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On my return on Sunday from 10 days relaxing in and around the unparalleled Lake Malawi a friend took me aside and said he had visited my blog and found only cobwebs, spiders and dust.

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.

 

I will make a decision on the caption competition soon, but meanwhile here is my latest news update and summary – the Madonsela story continues to grow and, frankly, should be encouraged to.

The Public Protector clashes with Zuma’s security chiefs

Thuli

On Friday state security agencies abandoned their urgent interdict in the North Gauteng high court attempting  to prevent the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela from a limited release of her report into the R206 million upgrade of Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla private residence.  However Nathi Mthethwa (Minister of Police), Siyabonga Cwele (Minister of State Security) and Thulas Nxesi (Minister of Public Works) have indicated that they still expect Madonsela to bow to their various ‘security concerns’ – something the feisty Public Protector is unlikely to do. (She was speaking a few minutes ago, bemoaning the fact that she ever handed the report to this cluster of … securorats? … catch a preliminary reports of that here.)

RadebeCwelebetter

Madonsela has used the security cluster intervention to ensure that a new key piece of evidence becomes public, namely that Jacob Zuma privately appointed Minenhle Makhanya Architects (who had no security clearance) to run the Nkandla project, but that the company was paid (upwards of R18 million) by the state. It will be increasingly difficult for Zuma’s security chiefs to sustain the argument that their ‘real’ concern about the report relates to whether it (the report) compromises the president’s security or, in fact, that the upgrade was essentially or mainly about the president’s security.

So what?

Jacob Zuma might be the quintessential survivor, but in the lead-up to a national election the strong indication that he and his family have personally and directly been the recipients of irregularly redirected state resources could be a serious problem for him and his party. The Sunday Times (17/11/2013) lead editorial is headed: “A suspect president and his questionable lieutenants” … the degree to which Jacob Zuma’s excesses make the ANC look bad is the degree to which he is vulnerable.

The EFF – running out of red berets just as Julius Malema goes on trial for fraud and corruption

The EFF cannot keep up with demand for its  signiature red berets, according to City Press

The EFF cannot keep up with demand for its signature red berets, according to City Press

The dilemma faced by Julius Malema’s  new Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), is that while the new party appears to be performing well there is a real possibility that some of the leadership could be in prison before the 2014 election.  City Press, in its front page lead story  (17/11/2013) reports of the growing EFF support: “(t)hey can be seen wearing their red berets on street corners, in public places, hangout spots and even at funerals where they go to recruit new members”. The Sunday Independent, however, points out that Julius Malema will go on trial for fraud, corruption, money-laundering and racketeering at the Limpopo Magistrates Court today – and that 3000 EFF supporters were expected outside the court.(Julius’s case has since been postponed till September next next year – which means he will be firmly in the running next year.)

So what?

I have had to constantly upgrade my estimates of how the EFF might perform in the 2014 election. I previously indicated my rough forecasts and promised that from time-to-time I would update my view. Well, here is my latest guesstimate:

Elecguestimates

To do as well as I indicate here the EFF would have to pick up previous ANC defectors (from Cope and the UDM) as well as a significant number of first time youth voters. The EFF remains the part of the story about which I am least confident – although strictly none of these figures can pretend to any scientific validity.  A strong performance by the EFF (built as that party is around a rejection of Jacob Zuma and a rejection of the economic status quo) could set off a shockwave in the ruling party.

 

Cyril Ramaphosa on a ‘social compact’

Cyril Ramaphosa gave an interesting address to the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (dated November 17 and available as a pdf on Mistra’s website) where he usefully summarised government’s and the ANC’s position on economic development – namely that ‘a social compact’ is required.

The full address is well worth reading, but the essential point (from a financial market perspective) is the statement that:

“Significantly, perhaps most importantly, business needs to focus on building an economy that delivers sustainable returns to all stakeholders over a longer term, eschewing the chase for high profits in the next quarter.”

Earlier, he says:

“The commitment to greater capital investment demonstrated by government needs to be matched by a similar commitment from the private sector to invest in productive capacity and to contribute to employment creation.”

So what?

Ramaphosa’s ‘social compact’ is another, perhaps more sophisticated, version of mining minister Susan Shabangu’s comments during an exchange with Gold Fields CEO Nick Holland at a recent conference in Australia:

“Investors must realise they have a responsibility to the country and cannot work to a bottom line that has no heart or soul at all … They have to understand there are various socioeconomic needs of the various partners … If investment will not improve the quality of lives — and recognise that workers also need to live decent lives — it will not be able to bring stability in South Africa … We are a country that, in the past, saw investment coming in that never contributed to ensure that the future of workers would be better.”

Shabangu’s and Ramaphosa’s comments indicate an economic strategy that consists primarily of insisting that private business surrender up the investment, employment and social spending that it is, supposedly, withholding. It indicates a poverty of economic understanding in government and the ANC that is deeply unsettling.

 

Bits and Pieces

  • Next weekend the Democratic Alliance meets in a special federal council during which the party is expected to attempt to deal with tensions around support or otherwise for the Employment Equity Amendment Bill. As the DA’s black membership grows the party will come under ever greater pressure to support both employment equity and black economic empowerment more generally. It is my view that this is a baseline assumption in South African politics – and the DA either will not break through its racial ceiling or it will shift on this policy matter.
  • Winnie Mandela, in an interesting interview in the Sunday Independent (17/11/2013), claims that Nelson Mandela has lost his voice – and is only able to ‘communicate with facial gestures’. She also said “the “poorest of the poor are seething with rage and whether our government is aware of the anger of the people, I do not know.” She also said: “I can’t blame Julius for what he has done because we, the ANC, are responsible for that … we would be foolish to think he is not a player or that he is not changing the political landscape … these are very dangerous and worrying times.” Winnie Mandela’s political affiliations are a good weathervane of the degree to which the ANC is – or isn’t – fragmenting. She is likely to stay within the ANC, at least while her ex-husband lives.
  • The Business Day today (18/11/2013) reports that moves are afoot in Cosatu to suspend or expel the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Jacob Zuma’s key critic in Cosatu and Zwelinzima Vavi’s key ally). If the Jacob Zuma aligned faction achieves the objective of getting rid of Numsa and Vavi it is likely to precipitate the formation of a competing union federation and, possibly, a new political party of the left. The moves against Numsa seem like the actions of a weak and authoritarian core and are unlikely to achieve a unified and strong ‘ruling alliance’. In fact I suspect that the opposite will be the case.

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.

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 …

Right.

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 nabor@telkomsa.net 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:

I am sure Empire Google will be thrown into a state of shock and awe by my actions, but I see no other way to proceed.

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 “noreply+feedproxy@google.com” and one from “no-reply@wordpress.com”.

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.

Kind regards

Nic Borain

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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