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Will This Battle For The Soul Of Bitcoin Destroy It?

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As Bitcoin hit a new record high less than two weeks ago, long-time “hodlers” (an inside joke in crypto based on a typo in a drunken Bitcoin Talk forum message in 2013) celebrated on Twitter and Reddit with jokes about buying Lambos, and a clip from Wayne’s World where the main characters frolic and chant, “We’ve got $5,000! We’ve got $5,000!”

On Saturday, the price surged to yet another all-time high, $6,194.88, according to Coinmarketcap.com, and the market capitalization briefly exceeded $100 billion.

The reasons for the jumps are unclear, but unless there’s negative news, every day, at minimum, the price is likely to rise because of new money coming into the system. Every day on Coinbase alone, about 35,000 new accounts open – a figure that sometimes reaches 50,000 – and thousands of people in South Korea and Japan, two countries where Bitcoin has taken off, are also bringing new fiat money into the system.

But the market’s rosy outlook is in stark contrast to the prognosis many insiders give to Bitcoin right now: The almost nine-year-old cryptocurrency is facing its gravest test yet. Whether or not it will survive, or in what form, is anyone’s guess.

On or around November 16, Bitcoin, the original cryptocurrency created by a novel technology called blockchain — a masterpiece of game theory, cryptography and, of all things, the age-old ledger — will split into two chains, each with its own set of coins. Hodlers should be happy about suddenly owning double the number of Bitcoins except for the fact that the question of which of these will be called the true Bitcoin is, for now, up in the air — and that could create turmoil in the market. Anyone willing to bet their money by selling one set of coins for another stands to take a financial hit — either because they’ve picked the wrong side, or, for technical reasons, because selling one set may actually cause a sale on both sides of the chain. [Ed note: Investing in cryptocoins or tokens is highly speculative and the market is largely unregulated. Anyone considering it should be prepared to lose their entire investment. Disclosure: I own some Bitcoin.]

READ MORE: The Emperor’s New Coins

To be sure, Bitcoin has undergone such an event before. In August, a group split the chain to create a new form of Bitcoin that they called Bitcoin Cash. The two blockchains shared a transaction history up until the time of the split, giving anyone who held any number of Bitcoins until the so-called hard fork the equivalent number of Bitcoin Cash on the new fork. (A hard fork is a software change that runs the risk of splitting the blockchain into two, particularly if the community disagrees about it. If you follow Ethereum or cryptocurrency, you may have heard that Ethereum split into Ethereum and Ethereum Classic after a contentious hard fork.) However, many people who didn’t support Bitcoin Cash dumped their coins quickly, and, after initially spiking up to $900, the price has now deflated to about $300. But because Bitcoin itself didn’t suffer much from the split, many people believe that hard forks are no big deal. This one is different.

“At the last fork, it was very clear which fork was the minority chain,” says Olaf Carlson-Wee, founder and CEO of Polychain Capital, a $250 million crypto hedge fund. “With this fork, there is a battle over Bitcoin — the name and brand and which chain is the true Bitcoin. And no one is backing down.”

Since it became clear this hard fork would occur, Bitcoin Twitter has been a toxic stew of name-calling, trolling, bullying, blocking and threats, with some altercations spanning months with replies numbering in the hundreds. No tweet or Bitcoin Talk comment made by anyone is too old to dredge up and hold against them, no quote from Satoshi Nakamoto too out of context (or fictional) to be used to bolster one’s argument. The two Bitcoin subreddits — “hard forked” politically and ideologically long ago by censorship — espouse such different views, switching between them is like passing through the looking glass. In one forum, one side of the hard fork will certainly triumph, and the backers of the other side are vilified; in the other subreddit, the opposite chain will come out on top, and the first subreddit’s villains are heroes. Each side is so convinced it will win that a few insiders made a $4 million bet — though, being denominated in Bitcoin, the amount on the line now is $6 million.

How the first cryptocurrency reached this cliffhanger in its journey is a story that has been many years in the making and finally pits against each other what were strange bedfellows anyway: the cypherpunks who, years before Bitcoin even existed, developed the various technologies that finally resulted in the first true digital asset and the Silicon Valley types who popularized the cryptocurrency that now has at least tens of millions of users and a $100 billion market cap. Whether one side will prevail or their death match will destroy Bitcoin is anyone’s guess.

What Are They Fighting About?

At its most basic level, the question that divides the community is a seemingly trivial one: how to upgrade the network to accommodate more transactions at any given time. It has produced a contentious divide because the various ways to go about it all result in tradeoffs — and which compromises the different sides are willing to make reflect deep philosophical differences. Throw in accusations of censorship, racism, hypocrisy, corporate takeovers and deal-making behind closed doors, and the three-year-long battle has become a geek’s version of a soap opera — if soap operas were mostly about and watched by men.

Bitcoin transactions are grouped into blocks that get processed every 10 minutes. The amount of data that can be included in any given block is limited to 1MB — an arbitrary cap instituted early on to prevent spam on the network. However, transaction volume has been growing, making blocks full, pushing up transaction fees as people compete to ensure that their transaction makes it into the next block or one soon after. While everyone agrees the number of transactions that can be processed at any given time needs to be increased, there is no consensus around how.

If you’re newer to Bitcoin (like if you came here because of Scott Disick’s tweets or you’re a Wall Streeter newly interested in Bitcoin), you can think of the two most-discussed ways to increase the network capacity as two different proposals for enabling more stuff to fit in a house. One side says: Let’s organize the items in it more efficiently. Not every single thing in this house needs to be here. We can put some of it outside in the shed and better organize the objects that need to remain inside. (For future reference, in Bitcoin terms, this proposal is called SegWit.) The other side says: Let’s just make the house bigger. (This solution has gone by different names in the past depending on the size of the increase being suggested, but broadly, it’s known as bigger blocks, and is now most commonly denominated by the block size currently on the table: 2MB or 2x.) Both sides agree that eventually they need to build other, more technically challenging solutions, such as enabling people that want to use the house to whip up and close down temporary shelters for less important items but putting the most important ones in the house. (These are called second-layer or layer 2 solutions, with Lightning Network being one example, that use the Bitcoin blockchain as a settlement layer for transactions.) But these other solutions are still in development.

However, the two proposals presented above aren’t the exact ones the community faces now. The first is the same as the first description above (SegWit), but the second is a compromise solution. That plan says, sure, we can organize things better but that’s only going to help us for so long. So, let’s better organize it and make the house twice as big. That will buy us the time we need to build the second-layer solutions. This plan is SegWit plus a 2MB block; hence, SegWit2x.

But because we’re talking about Bitcoin, we’re not just building one house. We’re making one house roughly every 10 minutes. And it’s not the same person or organization producing each house. The constructors can be anyone who buys the right equipment (in Bitcoin, these are called miners and are the people who own the equipment designed to solve the math problems that enable someone to add a new block to the blockchain) — and they can be located anywhere in the world, because after all, these “houses” (blocks of Bitcoin transactions) are virtual and live in the cloud.

The Philosophical Divide: Cypherpunk Vs. Silicon Valley

Here’s where the philosophical differences start to come in: The first group says, actually, if we make the houses bigger, then it’s going to be a bit harder for the many people who make them. We might end up with fewer builders overall, which would be dangerous, because then the power of constructing these houses will become more centralized into the hands of fewer players. And if that happened, not only would they have too much power, but then a government or other hostile actor could target them in order to stop us from building houses altogether.

The second group says, but to go from a minuscule-sized house to a tiny one isn’t going to make it that much more difficult for the builders. Plus, organizing better will only give us more space gradually over time, while doubling the size of the house will give us space we really need overnight.

This is the debate that’s gone back and forth for at least three years. The efficient organizer side includes the cypherpunks who envision a world in which the barriers to anyone running their own Bitcoin node (like running your own email server instead of using Gmail) are low, keeping the network as decentralized as possible and therefore further beyond the reach of any government or control by any entity or group of entities. One of the people aligned with this group is Dr. Adam Back, CEO of blockchain-focused technologies company Blockstream. Back in the 1997, he created a precursor to Bitcoin called Hash Cash that employed an algorithm called proof of work (also used by Bitcoin) to help prevent spam on early versions of Internet discussion forums. Back became interested in subsequent versions of digital money that were released, including Digicash, which was programmed to only have one million units. Soon, he saw users “bootstrapping” a value onto it by selling T-shirts and other items whose prices were denominated in Digicash. However, it was dispensed by a central server and when the company went out of business, Back’s Digicash became useless. When Bitcoin came around, he wondered if people would again ascribe a value to it. And they have — a big one.

He says he chooses to align with the so-called small blockers or 1x side because Bitcoin’s “differentiating value is the payments that you can only make with Bitcoin” — transactions in which you don’t have permission to send money, where you’re concerned about transacting for privacy reasons or where the receiver doesn’t have a bank account. “These payments are differentiating payments. Those are the ones that are unique and some of those scenarios banks cannot compete with. So you have the space to yourself in a business setting — for regulatory reasons or because of the difficulty of obtaining bank accounts or because it’s used for programming an online service and it’s very complicated to get permission from a bank.” He pooh-poohed a 2014 headline-making wave of big retailers such as Overstock, Expedia and Dell accepting Bitcoin. “If you’re ordering a computer from Dell and live in the U.S, and give your street address, what’s the benefit? What’s unique and different? I’d argue there isn’t one.”

READ MORE: Bitcoin, Blockchain And Billions

While he agrees the community should try to scale Bitcoin so everyone on the planet can use it, he says that will happen with so-called second-layer solutions such as the Lightning Network and the product his company is working on, side chains, in which transactions don’t occur directly on the Bitcoin blockchain but are settled on it. (Blockstream plans to sell side chains to enterprises, charging a fixed monthly fee, taking transaction fees and even selling hardware — a fact that has caused the big blockers to protest that Blockstream and the engineers it employs who are also Bitcoin core developers want to keep the block size small so Blockstream can profit. Back says this isn’t true because, beyond a certain point, side chains won’t really solve scaling.) Back says the community shouldn’t remove Bitcoin’s unique features in order to scale the network. Drawing out the other side’s position to an extreme, he says, “If we’re going to get centralized into a big data center somewhere, as in the PayPal case, it’s basically guaranteed the company running it will get national security layers and blacklists and all the things banks do and regulations will apply to them.”

Back’s (and the cypherpunks’) vision for the future of Bitcoin is one in which users can run their own nodes and control their own private keys rather than entrusting a company. Right now, a number of startups manage users’ private keys for them, with the biggest being Coinbase — a Silicon Valley unicorn with backing from the New York Stock Exchange, Andreessen Horowitz, Union Square Ventures and Institutional Venture Partners, among others. “Using smart contracts, there are ways to get the security features of something like a custodian while having control yourself,” Back says before launching into the technical features of how it works.

The bigger block side includes several venture-backed startups who have brought millions of people to Bitcoin such as the two biggest wallets, Coinbase and Blockchain who have an estimated 30 million crypto users altogether. Other popular companies on this side include Xapo, which is one of the top five Bitcoin storage companies globally and whose CEO Wences Casares may be the entrepreneur most responsible for getting Silicon Valley excited about Bitcoin; Shapeshift, which CEO Erik Voorhees says sees 2-3% of the daily global Bitcoin transactions; Circle, which has backing from Goldman Sachs; Blockchain, whose investors include Lightspeed Venture Partners and Richard Branson; and the biggest investor in the space itself, Barry Silbert’s Digital Currency Group.

Their vision for Bitcoin is of a new form of money not dictated by any government or central bank but created and used by the people — lots of people, including traditional Wall Street financiers investing in Bitcoin, people in developing countries making $5 transactions, people in developed ones paying for $5 for a cup of coffee.

One of the largest Bitcoin holders, Roger Ver, who is a proponent of big blocks, says the small blockers “think it’s just an interesting science experiment, and they can have everybody running Bitcoin on their Raspberry Pi at home. For me, I want to build a currency that’s going to replace the euro, the dollar and the yen, and every other government-issued currency around the world, and in order to do that Bitcoin needs to scale massively.”

Vinny Lingham, a serial entrepreneur, shark on South Africa’s Shark Tank and current CEO and cofounder of blockchain identity startup Civic, also supports big blocks. (Civic uses the Bitcoin blockchain.) “If you want Bitcoin to stay with the cypherpunk mentality, you have a much smaller market for Bitcoin than if it goes mainstream,” he says. “Most people buying Bitcoin today don’t even know what the hell cypherpunk is. They don’t care. They don’t know what SegWit is. They don’t care.” He says Bitcoin companies have made everyday consumers aware of the cryptocurrency and driven the adoption that has pushed up the price — mostly to the benefit of the cypherpunks who got in early.

Shapeshift’s Voorhees says his interest in Bitcoin grew out of a realization he had during the financial crisis: how central banks debase fiat currencies, “stealing several percent of everyone’s money every year” — which he calls the biggest financial fraud ever perpetrated in the world. “I saw Bitcoin as the world’s first free-market form of finance, a way to have money and everything else built upon finance from the bottom up without banks or government money involved at all.” Like other big blockers, he is pragmatic about what he sees as a need for larger blocks. Because the second-layer solutions are not yet available, “blocks have been full and fees have been rising drastically. It’s now silly and stupid to send a bitcoin transaction less than $10 or $20 because the fee is $0.50 to $10 and that makes that prohibitive. When I got involved in Bitcoin, it was amazing to send Bitcoin anywhere in the world at almost no cost, like fractions of a penny.”

He says high transaction fees have made Bitcoin uncompetitive and pointed to the examples of Counterparty and Omni, two protocols that, early on, enabled developers to launch tokens on Bitcoin. “Those became completely unusable when fees got so high on Bitcoin. What it meant was, instead of people creating tokens on the Bitcoin platform, now they just create tokens on the Ethereum platform. For someone who is dedicated to making Bitcoin a success, when I see that happening unnecessarily, I think it’s a problem — especially when you can solve it relatively easily by creating more space in the blocks while the layer two technologies get built. Those who are just working on the protocol or who work in areas where they don’t have actual customers or users, where they don’t see the software being used at scale, they don’t appreciate these issues. They don’t see them. They see things academically as opposed to how it’s actually used in the real world. Shapeshift itself is 2-3% of all the Bitcoin transactions in the world. We have a good idea of how this technology gets used by real people in the real world and, if you’ll notice, the companies that have the most users are all nearly unanimously in favor of a larger block and Segwit2x generally.”

Carlson-Wee, summarizing the divide between the cypherpunks and startups, says the 2x supporters want lower transactions fees for users. “The question is what’s the timeline and the urgency and how do you balance the need for that vs. the need to make it cheap to run a fully validating node. There is no technically right answer,” he says. “It just becomes an ideological battle about would you rather have transaction fees lower or would you rather have a fully validating node cost less, because there’s a sliding scale. When one goes up, the other goes down to some extent. People have different values and visions and so what is ultimately in my mind a pretty small technical debate about 1MB or 2 has become very politicized and ideological.”

How Bitcoin Politics Created The World’s Most Expensive Game Of Chicken

If cypherpunks vs. entrepreneurs represents the philosophical divide, SegWit vs. SegWit2x is the political one — and it’s intensely political. Bitcoin’s four main stakeholders are the tech-focused core developers, the profit-driven miners, the business-oriented startups and the users, who range from immigrants sending remittances back home to the 1% wanting in on this new digital gold rush.

The Bitcoin core developers have been in charge of the protocol, making technical upgrades to the network. (They’re the designers of the homes.) They have the support of a very vocal contingent of Bitcoin fans who often espouse their views on the block size debate via, say, Twitter profile pics of them wearing camo hats emblazoned with acronyms only hard core Bitcoiners would know like “UASF,” or by changing their Twitter handles to include their stance on the Bitcoin block size to @name [NO2X].

The Bitcoin miners are the people who run the computers that power and secure the Bitcoin network and ensure transactions get put into blocks. (They are the house builders.) They have, for a long time, been supporters of bigger blocks. However, in 2015 and 2016, they were also loath to ditch the Bitcoin core team. During those years, Coinbase and some pro-big block developers tried to get miner support for various efforts to increase the block size, but the miners decided to stick with the core developers and get them to institute bigger blocks. For a long time, the developers and miners were the main parties in the scaling debate, while businesses attempted to intervene to little avail.

In February 2016, at a meeting in Hong Kong, a group of miners and devs did agree to compromise on both SegWit and a 2MB block (yes, exactly the SegWit2x solution of today) — an accord that later came to be known as the Hong Kong agreement. However, the developers there didn’t represent all the core team, and they ultimately worked only on SegWit. Once Core had completed its code in fall 2016, because they didn’t want to appear to be in control of this decentralized network, they declared that SegWit would be adopted only if 95% of miners signaled their intention to adopt it. However, six months in, less than 30% of them had. (A miner can signal an intention by including an informal text note in any block they add to the chain.) The miners felt betrayed by the developers for reneging on the 2MB hard fork promised; Back says that later, at least one miner promised to back SegWit without a hard fork but did not follow through.

Some Bitcoin core supporters who had been excited about SegWit became so frustrated that the miners were holding it hostage that they threatened a grassroots change called a user-activated soft fork (UASF) that would, on August 1, force adoption of SegWit on the network — and possibly split Bitcoin into two chains. (Perhaps fearing that, miner support for SegWit increased to 45%.)

That’s when the third political group, the businesses, stepped off the sidelines. In late May, at Consensus, the largest blockchain conference, held at the New York Marriott and put on by a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has invested in almost 100 crypto-blockchain startups, many of the venture-backed businesses that represent millions of users brokered a deal with the miners — SegWit2x, same as the Hong Kong agreement. (While some developers had been invited to this meeting, whose accord is now called the New York agreement, none had gone.) The group, which at the time of signing comprised 58 companies and 83% of the computer power on the Bitcoin network, declared they would adopt SegWit, along with a 2MB block, if 80% of miners signaled support for it. Miner signaling hit that threshold in two weeks. Suddenly, a plan to change the network was in the works — but the Bitcoin core developer team that had so far been in control of the protocol did not put it through, let alone support it. They and their supporters have called the New York Agreement a corporate takeover of Bitcoin and decried the notion that Bitcoin can be controlled by “back room deal-making.” Mike Belshe, the CEO of cryptocurrency security company BitGo, who is one of the SegWit2x developers, responds, “I’d argue the New York Agreement team is bigger than the core team. Go looked at who checked in material code to Bitcoin core and see if it’s greater than 60 people. It’s not.” (DCG’s Barry Silbert and the lead developer on SegWit2x, Jeff Garzik, declined to comment.)

Though it managed to break through the years-long deadlock, the SegWit2x plan may have had one fatal flaw. It triggered the upgrade to SegWit in August and planned to raise the block size to 2MB 90 days later. That means, for the interval between the two parts of the plan, Bitcoin has been a 1MB coin featuring SegWit — the coin that the developers wanted but the miners did not allow. So now the developers and their supporters — the cypherpunks — are doing their best to prevent the upgrade to 2MB, or at least to ensure that the 1MB coin with SegWit survives and is labeled the real Bitcoin.

What Will Happen Come November

The plan by the SegWit2x developers is to execute the fork in such a way that the legacy chain does not survive. In their view, they are upgrading the network according to the definition of Bitcoin in the Bitcoin white paper, which consistently describes Bitcoin as being the longest chain and that being the longest is “proof that it came from the largest pool of CPU power.” If all goes according to their plan, such a large amount of hash power will go to mining the 2x chain that the 1x chain will basically become dysfunctional — blocks could take hours to get added to the chain, fees could become prohibitively high as people compete to get their transactions included in the next block, and because most parties require a transaction to be six blocks deep in the chain to consider it confirmed, confirmation times will become excessively long. Miners compete to get the new Bitcoins mined on the network and how easy it is to obtain that award is determined by something called the difficulty algorithm that adjusts every 2,016 blocks, which turns out to be every two weeks as long as a block is processed on average every 10 minutes. But if, say, 90% of miners are no longer mining on that chain, it will take 100 minutes to find a block, 10 hours to get a confirmation, and 140 days for the difficulty to readjust.

Additionally, the developers of the SegWit2x plan are not instituting a technical measure called replay protection that would entirely separate the transactions on the two blockchains. Without replay protection, if both chains survive, any transactions that occur on the 2x chain will also be replicated on the 1x chain and vice versa. However, this will cause more problems on the chain with less mining power because blocks will be mined more slowly. Let’s assume the chain with less mining power is the 1x chain. That means that if you are a 1x supporter and dump your 2x coins, you will also lose your 1x coins. (According to core developer Eric Lombrozo, some people plan to offer special services that enable people to separate their coins so they can transact in them without replaying the transaction on the other chain.) Belshe says they aren’t instituting replay protection because their intention is that there will only be one chain, not two, after the fork.

In general, a chain with little hash power will be vulnerable to attack. If only 5% of current hash power remains on that chain, then any miner with enough power can turn 5.1% of current hash power on to the first chain and double spend to their heart’s content in what’s called a 51% attack. A miner could also conduct what’s called a wipeout attack in which they use their greater hash power to mine blocks faster than the rest of the network in secret, without broadcasting each new block to the network. Then, when they’re many blocks ahead of the chain, they broadcast all the blocks at once, wiping out all the transactions that had been added by the other miners in the interim. Then, even transactions not just six but 60 blocks deep could become invalid.

The above scenarios assume the vast majority of miners turn all or nearly all their hash power onto the 2x chain. But will they? Answers from miners, including the ones who are signaling SegWit2x and who signed the New York agreement, are inconclusive. Forbes contacted all the known miners. Fifty-six percent of the network hash power — AntPool, BTC.com, BTCC Pool, Bixin, BitFury, BW.com, 1Hash, GBMiners and KanoPool, as well as the 3.3% of hash rate that is unknown — declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment, with the exception of KanoPool (which is 0.8% of hash power), which pointed to a Bitcoin Talk post stating that it hasn’t decided. The only miners that said they will definitely turn all their hash power onto the 2x chain were Ver’s Bitcoin.com (1.5%) and BTC.top, which accounts for 14.1% of the hash power. BTC.top CEO Jiang Zhuoer, wrote via WeChat, “I will do my best to support 2x, even if the mining is not profit[able].” However, he also said if the 1x chain is more profitable for a “long time,” such as one or two weeks, he will let miners in his pool who want to mine on the 1x chain do so. ViaBTC and BitClub, which respectively have 9% and 3.5% of the hash rate, say they plan to let their individual miners choose which chain to mine. Wang Chun, the CEO of F2Pool, who made waves for signing the New York agreement and then later backing out, says F2Pool will mine the most profitable chain but will always pay its miners in 1x coins. Slush Pool, which did not sign the New York agreement, will mine the 1x chain due to the lack of replay protection, though it said in a written statement, “We might consider switching over only if there is a strong community consensus validating S2X as Bitcoin, which is in our opinion highly improbable.”

So, while it is technically unknown which chain 76.8% of hash power will support right after the hard fork, it is reasonable to believe most of it will mine the 2x chain, as about 85% of blocks being mined now are by miners signaling SegWit2x (down from 95% a couple weeks ago). Of the known plans, 15.6% of miners will definitely mine 2x, 12.5% will let their miners choose at will, 8.4% of the hash power will mine the most profitable chain but pay the miners in 1x coins, and 7.4% will mine the 1x chain.

It’s certainly possible that the vast majority of hashing power goes to the 2x chain. However, it’s also possible that enough hash power remains on the 1x chain that it survives. In that case, what happens on the exchanges will be key. It will also be most true to the game theory of Bitcoin, which, in contrast to the Bitcoin white paper, says it’s not hash power over time that determines the real Bitcoin, but the users who decide; the only problem with this is that there’s been no way to see, by way of price, which coin users would find more valuable without actually presenting them with different versions of Bitcoin — until now.

So far, a number of exchanges and wallets have indicated that they expect to support both chains, at least initially. Coinbase, the single biggest holder of Bitcoins on the planet, has announced it will give users access to coins on both chains and, a few hours after this article was initially published, stated that it would name the original chain BTC and the new chain B2X. Kraken, Bitfinex and Xapo, all the next biggest holders, with roughly the same amounts, have different stances. Kraken, which did not sign the New York agreement, has not issued a statement. Bitfinex has announced trading for “chain split tokens,” in which customers can ascribe a certain percentage of the value of a current whole Bitcoin to the 1x and 2x chains as long as the two add up to 100. The 1x chain split token is called BT1 and the 2x chain split token is called BT2, and after the hard fork, BT1 will convert into BTC and BT2 will convert into B2X. (SegWit2x supporters are crying foul over the naming favoritism being shown the 1x chain, but Bitfinex said that for an exchange like itself that offers leveraged trading, it needs to offer continuous markets, and because tickers are the primary keys in all its databases, changing tickers would break system functions for market data, trading records, etc. However, it could much more easily move the descriptor Bitcoin to another ticker such as B2X.) So far, the legacy chain split tokens are trading at about 87% the price of a current Bitcoin, and the SegWit2x chain split tokens are trading at about 13%. (Another exchange, OKCoin, which didn’t specify its naming policy, shows the same price differential; Huobi, which may rename BT2 BTC, shows a similar spread.) Xapo, which isn’t an exchange and does not need to offer continuous trading, has announced it will make the new coin available to customers but it will follow the chain with the “most accumulated difficulty” — the most hash power since the inception of the chains in January 2009, when Bitcoin first launched, following the definition of Bitcoin in the Bitcoin white paper — and name that one BTC. If the legacy chain is the minority chain, it will name that BC1 and if the SegWit2x chain is the minority chain, it will name that BC2. (All the exchanges/wallets above declined to comment or pointed to their public statements regarding the hard fork.) Currently, more than half of all Bitcoin trading volume takes place in Japan, and after the 27% of trading volume that takes place in the United States, another 11% occurs in South Korea, so exchanges in those countries will also certainly play a role.

Given that 85-90% of miners are signaling that they support SegWit2x, let’s assume that that’s how much hash power goes to that chain. Meanwhile, if 85-90% of users really do support the 1x chain as the chain split tokens indicate, to the point where they are willing to give up coins on the 2x chain to buy more 1x coins (and assuming that they’re not foiled in their attempt to do so by a replay attack), then it really does become a game of chicken. However, who blinks first is highly dependent on price.

The key to the 2x side winning is for the miners to act in concert and hold on, even if the other chain is more profitable, until the 1x chain becomes unusable and users flee to the 2x chain. How long they can do so depends on whether mining the 2x chain will simply be less profitable than mining the 1x chain or actually unprofitable. Part of the miners’ motivation to push for bigger blocks has to do with the fact that transactions on the blockchain itself pay miner fees. The more of those that are shifted to layer 2, the less they make in such fees. So, while mining the 2x chain may be less profitable or even unprofitable for some time period, they may be willing to make that tradeoff for their long-term goal. If the 2x chain prevails, 1xers who tried to boost the chance of their coin winning by selling the 2x coins in droves may end up losing money. Even more significantly, the core developers will have at least temporarily lost control of the protocol, and some may abandon Bitcoin altogether. It’s possible that losing the power struggle could prompt the core developers to do a hard fork to what’s called a proof of work change that would render the miners’ equipment useless for mining the legacy coin, but Lombrozo says that’s unlikely for now: “For that to happen, there would really have to be a strongly adversarial scenario where miners are actually attacking the chain” (such as the wipeout and 51% attacks described above).

However, while the SegWit2x side could win in a number of scenarios, the opposite could happen too. The 1x chain could be more profitable not only because of the current chain split token spread, but also because users on the 1x chain may pay high fees to try to get their transactions pushed through the infrequent blocks. These factors could entice miners to mine that chain. Blocks then wouldn’t be as slow and the chain could have fewer problems, which would boost the confidence of 1xers and push the price up, which would draw more miners, and so on, in an upward spiral until the SegWit2x chain is unprofitable for so long that almost all the miners defect from it back to the 1x chain.

Placing Bets

It could go either way. Both sides are highly confident their chain will win.

Tuur Demeester, editor in chief of Adamant Research, believes the current prices on the chain split tokens will likely reflect the prices of the two coins, so if miners mine the 2x chain, they will be leaving money on the table. “We see very clearly in the alt-coin space that miners eventually always follow the price,” he says. However, he says if the miners do mine the less profitable chain, causing problems on the 1x chain, “I would expect both prices would drop — both the price of B2X and the legacy chain — but I don’t really see that the ratio would change necessarily.”

The momentum the 1x side has going into the fork based on the price may also indicate how things will go after it. Spencer Bogart, head of research at crypto venture firm Blockchain Capital, says, “There’s a level of commitment from diehards within the 1x side that is ideological, and would go further than somebody that’s just being pragmatic. … I think a substantial portion of people will immediately sell all their 2x coins and re-up on what you can get on the original chain…. and then you’ll have some people who will tentatively wade into the other side but not commit to it. There’s a little asymmetry there that favors the status quo.”

However, the miners may also have some momentum of their own. The recent rise in price could mean that mining on the 2x chain isn’t unprofitable — merely less profitable than the 1x chain. Paul Sztorc, an economist at Bloq, rounding up the 13% price for chain split tokens on the exchanges, notes that 15% of a $6,000 coin is $900, which was the price of Bitcoin as recently as March of this year. Since miners invest in equipment based on conservative estimates for price, many of them may have invested an amount that would make mining profitable at a Bitcoin price as low as $900. So the recent jump in price makes it possible for them to hold out longer in pursuit of their ultimate goal of having bigger blocks. “It is likely that many miners believe that they can cause that 15% figure [the price of the SegWit2x chain split tokens] to rise to 100% if they starve the 1x chain of hashpower. Which they can now do much more easily. They are probably more likely to take the risk, the larger their profitability cushion is,” he wrote in an email.

Some Bitcoin insiders surmise that the 1x supporters buying chain split tokens are only a small but extremely vocal minority and that the vast majority of users don’t care about small blocks and are happy to let businesses decide for them. After all, the vast majority of the millions of users who have bought Bitcoin on Coinbase keep their coins there rather than taking control of them in their own wallets.

Kyle Samani, managing partner of crypto hedge fund Multicoin Capital, says he doesn’t understand the contention by 1x supporters that the 2x side represents a corporate takeover of Bitcoin. “You, as a user in Bitcoin, because it’s permissionless, have the right to run your own node, and be totally autonomous and independent. Great for you. But that’s a minority of users, and it’s absolutely a minority of dollars. The vast majority of people and money that interact with Bitcoin today interact through Coinbase, Xapo Bitpay, all these companies around the space — that has been true and will become more true, so when you say the evil CEOs are overtaking Bitcoin, I would say, no, the users interact with Bitcoin through these companies.”

On the flip side, many on the 1x/cypherpunk side have said that 1x-supporting customers of companies who signed the New York Agreement could have grounds to sue them — on what grounds exactly remains to be seen as many of the company statements issued so far are giving users access to their coins on both chains. However, the threat itself is rich in irony given how Bitcoin’s rise was fueled in part by libertarians’ love for it.

The last wild card is how Bitcoin Cash could affect this fork. It has 8MB blocks, no SegWit, and two of the most notorious big blockers, Ver, one of the richest Bitcoin hodlers, and Jihan Wu, the CEO of mining manufacturer Bitmain and pool operator Antpool, already promoting it. Ver has also claimed that it is true to the original vision of Bitcoin, since the white paper is titled, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System,” which implies many transactions per second.

Polychain’s Carlson-Wee, noting that the ideologically minded big blockers have already thrown in their lot with Bitcoin Cash, says, “The people who opted into Bitcoin Cash knew they were losing. Let’s say SegWit2x loses. Will the SegWit2x chain have the same kind of staying power of Bitcoin Cash if it’s the minority? In a way, I think the loser might lose even bigger this time, especially if it’s SegWit2x, since I think those ideologically driven folks are on Bitcoin Cash now. If the core chain loses, that chain will stay around, I’m confident.”

If the 2x side wins and unseats the core developers from their power over the protocol, it would be a stunning upset. But if the cypherpunks prevail, it remains to be seen how much effort the businesses will continue to put into Bitcoin. Already, Coinbase and Blockchain have adopted Ethereum, and Coinbase’s newest product Toshi is focused solely on Ethereum, and a contingent of cryptocurrency enthusiasts, worn out by the stalemate in Bitcoin, have moved on to other crypto tokens. So the question may not be which side wins, but whether, in the long run, anyone will care about this battle at all. – Written by 

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Going Once, Going Twice! The Evolution Of Auctions

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Online auctions are gaining popularity, but the traditionalists are still sold on the idea of live auctions that guarantee a good show, with emotions and bids running high.


In an industrialized area approximately 30 minutes from Sandton, the commercial hub of Johannesburg, is a shining fleet of trucks, parked and ready to be sold to the highest bidder.

The sun reflects off the windshields in the direction of the registered bidders as they sit under red outdoor umbrellas at the entrance of the property. 

Some opt for refreshments, while others make small talk with their competition.

A man uses this time to make phone calls to a mechanic, who discourages him from making a regrettable bid on a “non-runner”.

He runs towards the towering fleet of trucks, where he joins the eager buyers as they take a final peek before the auction begins.

We are at Aucor Auctioneers’ popular commercial auction, at their head office in Midrand.

After spending four hours traveling to Johannesburg from Nelspruit (in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province), for the auction, Charles Malibe gets into a heated bidding war that lasts no longer than a minute but is packed with plenty of fervent action.

Charles Malibe in a heated bidding war for a truck. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

It is noon and an overjoyed Malibe has just won a R465,000 ($32,401) bid on a second-hand truck.

“I attended my first auction three years ago. Sometimes you get it wrong and sometimes you get the right stuff at the right price. It is good to be exposed to new things. I went to Durban once, but I did not get anything there. It was not a waste. It is not only about getting things, it gives you exposure,” he says.

As Malibe heads back to Nelspruit, the auctioneer remains chanting until the last vehicle is sold, with the crowd getting smaller with each purchase.

Wasim Babamia, Aucor Auctioneers’ multimedia consultant, manages the national marketing for the 51-year-old auctioneering company.

Digitalization has disrupted traditional norms of advertising, and has made the industry more accessible for both buyers and sellers. 

“Selling any asset boils down to supply and demand. The advantage of buying in an auction is cutting out the middleman, saving that money and getting something of real top value,” he says.

Wasim Babamia, Aucor Auctioneers’ multimedia consultant. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

 Marketing the call to action remains a vital component for the business. 

“Social media has to be on point when we market a particular auction,” Babamia says.

Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn are some of the biggest platforms, apart from the traditional pamphlets and website advertising strategies.

According to Babamia, online bidding has pulled in more numbers over the past four years.

He sees a rapid transformation in the auctions landscape in the foreseeable future.

According to a South African Institute of Auctioneers (SAIA) report, Gauteng is the highest province of interest with over 6,000 potential buyers (for all kinds of auctions including residential properties, retail vehicles, jewelry and collectables) on its website, while the Northern Cape is the lowest with just over 1,000 buyers.

The traditional means of auctioning have had to make way for digital platforms that have been steadily increasing over the last decade.

SAIA records close to 100,000 visitors to online auctions in 2010; the first half of 2019 is already at 400,000 visitors.

Last year’s record 600,000 visitors reflect that the online market could be just as lucrative as the live auctions.

READ MORE | ‘Stolen’ Tutankhamun Bust Puts Britain’s Museums And Auctioneers Back Under the Spotlight

As the state of the South African economy remains uncertain, Babamia suggests that auctioneering will always provide a cheaper option to consumers.

An industry that has been in existence for more than 2,000 years continues to grow despite its many iterations over the years.

Ancient Greek records on auctions dating as far back as 500BC show women were auctioned off to become wives.

Auctions were popular for family estates and the selling of war plunder in Rome.

As a result of the great depression in the 1900s, the United States opened auction schools to generate income as businesses and individuals needed to liquidate assets to withstand the economic crisis.

In recent times, market trends have changed dramatically to adapt to socioeconomic norms.

A shift to online auctioneering has been a great development and contributor to the fluid industry.

 Orbis Research reports that the global online auction market is expected to grow during the period 2018-2022 with a 7.2% compound annual growth rate.

“Another major trend witnessed in the online auction is the immense impact of artificial intelligence (AI). AI’s main role in an online auction is to perform different tasks such as processing internal operations, customer-service inquiries, delivery and product packaging. In the last years, AI has instigated a gradual shift, from conventional auction to online auction,” the report states.

The increase in sales of art-based goods through online auctions is a key market driver.

Traditional live auctions, however, are still a preferred option for bargain-hunters, despite the global steer towards digitalization.

This is according to fine art specialist Luke Crossley who manages Stephan Welz & Co. in the affluent northern suburb of Johannesburg, Houghton Estate.  

Fine art specialist Luke Crossley who manages Stephan Welz & Co. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

Moving to simpler models will improve the industry by providing a greater competitive edge, he says.  

“There is a growing interest and understanding of auctions across a broad section of people where, maybe, a couple of decades ago it was seen as just for the very rich people doing very rich things.

“People are realizing that it is a great way of finding weird and beautiful objects, artwork and furniture at quite reasonable prices,” he says.

The increase of auction houses in South Africa offers a variety to buyers and sellers, with SAIA having 80,546 members registered by April 2019. As a result, the art and design market is at an advantage.

“The South African art market on auction is always evolving and broadening. The importance to history and art history is being realized and there is a growing interest and demand for these. It is encouraging a lot of the younger artists working with galleries to look at the history and heritage of artistic practice in this country,” Crossley says.

“With growing appreciation for South African and African art overseas, a couple of international houses based in England regularly do sales of more historical work. The audience overseas means a lot for the artists, the country and the future.”

Selling or buying art on auction engages the audience as well as the creator.

“The gallery, thus, becomes the primary market where young artists can build their careers; whereas auctions and private individuals with a passion for art can sell work they own, re-invest in other artists, or buy.

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‘South Africans Love Martyrs’

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The first 100 days of any presidency are often harshly scrutinized as they set the tone for what citizens expect. South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa is under the magnifying glass as all await his next tactical move.


At the end of May, South Africa’s sixth democratically-elected president, Cyril Ramaphosa, took an oath of office at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria. In his speech, he touched on many issues that resonate with South Africans, including corruption, poverty, equality and youth unemployment.

These burning matters prelude what is to be expected from him in his first 100 days in office.

Ramaphosa’s period at the helm of power (before the elections) has been typified by repeated calls for a ‘New Dawn’. It seems the man who made it to the 2019 Time magazine list of 100 Most Influential in the world has a laundry list of issues to attend to if he is to set the tone for the rest of his presidency.

READ MORE | IN PICTURES | Looking Back At The Vibe Of The South African Elections

The challenge that has deeply affected how South Africans and investors view the country is that of corruption.

“Let us forge a compact for an efficient, capable and ethical state, a state that is free of corruption, for companies that generate social value and propel human development… We must be a society that values excellence, rewards effort and rejects mediocrity,” Ramaphosa said at his inauguration on May 25.

 In the first 100 days, analysts say he needs to demonstrate he is a proactive leader; one who takes decisive action to address the plight of those who live in a society as unequal as South Africa. The gaping chasm between the richest and poorest has widened since the end of apartheid 25 years ago. This information is not lost on citizens whose lived experiences and disenchantment were in evidence during the elections.

A specialist in social economic development and political commentator, Kim Heller, is of the view that Ramaphosa has some way to go to address the resolutions of his party, the African National Congress (ANC).

 “There are critical social maladies that need to be treated with the urgency they deserve… One of the key things people are looking for is a decisive man and decisive leadership,” she says.

Political analyst, Prince Mashele, ventures: “He is yet to act on resolutions because he is navigating complex political infighting in the ANC, which is why he can’t move boldly and faster…”

Economic transformation has been seen to also imply redistribution of the means of production, which currently has been reiterated in the call for land redistribution without compensation. This is among the duties citizens and investors will keep a close eye on as it is a contentious matter.

Leading up to the elections, Ramaphosa said to apprehensive farmers, “the land reform process is something we should never fear. It is going to be done in terms of the constitution”.

Heller says that, “the question of land is unresolved, despite very solid ANC resolutions from branches, and despite extensive consultation”.

The president will to have to choose whether he wants to be investor-friendly or whether he wants the interests of his own political party to find expression in policy.

“The investors have become the supreme branch of the ANC. So Ramaphosa certainly, is spending a lot of time on their concerns rather than ordinary people…,” Heller says.

READ MORE | Poll Position: The South African 2019 Elections

Mashele echoes: “He has been a market-friendly president. He has railed against his comrades calling for the nationalization of the [South African] Reserve Bank”.

Another matter influencing investment into the country is red tape that inhibits instead of encouraging business. South Africa dropped from 34 out of 181 countries on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking in 2009 to 82 out of 192 countries last year, leaving the country trailing its African peers, including Mauritius (20), Rwanda (29) and Kenya (61).

In his address to the nation, Ramaphosa continued with the mantra thuma mina (which means ‘send me’) and committed to continue to build South Africa. In his rebuilding, he will have to take a closer look at the factors that infringe on those looking to conduct business while straddling the line in ensuring that (natural) resources are not further depleted while failing to trickle down to those who need it the most.

Heller is of the view that the expectations created by the president serve as a double-edged sword: “Some quarters have built him up to be the Messiah we have all been waiting for. He may have embraced that but it’s actually going to damage him. Because there is no individual who can save this country without looking at doing serious things in terms of economic restructuring… Until we address structural issues in this country, shifting the economy to favor ordinary people, not markets, we actually aren’t very benevolent.”

Also affecting business has been the view that South Africa is amongst the most corrupt on the continent and viewed as one of the murder capitals of the world. The Zondo Commission has illustrated the stark reality of the malfeasance the president will have to address to change these perceptions and in so doing, hold high-profile individuals accountable.

READ MORE | Ticking The Right Boxes: Will The South African Elections Come Down To The Wire?

 In line with building an equal society, the president made mention of the prevalence of violence against women at his inauguration.

“Let us end the dominion that men claim over women, the denial of opportunity, the abuse and the violence, the neglect, and the disregard of each person’s equal rights. Let us build a truly non-racial society, one that belongs to all South Africans, and in which all South Africans belong. Let us build a society that protects and values those who are vulnerable and who for too long have been rendered marginal,” Ramaphosa said.

Leading up to the resolution of the president’s first 100 days in office, the public is watching with bated breath. 

“I pity him. He’s made big promises on housing and unemployment. Those are not going to magically change overnight. The problem with South Africa is that we love martyrs and here we have a president that we have martyred and who is actually going to fall on that. To replace one man with another, is not going to replace problematic policies, poor implementation and poor conceptualization of economic solutions. So I think in the next 100 days, I don’t expect to see anything unless the fundamentals are changed,” Heller says.     

No doubt, it is going to take a concerted effort from all institutions, including those that have been revealed to be compromised. The first 100 days will certainly determine the rest of the president’s term in office.

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Lifting The Heavy Veil On Wedding Costs

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With pockets as deep as gold mines, how far are couples willing to go to have the picture-perfect luxe wedding?


The lagoons overlook the snow-white beaches with its swaying coconut trees, embraced by the turquoise waters of the sea in the island nation of Mauritius. It’s a scene straight out of a movie, with a couple cavorting in the distance.

Over 100 guests from South Africa have also gathered on these sands for the weekend wedding of businessman Lebo Gunguluza and his long-term girlfriend Lebo Mokoena. 

The total cost of this union: almost $300,000. 

“I didn’t mind exceeding the budget, because you only do this once,” says new bride Mokoena.

The couple flew over 30 guests and provided them with five-star accommodation at the LUX* Grand Gaube.  Part of the guest contingency included the behind-the-scenes crew for the wedding, as well as the speakers who had to spend four to seven days in Mauritius to prep up.

“We did not want to have a local wedding because we wanted our guests and family to have a different experience. We also wanted our family members who did not have passports and have never flown out of the country to experience a different country,” Gunguluza says.

Snow-white beaches of Mauritius. Picture: Supplied

The weekend celebrations started on a Friday last September with a cocktail meet-and-greet party. Belly dancers who were dressed in floral red and yellow danced the evening away with guests, with a local band taking them to the all-white party on Saturday.

This was just a build-up to the romantic wedding reception with shades of blush, ivory, and gold which was to take place on Sunday at 4PM.

“Every time I think about that day, I want to do it again,” the new bride says.

The couple chose not to have bridesmaids and groomsmen and the guests were encouraged to dress in black and white.

“I didn’t have bridesmaids because it makes you choose between your friends. I felt that if you got an invite to our wedding, you were worthy enough. So, we wanted everyone to be bridesmaids and groomsmen. I think we made it intimate and everybody felt like they were VIPs,” says Mokoena.

Everything fit perfectly as the bride’s two white wedding dresses were designed by Antherline Couture.

For the ceremony, she wore a white ball gown with a diamanté top heavily embellished with beads; while the groom looked dapper in a white tuxedo jacket designed by Master Suit SA.  

The color white was indeed conspicuous.

“I have always felt that white is pure and because I was signing my life away, I felt I needed to be pure, hence I said my husband needed to wear white as well,” she adds.

The lavish white wedding was organized by renowned wedding planner Precious Tumisho Thamaga who ditched her seven-year career in Public Relations & Marketing to become an event planner.

Thamaga organizes events and weddings for affluent clients such as the Gunguluzas.

“They are busy people and they don’t have time to do the administration and the back and forth of vetting in suppliers,” Thamaga says, as she takes over the pain of wedding planning.

Lebo Mokoena and Lebo Gunguluza (middle) with wedding guests in Mauritius. Picture: Supplied

While working in the corporate world, she had attended many weddings that she felt were put together in a way that created a disconnect between the guests and the wedding couple.

“So I saw an opportunity in the fact that there were not a lot of wedding planners that were black,”  Thamaga says. 

She decided to focus on corporate clients in order to turn her passion into a profitable business.

“A lot of people did not expect a black person to be professional and take the business seriously.

“It was not just a hobby or someone helping out a family. It was an actual business and I made sure that I got taken seriously from the onset,” Thamaga says.

In order for Precious Celebrations (the name of her company) to prosper, she had to have a business strategy in place.

“I made sure that I put a lot of time and effort and strategized properly what it was that I wanted to actually focus on, and find a niche [in]. I believed that would separate me from somebody that was already in the industry,” Thamaga says.

However, her job is not always alluring.


Lebo Mokoena and Lebo Gunguluza’s wedding in Mauritius. Picture: Supplied

“When I started in the industry there weren’t so many wedding planners and now it is a different story and everyone thinks it is easy-peasy and it is glamorous,” she says. 

Planning a luxurious wedding takes eight to 12 months and can cost anywhere between R300,000 ($20,813) to R4.5 million ($312,203).

The most expensive wedding Thamaga planned was for a public figure she cannot disclose the name of. 

“It was a destination wedding and the experience from when the guests arrived to the wedding day was memorable. When they arrived, we had a cocktail party and we had activities like canoeing and on Sunday we had an all-white party. [This is] so that people don’t depart on Sunday and may leave on Monday.” 

Only the affluent sign up.

“The smallest wedding that I have had to plan had 80 people and it cost R2 million ($138,000),”  Thamaga says.

She has turned away some clients in the past because their budget was insufficient for the type of wedding they envisioned. 

Thamaga organizes 26 weddings, on average, annually, from countries such as Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Botswana and now she plans on taking her bespoke company global.

One of the unique aspects of her business is that she has maintained a good relationship with the suppliers she has in each country, and has kept her expenses to a minimum.

“The wedding planning-event planning industry is quite lucrative if you do it right. I am not the type that would have too much inventory because I want to feel like the inventory belongs to me; that would limit my creativity,” she says.

“I make sure that I don’t have a lot of expenses, I have coordinators that I have worked with for years and they have full-time jobs.”

Thamaga’s greatest challenge so far was whether or not to outsource other wedding planners when her business was increasing.

“It can be a bit daunting to realize that your business is growing,” she says.

But she opted to remain boutique.

“I had to decide that it is not about the money. I am building an empire where I want a legacy and an ongoing relationship with my clients.” 

She involves her clients every step of the way to bring their vision to an unforgettable reality, and believes that weddings are expensive because of the growing aspirations of the young.

“It is not just in South Africa, it is worldwide,” she says.

Despite the tangible costs of conducting these dream events, the wedding industry in South Africa is largely unregistered as it is a fluid market where services and costs are difficult to track and document accurately.

Fred Elu Eboka, a Nigerian designer who dresses delegates as well as the rich and famous. Picture: Supplied

Africans, no doubt, spend millions per year on costs associated with marital ceremonies. This is the reality of the unregistered wedding industry. Despite the recession and slow economic growth, the wedding industry continues to attract many entrepreneurs to its lucrative opportunities.

As, people never stop getting married.

The Marriages and Divorces report released by Statistics South Africa last May shows an upward trend in civil marriages. Civil marriages increased by 0.6%, from 138,627 marriages registered in 2015 to 139,512 in 2016.

A wedding dress is an important part of a celebration and the bridal couture market continues to show growth.

Wise Guy Reports Database Global Wedding Dress Market Insights, forecast to 2025, states: “The wedding market demand grows continually, and the wedding garments market has notable increase every year. In this case, the competition is also very intense among companies. The involved companies should seize the opportunities to expand the gold mine.”

A previous client of Thamaga’s has spent R200,000 ($13,876) on two wedding dresses and this is nothing for Fred Elu Eboka, a Nigerian designer who dresses delegates as well as the rich and famous. 

He moved to South Africa in 1992 at a time when African designs were not being celebrated globally. 

Twenty years ago, Eboka sold wedding dresses for R15,000 ($1,041) a piece, and now sells for R250,000 ($17,344) a piece, depending on the design. 

“A designer of my caliber in South Africa is undersold because there are people in the United States selling wedding gowns for $250 and I am here selling them for maybe $80, it just doesn’t make sense. It shows that our economy is really bad because a designer of my caliber should be operating on the same level as them, or very close,” Eboka says.

He is a luxury designer. 

“When you think of luxury, it is not just the product, it is not just the textile – it is the whole experience from when you drive in, to when you sit down and have the designer talk to you and learn about your life. The whole artistic process contributes to the cost value of the gown.”

He says that the reason wedding gowns are expensive is because they are meant to be timeless pieces.

“Traditionally, wedding gowns are classical couture. It is not like the normal evening dress that you wear to look beautiful on one night. A wedding dress is like training for the Olympics. You train for them for the rest of your life,” he says.

Eboka also says when designing a wedding gown, you need to take time to know the client, family and their fancies in order to meet the clients’ need.

The material of the wedding gown is usually expensive because he sources the textiles from across the world, and he takes two to three months to create a gown, depending on the embellishments.

Fred Elu Eboka, a Nigerian designer who dresses delegates as well as the rich and famous. Picture: Supplied 

“My designs have a lot of artistry,” he says.

Eboka is a wealthy man but he still believes that the industry is not as lucrative as it could be.

“But we do well, without being arrogant about it… You have to be fully aware of the industry and have the intellectual capacity to understand the potential of the market,” he says.

Pictures are an important element of a wedding because they capture the moment for life.

International award-winning photographer Daniel West meets his clients in a restaurant so he can get to know them better and learn the history of their relationship.

“We, as photographers, need to click with each couple, it is actually vital because we are going to be in their space from the beginning to end.

“So, when we do not gel, we are going to find ourselves in an awkward situation on the day because we, as photographers, are also problem-solvers. We don’t just take pictures on the day,” West says.

His packages start from R18,000 ($1,248) to R60,000 ($4,163) and he says it is because the couple is paying for the quality of the work. His packages include waterproof genuine leather-bound photo albums that he says last a lifetime, as well as 500 images that are both edited and unedited. He also arranges the location for the photoshoots.

“It is more than about taking pictures on the day, anybody can take pictures but the work that I do has more of a boutique feel,” he says.

“You pay to have something like this on the table that will last you a lifetime,” West says.

He does not only take pictures on the day but the photoshoots can take up to three months.

“Each couple that I take pictures of has a different story and that is where I draw my inspiration.”

West says that it takes a while for the business to get to a point that is profitable because photographic equipment is expensive.

“In the beginning, it is unfortunately not lucrative because you have to look into getting the equipment that is up to standard, however, it took me about seven years where I could get to a point that I could make a business out of it,” West says.

International award-winning photographer Daniel West with his clients. Picture: Supplied

His annual turnover before expenses is R800,000 ($55,502) and he has about 25 clients a year.

He believes that the industry is regarded as valuable in South Africa and it is growing because people are becoming more enlightened about the photography industry. And social media has become an important motivator driving this industry.

“It is vital to have a good photographer for your wedding, because you as a bride are not quite educated of what is out there and what is not [in terms of photography].”

A good photographer needs to have foresight.

“The quality and charisma of your photographer is really one of the most important things you pay for because if something were to go wrong on your wedding, like rain, what does your photographer do? Do they stand back or make a plan?” he says.

Other luxe services associated with weddings include limos and chauffeur services, and florists, live music bands and gourmet caterers flown from around the world. The more money you are willing to throw, the more sparkling the champagne, crystal and caviar on the beach

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