Imagine you wanted to buy kryptonite ‘cos you caught superman spading your wife, there are exactly three companies that sell kryptonite in SA, all multinationals, all faceless. We’ll call the Dewie, Cheatham and Howe (DCH).

Kryptonite is not from here, so it’s something-active, we’re not sure what makes this stuff glow green, but we don’t want to end up like Marie Curie, so we gazette a law that says all kryptonite needs to be stored in a metal container which meets some cryptic international standards, so everyone who buys kryptonite knows they are getting a safe product (turns out superman is a super slut – who knew?).

Now DCH are faceless but not dumb, so they get together and form a trade umbrella organisation which they dub the safe-kryotonite-organisation (imagination is not where they shine) to lobby government to regulate the price of these bottles. They propose a law that says that bottles may not be sold for more than 40% of the nominal value of the bottle. (How we calculate nominal value is left to interpretation) and they get it passed as regulation.

Then, to make things easier for the hapless consumer-middle-class, we’ll make the bottles work on an exchange system whereby the consumer never actually owns the cylinder (neither does the consumer know that the consumer does not own the cylinder), they just rent it from DCH, and the consumer can exchange any cylinder with any other cylinder so long as they are DCH endorsed cylinders.

They then set the prices of the bottles in the market at a fixed price regardless of size (violating their own 40% rule ?!?).

A dreadfully unlucky “unintended” side-effect of this new regulation is that anybody who wants to enter the market and sell their own kryptonite is going to need some pretty deep pockets, because they are going to have to fund the difference between nominal and the market’s defacto price – which is set by DCH, they’re also going to have to cosy up to DCH to get them to endorse their new cylinders as exchangeworthy. If this seems convoluted and more than a little clandestine that’s because it is.

Except, we’re a nation of entrepreneurs, so it was never going to take long before some enterprising young fool decided, hey, “I think I’ll just fill DCH’s cylinders, they’re compliant and safe and there isn’t really a law beyond DONT BE NAUGHTY that says I can’t.”

So DHC scrambles around for a while trying to work out what day of the week it is, then assembles an army of mousy looking legal advisors and starts trying to find a law that protects them from this diabolical violation of their rights.

Of course, as with all things legal, finding a law that blanketly protects the fat-cats and the lords and doesn’t cause it’s own problems isn’t as easy as you would think it should be. Also, the enterprising dudes have guns and the fat-cats only have their sharp wits and their freakishly impressive dress sense.

So it’s a bit of a cold war in the kryptonite market place at the moment, dodgy dudes with guns and bodyguards are filling anyones cylinders with god-knows-what calling it kryptonite and selling it for a fraction of the retail price, while the fat cats are selling the real thing for the maximum price allowed by law and absolutely no one is winning.

Bizarrely the gas bottle market in South Africa is almost identical to the kryptonite market.

No superheroes were injured in the making of this blog post.

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