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There are not many medals of honour, accolades, gold stars and trophies in the political analysis business (and quite right too), but I achieved an acknowledgement last week of which I am particularly proud.
Once a year the Financial Mail commissions a poll of the top 30 or so South African asset managers (life assurers, retirement and pension funds, private client investment managers and hedge funds).
This year the polled group had a total of about R3.7 trillion assets under management, a significant portion of which is the savings and pensions of ordinary South Africans.
How this business (from which I derive a significant portion of my income) works is JSE member firms (basically stock brokers) employ or contract specialists to produce research that somehow aids the fund manager in making the best investment decisions. If the research added value to the fund manager’s decision the broker would be paid either directly or in the form of a commission of some kind.
For the past year I have been lucky enough to have had a contract with Religare Noah Capital Markets to provide analysis of political trends and industrial relations to that firm’s fund manager clients. My name was thus in the pot when the fund managers voted and this is how it turned out:
I am particularly pleased to receive this award – and not only because it comes with a nicely framed scroll that, if I ever again get an office, will look quite handsome on the wall.
The main reason for my appreciation is that the ranking is based on a vote by investment professionals, who in one way or another, have to pay for the analysis.
I am about to move my main contract to a new firm, BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities which combines the strengths of powerful French investment bank BNP Paribas and Cadiz Securities, a South African-based specialist equity derivatives broking and research company.
So I thought I would use this moment and forum to thank Religare Noah Capital Markets for the work they have given me over the last year – I appreciate the support and opportunity and wish you all well in the future.
(Note: There are several names below mine on the scoreboard up there of excellent economists, strategists and other species of financial analyst who would not see themselves primarily as “political analysts” – so the fact that I have outscored them is no reflection of the value they add to the fund managers … and, in fact, several of them were highly ranked in other categories.)
A few days ago I published a link here to an e-tolling interview I did on CNBC Africa that someone put on YouTube.
The post received several interesting comments about an aside I made on more than one occasion during the interview that I thought users paying directly for infrastructure is probably a more efficient method than taking the funding out of the tax pool - with a long list of exceptions that had to do with social solidarity and making sure those who couldn’t pay were subsidised in some way.
I received several interesting comments and dragged myself out of bed early this morning to respond to those … but found, to my horror, my browser (Chrome) refused to visit my wordpress page, saying it contained “suspicious content”, perhaps even “malware” from something called “oulitnet.co.za”. Chrome further informed me that it had alerted the said site to the problem.
I decided to delete my last entry (to the YouTube link) and the problem seems to be gone.
I think “oulitnet.co.za” is a religious site of some kind and I have no idea why its content should have been connected to the YouTube video.
So instead of trying to work that all out I have just dumped the link and will, at some stage, return to the question of the most efficient way of paying for infrastructure … which I know is not a breathlessly exciting subject, but is probably important enough to warrant another post at some stage.
So apologies to anyone who attempted to visit that post and got the same scary warnings to stay away that I got this morning … they are gone now and it is safe to return to to the water …
I have got to find a way of continuing to populate this website. The reasons posts are becoming infrequent and irregular is that almost every day I produce bespoke and paid for research. I have less time every week to write specifically for nicborain.wordpress.com … except the occasional philosophical musings, which probably have a … very specific? … readership.
I am going to continue the philosophical and theoretical musings. I am finishing the last few chapters of Jared Diamond’s extraordinary “Collapse – How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive” - Penguin 2005. As background reading to my professional work trying to make sense of politics and economics in the sub-continent (or anywhere in the world for that matter) it is seminal … I cannot recommend it highly enough.
So I will review it here. And I will keep raising issues associated with the epistemology of what I do – and other obscure matters of concern to me.
However, I will also start posting summaries of my recent views, interviews and perspectives … the first set of these below:
Iran, MTN and US secret power
The big issue of the week – in a lot of universes, but particularly the financial market’s – was the $4.2-billion lawsuit launched against MTN last week by Turkcell in the United States District Court of Columbia in Washington DC. The Mail & Guardian had way the best coverage – see here for a good backgrounder.
MTN investors took a serious bath on the news. The basic allegation of Turkcell is that MTN’s ‘Project Snooker’, driven by then CEO Phuthuma Nhleko (with some help) was a successful attempt to ‘buy’ (with cash, arms and South African diplomatic support) a preferential operating licence in Iran.
For me the link between this issue, the fact that the South African government had appeared to fold to US sanctions demands on oil imports from Iran (or at least to flip-flop confusingly) and the leaked documentation from close to Kgalema Motlanthe seeming to prove attempts to get government support for Bell Helicopter deliveries to Iran – potentially hurting his (Motlanthe’s) presidential ambitions – was a series of stories that raised the spectre of US secret power working it’s powerful and implacable will.
It looks like the Bell Helicopter with SA government support stuff was established:
Through access to recordings and confidential documents – understood to have also been obtained and analysed by US intelligence agencies
according to the Sunday Times, but the documents that informed the Turkcell case appear to have been leaked by a disgruntled former MTN manager and South Africa’s flip-flop on oil could be based purely on the extreme nature of proposed US punishment for those who break sanctions against Iran.
So the sexy story of US spies fiddling in our politics doesn’t have a good evidential basis (although I have no doubt that US secret power is exercised every day throughout the world … perhaps not always with German-like efficiency and certainly with lots of unintended consequences.)
The MTN story … and South African oil imports … still has a way to run, so watch this space.
Malema summarily suspeded, Top Six unity press conference, Cyril for president and the interminable Mangaung contest.
I don’t know about you, but I am royally gatvol of press reports about ANC internecine struggles … during the course of the week this is what I had to say about various strands of this interminable story:
First I looked at City Press going out on a limb with contending ANC factional lists for Mangaung… most interestingly putting Cyril Ramaphosa on both the pro-Zuma and the pro-Motlanthe lists … to become president of South Africa in 2014!
“You read right. Not ANC president, and not in 2012 … the Mangaung conference looks sewn up in favour of President Zuma, but even his supporters are starting to point to Ramaphosa as president, saying the billionaire businessman will do a better job of running the country” (from City Press).
I can’t assess the probability of a Ramaphosa presidency … but we can only hope.
I also had to comment to journalists over last weekend about a potential run by Mathews Phosa, essentially as a stalking horse and test marketing campaign for Kgalema Motlanthe. He (Phosa) has no prospects of slipping in himself, but both he and Motlanthe have been seen to be standing firm with their ANC Youth League allies over the last week and it is not inconceivable that they will have worked out a tag-team strategy between them.
Later in the week came the summary suspension of Julius Malema about which I said:
Julius Malema was yesterday suspended with immediate effect from the ANC and from participating in any way in the organisation’s activities or the activities of the Youth League. While this particular suspension is temporary, several different strands of disciplinary action against Malema make the implementation of a full suspension (lasting at least 3 years) inevitable.In preparation for the Malema suspension the ‘Top Six’ of the ANC held a joint press conference to present a united front to condemn “bickering and negative lobbying” in the ruling party. Of particular concern was the recent incident in which Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe was invited to address and ANCYL rally where he found himself “in compromising situations of being implicated in statements where ANC leadership is denigrated and insulted” (that all comes from official ANC press statements.)Behind the show of unity are two broad camps, with President Jacob Zuma, Secretary General Gwede Mantashe and National Chairperson Baleka Mbete broadly backing Zuma’s re-election at Mangaumg in December; and Treasurer General Mathews Phosa, Deputy Secretary General Thandi Modise and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe having consistently been much closer to Julius Malema and long assumed to back a leadership slate that would be headed by Kgalema Motlanthe and might include Tokyo Sexwale.I do not expect the noise generated by the internecine struggle to die down until Mangaung itself. At this stage the Zuma camp is in an extremely strong position and this is the light in which the suspension of Malema needs to be seen.
I did a whole lot more radio interviews and bits and pieces about all of this … but I am becoming unspeakably bored with the whole issue. I think the ANC Top Six press conference was an attempt to get the focus onto the policy discussion documents and away from the draining and fracturing internecine squabbles. Can’t help but feel that might be a good idea.
Zimbabwe and Eddie Cross
The most interesting story of my week came about as a result of the consulting work I do for Religare Noah Capital Markets (Pty) Ltd, which is a member of the JSE and an authorised Financial Services Provider. Religare Noah brings Eddie Cross (Zimbabwe member of parliament for Bulawayo South, economist and Movement for Democratic Change Policy Coordinator General) to speak to, especially, mining and metals investors about once a year and I had a chance to listen in on his input.
Basically Eddie Cross reckons that by October this year Zimbabwe will have undergone a fundamental transformation and that our northern neighbour will be well on the path to recovery – politically and economically – by then.
It is a huge story, but obviously the details are bespoke to Noah Religare and its clients. From my perspective I have known Eddie Cross to err on the side of being too positive and upbeat about Zimbabwe (as I have been … consistently calling the bottom for almost ten years … embarrassing, I know) but I was convinced that a combination of SADC unanimity and strong G8 backing … and the fact that Zanu-PF is out of options and fatally riven with factions, means that change is more likely than it has been in years. An endless stalemate is still a possiblity and more catastrophic scenarios, with the continued assasination of central players (like that of General Solomon Majuru) are options … but there are grounds for cautioius optimism.
I hope you have a restful long weekend … and a really good Friday …
Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis will have noticed two things.
The first is that the number of posts have tailed off. This is largely because my time has been taken up with paid work and the website has slipped down the list of priorities in the imperative to pay the bills.
I am, however, not yet ready to give up as so many of my friends who set up “free to air” websites in the last few years have done – usually because their work load became intolerable and the blog seemed to sit sulking on the edge of their consciousness and the bloggers became consumed with guilt and a sense of failure and eventually posted that final signoff: “its been fun - so long and thanks for all the fish … and catch you in the commercial media ….” or whatever.
I set the blog up in the darkest depths of the Great Recession as a way of marketing myself … and the strategy has worked. I get a trickle of briefs to write, analyse or speak for corporations and businesses via the About and Professional Services links and this has been part of how I have scraped by after the cataclysm of 2008. If anything the global economy is looking scarier than ever … I am not going to drop the blog just as the as the world looks as if it might fall into an even more boneless heap than it did in 2008.
But the second reason I am going to hang onto this forum is that it gives me a discipline and space to work out my views on what is happening in the political realm. I can go back – as can anyone else who may be interested – through the hundreds of posts and get a record of my thinking and I use that constantly to refresh my mind as to where we are in the South African political wrangle … I just have to post more regularly again, and this I undertake to do.
So the blog remains in place for now, and I am grateful to the 150 or so people who check every day to see if I have said anything or who end up at the website through various search engines. One day you will be the CEO or running the company’s staff training programme or heading the strategic planning department (or you may already be one of those) and you will know where to get hold of some excellently priced expertise … I look forward to your emails to firstname.lastname@example.org in this regard.
Now onto what I have missed posting here in the last 2 weeks – all of which adds up to something of a shy and tentative spring – a bright new world peeping around the corner to see if it is okay to skip happily into the garden … and whatever other cutesy optimistic metaphors I can cook up, because I am extremely tired of the dark cynicism that has taken root deep in my – and probably your – mind.
Jacob Zuma cleans up his act
This is what I said about the Cabinet reshuffle, the suspension of Bheki Cele and the institution of the judicial commission into the Arms Deal.
In one broad swipe President Jacob Zuma has addressed several of the key corruption and maladministration problems that have beset his administration. He has fired Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde and Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Sicelo Shiceka and suspended police commissioner General Bheki Cele and appointed a commission of inquiry into the General’s actions in fiddling leases for police buildings. In the same announcement Zuma named the members of the commission to investigate the ‘arms deal” scandal and named a senior Supreme Court of Appeals judge to head the inquiry. He has also made extensive minor changes to the cabinet – mostly through knock-on effects from the two ministerial changes.
The president has taken his good time about addressing some of these issues and we expect some of the early commentary to be less than generous – and to comb the details for evidence that Jacob Zuma has used the opportunity to marginalise enemies and reward friends – and generally restructure government in a way that favours his bid for a second term at Mangaung.
My own view is that Zuma has finally responded to a plethora of criticism and he has done so in a thoroughgoing way and in a manner that considerably strengthens the administrative capacity and probity of government. An expectation that such a significant reshuffle would not be influenced by the power struggles within the ANC would be naive, but on an initial reading I am cautiously optimistic.
Julius Malema gets his comeuppance
And this is what I said about the ANC Disciplinary hearing yesterday:
The African National Congress disciplinary committee (DC) is just finishing its announcement of findings and sentencing in relation to the ANC Youth League leadership.
Julius Malema has been found guilty (in his personal capacity) of provoking serious division in the ruling party and he has been suspended from the ANC and the Youth League for a period of five years – and several other sentences have been handed out to Youth League leaders including the 3 years suspension of Floyd Shivambu, the Youth League spokesperson.
This is obviously good for the ANC – for its image, for its internal coherence and for the reputation of its leadership. The loutish and grandiose behaviour of the ANC Youth League and the individual leaders’ involvement in abuse of public sector finances and tendering process behind a façade of representing the interests of the poorest and most marginalised has deeply damaged the reputation and core values of the ANC.
Obviously much will depend on whether the leadership has the stomach – and spine – to follow the disciplinary process with a thoroughgoing implementation of the sentence throughout all forums of the organisation. We shouldn’t forget that important individuals and constituencies have backed Malema through this process – and as I write this Twitter is alive with ANC YL arrangements for emergency meetings to organise protests against these sentences this weekend. Will the sentence provoke a backlash, attempting to build opposition by portraying Malema as a victim? Obviously, but I think – and hope – that the grave tones and thorough approach of the ANC Disciplinary Committee might presage a process of repair and renewal in the ruling party.
I expect the situation to be unsettled – and even threatening – for the next week, but my best call is that this sentence is likely to stabilise the debate within the ANC and in the leadership and policy discussion in the lead up to Mangaung in December 2012.
So that’s my two cents of this morning. There are reasons for optimism. Obviously Jacob Zuma has not suddenly been transformed into an epitome of probity and eloquence … but things are looking up and I think it is important to say so.
This is faintly awkward for me, so I put it right there in the headline – leading with my chin, so to speak.
I run this blog for a number of reasons:
- It’s a discipline – it forces me to think about the political news flow;
- I am, in principle, in favour of deepening political debate – the more forums, the more people think about politics, and the more subtle and complex those thoughts are, the better for all of us;
- It fulfils a personal need for an audience – I’ll deal with that with my shrink if I ever get one again …
- and I use it to market myself to people who might pay me for my services as a political analyst or speaker.
It is the last need that causes me to mention here that I was, to my great surprise, last week announced as the top ranked analyst in the Financial Mail annual Analyst of the Year Survey – in the category: Political Analysis and Industrial Relations.
Here’s the whole “leader board”:
I am particularly proud of this award for several reasons, but these are the important two:
First, the rank is determined by a vote from South African fund managers at the pensions funds and asset managers. These are professionals who have to pay for the analysis and assess its financial value to them and their businesses. It’s a vote I value.
Second, I am in auspicious company – even though some people on the list are not primarily “political analysts”. I don’t know them all (and will only mention the ones I do), but I am a great admirer of Moeletsi Mbeki (as anyone who reads this blog will know) – and Deanne Gordon and Nazmeera Moola are valuable and supportive friends, top economists and thorough and original thinkers (and have both been highly ranked in many categories in this survey in the past).
Apologies for this purely administrative post … and I will probably be mentioning this again in general posts over the next few weeks.
We all used to love google because it was sparky and feisty and seemed to be fighting the deathly old Goliath Microsoft.
Well that was then.
The new Goliath google has messed up the details on my feedburner (email subscription) application and despite going to the ends of the Earth (and lots of begging and pleading) there seems to be no way for me to access the account and administer (or even have any knowledge of) the list of subscribers to my blog.
I have therefore decided to change to the WordPress feedburner widget which will now appear on the left of the headline on the front page of my blog looking like this:
If you are receiving my blog by email – and want to continue doing so – please subscribe using the new WordPress email subscription button and not the google subscription button that will still appear immediately below the new button and will look like this:
After subscribing by clicking the new, and unfortunately perky: “Sign me up!” button you will get an email from WordPress asking you to confirm that you want to subscribe and when and how often you would like to receive updates from the blog.
After a while and if all goes according to plan you will notice that you are receiving two emails from my blog with the same content, one from “email@example.com” and one from “firstname.lastname@example.org”.
When this starts to bother you ask to be usubscribed from the google feed.
If everything continues to go according to plan I should then have a subscription list that I can monitor and control and you can specify when and what sorts of updates (including updates of comments) you want to receive from my blog.
If you choose not to do anything I am not certain you will continue to get the email from my blog after I delete the google email feedburner…
… I don’t know why it’s called that either.
Thank you for your patience.