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Stephen Grootes: Shooting the breeze

Davos really is a place where you can quite literally bump into anybody.

I was heading through the snow on Thursday night, head down, moving as quickly and as carefully as I could for an appointment with a cabinet minister, when I saw a guy walking in the opposite direction to me. Being a friendly sort of chap, I nodded a "good evening", to be greeted with "Hi Steve". It was the Joburg mayor, Parks Tau.

And like all South Africans do, when they know each other and they're out of the country, they stop and talk, and chew the fat, and discuss Switzerland, and how different it is to home. Of course, that means there's plenty to talk about.

One of the big discussions of the day was a debate around immigration. The movement of people from place to place tends to be highly controversial, no matter where you are. It's a debate with a resonance for us, how many times have we heard the phrase "alien" when talking about someone who doesn't have a green ID book, and who could forget the horror of the xenophobic attacks in 2008.

Perhaps the main speaker was former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.

He has a simple message; we must show compassion to our fellow human beings. He gets that there must some kind of management, but as he says, people moving around has been a trend for quite some time now. His real scorn was for countries that have ships to chase away boats carrying potential immigrants or refugees.

That's a strong criticism of Australia which has implemented a policy of refusing to let these boats land on its shores.

He also used a nice illustration to make his point. Referring to an old United Nations poster, he said it had a picture of Albert Einstein with sack of clothes on his back, with the slogan "Refugees don't just bring sacks of clothes with them". It's a very effective image.

But I fear it may take more than scorn to force the Aussies to stop their horrid practices when it comes to illegal immigrants.

Annan's successor Ban Ki-Moon is also here at the moment. He held a press conference to punt his climate summit. With him was the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who says he now has proof you don't have other go for green, or go for economic growth.

He says over the last 22 years, the EU has grown its GDP by around 40 percent, while it's cut emissions. Of course, his comment is designed to inflame the opinions of Americans everywhere.

But there will be plenty of people in the developing world who will not be pleased either. They'll feel that actually they need that space to use fossil fuels. I'm sure Brian Dames at Eskom would say that he could do without coal fired power stations tomorrow. If we could all do without electricity at the same time.

Davos is a place where you bump into all sorts of people. But it's really the bumping into ideas that makes it so much fun.

Stephen Grootes is the author of 'SA Politics Unspun', the senior political reporter for Eyewitness News , and the host of the Midday Report. Follow him on Twitter @StephenGrootes

Click here for a special feature on this year's World Economic Forum in Davos.