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On my return on Sunday from 10 days relaxing in and around the unparalleled Lake Malawi a friend took me aside and said he had visited my blog and found only cobwebs, spiders and dust.
So putting my shoulders back and girding my loins I logged on to deal with the decay and say something about the Numsa strike and the Brics bank when I noticed that I had had several ‘hits’ on a post from August 2010.
One of the (few) delights in running a WordPress blog is it generates several detailed statistics: the countries from which people have have visited the site, the search terms they followed and which posts they read … amongst other data.
I was intrigued to see what the the August 2010 post was about, so I read it. (It was only read by about 20 people over the last week, all from South Africa … but in my little world that is statistically significant, although of what I cannot say.)
It is interesting to go back to one’s opinions to check if they have shifted – or more interestingly, if they are unchanged or unmodified.
I suspect I am today slightly more bleak about the ANC than I was when I wrote the piece below; that I would say the same thing today, but with more of a grimace and the feeling more than ever that my hope really was a triumph over experience.
So, while I am tinkering around and deciding on whether I dare to borrow a picture from FT Online of Jacob Zuma looking like a lost child at the 6th Brics summit in Fortaleza, Brazil, here, unexpurgated, unedited and unreconstructed is:
It is difficult not to imagine the tearing of some deep and important ligament in our body politic in the tone and content of this debate that starts in The Times, ostensibly between Pallo Jordan and Justice Malala and ostensibly about media freedom. The battle is joined – and complicated – by the ANC in its formal capacity in this unattributed article, by a reader’s reply to Justice Malala (K B Malapela’s article here) and a contribution by the redoubtable Paul Trewhela here.
My mother was taught at a Catholic convent in Johannesburg in the 40′s and part of the curriculum was a subject called “Apologetics”, which essentially means defending the faith and recommending it to outsiders. All of the contributions to this debate, to greater or lesser degrees, have the brittle quality of Apologetics. This is clearly not a debate designed to win over an opponent; it is much more a debate designed to slag off the opponent – to influence perhaps separate audiences.
This does not mean that the opponents are all just political propagandists rolling out set pieces in an archaic ideological struggle. The anger, hurt and perhaps even fear are real and personal. After studying each spit and snipe, each appeal to history and every egregious character assassination (of which there are many) I find myself uncomfortably ambiguous about where my sympathies lie.
When we strip out all of the detail, at issue is the clash of these two broad assertions (this is definitely my formulation – the actual words or even ordering of arguments – will not necessarily be found in this form in any single contribution to the ‘debate)’:
- The one view attacks Malala and defends the ANC – in the general context of supporting legislation to make the print media legally accountable. It goes something like this: ‘The ANC, admittedly imperfect and flawed, is thenational liberation movement that led the struggle against Apartheid; the organisation whose members and supporters paid the overwhelmingly highest price in the struggle against Apartheid and it is currently the political party in which resides the main hope of building a South Africa free of Apartheid and its vestiges (which are still strongly present and primarily injurious to black South Africans). Given this truth, the depth and ferocity of Justice Malala’s attack on the organisation can only be explained by him having made a profession out of attacking the organisation for the benefit of a self-satisfied and confirmedly racist audience – or that he serves some darker and deeper purpose of enemies of South Africa.
- The other view defends Malala and attacks the ANC – in the general context of opposing legislation that seeks to control the media. This argument goes something like this: “The ANC has no claim to an exclusive role in the struggle against Apartheid and in any case the ANC’s contribution to that struggle was always flawed and undermined by deeply anti-democratic (or Stalinist) traditions and brutal repression of internal dissent. Justice Malala is part of a tradition of journalism in South Africa that has fought government censorship and general government abuse of power. Abuse of power, in various forms, characterises the ANC government today and it is right, fitting and brave for Malala to continue to ‘speak truth to power’.
I was going to paraphrase each article and attempt to draw out each essence but it’s probably better that you do that for yourself.
But here, for those who are interested, are my considered opinions on the issues that I think lie at the heart of this debate.
Firstly, regimes can reach a point where the only strategic option is complete non-engagement; where the only way forward is the destruction of that regime and its replacement by an alternative. But it is ludicrous to argue that this is where we are in South Africa with regard to the ANC government. Much of our political commentary and journalism seems to be phrased in these terms – as if we are all revolutionaries now, beyond any hope or care of reforming the system. This view is both implicit and, to a lesser degree, explicit, in the words of Malala and Trewhela. I am all for gung ho evisceration (by written word) of corrupt and pompous politicians, but there is a not-so-subtle line between vigorous – even exuberantly irreverent – criticism and the argument that government per se is the problem and therefore cannot be part of the solution. Many aspects of this government’s performance are deeply disturbing – as is the seeming avalanche of cronyism in our political culture. But I am absolutely clear that a government that continues to command around 70% of national electoral support (primarily because that electorate perceives the government as the main heir to the mantel of national liberation movement) has got to be engaged with, has got to be encouraged to be “the solution” more than it is “the problem”. And anyway the ANC, government, Cabinet and ‘the state’ in all of its manifestations is not some undifferentiated monster that requires slaying. The most important debates that shape our future take placewithin the ANC and the government as much as they do in the national media or in Parliament. Who wins and who loses within the ANC remains a decisive question that we cannot abandon as “irrelevant”.
Secondly, the ANC’s claim to legitimacy based on its historical role as the leading organisation representing black South African’s aspirations for national determination and in opposing Apartheid is a false claim. That the ANC was the main formation thrown up by Apartheid oppression of black South Africans is indisputable and that legions of its supporters, leaders and members fought bravely and suffered deeply is equally indisputable. But how often in the world have we seen claims of historical suffering and historical struggle against oppression justifying present corruption and brutal repression? The ANC needs to hear the claims of some journalists and commentators that the ANC of todayrepresents a radical discontinuity with that ANC of the past. This is a legitimate assertion that can only be answered with specific claims to value based on present activities and achievements.
Too often the ANC’s claim to legend, previous heroism and fortitude, to banners and flags and songs, is the only answer it seems able to give to those who say it has become an unsalvageable cesspool of greed and self-interest.
The ANC needs to be reminded of the words of the great African revolutionary leader, strategist and philosopher, Amilcar Cabral (here I quote the first and last few sentences of this famous statement):
Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children. . .
Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures.
Claim no easy victories…
Three asides from the present:
- I have absolutely no idea how I justified to myself putting that Amilcar Cabral quote in the original … the link to the rest of the story is faintly tenuous. But I suppose I loved it when I first read it in about 1981 and I love it still … and any excuse to get others to read it will do.
- Do I still write such long, unbroken paragraphs?
- I will only be able to check whether all the links in the original article work at some future, unspecified, time … apologies if they (the links) took you to a place even more dusty, cobweb infested and spider-ridden than where you are right now.
The Financial Mail recently conducted its annual survey of the fund management industry’s ranking of the broker analysts in South Africa.
As I have mentioned previously I find it faintly awkward crowing about it here. However, in the spirit of our age of frenzied self-promotion, I feel compelled to share with you the fact that I topped the ranking in the Political Trends and Industrial Relations category again this year.
(Click on the table and a larger version will load.)
This does not mean I am a better political analysts than anyone else on that list. It means that more fund managers who pay for the service voted me as useful to their investment process. At least part of the reason for that is this is my main source of income and I probably spend a greater portion of my time and effort on servicing the fund manager clients than do other analysts on that list. In addition, for at least one of the people on that list, this category is a minor priority for them (Elna Moolman of Macquarie First South is primarily an economist and she has been top ranked as such for several years.)
I value the ranking; the people who actually pay for the research are the ones who get to vote.
I am grateful to have had a consultancy arrangement with BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities which makes me part of that firm’s excellent and supportive research and sales team.
A couple of asides as I tinker away at a framework for assessing Sunday’s Cabinet announcement.
The media noise surrounding Helen Zille’s putative attitude towards Lindiwe Mazibuko is interesting, but largely because it is so loud.
In the last hour I have been asked twice (by journalists) for an opinion on Mmusi Maimane‘s acceptance of nomination to the position of DA Parliamentary Leader.
Not long ago I would have (privately) filed news of DA power-struggles and leadership changes under ‘white mischief’ and forgotten about it – confident that no client or journalist would ask for an opinion.
Real politics, the stuff that actually made a difference to legislative or regulatory outcomes, happened within the Tripartite Alliance or in the interactions between the ANC and business.
I think that was a useful shorthand that saved me time in the past, but clearly I will have to break the habit.
The Alliance no longer contains its own opposition – and is therefore no longer the primary site of politics.
The EFF, Amcu, whatever Numsa finally initiates and the DA all (healthily in my view) strip out a sort of multi-polar disorder from the ANC.
Politics will now (tend to) happen where it is meant to: on the streets and in parliament … and not where it previously tended to happen: in back room deals and as a result of other shenanigans in the ANC-led alliance.
There is an obvious trade-off between clarity of government policy/structure and the broadness of the ANC’s alliances. As those alliances break or simplify or are otherwise transformed I expect some kind of dividend for governance and economic policy.
If I might add …
Another habit of thought I might soon have to break is my instinctive intellectual pessimism about politics.
By ‘pessimism’ I do not mean an automatic assumption that politician are corrupt or incompetent.
What I mean is that I tend to think that politics changes little in the world, but that the world changes the politics.
I think this might make me some kind of market fundamentalist. I am certain that to grow, the DA will have to become more like the ANC – in its policy and in the class and racial character of its leadership.
The assumption (and maybe error) I make is believing that the electorate purely aggregates the interests of broad groups of people and the political parties are compelled to reflect the character and interests of those groups.
So my ‘habit of thought” is that I assume that for a party to grow it will necessarily become more generic and bland.
Why this is ‘pessimistic’ (and I hope incorrect) is I tend to assume that our politics increasingly changes nothing (except to the negative) and parties endlessly drift towards a sort bland and generic centre in response to the ‘market’ of the bland and generic voters.
No wonder I was a secret reader of P J O’Rourke. He once observed in his normal right-wing, smug but hilarious way:
Now majority rule is a precious, sacred thing worth dying for. But like other precious, sacred things …. it’s not only worth dying for; it can make you wish you were dead. Imagine if all life were determined by majority rule. Every meal would be a pizza.
P. J. O’Rourke, Parliament of Whores, 1991
Why this is a bad habit
I worry that my instinctive attitude is a potentially serious error. I can see how this ‘political pessimism’ might be a useful short cut in relatively homogeneous and stable first-world countries.
The main parties in those countries blur into each other.
But recession and unemployment, even in those countries, is inevitably accompanied by a growing divergence in the political arena – a shrinking of the centre and growth of radical nationalists and/or populists.
Surely this is a better permanent model for understanding South Africa?
I suspect our calm transition and the stable predictability of the ANC and it’s comfortable electoral majority might have lulled me into a false sense of security.
Who could not smile at the jaunty red boiler-suits, gumboots and maid’s outfits adorning the mostly young EFF members being sworn in to parliament yesterday?
I am delighted the EFF are there and I think it is healthy for our politics that the ANC will have to contest with the EFF in the minds of voters and in the national and provincial assemblies.
Rather that than the nodding and winking and/or furious factional splits that have gone on up until now in the closed shop of the ANC.
But it should be front of mind that the ANC has to answer the challenge of the DA and of the EFF.
The ANC still has a safety margin and room for manoeuvre, but party leaders will have heard the howls in the night and are unlikely to just sit back staring into the fire hoping for the best.
I am up to my neck in it, trying to tease out the main implications and trends of the election – in a way that might be useful to investors in our financial markets.
As part of the process I read everything I can find that has been written about the elections. I have just read the Sunday Independent to see what the journalists and columnists had to say and I came across something that I felt I needed to share; and social media granted me immediate gratification.
Jeremy Cronin, deputy general secretary of the SACP, wrote a column assessing the election under the title “No room for complacency for ANC and alliance partners”.
Cronin is always good value and worth reading and today he was especially feisty.
Opposition emerging to the left of the ANC/SACP/Cosatu alliance is an important matter for anyone who has an interest in how South African politics will progress. And Cronin deals with this question as part of his election assessment.
Cronin’s tone reminds me of the sectarian and slightly Stalinist tendencies that I was very much part of throughout the 80′s … and I felt almost nostalgic when he characterised the threats from the left thusly:
Will a serious left challenge now come from outside the ANC alliance? It’s possible, but only if we in the ANC alliance are clumsy or arrogant. We need to distinguish the proto-fascist demagogy of Malema from the hybrid neo-Stalinist business unionism of Irvin Jim, from the ethnically-tinged vigilantism of the Amcu leadership, from the preachy capitalist philanthropy of Jay Naidoo and Mamphela Ramphele.
I wanted to follow that with a few exclamation marks. It’s funny and it has a certain poetic rolling cadence that left me smiling … for a few seconds.
Until I realised that the trick Cronin has pulled here is he has created a sort of ideological bestiary and placed within it every conceivable left critic of the ANC and the SACP.
If you are a left critic of the ANC, SACP, Cosatu alliance then you are either a proto-fascist demagogue or a hybrid neo-Stalinist business unionist, or you might be an ethnically-tinged vigilante or even a preachy capitalist philanthropist. You certainly couldn’t be a principled socialist of some kind, because then you would be in the ANC/SACP /Cosatu. Dah!
“Clumsy or arrogant”?
The article is worth reading because it gives a mostly subtle and thoughtful assessment of the election from an insiders view, but is, as you can see from the excerpt, occasionally entertainingly clumsy and arrogant.
After fiddling around a bit, I found it at IOL.com. Read it, it is here.
He (Jacob Zuma) didn’t threaten me with the red lightsaber or catch me in a honey trap. My natterings, fortunately, are not impactful enough to draw the attentions of the Dark Lord (Darth Vader, dah! – ed) or his stormtroopers.
The compulsion comes from watching, slack-jawed, as Jacob Zuma skips happily across the backs of starving crocodiles - on his way, off towards the welcoming horizon.
Surely the world was an intrinsically hostile place for a black baby boy, born to a single-parent mother (who was also a domestic worker) in the South Africa of 1942? Surely when he received no formal education any chance of success in life would have become vanishingly small – in the estimation of a wandering actuarial statistician, perhaps?
When Jacob Zuma went to prison and then later was repeatedly caught with his hands in all sorts of cookie jars I imagine the hypothetical actuary would have confidently predicted a life of ignominy and poverty.
But instead Jacob Zuma is picking up an honorary Doctorate of Leadership from the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology (who writes the script of the world? … no ordinary mortal would dare make this shit up – ed) and rubbing shoulders with the great and the good and undoubtedly stashing bits of his loot in safe houses in Malaysia.
My second post on this website in mid-2009 titled The Accidental President (catch that here) argued that Zuma’s rise was pure chance and contingency. But when the same random set of things happens over-and-over (Jacob Zuma escapes danger with a sack full of cash) you have to start questioning whether this is purely the shambolic interactions of events, people, history and the world.
Politics is about power (yes, I know, we have heard that somewhere before). Power is agency, the ability to make stuff happen, to make people do your bidding and to make situations turn out in a particular way. Political analysis is the analysis of how (and why) power is exercised.
Which brings me back to Machiavelli.
I read The Prince when I was about 17 and, clearly, I didn’t understand a bleeding word.
I vaguely remember being outraged and confused by the book. Bertrand Russell is widely quoted as having said The Prince is a handbook for gangsters (which is a great line but there is much debate as to whether the great logician himself actually said it).
However, I am now kicking myself that I haven’t been reading and rereading The Prince every year – and in the flush of my transient enthusiasm, I promise myself I will do so from now on until I die … or perhaps I will stop a little before.
(As an aside: I was halfway through the book when the Syrian nerve gas story broke. I was glad to have Machiavelli as a companion to think about how those with agency might cause, or allow, such things to happen and why they might do so.)
So, anyway … Jacob Zuma is the Prince and I doubt he ever needed a Machiavelli to tell him how to be what he is and how to do what he does.
Here is the opening dedication. It’s quite compellingly mysterious to those among us who are a little thin on our Florence-during- the-Renaissance, but it is also a good explanation of the work that follows:
Dedication: To the Magnificent Lorenzo Di Piero De’ Medici
It is customary for such as seek a Prince’s favour, to present themselves before him with those things of theirs which they themselves most value, or in which they perceive him chiefly to delight. Accordingly, we often see horses, armour, cloth of gold, precious stones, and the like costly gifts, offered to Princes as worthy of their greatness. Desiring in like manner to approach your Magnificence with some token of my devotion, I have found among my possessions none that I so much prize and esteem as a knowledge of the actions of great men, acquired in the course of a long experience of modern affairs and a continual study of antiquity. Which knowledge most carefully and patiently pondered over and sifted by me, and now reduced into this little book, I send to your Magnificence. And though I deem the work unworthy of your greatness, yet am I bold enough to hope that your courtesy will dispose you to accept it, considering that I can offer you no better gift than the means of mastering in a very brief time, all that in the course of so many years, and at the cost of so many hardships and dangers, I have learned, and know.
This work I have not adorned or amplified with rounded periods, swelling and high-flown language, or any other of those extrinsic attractions and allurements wherewith many authors are wont to set off and grace their writings; since it is my desire that it should either pass wholly unhonoured, or that the truth of its matter and the importance of its subject should alone recommend it.
Nor would I have it thought presumption that a person of very mean and humble station should venture to discourse and lay down rules concerning the government of Princes. For as those who make maps of countries place themselves low down in the plains to study the character of mountains and elevated lands, and place themselves high up on the mountains to get a better view of the plains, so in like manner to understand the People a man should be a Prince, and to have a clear notion of Princes he should belong to the People.
Let your Magnificence, then, accept this little gift in the spirit in which I offer it; wherein, if you diligently read and study it, you will recognize my extreme desire that you should attain to that eminence which Fortune and your own merits promise you. Should you from the height of your greatness some time turn your eyes to these humble regions, you will become aware how undeservedly I have to endure the keen and unremitting malignity of Fortune.
I know how Niccolò feels. Sometimes these humble regions are just that little too humble. However, I would have been more cautious about calling for the Prince’s attention if I was Machiavelli. If the Prince read the little book, then the Prince would know that Machiavelli had the Prince’s number and that Machiavelli had rewritten the handbook. Which I can’t imagine would have charmed the Prince.
I will attempt a ‘highlights package’ of The Prince and possibly some learned comments (which are unlikely to be as good as you will find in this interesting article and interview). For the keenest among you, there are several places on the internet where The Prince is downloadable for no charge – I am sure the copyright has long expired … or rather I hope so. My copy, which is in electronic form on my laptop, originates at: http://www.feedbooks.com.
Finally, Jacob Zuma still has a few crocodiles to hop on before he reaches safety. I still think that the odds are against him, but I am not an actuarial statistician, wandering or otherwise . I draw comfort purely from the certainty that no-one, ultimately, gets out of this alive.
Herewith my news commentary as of yesterday morning. I thought I would republish it here because it includes my brief assessments of how to think about the Zimbabwe election, Vavi and the EFF. I also, politely, imply that the Seriti commission might be a cover-up and that Amcu’s underlying objectives in the gold sector are potentially quite scary.
Zimbabwe – grin and bear it
Robert Mugabe has won 61% of the votes (2.11 million votes) in the presidential poll, against Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s 34% (1.17 million votes). Zanu-PF won 158 parliamentary seats against the MDC’s 49.
The head of the SADC facilitation process, South African President Jacob Zuma’s office yesterday released a statement that began:
H.E President Jacob Zuma extends his profound congratulations to HE President Robert G Mugabe on his re-election as President of the Republic of Zimbabwe following the successful harmonised elections held on 31 July 2013. President Zuma urges all political parties in Zimbabwe to accept the outcome of the elections as election observers reported it to be an expression of the will of the people.
The opposition MDC has called the result “fraudulent” and has threatened not to take up its 49 seats and to boycott government institutions and “pursue peaceful, legal, political, constitutional and diplomatic remedies” (several online news sources, including BBC Africa).
The Mail & Guardian points out that monitors from the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have stressed that the elections were peaceful and have endorsed them as ‘broadly free’. In contrast, the United States and European governments, which have sanctions in place against Mugabe over past election-rigging, “listed a litany of alleged flaws in the vote, from lack of availability of the voters’ roll to pro-Mugabe bias in the media and security services that skewed the election run-up” – M&G.
Even allowing for the myriad ways in which the MDC was (deliberately – and probably illegally) disadvantaged in this election it appears there has been a real shift away from the opposition. Perhaps this is because just by entering the unity government in 2008 the MDC both saved the economy from collapsing (and thereby saved Zanu-PF) and suffered some of the sins of incumbency. Perhaps it was how mediocre Morgan Tsvangirai has turned out and how endless have been his romantic and sexual travails. Whichever. I am not certain that the MDC will follow through and actually not take up it seats – this will only be revealed in the next few weeks.
To repeat comments I made on Friday:
- It is deeply unfair. The election was brutally stolen in 2008 and every state resource that could be deployed against the MDC has been so deployed in the last 5 years. Slight economic upticks post 2008, the deepening indigenisation programme (or at least the promise of the goodies from the programme) combined with a host of tactical and strategic errors by the MDC appear to have allowed Zanu-PF to ‘pull off’ a victory at the edge of acceptability … and the edge of the law, but just within it. Even if that is not the opinion of the MDC or Western observers, it is going to be the formal assessment.
- Thus, I am not suggesting that this result reflects the “will of the Zimbabwean people” … but it reflects it adequately to avoid the crisis that would result from an outright declaration that voters’ roll irregularities … and inadequate other preparations … and the historical legacy of repression and cheating … and misuse of security agencies and state media … constitute enough impact to declare the result not reflective of the will of the people.
- Does this mean Zanu-PF’s deeply investor unfriendly, GDP growth unfriendly, economic policies will continue? Not entirely. I think Zanu-PF has, miraculously, won back a chance to control the post-Mugabe succession period. They very nearly lost it as a result of their catastrophic policies. I expect Zanu-PF to be more cautious and embracing of investors in future … including with regard to the indigenisation programme.
- I am less sure of that final bullet than I was when I wrote it on Friday, but it appears to me that, at very least, Zanu-PF, will have learned a lesson from nearly losing its hold on the country and is likely to give more emphasis to ensuring that the benefits of its economic policies flow to ordinary Zimbabweans (and less to buying off Zanu-PF cronies, which has been the emphasis up until now.)
Arms probe in tatters
Last week Judge Francis Legodi resigned from the The Seriti Commission into the arms deal scandal and evidence leader, advocate Tayob Aboobaker, announced his resignation citing ‘nepotism, unprofessionalism and infighting’ (he may since have withdrawn his resignation). These ructions follow the earlier resignations of senior researcher Mokgale Norman Moabi and the law researcher, Kate Painting.
The elephant in this room is the Jacob Zuma himself is one of the individual ANC leaders whose reputation has been most tarnished by the scandal (corruption charges against him in this regard were only – controversially – withdrawn in 2009). At the same time, it is Jacob Zuma himself, in his capacity as President, that has instituted this commission, possibly in the hope that he can put the threat of the return of those charges permanently behind him. At this stage the commission is meant to begin hearings today, and among those who will be called are former President Thabo Mbeki, head of Cope and former Minister of Defence Mosiuoa Lekota, former Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils, former Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin and former Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel. I think it extremely unlikely that this commission will ever pronounce on why the bizarre decisions were taken to purchase the singularly inappropriate (for the country’s defence needs) set of expensive weapons systems (including 48 Saab Gripen fighters and trainers, 4 Daphne class submarines and 4 frigates). I also think it vanishingly unlikely that the commission will find out where the kickbacks went.
I will not be surprised if it emerges that the resignations from the commission are motivated by the belief that the process will achieve the exact opposite to its apparent purpose.
Several of the weeklies speculate as to whether Zwelinzima Vavi will survive the scandal in which he had unprotected sex in Cosatu’s headquarters with a junior employee whose employment in Cosatu he had irregularly organised – and who accused him of rape and later withdrew the charge in an internal Cosatu procedure.
I covered this in some detail last week, but there is an implication to what is happening here that needs emphasising.
The ANC is facing an election next year and much of the pressure Vavi has been under up until now (from ANC/Zuma loyalists in Cosatu) has been directed at pulling him (Vavi) into line, to stop him constantly accusing government leaders of corruption, to stop him criticising macro-economic policy. The ANC needs to establish a united front so that it can take on the various challenges it faces in the national election next year.
But there is a difference between placing pressure on Vavi and forcing him out of Cosatu. If Vavi is forced to resign because of his actions in relation to the junior employee it is not inconceivable that Cosatu’s biggest union Numsa might go with him.
It is as if the ANC has been pushing a board – that it thought was solid – to get it into a better position. But the board was rotten all along and it suddenly collapses as it is being pressed. An actual split in Cosatu that drove the most left-wing elements together and out of the ruling alliance would be negative for the ANC in a number of ways. It would further weaken the credibility of the trade union ally, it could raise the spectre of a viable ‘left’ party, it could force the ANC into having to contest on too many fronts in the 2014 election, it could increasingly lead to policy paralysis in government and it could cause serious labour unrest as Cosatu member unions reconstitute and split in a number of different industries. None of this is certain (or even likely) but it is a threat or a series of threats we need to bear in mind.
Economic Freedom Fighters – taxing times … but behind the theatre there are credible risks
Along the same lines as the above, the latest round in the colourful pageant of Julius Malema’s attempts to re-establish himself at the centre of South African politics came yesterday when he mounted a fierce attack on the South African Revenue Service (the full text published at politcsweb.co.za) after SARS made public the details of his tax record. (Here for the SARS statement and here for Malema’s response.)
SARS is defending itself from Julius Malema’s accusation that it is being used as a tool by what Malema calls the ZANC (the Zuma ANC). The truth or otherwise of this particular matter cannot be established, but I wanted to use the opportunity to raise what I see as the main risk associated with the Economic Freedom Fighters. The risks are not dissimilar to those associated with a potential ‘left’ split in Cosatu. It is increasingly likely that the ANC will be contesting the 2014 elections with significant threats both to its ‘left’ and its ‘right’.
The Democratic Alliance, perhaps in a formal alliance with other opposition parties and independent candidates is starting to seriously consider the possibility that it could win the Western Northern and Northern Cape and come achingly close in the, Eastern Cape and Gauteng. While I am unable to assess whether these are realistic objectives, I think it is important to consider how the ANC might behave if it faces this threat at exactly the point as its own members, allies and the Economic Freedom Fighters, place it (the ANC) under pressure.
I have no grounds to argue that the EFF and any ‘workers’ party’ that could conceivably emerge from a split in Cosatu could win enough votes to become a viable parliamentary opposition, but I do think that the operation of these forces place the ANC in an awkward, even untenable, ‘policy’ and ‘message’ position.
In adopting the investor friendly National Development Plan at Mangaung and in the presidency’s concerted attempts to stabilise the platinum mining sector, the Zuma administration has made it clear that it is extremely worried that investor sentiment towards South African policy and policy risk has turned negative. An ANC fighting a populist wildfire from the EFF (perhaps more heat than light … but anyway), an incipient ‘ left’ split from Cosatu and an ascendant DA is hemmed-in, constrained, unable to formulate viable national policies and increasingly tempted to engage in dirty tricks against its enemies.
Amcu and the gold negotiations – some tentative speculation
Following Amcu’s apparent walkout from the Commission for Conciliation and Mediation of the gold sector wage negotiation that had become stuck at the Chamber of Mines last week, I made the following comments (note that Amcu has since said it intends participating in the process, although as you will see from the below, I would be cautious of accepting that at face value):
I think that it is directly in Amcu’s rational best interest to:
- ensure that collective bargaining through the Chamber of Mines breaks down (i.e. that the central bargaining chamber is destroyed) and that companies are forced to seek agreements on a mine by mine basis; and
- to provoke crises similar to those that took place at Impala in January last year and Lonmin in August on gold mines where it is not yet recognised as the majority union.
Firstly, why is this “rational”?
Because any of the anger, hot-headedness and youthful passions rooted in the history of Amcu leadership’s conflict with Num would have been burnt out of them last year.
Now it is probably more accurate to conceive of Amcu as rational competitors in a game where the objectives can be stacked in a very similar way to how one would stack objectives of a company with three or four major competitors in a set market.
Amcu can certainly get things wrong – and engage in activities that are counterproductive to the likelihood of it achieving its objectives – but this is less likely to be because Amcu is led by anarchist lunatics, and more likely to be because its leaders have made tactical and strategic errors.
Thus, while it is possible to argue that Amcu’s members and potential members are “tired of strikes” or “unable to bear the burden of further strikes” this should be conceived of as a constraint to Amcu pursuing its objective rather than an absolute barrier.
So what are Amcu’s objectives in the gold sector?
Firstly, to destroy the National Union of Mineworkers.
The Num, the loyalty of its (declining) membership, and its abuse of its prior dominance, is the most important obstacle to Amcu achieving its main objective which, unsurprisingly, is to be the only significant union in the resources sector. That is, Amcu’s primary objective is to occupy the eco-niche that Num has occupied up until now.
Trade unionism is a business … it’s about money and power. So yes, Amcu grows by more effectively representing (or portraying itself as more effectively representing) the collective interests of its members or potential members … and thereby actually getting greater numbers of signed up, due-paying members.
However, it cannot be effective in this task, even where it has already got more members than Num … because Num occupies an institutional and regulatory “space” that it is using to maintain its dominance.
Thus, in a central bargaining chamber system where the representivity of the participating members is outdated (as it clearly is in this case) the union that is actually dominant (or in the process of becoming dominant) must destroy the process and force employers to deal directly with it … and not with the old dinosaur that is taking up all the space by trading purely on the institutional lag effect.
So forcing employers to deal with Amcu, on a mine-by-mine basis, seems to be a no-brainer for the upstart union and explains perfectly Amcu’s actions up until now in the gold negotiation process that started 2 weeks ago.
The next step is that Amcu has to establish dominance at each mine … it has to “force” the employer to deal with Amcu rather than Num … even if the outdated books still show Num as the dominant union at each mine.
Thus Amcu will attempt to destroy Num’s negotiating position … it will work to ensure that workers do not feel that whatever Num and management settle for is an adequate settlement. Amcu only wins if that settlement fails; therefore it has an absolute imperative to cause those settlements between Num and management to fail (by proposing levels that are more difficult for management to meet and by mobilising workers against whatever settlement Num reaches).This is a competition that Amcu can lose. Num and management might strike a workable deal that the majority of mineworkers back … but it (Amcu) has got to fight it.
If this is correctly reasoned, there is a strong pressure on the central bargaining system in the gold sector and for possible mine level negotiations to be traumatic – in a very similar way to the trauma associated with strikes in the platinum sector last year and with an almost identical ‘architecture’.
Once (and if) Amcu has crushed Num and established its dominance across the industry its motivational hierarchy changes; it will then want to lock itself into the monopolistic position that Num now occupies. But that is a long way ahead, so long that it is not yet worthy of serious consideration. For now, it (Amcu) is trying to free up space so that it can go head-to-head with Num, which in turn is hiding behind bureaucracy. Thus Amcu is trying to increase competition because it believes in a straight fight it will win.
Finally, Amcu does not have a free hand in pursuing these objectives. Management and Num are going to fight back in all the ways (positive and negative) open to them. Also, workers are tired, indebted, the industry is shrinking and management is looking for excuses to downsize workforces – but within these constraints, I would argue that Amcu is forced by its own nature, to pursue the objectives here set out, as effectively as it can within those constraints.
Imagine you are the producer of a major and successful television soap-opera.
Gradually, for reasons that are not immediately apparent, market research begins to indicate your share of the prime-time television audience is diminishing – and, further, that the declines are accelerating.
I suspect what you do is try to work out whether the viewers are being tempted away by a better soap, whether the quality of your show is slipping and/or whether your product is losing its appeal because the ‘demographic’ that follows your production is shrinking … or some combination of those.
Perhaps you try to adapt your trashy product to follow the shifting demographic; change the time-slot, perhaps kill off the older actors … have the Elizabethan extended family that has been the central theme be infiltrated by shape-shifting aliens who teleport the stately manor out of the English countryside and into a future post-apocalyptic New York … change the name to Downtown Abyss? Ok, maybe not.
Or you do a serious quality overhaul of your existing production, get better writers and introduce more popular and skilled actors, win back the defecting viewers … stick to your knitting, trust the product … and all those other management-speak exhortations.
I think the ANC is facing a crisis similar to that faced by the producers of this imaginary soap-opera. I suspect that the ANC, Agang and the DA do market research that is indicating and projecting significant voter swings away from the ANC . But I have nothing firmly in my hands other than rumours, leaks and hints.
So forgive me if I float an untested (and untestable at this time) hypothesis; one we are all going to hear bruted about soon: that it is ‘true’ that on current trends the ANC will get less than 59 percent of the vote next year but more than 52 percent, and further, that the ANC will receive less than 50 percent of the vote in 2019 (thumbsuck alerts all round).
The assumption is untestable (by me) because I don’t have the bespoke polling data and (by anybody else, in my opinion) because such data do not take adequately into account the myriad subjective and objective factors that might impact on the trend.
But among the reasons I take seriously the possibility that this is, in fact, the trend is, for example, the rapid growth of Amcu and the concomitant shrinking of Num. Another is this public domain ranking of Zuma’s approval rating amongst urban Africans by TNS Research published in the Sunday Times on 12/03/13:
… and updated by TNS this Monday (1/7/13) indicating a slight improvement in favour of Zuma (read from the top: 42, 50, 9 and -8). The point is there is a significant drop in Zuma’s approval ratings and concomitant rise in his disapproval ratings from February last year. It is reasonable to consider the possibility that this applies to the ANC (although, again, and at the risk of being pedantic, there is no established corollary between Zuma’s ratings and the ANC’s … but as a personal aside, I would imagine he must represent a specific liability.)
When I think of Mandela’s ill health and what I see as signs of how destabilising for the ANC his passing be may be (although the opposite could also be true), when I consider the anti-Zuma noises coming from Winnie Mandela and the frisson of mischievous excitement around Julius Malema’s proposed Economic Freedom Fighters … and when I put a whole mess of hints, trends, rumours and suppositions together with other metaphorical canaries that I use and which are dying around me like flies, I feel confident, for the first time since 1994, to at least consider how things might be when and if the ANC is clinging to an electoral majority, or perhaps even losing one.
As I begun to consider this (and helped along by a good and irritatingly insistent friend) I discovered that I still, subconsciously, conduct my professional duties under the burden of a normative (as in relating to an ‘ideal standard or model’) assumption that has remained unchanged and largely unexamined since about 1994.
This normative assumption goes, roughly, something like this:
South African society is shaped by irresolvable contradictions. Most obviously between the poor, largely African, majority and the propertied white minority. Only an African National Congress, held comfortably in power by the trust and momentum established by its role and identity as leader of the liberation struggle, and by its clearly ‘African-led’ character, could possibly negotiate the perilous path between the imperative to deliver radical redress to the African majority and the absolute requirements to operate within the disciplines of global capital markets and to keep whites engaged and invested.
There are so many assumptions – and slippery phrases – in that statement, that I am not sure where to begin.
But briefly (in as far as that is possible):
Firstly I am implicitly using a (somewhat antiquated) theoretical model of society that is based on the idea that the competition between groups with closely aligned economic interests acts as some kind of driver that interacts with and shapes other features of society, including the state and formal party political contests. This is a (hopefully sophisticated) version of the base/superstructure model of Marxist theory. As a rough, working model, I will continue to employ this system in political analysis – even if it is purely as a way of organising my thoughts. It is an elaboration of the injunction to follow the money which I consistently find the most useful hand-axe in the tool kit I use to help me work out, to my own satisfaction if no-one else’s, what the hell is going on.
Secondly, I am weighting the racial divide, its historical features, its ideological characteristics, the materiality of its ongoing consequences – including the radical disparity in wealth and income – more heavily than any other feature of South African society. ‘Politics’ occurs around such contradictions and our politics remains overdetermined by this structural feature. I think this remains true – but less true than it was 18 years ago. Primarily because class development, including the development of a black wealthy/property-owning class, a black middle-class and a sophisticated and slightly wealthier working class (driven by the changing character and function of labour processes and the relative growth of the services sector) dilutes the central contradiction and adds competing fissures.
Thirdly, I continue to assume it is imperative to keep whites “on board”… and that we have to keep within the discipline of global capital markets. I am also assuming (or perhaps estimating that on balance) the ANC still sees these as fundamental constraints. Those are brave (wild?) assumptions, I know, but I do not have all night. So moving swiftly along …
Finally, the aspect of my normative assumption about which I am most uncertain is the central one. Who says the ANC cannot fall below 50 percent, that an alliance of opposition parties will not get above 50 percent? And that if both those bridges are crossed we are into the game mode where “(o)nly (the) African National Congress … could possibly negotiate the perilous path”. Which means?
I appear to be saying that in the event that those barriers are crossed we will fail to negotiate that path.
That we collapse in a heap? That the ANC morphs into Zanu-PF – but with even scarier tribalist and repressive features – to recapture the political initiative? That the ANC embarks on an ever more expansive looting of private and public assets to feed a patronage system that comes to replace all other mechanism that establish stability, but a system that is absolutely limited by the availability of such lootable assets? Or perhaps that our future will look something like what (might be) happening in Cairo tonight? … I will get to that as soon as I hit “publish”.
If a democratic election goes against the ANC why am I so uncertain that the party or party’s that the same election goes in favour of will be unable to govern?
I suspect I actually believe that without the ANC in a comfortable majority that things fall apart, that the centre cannot hold, that
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed*
Thus, this is little more that my personal failure to imagine a future significantly different from the present, yes?
It appears that I am constrained by my own habits of thought and prejudices. Now there’s a big surprise.
So, back to the soap opera.
If the ANC is slipping in the ratings, it can chase the shifting demographic by attempting to spread its skirts ever more widely – although I think it is already beyond the limits of the possible with that indecorous exercise.
… or it can do the political equivalent of the narrative device of having space aliens infiltrate the family (hmm, that might have happened already – ed). I am not sure what a radical discontinuity in the ANC’s brand might look like – I think it could go one of two general directions, but I would imagine that the ANC strategists defining ‘the message’ for the upcoming elections must envy the clean simplicity of the Economic Freedom Fighters emerging platform.
… or the ANC could improve its character and performance by sticking to its knitting: cleaning up its leadership and improving its governance performance and winning back the trust of its purportedly defecting support. My impression is the ANC is going in precisely the opposite direction, but who’s to say they wont turn it around in response to a mild shock in 2014?
I do not hold to the popular notion that “anything is possible”, but I am prepared to accept that a lot more things will come to pass than I have been able to imagine.
* As always, the best poetic accompaniment to fretting about the future of our politics is William Butler Yeats‘ The Second Coming … catch the incomparable poem here.
In this age of frenzied self-promotion I should be more comfortable about this, so let me just come out and say it: I was top ranked in the Political Trends and Industrial Relations category at the Financial Mail Analyst of the Year Awards last week.
Every year since 1977 the Financial Mail has sent a confidential questionnaire to domestic institutional fund managers and investment organisations to ask them to rate the research they get from brokerage houses. This year 35 institutional fund managers with more that R4 trillion assets under management were polled.
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 investment decisions. If the research added value to the fund manager’s decision the broker is paid either directly or in the form of a commission of some kind. That’s one of the reasons I appreciate the award: the people paying for the service get to vote.
This year I am grateful to have been a consultant to BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities and as such part of that firm’s excellent and amiable research and sales team.
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.