In Britain today 27,000 workers in the retail industry are reporting for work not knowing if their jobs are at risk. I speak of the workforce of the Debenhams department store chain which this week posted annual losses of a staggering £500m (P7.5 billion), the largest figure ever recorded in the industry. As a result, Directors have announced a staggered closure of up to 50 stores, almost a third of its 156 branches nationwide. The selected outlets will be phased out over the next 3-5 years and will result in a loss of 4000 jobs.
That’s a lot of people to be put out into the job market but this is not a piece on the rights and wrongs of redundancy but rather the changing face of global shopping habits, personal lifestyles and the effect this will have on life as we know it.
If you have ever visited or lived in the UK you will no doubt be familiar with the Debenhams brand but if not, let me explain. Debenhams is one of several household-name department stores in the UK, including Selfridges (you may have watched the popular BBC drama series of the same name detailing its early days and charismatic, showman owner Harry Selfridge), House of Fraser, John Lewis and the Army & Navy Stores.
The ‘department store’ concept was born in the late Victorian era and burgeoned over the next 100 years, referring to a huge retail unit several storeys high, offering the shopper a one-stop shopping experience, each floor devoted to a different ‘department’ – ladieswear, menswear, cosmetics, kitchenware, furniture, home & garden, hardware, food and more. In short, they sell something of everything.
Their January sales are legendary, offering massive discounts storewide, often with loss-leading bargains so attractive they would motivate customers to camp out overnight in bitterly cold winter temperatures in order to be the first into the store when the doors open and bag their chosen bargain. Several of those big names have held prominent locations in London’s West End for decades, making it a haven for shoppers not only from all over the country but all over the world and their famous Christmas grottos and window displays have brought a touch of festive magic to Oxford and Bond Street, a must-see experience for adults and children alike.
Debenhams itself has a history stretching back 240 years, beginning life as a street stall selling ladies bonnets , trinkets and haberdashery but sadly, after all this long tradition and in spite of their multi-functionality, Debenhams and many of its like are being forced into store closures and are in danger of being consigned into the annals of history.
The phrase ‘death of the High Street’ is often heard these days, referring not just to the loss of the big department store giants but the relentless closure of small retail outlets in towns up and down the United Kingdom, unable to sustain even a modest profit. Many have been replaced by the ubiquitous coffee shops, outlets of international brands such as Starbucks but many remain boarded up and naturally as more and more retail shops close, fewer and fewer customers are attracted to street shopping – it’s a vicious circle.
So what is fuelling this trend?
The easy answer is online shopping. Sites such as eBay, Amazon and Ali Baba offer purchasers a wide selection of goods and pricing, selection is convenient, purchase is simple and the buyer doesn’t have to set foot outside their home. What’s more these online ‘stores’ are open 24-7, 365 days a year so unlike the real McCoy, they never close.
The only disadvantage is that purchases are made sight unseen but with most sellers offering easy returns and refunds and door-to-door pick ups and deliveries, even this is not too much of an inconvenience. Online is very easy. Furthermore, not only does the shopper not have to pay their own transport costs getting to and from the shops, they don’t have to pay for car parking charges which are becoming more and more expensive, not to mention hard to find, each year.
But there are far more complex forces at work here which make the retail section anything but a level playing field in today’s economic climate. Big global companies such as Amazon and Starbucks are all based offshore and therefore are able to avoid most, if not all, commercial taxations in the United Kingdom. This is referred to as ‘tax avoidance’ and whilst perfectly legal, it puts them at a distinct advantage over home-based operations.
Then there is the issue of ground rents and commercial council rates which in major towns and cities are nothing short of extortionate and of course, the bigger the premises and the more prime the location, the higher the rates, hence the big hit to the city centre department store. The average department store currently forks out £717,952 (almost P11m) in business rates a year, as well as battling rising wage costs, tight margins and a drop-off in visitor numbers. Last year Debenhams paid £80 million (P1200m) in business rates compared with £14 million (P210m) paid by online giant Amazon on its 14 hyper-sized warehouses in England and Wales.
British Chancellor Philip Hammond has come under heavy pressure to take action in the upcoming budget to completely overhaul business rates as more than 50,000 retail jobs have already been lost this year . Even more frightening, since 2010, more than a quarter of department stores in England and Wales have either been demolished or converted into other types of use, according to official Whitehall data.
Now, sitting here in Botswana where we still physically shop till we drop you might wonder what relevance this could possibly have but here it is. It is a salutary lesson in ‘use it or lose it’ and we shun our stores at our peril. Last year Stuttafords in South Africa went out of business and our 2 local outlets In Airport Junction and Game City subsequently closed and the same fate may well befall other of our South African chains as local consumers there switch to local online sites of the likes of Bidorbuy and Gumtree , leading to inevitable job losses
But there is a bigger loss at stake and that is our ability as humans to socialise and even to move about. Never has the phrase ‘couch potato’ been more relevant when shopping is a sedentary occupation and never has our social interaction been more endangered than in today’s culture of meeting on social media, rather than physically face to face.
Not all of us will be around to experience it but all of a sudden, the future is looking very bleak, very lonely and very impersonal, something to perhaps keep in mind when you’re battling the crowded shops over the next few weeks as we countdown to Christmas. No-one likes a queue, but the alternative simply doesn’t bear thinking to about.
Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.
The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.
Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.
At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.
Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.
Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).
This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.
In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.
Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?
Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.
POSITIVITY Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.
“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)
We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”
Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.
Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be. You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”
Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.
When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.
Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.
However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.” “Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)
COMPASSION, MUTUAL LOVE AND RESPECT
Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.
It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.
Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.
Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.
The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.
It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.