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I was looking for a shorthand way of summarising what I thought were the main political risks that are in the minds of investors in South African financial markets.
Note that the emphasis here (in what appears below) is what I think is an appropriate prism for investors in financial markets, and specifically those with an horizon of a maximum of 5-7 years.
If I was looking at broader security issues, particularly with regard to the stability of the state and ruling party, I would have had a significantly different emphasis – and have aspects that are both more negative and more positive than that which appears below. Hopefully, at some time in the future, I will post here a more general threat or risk analysis that would be of more specific relevance to South Africans who hope to live and work here.
Finally, before I get on with it, I do not explore the potential for an upside suprise here … but there does appear to me to be a slight accumulation of good news, albeit against a dark background.
SA Politics and financial markets – 3 risks
- Unpredictable and/or negative government economic policy interventions: Medium seriousness. Medium likelihood. Short- and medium-term duration (next few months to five years);
- Escalating social unrest – perhaps leading to “Arab Spring” type event: Very serious. Very unlikely. Medium- to-long duration (five to seven years);
- Ratings downgrades and tension between ambitious government plans and narrowing fiscal space: Serious risk. Medium likelihood. Short- and medium-term duration (one to three years).
Unpredictable and/or negative government economic policy interventions
Medium seriousness. Medium likelihood. Short- and medium-term duration (next few months to five years)
What it’s about: Most obvious are new interventions in the mineral and exploration sectors (including new taxes, price setting, beneficiation requirements, export restrictions, uncertainty about licence conditions and significantly increased ministerial discretion via the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Amendment Bill), but there are comparable interventions across the economy, as indicated in the ANC’s Mangaung Resolution and in a range of proposed regulatory and legislative changes, including those relating to telecommunications, liquid fuels, the labour market, employment equity and Black Economic Empowerment (to name just a few).
My view: Since 1994, it has generally been the case that markets consistently overestimate the risk that the ANC and its government will take significantly populist policy measures. The best example of this was in July 2002, when exaggerated targets for black equity participation in the mining sector where leaked and R52b left the JSE resources sector in 72 hours – a buying opportunity of note. However, the traction Julius Malema was able to achieve with disaffected youth post-2009 and the implicit defection from the ANC and its allies in the platinum strikes last year have catapulted the ANC into something of a policy scrabble. While nationalisation is off the agenda, it has been replaced by a policy push that hopes to deploy private companies, through regulation and other forms of pressure, to achieve government (and party) targets of employment, revenue generation, service delivery to local communities and infrastructure build. Increases in the tax take look likely – it’s purely a question of ‘how much the market can bear’.
Government intervention, per se, is less the issue here but rather the confused, generalised and uncertain nature and intent of the interventions. If the interventions do not have the desired results (growth, employment and equality), the risk is that government does not reassess the wisdom of the intervention, but instead uses a heavier hand.
Financial markets: Policy uncertainty puts downward pressure on investment, employment and output in all sectors. In South Africa, these negative impacts will be felt most keenly by companies most exposed to government licencing and regulatory power, or most exposed to government’s political prioritisation. Resources, telecommunications and agriculture all fall into one, or both, of these categories.
Escalating social unrest – perhaps leading to “Arab Spring” type event
Very serious. Very unlikely. Medium-to-long duration (five to seven years).
What it’s about: Significant and consistent (apparently linear) growth in service delivery protests, combined with growing levels of industrial unrest (in 2012, anyway) seem to imply that such unrest could continue to escalate until it reaches a point of ‘phase state change’ (as in thermodynamics, referring to changing states of matter – to/from solid, liquid and gas). Thus, the risk is of a sudden systemic shift from unstable to revolutionary/insurrectionary.
My view: Increasing protest and industrial unrest are normal – and fairly consistent – features of South African political life and have been since at least the mid-1970s. Even before 1994 there was no real expectation that unrest would lead naturally to insurrection. A rapid phase state change, like an Arab-spring type event, requires (perhaps indirectly) contesting political formations and ideologies as well as the widespread failure – or absence – of social institutions (parliaments, courts) that direct, mediate and give expression to grievances and/or conflicting group interests. South Africa is rich in such institutions and there is no evidence that large groups of dissenting voices have permanently failed to find expression in society’s normal processes and institutions – even when some of those processes include robust forms of public dispute. However, South Africa does have some comparable features to countries that have had ‘Tunisia-moments’ – including high and growing youth unemployment, high levels of visible inequality and serious government corruption – so we would keep an eye on the escalating ‘service delivery protest’ trends, as evidenced in graphs from Municipal IQ below.
Industrial relations unrest is slightly different from – and more negative than – the question of social unrest as a whole. Trade unions are strong and growing in South Africa, and contestation between them is vigorous, even violent – as we saw in the platinum sector in 2012. Trade unions are businesses with an enticing annuity income flow – and this will drive their contestation. The collective bargaining system in South Africa is functioning sub-optimally for a number of reasons – including inappropriately high levels at which automatic recognition kicks in – and the disarray in the system also drives unrest. This conjunction of subjective and objective conditions means I am less sanguine about industrial relations stability (than about stability per se) and expect this to remain a negative investment feature for the next several years. I am specifically negative on public sector industrial relations stability for 2013.
Thus, I do not think unrest and social discord will lead to any radical policy or political discontinuities, but will remain a constant drain on confidence. I also think this phenomenon will tempt government into keeping spending (on the public sector wage bill and on social grants) at above-inflation levels – helping to feed uncertainty and unpredictability in state finances, inflation, the currency and the bond markets.
Additionally, I think labour unrest will remain a seriously destabilising factor of production – including via disruption of services in public sector strikes.
Resources, agriculture and construction are most exposed through their reliance on large, aggregated and often low-skilled/low-pay labour forces. The financial services and retail are less exposed to (but not immune to) the negative effects of industrial action.
Ratings downgrades and tension between ambitious government plans and narrowing fiscal space
Serious risk. Medium-likelihood. Short- and medium-term duration (one to three years).
What it’s about: The ruling party is facing something of its own ‘fiscal cliff’. The ANC feels itself in danger of losing some support because of failure to deliver employment growth or adequate reductions in poverty and inequality. Foreign investors agree this is a risk, but will not necessarily agree to fund the gap. This tension is among the reasons that all three major rating agencies (Moody’s, Fitch and S&P) downgraded SA’s sovereign rating in 2012 (Fitch in January this year) and both Moody’s and S&P put SA on watch list for future downgrades. The ANC secures political support, at least in part, through spending on the public sector wage bill and on social grants – which together now make up more than half of annual non-interest government spending. Additionally, the ANC has occasionally shown itself hostage to the views of its alliance partners or popular opinion in its spending and revenue plans (Gauteng toll-roads, youth wage subsidy). The ratings agencies don’t like the tension and I expect the bond markets won’t either.
My view: South Africa maintains respectable debt-to-GDP ratios, although these grew to 39% of GDP by end-2012, substantially higher than the 34% for emerging and developing economies as a whole. When Fitch downgraded SA earlier this year, it specifically mentioned concerns about SA’s rising debt-to-GDP ratio, given that the ratio is higher (and rising at a faster pace) than the country’s peers.
South Africa is uniquely (eg in relation to its BRICS peers) exposed to foreign investor sentiment through the deficit on the current account combined with liquid and deep fixed interest markets. SA’s widening deficit on the current account is a specific factor that concerns the rating agencies and is one of the metrics the agencies will use to assess SA’s sovereign risk in the near future. Further downgrades are the risk – potentially driven by foreign investor sentiment about political risks. Non-investment grade (junk bond status) is not an inconceivable future rating.
Financial markets: A significant sell-off in the rand, coupled with persistent currency volatility and reduced foreign capital inflows. Traditionally this scenario would mean investors look for rand hedges and attempt to get exposure to export-orientated sectors, including manufacturing – and to stay out of the bond market. Offshore borrowing costs will be raised for domestic companies – as well as for the country as a whole. This risk has an internal feedback loop (downgrades make debt more difficult to pay, leading to further downgrades) and naturally feeds other political risks, including in relation to taxation, clumsy government intervention, social stability and property rights.
Sunday’s newspapers were more interesting from a political risk and investment point of views than normal.
This is what I thought mattered, as far as financial markets were concerned, in last week’s Mail & Guardian, the Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and City Press:
Construction industry – possible prosecution and fines for fraud and racketeering
Government and the national prosecuting authority are reported to be facing a dilemma: managers in at least 20 major constructions firms might be guilty of serious criminal practices relating to may years of in-industry collusion, but a successful prosecution of the guilty parties would rip the whole management level out of up to 20 top companies and thereby sink government’s infrastructure plans – Mail and Guardian.
The stories are covered in the Mail & Guardian and the City Press – both drawing their details from a series of leaked 2011 affidavits apparently produced by individual managers at Sefanutti Stocks when they (Stafanutti) realised that despite co-operating with a Competition Commission investigation, individual managers were likely to be liable for criminal prosecution (by the Hawks and the NPA) and that the punishment could include imprisonment.
Paul Ramaloko, Hawks spokesperson said “This case is bigger than people think. We are going to take our time and do a thorough investigation” (Mail & Guardian), but in City Press he says the investigation was in its “early stages” and that he would only comment once it had “matured”.
So What? Sounds like a political dilemma. The NPA and the Hawks are not (entirely) governed by the political priorities of government (despite apparently decisive co-ordination between the Hawks, SARS and the Public Protector in the Julius Malema fraud, money laundering and tax evasion investigation). However, government is likely to do what it can to make sure the companies survive intact – albeit compliantly chastened and grateful for leniency. Of course, the NPA and the Hawks might, alternatively, feel these managers would make good examples of how ‘old-order’ and ‘untransformed’ individuals and companies are as important sources of corruption as the ANC, its leaders, supports and structures.
Either way, the reputation and coherency of the companies concerned could be seriously impacted. However it is not clear from the news reports that there is any differentiation between, “winners and losers” … no-one appears more or less guilty than anyone else – which rather suggests the sector as a whole is risky, with no safe havens.
Key Jacob Zuma allies Atul and Rajesh Gupta (using family vehicle Oakbay Investments) are reported to be on the verge of adding a 24-hour continent-wide news channel to their media portfolio (which includes New Age newspaper) in partnership with Essel Media and an unnamed black empowerment firm. Multichoice will likely be providing the platform but purely on a commercial basis and is not expected to be partner in the venture (Mail & Guardian).
Well, one of the Guptas’ current empowerment partners is President Zuma’s son Duduzane and the Guptas themselves have become key ANC funders and power players in South African politics. The Mail & Guardian has a picture of Atul and Rajesh Gupta (who came to the country from India in the early 90’s) ensconced at the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung in December. Obviously, the more the merrier on the news diversity front – and who says government and the ANC shouldn’t spend more money in the space? South Africa has a free and open media culture – to the point of government and ANC leadership spending a considerable amount of their time denying allegations and defending government policy against feisty attacks. It is unlikely to be harmful if government and the ANC strengthen their ability to put their point of view. Influence trading is always a feature of politics and is no worse or better in South Africa than it is in many countries across the world.
Telecommunications – new political upheavals on the cards
All the weeklies report that Communications Minister Dina Pule is about to be removed from her post in a cabinet reshuffle. At least part of the reason is because she is accused of “routing large sums of money to her alleged lover” – Sunday Independent. So many individuals are touted as possible replacements, but the one person who comes up time and against is Lindiwe Zulu. This is what the Mail and Guardian has to say about this close Zuma confidant: “Zulu has just been appointed head of the ANC’s communications and her star has been rising under Zuma. A government source said Zuma trusted her opinions. She is his adviser on international relations. ‘He likes her bravery. The way she’s handling the Zimbabwe issue in a fearless manner has impressed him.’ She is one of Zuma’s three envoys on that country.”
So what? Pule will be the third minister to exit this portfolio in four years and instability in the department has raised fears that SA will continue to wander in the policy wilderness as far as migration to digital TV, Telkom’s business plan chaos, spectrum allocation and unbundling of the local loop (to name but a few pressing policy mattings) are concerned.
Mining Indaba – policy confusion as rife as ever
The Business Times has a depressing few pages about the Mining Indaba that implied that if anything the industry is more concerned than ever about policy uncertainty. On the proposed Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill: “The move has again flooded the country’s struggling mining sector with uncertainty” – Loni Prinsloo.
“On the exploration side” said Magnus Ericsson, Chairman of Raw Material Group, in the lead story, “I think it’s a general hesitation … if you find something in South Africa, what will be the BEE requirements? What are the other requirements? For some foreign investors they are seen as difficult”.
The same series of articles argues that the pressure to “quarantine” SA assets is becoming fierce. “A valuation by AngloGold Ashanti’s biggest shareholder, Paulson & Co, indicated that South Africa’s biggest gold miner could boost its share price by as much as 68% if it split out it local assets.” Elsewhere on the front page of the Business Times, the paper argues: “The true investor sentiment will be measured tomorrow (now yesterday– ed) when Sibanye (Gold Fields’ local assets – ed) lists separately.”
So what? To my mind regulatory uncertainty, especially in the minerals sector, remains the key politically driven investment risk in South Africa. The risk is being driven by pressures (felt by the ANC and government) to improve delivery and redistribution. These pressures will increase going forward and the increased regulatory burdens government is placing on private mining companies is unlikely to achieve any of government’s objectives … in fact, the reverse is more likely to be true. This is an unhappy environment for those searching for policy certainty.
Bits and pieces
- The brutal rape, torture and murder of Anene Booysen in Bredasdorp filled many column inches in all four weeklies – hoping to stimulate the kind of outrage against rape that swept India recently. Many of the stories point out that South Africa has the highest incidence of rape in the world.
- Ramphele – will she or wont she? The press is full of speculation about whether Mamphela Ramphele (former anti-apartheid activists and close friend of Steve Biko, a doctor, academic, successful businesswoman, a former director at the World Bank and former Vice-Chancellor at the University of Cape Town) will set up a political party and that that party will capture a significant percentage of urban black support. I think she might, but I doubt whether the party will make a dent on South Africa’s politics. The most likely scenario, to my mind, is Ramphele ends up in the Democratic Alliance.
- There was much speculation about what President Zuma might say in his State of the Nation address this Thursday – with a generally excited consensus emerging that Zuma is less beholden to special interest groups (post his decisive victory at Mangaung) than he was previously. I am not convinced this will lead to bold new steps. I am watching for tension between this speech and the National Budget on the 27th of February. I expect the political plans in Zuma’s State of the Nation to be at odds with Pravin Gordhan’s plans to balance the books … but I expect that tension to be hidden.
- The Mail & Guardian gave a list of who it thought is in Zuma’s inner circle: (Lakela Kaunda, Lindiwe Zulu, Mac Maharaj, Collins Shabane, Gwede Mantashe, Nathi Mthethwa and Batandwa Siswana), but then spoiled any special insight that might have given us by adding :
“Those privy to Zuma’s kitchen Cabinets say the president also has a high regard for Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, National Planning Commission Minister Trevor Manuel and Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe. Other key confidants include Rural Development Minister Gugile Nkwinti, Intelligence Minister Siyabonga Cwele, Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini, Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and, to some extent, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande. People outside government who are in the president’s good books include businessperson Sandile Zungu, film producer Duma ka Ndlovu and businessperson Deebo Mzobe, widely considered the man behind the building of “Zumaville”, the town surrounding the president’s homestead.”
… hmmm, must have a pretty big kitchen.
Various commentators, politicians and analysts have attempted to characterise Mangaung, to define the moment’s essential nature. Below are two takes I found interesting with some words from me on why I found them thus. After that I include a more general summary of what happened with the voting results for the Top Six and the National Executive Committee.
M&G: will the scandal prone authoritarian traditionalist and the constitutionalist businessman lick the platter clean together?
Nic Dawes – editor of the doughty Mail & Guardian suggested (on December 21 2012) that Zuma has moved the ANC “dangerously away” from the urban and middle classes and is starting to overtly exhibit rural, patriarchal and authoritarian values inimical to the middle classes. He suggests that Cyril Ramaphosa’s election at Mangaung is (ultimately) an attempt to woo urban and middle class voters back to the ANC – with Zuma having secured traditional and rural support. But, asks Dawes, “can the constitutionalist businessperson avoid contamination by association with a scandal prone, authoritarian traditionalist?”
Good question … except that I am starting to realise that Zuma would never have appointed Ramaphosa if he posed a potential threat in any way at any stage no matter how far they (the Zuma camp) are looking into the future. Ramaphosa is in the house … the Nkandla house … it’s too late for decontamination.
Dawes also makes the useful formulation that Motlanthe’s challenge was a principled attempt to “confront the ANC with the enormity of its Jacob Zuma problem”. I think Dawes is right – or at least that the Motlanthe strategists he spoke to had this conception of what they were up to. However the whole Motlanthe endeavour feels much more like the foolish (but strangely attractive) arrogance of Don Quixote tilting at windmills, or, more tragically, this stupid and noble rush onto heavily defended enemy positions:
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Read the brilliant, awful, manipulative (in my admittedly limited estimation) Tennyson poem and its glorification of cruel and stupid military and administrative incompetence here – ok, glorification of those acting as a result of such incompetence . (You will see from voting patterns at the end of this post that it was closer to 1000 than 600, but aside from that I thought the Tennyson metaphor held up rather well?)
The nationalists, anti-nonracial, populist versus the … who?
If I was on one of those TV or radio programmes that specialise in asking stupid questions right at the end, and I was asked: which South African political analyst do you rate highest? Then “Steven Friedman” is the answer that would most likely trip off my tongue.
With that disclaimer, I am forced to take issue with an aspect of his characterisation of what happened at Mangaung (published in the Business Day – 27/12/12 – here for that link).
Friedman characterises the Anyone But Zuma or Forces For Change (that is the defeated faction at Mangaung) as “the nationalist group, which wants a bigger black share of business … and whose members use radical-sounding language to pursue that goal.” No quibble from me there.
But then Friedman goes on to characterise the group that opposed ‘the nationalists’, that is the group that was victorious at Mangaung, as “a loose alliance stretching from the left to centrist business people who believe the nationalists threaten the ANC’s commitment to nonracialism and are corrupting the movement because they are too close to the wealthy.”
The implicit injunction, one I believe we should resist, is: choose a better devil.
Break it down (and I paraphrase what I imagine the argument would have to entail – and I am taking this much further than is implicit in Friedman’s article, but his argument leads inevitably to this point):
We support both Jacob Zuma (the patriarchal and authoritarian traditionalist with rigid and ruthless control of the security establishment and the ANC – and we support him despite his family and friends having become fabulously wealthy since his winning to high office) and Cyril Ramaphosa (the billionaire ex-unionist who has effectively used the black economic empowerment imperative to accumulate his wealth and will occupy his office with zero power and purely at the beck and call of the Nkandla Crew).
… because …
… they are a whole lot better than the nationalist, anti-nonracial Julius Malema, Tokyo Sexwale, Mathews Phosa, Fikile Mbalula and ANC Youth League?
I think not.
Extract from my summary as of last week
- The leadership and policy results of the African National Congress National Conference was a strongly status quo outcome and a victory for the incumbents (the Zuma camp) and their political and economic policies
- The leadership challenge to Zuma (with Kgalema Motlanthe the unwilling champion of that challenge) was routed, as was the policy platform most closely associated with the challengers (the nationalisation of mines). The extent of the victory is clearly and accurately revealed in the leadership election results detailed in Addendum 1.
- Cyril Ramaphosa’s election as deputy president has been heralded in much of the financial and popular press as a market-friendly outcome and, in some versions, a salvation of the ANC. It should be pointed out, however, that whatever qualities Ramaphosa possesses (and in my experience he possesses many excellent qualities) these will be exercised as the deputy to an extremely confident and powerful (in party and state terms) president, a president at whose behest Ramaphosa will serve and as a result of whose political influence Ramaphosa was elected. To further dampen any untoward enthusiasm it should be pointed out that Ramaphosa has no base in any constituency within the ANC or within the ruling alliance.
- Because the National Conference of the ANC is not the kind of forum in which decisive interventions or radical new directions can be formulated (it takes place over 5 days, has a long and complex agenda, entails many rounds of voting by 4000-plus branch delegates who are often unskilled in policy matters and who are generally organised into large voting blocks by contending factions for leadership) there were no such interventions and (no unexpectedly) new policy directions.
- However, the full policy platform of the incumbents, which does entail significant new state intervention in the economy (described and assessed by me in interminable detail elsewhere) was accepted in full (but in a very broad, vague, poorly attended and poorly discussed commission process at the conference.) The ANC is yet to publish the full policy resolution of the conference and I expect it to be a carefully phrased call for more state intervention, but in a language unlikely to alarm financial markets. The details here are important but I will have to postpone further analysis until the ANC decides it has crafted the resolution carefully enough.
The less expected
- Mangaung did only confirm policy and political trends that were already extant – and widely known. However the extent of the dominance of the Zuma camp and the weakness of the challengers took some commentators by surprise – see Addendum 1 for the details of the election results.
- The total failure of the political factions aligned to the ANC Youth League to make any impact on the conference policy-making process did come as a surprise to me – I would have thought there would be a rear-guard action around the ‘nationalisation of mines’ call, but none appeared (to me, anyway).
- It would have been politic for the Zuma camp to allow some of those who challenged for the top six positions (and their allies) to be represented on the 80 person National Executive Committee. It seems that either the desire to demonstrate total dominance won the day, or the Zuma strategists lost control of the popular mobilisation against the challengers. Either way it leaves a huge internal constituency of the ANC (roughly 25%) without representation at any leadership level within the party – an obviously destabilising outcome. However the Zuma camp is likely to invite some of the excluded individuals back into leadership positions, on terms satisfactory to the victors.
(Post Scrip reminder: outstanding is the ANC National Conference resolution on policy. The resolution that emerged out of the June Policy Conference took several months to formulate and be published. I do not expect the Mangaung Resolution to take things much further than the resolution from the policy conference. Much of the detail will be dealt with in the New Year and largely in Cabinet and government departments, rather than in party structures.)
… the results below are culled from various news sources and people who attended the conference (I found the full NEC results at Politicsweb).
A – Voting and results for the top six
(Interesting things to note: Zuma got the least votes of all contested positions and Gwede Mantashe the most – an observation I borrowed from Steven Friedman’s previously discussed Business Day article.)
- President – Jacob re-elected with 2983 votes to Kgalema Motlanthe’s 991 votes.
- Deputy President – Cyril Ramaphosa elected with 3018 votes to Mathews Phosa’s 470 and Tokyo Sexwale’s 463.
- Secretary General – Gwede Mantashe re-elected with 3058 votes to Fikile Mbalula’s 901.
- Deputy Secretary General – Jessie Duarte elected unopposed.
- Chairperson – Baleka Mbete re-elected with 3010 votes to Thandi Modise’s 939.
- Treasurer General – Zweli Mkhize elected with 2988 votes to Paul M Mashatile’s 961.
B – Voting and results for the National Executive Committee
(Note that no challenger to the Zuma camp in the top six election was elected to the National Executive Committee. Note, as well, that the only prominent member of the anti-Zuma camp, Winnie Mandela, just scraped onto the list, having topped the poll for the NEC election at Polokwane in 2007.)
|1||Dlamini-Zuma, Nkosazana Clarice||F||2921|
|11||Sisulu, Max Vuyisile||M||2442|
|12||Dlamini, Bathabile Olive||F||2423|
|13||Jordan, Zweledinga Pallo||M||2407|
|16||Ndebele, Joel Sibusiso||M||2379|
|24||Cwele, Siyabonga C||M||2245|
|25||Mokonyane, Nomvula Paula||F||2240|
|27||Dlamini, Sidumo Mbongeni||M||2213|
|29||Bhengu, Nozabelo Ruth||F||2195|
|32||Masetlha, Billy Lesedi||M||2161|
|33||Ramatlhodi, Ngoako Abel||M||2156|
|42||Oliphant, Mildred N||F||2019|
|43||van der Merwe, Sue||F||1992|
|44||Capa-Langa, Zoleka Rosemary||F||1984|
|45||Mthembi-Mahanyele, Sankie Dolly||F||1930|
|48||Xasa, Fikile D||M||1881|
|49||Majola, Fikile (Slovo)||M||1872|
|54||Cele, Bhekokwakhe Hamilton (Bheki)||M||1736|
|58||Mmemezi, Humphrey M Z||M||1679|
|59||Dlulane, Beauty N||F||1674|
|65||Yengeni. Tony Sithembiso||M||1570|
|70||Ntwanambi Nosipho, Dorothy||F||1450|
|71||Semenya, Machwene Rosinah||F||1449|
|73||Moloi- Moropa, Joyce C||F||1396|
|75||Ntombela, Sefora Hixsonia (Sisi)||F||1348|
|79||Mandela, Nomzamo Winfred (Winnie)||F||841|
By the way “deep blue” in the headline was not meant to be a riff on IBM’s chess playing supercomputer.
Rereading Part 1 I can see how someone might accuse me of being a little too certain about the shape of the future. I am not running “deep blue” regressions and algorithms, modelling South Africa and the world, generating predictions x of y % accuracy with z % error margins … South … Africa … will … be … peachy … in …2021 … bidledeebidledee beep.
I have no real idea of what is going to happen in the future – and only the bare bones of an idea of the internal processes I go through to develop the views I advance here.
From time to time I investigate how we predict outcomes, and how we asses risks. I am interested in how our evolved systems (honed against sabre-toothed tigers and uncertain rainfall patterns, for example) apply in the kind of technology driven mega-societies we now inhabit – or, specifically, don’t apply i.e. that our ‘instinctive systems’ need to be suppressed or countermanded if we hope to get it right in certain situations. But that is not what I am doing in these quick pre-Mangaung notes.
The “deep blue” of the headline was actually a reference to being bleak, sad, cold and lonely.
Which leads me to:
Who are the demagogic populist, proto-fascists* now?
The ANC will (initially) combat the threat of losing support by becoming more ‘demagogic populist’, rural conservative and based in the lumpen classes – basically, by drifting to the right
In December 2010 I wrote an article in GQ Magazine under the headline: “Can you hear the drums?” with a concluding paragraph that read:
In the year 2010, anger and resentment … bubbled over … The winners still have their stuff, but they are clutching it more tightly to their chests, and for the first time in 16 years they are straining for the hint, a sound or a smell, of what might be coming for them out of the night.
Read the whole story here.
Two ‘crises’ (or warnings) that occured this year are the equivalent of the scary sound of drums in the night for the incumbent ANC elite. The first warning is Marikana and the second, linked, warning is the traction Julius Malema’s manipulative populism was able to achieve amongst some sections of the disenfranchised youth.
I made some of these links in my coverage of Marikana here.
I think the ANC will ride out the gradually escalating social and industrial unrest by becoming the “proto-fascist” and “demogogic populist” movement that Zuma’s SACP ally accuses Malema of representing (here for the context of that). This ANC, under this president is being drawn inexorably, by the logic of its own politics, into the territory of rural patriarchy with its natural links to the fear and hatred of education and any form of gender equality. (I am not going to argue this out here … just take a glance at the saga around The Spear, the Traditional
Leaders Courts Bill and various comments about women and about “clever blacks” and appeals to African ways of doing things over foreign ways of the same – see TrustLaw’s Katy Migiro’s excellent takes here and here.)
Thus (forgive the leap) the ANC begins to lose the urban industrial working class (on the road to becoming much more like a classic middle class and deeply opposed to the looting of the state), the professional classes (already at that destination), the productive and rule based businesses, local and global, and it eventually begins to lose the pirates looking to launder their money and ‘go straight’ (as I argued in Part 1).
This leaves the ANC with the rural poor, the marginalised unemployed, a bureaucratic elite within the state (those last three dependent on state spending through the public sector wage bill and social grants) and global resource privateers who powerfully thrive in countries like this with leaders like these.
Initially the ANC might get even higher turnout at its rallies (especially with free food and t-shirts and sexy young people dancing between the rabble-rousing and the singing of Umshini wami). But eventually the class and demographic changes of the society impact upon the party – reformat it, split it, renew it … change the political ecology in which it moves and feeds.
You will see from my next post that I do not only think the ANC is a useless bubble of foul smelling gas buffeted on the sea of history. The ANC, in my analysis, has become a most significant and material influence for and against my upbeat scenario … a sort of deranged midwife at the happy birth.
* The term “demagogic populists, proto-fascist” is from various SACP documents and was code for Julius Malema (and, I suspect, in slightly early versions, a code for Tokyo Sexwale). This is what the SACP had to say about it:
The “new tendency”
It was the SACP at the 2009 Special National Congress that first identified clearly the ideological and underlying class character of what we called the “new tendency”. We described it as a populist, bourgeois nationalist ideological tendency, with deeply worrying demagogic, proto-fascist features. It was the SACP that pointed out the connections between the public face and pseudo-militant rhetoric of this tendency and its behind-the-scenes class backing. It was a tendency funded and resourced by narrow BEE elements still involved in a rabid primitive accumulation process, based on a parasitic access to state power. It was a bourgeois nationalist tendency that sought to mobilize a populist mass base, particularly amongst a disaffected youth, to act as the shock troops to advance personal accumulation agendas.
The SACP must feel free to pat itself on the back, but the reality is that party took on the straw man of Kebble/Malema/Sexwale and backed – to the hilt – the real demagogic, proto-fascist tendency – the one with real power … and the one with real patronage to dispense. (That last bit explaining why this SACP has backed the Nkandla Crew)
I am not encouraged, in my professional life, to be too colourful in what I write or say.
This morning I reviewed the weeklies – as I do before 06h30 every Monday morning – and found myself having to strip more metaphor and vitriol than usual from what I had to say.
For example – still right here in my clipboard, recently cut from the document I sent to clients – is this little piece of over-the-top contemptuous bitterness: “it paints a picture of an engorged elite sitting atop piles of treasure
they will defend at all and any cost.”
I remember vaguely from 04h00 this morning a picture lurking somewhere in my head: there are about fifty fat dragons uncomfortably sprawled over their separate piles of loot in a disgusting, dank cave somewhere far below the smoking and ravaged surface. These beasts are dangerously fanged in a mean, cowardly way and entirely without the pretty iridescence of most dragons I have encountered – and they hate and fear each other and anyone else who might take their stuff …
… but obviously I never went down that route.
Last Friday’s Mail & Guardian had particularly excellent – and depressing – stories about the the Nkandla looting. See here for the memorable editorial that sums up the ugly story; here for the alleged Maharaj arms deal link, here for the Gupta’s further bankrolling of the Zumas’ excessive domestic costs … and here, from the Sunday Times, a clear view of how significant public funds were diverted to the Zuma coffers and asset base, but also that much of that money did not actually arrive because it was creamed off by cronies before it even got spent on the Zuma friends and family.
The point, I think, is that the African National Congress is fast resembling sets of competing patronage networks – and little else. This is revealed in the violence and vigour in its internal contests for position. There is zero evidence of ideological division; all claims to the contrary, to my mind, are, sadly, often revealed to be false fronts: sheep’s clothing for wolves trying to sneak up on their prey.
Anyway, if it is all too exhausting and depressing to read in the original here is an extract from my morning summary:
- The ANC nomination process draws to a chaotic and sometimes violent close – with Jacob Zuma achieving something of a Pyrrhic victory
- Out of this might come one result welcomed by financial markets: the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as Zuma’s deputy and, hence, his (almost) automatic rise to the presidency in 2017
- The body of the news commentary was a painful forensic tracking of the corrosive flood of money pouring over the ruling family from some worrying sources
- The Gold Fields’ unbundling was portrayed as a straightforward vote of no-confidence in the country and its leadership – despite the clear and coherent denials by the company itself
- The death of two much loved and respected South Africans seemed to increase the anxiety about the present and the future
ANC nominations close
City Press counts 2,256 implied votes for Zuma (slightly more than 2,251 he needs to win at Mangaung) emerging out of the nomination process. Table 1 below is what we get as a running total, including the Leagues. (Note: the votes are ‘implicit’ from the nominations; where branches-nominated candidates at the provincial conferences we have made the fairly safe assumption that most of these branches would vote for that candidate at the National Conference in December.)
Table 1: Zuma has it – and the 986 outstanding from Limpopo, Western Cape and Northwest is not enough to make a difference
|Limpopo||Conference delayed – violence etc.|
|Western Cape||Conference delayed – disputes etc.|
|Northwest||Conference delayed – shots fired etc.|
Nothing much. It is going as expected – ever since the Julius Malema campaign was defanged with him (Malema) facing gradually escalating criminal charges related to his alleged ‘tenderpreneurial’ activities it was all over for the Anything But Zumas (ABZs). The interesting dynamics are in the side-lines, with the Zuma camp having backed Cyril Ramaphosa for deputy – partly because their first choice, Kgalema Motlanthe, refused to say he wouldn’t stand against Zuma for president and refused to campaign as part of any slate. Motlanthe’s meticulously principled position may get its just rewards in the fullness of time, but for now he seems to have abandoned the field to those with no qualms about the tactics they use to secure the ever richer prizes that come with controlling the ANC patronage network.
Nkandla, Gupta, Duduzane, arms deal, Maharaj, Mrs Bongi Ngema-Zuma and Baroda Bank
If anyone was wondering why the ANC battle for power is so intense and bloody, at least one major set of explanations can be found in the incredibly complex (and rich) web of transactions between those at the centre of power and various groups and companies that flood money towards them – presumably because they are such a good investment.
Headlines like: “Zuma’s Home Economics 2 – Guptas ‘bankroll’ wife’s mansion”, “Did arms firm pay Mac’s bill?” , “Living in the lap of luxury”, “Bankrolling their way to the top” and “Private deals that demand scrutiny” (Mail and Guardian); “Nkandla: who will take the fall?”, “Joemat-Pettersson flew back for Zuma’s wedding (at R400 000 cost to taxpayer)” (City Press); “Millions stolen from ANC Elders’ (Sunday Independent) … and just too many more to list here.
So What? The fact that weekly, the tone and intensity of the popular press is becoming more explicitly accusatory of those within the financial web around the Zuma family, and that there has been no significant attempt by those accused of very considerable impropriety to defend themselves has, to my mind, two possible explanations. The first is that the accusations are so overblown, inaccurate and sensationalist that the Zuma family, the presidency, the Gupta family and Mac Maharaj (among a host of implicated others) expect the accusers to choke on their own excess and overstatement. The other possibility is the Zuma camp learned during its effective defence against a myriad corruption, bribery and money laundering allegations that if they can hold out long enough the prosecuting authority will eventually be forced to back off – or be replaced by new prosecutors.
“Gold Fields: who is next?” (Business Times) versus “We will not follow split” (Business Report)
The weeklies were full of anxiety about Gold Fields’ unbundling of some of its local assets – and concern that this might be the start of a wave of similar unbundling and ring-fencing. More importantly, the press was unanimous in rejecting Gold Fields’ denial that this was a vote of no-confidence in South Africa: “…it is one of the strongest votes of no-confidence in domestic investment to date. Its share price jumped 7% after Thursday’s announcement …” (Business Times).
Peter Major (Cadiz Corporate Solutions) is quoted in Business Report as saying “Soon shareholders will tell companies like AngloGold, Ashanti and Harmony Gold that if they don’t unbundle they’ll sell their interests.”
So What? The Sunday Times ran its main editorial on this issue. Saying it is clear why Gold Fields has done what it has done. “The company’s output dropped by 11% in the third quarter as the strikes took their toll. Its managers have been buffeted by unrest, uncertainty and the ever-shifting sands of policy pronouncements. On the horizon is some form of nationalisation of ‘strategic’ resources and more labour unrest as the government fails to lead the country back to the sanity of proper collective bargaining.” We can’t really fault that, although Gold Fields may have had a host of others issues to consider when it made the decision it did.
Changing the guard
The deaths of two respected South Africans who played important roles in the transition away from apartheid and towards democracy continue to raise anxiety about other impending deaths of great South African leaders and about the quality of the incumbent crew. Professor Jakes Gerwel (18 Jan 1946- 28 Nov 2012), Nelson Mandela’s first Director General (among a myriad other achievements) and Arthur Chaskelson (24 Nov 1931-1 Dec 2012) former Chief Justice and architect of much of the South Africa’s judicial system were mourned in all of the weeklies.
So what? Nelson Mandela appointed both of these men to play the crucial roles they did in the young South African democracy in the mid-1990s. It is inevitable that the popular press will hold leaders like these up against the individuals and processes overwhelming the ANC and government as we write this. As Nelson Mandela’s death moves ever closer, the anxiety about the Nkandla improprieties and the violence in the ANC’s internal contests in the lead-up to Mangaung are held up to a (perhaps) mythical standard of the past. The comparisons, fair or not, sentimental or realistic, makes the tone of much of the news and commentary in the weeklies angry, fearful and condemnatory.
I am sometimes tempted to think of myself as a company analyst, with South Africa as my company, government as management and the currency and bonds as the share price
Company analysts make sell, hold or buy recommendations. Obviously a buy means the analyst believes the shares are cheap – in some difficult to determine absolute terms, but more likely in relation to appropriate peer or category comparisons.
If I was a company analyst, then what I might have been doing over the last while would have been writing a report changing my recommendation on South Africa from a hold to a sell.
Here is a bare-bones summary and ordering of that argument:
- There are two major cycles driving negative sentiment which are coinciding now (which they do every five years): the “strike season” and the lead up to the ANC’s National Conference ;
- Both these cycles are deeper and more traumatic that usual;
- The reasons the strikes are worse than usual is excellently addressed by Gavin Hartford of Esop Shop - here for a link to his paper at polity.org;
- Mangaung is “deeper” and more traumatic than Polokwane because there is more at stake (some ANC members realise that another seven years of Zuma could hurt the ANC and the country; and Zuma and his backers cannot afford to lose office, because their dealing is not yet wrapped up and because their man remains legally vulnerable to the original corruption allegations against him);
But the main reason these cycles are deeper than previously is they are meeting a structural or secular trend, which consists of (and this is very stripped down):
- Uncertain political stewardship from the top;
- Institutional weaknesses in political (and labour) organisation characterised by systemic cronyism, corruption and nepotism (which leads to violent competition for control), managerial incoherence, narrowing support base and falsely inflated membership figures;
- A significantly negative economic policy environment which might lower investment levels – e.g. fiscal uncertainty (because there is no way the ANC cannot keep increasing social grants and the public sector wage bill, which together are already more than half annual non-interest government spending) and a highly interventionist industrial policy (best exemplified in the SIMS document) which is one step away from ‘nationalisation by stealth” i.e. the effective deployment of private assets for public – or more narrowly governmental or even party – ends.
- Incompetent infrastructure build, disruptive labour relations and failed educations systems are constant, apparently irresolvable and narrowing bottlenecks in the economy;
- Institutional and administrative failures of government (in specific geographies and at specific levels of government) – with similar features to the second bullet referring to parties and labour unions;
- Failures of the collective bargaining system – and other institutions designed to manage and mediate conflicting interests in society;
- Growing social stresses around levels of inequality, unemployment, indebtedness and poverty – and unresolved racial overlays of the same.
Just listing that is faintly distressing … and you can imagine writing about it for weeks is not very uplifting.
But, I have, mid-stream, decided that I am not at all certain it is appropriate to take this relentlessly negative view.
Let’s go back to the political analyst/company analyst metaphor. Company analysts often suggest investors sell a share in a top quality, well managed and highly profitable company if it is too expensive.
They might also recommend a buy on a company in all kinds of trouble – but one that is cheap and has upside that the herd of sellers hasn’t spotted.
I cannot remember an SA political shock or flood of negative sentiment that did not represent a buying opportunity in our financial markets. Remember the sell-off of R54bn of SA resources companies after the leaking of a draft mining charter in 2002? It proposed forcing mining companies to immediately sell half their equity to black South Africans and spooked the market. The next few months was the chance of a life-time to buy excellent value company shares on the cheap.
Whether financial analysis adds real value to the investment process (or is just another bleed-off) is a matter of endless dispute. But here is why I would hesitate to call a sell on SA:
- I cannot honestly say we have more political risk than Russia and Turkey, for example;
- Where are the safe havens for investors, given the complex risks and problems in the global economy?
- I cannot be sure that the negative news flow is not already in the price – it would be a very financial-market-analyst-type error to rush around shouting sell, sell, sell just after the last savvy investor had finished selling and begun buying;
- My ‘negative secular trend’ is described as if it is inevitable – whereas there is much that can be decided and turned around by citizens, government and the ANC (despite my bleak outlook as to the likelihood of that happening, it must be in the mix as a possibility);
- The country has a number of inherent advantages: its natural resources, its growing domestic market, its proximity to the last great frontier market (Africa), its sophisticated financial system and complex infrastructure, its constitutional framework, judicial independence and stable democracy – to name just a few.
Now obviously that does not counter the negative “secular” or structural trend I describe above. But there is something of a “baking a cake” strategy about how I have motivated for the big underlying negative trend. What I mean by that is I have marshaled all (or as many as I can come up with) of the negative arguments in one place to bolster a particular conclusion: sell!
To make a cake one follows certain steps – mix ingredients, add energy and voilà: a nasty, stodgy, too sweet lump.
And that is a relatively simple object, with only a few requisite variables for its construction.
When we think about the future – especially when we write about it and propose to people how they should position themselves – the very first thing we should be is extremely tentative.
So I can’t, in good conscience, say sell South Africa.
I am unmistakably bleak about our politics and governance, but don’t take that as a signal to sell. I am quite likely being tossed on the waves of sentiment – following financial market indicators, rather than leading them.
My very negativity could as easily be the indicator to start buying; that all the bad news is already in the price.
First off, let me admit, that I have no choice but to believe that the answer to the question in the title is: yes.
It’s an article of faith.
Who can live in a world where the bullies and thugs, the greedy and manipulative, the powerful and the arrogant have won so decisively that it is pointless to hope – and perhaps work – for an alternative?
Who would dare raise children in such a world?
Or bother to get up in the morning?
In a post titled “A church so broad belief is optional” I two years ago argued that the ANC’s huge electoral support and attempt to straddle every social divide had an upside (as well as several downsides).
Here’s a (slightly edited) quote from that post:
Our society has a number of real and urgent fault-lines along which clashing currents are difficult to manage:
- White versus black (versus Indian versus Coloured)
- poor versus rich;
- the employed versus the unemployed;
- Zulu versus Xhosa versus Pedi versus Ndebele versus Sotho versus Tswana versus Venda;
- Western versus African;
- Urban, modern and fast versus rural, traditional and conservative.
The fact of the matter is that these divisions are not adequately represented in the formal political processes of parliament and government. There is no one party on one side of any of these divisions and mostly no one party on the other.
We are a society in which the formal institutions of democracy are new and tentative – and the divisions are threatening and profound. As many groups and interests as possible need to find expression in the national political debate - and the formal institutions do not yet adequately represent them.
As a second prize, an overwhelmingly dominant ruling party that attempts to play the role of a parliament of all the people, that attempts to speak with the cacophony of the thousand arguing tongues, is not all bad.
It’s just loud, noisy, confusing and unsettling.
This argument came to mind as I picked through the weekly English language press (Mail & Guardian, City Press, Sunday Independent and the Sunday Times) this morning.
I do an exhaustive/exhausting reading of the English language weeklies every Sunday afternoon/night to produce a summary analysis for my main clients by Monday morning. It is an extremely painful task and I am always tempted to quote that famous Punch magazine cartoon from November 9 1895 by George du Maurier to describe what I really think of these newspapers. A bishop is dining, in a formal setting, with a junior curate:
Bishop: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr Jones”;
Curate: “Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!”
But I never actually say that, because there are always a few articles, features and editorials in all four of these newspapers that are truly excellent: well researched, well written and insightful; and it would be untrue and unjust – and a little arrogant – for me to suggest they all stink by virtue of being surrounded, as they are, by rotten, ill-informed and sensationalist rubbish.
So back to the title question.*
The Sunday Times has Motlanthe rejecting Zuma’s deal of the deputy presidency in exchange for him (Motlanthe) not standing in the presidential race.
It’s a particularly poorly structured story (trying to get away with suggesting a whole range of things without actually saying any of them) although it is full of tantalising tidbits.
So lets take the hints (from all four of the mentioned newspapers) as real possibilities:
- Motlanthe stands against Zuma;
- Unraveling patronage networks, especially in eThikwine, open(s?) the possibility of driving a wedge in Zuma’s Kwazulu-Natal support base;
- To strengthen his ticket against Motlanthe, Zuma offers Cyril Ramaphosa the deputy presidency;
- Gauteng suggests Joel Netshitenzhe as part of the Motlanthe challenge – essentially to stand against Gwede Mantashe (who’s a cornerstone of the SACP support for Zuma);
- Winnie Madikizela-Mandela comes out more explicitly anti-Zuma (especially of his handling of Julius Malema) and supportive of the putative Motlanthe challenge.
So what do we have there?
A Zuma, Ramaphosa, SACP ticket versus a Motlanthe, Netshitenzhe, Winnie, Malema ticket?
Oh Lord, give me strength.
Can’t we have a Joel Neshitenzhe, Cyril Ramaphosa ticket supported by Motlanthe and opposed by the ANC Youth League, Winnie Mandela and an unholy alliance of the Kwazulu-Natal and Mpumalanga patronage networks? (I have written previously about Joel on this website here, here and here.)
That desire is the moral and intellectual equivalent of arm-chair sports selecting. It would be nice … as would a leadership consisting of a young and vigorous Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu …
So quickly, before I go back to picking my way through the odorous wreckage of the four weeklies spread out on my table and floor (the soul-crushing banality of etv’s Sunday afternoon offering in the background and the Cape Town winter sun finally beckoning outside):
What happens at Mangaung will not decisively determine the character of the ANC.
Polokwane was billed as a major rescue attempt – saving the ANC from the dead hand of Mbeki and rolling back the power of the narrow BEE elite which was allied to the most predatory forms of global monopoly capitalism.
Polokwane was going to reinstill the movement with idealism, energy and enthusiasm and channel it into ‘a pro-poor strategy’.
Well, we know how that played out.
Mangaung, like Polokwane, was a result of a complex interplay of forces and contests that go deep into South Africa’s past.
I cannot honestly argue that Jacob Zuma is a better or worse candidate for the ANC or the South African presidency than Kgalema Motlanthe – although I accept that some people can and do (with a lot of enthusiasm).
However, politics is a matter of contingency. It really is the art of the possible … in this sense it is full of difficult compromises.
Any individual who finds him or her self in an ANC branch or region or leadership position, will be faced with choices that, when aggregated, will shape the future of the ANC and, quite possibly, the country. (The same is, of course, true for any South African, inside or outside the ANC.)
Those choices might be circumscribed – by history, by existing power structures and alliances, by the momentum invested by those who control the patronage networks and by wherever it is that the individual finds him or her self.
But if you are not going to throw up your hands in despair and retreat to your bed forever, if you are unable to cut and run, then you have an obligation to make some kind of decision and choice.
I do believe that what the ANC becomes matters – although what it becomes is not going to be determined at Mangaung or as a result of it being led by Kgalema Motlanthe or by Jacob Zuma.
* (Note added a few hours later. On reflection, I might have empasised that the cartoon is even more apt for the ANC than it is for the English language SA weeklies … it was meant to be suggested, almost by my omission … but on reflection, I think I will spell it out … which I have now done.)
There are not many medals of honour, accolades, gold stars and trophies in the political analysis business (and quite right too), but I achieved an acknowledgement last week of which I am particularly proud.
Once a year the Financial Mail commissions a poll of the top 30 or so South African asset managers (life assurers, retirement and pension funds, private client investment managers and hedge funds).
This year the polled group had a total of about R3.7 trillion assets under management, a significant portion of which is the savings and pensions of ordinary South Africans.
How this business (from which I derive a significant portion of my income) works is JSE member firms (basically stock brokers) employ or contract specialists to produce research that somehow aids the fund manager in making the best investment decisions. If the research added value to the fund manager’s decision the broker would be paid either directly or in the form of a commission of some kind.
For the past year I have been lucky enough to have had a contract with Religare Noah Capital Markets to provide analysis of political trends and industrial relations to that firm’s fund manager clients. My name was thus in the pot when the fund managers voted and this is how it turned out:
I am particularly pleased to receive this award – and not only because it comes with a nicely framed scroll that, if I ever again get an office, will look quite handsome on the wall.
The main reason for my appreciation is that the ranking is based on a vote by investment professionals, who in one way or another, have to pay for the analysis.
I am about to move my main contract to a new firm, BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities which combines the strengths of powerful French investment bank BNP Paribas and Cadiz Securities, a South African-based specialist equity derivatives broking and research company.
So I thought I would use this moment and forum to thank Religare Noah Capital Markets for the work they have given me over the last year – I appreciate the support and opportunity and wish you all well in the future.
(Note: There are several names below mine on the scoreboard up there of excellent economists, strategists and other species of financial analyst who would not see themselves primarily as “political analysts” – so the fact that I have outscored them is no reflection of the value they add to the fund managers … and, in fact, several of them were highly ranked in other categories.)
I have got to find a way of continuing to populate this website. The reasons posts are becoming infrequent and irregular is that almost every day I produce bespoke and paid for research. I have less time every week to write specifically for nicborain.wordpress.com … except the occasional philosophical musings, which probably have a … very specific? … readership.
I am going to continue the philosophical and theoretical musings. I am finishing the last few chapters of Jared Diamond’s extraordinary “Collapse – How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive” - Penguin 2005. As background reading to my professional work trying to make sense of politics and economics in the sub-continent (or anywhere in the world for that matter) it is seminal … I cannot recommend it highly enough.
So I will review it here. And I will keep raising issues associated with the epistemology of what I do – and other obscure matters of concern to me.
However, I will also start posting summaries of my recent views, interviews and perspectives … the first set of these below:
Iran, MTN and US secret power
The big issue of the week – in a lot of universes, but particularly the financial market’s – was the $4.2-billion lawsuit launched against MTN last week by Turkcell in the United States District Court of Columbia in Washington DC. The Mail & Guardian had way the best coverage – see here for a good backgrounder.
MTN investors took a serious bath on the news. The basic allegation of Turkcell is that MTN’s ‘Project Snooker’, driven by then CEO Phuthuma Nhleko (with some help) was a successful attempt to ‘buy’ (with cash, arms and South African diplomatic support) a preferential operating licence in Iran.
For me the link between this issue, the fact that the South African government had appeared to fold to US sanctions demands on oil imports from Iran (or at least to flip-flop confusingly) and the leaked documentation from close to Kgalema Motlanthe seeming to prove attempts to get government support for Bell Helicopter deliveries to Iran – potentially hurting his (Motlanthe’s) presidential ambitions – was a series of stories that raised the spectre of US secret power working it’s powerful and implacable will.
It looks like the Bell Helicopter with SA government support stuff was established:
Through access to recordings and confidential documents – understood to have also been obtained and analysed by US intelligence agencies
according to the Sunday Times, but the documents that informed the Turkcell case appear to have been leaked by a disgruntled former MTN manager and South Africa’s flip-flop on oil could be based purely on the extreme nature of proposed US punishment for those who break sanctions against Iran.
So the sexy story of US spies fiddling in our politics doesn’t have a good evidential basis (although I have no doubt that US secret power is exercised every day throughout the world … perhaps not always with German-like efficiency and certainly with lots of unintended consequences.)
The MTN story … and South African oil imports … still has a way to run, so watch this space.
Malema summarily suspeded, Top Six unity press conference, Cyril for president and the interminable Mangaung contest.
I don’t know about you, but I am royally gatvol of press reports about ANC internecine struggles … during the course of the week this is what I had to say about various strands of this interminable story:
First I looked at City Press going out on a limb with contending ANC factional lists for Mangaung… most interestingly putting Cyril Ramaphosa on both the pro-Zuma and the pro-Motlanthe lists … to become president of South Africa in 2014!
“You read right. Not ANC president, and not in 2012 … the Mangaung conference looks sewn up in favour of President Zuma, but even his supporters are starting to point to Ramaphosa as president, saying the billionaire businessman will do a better job of running the country” (from City Press).
I can’t assess the probability of a Ramaphosa presidency … but we can only hope.
I also had to comment to journalists over last weekend about a potential run by Mathews Phosa, essentially as a stalking horse and test marketing campaign for Kgalema Motlanthe. He (Phosa) has no prospects of slipping in himself, but both he and Motlanthe have been seen to be standing firm with their ANC Youth League allies over the last week and it is not inconceivable that they will have worked out a tag-team strategy between them.
Later in the week came the summary suspension of Julius Malema about which I said:
Julius Malema was yesterday suspended with immediate effect from the ANC and from participating in any way in the organisation’s activities or the activities of the Youth League. While this particular suspension is temporary, several different strands of disciplinary action against Malema make the implementation of a full suspension (lasting at least 3 years) inevitable.In preparation for the Malema suspension the ‘Top Six’ of the ANC held a joint press conference to present a united front to condemn “bickering and negative lobbying” in the ruling party. Of particular concern was the recent incident in which Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe was invited to address and ANCYL rally where he found himself “in compromising situations of being implicated in statements where ANC leadership is denigrated and insulted” (that all comes from official ANC press statements.)Behind the show of unity are two broad camps, with President Jacob Zuma, Secretary General Gwede Mantashe and National Chairperson Baleka Mbete broadly backing Zuma’s re-election at Mangaumg in December; and Treasurer General Mathews Phosa, Deputy Secretary General Thandi Modise and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe having consistently been much closer to Julius Malema and long assumed to back a leadership slate that would be headed by Kgalema Motlanthe and might include Tokyo Sexwale.I do not expect the noise generated by the internecine struggle to die down until Mangaung itself. At this stage the Zuma camp is in an extremely strong position and this is the light in which the suspension of Malema needs to be seen.
I did a whole lot more radio interviews and bits and pieces about all of this … but I am becoming unspeakably bored with the whole issue. I think the ANC Top Six press conference was an attempt to get the focus onto the policy discussion documents and away from the draining and fracturing internecine squabbles. Can’t help but feel that might be a good idea.
Zimbabwe and Eddie Cross
The most interesting story of my week came about as a result of the consulting work I do for Religare Noah Capital Markets (Pty) Ltd, which is a member of the JSE and an authorised Financial Services Provider. Religare Noah brings Eddie Cross (Zimbabwe member of parliament for Bulawayo South, economist and Movement for Democratic Change Policy Coordinator General) to speak to, especially, mining and metals investors about once a year and I had a chance to listen in on his input.
Basically Eddie Cross reckons that by October this year Zimbabwe will have undergone a fundamental transformation and that our northern neighbour will be well on the path to recovery – politically and economically – by then.
It is a huge story, but obviously the details are bespoke to Noah Religare and its clients. From my perspective I have known Eddie Cross to err on the side of being too positive and upbeat about Zimbabwe (as I have been … consistently calling the bottom for almost ten years … embarrassing, I know) but I was convinced that a combination of SADC unanimity and strong G8 backing … and the fact that Zanu-PF is out of options and fatally riven with factions, means that change is more likely than it has been in years. An endless stalemate is still a possiblity and more catastrophic scenarios, with the continued assasination of central players (like that of General Solomon Majuru) are options … but there are grounds for cautioius optimism.
I hope you have a restful long weekend … and a really good Friday …
I have been interviewed several times this week about the Cosatu strike.
Is this an irreparable breakdown between the ANC and Cosatu?
Does this have implications for Zuma’s bid for re-election at Mangaung?
How stable is the ANC/Cosatu alliance?
What do I think of Jackson Mthembu’s response to Vavi’s claim that the ANC says “Cosatu is exaggerating poverty of workers in South Africa”? (… or whatever … If you can’t follow the subjects and objects in that sentence check out the ANC statement here - or not.)
Where is the SACP in all of this … and is Cosatu split between its president and secretary general?
Where is all this leading … what is going to happen … what does it all mean?
I’ll give those of you who are interested a kind of answer to those questions in a separate post, but I first wanted to say: it’s a peculiar business this being a ‘talking head’, someone whose views are sought on something as slippery as what’s really happening in our politics, where it’s all leading and why.
This is not (only) an idle existential question to while away a windy Cape Town Saturday morning … it is brought on by a perilous attempt at humour by that leading bastion of irony and satire, the South African Communist Party and their laugh-a-minute, Umsebenzi Online – and more particularly the March 8 “Red Alert” that you can catch here.
(Perhaps only start reading from the “Succession battles at leading newspaper” headline. That way you might still be open to that old Marxist quip: history repeats itself “first as tragedy, then as farce” – here for Wikipedia’s sketch of the source of that quote, Karl Marx’s excellent The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon - something I find it difficult to believe the writers of Umsebenzi Online have actually read or understood … but that is just by the by.)
The SACP’s satire is a teasing poke at … well, at people and institutions that do what I do for a living.
The premise is that Umsebenzi Online has come into possession of “dramatic new evidence” of a deep factional split at 195 Jan Smuts Avenue … which is the address of the Mail & Guardian newspaper.
The premise is that editor Nic Dawes is being challenged by “the ring-leader of the Young Turks” Matuma Letsoalo.
And the issue over which they are divided?
Whether to stick with the fading Julius Malema as the leading character in the soap opera the M&G produces or replace him with “the unions” as the new villain.
Umsebenzi Online then seeks the views of “two well-known, dial-a-quote, soap opera specialists – Aubrey Habib and Eusebius Mashele”* who proceed to pontificate incoherently about the split at the M&G.
There is a whole cast of villains in Umsebenzi Online’s slightly stilted (hardly unexpected that – Ed) attempt at humour.
And all the villains are ‘talking heads’ … people who have come to make their primary living from giving their views on the South African political soap opera.
I think there is a real question to be answered about political analysts – poorly asked and answered in this pinkish satire
Are the views of ‘political analysts’ any more reliable than anyone else’s? It’s not like there is a professional association that erects barriers to entry and puts in a whole lot of quality controls. And anyway such associations are usually just a gang hierarchy that protects the turf from competition.
My own answer – and I have to have one, or my tongue would shrivel up and drop out of my head and my fingers fuse uselessly to this keyboard – is that political analysts are to politics what critics are to art and literature. The critics don’t have to be artists or writers themselves – in fact, that might well be a drawback to them performing their function.
Critics come to be what they are through a market mechanism – their views are sought out and some consumer ends up paying for them. The art consuming public is looking for confirmation, information or rebuttal; they are looking for a view against which they can balance their own view, or learn something from – or just to think about.
The best critics are a mirror for the artist – trusted or hated by the practitioner, it doesn’t necessarily matter.
Rubbish critics can find an oppulent home in rubbish publications and TV stations – because mediocrity does so often rule the mass market mechanism.
Fine critics can quietly go about their business and eke out an interstitial existence of quiet excellence and the small comfort of professional respect.
Or the other way around.
I am all in favour of communists using satire to further their aims – it is so much more desirable than the dystopian bureaucratic terror which appears to be the default instrument – when available – of this vanguard of leading intellectuals.
But I wish this satire had been more … well, funny … and clever – basically, more thoughtful. We are bludgeoned daily by the views of “experts” – and it might not have escaped you that I both bludgeon and am bludgeoned in my turn.
How and why political analysts come to be part of our lives and part of the cultural and public intellectual process is an important question – one we should think about before consuming the sometimes suspicious fruits they offer.
* Those fake names are a melding of the real Professor Adam Habib:
(Right you four, you can send donations to The Association of Professional Standards in Political Analysis for the free publicity – Ed)