, is just the tip of the iceberg as the total damage could be between $5 billion and $7 billion if uninsured losses are brought to account. Of course, if the approximately $70 billion in insured losses as a result of Hurricane Katrina is the yardstick, this really isn't too bad at all.
July cannot be said to have been a quiet month – the headlines have evoked pictures of aggression, destruction and suffering and for many July 2011 will not hold happy memories. One event that could not have occurred at a worse time from the perspective of SA media is the News of the World phone hacking scandal which brought to an end the 168-year history of Britain's largest selling Sunday paper. Deliberation on the South African Protection of Information Bill resumed on July 25. Widely considered a muzzle to prevent media from exposing corruption in both the public and private sector, the hacking scandal is a wonderful bit of ammunition to have come government's way.
Dario Milo and Okyerebea Ampofo-Anti write eloquently of the problems associated with the Protection of Information Bill (p 7). Since the article was written government made some concessions (June 24) by removing three of the clauses: scrapping the mandatory prison sentences for possessing and publishing secret information, limiting the power to classify to state security bodies and appointing a retired judge to hear any appeals for refusal to assess classified information. This response by government to pressure brought by many sectors of South African society has been called a "step in the right direction." There remains a major concern that without free access to information, corruption within government and state departments will remain hidden; this freedom is a major aspect of our Constitution and while it is possible to appreciate the need for national security for the safety of all South Africans, it is far too easy to hide behind this phrase.
Will they, won't they – the Wal-Mart/Massmart merger obstacles (challenges) kept everyone guessing, including the parties themselves. What was debated in many circles was how far Wal-Mart was prepared to be pushed before it told SA to take a hike which would have, undoubtedly, damaged the country's ongoing efforts to encourage foreign investment. In February without prejudice's sister publication, DealMakers, announced the 51% acquisition by Wal-Mart of Massmart as Deal of the Year; at the time, despite some rumblings, it appeared a done deal. In January, 95% of Massmart shareholders entitled to vote, approved the Walmart offer and when in early February the Competition Commission gave its unconditional go-ahead it was anticipated that the Tribunal would follow suit. But the Competition Tribunal heard an increasingly aggressive government/trade union argument and took into account the "public interest grounds" put forward.
The official word is that the new Companies Act will take effect on May 1. Business was given 10 days to review the Regulations and, given the public holidays which have seen vast numbers of people taking the intervening days; this realistically translates into four working days. Is this ethical – firms have 173 pages to go through before May 1 and, according to comment from Grant Thornton, the changes are "significant and there are new sections." I did hear one lawyer comment that a month would probably see the legal and business fraternity able to implement the changes accurately and, considering the length of time it has taken for the Act to reach this point, it is not unreasonable to think government could, and should, have got its act together.
There is a common expression that for many years has been used to describe the lives of South Africans who have experienced much change since 1994 – "we live in interesting times." For all of us who live here that understated sentence speaks volumes. For those involved with the law and its many changes it is equally charged when applied to legislative changes. The long awaited new Companies Act has been delayed, again. DTI spokesman said "... the Presidency must be allowed to apply its mind sufficiently in processing the Companies Amendment Bill before signing it into law." This seems distinctly at odds with the deputy directorgeneral's statement that the only outstanding matter was President Zuma's signature and his decision as to when the bill would take effect. For a Bill intended to transform positively business in the country, the ongoing delays have created not only indecision but also huge costs where transactions based on the new Act will now have to be stopped. Of course, for those companies that have been dragging their heels, this is a last opportunity to stop putting off until tomorrow preparations that should be in place today.
Certain events are diarised well in advance and the anticipation of an excellent social occasion is put just slightly off kilter by nerves. The DealMakers' Gala Awards Banquet is one such occasion. This is the 11th Awards function and the highly skilled corporate law firms fight as fiercely as other tombstone parties for the top positions in their sector in both M&A and General Corporate Finance. The high regard in which DealMakers is held and the accuracy of the tables is a tribute to the team which ensures deal and transaction details are precise and that no stone is left unturned in efforts to find "misplaced" activity while the pulse of the private equity market is checked regularly.
This year is without prejudice's 10th birthday – in October 2001 we published the first issue of what we believe has become an invaluable tool for, but not exclusive to, the legal fraternity. Our aim continues to be to provide information that is current, pertinent and analytical so that readers are able to keep abreast of changes in law. The style of the magazine is such that details can be easily accessed and information uickly absorbed in an era characterised by information overload and increasingly less time in which to complete tasks.