Thursday 24 June 2010


I’m in pain. I’ve pulled a muscle in my back and it hurts a lot and as a result I am feeling particularly short-tempered and grumpy. Of course some might ask how they are expected to notice the difference between this and my normal state but I think that’s just rude. Normally I have a tranquil and sunny disposition, always ready to charm my family, friends and colleagues. At least that’s what I tell myself.

I used to be dismissive of people who whined and complained about having a bad back. That was until my own started playing up. Now I am sympathetic. My wife might just say I’m sympathetic without the “sym” though.

So here I am, looking for targets for my grumpiness. It’s not hard to find them.

Lying around in the house when I first started complaining about the pain was a tube of cream that someone suggested I might try. Although I could tell quite quickly it wasn’t going to help me the tube intrigued me nevertheless. The label proudly calls it “Aloe Gel Skin Relief” and it is described as a “Skin protectant gel”. It claims that it “helps relieve dry, chapped and cracked skin plus temporarily protects cuts, scrapes and burns”. So far so good.

On the back of the tube there’s a little box entitled “Active Ingredient” which proclaims that it contains 0.5% “Allantoin” - a “skin protectant”. There’s not much I can say that’s bad about this. Allantoin IS a “skin protectant”, but it’s just a moisturiser, that’s all. In the past this compound was produced from cow urine but I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear that these days it can be artificially made. Allantoin, by the way, has nothing to do with any type of Aloe.

The intriguing thing, the bit that got my attention, was another part of the label. It says: “IMPORTANT: Peel back label for Drug Facts, warnings directions and inactive ingredients.”

So I had a look. No, before you wonder, it doesn’t contain nuclear waste, anything obviously carcinogenic or cow pee. In fact the only warnings are that you shouldn’t swallow it, you shouldn’t put it in your eyes and a general warning that if parts of your body suddenly drop off you should stop using it.

Then there was the big bit. The “Inactive ingredients”. There were 14 other ingredients in the cream, all of which they confess are “inactive”. The don’t actually DO anything other than to make it either smell nice or be all creamy. Included in the list were chamomile, various type of seaweed extract and cucumber. However the Number 1 ingredient, remember an inactive one, was Aloe Vera juice after which the product is named.

In effect what the manufacturers were selling was a rather high-priced moisturiser. Underneath the peel-back label there was also a web site for the manufacturer where they list their various products. Can you guess which category the Aloe Gel can be found in? Moisturisers perhaps? Stuff that doesn’t actually do very much? Wastes of money? No, it was in the First Aid category. I think that’s a minor but noticeable distortion of the truth.

But then I AM grumpy, intolerant and short-tempered at the moment.

OK, maybe you’re thinking that all this about Aloe, allantoin and moisturising creams isn’t particularly important? Maybe not but sitting here, slightly drugged up on painkillers (no, there’s nothing noble about pain, it just bloody hurts), I couldn’t help but think of parallels with other organisations that seem to cover up facts, or to make claims that aren’t actually either justifiable or even true.

Mmegi readers will probably know about Stock Market Direct, a company based in Botswana that describes itself as:
“an educational instituiton which provides information on how to invest directly, actively and successfully in the Johannesburg Securities Exchange”.
Yes, I know that’s not how you spell institution but it’s how Stock Market Direct spell it.

This is the company that the Botswana Stock Exchange have been warning us about. I’ve been trying to get some answers from SMD for ages now. I’ve emailed them, phoned them, SMSed them and even once had a meeting booked with their Managing Director in his own office but he didn’t bother to turn up. Now they don’t even answer our emails or return our calls.

SMD claim on their web site that they are:
“an innovative company providing services in the financial services arena. The company has been operating for several years with offices in Johannesburg, Mbabane, Maseru, Windhoek, and now Gaborone.”
Just like I did with the Aloe Gel I though I might peel back Stock Market Direct’s label and see what it said underneath.

Here’s a funny thing. Stock Market Direct don’t appear to be a registered company in South Africa. I found a web site called but it doesn’t appear to do anything. I can find no address for them, nor a phone number. I called the office in Gaborone and asked for their South African office number only to be told that they didn’t “have it to hand right now”. I asked for any number in SA but all I was given was the South African cellphone number that the Botswana MD uses when he’s in SA.

Here’s another funny thing. Despite what they claim on their web site they don’t actually appear to exist in Swaziland, Lesotho or Namibia either.

Is it possible that Stock Market Direct are the same as Aloe Gel? A product that hints it does one thing but in fact does very little at all?

Maybe I’m just being grumpy.

This week’s stars
  • Jenny and her team at Kalahari Quilts for their creativity.

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