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Feisty Wendy Appelbaum fights the just fight

Wendy Appelbaum was the driving force behind the application that resulted in the landmark Western Cape High Court ruling last week declaring emoluments attachments orders (also known as garnishee orders) obtained against low-income farm workers and others, unlawful.

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MOIRA SCHNEIDER


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Pictured:  Wendy Appelbaum.

The high-flying businesswoman and daughter of Liberty Life founder Sir Donald Gordon, became a household name when she took on Auction Alliance some three years ago in a case of so-called “ghost bidding”. She agrees that that case has had the effect of focusing her attention in a new direction. 

“Injustice is something that drives me quite wild,” she says, “and I believe that was my visceral reaction to the Auction Alliance case. I believe that we all have a role to play in this country and I think that people who sit back and complain… One really needs to do something about it.”

She feels that it is “really sad” that civil society has to take government to task, but if that is what is necessary to allow “this wonderful country” to stay that way and fulfil its potential, then so be it.

So, how did her involvement in the recent issue come about? “Basically, it stemmed from me looking at the garnishee orders (court orders that compel employers to deduct from an employee’s salary money that he or she owes a creditor) that my staff on my wine estate had against them and thinking there was something wrong with the system.

“I really needed to go quite deeply into it, so I went to the bookstore, bought the National Credit Act and the Magistrate’s Court Act and I read them,” she recalls.

“I realised that this couldn’t possibly be right and started to think about how it could be changed. The real tragedy is that it’s the poorest of the poor that have been the victims here.”

The Marikana issue had initially focused her conscience around the level of debt in the country and had galvanised her into action. “I was absolutely appalled that government was not looking after its people – there is absolutely no political will to care for the poor,” she says.

But Appelbaum will not take all the credit for the successful outcome of the recent court case, describing herself simply as “a connector of people. That’s how the court case came about – I was just the conductor.

“I found all these players in the field and connected them to the point where we sat down and brainstormed ideas of how we could change the system. I didn’t do it alone.”

She had been quite prepared to fund the case on the basis of “bang for buck”, reasoning that the outcome would have such ramifications for the poor that it was a no-brainer in terms of an investment. In the event, attorneys Webber Wentzel and advocate Anton Katz SC thought it a brilliant idea, saw the national interest of the project and acted pro bono.

Now that she has cut her teeth in the field, does Appelbaum foresee consumer advocacy becoming a bigger part of her life? “I certainly will step up to the plate where I think it is necessary – absolutely!” 

It is not surprising then to learn that her personal philosophy is encapsulated thus: “I love a good fight, but I prefer a fight for good.”

Appelbaum has in fact moved on to the next project and is involved in the anti-corruption march being organised by human rights organisation Section27, for August 19. “The public interest from all corners of society has been absolutely remarkable,” she comments.

“I think the country is just getting to the point where enough is enough. With the use of social media, I think we can make this go viral.”

This sounds as if a political career is in the offing, but Appelbaum dismisses this out of hand. “Absolutely not – I don’t have a political bone in my body! As you see, I cannot be anything but straightforward and absolutely honest and I think, unfortunately, politics and those kinds of personality traits don’t mix.

“What I’m interested in is keeping South Africa on the straight and narrow; I think we’re having a wobble at the moment and I think that civil society does have an incredible role to play in crafting a new future for the country.

“I believe there is enough goodwill and enough people who have had enough of what is going on, so I do believe that the possibility for change is near.”

Mentioning other areas of “terrible unfairness” particularly towards the poor, Appelbaum slams the state of education as “diabolic” and says that people’s human rights are being eroded daily with devastating results for the country. She is very involved in this sphere, spending, as she says, “an enormous amount of time” examining new models of education.

While she has farmed at DeMorgenzon wine estate in Stellenbosch for 12 years, Appelbaum’s influence is felt nationally with her involvement in business schools and her substantial role in medical training. “The healthcare available to the underprivileged in this country is equally poor,” she adds. 

On her move to the “heavenly” Stellenbosch from Johannesburg, she reflects: “I didn’t think I would ever settle down in the countryside as well as I did, but with modern technology there’s nothing you cannot do from any place on the planet. It’s just that my office is now in a far more beautiful place, probably one of the most beautiful in the world.”

Known as a most active philanthropists, Appelbaum feels that the more one has, the more responsibility one has to share it with those who don’t. “How many beds can you sleep in? How many cars can you drive?” she wants to know.

“I do think one has a responsibility to society – it’s been ingrained in us as a family since we were born that those who have, put back. I don’t think paying tax is enough – you need to be able to sculpt and make positive change.”

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Shabbat Around The World beams out from Jozi

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More than 75 devices around the globe logged in to Beit Luria’s World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) Shabbat Around the World programme on Friday, 15 January.

Whether it was breakfast time in California, tea time in Europe, or time to break challah in Johannesburg, participants logged in to take part in Beit Luria’s Kabbalat Shabbat service.

Among those participating were Rabbi Sergio Bergman, the president of the WUPJ; chairperson Carole Sterling; and Rabbi Nathan Alfred, the head of international relations. Singers Tulla Eckhart and Brian Joffe performed songs from a global array of artists, along with Toto’s Africa to add a little local flair to the service. After kiddish was said and bread was broken, Rabbi Bergman thanked Beit Luria for hosting the WUPJ. The shul looks forward to more collaborations with its global friends in the future.

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UJW Sewing School graduates model creations

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The outfits modelled by graduates of the Union of Jewish Women’s (UJW’s) Sewing School were all the more spectacular for the fact that some of their creators had never seen a sewing machine prior to the four-month course.

They were modelled at the school’s graduation ceremony at Oxford Shul on 15 December to much excitement and applause.

UJW executive member and Sewing School Manager Ariane Heneck expressed her gratitude to Chido Tsodzo, the school’s superb teacher, and the event ended with a much appreciated lunch for graduates and their invited guests.

The self-empowerment Sewing School for unemployed men and women was started by the UJW 10 years ago. It now has a small production team of ex-students, and some of its graduates have been employed in factories, while others are selling their own creations.

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Israel Rugby 7s to camp with the Blitzbokke

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The thrill-a-minute Rugby 7s have captured the hearts of fans around the world. The Blitzbokke, South Africa’s national Rugby 7s team, ranks second in the world, and is among the most exciting, formidable, and feared of 7s teams.

Exactly 9 191 km away are the Israelis, an emerging rugby nation that has talent, determination, and a world-class coach in South African Kevin Musikanth. Now, these two squads will meet. The Israeli 7s side will be travelling to the SAS Rugby Academy in Stellenbosch to train with the Blitzbokke.

The Blitzbokke will have the opportunity to prepare for the coming 7s rugby season by measuring their skills of play against the Israelis. And the Israelis, well, they will be rubbing shoulders with, and learning from the best in the world and honing their skills for their coming European Rugby season.

“It’s an opportunity for our boys to learn from the world’s best,” says Musikanth. The SAS Rugby Academy is run by the legendary Frankie Horn, a technical expert whose coaching guidelines and methods are second to none in World Rugby 7s.

Musikanth took over as Rugby 15s head coach in Israel in 2018, and in October 2019, he became director of rugby for the Israeli Rugby Union and head coach for the national programmes of both the 15s and the 7s.

Horn visited Israel last December at the behest of Rugby Israel and its supporting Olympic body and since then, the partnership has continued to grow. The upcoming training camp will begin in Israel, where Horn, together with Phil Snyman, the former Blitzbok captain and multiple world champion winner, will spend a week with the players and coaching staff at Wingate, Netanya, the home base of Rugby Israel. They will then all travel to Stellenbosch for a week’s camp with the Blitzbokke.

“We’ve already seen the difference through our partnership with Frankie. Two of our players were spotted by him on his previous trip to Israel, and have been training at SAS on the off-season,” says Musikanth. The two players are Omer Levinson (scrum half) and Yotam Shulman (lock).

Horn, technical advisor to Rugby Israel’s 7s, says “It is a great opportunity for both teams to derive positive benefit from the camp.”

Israel Rugby has been making considerable professional strides since Musikanth took over the reins. Israel 15s played their 100th test match against Cyprus and celebrated with a 34-22 victory.

“We’re in the top 25 in Europe in 15s and in the top 16 in 7s, the toughest, most competitive continent in world rugby,” says Musikanth, “and I can realistically see us setting our sights on the Top 15 and Top 12 respectively in the future.”

Currently, there are three eligible South Africans who are on the Israeli national squad: Jayson Ferera as flanker (Pirates Rugby Club), Daniel Stein as fly half (studying in Israel), and Jared Sichel as prop (Hamilton’s Rugby Club, Cape Town). Eligibility to play for a national team in rugby is stricter than in other sports. One does not qualify just because one has a passport. One has to have had a parent or grandparent that was born in that country or one has to have lived in the country for at least three years.

“With so much Jewish rugby talent around the world, we would be able to put a world-class Israeli national team together if not for the measures that restrict eligibility to national call ups,” says Musikanth.

The Israel Rugby development project was accelerated thanks to Musikanth initiating Bridges through Rugby. This project is the collective effort of a few South African Jewish businessmen who appreciate the long-term vision of Israel becoming a stronger rugby nation. They have come on board to assist with this most opportune tour. National financial support is fixed and, as such, is limited. While the strong players and national coaches will be attending the training camp in Stellenbosch, there will be some that will, unfortunately, have to stay behind.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our players and coaches. To get to see the best upfront and feed off their knowledge is going to be incredible,” says Musikanth. “Everyone is eager to go, of course, but there is a cap to the support we have in place. We would like to take a development u20 squad as well as coaching staff who would carry the benefits of this into the future. A rugby visit to Stellenbosch can change rugby lives in many respects. Stellenbosch is rugby utopia!”

Rugby aside, with the Israelis and South Africans camping together, the question of what will be for dinner after a gruelling day’s training may be a matter of contention. A tussle for whether to serve boerewors or shwarma may result in a scrum in the SAS dining hall to determine the outcome.

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