You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2011.

This is faintly awkward for me, so I put it right there in the headline – leading with my chin, so to speak.

I run this blog for a number of reasons:

  • It’s a discipline – it forces me to think about the political news flow;
  • I am, in principle, in favour of deepening political debate – the more forums, the more people think about politics, and the more subtle and complex those thoughts are, the better for all of us;
  • It fulfils a personal need for an audience – I’ll deal with that with my shrink if I ever get one again …
  • and I use it to market myself to people who might pay me for my services as a political analyst or speaker.

It is the last need that causes me to mention here that I was, to my great surprise, last week announced as the top ranked analyst in the Financial Mail annual Analyst of the Year Survey – in the category: Political Analysis and Industrial Relations.

Here’s the whole “leader board”:

I am particularly proud of this award for several reasons, but these are the important two:

First, the rank is determined by a vote from South African fund managers at the pensions funds and asset managers. These are professionals who have to pay for the analysis and assess its financial value to them and their businesses. It’s a vote I value.

Second, I am in auspicious company – even though some people on the list are not primarily “political analysts”. I don’t know them all (and will only mention the ones I do), but I am a great admirer of Moeletsi Mbeki (as anyone who reads this blog will know) – and Deanne Gordon and Nazmeera Moola are valuable and supportive friends, top economists and thorough and original thinkers (and have both been highly ranked in many categories in this survey in the past).

You might be wondering why the Sunday papers were filled with conflicting version of the results from the municipal election.

The answer is contained in a decent story on Times Live written by Brendan Boyle:

The DA took 23.80% of the vote for ward candidates, 24.08% of the proportional representation vote for parties, 15.3% of the vote for ward councillors and 21.97% of all votes cast.

The ANC took 60.98% of the ward vote, 62.93% of the proportional representation vote, 69.43% of the district council vote and 63.65% of all votes cast.

So you can spin your version in a number of ways – and everyone has been furiously doing just that. See here for the DA using the proportional vote comparison which gives it 24.08 percent versus the ANC 62.93 percent and therefore casts its performance in the best possible light (something it is perfectly in its rights to do.)

(This added half an hour after publishing – it has been pointed out to me by some of the people I follow on Twitter – @Bruceps and @RyanCoetzee – that the only choice that all voters were offered that indicated their party preference is the proportional representation vote which gives the ANC 62.93 percent and the DA 24.08 – strongly persuasive that this is the number that most accurately indicates party support.)

The Sunday papers seems to have arbitrarily shifted from one usage to another.

I have used the figures from the IEC website for the overall total of votes cast for parties. Here they are (if you click on any one of the nine it will enlarge and become readable):

As of right now (this was 12.40 on May 20 2011) the ANC is sitting at 63.63 percent of the vote (66.35 in 2006), the DA at 22.1 (14.77), the IFP with 3.94 (8.05) – and newcomers to municipal elections COPE with 2.31 and the National Freedom Party with 2.54. The other important factor to consider is the ID got 2.02 percent in 2006 – which we must assume has mostly gone to the DA in this election.

The trends are important but are likely to be overlooked by the degree in which they were exaggerated before they appeared.

If anything the ANC is likely to continue to drift upwards and the DA downwards – because the constituencies in which the ANC is stronger are bigger and messier and therefore results take longer to come in.

The leader article in this morning’s Business Day points out that only 9.2 percent of South African’s are ‘white’ and with the Democratic Alliance running at about 22 percent of the vote the official opposition has already broken out of it’s racial ghetto.

I think this is the correct way to spin it.

Some DA supporters might be feeling disappointed – it looks like they have only one metro (Cape Town); but my feeling is anything more than this was hopeless optimism.

The DA talking up its game was always going to end in tears.

The fact is the party has done extraordinarily well – particularly in the metropolitan areas.

The ANC has won with reduced majorities almost everywhere and the DA is up an astonishing 8 percent on its performance in 2006.

These are the significant trends in the election and the statisticians will be furiously projecting forward to 2014 – although you should note that the ruling party tends to do worse in the municipal vote (a global trend).

The ANC is giving hints that it takes the criticism and promises to fix the three areas that have contributed to the reduction of its margins: candidate selection, poor service delivery and widespread corruption in local councils.

Were this to happen the results, as they are running, are the best they could be.

I am feeling the welcome pressure of a flood of paid work.

The only drawback to this happy state of affairs is I have not been able to put as much effort into updating this website as I would like.

In future I will generally be posting the quirkier side of politics and investment risk – occasionally from a more personal perspective.

I will not be telling you about what I had for breakfast, my deep and interesting views on Islay single malts or the fascinating behaviour of my small brown dog. I expect more posts to have the character of Saturday’s Rowan Atkinson skit – which could have been made for this election – or this one from a few months ago on celebrity culture and the rise of grandiosity in our politics.

Meanwhile here is a summary of some of my views on the lead-up to Wednesday’s vote.

(Note: just before the dog ate my homework my finger slipped on a small streak of high dudgeon that had somehow spilled on my keyboard and I pressed the “publish” link before I had a chance to edit the following piece. I have now cleaned it up slightly, but feel free to email me at nic.borain@gmail.com to point out any mistakes I missed – or to engage me about the article.)

Julius Malema

If the ANC Youth League president was a stock traded on the JSE I would be calling: “buy, buy, buy –  fill your boots! “

He’s under-priced because of the hammering he has taken over the last 6 months, and the market – as reflected in what the ANC likes to call “the print media” – has not adequately woken to the fact that he is the star of the election.

I have argued before that Malema is the coming man in the ANC and, perhaps, the country. I will not be entirely charmed to have been proven right – although a lot can go awry ‘twixt now and the time of full accounting. But let there be no mistaking or underestimating Malema’s current cachet.

He appears to have done the hard work – personally, in his own name and own voice – in mobilising the constituencies most likely not to have bothered to vote on Wednesday.

This doesn’t even have to be true. It appears to be true, and that is all that matters.

He stuck one in the eye of ‘the madams’ and ‘the masters’ and, as difficult as it is for me to swallow, I am fairly certain that for this reason alone there are millions of South Africans whose hearts swell with pride as they think about their Juju’s audacity and bravery.

Whatever else happens he will be remembered by the loyal party workers and bureaucrats as having turned pro when the going got tough – and taking the fight to the Democratic Alliance just as the Official Opposition was  looking scary.

And this was all building on – and in addition to – the enormous public relations coup of the “kill the boer” trial – which united the party, its leaders and its faithful behind him.

I do think that a party and a country in which a young populist of the streak and character of Julius Malema is so strongly ascendant is in all kinds of trouble in the long term … but that, so to speak, is another story.

I also think financial market sentiment – particularly as effected by the ‘nationalisation of mines’ debate – will counter track his rising and falling fortunes.

Jacob Zuma

Jacob Zuma has had a fair to good election. This activity is his strength and as with Malema he has earned loyalty points from the party faithful for his tireless commitment and skill in working the crowd.

I am interested in the nature and extent of pressure that he appears to be under – particularly pressure emanating from the Youth League and those that hope to ride that organisation to power and even greater wealth.

President Zuma, to my mind, is awkwardly caught in a relationship of mutual dependence with the sections of the Ruling Alliance with whom he shares the least ideological and cultural ground.

Zuma is the natural Nkandla patriarch, dispensing largesse and spreading his seed in as a wide a circle as possible. These are the attributes that Cosatu and the ANC’s leftwing most despise yet Zuma is their champion and they his.

The confirmation of post-Polokwane populism

I miss the arrogant and austere Thabo Mbeki who would have been ashamed to use the kind of underhand tactics implicit in some of the  ANC election posters – I am assured this one is the genuine article, but I still have difficulty believing it.

For me the word “populism” has a meaning that implies a combination of characteristics, including clever mixing of fact and fiction, appealing to the most base human emotions as well as the manipulation of the fears, greed and anger of oppressed and vulnerable people.

At first this image made me laugh out loud – it is a photograph, so inescapably true, as well as being strangely familiar. Until I paused and realised how manipulative and abusive it actually is – using the image of happy children playing together (in circumstances we cannot know but are encouraged to imagine) to evoke hatred, rage and fear.

The ANC conducted the 2009 election campaign in the style of  a televangelical rally spiced with hotdogs and wet t-shirts.

It is probably arrogant and elitist to hate this kind of politics as profoundly as I do – but I would rather have that defence than for there to be any possibility of being swept up into either the sexy razzmatazz or into the fear and hatred.

This election has given the faintest hint of what a cornered ANC might be capable of and the kinds of appeals it might be prepared to make to the most base elements of its constituency.

Not, mind you, that the DA is guiltless of softer versions of both the ‘sexy razzmatazz’ and the ‘fear and loathing’ populism. But the “Fight Back”slogan seems to have receded and Helen Zille’s sex appeal is such a specialist taste that I am less bothered by the DA’s mass-marketing strategy than I am by the ANC’s.

Helen Zille also rises

My own view is that Helen Zille, for all her preppy awkwardness, jolly-hockey sticks enthusiasm and excruciating body language,  is the Iron Lady of our recent history and has struck at the heart of ANC complacency and tolerance for corruption and failure.

Whatever happens to the DA’s feisty campaign in this election, Helen Zille herself has achieved an extraordinary place in our history. She has personally shaped her party and pushed it into new territory – against history and against personal limitations – where it is, in my estimation, going to play a growing role in the politics of a post-Apartheid South Africa. This would be a phenomenal and transcending achievement for party that originated in the last white parliament.

Results – counting chickens and pigs in pokes

I strongly suspect that ANC panic and DA overreach is going to leave a lot of people slightly shamefaced or deeply relieved.

There is no realistic or publicly available polling data but my thumbsuck guess – unlike that of Allister Sparks – is that the DA does less well than the hype has led us to believe and that the ANC does not go much below 60 % no matter how big the stayaway vote from the party’s angry and disillusioned supporters.

The DA seems to have set its supporters and party workers up for disappointment. Who cannot think that the party will not do considerably better than it did in the 2009 General Election or the  Municipal vote in 2006? But the way it is being spun, anything short of 4 metros and 40 percent of the vote (a vanishingly unlikely outcome) is going to feel like defeat.

Will the ANC lose enough urban African support to scare it into cleaning up its act?

I am ever hopeful, but I am breathing while I wait.

The cacophony – let it stop!!

It is perhaps slightly pretentious to hate exclamation marks as much as I claim to – but I think the sheer awfulness and triviality of the the political debate deep into election time calls for more than one of the flashy little symbols of overstatement and hyperbole.

I refuse to discuss the toilets any further. I promise I will never talk about the ANC’s leaders ‘snuffling’, ‘grunting’  or ‘squealing’ at the trough ever again, no matter how extreme the provocation.

It is an arms race of metaphor and hyperbole and eventually the language cannot adequately express the appropriate range of feelings.

I look forward to a period of calm understatement, starting next week Monday, as we recover from Sunday’s last gush of whining, triumphalism and sage and important thoughts from the analytic establishment.

Real debates about societal problems and ways of fixing them have little to do with elections – which of necessity appeal to the most base and common human drives.

What we have is a Hallmark Hell of platitudes, populism, red herrings and whining.

Spare a thought for those few politicians for whom the behaviour required to win elections is so abhorrent that they develop peculiar lines on their faces that can only have been etched by sickly smiles designed to disguise disgust.

It seems like a gift from the comic gods that the Toilet Saga has become central to this election.

Well for ‘relief’ (you will see in a moment how that joke works in relation to the DA/ANC spat)  from the elections and other bodily discomforts here is one of the finest comic sketches ever to see the stage.

Rowan Atkinson, masterfully combining a sort of pre-Mr Bean goofy prissiness with English reserve plays The Devil welcoming the recent recruits to hell.

Two asides before you click on the link:

  • first, be warned that gentle digs at “the French”, “the Germans”, Christians, lawyers and atheists could, in cases of extreme sensitivity, cause offence;
  • second, I attach the text of the skit below the video, because this is the first time I have embedded a link to YouTube and I have elsewhere experienced the irritation of such links not working for some arcane YouTube management or copyright protection related reason – but it is Atkinson’s delivery that makes it so funny, so watch the video if you can.

The Devil’s Welcoming Speech

Ah hello! It’s nice to see you all here. As the more perceptive of you have probably realised by now, this is Hell, and I am the Devil, good evening, but you can call me Toby, if you like. We try to keep things informal here, as well as infernal. That’s just a little joke of mine. I tell it every time.

Now, you’re all here for….. Eternity! Ooh, which I hardly need tell you is a heck of a long time, so you’ll all get to know each other pretty well by the end.

But for now I’m going to have to split you up in groups.

Will You Stop Screaming!

Thank you.

Now, murderers? Murderers over here, please, thank you. Looters and Pillagers over there. Thieves, if you could join them, and Lawyers, you’re in that lot too.

Fornicators – if you could step forward? My God, there are a lot of you! Could I split you up into Adulterers and the rest? Male adulterers, if you could just form a line in front of that small Guillotine in the corner.

Em… The French, are you here? If you would just like to come down here with the Germans. I’m sure you’ll have plenty to talk about.

Okay, atheists? Atheists over here please. You must be feeling a right bunch of Nitwits. Never mind.

And finally, Christians. Christians? Ah, yes, I’m sorry but I’m afraid the Jews were right. If you would come down here, that would be really fine.

Okay! Right, well are there any questions? Yes. No, I’m afraid there aren’t any toilets. If you read your Bible, you might have seen that it was damnation without relief, so if you did not go before you came, then I’m afraid you’re not going to enjoy yourself very much, but then I believe that’s the idea.

Okay. Well, it’s over to you, Adolf! And I’ll catch you all later at the barbecue. Bye!

Yesterday President Jacob Zuma met white farmers in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands and reassured them about nationalisation of mines and about land seizures.

He said: “What Malema said is neither the ANC’s nor the government’s policy … the farming community must not be shaken by his comments.”

A few moments ago the ANC Youth League responded – and I put the full statement below.

This morning I argued to my paying clients – mostly asset managers and pensions funds who are concerned about these issues:

The noise about uncompensated land seizures and mine nationalisation will continue up until the ANC’s Centenary Conference in Bloemfontein mid-year 2012 but current investor friendly policies are likely, in broad terms, to be reaffirmed at that conference.

This ANC Youth League statement does not change my view, but I am sure the financial markets can feel the heat:

ANC YOUTH LEAGUE NATIONAL WORKING COMMITTEE STATEMENT ON PRESIDENT JACOB ZUMA’S COMMENTS ABOUT LAND REFORM AND NATIONALISATION OF MINES.

12 May 2011

The ANC Youth League National Working Committee met on the Thursday, the 12th of May 2011. Amongst other issues, the NWC noted the comments of ANC President Jacob Zuma on Land Reform and Nationalisation of Mines in response to the questions by the people he addressed in KwaZulu Natal. In response to the fears and insecurities expressed by those people, particularly in relation to land reform, the President is reported to have amongst other things said, “Malema is on a learning curve and the farming community must not be shaken by his comments. What he says are simply his views”.

The ANC Youth League is concerned by the manner in which President Jacob Zuma addresses policy issues contained in the discussion documents of the ANC Youth League towards the 24th National Congress. The question of expropriation of land without compensation is a policy proposal contained in ANC Youth League discussion documents for the 24th National Congress, and not “simply his [President Julius Malema] views”. Attributing the views expressed in the discussion document to ANC Youth League President Julius Malema is not helpful and can only serve to isolate him from the organisation. The views expressed in the 24th National Congress discussion documents have gone through the processes of the ANC National Working and Executive Committees and never personal views of ANC Youth League President.

The ANC Youth League is concerned because we believe it is appropriate for all members of the Movement to engage the ANC Youth League on its policy positions and not isolate any of its leaders. This assists all communities the ANC engages to appropriately understand the policy making processes of the ANC, which the ANC Youth League participates in. We believe that the manner in which the issue of land reform was responded to is not consistent with this principle. The President of the ANC Youth League is expressing views contained in the ANC Youth League discussion document, which is inspired by the ANC 52nd National Conference’s observation which says “We have only succeeded in redistributing 4% of agricultural land since 1994, while more than 80% of agricultural land remains in the hands of fewer than 50,000 white farmers and agribusinesses. The willing-seller, willing-buyer approach to land acquisition has constrained the pace and efficacy of land reform. It is clear from our experience, that the market is unable to effectively alter the patterns of land ownership in favour of an equitable and efficient distribution of land”.

The ANC Youth League on further concerned on how the question of Nationalisation of Mines is responded to because the ANC has a resolution on how the question of Nationalisation of Mines should be approached, in line with the ANC National General Council’s “greater consensus on nationalisation of Mines and other strategic sectors of the economy” and the Freedom Charter. The ANC has put in place a process on how best the issue of Nationalisation of Mines and other strategic sectors of the economy should be approached. The ANC Youth League is of the view that the response by ANC President to the farmers is not consistent with the resolution of the ANC National General Council and what the National Executive Committee instructed should happen.

Once again, the ANC Youth League calls on all South Africans—black and white, members and leaders of all ANC led alliance structures, all leaders of the ANC and all people concerned about the future of South Africa to read ANC Youth League discussion documents and ANC 52nd National Conference resolutions and engage the issues raised there. This will benefit those who want to engage us and sharpen the perspectives of the ANC Youth League towards the ANC YL 24th National Congress and ANC 53rd National Conference.

Issued by the ANC Youth League National Working Committee

As the cannonade and sharp retorts of the Municipal Election become deafening, it strikes me how alike are elections and wars.

Both these human endeavours are faced with comparable technological, communication, infrastructural and personnel challenges.

Generals preparing for war and political leaders for elections have this in common:

  • They must have a game plan and clear objectives, including a realistic view of the chances of success and the costs involved in achieving objectives.
  • There must be lots of money available.
  • They must have a clear understanding of the enemy and the enemy’s resources and capabilities.
  • They must have precise information about the terrain upon which the battles will take place and the loyalties of the citizens who inhabit that terrain.
  • They must have a complex and balanced organisation at their disposal which contains the full capabilities and capacities that might be required – from senior management down to foot-soldiers, and encompassing every specialist skill that might be applicable to the proposed campaign as well as the most varied arsenal possible.
  • They must have systems of supply and replenishment – allowing funds and resources to flow to where they are needed.
  • They must have a system of communicating to every level of the force and auxiliary services;
  • They must have a system of communicating to the world and general public not directly involved in the war.

I suspect one could search for more complex similarities, but the issue of interest to me is how both elections and war require – or cause, I am not sure which –  propaganda and distortion of the truth.

We have all heard the notion: “The first casualty in war is the truth” – (Aeschylus 525 BC – 456 BC) and it is apparent listening to what  the principal players in our election say of themselves and each other that “the truth” seems infinitely elastic and vague.

The most obvious contravention of the rules of engagement have been Julius Malema’s comments in Kimberly over the weekend: “We must take the land without paying. They took our land without paying. Once we agree they stole our land, we can agree they are criminals and must be treated as such.”

But Malema is just a weapon that gets deployed in the battle, and I doubt any one army in this conflict is innocent of the impulse to use every single weapon in its arsenal.

And we shouldn’t be surprised.

For the strategists and generals are up to their necks in the campaign, it is all they think about, all day and all night, sleeping, eating and on the toilet. As the final day comes closer, every possible advantage, every weakness of the enemy, every inch of ground, every weapon in the arsenal … becomes important and worthy of exploitation.

A kind of frenzy takes over the leadership and all caution or higher feeling gets brushed aside.

It’s win at all costs … and that is pretty much where we are right now.

And that is the problem.

In nine days time we are all going to look up from the carnage and find a world very slightly changed by the battle that has been fought.

It is only myopic politicians and generals who could possibly believe their little war/election justified the distortions and propaganda they have deployed.

We all get an occasional red herring dragged across the trails we follow.

For political analysts this is an occupational hazard.

Our “sources” have their own agendas and we have to be eternally suspicious of the bright little threads of information we find scattered across our paths.

Here is a paraphrase of a piece of information I have heard several times and in several slightly different versions in the last few weeks:

Word from deep inside the ANC is that the ruling party’s own polling data is hinting at a catastrophic swing in their biggest urban African constituencies towards the DA.

Now I would hesitate to imply that serious spin doctors in our political kingdom would normally spend much time and energy ensuring that Nic Borain was lead or mislead in a particular way.

But during an election the parties throw prodigious amounts of energy into the void and at times like this even your humble servant occasionally gets caught in the crossfire.

So, without having any clue as to whose interests the viral spread of this particular snippet might serve this is the breadth of my suspicion:

  • The information is an exaggeration of something that is true and comes from DA strategists hoping to deepen the momentum achieved and create a sense of excitement in the electoral constituency and in the party machine.
  • The information is neither true nor false (is either invented or partial) and is put about by ANC strategists to mobilise previously loyal voters who, out of disillusionment or apathy, were unlikely to vote on May 18.
  • That the rumour is designed to galvanise the lethargic or disillusioned ANC party machine – a swing towards the DA by urban black professionals will be an intolerable repudiation of the current stewards of the ANC.
  • That the information is being put about as part of the myriad factional battles within the Ruling Alliance – most obviously as a stick to beat Jacob Zuma with in the lead-up to 2012.

Of course it might just be the plain and unadulterated truth that the ANC’s bespoke polls are indicating a serious swing in urban professional African constituencies away from itself and towards the DA.

This seems a logical consequences of some of the failures of delivery and the endemic spread of corruption and cronyism – but not a trend I would have imagined registering on the pre-election polls.

I do not expect any swing will massively change the structure of local government, but I imagine it would be symbolically important.

The most positive outcome of any such swing is one in which ANC party reformers use it to attack the drift  towards cronyism, corruption and incompetence in their party and government.

And, of course, any such  increased representivity of the DA will continue to act, in word and deed, as a check and balance on the African National Congress.

However before I get ahead of myself, let me just state that I think it is always safer to suspect that the information is leaking for a particular purpose before I conclude that I have got hold of the thread because of superior sources or methods, or because the ANC’s strategic centre has become a leaky sieve.

My sources may be superior and the ANC’s election campaign may be collapsing in a heap … but bitter experience teaches me that the more likely explanation is that someone is attempting to play me … like an out of tune harmonica.

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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