Penny wise and pound foolish

28 July 2019 | Columns

Gerine Hoff

While the renaming of streets in the capital continues un­abated – one would swear the City of Windhoek has spare change lying around – I couldn't help but wonder if the ­money it costs to make these changes couldn't have been better spent. I'm not against changing names of streets, squares (or ­circles) or even towns – it's ­happened often through the ages – but is it really a wise move in the current precarious financial situation the CoW finds itself in? Then again, there are none so blind as those who don't want to see.

In this light, I came across an article about costly mistakes that were far more dear than Windhoek's street renaming exercise is costing us poor residents who are already being bled dry by the powers that be. And don't even get me started on the 2% debate.

So, for a little more light-heartedness in these dark times, read on.

This blunder has truly epic proportions: In 1999 NASA lost a US$125m Mars orbiter because of what CNN referred to as a “metric mishap”. The fault lay in the fact that Lockheed Martin engineers used English measurements (inches, feet, etc.) in their calculations versus NASA's metric calculations (centimetres, metres, etc.). Because of this, navigation information couldn't properly transfer and the orbiter was lost. Eek!

Speaking of things that fly, Italian airline Alitalia found itself stuck with a US$7 million bill when a typo on their website allowed for US$39 flights from Toronto to Cyprus (it was supposed to read US$3 900). Two-thousand tickets sold before Alitalia could correct the price online. Instead of fighting customers on their mistake, they chose to honour the cheap tickets.

Keeping to things travel related: Just like you can't fit a square peg into a round hole, you really can't fit wide trains onto narrow railways. This was the lesson learned by French train company SNCF, after purchasing 2 000 trains for US$20 billion. Turns out they were too wide to fit into the majority of train stations for which they were intended to travel. The company had to shell out another US$68 million to widen train platforms in an effort to make the trains fit. Sounds almost like the same mistake some Namibians made a couple of years ago when buying Chinese locomotives.

And then there are two individuals who need special mention, the first being Ronald Wayne. If it doesn't sound familiar, don't feel alone. According to NBC News, except for Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the third Apple founder, who at one time owned 10% of the company, was one Ronald Wayne. He was involved for just 12 days before deciding to sell his share to Jobs and Wozniak for a mere US$800. Unfortunate, considering the company is worth N$1 trillion.

Finally there's James Howells. While many of us are still trying to figure out Bitcoin, our friend James, an IT worker in Wales, lost his stash of 7 500 bitcoins when he trashed his hard drive. The collection would have been worth US$127 million today, according to CNBC.

Given these amounts, perhaps street renaming is mere pocket change.