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Much is happening on the political front that I would love to be discussing here, but paid work is, thankfully, taking up my time this week. Thus the following is broad brush and a little rushed – the point I wanted to make is that the issues are all connected – in dark and unsettling ways.

Julius on Nationalisation

Parliament started public hearings on the establishment of  a state-owned mining company. Malema  gave the ANCYL’s views and he repeated the call for the immediate suspension of mining licences to prevent the current holders “looting” the mines. Jacob Zuma later in the General Assembly said: “If this issue causes such excitement, then debate it with Mr Malema. He is there.” See Business Report’s take here.

DA Success

The Democratic Alliance made serious gains in by-elections earlier in the week – this from The Cape Times (IOL) this morning:

IN a watershed night in South African politics, the DA trounced the ANC in two of its strongholds – Gugulethu and Caledon – gaining two wards where there was not a single white voter and the majority were blacks, not coloureds.

In Ward 44 in parts of Gugulethu and Heideveld, where the DA received 21.6 percent of the vote in the last election in 2006, the party received 60.5 last night.

And in Ward 12 in Caledon’s Theewaterskloof municipality, where the DA received only 6.6 percent in 2006, the party garnered more than 60 percent.

We are obliged to do some work on these numbers (how many people voted, demographic and other changes since 2006) but it implies a surprising level of disaffection with the ANC in areas that can only be described as ‘previously safe’ ANC wards.

Xenophobia

I have been picking up from African foreigners living in townships around Cape Town for at least the last 6 months that they were being threatened that post the Fifa World Cup and post the obsessive media focus on South Africa associated with the soccer they can expect to be driven from their homes – I discuss it here and this is the key paragraph from this March 24th 2010 post:

It has become something of a legend and commonly accepted “fact” by foreigners living in South African townships that post the World Cup and in the lead-up to the local government elections in 2011 the xenophobic violence will erupt on a scale beyond anything that has happened in the past.

The issue is breaking across the spectrum of the South African news media as I write.

The Hidden Connections

The ANC government is failing in service delivery and the evidence is everywhere that there is a degree of panic in the party’s ranks about the 2011 local government election. The ANC is under various kinds of threat, but the threat that concerns its leadership most is the possibility that they lose the support of the poor. This environment gives voice to the worst of those who have found a home in the ANC; those who understand the power of the call to take back what is “rightfully ours” – the land and the mines; and those who covertly would harness the rage and fear rife in the townships – a strategy indistinguishable from the early activity of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. The older ANC members would be genuinely outraged at any suggestion that they would countenance these strategies but it is difficult not to conclude that these forces are unleashed in our society as a direct result of the failure of ANC leadership.

I almost missed this, and can barely credit it, but I thought I better put a link to the story about Zuma invoking the ancestors on the ANC’s behalf. (The story is ultimately from Buks Viljoen of Die Beeld and republished online by news24.com.)

It seems Zuma threatened that should your support for the ANC  waver the ancestors will make you sick. I’ve been feeling a little poorly myself of late and my support for the ANC could be said to “be wavering” – in an understated, English kind of way. So maybe there’s something in it.

Here is the story and just to show that at least someone is taking the threat of the ghostly hordes of ANC supporting ancestors seriously, here is the Reverend Meshoe of the African Christian Democratic Party berating the president for his outrageous appeal to traditional African beliefs – catch that here.

No-one can take serious issue with the leopard for pouncing down on the neck of a wayward sheep and dragging the carcass back up the rocky outcrop to her cubs for a leisurely feed. It’s what leopards do.

Engaging the leopard in any special pleading about the benefits of keeping this particular sheep alive is, well, it’s just silly, isn’t it?

The gathering wave of strikes means the scent of blood is thick in the air and Cosatu’s haunches are bunching and its tail is twitching.

The trade union federation is sniffing the scent of blood. As the strike season gains momentum the coincidence with the Fifa World Cup is causing Sipho and Sally Normal deep anxiety.

“How can Cosatu hold the World Cup to ransom?” I hear our good citizens gasp.

But the real question should be: ‘how could Cosatu not seize this once in a lifetime opportunity?’

The trade union movement has leverage right now – and for a limited time only – like it has never had before.

Our politicians have inevitably embedded themselves with the Fifa invasion – with about as much moral fortitude as those journalists who embed themselves with superior invaders in other kinds of wars.

Cosatu member unions already had the extra leverage they derived from having backed the right gang in the Polokwane Putsch, but it is the potential to disrupt the Fifa World Cup that gives its voice a new continent cracking resonance.

You want a settlement three times the inflation rate? You’ve  got it, baby –  just don’t take the focus away from a moment as potentially rich as that perfect Zidane head-butt.

When management and unions stare each other down, a thousand considerations come into play – and while much hinges on the price of the package that will be paid for labour this is not the only consideration.

Management might accept a higher settlement if labour agrees to lock in an acceptable rate of increase in the years ahead – and vice versa. Or the parties can shift bits of the package around so that either management or labour feel that they are getting a better deal.

But there are other and more complicated influences on the bargaining process and one of them consists of getting a fat guy to lean on the other side for you.

If this was the USA 70 years ago organised crime might have lent a hand to one side or another, depending on the interests of some business oligarch, a connected Senator or a union boss playing the field. In South Africa the fat guy is the state and for a variety of reasons he is likely to lean on management and business owners.

When striking Transnet workers marched on parliament last week to insist that Minister S’bu Ndebele back their demands, the politicians sent Mawethu Vilana, a former Cosatu researcher out to speak to the angry workers. This from The Sowetan

Vilana said the government took the strike very seriously and that Deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin and Deputy Public Enterprises Minister Enoch Godongwana were “involved” in trying to find a resolution.

The strike against Transnet appears to be close to resolution, but a larger national strike against the electricity price increase is gathering its skirts in the wings.

Cosatu is led by the kind of people whose instincts are to think of Fifa and the astonishingly named Sepp Blatter as just another gang peddling products that ensnare the user with false promises of bliss. But Cosatu also represents a constituency that loves the Beautiful Game and like a small boy is having to sit on its hands it is so excited about the coming festivities.

So Cosatu is not without limits on its behaviour and nor are its member unions. Cosatu has increasingly failed in the last several years to win over the “ordinary citizen” or ‘the middle ground’ when its strikes have spilled over into public protests. Just one too many image of groups of fat people dancing down a road with sticks, turning over rubbish bins and breaking shop windows has meant that anyone who is not a Cosatu member is less likely to stand as firm as those fabled Apartheid oppressed communities that stopped buying Fatti’s and Moni’s pasta to support the brave workers and their leaders who eventually went on to form Cosatu and drive the revolution itself.

The heroes always live long ago and their legend gleams more with time. But it is difficult to imagine a world in which Cosatu’s leveraging the World Cup for narrow financial gain is celebrated as a blow struck for transformation and liberation.

But in the same breath it is important to remind ourselves that Cosatu is just doing what it must do. It’s purpose is to ruthlessly fight for the advantage of its members over both the vested interests of the powerful, the collective interests of the nation and/or the desperate interests of the weak and downtrodden. In truth, the leopard really has no choice and cannot change its spots.

I had been gearing up to say something snide about Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s ridiculous call for a reinstitution of national service.

I know many people will instinctively approve of her suggestion. It speaks directly to our despair about the failure of  the education system and the worry about the “Lost Generation”.

Well, be that as it may, I cannot overstate how bad an idea I think this is – and how arrogant and undemocratic the assumptions behind it are. I mean, she says in motivation of the idea, that the service delivery protest are being fronted by “our youth, with excessive anger and misdirected energy and frustration etched on their faces.” Misdirected? Huh, I don’t think so.

But my breathless indignation aside, how could anyone imagine that it would be an efficient allocation of our scarce national resources to have the bloated and increasingly ridiculous institution of the SANDF provide a rite of passage ritual for youth leaving school?

So anyway, while I was gearing up to say something I came across Jacob Dlamini’s opinion piece in today’s Business Day. It is so good and so well written that I humbly suggest you read what he has to say.

Click on the first few paragraphs below to go to the full story on the Business Day site.

Sisulu patronises SA’s legitimately angry youth

THEY just don’t get it, do they? Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu told Parliament on Tuesday that she wanted to reintroduce conscription. According to a report by Business Day Online, Sisulu said this “will not be a compulsory national service, but an unavoidable national service”. She was quick to say the government did not want to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Sisulu reportedly told Parliament that she wanted the defence force to provide a rite of passage for young people “leaving school with no skills and no prospect of being absorbed into a labour market that is already glutted”. She said: “Every culture known to men has a process of coming of age. This includes some initiation into responsible adulthood, where the line is drawn from childish ways to purposeful, responsible adult behaviour. We can do that for this country, because that is the one thing we need, to build a future for our development and prosperity. A place where the young unemployed can find skills, dignity and purpose.”

Sisulu presides over the most pampered, but also the most inefficient military in Africa, what on earth makes her think the aged, generally obese, unprofessional and ill- disciplined South African National Defence Force is equipped to teach young people about “responsible adult behaviour”?

The quarterly Labour Force Survey from Statistics SA is a timely reminder of what really matters when assessing political risk associated with investing in South Africa.

Julius Malema’s predations,  Jacob Zuma’s extraordinary sex life, Cosatu’s and the SACP’s millennial economics would just be irritating noise, unless they relate to the country’s chronic levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality – and the racial overlay of the same.

Think of society as a complex system and unemployment, poverty and inequality as deep tectonic stresses that honeycomb and hollow out the underpinnings and foundations of the system. As the stresses grow so does the potential for catastrophic events.

South Africa has the highest jobless rate of the 62 counties tracked by Bloomberg and the unemployment rate rose for a fourth consecutive quarter in the first three months of this year – that’s a 1.3% contraction in employment or the loss of 171 000 jobs in that period. The following graph shows the general trend – and also demonstrates slight seasonal increases in the fourth quarters of 2008 and 2009, the result of the obvious stimulations from the holiday season and the rush to get things done.

Employment contracted in all industries but Agriculture, Private Households, Transport and Community and Social Services.

Read this alongside these points:

  1. More than 50% of South Africans live within the most common definitions of “poverty” or “below the poverty line”,
  2. South Africa has dropped approximately 30 places in the UN’s  Human Development Indicators index (to 125) since 1990;
  3. South Africa shares with Brazil and a few other Latin American countries the highest measures of inequality (the “Gini-coefficient“) in the world.

Add to this the dismal outcomes of Affirmative Action and Black Economic Empowerment and you have a system shot through with instability.

When we worry about the ANC and its performance – and the increasingly profound failures of its key leaders –  when we worry about State Owned Enterprises like Eskom being hijacked by a predatory new elite, when we worry about the collapse of governance and service delivery in poor townships; our worry is actually about the impact on the deep, underlying trends in unemployment, poverty and inequality- and the possibility of fixing these problems.

When the bombast coming from the political and economic elite draws the national focus away from the real issues and challenges, then the trouble we are in becomes more threatening and more concerning to investors.

I am an independent political analyst focusing on Southern Africa and I specialise in examining political and policy risks for financial markets.

A significant portion of my income is currently derived from BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities (Pty) Ltd.

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