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I will get on to the weighty question of whether Jacob Zuma might retire before his term of office is completed momentarily, but first let me mention that I have been busy with what started as an idle rumination about the South African Communist Party.

But has turned, inevitably perhaps, to “become persistent and recurrent worrying or brooding” (from the third meaning for ‘rumination’ given in the link above.)

I am at a serious disadvantage when assessing the SACP. Unlike many of my readers I was always an admirer of the party – well, certainly in the bad old days of the struggle against apartheid.

Slightly more difficult to explain is that I am still moved by Billy Bragg singing The Red Flag, and the pleasure I once took at the same artist (or perhaps another, even Google can’t nail it for me) singing a song that went something like “Stalin wasn’t stalling, when he told the Beast of Berlin, that we’d never rest contented, till we’d driven him from the land.”

So I am hard wired, deep in my political DNA, to not think ill of the SACP – which is why the party riding Jacob Zuma to power, its dogged defence of the President’s most unsettling activity and much of the threatening sloganeering and bullying that gets published as Red Alerts on Umsebenzi Online have had me at a real analytical loss.

I have provisionally titled the post: “O SACP, SACP! wherefore art thou SACP?” It wanders around a bit, speculating wherefore, actually when you get right down to it, art the SACP? There are various asides of a semi-personal, even light hearted, nature – but the path of my meander has definitely darkened and right now I feel I am, metaphorically speaking, in a gloomy forest and the growing stench suggests there is a poisoned well somewhere up ahead.

So I have decided to take a bit more time and care on that.

Meanwhile here are some of my recent comments (sent to clients on the 3rd of this month) about the increasingly widely discussed matter of the future of Jacob Zuma.

Jacob Zuma – will he stay, will he go and does it matter? 

My basic view of the question in the title is:

  • Jacob Zuma is more likely to retire early that I have considered previously.
  • There is wide variation in the quality of South African politics, administration and government, with awful, mediocre and excellent aspects. This variation will not be overwhelmed or overdetermined by whether Zuma stays or goes – although it would also be incorrect to suggest it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference.
  • In general I would assert that Jacob Zuma is as much a symptom of the problems as he is a cause of them – although I would, if someone held a gun to my head, go with 60% symptom, 40% cause (I had it the other way around when I sent this out initially, but that was just my dyslexia playing havoc: Zuma is less the architect of history than history is the architect of Zuma – no Nkandla pun intended).
  • Additionally, Jacob Zuma’s term of office would end in 2019 anyway and his replacement would be elected ANC President at the 2017 national conference. We are, at most, not much more than a year off knowing (or having a pretty strong idea) who the likely replacement of Jacob Zuma will be even if he (Zuma) serves out his full second term.
  • However, unexpected transitions can be destabilising, especially if the incumbent has much to lose if he loses (like going to prison, losing some of his and his family’s accumulated assets and having his powerful political network’s continued asset accumulation threatened – just to take a few arbitrary and hypothetical example of why such a persons going might be a messy business).

However, I am of the opinion that the question is worth considering, but we need to get some of our methodology right first:

This is a future event and as such it is uncertain and unpredictable. There is no acceptable methodology (that I understand or can use)  that can reliably (academically, empirically, scientifically) give a probability estimate as to the potential outcomes.

It is crucial to avoid the trap of predicting a particular outcome and then assembling the evidence to support it – and, further, attempting to defend the prediction over time as ‘the facts’ move against it.

We need an adequate reason to believe the outcome is important, not important or somewhere in between – or all of these things at once , with this last choice being the one I would probably go for.)

The past (Zuma’s survival against the odds up until now) is not a predictor that he will survive the confluence of events. If that argument held weight, then we should argue that nobody alive today will die because they haven’t died up until now – I attempt to fill-out this assertion under “Jacob Zuma, the survivor” below.

Normative reasoning is acceptable, but we need to be conscious of doing it when we do it. In this case my ‘normative’ assumption is that a successful and calm succession completed before Zuma’s term of office expires in 2019 would be a ‘good thing’, perhaps even a precondition for the reestablishment of political stability and financial market trust in the bona fides of government (and lower risk levels in the geography and assets administered by the South African state). However, as I mentioned previously, I think this is a necessary not sufficient condition for such improvements.

Jacob Zuma, the survivor

It is being argued repeatedly   that Zuma is the quintessential survivor, that he has the ANC and its National Executive Committee wrapped up, that he demonstrated this again at Mangaung in December 2012 (see here for a persuasive  example). I do not disagree with these assertions. But to accept that argument as complete we must establish that there are no new facts or new elements that might impact upon that assumed outcome.

Much has changed (both in fact and in my interpretation of the facts) over the last 18 months:

  • The alliance of forces that backed and defended Zuma’s rise to power at Polokwane has disintegrated. Crucially Julius Malema is now heading a hostile opposition party energetically represented in parliament and Cosatu is undergoing an on-going collapse – and it’s biggest union Numsa is in the process of setting up a socialist political movement that has as one of its founding principles that Jacob Zuma is the epitome of the corrupt and disastrous leadership cadre that have hijacked the ANC and the country (this is Numsa’s – and Malema’s/EFF’s – oft expressed view, not mine.) These are the very people and institutions that where the centre of the campaign that brought Zuma to power. (The SACP is pretty much ‘the last man standing’, which is what has led me to look more  closely at the whys and wherefores of that phenomenon.)
  • I am under the impression, but am unable to ‘prove’, that key elements and individuals of Jacob Zuma’s support base in Kwazulu-Natal are starting to  hedge their bets and keeping open the possibility of shifting their support to either Zweli Mkhize (ANC national treasurer and previous KZN premier) or Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (Current AU chair with too many other credentials in SA politics and government to begin to list). Both these candidates would be acceptable to the powerful (dominant?) KZN ANC. I cannot be certain if this is “true”, but this is my impression.
  • There are signs (rapid apparent weight loss, increased ‘time off’) and widespread speculation that Jacob Zuma’s health is an issue in play. Again I cannot ‘prove’ this – that would require his confidential medical records, amongst other things – but there are many circumstantial supporting elements that I have discussed several times elsewhere.
  • The linked controversies around Jacob Zuma, the allegation that he has improperly allowed the Gupta brothers to capture important aspects of the state and government, that he has abused public finances to build his Nkandla home, the various allegations around the Arms Deal scandal, with reference to convicted fraudster Shabir Shaik, (and the attendant ‘spy tapes’ scandal), the infiltration and destruction of the National Prosecuting Authority, the similar damage and modality of damage done the various structures of national intelligence as well as crime intelligence – all apparently in an attempt to protect Zuma from the legal consequences of his actions are starting to cause serious strain for the ANC.
  • The losses of 11% of voting support in the ANC’s most sophisticated middle class electoral constituency in the economic heartland of Gauteng in May this year and the serious worry by the Gauteng ANC that this damage might deepen in the 2016 local government election. The assumption (that I share) is that at least part of this is because of the myriad scandals surrounding Zuma.
  • The noisy disruption of Parliament by the EFF in an attempt to get Zuma to account to the public and to Parliament for Nkandla expenditure … and the degree of national embarrassment that surrounds this.
  • There has been a coup (which has now degenerated into a volatile stalemate) against the Lesotho government which had just issued the Gupta brothers with diplomatic passports. This both exposes the degree to which the Guptas have captured key political institutions in South and southern Africa, but also that that capturing is being exposed and challenged all over the place and the most significant person most publicly connected to the Gupta brothers is Jacob Zuma.
  • Jacob Zuma has just visited Russia, alone and forlorn, and in a manner and context that appears to me that he is the supplicant – when logic dictates that Putin should have been the supplicant.

The future, scenarios and consequences

  • Zuma may well survive to see out his term but the facts suggest that the possibility of outcomes different from that are rising, and must be seriously considered.
  • Zuma’s health could deteriorate and he could be forced out of office (this is a risk with any leader at any time but is raised with regard to Jacob Zuma for the reasons discussed previously)
  •  The ANC, suffering the myriad consequences of Jacob Zuma’s myriad failings, might be finally moved to attempt to move him out. The ruling party could do this by promising him security in Nkandla and immunity from prosecution. It is by no means clear that the ANC could summon the leadership capacity to undertake such a manoeuvre and it is unlikely that the National Executive Committee of the ANC, for now completely beholden to Jacob Zuma for jobs, position and access, would be the instrument that could initiate such a manoeuvre. But just because I can’t come up with a mechanism which might bring about such a change does not mean that that change will not happen (although I do accept that the arguments here would be more interesting if I was able to give a plausible and new mechanism for such a change.)
  • If there were a sudden ‘run’ on Zuma, if his apparent weakness suddenly became more visible, his supporters would vanish like the morning mist. There is no cadre of leaders and supporters waiting in the wings to set up a version of the Cope political party that Mbeki’s supporters established after Mbeki was fired.
  • There are a number of potential successors to Jacob Zuma, the prospects of whom I have assessed on a number of different occasions. To the two I have mentioned earlier in this note, add Cyril Ramaphosa, Lindiwe Sisulu, Baleka Mbete – and, as a safe pair of hands, stalwart stand-in Kgalema Motlanthe. Any of these candidates would be acceptable to the electorate, to the ANC and to financial markets, although each group, and probably each individual within each group, might have his or her specific preference.
  • Power vacuums and unexpected transitions can be destabilising and risky and can be accompanied by wild swings in financial markets. It is important to keep the possibility of this in mind. This is not the same as saying: ‘this is happening’ … or even: ‘this is more likely to happen than not’. It is purely saying this is more likely to happen than I previously thought and it is worth keeping in mind.

A useful critique of thinking around this issue was published by a senior ex-intelligence officer Andre Zaaiman a few days ago. Catch that here … you might be able to see that we spoke about the issue over a cup of coffee before either of us wrote about it.

 

JULIUS

This is obviously a season of reflection for me.

Here is (another) post from the past, this one from November 4 2009.

For a long time Julius Malema is the Coming Man was the most viewed and most commented upon article here.  (Later this post about Chris Hani became ‘most viewed’ if not most commented upon.)

Remember, when I wrote this, Julius Malema was firmly ensconced as ANC Youth League president. It was a full 11 months before the defining showdown at the National General Council (11-13 October 2010) where Julius Malema was the sharp end of an attempt to force the ANC to adopt a position on the nationalisation of South African mines – read the exhausting, if not exhaustive, details  about that here.

From then on Malema’s relationship with the top leadership of the ANC deteriorated until he was suspended from the party in November 2011 and on the 4th of February 2012 the appeal committee of the ANC “announced that it found no reason to “vary” a decision of the disciplinary committee taken in 2011, but did find evidence in aggravation of circumstances, leading them to impose the harsher sentence of expulsion from the ANC” – Wikipedia

I think it is interesting to read 5 years later. Not that it was ‘true’ then or now. It’s just interesting. Given the last few days … also I think it (the article) implicitly relies too much on a ‘big man view of history’, gives too much prominence to the idea that ‘leaders’ make the crucial difference in how things turn out … something I will deal with some time in the future.

I am not endlessly going to repost old blogs. I am busy with a news update that should be out here during the next 24 hours.

Julius Malema is the Coming Man

PREPARE YOURSELF

Take a deep breath, put your shoulders back and look  through the frenzy.

Reading the Democratic Alliance’s Diane Kohler Barnard pour scorn on the “rotund” and “Idi Amin-like” Julius Malema I couldn’t help but think that she is leaving herself as few choices as J.M. Coetzee leaves his fictional characters.julius-malema

Julius Malema is a powerful contender for future ANC leadership – and is already a powerful politician. I think his rise to lead the ANC and possibly the country may be unstoppable. I fear that Barnard’s feisty and admirable rhetoric leaves her, and those she represents, no paths upon which she might ride her high horse back, when this is all over.

Barnard, recounting how Malema allegedly attempted to bully his way through a traffic violation with : “Don’t you know who I am?” arrogance, says:

[Julius Malema is] the man who believes there is one law for South African citizens, yet another law for him. He is the man who will slap a neighbour who has the temerity to ask that the music at his housewarming be turned down at 3 in the morning. He is the man who Julius Malemahas turned hate-speech into an art form [...]

Barnard’s anger is palpable as she sneeringly reminds us that Malema has said he would fire Thabo Mbeki and any ANC parliamentarian “should he get the urge”

Malema’s ego and contempt for the law the rest of us must respect, is unparalleled [...] Is this, to quote the President, someone you honestly believe is a ‘leader in the making – worthy of inheriting the ANC”?

Well, is he “a leader in the making”? Is he “worthy of inheriting the ANC?”

The answer to the first question is: “yes” – more about that below.

The answer to the second question is irrelevant. Could we agree what this historical artefact: “the ANC”  is; could we agree on what its characteristics and values are? Could anyone make this judgement call?

Frankly,  history can give a fig whether you or I think Julius Malema is worthy of inheriting the ANC – or, quite frankly, whether the ANC is worthy of  inheriting Julius Malema.

This is not about what you or I think or believe or hope for; it is also not about what Diane Kohler Barnard and the Democratic Alliance and those they represent hope for and hope to accomplish.

This is not, unfortunately,  about how things aught to be, or about what is fair and just in the moral universe.

This is about how things are; this is history as a raging torrent.

A de facto leader

Assuming “leader” is neither complimentary nor derogatory  – the word can be either or neither – it is clear that Malema more than fits the common sense meaning of the term.

  • Malema has been hot-housed as a boy in ANC training institutions and groomed for leadership after  joining the organisation at the point of its unbanning in about 1990;
  • He has led the two key feeder organisations, the Congress of South African Students and the ANC Youth League;
  • He has become the crucial port of call for politicians and individuals hoping to build support for any initiative that requires ANC support;
  • He personally played an important role in the rise to dominance of the faction that backed Zuma for president;
  • He is the only ANC politician – aside from Jacob Zuma – who has a significant and deliverable mass base; both numerous and militant;
  • His rhetoric (in my opinion) is closer to the views of the core constituency of the ANC than the publicly expressed views of any other South African politician;
  • His name/face recognition is almost unparalleled.

Julius Malema was born in the Northern Transvaal (Limpopo Province) and raised, like Jacob Zuma, by a single mother who worked as a domestic worker. This is the hard school of South African life and these kinds of  credentials are still highly valued in the ANC.

In the last few weeks Julius Malema has come over all statesmanlike:

  • He acknowledged Thabo Mbeki’s key leadership role – of the ANC and the country;
  • He declared the rector of the University of the Free State “one of our own” – thereby helping to defuse growing racial conflict on that campus.

This is deliberate marketing, evolving the brand [firebrand to Dollar Brand ...] while the news media, opposition politics and certain dinner table discussions remain obsessed with each new Malema gaff or his latest confrontational tirade.

It is striking how similar the Julius Malema story is to the Jacob Zuma story.

The human need is to normalise the inevitable or the inescapable present. Three years ago media and dinner table sentiment about Jacob Zuma was almost identical to the sentiment held by the same groups of people about Julius Malema today.

The central dilemma in J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.

Is accepting – and trying to get your head around – the present and future leadership role of Julius Malema the moral equivalent of  the choices made by J.M Coetzee’s Lucy, the daughter of main character David Lurie in the 1999 novel Disgrace? Lucy (who is white) is raped and ends up seeking and receiving protection (and more) from Petrus (who is black) who is closely associated with those who raped her in the first place. Even if you have not read Disgrace I think you can understand the dilemma.

Is Julius Malema the Great Defiler – of our constitution, of the bill of rights and of our hopes for non-racialism?

No more than that previous rape accused, Jacob Zuma.

It sometimes feels that Julius Malema is deliberately teasing; upping the ante to cause his opponents to shriek ever louder and sound ever more shrill.

I have no idea whether he has the sense of humour or sense of the absurd to be deliberately inviting the kind of scorn he receives from those Dianne Kholer Barnard represents – and a smattering of those she hopes to represent.

But I have no doubt that it will be Julius Malema who laughs the longest.

I intend, in the near future, to dust off my Marxist theory.*

I am going to need a framework through which to express my growing conviction that much of our politics can be understood as a function of the collapse of the alliance of classes that underlay the national democratic revolution – and the African National Congress.

The big driver is the strongly emergent black middle class – or perhaps competing versions of that class. In the background is a sort of bad kung fu movie fight scene involving the industrial working class, various parasitic elites within the state and party, a comprador bourgeoisie and a whole mess of tribalists, proto-fascists, landless peasants and  lumpen proletarians of various stripe.

(The camera occasionally flicks across the deeper shadow behind, where we almost catch a glimpse of Moeletsi Mbeki’s lurking oligarchs, watching us.)

It’s my job to have some kind of understanding of what is going on … and I will need all the help I can get theory-wise.

In the last week the ANC has given strong hints that the Labour Relations Act amendments are being held up because government wants balloting prior to strikes and a ‘forced mediation’ strike-breaking mechanism. (See here.)

Also we have the astonishing re-emergence of the (excellent) idea that we should break up Eskom and sell off some of  the bits and get the private sector to build other bits. (See here  … and btw I can’t help but notice how much interesting news is written by Carol Paton of Business Day.)

What’s going on?

Well, one things is government is facing further downgrades because it can’t pay its bills.

The biggest bill of all is public sector wages, which will be renegotiated before  the current wage agreement expires in March 2015.

That bill will represent above 35% of non-interest government spending and the wage level the employer and the employee eventually agree upon and the degree of disruption that accompanies the bargaining is extraordinarily important for South Africa and therefore for the stability of the governing party.

Also government is burning due to its apparent inability to get the endlessly promised infrastructure built. At least part of the reason is the constant labour stoppages, for example at Kusile and Medupi.

Having lost much revenue (and political support) during the recent strikes led by Amcu and Numsa, the ANC government is forced to find a way to rewrite the terms of engagement between employer and employee.

Also Eskom is bleeding … or potentially bleeding … government dry.

The case for privatisation is threefold: you get money from the asset sale to pay your debts, you don’t have to keep bailing out the loss-making enterprise and you get the ‘efficiencies’ (the removal of structural impediments to growth) that supposedly come from the private sector running the enterprise.

(As an aside: privatisation seldom works quite like that. This government, and the people of South Africa, have barely recovered from the the drubbing we received from the ‘private sector’ following the partial privatisation of Telkom in the 90′s.  But desperate times, desperate measures … and all of that.)

The groups that traditionally oppose these policies are in disarray. Cosatu has essentially collapsed in a heap – and the most energetic sections of organised labour are actively hostile to government/ANC anyway and no longer require wooing … or rather, following Marikana and various statements of outright hostility by the ANC and government leaders, are no longer susceptible to those old sweet lies.

The forces that shaped our labour market are profoundly changed.

A growing mystery to me is where the SACP is in all of this?

So its all: hello 1996-class project, we who threw you out with the bathwater at Polokwane in December 2007 would like to apologise and welcome you back. Don’t worry, the communist are in China learning how to deal with corruption and with the labour force … you can chat to them if they ever come home.

So meanwhile here is a sort of ancestor to my questioning the ‘class character’ of the moment; a column I wrote for the Compliance Institute of South Africa in November last year:

Is this Jacob Zuma’s Maggie Thatcher moment?

I admit that on the face of it the comparison seems something of a stretch.

For example I can’t think of an ‘Nkandla’ equivalent in Baroness Thatcher’s world – although her son seemed to benefit from parental political power in much the same way as Jacob Zuma’s myriad offspring seem to be enjoying.

Maggie1

The point, though, is Thatcher came to power with the reforming mission to roll-back back the influence of organised labour and to make labour markets more flexible– all as part of her attempt to stop an on-going recession, bring summer to the ‘Winter of discontent’ (paralysing wage strikes by public sector unions in Britain in 1978-1979) and increase employment and economic growth.

(‘Thatcherism’ as a political-economic ideology is also considered to include attempts to keep inflation low, shrink the state – by privatising state owned enterprises – and keep a tight rein on money supply … (and is not famously concerned about employment – Ed) … but let’s leave those details aside and stick with the matter of organised labour.)

Much to my surprise there is growing evidence Jacob Zuma is forcing a showdown within the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) – and between the members of the ruling alliance (the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu).

Since 1994 it has been a good bet that tensions in the ruling alliance would flare up and then subside – but that the constituent ideological factions and organisations would always back off from a real split.

The ruling alliance has always seemed to me like a vaguely unhappy marriage that none of the parties have the resources or discipline to leave.

I have been covering South African politics and financial markets since 1997 and in 1999 I commissioned this cartoon :

Maggie2

 

The original caption read: ‘She means nothing to me’, he pleaded unconvincingly. ‘You’re the one I will always love’.

The report that accompanied the cartoon – which I originally published for the then stockbroker Simpson Mckie James Capel – made it clear that the man in the middle represented the ANC and his entreaties were addressed to Cosatu and the SACP … while his real passion (and the furtive fumbling behind his back) was for business, global and domestic. (Cathy Quickfall drew the cartoon and did a better job than I could have hoped for: the Cosatu/SACP figure’s naive and hurt innocence, still wanting to trust Mr ANC; business in a sharp suit, her disdainful look into the distance with just the busy hand behind her back revealing her urgent and furtive intent.)

It has looked for many years as if the dysfunctional relationship would continue for ever – that the parties involved (both the institutions of the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu but also the myriad ideological factions that exist across those organisations) have more to gain from being inside and more to lose from being outside.

But, surprisingly, it appears that the ruling faction within the ANC (the incumbent leadership, represented by Jacob Zuma) appears to have finally drawn some kind of line in the sand with the ‘left’ unions within Cosatu, most obviously the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa.

The first signs that this was happening appeared when evidence surfaced that Jacob Zuma’s allies within Cosatu were moving against Zwelinzima Vavi, the now suspended secretary general and strident ‘left’ critic of corruption in the ANC and critic of the slightly more business-friendly economic policy (particularly the National Development Plan) of the Zuma government … (remembering that this was written late last year and Vavi has now been reinistated … sort of – Ed).

At first it appeared that Vavi would be got rid of by being accused of corruption or some form of financial mismanagement related to the sale of Cosatu House for a price less than it was worth. While that investigation was still on-going, Vavi handed his enemies a perfect excuse to suspend him by having sex with a junior employee in the Cosatu head-office earlier this year (last year – Ed).

Since the suspension of Vavi his allies in Cosatu, especially the biggest affiliate (the 350 000 member Numsa) has been on a collision course with both Cosatu itself and with the ANC.

The conflict is likely to come to a head at the Numsa special congress to be held on December 13 – 16.

Why do I see this as, partly, Zuma’s Maggie Thatcher moment?

Well, Vavi’s suspension is only the proximate cause of the impending collision. The ‘real’ or ‘underlying’ causes are what are important.

Vavi, Numsa secretary general Irwin Jim, his deputy Karl Cloete – and probably a majority of Numsa leaders and shop stewards … and several other groups and leaders within Cosatu) appear increasingly of the opinion:

  • that Cosatu has been bullied by the Zuma leadership into accepting policy positions with which it (generally) disagrees
  • that the ANC under Zuma has attempted to turn Cosatu into a ‘labour desk’ of the ANC and the alliance summits have become nothing but a ‘toy telephone’ rather than a real joint decision making forum for the ANC/Cosatu/SACP alliance
  • the policy positions with which this group disagrees are, particularly, the National Development Plan, but also e-tolling, the Youth Wage Subsidy and the ANC government’s failure to ban labour brokers. (The reasons why this ‘left’ group opposes these policy measure are crucial: they oppose the NDP because it is seen as ‘neo-liberal’ and anti-socialist; e-tolling because it is seen as covert privatisation of public infrastructure; the youth wage subsidy because it segments the labour market, threatening Cosatu’s monopoly and potentially exposing ‘protected’ Cosatu members to competition from ‘unprotected’ youth workers; and the failure to ban labour brokers because those institutions are also anathema to Cosatu’s monopoly.)
  • that the ANC under Zuma has been captured by a crony-capitalist regionally based (possibly ethnic) elite bent on looting the state
  • that the gamble to back Zuma against Mbeki has badly misfired

 

There is widespread press and analyst speculation that the tensions within Cosatu could lead to the federation splitting – and in some way or another the more specifically ‘socialist’ pro-Vavi, Numsa-based group leading Cosatu – or a piece of Cosatu – out of the ruling alliance.

In what way is this ‘Zuma doing a Maggie’?

Well, because the disgruntlements of the Vavi/Numsa group (described above) are real and represent significant shifts against organised labour by the Zuma government.

If we add to the youth wage subsidy, the NDP, the failure to ban labour brokers, e-tolling in Gauteng to the very tight budgeting for public sector wage increases mentioned in my October column I think we have a strong circumstantial case that Zuma’s ANC has moved decisively to roll-back the power of organised labour.

Maggie3

 

Why Jacob Zuma and his allies might have done this is revealed clearly in the anaemic Q3 GDP growth figures of 0.7 per cent compared to the previous quarter, or 1.8 per cent on a year-on-year basis . Almost across the board analysts and economists have ascribed most of the weakness to labour unrest, particularly in the motor vehicle sector – where the recent strikes were organised by Numsa! (Again, remember that this was written in November last year … just imagine how many exclamation marks he would have used if he had written that sentence today? -Ed)

Numsa has also helped plague Eskom’s flagship Medupi project – and has undoubtedly contributed to government’s infrastructure plans looking shaky.

The ANC’s motivation is not purely an attempt to fix economic growth – and bring to an end our own ‘Winter of Discontent’. Vavi and his allies in Numsa have harried and harassed the ANC leadership over corruption – and particularly the upgrade to Nkandla – and this has clearly helped force the hand of the Zuma ANC to drawn a line in the sand with the left-wing of Cosatu – especially as the ANC enters an election and struggles to cope with this level of internal dissent and criticism.

The resignation earlier this week of Numsa president Cedric Gina (who, unlike the majority of his Numsa colleagues, is close to the current ANC leadership: his wife is an ANC MP and he probably has similar ambitions himself) is probably an indication that the Zuma/ANC allies intend contesting Numsa’s direction in the lead-up to the Numsa special congress in December. The ANC leadership has probably decided to fight it out in Numsa – and Cosatu more generally – making sure that if/when a split occurs the faction that sticks with the ANC/Zuma/SACP is as large as possible and the faction that defects is as small as possible.

The big risk for investors and financial markets associated with a possible split in Cosatu is that Vavi/Jim group is likely to contest with unions within Cosatu that currently support the ANC and Zuma’s leadership – most obviously and most unsettlingly -  with the National Union of Mineworkers which has complained repeatedly that Numsa is poaching its membership. This potential for a widespread contestation of each workplace and each economic sector between a new ‘Cosatu’ and an old ‘Cosatu’ is probably the most important threat represented by the unfolding crisis.

Politically the Vavi/Jim group will likely be campaigning against the NDP, the youth wage subsidy, e-tolling and Nkandla-style corruption just as the ANC’s election campaign peaks early next year. I do not think a split in Cosatu will translate automatically into specific electoral declines for the ANC – it is possible and even likely that Numsa members who support a split could still vote for the ANC.

However, one of the big unanswered questions is whether the defecting faction has any possibility of linking up politically with the EFF. Up until now the defecting faction linked to Vavi and Jim have unequivocally rejected the EFF on the grounds that its (the EFF’s) leadership are ‘tenderpreneurs’ (much like the Nkandla faction of the ANC) who just happen to be out in the cold.

However, the EFF’s support for nationalisation of mines and expropriation of white owned farms with or without compensation does dovetail with aspects of the Vavi/Jim faction’s essentially socialist ideology.

My own view is that in the event of a split it is possible that the Vavi/Jim faction forms a ‘labour party’ which could only feasibly contest elections in 2019.

The motivation for Thatcher moving against the unions was as much about weakening the Labour Party as it was about repairing the economy – so we shouldn’t dismiss the Zuma/Thatcher comparison purely because his motivations are mixed.

If Zuma and the ANC succeed in reducing the militancy and power of organised labour it is possible that they will have contributed in a small way to laying the grounds for an improvement in public education, for a period of recovery and even extended economic growth.

It’s a risky – and complicated – business, but it was for Baroness Thatcher as well.

 

* It was, in our eyes,  a fine hat and we cocked it jauntily. And thus attired, and to our very great satisfaction, we successfully answered all the important epistemological questions of the day. We let the  cowards flinch and traitors sneer as they boastfully proclaimed the end of history. We were history … or at least, through the complex functioning of the intelligentsia in Marxist Leninist theory … we were history’s engine made flesh. And the race wasn’t over … we were merely getting our breath back.

I often send out commentary before I am satisfied with it.

That usually means typos and misspellings that I have failed to find in a rushed edit, but sometimes it means the analysis is … less in-depth (trite? … shallow? … Ed) than I would have liked.

It’s the price of procrastination when chasing deadlines – and one of those deadlines was two weeks ago when I rushed to get a weekly update out just as the news from the  Brics summit was coming in. This is what I wrote (tagged on to a longer report about a number of different matters):

Brics bank (16/07/2014)

Leaders of China, India, Russia, Brazil and South Africa met at the 6th Brics summit in Fortaleza, Brazil yesterday.  On the agenda is the establishment of a development bank and monetary reserve – eventually together consisting of as much as $200bn in capital reserves and guarantees.

So what?

There are a number of important issues associated with this initiative, but one is that this is a deliberate attempt to institutionalise a shift away from the Western (specifically US) dominated financial system (particularly the IMF, the World Bank and the use the USD$ as the global reserve currency).  Such moves are probably historically inevitable and as China, India and Russia – and to a lesser extent Brazil – stutteringly grow in influence (economically, militarily and otherwise) they were always going to gently tug at the leash of US global dominance.

For South Africa – a small regional player, with anaemic economic growth and very moderate political/military influence – to have attached itself to the coattails of a kind of teenage rebellion by the powerful young global bucks is faintly ridiculous. South Africa winds up being drawn into a subservient relationship with China and Russia (over which it has almost no influence) and thereby flirts with the enmity of the real global adult whose judgements, when push-comes-to-shove, can be quite severe. That’s a lose-lose, as far as I can see.

Nothing wrong with the comment, although I wish I had made it clearer that I welcome Brics and I welcome the gradual receding of US power as much as I hope its retreat is orderly.

But I especially wish my good friend and old comrade-in-arms Andre Zaaiman had launched his Mindsight – Intelligent Enterprise Systems website before I wrote that report.

It would have been a great benefit to my analysis if I had read the first article Andre published on the website: “National Security: China-US-Africa“.

It’s not specifically about the Brics Bank (but it does mention it in context) but it is an excellent high level analysis of the growing contest between the US and China … and it argues that this is a matter of national security and national interest for South Africa.

Read the article … meanwhile, here are a few extracts:

ships

 

“The emerging geo-political great game between the USA and China is of great importance to Africa and South Africa. How this great power relationship unfolds will have a commanding influence on the 21st century.

“The future cannot be known; but probability and prediction can be improved as well as surprise avoided, if we are assisted by facts – by a proper understanding of what is going on – as well as by quality information, good theory and off course, secrets.”

“In statecraft, the purpose of intelligence is to provide a competent decision-maker with an informational advantage in the context of national security and the pursuit of national goals.”

“The launch of the New Development Bank (NDB) and of the Contingency Reserve Fund (CRF) by the BRICS-countries in July 2014 is a powerful signal that developing countries are no longer willing to play second fiddle on the global stage.”

“The desired post-Bretton Woods era does not only contain different global financial institutions – not controlled by the USA – but some analysts believe, also rests on different values … the need to prioritize physical infrastructure over other priorities (such as education, healthcare, women’s rights, etc.) towards which the World Bank has been drawn in recent decades. From a holistic point of view, all such investments are crucial for equitable national prosperity and well-being, but nothing creates jobs and literally drives ‘state-building’ like infrastructure.”

There is much in the article that is worthwhile and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the unfolding contest between the USA and China especially from a South African perspective.

Andre’s vantage point is especially interesting. He “is a former senior official in the State Security Agency of the democratic South Africa” and has previously “worked in the underground and intelligence service of the African National Congress during the struggle against apartheid and subsequently, served in the Presidential Support Unit under former President Thabo Mbeki” – those quotes from here.

 

 

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.

Forgive me.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Do I still write such long, unbroken paragraphs?
  3. 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.)

FMrankingsedit2

 

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.

EFF

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.

This is a quick and casual aside as I await the more weighty matters of Pravin Gordhan’s medium-term budget policy statement at 14h00 today.

For various reasons* I attempt to keep abreast of the rapidly evolving technological and cultural aspects of what we call ‘social media’

New cultural trends drive developments in language and there are a couple of new words and usage that I found interesting enough to share here.

Recently a person I follow on Twitter (Sarah Britten who goes by the handle @ananitus – I love her stuff and follow her across several media platforms) used a hashtag to characterise the flood of criticism she got when she mentioned that she had gone to a chiropractor for relief from some or other ailment.

Most of the criticism/advice came from men and she called it (the criticism and advice) “#mansplaining’ as in: enough with the #mansplaining, I don’t need you to tell me whether alternative medicine is unscientific or illogical (that’s not a quote, I don’t have a record of the original interchange, but that is roughly how I remember it).

I immediately felt slightly embarrassed. Oops, busted. I have been patiently mansplaining to the women in in my life that their views are illogical and unscientific ever  since I was a too serious boy. Hurumph Hurumph – stroke my beard, push my eyebrows together, suck on my pipe. You see Josie/Mom/darling the scientific method exposes astrology as  … blah blah.  Yeah, right.

A hashtag (#) is a kind of metadata tag that allows all future conversations that deal with the same topic to be grouped and therefore accessible.

Listicle is another new word (well, new to me anyway) that perfectly sums up a phenomenon to which we are all being increasingly exposed. A listicle is an article that presents itself as a list.

It can be any rubbish … just make it up. The 10 ugliest South African politicians. The five top reasons to vote/not to vote for the ANC in 2014. Seven reasons that Blade Nzimande has become a recluse (or the 50 reasons he should become a recluse). Five secrets that are keeping Zuma in power. The 10 hottest DA members of parliament. Five reasons why South Africa sucks as an investment destination. The three top reasons why Zuma’s critics should keep their tax affairs in order. Five reasons we should not listen to the rubbish spouted by political analysts. The ten least known Zuma sexual conquests. Four ANC members most likely to become president in the next 20 years.

The point that I find so interesting is that  listicles  are almost irresistible to your finger hovering on the mouse. Just look at The Huffington Post and you will understand just how compelling (and trashy)  listicles are.

In fact listicles are so compelling that they can usefully to termed ‘click bait‘. Anyone who has ever flicked a gaudy lure in front of a fish in the hope of irresistibly drawing the fleeting piscene attention long enough to embed the hook in the creatures mouth (goodness, when I put it like that fishing sounds a faintly monstrous activity) will immediately understand what ‘click bait’ means.

I have held out against using listicles as click bait on my blog. I hope I am never reduced to heading a post with Top five political risks to investment in South Africa or 3 reasons supporting a sovereign downgrade or even Top 10 best dressed ANC NEC members. But you never know; desperate times lead to desperate measures.

 

 

*For me it’s a professional imperative: I have to get my views out there to persuade those  who might want to pay for those views (supposedly delivered in more depth) that the said views might be worth paying for … so I  trundle out my free-to-air discussion and curating on a range of platforms in the hope that this will generate paid work … which it generally does, btw. The two other reasons are

  • posting forces me to come up with a view on the unfolding situation … I am never certain what I think about something until the moment I am forced to say to someone else what it is I think – so thanks, you are that someone else;
  • keeping the blog is a way of safely storing a history of my views – this is all sitting out here in the interweb, a record of my views, safely stored away from my own lack of competence or the ill-fortune of my laptop.
  • the cloud.

Niccolo MachiavelliJacob Zuma has forced me to reread Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli’s The Prince, published 500 years ago this year.

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 Technolog(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.
Niccolò Machiavelli

……………………………………………………………..

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.

So what?
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.
So what?
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.

Zwelinzima Vavi

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.

So what
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.)
So what?
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:

%

Apr

‘09

Jun

‘09

Sep

‘09

Nov

‘09

Feb

‘10

May

‘10

Sep

‘10

Nov

‘10

Feb

‘11

Mar

‘11

Sep

‘11

O/N

‘11

Feb

‘12

Apr

‘12

Aug

‘12

Feb

‘13

Approve

52

57

53

58

43

51

42

49

49

48

45

55

55

46

48

41

Disapprove

29

13

19

23

41

33

44

34

35

38

41

38

35

46

44

51

Don’t know

19

31

28

12

17

16

15

17

16

14

14

14

10

8

8

9

Net positives

+23

+24

+34

+35

+2

+18

+2

+18

+2

+15

+14

+1

+20

0

+4

-10

 

… 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 YeatsThe 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.

FM rankings

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.

Municipal IQ

Municipal IQ

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.

Financial markets:

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.

Gupta TV

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).

So What?

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.

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

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

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